§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tom King)
I beg to move,That the draft Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, which was laid before this House on 19th February, be approved.This order deals with a number of aspects of public order in Northern Ireland—processions and meetings, stirring up hatred or arousing fear, miscellaneous public order offences, and the repeal of the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act (Northern Ireland) 1954. The proposal for a draft order was published on 1 December for consultation. We received a substantial number of representations and as a result amendments have been made in this draft order which was laid in this House on 19 February. The order amends and consolidates public order legislation in Northern Ireland in the light of recommendations by the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and of developments in Northern Ireland since the law was last amended 15 years ago. In doing so, it takes account wherever possible of the changes made in public order legislation in Great Britain by the Public Order Act 1986.
The Government believe it right that the principles underlying public order legislation should be uniform throughout the United Kingdom, although local circumstances in Northern Ireland may require detailed provisions that are different. The draft order is designed to reflect this balance, and many of its key provisions reflect advice on public order matters given by the RUC.
In the last few weeks it has become clear that a campaign of serious misrepresentation has been launched against this order, alleging every form of wickedness about it: that it is some sinister plot to curb and prevent traditional marches, or that it is all the result of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Both these allegations are quite untrue, but those who make them are clearly seeking to excite Loyalist emotions, and I would therefore like to make the position quite clear.
This order represents no change in public policy toward marches, processions, and open air meetings. I respect the tradition of marching in Northern Ireland, and believe that the overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland wish to see marches conducted in a responsible way; and the figures show that that is in fact what normally happens. Last year there were 2,200 marches. I shall repeat that figure for the House because I believe that many people, who see just some marches, do not appreciate how many take place, mainly during the marching season. Last year there were 2,200, of which some 2,100 raised no public order problems of any gravity. In fewer than 70 was there even any commotion or disorder, although some produced quite serious disorder. In only 10 was any rerouting requested and in one single case, last Easter Monday at Portadown, the Chief Constable requested me to ban the march because he believed that the route chosen was unacceptably provocative. Those are the facts, and they show quite clearly that in the vast majority of marches there are no problems whatsoever.
However, all marches, including customary marches, make demands on police manpower and organisation. I believe all responsible people will accept the fairness of 220 giving reasonable notice to the Royal Ulster Constabulary in time for it to notify officers if they will be required for extra duty. In no sense is this having to ask permission but rather giving fair notice so that the necessary police arrangements can be made and any queries raised, should there be in any case difficulty over the route chosen.
I hope that there is nobody in the House who does not accept that that is manifestly a reasonable proposition. Those who do not accept that should do the RUC and the Chief Constable the courtesy of reading any of his annual reports since 1981 in which he draws attention to the heavy burden and load placed on the RUC, not just by one section of the community but by both sides with their various traditional marches and activities.
In respect of the incitement provisions in the order, the misleading statements that have been made about stirring up hatred or arousing fear and the suggestion that the provisions are different from anything seen before, these provisions effectively reflect the provisions of the Public Order Act 1986 for England and Wales. Before that measure was enacted, the House will recall that when I originally published the proposal for a draft order I announced that we had not at that time had the opportunity to take account of the provisions in the Public Order Act 1986. I told the House that I would seek to include them in this order, and hon. Members will see that the provisions are included in the draft order.
The order encompasses an additional element about fear and religious belief, both of which reflect the unfortunate circumstances of Northern Ireland. Some hon. Members may think that this is a radical departure, but those things have been in Northern Ireland legislation since 1970. There has been misrepresentation about this order and about the repeal of the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act (Northern Ireland) 1954. There has been gross misrepresentation about the effect of the repeal of this Act. Leaving aside the facts that there has not been a single prosecution under this Act since 1969 and that its repeal will bring the legislation into line with the rest of the United Kingdom, the allegation is made that its repeal would somehow give equal status to the tricolour in Northern Ireland. I say clearly to the House that that is quite untrue.
The repeal of the Act will not affect the fact that the Union flag is the official flag of the United Kingdom and will continue to be the flag that is flown from public buildings on public occasions. There is no question of the Irish tricolour being given any status by the repeal. It will no longer be an offence in itself to interfere with the display of the Union flag on private property—such as might have occurred under the Act—but any such interference would involve the commission of other criminal or civil offences, such as criminal damage, so the peaceful display of the Union flag or any other flag will continue to be protected. The police will also retain their general duty under common law to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent a breach of the peace arising from the provocative display of any flag or emblem.
No hon. Member familiar with Northern Ireland will have any illusion about flags being an emotional issue. It is extremely easy to stir up all sorts of misunderstandings and rumour. This Act will be totally redundant, and its repeal makes no difference whatever to the present position. I hope that the people of Northern Ireland will understand that when some people seek to excite their emotions about the matter. Undoubtedly in the past the 221 Act has been a source of great grievance for some people in Northern Ireland and it has long been felt by many, not least by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, that its repeal was long overdue.
A further criticism is that this Order enormously increases the powers of the police and my powers as Secretary of State. The draft order confers no new powers on the police, though it puts the existing power under common law to impose conditions on open air public meetings on to a statutory basis and redefines the grounds on which certain of their powers may be exercised. The only new power conferred on the Secretary of State is a power to exempt specified classes of processions from the notification requirements of article 3.
This exemption power is relevant to an anxiety that was expressed by the Salvation Army. Part II requires organisers of public processions to give seven days' notice to the police rather than the five days' notice that was previously required under the 1981 order. This requirement for advance notice applies to all public processions except funerals, but there is provision for the Secretary of State to exempt by order other classes or descriptions of processions. This provision could be applied, for example, to the regular Salvation Army processions which obviously contain no risk of public disorder. I mention that point because I know some people criticise our procedures and say that there is no opportunity for views to be taken into account. The House will know that this provision arose specifically as a result of representations by the Salvation Army and others, and we were certainly ready to meet their concerns with the amendment that is included in the draft order.
This order is different in one respect from previous Northern Ireland legislation and from legislation that applies in Great Britain. I refer to the requirement to give notice for processions which are customarily held in a particular area or along a particular route. Earlier I said that part of the purpose for the giving of notice is to give reasonable warning to the RUC, because its officers need reasonable notice to organise the extra duties that may be involved. Such duties may arise whether the march is customary or not. However, we know that in Northern Ireland traditional parades can, unfortunately, become the focus of disorder, although that is not necessarily the intention of the organisers. For that reason we feel that it is necessary to include customary parades in the ambit of the requirement to give notice.
One other concern arose during the consultation. It is about the incitement to hatred and the arousal of fear provisions. This matter was raised by the National Union of Journalists and others, who said that the provisions might interfere with the normal activities of the press in reporting events in Northern Ireland. I can assure the House that this is certainly not the intention, nor is it the effect, of the new provisions.
This matter arose during consideration of the Public Order Bill and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, in Standing Committee G, on 22 March 1986 said, as reported in column 860, that the British Guild of Newspaper Proprietors had expressed similar fears about the equivalent provisions of that Bill. As a result, the Bill was amended on Report to include the words,having regard to all the circumstances".This provision enables prosecuting authorities and the court to distinguish between legitimate reporting and 222 comment, on the one hand, arid inflammatory material, on the other. The relevant wording of the Public Order Act is replicated in this draft order.
The House will also note that the draft order maintains the power that the Secretary of State enjoys to ban a procession in consequence of information furnished to him by the Chief Constable or for any other reason. I find it extremely difficult to conceive of any occasion when I would think it possible or appropriate to exercise that power without information and advice from the Chief Constable. At the same time, the House will understand the ultimate responsibility that I bear for order in Northern Ireland, and will understand why it is sensible to retain that ultimate responsibility if for any other reason I thought that it might be desirable to ban a procession. I tell the House bluntly that I find it virtually inconceivable that such power would be excercised without the good advice of the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
One criticism is that, by this order, we are seeking to snuff out the traditional rights of protest and assembly that should exist in any civilised democratic society. I make it quite clear that that is in no sense our desire or intention. Incidentally, in one of the pamphlets that I have seen circulating in opposition to the order there is a suggestion that there is a distinction between the time requirement that is shown in the Public Order Act, which is six clear days, and the requirement in this order, which is seven days. I am not responsible for all the draftsmen. They have different ways of saying exactly the same thing.
The requirement to give notice might appear to infringe the opportunity for genuine spontaneous demonstration. The order takes into account circumstances in which a demonstration is genuine and it is simply not practicable for the required notice to be given. A reasonable and practicable provision is included.
A further charge involves the registration of bands. That feature is different in the order. Of course, anybody who knows traditional Northern Ireland marches will know that the number and type of bands differ from those that one might expect in other parts of the United Kingdom.
The registration of bands is not new. It was introduced' into Northern Ireland legislation in 1971. The proposals for registration have never been implemented. I make it absolutely clear that the Government have no intention of doing so at present. At the same time, I recognise and welcome the recent announcement that the Orange order is to introduce a charter for the conduct of bands participating in Orange parades. I am sure that that is a responsible and sensible piece of self-regulation which should be likely to meet the situation.
The truth about the order, unlike the misrepresentations that have been put out about it, is that, in part, it follows a number of the Chief Constable's recommendations about public order. It carries forward the improvements contained in the Public Order Act 1986 for England and Wales, with the modifications that are needed for the special circumstances of Northern Ireland. It involves the development of policies and the guidance and important role played by Sir John Hermon as Chief Constable. In successive annual reports, he has advised of the need to find a more sensible and more orderly way in which the good traditions of marching can be protected 223 and in which some of the elements that seek to disrupt and abuse such privileges and opportunities can be sensibly dealt with.
Society in Northern Ireland has paid a heavy price for disorganisation, disruption, human conflict and, undoubtedly, the resources that have been involved year after year in trying to bring order into certain areas in which it has been seriously disrupted. The order contains nothing that any responsible person in Northern Ireland need fear.
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
The order occupies approximately 21 pages. One almost hopes that the debate will not be too lengthy, but how in heaven's name can one get through this matter in a short time? Why it is an order and not a Bill?
§ Mr. King
The hon. Gentleman may have heard my opening remarks in which I made it clear that, under the procedure that the House adopts in the system of issuing proposals for a draft order for consultation, the opportunities for formal consultation are clearly established. In seeking to maintain the consistency of Northern Ireland legislation in this field, the Order in Council procedure has been followed. I make no secret of the fact that I should have liked to see the possibility of developing alternative procedures. It is a pity that the House has not addressed that matter.
As long ago as February 1986, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister specifically offered Unionist Members and other hon. Members the opportunity to discuss the procedures under which Northern Ireland legislation is handled in the House. It is a great pity that that opportunity was not taken. It is worth noting that those who make allegations about the order outside the House as though it is the end of civilised life in Northern Ireland as they know it are not prepared to take the opportunity to raise any points arising from it, either inside the House or during the consultation period. The reality is that they are either grossly negligent about the interests of their constituents or are wholly exaggerating their fears. The order consolidates in part what the House discussed at considerable length in relation to the Public Order Act 1986. In certain other respects, it carries forward and clarifies a certain amount of the existing Northern Ireland legislation.
Although I entirely accept the hon. Gentleman's point about the length of the order, my illustration of its components will help to clarify it. I make no secret of the fact that—I say this quite straightforwardly to the hon. Gentleman — I should like to see discussions on alternative ways in which Northern Ireland legislation of such significance could be handled in the House.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
Does the Secretary of State accept that to make a charge of negligence is only to aggravate a condition? Surely he would wish to withdraw that charge.
§ Mr. King
I gave the House the opportunity to choose between the alternative conclusions. I leave the hon. Gentleman to make his judgment. I happen to believe in the House. I happen also to believe that we live in a parliamentary democracy in which arguments and disagreements are brought out into the open and issues are discussed. If the issues are about disorder—I do not 224 often agree with the hon. Gentleman, as he knows—or if they are about how legislation is handled, it is a fair point to make, and the House should consider it. I respect the fact that he raised it.
I say clearly again to all hon. Members and to those who are interested in our proceedings that the order contains nothing that any responsible person in Northern Ireland need fear. Rather, it is to be welcomed by all who wish to see honourable traditions maintained and exercised, free of abuse, intimidation and fear, and who recognise the need to support the RUC and for it to have the necessary and appropriate powers to maintain the peace and to protect the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland. I commend the order to the House.
§ Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)
In replying to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) the Secretary of State was very frank. Let me be equally frank. I found much of what the Secretary of State has just said very persuasive. The division across the Dispatch Boxes tonight arises not from what he said; nevertheless, it is of the Government's own making. It is the clearest example for a long time of the unsatisfactory procedure by which we legislate for Northern Ireland. If ever there were legislation that was not appropriate for an unamendable order, it must be the provisions that we are now discussing. The Opposition accept that there is a need for reviewing the public order provisions which exist for Northern Ireland. The differences between us and the Government may fairly be said to be largely matters of judgment—where the balance should be struck between the various interests and the various rights that have to be protected.
But this is an area where balance is all-important, where it is vital to examine the details of how a provision will operate and what its impact will be in various situations. If this had been a Second Reading debate, we might have been able to say, "Let the Bill proceed; we shall discuss our reservations and anxieties in Committee; then, on Third Reading, we shall assess what progress has been made towards a consensus on the controversial issues and whether we can accept the final edition." But that option has been denied to us. We are presented with a sealed package containing a variety of provisions, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough said, with little in common, except that they may all be described as relating to public order and we are told to take it or leave it.
Perhaps it was naive of me, in the light of our experience with the Government's business managers—I accept the distinction between the Northern Ireland Office and the Government's business managers—to expect something better, but I really did expect something better. Together with the Minister of State, we have just taken part in the Committee stage of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill. It was a refreshing experience. There were genuine discussions; minds actually met; and there was give and take. I doubt whether any hon. Member who took part in the Committee proceedings was not persuaded to a change of mind on some question by the arguments.
We are not wholly happy with the outcome; there are still differences between us. But we enjoyed the experience —a novel one in Northern Ireland matters—of seeking together after truth instead of proceeding to an all-or-nothing vote. I had hoped that the Government would 225 want to repeat that experience—if not by way of a Bill, as I understand that there are constraints on time, at least by way of a preliminary debate that would permit a test of feelings in the House on some of the controversial issues, before the House was presented with the final draft.
I am sure that I am not betraying any confidence—in fact, I think that the Secretary of State implied it—if I say that that possibility was explored through that mysterious process which we call "the usual channels". However, I suspect that the Government lost interest when they failed to reach an agreement on our procedures which would include the two major Unionist parties. That was the reason which the Secretary of State gave a moment ago to my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough.
But the hon. Members of the two Unionist parties are not the only Members of this House who want to discuss matters relating to Northern Ireland. They are not the only Members of this House who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland. I very much regret that those hon. Members have not thought it right to come to the Chamber and participate in this debate, unsatisfactory though it is, and to express the views of their constituents. But it seems to me that it is even more regrettable that the Government have allowed that fact to preclude any experiment with our procedures. If abstentionism is seen to operate as a veto over any development, there is a clear bonus for abstentionism.
While I am still on the Second Reading part of my speech, may I take up something that the Secretary of State said a moment ago about consultation. There was a very short period for consultation. There are some problems relating to public order, which, as he said, are peculiar to Northern Ireland.
We accept that the provisions cannot be identical with those which apply to the rest of the United Kingdom. That is the very reason why it was necessary to have separate consultations in Northern Ireland. But there are many groups in Northern Ireland who are concerned with the same issues as concern groups in Great Britain. They want to demonstrate about boycotting South African goods, or about particular accident black spots, and they are entitled to express a view as to where the balance should be struck between those rights and the rights that are brought into issue by the special situation in Northern Ireland.
The time allowed after the draft was published to circulate members to convene meetings, to draft submissions and to get them agreed was six weeks, including the Christmas holiday. That is not genuine consultation. It was an invitation to come to the party, addressed to those who could not hope to make the journey before the gates were closed. I hope that the Government will take that on board for the future. Those of us who would like there to be discussion in Northern Ireland of what we would regard as the stuff of politics elsewhere had hoped that those groups would be encouraged to express a view. In many cases their view was excluded.
As for part II of the order, we are concerned about the fact that there is no limit on the categories of procession which may be the subject of conditions imposed by the police or of prohibition by the Secretary of State. There is power to prohibit a school crocodile or a funeral procession. It is only for the purpose of the provisions about the giving of notice that there is any limitation on the categories of procession in question. [Interruption.] If I mistake not, the Secretary of State is a little surprised to 226 hear that, but if he reads the order he will see that that is what it says. Even those categories are much wider than the categories that are subject to the equivalent provisions in Great Britain. The Public Order Act 1986, to which the Secretary of State referred limits those categories in section 11 to processions intended
For the equivalent provisions in this order, the term "procession" is all-embracing, subject only to very limited exceptions. Those exceptions are to be found in article 3(4). There is only one specific exemption. That is the one to which the Secretary of State referred. A requirement of notice does not apply to a funeral procession, although the police may impose conditions on it and the Secretary of State may direct that the deceased shall not be accorded a funeral procession at all.
- "(a) to demonstrate support for or opposition to the views or actions of any person or body of persons,
- (b) to publicise a cause or campaign, or
- (c) to mark or commemorate an event."
The other provision in article 3(4) empowers the Secretary of State to exempt the provisions of a specific class or description. I hope, as he pointed out, that the Secretary of State will at once exempt obviously innocuous processions like those of the Salvation Army. But there is no general exemption for the school crocodile. Is it seriously intended that notice must be given before class of schoolchildren can move from one building to another, or will that be one of the exemption orders that he makes? If so, perhaps the Minister of State will tell us so at the end of the debate.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stafford)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has referred to article 3(4). It is arguable that greater latitude is here given by the Secretary of State under article 3(4)(b) for precisely the opposite reasons from those given by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Crocodiles of schoolchildren could just as easily be excluded from that category by the Secretary of State. It is a little disingenuous of him to say that it automatically follows that school crocodiles would be included when this power has been taken precisely in order to deal with innocuous occasions of that kind.
§ Mr. Archer
I hope that the Secretary of State will take careful note of what the hon. Gentleman has just said, because I echo it. But if the intention were to exclude school crocodiles, why not say so in the order and set everybody's mind as rest? We have specifically excluded funeral processions. What is so different about school crocodiles? I understand that it was the Salvation Army kind of situation that the Secretary of State had in mind. If he intends to exempt school crocodiles, the sooner he says so and sets our minds at rest the better.
What about trade union processions? To my knowledge, they have never been a source of violence or disorder in Northern Ireland. Are trade unions to be brought into these provisions by stealth, as they have been in previous legislation, simply because they are not included among the exceptions?
Article 2(2) includes a requirement that is absent from the Public Order Act 1986 which applies in Great Britain. As the Secretary of State has just reminded us, in Northern Ireland the notice must include the number of persons who are likely to take part in the procession. I assume that one reason for its absence from the Act is that it is virtually impossible for the organisers of a procession to know in advance the numbers likely to take part. Anybody who has 227 tried to organise a meeting of hon. Members in this House will know that there is no way of predicting how many are likely to turn up.
I confess that I am not sure of the consequences if the organisers get the numbers wrong. Article 3(5)(b) states that a person who organises or takes part in a processionwhich is held on a date, at a time or along a route which differs from the date, time or route specified in relation to it in the noticeshall be guilty of an offence. There is nothing about getting the numbers wrong. Article 3(5)(a) states that it is an offence to organise or take part in a processionin respect of which the requirements of the Article as to notice have not been satisfied".One of those requirements is that the numbers likely to take part shall be specified, but so is the date, the time and the route. Do the Government take the view that article 3(5)(a) does not apply to those requirements and that they have to be dealt with separately in article 3(5)(b)? If so, why do the words of article 3(5)(a) not mean what they appear to mean in ordinary English? If it does apply, why is it necessary to make special provision for failure to supply those details in article 3(5)(b)? If that is necessary, and as there is no provision in article 3(5)(b) for failing to specify the expected numbers, what is the sanction against someone who fails to specify the exempted numbers?
While the Secretary of State is sorting that out, before leaving article 3(5) I note that the order makes it an offence not only to organise a procession in respect of which the requirements as to notice have not been satisfied, but even to take part in such a procession. That is a clear contrast with section 11(7) of the Act which applies to Great Britain.
I appreciate that it is not always easy to identify the organisers when confronted by a procession. If there had been an opportunity to discuss the order in Committee and to suggest amendments, we might have explored how to meet that difficulty. But have the Government considered the consequences of what they are doing here for someone who is exercising his right simply to take part in an apparently lawful procession? That person has to ask to see a copy of the notice which has been given, to satisfy himself of its accuracy and that it was properly given, or risk being found guilty of an offence which carries a penalty of up to six months' imprisonment. That is such an incursion into a right which is taken for granted in a democracy that it cannot be acceptable.
Finally, among the provisions relating to the notice of processions, the Public Order Act permits notice to be served by post. No such facility is contemplated in this order. I understand that there may be a problem for those organising processions in England, if the route lies through the areas of two or more police authorities, but surely that is not the question. The question is whether the police can live with service of notice by post. In Great Britain they can. What is so different in Northern Ireland that police stations cannot be equipped with letter boxes?
I have just referred to the requirement of notice. The questions multiply when one turns to imposing conditions and prohibitions. They include not only processions, but open-air meetings. They are concerned not only with marching through an area, past people's homes, but with meetings in which people stay in the same place. It is true that the Act relating to Great Britain refers to assemblies, 228 although it does not call them public meetings. The Secretary of State did not explain why there has been a change in terminology. An "assembly" is defined as 20 or more people. There is no similar limitation for the definition of a public meeting in the order. Presumably, it could be a public meeting, if the chairman and the secretary only were there.
I understand that in Northern Ireland, perhaps on a day for which a rally or a general strike has been arranged, a few people standing on a street corner in a housing estate may amount to an unspoken threat. If that is the situation that the Government contemplate in the order, they have not dealt with it. Although the definition in the order does not say one way or the other, I assume that a private conversation is not included, even if it is in a public place and attended by half a dozen people.
The term "meeting" surely implies an element of formal procedure, with a chairman and speeches, and it must entail a degree of prior organisation with invitations to the public to attend. So the provision misses what some may think should be its real target. I wonder why there has been a change in terminology from the word "assembly", which might have hit the target, but what it may well catch is a vigil outside a church or an industrial picket. Whatever the Government's intention, the order is not an appropriate vehicle for changing the law relating to industrial disputes. If the Government wish to do that, they should introduce an order dealing with industrial relations, when everyone is on notice as to what they are about.
The grounds on which a police officer may act in imposing conditions, and on which the Secretary of State may act in prohibiting a procession or meeting, go well beyond public order considerations. If a police officer has to decide whether to impose conditions because the procession may result inserious disruption to the life of the community,what he has to consider is its impact on such things as shopping or transport. That means that he must balance the right to shop against the right to demonstrate. In certain circumstances that judgment may have to be made. There can be no absolute rule either way because neither right is sacrosanct. A balance must be struck in each situation.
But that is a political judgment which cannot be struck by any rigid application of some rule, even if the order contained rules, which it does not. But the order states that that judgment must be made by a police officer. A police officer is not the right person to make such a judgment. Even if his decision is subject to judicial review, the grounds on which a review can be entertained do not extend to the courts substituting their judgment for that of the police officer. Even if they did, the court is hardly a more appropriate vehicle to make a political judgment than a police officer.
The Secretary of State reminded us of some of the things said by the Chief Constable. Last year the Chief Constable very fairly said that that is not a task for which the police should be made responsible. He suggested a tribunal. I would not go to the stake for any particular solution to the problem. But I am sure that, in Northern Ireland especially, no one will be satisfied by a political judgment which is made by the police. Indeed, that is not fair to the police.
§ Mr. Cash
I am not sure whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman is referring to the difference between 229 a public assembly and an open meeting. I believe that his first point related to the size of the meeting. He has now moved on to the question of the extent to which the police will make decisions. On that point, I refer him to section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986, in which it is quite clear that both provisions are on the same main point.
§ Mr. Archer
I was not making the point that there is a difference between who makes the decision here and who makes it under the Public Order Act, but I was making the point that, in Northern Ireland especially, political decisions should not be made by the police. I am not happy about the police making political decisions anywhere, but in Northern Ireland in particular it cannot be a way of increasing public confidence to know that a decision was made by the police. Moreover, it is not fair to the police.
The equivalent judgment in relation to a prohibition is to be made by the Secretary of State. That is right in principle; political judgments should be made by a politician who is answerable to the House. But it does not follow that the people of Northern Ireland repose complete confidence in an English Secretary of State. His judgment is not always seen as unquestionable so that further argument is precluded.
The right to judicial review would have enabled a court to inquire whether that judgment was based on accurate factual information; whether it took account of all relevant factors; and whether it was influenced by wholly improper considerations. More extensive use of the public review procedure in recent years has, indeed, restored some public confidence in administration, yet in article 5(3) we read:A recital in an order made by the Secretary of State under paragraph (1) as to his opinion and the information upon which that opinion was formed shall be conclusive evidence of the matters stated therein.Presumably that is intended to exclude judicial review. It is a recital that the Secretary of State is to be deemed infallible, his powers are not to be questioned in the courts, and he is above the law. Why does the Secretary of State want to go out of his way to minimise public confidence in these procedures? Have the ineptitudes of the Secretary of State for the Environment and the consequent succession of chastisements he has received from the courts caused the entire Cabinet to resolve to place their activities beyond the reach of the law?
Next the order permits the Secretary of State to prohibit a procession or meeting if it is likely to causeundue demands to be made upon the police or military forces.Clearly it would be a consideration to be taken into account if the police were precluded from protecting the public against crime. But what is an undue demand on the police must depend partly on what resources have been made available to them. It would be curious if the Government could reduce the rights of a citizen by reducing the resources available to the police. Our civil liberties would rest in the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and, given the present incumbent, that would not inspire confidence. Yet that is what is what the order implies. I venture to predict that if that provision were challenged under the European convention on human rights, the Government may well find that they are in breach.
Before I leave part II of the order, I wonder whether article 4(1)(b) hits the target at which it is aimed. No one can have sympathy with a procession or meeting held to 230 intimidate people, but I see two shortcomings in the test of intimidation. First, it is based on the purpose of the event, so the test is subjective: what do the organisers intend? Would it not have been better to speak of the likely consequence and so to introduce an objective test? Secondly, intimidation is defined asthe intimidation of others with a view to compelling them not to do an act they have a right to do, or to do an act they have a right not to do".Intimidation does not always consist of compelling people to do something. It may amount simply to placing them in fear. If, in consequence, they decide that they cannot face the situation any longer and they sell up and move away, those who organised the meeting may be able to say with truth that that was not their purpose and that all they meant to do was to terrify the local population. Had there been a Committee stage, we might have made that provision more effective.
Finally on part II, since there is a requirement that there shall be seven days' notice of the intention to hold a procession, should there not be ample notice to the organisers if conditions are to be placed on that procession or if it is to be prohibited? If they are to be told of these directives at the last minute when everyone has assembled that may well invite unnecessary trouble.
We welcome part III. The right of free speech cannot be absolute and one proper restriction is that it must not be abused to stir up tribal hatred or to arouse fear. The most obvious target in Northern Ireland will be people on one side of the sectarian divide, but there is a Chinese community there which sometimes feels anxiety and there are Indian families who could easily become a target. I understand that the legislation which exists in Great Britain against discriminatory behaviour—for example, in the supply of goods—has no equivalent in Northern Ireland. I hope that the Government will address themselves one day to that, but this, at least, is a beginning.
On the remainder of the order, we are pleased to see the Government implementing their promise to repeal the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act (Northern Ireland) 1954. That Act can render unlawful in Northern Ireland conduct which would be perfectly lawful in Birmingham, Manchester or Glasgow. It is intended to be discriminatory, and it is a pointless and provocative restriction on civil rights. We shall not mourn its passing.
Two articles require further discussion. Article 21 imposes sanctions on the wearing of a uniform, but there is no definition of that term. If in a public place in Northern Ireland I arrive wearing a Labour party rosette, is that a uniform? What if I wear a Labour party tie? What if, simply because it is fashionable amongst those of us who are bright and young, I wear a red jersey, particularly if, having regard to the bright spring sunshine, I add a pair of sunglasses? What of the French tourist whom we discussed in Standing Committee on the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill who turns up wearing a beret?
§ Mr. Archer
I think we mentioned a red or black beret, but the possibilities are endless. I shall not embark on them.
However reasonably the courts construe the term, it is important that people should know clearly whether they are infringing the criminal law. They should know what 231 they have a right to do and what will render them liable to three months' imprisonment. That article requires further discussion.
As to article 23, I do not say that trespass should never, in any circumstances, be a criminal offence. But we should exercise great restraint in applying criminal sanctions to what has historically been a matter for civil litigation, particularly when we turn to article 24(2) and find that it carries a power of arrest without warrant.
The article applies to entry into any public building as a trespasser. It would apply to occupation in the course of an industrial dispute. Whatever the merits of limiting the actions of employees in such a situation, they require separate discussion and debate and belong in industrial relations legislation. Even if we are considering the right to carry out a political demonstration in a public building, I am not persuaded that tenants of the Housing Executive who feel so strongly about an issue that they would be moved to protest by visiting the official concerned therefore should, be guilty of a criminal offence, provided that their entry and protest are without violence.
The reason why we cannot support this order is not that we do not believe that there are problems in Northern Ireland relating to public order; not that we object to every solution that the Government propose; not that we believe that all Northern Ireland legislation should be by way of a Bill with a formal Committee stage; not even the absence of proper consultation; but that the Government have wholly failed to distinguish between proposals that can be adequately discussed by way of an unamendable order and proposals which, by reason of their importance, their impact upon basic rights and the necessity of striking the right balance in each case, require fuller discussion in the House—the only forum in which they can be properly discussed. A Government who do not appreciate that distinction are not sensitive to the needs of a democracy and cannot be entrusted with the judgments entailed in this legislation.
I believe that many of our anxieties are shared by Conservative Members and we invite them to join us in the Lobby tonight.
§ 9.8 pm
§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)
I agree with much of what the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) said about this being an order rather than a Bill. The experience of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill, has been good. Although I did not serve on the Standing Committee, I am sure that my right hon. Friend and the Minister of State will agree that as a result of that process the Bill will he given Royal Assent as an improved Bill.
The legislative procedure enables hon. Members who are concerned about aspects of a Bill to express their concern and to press Ministers in detail by tabling amendments. If they are satisfied with the assurances that they receive from Ministers they can withdraw their amendments. At least the facility exists, even if hon. Members do not choose to press their amendments to a vote. The procedure enables hon. Members to seek assurances, undertakings and statements from the Government. It enables hon. Members who feel strongly about an aspect of a Bill to register their protest, while welcoming the Bill generally.
232 I find myself in such a situation with regard to the order. There is much in the order with which I am in agreement. There is much in it to commend it to the House. A certain amount of consolidation is necessary, and the order, rightly, does that and will ensure that we have one reference point in the future. I welcome that aspect of the order.
However, I am concerned about the repeal of the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act (Northern Ireland) 1954, although not to the extent of voting against the order tonight. That is the problem. The order is on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. If we wish to register a protest about some aspect, we can do so only by opposing the whole order. I do not wish to do that and I shall not do so later, but I am worried about the flags and emblems aspect.
I accept entirely the view that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State expressed in his speech earlier, that there is no nasty dark plot behind this. He rightly drew attention to the fact that no cases had resulted from the 1954 Act since 1969. I accept that that is probably a largely redundant Act, but I question the wisdom of repealing it at this time.
A large section of the Northern Ireland community—the Unionist community in particular — for better or worse, rightly or wrongly, feel that the Government have let them down. I accept my right hon. Friend's statement earlier, but the perception among those on the other side of the water will be that this is some dark and devious plot. I and most hon. Members know that that is not so, but that will be the perception. I wonder whether now is the right time to repeal that Act. The Government have the difficulty of trying to secure agreement and support—I do not think that they will get it, but they will seek to do so—for the Anglo-Irish agreement. This will not help the Government in that task. We should let sleeping dogs lie when we need so much good will and when the Government are having great difficulty in obtaining support from the Unionist community in Northern Ireland for their Anglo-Irish agreement. It must surely be unwise to include that item in the order, although that, of itself, will not make me oppose the order later.
I understand entirely why my right hon. Friend has felt it necessary to require notice of demonstrations. I accept that he is introducing the measure on the advice of the RUC. The RUC has a difficult job in Northern Ireland at present and anything that it recommends to the Government must be taken seriously. There will be some concern in some parts of the Northern Ireland community about the extent to which legitimate protest is being frustrated. I was glad to have my right hon. Friend's assurance from the Dispatch Box earlier that the right of legitimate protest will not be limited. In a democracy, even in Northern Ireland where there are strains on the democracy, it must be right for communities to be able to register their protest peacefully.
My right hon. Friend said that the Government had responded to the consultation with regard to the measure whereby there will be the opportunity for spontaneous demonstrations. My right hon. Friend has on one occasion used the example of the welcoming of a football team, or something of that kind. Such a spontaneous public demonstration of support would not require the six or seven-day rule. However, if a senior politician representing the Irish Government went to Stormont to participate in some aspect of the Anglo-Irish agreement discussions, some people might want to demonstrate spontaneously 233 about intrusion by a foreign politician. Will that be caught by the order? My right hon. Friend shakes his head and I am grateful to him for that. He has reassured me that that will not be the case.
Much in this order needs to be implemented. I support it but I regret that we legislate for Northern Ireland in a different way from the rest of the United Kingdom. The experience of the Bill recently before the House was good because it resulted in full discussions on all aspects of the Bill. Hon. Members were able to respond to those concerns in a very positive way.
I wish it were possible for this order to be the subject of a Bill instead. Nevertheless, I shall support it.
§ Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)
I preface my remarks by saying that, like the Secretary of State, I have been astounded. I did not realise that there was so much concern for civil liberties in the north of Ireland until the debate on this order started.
I think that we must look at it—and I choose to do this—from three angles, because, unless we do, we shall not be dealing with it in the proper way. We must look at it in the context of what is happening in the north of Ireland and the quality of life that we are experiencing there; we must look at it from the point of view of the rights of the individual; and, equally important, we must look at it from the point of view of the rights of the community.
I have heard the term "civil libertarian" used more often in the past three or four weeks than I have ever heard it in northern Irish life. I hope that I speak in this debate as nothing other than a civil libertarian. I came into politics through street protest, through a civil rights organisation, and I wish to preserve the absolute right to make a peaceful protest for every single person in the north of Ireland. But I say that with the civil libertarian conviction that those who are charged with administering society have a responsibility to protect the weak, the defenceless, the most vulnerable people, and not in any way to bolster the bully, the bigot or the triumphalist. That definition of a civil libertarian approach is one that I hope I shall be able to express in my remarks on the order.
I must examine the order in the context of Northern Ireland in the recent past. Listening to the Secretary of State and the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) I began to wonder whether I was living in a different world; I began to wonder whether I was imagining things that have happened over the past two or three years; I began to wonder whether I had been dreaming about last summer and the summer before and the summer before that. There was an air of unreality about it, and that centred on two things.
I do not wish to do a disservice to the Secretary of State, hut I think that he was slightly disingenuous when he made his remarks about the way in which processions and marches take place in the north of Ireland. I have no objection whatsoever to people marching, for whatever reason, provided that they do not do it to insult another section of the community; provided that they do not do it in such a way as to bring disruption to the lives of ordinary people; and provided that it is not a coat-trailing exercise — a way of inflaming passions within the community.
I say that very clearly because the reality is that we do have a triumphalist approach, we do have a display of 234 atavism right from Easter Monday to 22 November, which I personally cannot believe the north of Ireland can stand much longer, not just in terms of the disruption of people's lives or the fear and tension that it creates, but in terms of the cost to the Exchequer and, as a result of that, to the community.
I could understand the great desire to hold marches, processions and public meetings if they were held to celebrate something, to bring joy to the community, not, as unfortunately many of them are, as a statement of ascendancy by one section of the community over the other. I see no excuse for allowing a small or large section of any community to create that tension, fear and community upheaval on an on-going basis without being able to defend the right of the weak and vulnerable people within our society who suffer as a result.
I do not want to labour the House with details or examples. I shall refer specifically to Portadown, a place which over the years has experienced curfews for four or five days running because of the insistence of Loyalist marches through the Obin street area and the Gervaghy road area where there is no support for those who are organising the marches. I use the word "curfew" consciously because the protection afforded by the security forces for the marchers — not to protect the people who should be protected—takes about four days to set up and dismantle. Can we ask people to continue like that, especially as there is an acceptable alternative route for those marchers to which no-one would object? The alternative route is shorter and more direct. It is there; let it be used.
I think of people in Rathfriland who, at certain times in July, are in such fear of their lives that it is unbelievable. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Secretary of State and the Minister of State for the way that they got to grips last year with that tribal night when the ritualistic attacks took place.
I think of people in places such as Cookstown and Dunlow where they have to undergo an exercise in intimidation on a bi-yearly basis. Those people deserve our consideration. They deserve our consideration in civil libertarian terms and I must say, having experienced this sort of thing first hand in the north of Ireland for many years, the lives of ordinary people who want simply to live out their lives in peace during the summer months are much more of concern to me than where the full stop goes in this order or where one word might replace another.
As the Secretary of State has said, we have 2,200 marches in a year. That is a large number of marches. The Secretary of State understated the situation. I believe that it was he who confirmed that of the 2,200 marches, about 186 are contentious and involve considerable controversy. Those controversial marches have caused great suffering and cost to the community. For example, the Official Report shows that the demonstration that took place on the so-called day of action on 3 March 1986 cost £470,000 in police overtime alone. That is £470,000 of our money. If it cost that in police overtime, what did it cost overall and in terms of claims against the Northern Ireland Office?
Another example from the Official Report shows that between May and September of 1986 it took 334,000 police man hours to police that sort of march. To my reckoning—it is a conservative reckoning—that would work out somewhere in the region of £8 million. I can think of a lot of things and a lot of people in the north of Ireland who could do with £8 million. I think of the number of schools 235 it would build and the facilities that could be put into hospitals. I think of the number of tables on which £8 million could put food where at present there is simply no food.
We cannot allow to continue — we must rethink — anything which has this cost in human suffering, disruption and financial loss. If we are to be serious about it, now is the time. I dislike many things in this order but I shall have to swallow them. Against that I have to weigh my own views and prejudices. I have to think of the welfare of old people in Portadown during 1987, 1988 and 1989, and of young families living in Kilkeel under the type of physical attack that they experienced last year. I have to think of watching a man and his family in their house in Keady which was set on fire during a procession. The police and fire brigade could not get into the house and only by the grace of God did that family get out.
I have to think of a working man coming home from a 12-hour stint in Belfast, having driven 40 or 50 miles, being caught up in a parade in his own village night after night, having to leave his car and walk another one and a half miles home after a hard day's work. I have to think of the quality of our lives which are scarred by violence, eaten into by unemployment, and which must be protected from bigotry, triumphalism and coat-trailing exercises.
Secondly, I focus on the rights of the individual. It is essential that each person has the right to peaceful protest. Any attempt to remove that right will be counter-productive. Every person in society must have the right to free speech and to hold meetings where he can peacefully propagandise his own views. But he cannot do that at the expense of the young, the old, or the families of the community. We take a very simplistic and sincerely naive approach and we react as refugees from the reality of Northern Ireland if we do not face the problem and deal with it.
The Secretary of State could have been a little more honest when he referred to the differences between this order and the Public Order Act 1986. This order is substantially different in many ways, as it has to be, for very good and valid reasons. The Secretary of State has power to ban or re-route marches. If that power does not reside in the Secretary of State there is no ultimate protection for the community. The police, rightly, regard these marches as operational concerns and, like every other body of professionals, they are jealous of their ability to handle situations, some of which perhaps they cannot deal with. It is essential that that power resides in the Secretary of State and is used wisely and when necessary.
We have read and heard about static assemblies or outdoor meetings. I do not know if it is called a public meeting in this order. I remember seeing on television the Secretary of State being a victim of the actions of a static assembly. On Thursday last week I drove a carload of young people to a youth forum in my constituency to discuss unemployment. We came across a static assembly. It was not static for very long because concrete blocks came through the window of my car, which was seriously damaged and almost destroyed. Luckily, none of the young people was killed. They were going to a meeting to discuss how they might deal with unemployment and ways of creating peace. That is the reality of a static assembly.
I ask the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West to accept that people come out of the woodwork at 236 night, or at some other time, do what they have to do—it is not always good — and disappear. In such circumstances, there must be the type of latitude that will allow the person on the spot to make a decision. That person on the spot will be a policeman.
§ Mr. Archer
Perhaps I did not make myself clear. I suggested what I thought was a method of making these provisions more effective in relation to that situation.
§ Mr. Mallon
I accept the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point. I simply wanted to say that these things happen in such a way that no type of plan can cater for them.
There are four reasons why the powers under the order are in many ways much stronger than I should like: first, to prevent public disorder; secondly, to prevent serious damage to property; thirdly, to prevent serious disruption to the life of the community; and fourthly, to prevent intimidation of others. We must ask whether those are valid conditions. I believe that they are.
The order refers also to incitement to hatred or fear. But there has not been one conviction under the Prevention of Incitement to Hatred (Northern Ireland) Act 1970. The Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights has said:By contrast in Great Britain not only has the law been strengthened since its original introduction but it has been applied and successfully enforced on a number of occasions".There is a strong case for strengthening the law on incitement to hatred. The Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights said:though there should be a presumption in favour of freedom of expression, every democratic state has had to recognise and define for itself permissible limits which may be placed upon freedom of expression in the interests of a greater good".I put that in the context of the responsibilities under article 20(2) of the international covenant on civil and political rights, which states:Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discriminate, hostility or violence should be prohibited by law.It does not say "may be", "might be", but "shall be". It is in those terms that I welcome this part of the order.
The standing advisory commission has summarised the reasons why this action is necessary in the north of Ireland and I should like to give examples which might bring us towards reality. First, religion and politics in the north of Ireland are so closely intertwined that there is an extra emotional dimension to the political arena. This stems from sincerely held political beliefs. Secondly, there is the effect of statements on the public. I should like to try one such statement on this public—the terms used by a politician in the north of Ireland who was sitting on an area board dealing with education. He said:They"—meaning Catholic members of the community in the north of Ireland—should acquire an incinerator and burn the lot of them as they are only Fenian scum".Those words were quoted at his trial on 2 October 1986. I know the effect that has on me and the effect that it will have on many right-thinking persons, but what effect will it have on hot-headed young people in the cauldron that exists in the north of Ireland?
The third reason the standing advisory commission gave was polarisation of society. Again I would like to use a quotation from an hon. Member speaking in Cookstown 237 in 1986. The massive contribution made by the hon. Member for Antrim, North ( Rev. Ian Paisley) towards the end of polarisation in the north of Ireland was:No self respecting Unionist should trade, buy, socialise or have anything to do with members of the SDLP or alliance party.The fourth reason given is conformity with international obligations and I have already spoken about that. There are two key changes. First, in relation to the requirement to prove intent before convictions could be obtained in relation to the Prevention of Incitement to Hatred (Northern Ireland) Act 1970. Now the offence can be proved if there is likelihood of hatred or fear being aroused having regard to all the circumstances. Those people who make utterances of the type that I have quoted are well aware of the significance of such utterances. The final say rests with the courts and it will be interesting to see how they deal with the order.
I voice my concern about sections 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 in relation to the media. The power of the media is of particular significance after what happened in Glasgow over the Zircon affair. Everyone must be concerned about that. We must protect the rights of the media to report what has happened and what has been said. We must ensure that there is no pressure from any source upon the media. I know that the BBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority are excluded from this legislation, but what will happen with regard to Radio Telefis Eireann? That broadcasts to the north of Ireland and it is bound by section 31 regulations preventing people from paramilitary groupings appearing on it. It is crucial that we defend the right of the press and the media whether electronic or written in every way that we can.
With regard to the repeal of the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act (Northern Ireland) 1954, unlike a previous speaker I do not see it as an emotional matter. It is an anachronism and a deplorable relic from a discredited regime. As it is written it is an insult to one section of the community and has been inoperative for a long time. It has succeeded in doing nothing but giving offence and allows people to surround flags and emblems with emotive connotations.
I have seen enough of what I would call brush-handle politics in the north of Ireland. Brush-handle politics means that one gets the flag, which it is assumed one respects, ties it to a brush handle and uses it as a means of annoying people who represent the political opposition. That happens with the Union Jack and with the tricolour. I believe that those people who use it for political, sectarian or religious purposes are demeaning not only themselves but the flag which they purport to respect.
I believe that that Act should be replaced by tolerance. I hope that it will be replaced by a new tolerance for the other tradition and for the symbols of the other tradition which may sooth the fears the other tradition may have about its position in Northern Ireland. I believe that if that tolerance comes out of consideration of this order it will represent an advancement on the present situation.
Reluctantly I shall vote for the order because I believe that it is the only way open to me to protect the well-being and the lives of the very old and the very young in the community from the excesses and triumphalism that they must endure each year.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stafford)
I voted in favour of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and I never had any doubt that that agreement was the right way in which to tackle the problems of Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. That was my view at the time of the vote.
The order has been brought before us under a procedure which differs from the public Bill procedure. I have considerable sympathy with those on both sides of the House who have expressed the view that it would be better if we could manage to produce a more satisfactory procedure for dealing with legislation affecting Northern Ireland. I have suggested in the past that we should have a Select Committee on Northern Ireland, or alternatively the ability to refer legislation of this sort to something in the nature of a Special Standing Committee. It seems imperative that such legislation should be examined thoroughly on a similar basis to that which exists for other legislation that is considered in the House.
Many who normally attend debates of this sort but who are not present this evening would argue for consistency in the legislative process, but the circumstances prevailing in Northern Ireland are quite different from those which pertain in the United Kingdom as a whole. It is equally true that the Official Unionists are deeply divided between themselves. I deplore the fact that they are not present this evening to consider the order. The Official Unionists are deeply divided and there are signs that soon there will be a severe split between them, leading to the Democratic Unionist party breaking away in a manner that will be potentially dangerous for the Province.
The proposals that are before us have been deeply and seriously misrepresented by those who oppose the principle of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. If we are to have marches — there are proper circumstances in which marches can take place in Northern Ireland—they must take place in a responsible and orderly manner. There is no doubt that, despite the instances given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, there have been a number of occasions, especially at Portadown, when the degree of civil disorder that transpired was so bad that new legislation was required. Much of this legislation is based upon the original legislation of 1970 and the Public Order Act 1986, and I welcome the provisions that are set out in the order. There is no doubt that we must have regard to the special circumstances of Northern Ireland in dealing with extremely difficult problems.
It seems that the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act (Northern Ireland) 1954 had become an anachronism, and it is as well that it is dealt with in the order. There has been criticism that public processions are not defined in a way that limits them to the sort of processions, apart from funeral processions, that should be covered. The fact is that there is and has been a significant misuse of the rights that exist. Therefore, it is right for the Secretary of State to extend to all processions the requirement to give notice of public processions, and I fully support the proposals in the order to that end.
There has been discussion about public meetings, about whether the size of a public meeting is sufficiently well defined and, by analogy, about whether it would be more appropriate for the definition of an assembly as set out in the Public Order Act 1986 to be applied in the order. When we consider the legislation which we passed recently affecting the rest of the United Kingdom and the 239 circumstances in which legislation has to apply in Northern Ireland, the distinctions which have been drawn are entirely justified. I would go further and say that the powers which the Secretary of State has taken to himself are required because in the tragic circumstances which apply in Northern Ireland it is necessary to have a fullback provision.
The definitions of "fear" and "hatred" in article 8 regrettably have to apply to religious belief. The conditions which we hoped would have improved over the past 15 years have so markedly not improved that these definitions are required.
The order has been accused of doing many things, but it will provide for greater consistency in the legislation applying to the United Kingdom as a whole. There are differences but they are justifiable. We all regret that there is such a tragic situation in Northern Ireland, but I believe that the order will go a long way to improving it. The Anglo-Irish Agreement is still in place and it is clear that it will remain in place. The determination and courage of the Ministers who have had to maintain that policy are to be greatly applauded.
§ Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)
Universal opprobrium has been heaped from all parts of the House on the use of unamendable orders. I associate myself with those remarks, but I think that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) made the point eloquently when he said that the situation in Northern Ireland is not normal. So it is inevitable that procedures that none of us likes very much sometimes have to be used in the context of Northern Ireland.
I understood from what the Secretary of State said that he was willing to have discussions with hon. Members from other parts of the House, even perhaps in the absence of Members of the Unionist parties, about reintroducing more normal procedures in the use of Bills so that we can have proper debates, with amendments being tabled. That would mean that we would not be faced with the stark choice, as we will be when we vote tonight, of being for or against an order about which we all have reservations.
My right hon. and hon. Friends in the alliance parties will support the Government tonight because we recognise the realities which were spelt out by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh and which apply in Northern Ireland, although I understood and accept some of the points made by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer). He made an eloquent Second Reading speech and also dealt with some Committee points. If we could have had a Second Reading debate and a debate in Committee, I think that some of the differences between the two front Benches could have been ironed out and probably no Division would have been necessary. Any worries that we may have about the use of unamendable orders cannot surely match the deep repugnance that all of us must feel for the bigoted and menacing shows of strength that the Secretary of State described. I found it staggering that 2,200 marches have taken place in Northern Ireland in the last year.
I welcoming the order, I should like to thank the Secretary of State and the Minister of State for the response to the representations made by me and by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) in 240 response to the invitation to take part in the consultation process. The letter that the Minister sent to us on 18 February answered a number of our reservations and worries. His assurance that spontaneous action would not be covered by the terms of this order, should effectively ensure that punitive action is not taken against innocuous groups of residents who wish to make some point about a burning local issue or against groups like school crocodiles mentioned by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West.
In our representations to the Minister and in the speech by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) on Second Reading of the Public Order Bill, we spelled out the inevitable concern of Liberals about striking the right balance between public order and the right peacefully to protest. We also place our longer-term trust in the confidence and trust of the community rather than in increased powers. The emphasis should be on a return to normal policing as quickly as possible. To facilitate that the time is ripe to establish more formal and mutually beneficial links and relationships between police at sub-divisional level and locally elected representatives and other responsible organisations and groups.
We should like to see established statutory police liaison committees, perhaps along the lines of those that have operated for many years in Derry, that contain an elected element and have a statutory right of consultation on marches and demonstrations. Members of these committees should be required to make a declaration committing themselves to democratic methods and a renunciation of violence. I should like to see experiments in community policing in areas where that is possible. The Royal Ulster Constabulary should consider having open days so that the public can obtain a clearer idea of the nature of police work.
All these trends can be encouraged, but we accept that they cannot be realistic at the moment because of the situation in Northern Ireland. We want to see as much movement as possible towards normalisation, and we do not want to see a reduction in civil liberties as a result of the present strife in Northern Ireland. That is why we also want the Goverment to consider complementing the kind of measures they are introducing by, for instance, establishing a wholly independent police complaints board.
We would also like to see the incorporation of a Bill of Rights—even in lieu of incorporation into the statutes for the rest of Great Britain—in the laws of Northern Ireland. We would like to see that backed by a commission on human rights. Although that kind of legislation will not necessarily be a panacea, it will safeguard the sort of civil liberties and civil rights that quite properly have been raised by hon. Members in this debate.
The issue of marches is the primary concern of this debate. We recognise that many of the marches are intimidatory and offensive, and are designed to create tension and to whip up unrest. Their use by extreme elements has been a chief cause of the never-ending hostility between the two warring tribes. Marches often incite and offend and that inevitably leads to retaliatory action. We have heard something about that in the debate.
The motives of people outside the House who are opposed to these orders were well summed up in remarks by the hon. Members for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams). Their words 241 demonstrate the reasons why those hon. Members are opposed to the order and perhaps why hon. Members in the House ought to be united in supporting the order. In the Irish News of 26 February the hon. Member for Belfast, West said:'The real purpose of the Public Order Bill however is the further repression of Republican and nationalist expression. It will significantly restrict free speech and political expression and is quite specifically aimed at the traditional Easter commemorations.'His remarks — ironically, some might think — were echoed by the hon. Member for Antrim, North. The Belfast Telegraph states that, last month, hetold a Press conference in Belfast that the new legislation on public order was designed to 'stifle' protest against the Anglo-Irish Agreement.He is reported as saying:when the order became law there should be a 'simultaneous uprising' by loyalists in towns, villages and hamlets throughout Northern Ireland".The article further states:parades and public meetings should be held as an act of defiance against the new measures, which, he claimed, were a direct result of the Intergovernmental Conference.He said: 'This, the latest product of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, is an attempt to stifle completely the voice of protest, and to destroy civil and religious liberties in Northern Ireland.'I refute what the hon. Members for Belfast, West and for Antrim, North have said. It is significant that they are united in their opposition to the order. They recognise that if the ugliness of marches can be taken off the streets of Northern Ireland, and if some order can be put in the place of menacing and intimidating marches, the kind of extremism for which they stand can be combated. It certainly will lead to the normalisation of Northern Ireland that the Anglo-Irish Agreement is all about.
The kind of remarks that have been passed outside the Chamber are grossly irresponsible. As other hon. Members have said, those who make such remarks should be in the House of Commons to justify what they have said. Whipping up unrest and disquiet on the streets of Belfast is no task for a parliamentarian.
§ Mr. Archer
I agree with the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the comments of those who oppose the order from outside the House. In turn, does he agree that it does not follow from the fact that they gave unattractive reasons that there may not be good reasons for opposing the order?
§ Mr. Alton
In my earlier remarks, I recognised that some of the points that the right hon. and learned Gentleman put forward would normally have been met in Committee or on Second Reading. It is because of the unhappy way in which the order has been introduced that we cannot debate the minutiae. The order is like a curate's egg. There are matters in it of which we approve and others of which we disapprove. The balance of judgment of my party is that the order should be supported, not least because of the kind of remarks that were passed outside the House and the signal that might be sent to the hon. Members for Belfast, West and for Antrim, North, if we were seen to be in opposition to the order.
We, in common with Labour Opposition Members and other hon. Members who have spoken tonight, are pleased about the decision on the flags and emblems legislation. The other piece of legislation that is normally coupled with it is the Public Health and Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act (Northern Ireland) 1949, 242 Section 19(4) of that Act deals with the erection of street signs in Gaelic as well as in English. Is it the Government's intention to bring in an order which might deal with that offensive piece of legislation as well? It has quite justifiably—like the flags and emblems legislation-given cause for concern in the minority community in Northern Ireland over many years.
The people of Great Britain are growing increasingly weary of the outpourings of hatred in Northern Ireland. The measure deals firmly with the perpetrators of bigotry and prejudice, and represent positive progress towards the creation of a community in which both traditions will learn to respect and tolerate the other. For those reasons, we shall vote in the Government Lobby this evening.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
The order gives the opportunity to raise serious public order issues. I wish to raise one such matter—a monstrous travesty of public order committed by the state authorities. In the autumn of 1982, a shoot-to-kill policy was activated by the security forces in Northern Ireland. A special squad, the RUC mobile support unit, set up ambushes and went on a shooting spree. The 12 October 1986 edition of The Observer described three murderous events. On 11 November it stated:As they closed from behind, the MSU man stretched Out of the passenger window, pouring shots into the Escort from his machine gun … The scene, one policeman described as 'like the Wild West' … The chased car careered into a ditch, riddled with bullet-holes. No fewer than 109 shots had been fired in a few minutes. Forensic evidence later proved that one of the men was shot through the heart, with his door open, presumably after the chase ended. Toman, McKerr and Burns were unarmed. All were dead.The Observer, on 24 November, referring to what happened in a hayshed in Armagh, said:After the firing stopped, a 17-year old boy, Michael Tighe, was found dead inside. He was innocent of republican connections but had accompanied McAuley.
The MSU would not necessarily have realised that he was coming and an MI5 bug had, unknowingly to the MSU, been placed in the hayshed and this killing was taped.
Again, The Observer on 12 September said:A plain Peugeot had been trailing the unarmed Seamus Grew and Roddy Carroll's yellow Allegro all day … It went badly wrong. An army private crashed his automatic ca r into an RUC Cortina and broke a policeman's leg. Grew drove by what seemed to be a mundane road accident … They tore after the Allegro. As they slowed in front of it, the constable leapt out and pumped 15 shots in the direction of the passenger, Roddy Carroll. He killed him. He moved round to the driver's side and killed Grew, who was found not in the car but lying in the road with a bullet in the back of his head. What followed all these killings was the smooth process of cover-up and disappearance of individual responsibility via what was known as 'a Chinese Parliament.'At the opening of the adjourned inquest on 2 September 1983 the coroner stated that he was prevented from carrying out his statutory duty by the unexplained delay of the Director of Public Prosecutions. On 22 August 1984 he resigned, saying that he found grave irregularities in the police files on the killings of Grew and Carroll. John Stalker, Manchester's deputy chief constable, was then appointed to investigate this entire shoot-to-kill affair, but we all know that he was blocked. Senior officers ordered junior colleagues to lie during the internal investigations and threatened them with the Official Secrets Act 1911. The Chief Constable of the RUC, Sir John Hermon, 243 personally refused to hand over the tape of the Tighe murder. Later, when Stalker won authority for access to it, Hermon announced that it had been destroyed.
By any account these are startling revelations. In a democracy explanations could be expected, but answers from this Conservative Government have been hard to get. The Prime Minister has consistently refused to answer any questions directed to her, despite the fact that she has overall responsibility for the security services. They are all passed to the Northern Ireland Office, but its replies are scant indeed.
I ask the Government to list all the officers responsible for the operations and activities of the MSU in 1982 and to explain the functions of the MSU. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland replied that it was not the practice to publish information on operational matters. I asked him to list each occasion when the RUC Chief Constable and his deputy were asked to make available the Tighe tape, and what was their response. I asked him also to explain the role of section E4A—surveillance—and essential witnesses to the killings and to say whether the Government had asked for a report about the apparent destruction of the tape recording. The Secretary of State said that he had nothing to add to his earlier reply.
In his earlier reply of 23 October 1986, the Secretary of State did not answer any of those vital questions. Instead, he stated that Mr. Sampson took over from Stalker and had completed the first part of his report dealing with the incident on 24 November 1982 in which Mr. Tighe was shot dead. He went on to say that Sampson's second report would address the associated issues connnected with all the cases that were under investigation but that it would not be published. Therefore, the whole disgraceful episode about the tape continues to be covered up.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman, but finding it difficult to relate what he is saying to the order. Will he please tell me which—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Will the hon. Gentleman please tell me to which part of the order he is relating his remarks?
§ Mr. Cohen
I apologise for jumping the gun before you had finished speaking, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am referring to two parts of the order. Article 24 states:A constable in uniform may arrest without warrant anyone he reasonably suspects is committing an offence under Part II.A constable might have that power, but he should not have the power to shoot, as has been the case. Part III is headed,Stirring up hatred or arousing fear.I cannot think of anything more likely to arouse fear than those incidents. I should like to continue on that basis because—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. He referred to article 24. That relates only to powers of arrest under this order. The hon. Gentleman went much wider than that.
§ Mr. Cohen
I take the point, but in that case only future events would count and we could not refer to anything in the past. That is the gist of what you are saying, Mr. 244 Deputy Speaker, and surely that cannot be right. I hesitate to advise you of that, but surely we must learn the lessons of the past before we can relate them to this order. That is all that I am seeking to do. I must say that such action arouses fear and that relates to the article to which I have referred, as does the constable arresting and possibly shooting those people.
There were persistent "dirty tricks" allegations during the Stalker affair, the whole purpose of which was to delay the investigation into the RUC's role in the unlawful killings. In the face of that, the Government have been cynically opportunist and have not shown any interest in that allegation.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but I cannot relate what he is now saying to this order, which is the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987. The hon. Gentleman must relate his remarks to the order; otherwise he is being unfair to the House and to other hon. Members who wish to speak.
§ Mr. Cohen
I have attempted to raise this issue since before Christmas last year, and this is the first opportunity that there has been to raise it. It is a matter of public order and several articles relate to it—for example, carrying an offensive weapon in a public place. What were used in those cases, it not offensive weapons? Powers of entry and search are also referred to. A hay barn was entered and Michael Tighe was murdered. That aroused fear. That must be relevant and we should receive answers from the Secretary of State on those points.
The state has not brought anyone responsible for the killings to justice; and while the Director of Public Prosecutions normally decides upon prosecutions within about 10 weeks, it has been several years in this case. The conclusion can be drawn that the Government have been happy with the delay. They have been waiting for the trail to go cold, as perhaps it leads much higher up—not just to the Chief Constable, but to Downing street or the Northern Ireland Office which may, very likely, have been involved in the original policy decision for shoot-to-kill.
The leading article in The Guardian of 15 December 1986 stated:Officers up to the rank of Chief Superintendent were expected to be charged by March with offences likely to include conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.That has not happened but, if it did, it is hard to believe that the buck stops at chief superintendent level. The Guardian continued:London and Dublin are understood to have agreed that Sir John was not responsible for any officially sanctioned shoot-to-kill policy…but he has several questions to answer about what took place after.The question remains; if he did not sanction it, who did? The Secretary of State should give us those answers.
That it can be suggested that the Chief Constable, or his deputy, did not know what was going on is incredible, and, even if that is the case, it smacks of negligence on an enormous scale. Furthermore, their roles in respect of the destroyed tape could have been rapidly ascertained by the Government. Again, if it was destroyed by negligence or design, or simply salted away, they had responsibility for its safe keeping, and resignations should have been asked for by the Government. They should still be forthcoming.
Amnesty International has taken up this matter.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I have advised the hon. Gentleman that he must relate his remarks to the order. 245 I realise that he feels strongly about this, but any remarks must be related to the business that is before the House. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not think that at the moment he is making any effort to relate his remarks to the order. I feel sure that he will now do so.
§ Mr. Cohen
I am trying hard to make my remarks relevant, particularly to the aspect of arousing fear. The order talks about recordings and a tape recording is involved in this case, so I should have thought that the case was relevant.
Amnesty International has take up this matter. Its September 1986 communiqué states:Over the years Amnesty International has been concerned about incidents in Northern Ireland in which members of the security forces shot people dead in circumstances that gave rise to accusations that these killings were premeditated. There have reportedly been 34 fatal shootings by police or army personnel in Northern Ireland since the autumn of 1982, in 18 of which the persons killed were unarmed.The organisation believes that it is the Government's responsibility to ensure that effective procedures and safeguards are instituted against the occurrence of such practices and that, if such practices occur, effective mechanisms are instituted to investigate and establish facts and make them public. In the organisation's view, the mechanisms existing in Northern Ireland used to investigate these incidents, such as police investigations, inquests and criminal proceedings, have not produced sufficient evidence and clarification to eliminate the possibility that unlawful use of force has been used by the security forces to kill people deliberately.That is about order in Northern Ireland, Mr. Deputy Speaker.Amnesty International is also concerned that the laws and regulations governing the use of lethal force in law enforcement offer less protection against unjustified use of force than do international standards.Clearly, in this matter Amnesty is showing the same concern with Britain as it would to some of the appalling state tyrannies around the world which we all deplore.
Shoot-to-kill is a despicable policy. It dispenses summary injustice, and innocent individuals are included for its instant death sentence. The killings have had horrendous personal consequences, but they are also appalling for police, public relations and respect for the law. Decent people expect the police to uphold civil liberties and, above all, the right to life. Only civilised policing practices are wanted. Britain should immediately come into line with international standards and shoot-to kill should for ever be confined to the dustbin. To reach that stage the truth about the 1982 killings should now be fully disclosed by the Government.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)
Several hon. Members have said that the order needs to go to Committee, and I agree with them. However, it is important that the House should consider a further reason for that which is that, if several provisions in the order become law and are challenged in certain circumstances in Northern Ireland, it will almost certainly end up with the United Kingdom again being found guilty at the Court of Human Rights. As in recent years the United Kingdom has been found guilty more than any other Western European country, that must be a matter of grave concern. As I proceed through the order, I shall select one or two of those issues. That alone is a reason for considering it in more detail than we are doing tonight and for warning the Government by voting against it.
246 I accept much of what has been said, especially by my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), about the reality of life in Northern Ireland. I can well understand the feelings of the communities there towards the order. If as a result of the inadequate supervision of the order through the House we are once again found wanting at the Court of Human Rights, sooner or later the Government will have to alter the legislation. That is to the advantage of no one.
I join my hon. Friend in congratulating both the Government and the RUC on facing up to Unionist demonstrations there last year for the first time. That came as a great shock to the Unionist community because it had always assumed that the RUC would automatically protect Unionists who were demonstrating, but would not do likewise for the Republican Catholic community. For the first time they came across the reality of a change in the behaviour of the RUC. Although there is still a long way to go, it would be churlish not to recognise that change, particularly in view of the pressure that was put on those RUC officers—the threats to their lives and physical assaults on them. That also needs to be borne in mind.
I remind the Minister that the order, although it has much in common with the Public Order Act that was passed for the rest of Britain, contains major differences. In his closing remarks, will the Minister tell us whether the order will affect the right to picket in the same way that section 14 of the Public Order Act in Britain did? My understanding, on looking through the order—albeit more quickly than I would like—is that it affects the right to picket because it deals with what are called open-air meetings and assemblies. A picket is an assembly, and if it is outside it can be defined as an open-air meeting. The Government must tell us whether the provisions replicate section 14 of the Public Order Act and whether they should, therefore, insert the same safeguards that the Opposition managed to insert in that measure which defines an assembly in the open as being, I think, 20 or 25 people. That was the figure that we managed to squeeze out of the Government.
I shall consider a couple of items in the order. One of the differences between the order and the Act is that the rank of the police officer involved is different, and I welcome that. In the British Act it involves an officer of any rank. A police constable may have the power to limit numbers and decide the route. In the order, in certain circumstances, it is the rank or sergeant, and in other circumstances it is the rank of inspector or above. That is welcome.
Under article 3(2) notice must be given and more detail must be given than under the equivalent Act here. One of the matters that must be assessed is the number of persons who are likely to take part in a public procession. It troubles me—we have not gone through this in the detail that we should—that that is one of the matters of which someone could be found guilty. A reasonable court would make a reasonable judgment about that, but I am afraid that we are not talking about reasonable courts and reasonable judgments; we are talking about an order which has the force of law.
The only qualifying part of article 3, as to making judgments about dates and times, routes and the number of persons who are likely to take part, is that a person hadneither suspected nor had reason to suspect, the failure to satisfy the requirements…247 That is a mild check to put on the administration when it is finding an individual guilty of an offence under that article.
The point that troubles me is one that troubled us before the Act was passed in Britain, and it occurs in article 4, which deals with imposing conditions on public processions and open-air public meetings. Sub-paragraph (a) says,it may result in serious public order disorder"—that is fair enough—serious damage to property"—that is fair enough; but then there is the deadly point—serious disruption to the life of the community.Those people who followed the original Act through the House and much of the evidence that was given in Committee will know that the Association of Chief Officers of Police, when asked what it meant byserious disruption to the life of the community.came up with the answer, "A demonstration that can lead to buses being delayed and having to be re-routed." The danger of that definition is one of the matters which are open to challenge in the European Court. The European Court will accept restrictions on the right to demonstrate, the right of assembly and so on, but those restrictions have to be much more serious than a serious disruption to the life of the community, which can be interpreted as making shopping or travelling to and from work more difficult than it is normally.
It is worth bearing in mind that, although many people regard demonstrations as disruptive, a farmer in Leicestershire, on discovering that his farm was one of the proposed sites for the NIREX exploration for burying nuclear waste, said that he had always felt angry about people who demonstrated and marched, but now he felt the same way himself. The message is that in any democratic community this is a vital safeguard. It is a pressure valve against more restrictive practices being imposed on a society.
Another thing that troubles me greatly is that the police are being asked to define the circumstances. That is dangerous. Only the other year Sir John Hermon said—my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) referred to this—that he did not think that the police were necessarily the most appropriate body to decide the route, time, place and number of people on marches and demonstrations.
I entirely agree with that for two reasons. The first is one of principle. The police, as the agency which enforces the laws of the state, should not be the organisation that decides whether and in what circumstances people can march and demonstrate. We must remember that we are talking about the ability to restrict the numbers of those who can march.
Secondly, and realistically in terms of Northern Ireland, if the police decide such issues they are put in the party-political firing line. They will be seen, as they were clearly seen by the Unionist community last year, to be doing the work of Dublin and London. Virtually every Unionist alleged that.
I am not suggesting that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has an easy job, but it is up to him to take that responsibility on his shoulders. That responsibility should not be devolved to the police who then have to go back to live in their own community and be accused of 248 enforcing Dublin's and London's law. That is why the RUC come under so much pressure in such situations. That expectation should not be pressed upon them.
Article 5 prohibits public processions and open-air public meetings and is another area which could easily be challenged in the European Court. For example, it says:the holding in any area or place of any public procession or any open-air public meeting is likely to cause…serious disruption to the life of the community; orthis was not in the British legislation—undue demands to be made upon the police or military forces".Imagine going to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and trying to defined a position in which it was argued that people could not have the right of assembly, which is guaranteed in the human rights charter and in the United Nations charter, because it placed undue demands on the police or military forces. The Government could not conceivably expect to win that case, and if they cannot expect to win it they should not leave the order unamended. We shall have to change it, and it is no good having to change it in the way that I have described.
I welcome strongly part III relating to stirring up hatred or arousing fear. There has been some difficulty over definition. We had similar problems on racial hatred in the legislation for the rest of Britain, but this is an honourable and good attempt which I want to encourage.
One area which will get the Government into trouble comes under part IV, "Miscellaneous public order offences". Clause 20, entitledObstructive sitting, etc., in public placesays;A person who, by sitting, standing, kneeling, lying down or otherwise conducting himself in a public place, wilfully obstructs or seeks to obstruct traffic or wilfully hinders, or seeks to hinder, any lawful activity shall be guilty of an offence.I have to say again to the Minister that in Northern Ireland of all places to put that in an order is virtually to invite people to kneel in prayer across the road. What we shall then see is police officers or the military carrying away those people kneeling in prayer and arresting them.
§ Mr. Soley
That is a very fair point. The reason why—and this will come as no surprise to the one and only Unionist Member who has been present, the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross), who was sitting next to me and talking to me about this only a few moments ago—is that they know what is in this order. They are also saying, and they make no secret of it, that they will do their best to make sure that it does not work. I am not putting it in their minds; they are pointing it out to me. That is the difference, and that is why I think that the Minister has to take this on board.
I am utterly amazed and very impressed by article 18, because here I find riotous or disorderly behaviour in a public place attracting a sentence of six months' imprisonment ora fine not exceeding level 5".What do we find in the British Act of Parliament for rioting?—10 years. The moral of the story is that if people want a riot they should hold it in Northern Ireland. We had to get the riot sentence down from life to 10 years in Britain, and that is still twice as long as in almost any other country. All the Commonwealth countries and even 249 the European countries have much shorter periods unless the rioter is found also to he in possession of a weapon such as a gun or a knife. Otherwise the longest sentence that I can recall in a Commonwealth country is about three years and in a European country about 10 years; and then, as I say, the rioter has to be in possession of a weapon. Therefore, in a sense, the Government are being much more realistic about Northern Ireland, but I think that there a message to be conveyed to the Home Secretary, who clearly does not have the same view as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Finally, the repeal of the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act (Northern Ireland) 1954 is very welcome and long overdue.
As has been said, there are many good parts in this order, but there are one or two parts that will almost certainly get the Government into trouble. I say quite 250 categorically that I do not want to see that happen. I think that public order in Northern Ireland is very much more difficult to deal with, for all the reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh set out. It is so much more difficult to deal with that we need very different approaches to it. But to do it in this way, which is likely to bring us before the European Court, to be found guilty and have to change the order, and in a way that invites the Unionists, by their own statements, to challenge it, cannot be the best way of legislating. We may well rue the day that we passed an order of this complexity and length after a three-hour or four-hour debate on the Floor of the House. I can understand the Government's difficulties, but unless they take on board some of the points that have been made they will have to change this order sooner or later.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
I want to raise five aspects of this order: part III,Stirring up hatred or arousing fear";article 9, on threatening behaviour, including by servants of the Crown; article 22, on the carrying of weapons, which would be an offence under this order and indeed has been an offence under a number of orders preceding it going back to 1969; the distribution and publishing of written material, under article 10 of the order; and breach of the peace and riotous behaviour, again by everyone including servants of the Crown.
I particularly want to raise the whole question of enforcement of this order and all orders preceding it which include the same or similar articles, because I think that in carrying this order tonight hon. Members should be conscious of the failure of the Government to bring prosecutions for offences that have previously taken place under these articles. I would have thought that the failure to prosecute on previous occasions would weigh heavily in the minds of hon. Members who have to take a decision tonight in the Division Lobby.
I wish to raise all those articles and part III in general in the context of the allegations that have been made by Major Colin Wallace and Captain Frederick Holroyd, who were working actively in Northern Ireland in the mid-1970s. They have both made a number of major allegations in the press, on radio, on television and in correspondence with Ministers and Members of the House. They have named names, given dates and identified places. They have identified the existence of letters, they have identified witnesses and they have made innumerable statements concerning a campaign of what they call "destabilisation" against the Labour Government of the mid-1970s and politicians of all political persuasions in the House of Commons, but, in particular, politicians in Northern Ireland, equally of all political persuasions. They have referred to a campaign of dirty tricks by the Army, the Royal Ulster Constabulary and security services, using paramilitaries in campaigns of murder and kidnap.
All those matters are dealt with under the four articles that I identified in the order. All those articles have been in existence, as I understand it, in previous orders that have been approved by the House of Commons and been the subject of repeated debate over the years, yet no action is taken.
I do not know whether what those men are saying is true or false. Indeed, I am not convinced that even Ministers know, and I am pretty sure that there are no hon. Members who know. We have not been told, and the only sources of the information are Mr. Wright in an Australian court, Mr. Wallace, Mr. Holroyd and a few other people who refuse to identify themselves publicly, although they have written privately to individual hon. Members setting out their experiences in this area.
Colin Wallace was a senior information officer in Northern Ireland and his work in Northern Ireland has been the subject of credit paid by a great number of people. I do not want to go through them all, because I know that we are short of time. However, the Minister knows that many people are on record as saying what an allegedly excellent man he was in the carrying out of his duties in Northern Ireland. One senior officer who worked closely 252 with him at Lisburn said that he regarded himself as always on duty, working at least 90 hours a week, and by 1974 had taken no leave for six years. Someone else said of him that he had a knowledge of the Irish situation which was totally unique in headquarters and surpassed—
§ Mr. Conlan
If he is not, that is fine. However, I was going to suggest that if he is going to name names, he has to have the approval of the people concerned.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
I am sure that my hon. Friend would pay me the credit of knowing the procedures of the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Mallon
The hon. Gentleman has referred to the credit with which the person of whom he spoke was regarded in the north of Ireland. Would he include that person's knowledge and possible involvement at administrative level in the Kincora boys' home scandal as being to his credit?
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
I did not want to stray too much into that area, but I am perfectly willing to answer my hon. Friend. I do not know, and nor does he. That is the trouble with the whole affair; we do not know. That is why—
§ Mr. Mallon
The hon. Gentleman does know the people involved. If he really wants to do a service to society in relation to what he knows, let him get up and name those people who blighted the lives of young people in the Kincora boys' home. I challenge him here and now to give that information to the House.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Much as I would like to be able to please my hon. Friends, I am bound by the strictures of Mr. Deputy Speaker in his intervention to a former hon. Friend of mine who spoke during the course of this debate. If I were to veer into these areas in great detail—which is why I answered my hon. Friend in the way I did—I am sure Mr. Deputy Speaker would be the first to tell me that I am out of order. I have all those names in my possession. I do not reveal them because I do not know the truth. It might well be a slur on the character of those people who have been identified to me if I were to reiterate their names during the debate this evening.
In the light of the experience of hon. Members over the last few months, who have made a point of criticising my activities, I am sure they would be the first to commend me on taking this approach this evening. I wish I could respond to my hon. Friend in a more favourable way, but these matters will surface, as inevitably they must. That is why he, certainly I, many of my hon. Friends, the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), Conservative Members and others have asked for a full judicial inquiry into all those allegations that have been made by Mr. Wallace.
Mr. Wallace has a credibility problem, because he was convicted at Lewes Crown court of the manslaughter of a 29-year-old Brighton antique dealer, a charge that he has always denied. Mr. Wallace appeared, protested his innocence, tried to appeal. but was refused leave. He went to the Police Complaints Authority. He alleges he was framed. In July 1985 the Prime Minister asked the noble Lord Trefgarne, who was then at the Department of Defence, to reply to some of Mr. Wallace's allegations.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman said at the beginning of his speech that he would relate his remarks strictly to the order that is before the House. I cannot find any relation in what the hon. Gentleman is now saying to any of the articles in the order. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will bring himself into order.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
I am sure the Chair will understand that, having been drawn in the way I was to talk a little about the character of the people concerned, I had to balance my case by drawing on some other material which I had not wished to raise in any great detail during this debate. That is why I had to refer specifically to Mr. Wallace's credibility.
Mr. Holroyd served as a captain in the Army's military intelligence in Northern Ireland in the mid-1970s. He maintains that, following an argument between MI5 and MI6 in Northern Ireland and the replacement of MI6 by MI5, he was whipped out of Northern Ireland, placed in a military psychiatric hospital unit, where he protested that he should not be placed, and, indeed, was subsequently released therefrom.
An argument has been going on for six years between the hon. Member for Southend, East and the Ministry of Defence as to whether that period should be stricken from Mr. Holroyd's record in so far as he believes that it places an unreasonable slur on his character.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I still find it impossible to relate what the hon. Gentleman is now saying to the order before the House. The hon. Gentleman must relate his remarks to one or other of the articles in the order which we are discussing.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Article 10 of the order deals with the distribution and publication of written material. I understand that article 10 has been in similar orders which have been previously debated and carried by a majority of this House, yet it has not been used in the prosecution of individual servants of the Crown who have carried out acts clearly in default of those articles on previous occasions.
The two gentlemen to whom I have referred, refer specifically to offences under that article. They refer to forged documents, one of which I have in my hand. This is a forged document in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme), who was then a Minister in Northern Ireland. It is allegedly a quote from a speech, which he never gave, to a Labour party conference. This document has been attributed to the security services. There was no prosecution of any officer in Northern Ireland concerning this document. I should have thought that Ministers would deny at the Dispatch Box that this document was produced by the security services. If they were to do so, there would be no cause for us to raise this matter during this debate.
I have another document, which again would be an offence under article 10. It is allegedly produced byMerlyn Rees, Stan Orme, David Owen, Paul Rose"—to quote from the document. It is also a forgery. Why do Ministers not refute these documents? Why do they not deny that the documents could be sourced on the security services? That is a perfectly reasonable request. If Ministers were to to that we would no longer have to raise these matters in the public domain.
I have another document, entitled, "The Labour Movement. Economics — Master or Servant of Mankind?" which is allegedly by 254Denis Healey, Tony Benn and Stan Orme.The sub-title is "Imperialism, Crisis and Revolution", document No. 2, 1971. It is another forgery. Who is producing this material? Publication of these documents is an offence under article 10 of the order. If they are forgeries, let there be prosecutions or let the Minister deny that the security services or servants of the Crown had any responsibility for them.
I have another document, publication of which would be an offence under article 10. Publication is also an offence under similar articles in the 1981 order and in the 1969 order which pre-empted both orders. This document is entitled,Vote Labour. Ulster is British. Internments, Special Powers, Discrimination, Intimidation, Assassination.Someone printed that document. It is clearly not a Labour party document. We are entitled to know from where it came.
This is what Mr. Wallace and Mr. Holroyd were alleging. We can either turn our backs on all this and write it off as nonsense, or accept that the Government should make a statement and should not get a junior Minister to reply to an innocuous question placed on the Order Paper by simply saying, "There is nothing to be said." Why not have a substantial statement at the Dispatch Box so that we can deal with this nonsense, if indeed that is what it is?
§ Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)
I have listened to the hon. Gentleman, who has alleged that there are forgeries and asked why there have not been prosecutions. I am sure that he will be the first to accept that it is one thing to say that something is a forgery and quite another to pin a forgery on a specific person. One cannot say that there must be a prosecution without directing the comment at a specific individual. Does the hon. Gentleman have information about individuals and has he put it in the hands of the responsible authorities?
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
According to Mr. Wallace, he provided information in November 1957 to the responsible authorities. He wrote to Mr. Harold Wilson in August 1977 providing information following the security services inquiry which was launched in May 1977. He again provided documents to the Prime Minister on 1 November 1984. The Prime Minister wrote to Lord Trefgarne asking for some response. Mr. Wallace maintains that a response from the Government was not forthcoming.
We do not know who produced these documents. We should know. Prominent people in the Liberal party and in the other half of the alliance have taken a great interest in this matter. People right across the political spectrum want to know what happened.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
The hon. Gentleman intervenes, but he would do well to listen. One day they may try to interfere with him.
§ Mr. Mallon
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Does he not find it strange that, to ray knowledge, these gentlemen have not sent any information to Members from Northern Ireland? I would have thought that that would have been an obvious thing to do in relation to accusations concerning Northern Ireland. With regard to the Kincora boys' home, the two gentlemen were centrally placed to know what was happening there. I will 255 start to believe some of what they say if they show, by their concern for society, that they are prepared to name the people who corrupted the lives of young people. If I have any reason to believe that the names, if given, are valid, I will not show the hon. Gentleman's rectitude or reticence.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept that I am constrained by my previous experience from revealing names in the House. I ask him to take that on board when he passes judgment on my failure.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
They have identified the persons involved and they have been listed, but it is not for me to produce those names during the course of the debate.
Mr. Holroyd maintains that he was recruited by MI6 and he has drawn the attention of the House to many offences under various articles of previous orders which will be updated by this order. He made a number of allegations concerning the John Francis Green affair. He maintains that MI5 eased out MI6 in the mid-1970s and tried for quick military successes. As a result, 10 agents lost their lives in one week. He maintains that the SAS was employing Ulster Volunteer Force members to go over the border and carry out covert activity with the approval of MI5.
Last week Mr. Holroyd gave an interview to Radio Ulster on the "Talkback" programme. That was an important interview. The hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) should listen to the tape, as he may learn something from it. I pay tribute to that programme and its producers for the good work they have been doing in the past few weeks. During the course of the interview Mr. Holroyd said that two boys were set up for a murder carried out in the Irish Republic by paramilitaries. One would consider that an allegation of that nature is extremely grave. I do not know whether it is true, but I certainly believe that it should form part of a general statement by Ministers to the House of Commons. In that way we may learn the truth about the affair.
In the interview Mr. Holroyd claims that at least 70 people surround the Kincora and the general dirty tricks campaign—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying again. I cannot relate his remarks to any of the articles in the order before us.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
I am trying desperately to keep in order; and I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are well aware of that.
Article 22 of the order refers to the carrying of offensive weapons and guns; article 9 refers to threatening behaviour; and article 18 refers to breach of the peace and riotous behaviour. All the articles are to be found in the previous order of 1969—as I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell)—and the order of 1981 which covers the areas that I wish to comment upon.
Mr. Holroyd said that a number of bizarre incidents followed the tours of duty of intelligence and Army people 256 who have been in Northern Ireland. He says that the security services were sanctioning the use of killer gangs to go over the border in areas reserved, with the agreement of the Republic, for paramilitary activities.
According to Mr. Holroyd, inquiries are taking place. Last week, therefore, I tabled a question asking the Secretary of State for Northern Irelandwhat investigations are currently taking place into murders and kidnappings by paramilitary organisations in the 1970s.One would have thought that if there was nothing, the answer would have been "None". No, the reply given was:I shall reply to the hon. Member as soon as possible."—[Official Report, 5 March 1987, Vol. 111 c. 658.]Obviously something is happening, otherwise I would have a negative response. It may be that Mr. Holroyd is correct, but no doubt I shall get an honest answer from honest Ministers in time.
During the interview on Radio Ulster last week, Mr. Holroyd said that on one occasion he met Ned Garvey, a Garda commissioner in Dublin. It appears that he was in contact with his subordinates on a number of occasions. He said that the RUC tried repeatedly to cover up what was happening. I am told that two documents exist that will be of especial interest to hon. Members. They are forged bank statements. I have pressed carefully to ensure that the information that I am being given is accurate. They are forged bank statements in the names of the hon. Members for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and for Foyle (Mr. Hume). I informed the hon. Member for Foyle a week ago that it was likely that I would raise the matter in the Chamber.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
I told the hon. Member for Foyle that I would be raising the matter when I was satisfied that the documents existed. I can say that they do exist and that they are forgeries. It is reasonable to ask who forged them. On 28 June 1974, the then Prime Minister announced that he was instituting an inquiry into a forged bank statement in the name of the then Mr. Ted Short. It was felt sufficiently important to warrant a statement to the House. If it was good on that occasion, why is it not equally good and important on this occasion? I hope that the Minister will address himself to that issue when he replies. If I agree to produce the documents, will he agree to make a full statement so that we can establish the truth?
I am now coming to the end of my contribution to the debate, which I have much truncated. Last weekend, The Sunday Times, in a report by Mr. Barry Penrose, stated that Mr. Haughey, who is now the leader of the Republic of Ireland, had listened to tapes on Radio Ulster, and that he had then made a statement to the effect that if he became Prime Minister he would establish an inquiry to ascertain whether there was any truth in the allegations of Captain Holroyd and Major Wallace. We understand that Mr. Haughey has been able to form a Government and is now effectively committed to an inquiry into the allegations of Holroyd and Wallace. It will be most curious if he is allowed to follow that route on his own while the British Government, against whose servants the allegations are being made, refuse to act. The Minister should address himself to that when he replies. It seems inevitable that Mr. Haughey will make representations to the British Government with a view to securing an inquiry in the United Kingdom.
257 If the Holroyd-Wallace accusations or allegations are untrue, if they are a tissue of lies, we have a duty to discover what is motivating those who are orchestrating the campaign. It might be that they want simply to undermine the Anglo-Irish Agreement, but there are those of us on both sides of the House who want to secure its future, if at all possible. There is, therefore, an even greater obligation placed on the Government to establish the truth. The effect of leaving these allegations unanswered in the public domain is to aggravate the possibility of the agreement working.
I urge the Minister to take the opportunity that is open to him to respond. If he cannot give us an undertaking that an inquiry will be set up, at least let him say that we are considering the possibility of setting one up so that at least Mr. Haughey knows that the British are capable of responding in a responsible manner.
§ Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)
Since it has been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), may I say how warmly we on this side of the House welcome and congratulate Mr. Haughey on his election as Taoiseach of the Irish Republic today? We wish him well in his endeavours on behalf of the Irish people, in relation to the Anglo-Irish Agreement and in relations with Great Britain.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Workington on his grasp of the order. He was able to take us through the amendments and consolidation of the public order legislation, referring to the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1981 and going as far back as section 9 of the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act (Northern Ireland) 1968. For that he deserves our congratulations, respect and support. No doubt the Minister will wish in his reply to refer briefly to that speech.
We have often had at the Bar trials within trials. Over the last half hour or so we have had a debate within a debate. I do not seek to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Workington, however great my esteem for him, but I wish to refer to the events which led the Government not only to review the public order legislation but to bring this order before the House.
Two specific events in Northern Ireland over the past year have pre-occupied the people of Northern Ireland, as they have pre-occupied people on the mainland. One, of course, was the marching season, to which the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) referred from his personal experience, and the other was the reaction of the Unionist community to the Anglo-Irish Agreement and their protestations at the time of its signing, and subsequently.
The marching season was long ago turned into a triumphalist parade by the majority towards the minority. The way the marches were routed was not to test the will of the minority but an attempt to impose a will upon the minority. Both sides of the House condemned that at the time and it is one of the reasons why we are considering this order tonight.
There is a curious and paradoxical dichotomy. On the one hand we have the attempt by the Government to bring Northern Irish legislation into line with that of the rest of the United Kingdom. On the other we have the effort to tailor it to the specific conditions that prevail in Northern 258 Ireland. This is taking place without a single representative of the Ulster Unionists in their places. One is entitled to ask why the Unionists are not here. Is it because they do not want integration with the rest of the United Kingdom? Do they not want the laws to be the same in Northern Ireland as they are on the mainland? Are they integrationist? Are they Unionist? Do they really believe in the Union, or do they not? Do they not wish to maintain the specific and distinctive features which exist in Northern Ireland?
It is a matter of regret that they are not here. It is a matter of regret that we have this order rather than a Bill before the House. It is a matter of regret that there is no Northern Irish assembly to scrutinise these orders before they come here. It is a matter of regret that there are at least 14 empty places in the Chamber when matters relating to the rights of individuals within Northern Ireland are before the House.
It takes some little time to disentangle the various aspects of the order. Does it build upon the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1981 to which my hon. Friend the Member for Workington referred? Can it be reconciled with the European Convention on Human Rights, a point referred to by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley)? Does it add to or detract from the distortions that abound already in Northern Ireland and which express themselves in the Diplock courts, the unashamed use of supergrass evidence in those courts and the emergency provisions legislation which we amended recently in Committee?
The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) spoke about the constructive nature of the Committee and described how it went through many of the amendments in a sensible fashion. We pay homage to the Minister of State for his help in that Committee, not only in tidying up the legislation but in seeking to reduce what we saw as some of its worst provisions.
I shall turn briefly to the distortions in democracy as we know it in Northern Ireland. The Army is there playing a peculiar role — that of an army acting in a civil capacity by assisting the police, and also in a military capacity in combating terrorism. The Army is doing that with the assistance of the Ulster Defence Regiment.
No one would wish to see a repeat of the events that occurred during last year's marching season when homes of the minority community were pillaged and looted. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh spoke about the village of Kilkeel in which some of these events took place. In other parts of Northern Ireland members of the RUC were forced out of their homes by intimidation because they had done their duty to the state by seeking to protect people from attack. The police themselves saw their homes attacked and damaged.
In his speech — which seems to have been made a long time ago — the Secretary of State spoke about intimidation. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh also spoke about that. Intimidation is a tragic aspect of life in Northern Ireland and it is certainly heightened during the marching season. As I said earlier, there have also been protests against the Anglo-Irish agreement. The history of that agreement has been a sorry one in the sense of the reaction by the Unionist community, but the Opposition have always maintained, and the Government have said, that peaceful and constitutional demonstrations and 259 actions against that agreement are acceptable. We do not support the aims of constitutional opposition to the agreement, but we understand it.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) spoke about statements from Northern Ireland. Those statements do nothing at all to ease the situation in the Province. The recent statement that constitutional resistance is at an end may be hyperbole or rhetoric, but it does nothing to dampen the sense and the dangerous effervescence of violence that is part and parcel of the Northern Irish community.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith spoke about the European Convention on Human Rights. I shall speak briefly about the contention that articles 3, 4 and 5 are a breach of that convention. That view was carefully and solidly put forward by the National Council for Civil Liberties. The Government did the NCCL the courtesy of responding at some length to its arguments. Some of the points made by the NCCL were accepted in the Government critique, some were satisfactorily answered and others remain disputed.
Broadly, the Government's view is that article 11 of the convention specifically accepts that restrictions may be placed on the exercise of the rights of peaceful assembly if they arenecessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedom of others.My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith spoke about the dangers that are likely to ensue if the order goes through unamended, as it must, and the danger that in future that might bring us face to face with the European Court of Human Rights. Although the Minister of State may not have a great deal of time available when replying, it would be of specific assistance to the Opposition if he were able to speak about that.
I mentioned earlier the speech by the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes about the Committee stage of the emergency provisions Bill. He also spoke about the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act (Northern Ireland) 1954. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh also spoke about that Act and called it an anachronism. Section 2 of the Act empowered a police officer to require the removal of any emblem other than the Union flag if he believed that its display might cause a breach of the peace.
As the Secretary of State said, the Act is redundant because, first, its repeal was recommended by the Standing Commission on Human Rights. Secondly — I have another small plug for the Labour party—it has long been advocated by the Labour Opposition. I shall let the Secretary of State and the Minister into a little secret. It was part and parcel of our 1983 manifesto. We are glad that the Government are pursuing their own election commitments and those of the Labour party.
The essence of the order deals with the serious problems of Northern Ireland—problems such as public disorder, serious property damage, and serious disruption to community life of which we are aware and which we regret. Those matters were touched upon by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill and by other hon. Members. It is a great sadness for Opposition Members to know that the democracy that those in Northern Ireland should have and do have cannot be enjoyed to the full because of such disruptions.
260 The Opposition ask whether the order represents an accretion of greater power to the state. Does it take too much away from the individual? The hon. Member for Mossley Hill called it a curate's egg. That phrase went through my mind when I read the order and the notes. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West said, many matters in the order are acclaimed and supported by Opposition Members, but we must look at two fundamental points. One is the balance of individual civil rights in relation to the powers of the state. In this connection, I refer to the Secretary of State, who has greater power in Northern Ireland than in this country. If we were dealing with a public order Act in our country, one might have recourse to local councils, but in this case one's recourse is to the Secretary of State.
The first matter that greatly concerns us is whether we have tipped the balance away from the individual in Northern Ireland towards the state. The second is whether the order should have been in the form of a Bill. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West made—without flattering him in any way—a remarkable speech. He had to encompass what, in effect was a Second Reading speech dealing with the principle, Committee stage speeches on various aspects, a speech on Report and a Third reading commendation. To do that in half an hour was a parliamentary feat. As the Secretary of State said, we lawyers will and should stick together.
The two questions that we have asked—first, whether the order goes towards the state as against the individual and, secondly, whether it should be a proper Bill—lead us to the conclusion that it is right and appropriate for the Opposition to divide the House.
§ 11.8 pm
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Nicholas Scott)
At the outset, I echo the congratulations expressed by hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench and by my right hon. and hon. Friends to Mr. Haughey on his election as Taoiseach. I look forward to working with the new administration in Dublin, in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland, and indeed, of the people of the island of Ireland.
I shall respond to most, if not all, of the points that are relevant to the order. Obviously, I mean no criticism of the Chair when I say that, at times, hon. Members seemed to stray slightly beyond the bounds of the matters that are directly relevant to the order. Before I refer to the detailed points that were raised by right hon. and hon. Members, I shall address the question why we are considering an order rather than a Bill. Of course, I recognise the legislative advantages that can flow from consideration of a Bill.
The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) and the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) kindly referred to the Committee stage of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill. I think that this is the first time that homage has been paid to me on the Floor of the House; I hope that it will not be the last. I am grateful for the tribute. We had a good Committee stage on that Bill, and it has come out of Committee better than it was when it went in. However, we have to decide whether it is right in all the circumstances to legislate for Northern Ireland by Bill. On balance, the answer has to be no, not least because Parliament would be overwhelmed by that procedure.
§ Mr. Scott
Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will allow me to finish this point, and then I shall certainly give way to him.
The difference between the emergency provisions legislation and this order and other orders that come before the House is that the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill comes into the category of legislation that has to be dealt with by Bill. Were we to deal with transferred and reserved matters by means of Bills rather than orders, we should be overwhelmed with them. In 1983, for example, there were 17 affirmative Northern Ireland Orders in Council; in 1984 there were 14; in 1985 there were 13; and in 1986 there were 19. Most of them made substantially different provision for Northern Ireland than for the rest of the United Kingdom. It would be quite impossible to ask the House of Commons to deal with all those matters by means of Bills.
§ Mr. Archer
We on these benches are certainly not saying that all Northern Ireland legislation should be dealt with by means of Bills. Our complaint is that the Government have failed to distinguish between the legislation that should be dealt with by means of Bills and the legislation that quite properly could be dealt with by order.
§ Mr. Scott
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman should ever come to this side of the Dispatch Box, he would find that it is not easy to draw a distinction between those matters that are dealt with by means of Bills rather than orders. We may all have different views about the relative importance of individual pieces of legislation. Very careful consideration would be needed before one began to go down that road.
§ Mr. Michael Brown
I take my hon. Friend's point that many additional burdens would be placed upon the House, but will he speculate on how many Scottish Bills have come before the House during the Sessions to which he referred?
§ Mr. Scott
Mercifully, that is not my responsibility. However, I take issue with my hon. Friend and, indeed, with the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West who defined this as a take-it-or-leave-it procedure. I accept that now that we have reached this stage of the order it is unamendable and that the House has either to take it or leave it, but it is right to draw attention to the consultation procedures.
I do not believe that six weeks is too short a period. It is the normal consultation period on orders. Organisations and individuals who fall just outside the period of six weeks before they put forward their views always have them taken into account by Ministers before decisions are taken about the final shape of the orders.
I regret very much that there has not been the benefit of consideration of this order by the Northern Ireland Assembly. An important part of the consideration of this order ought to have been undertaken by that assembly. It was not our wish that the Government had no alternative but to dissolve the Northern Ireland Assembly.
There are opportunities to discuss in Committee forthcoming legislation affecting Northern Ireland. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland have made it clear on a number of occasions that we are prepared to consider ways in 262 which we can improve the consideration of Northern Ireland legislation by Order in Council. We are open to suggestions, through the usual channels, from Northern Ireland parties and from others. We understand the resentment that can arise about some aspects of the present procedures as they affect important pieces of legislation.
The right hon. and learned Member for Warley. West and a number of other hon. Members referred to the requirement to give notice of the number of people who are likely to take part in any procession under the parades and marches provisions of the order—article 3, which also deals with offences. This requirement is not unique to Northern Ireland. It is to be found also in the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982. The whole purpose a the information about the numbers likely to take part in a parade is to assist the police in planning the policing of processions and to give them advance notice of the organisers' judgment about the numbers likely to take part.
Article 3(5)(a) makes it an offence to take part in or organise a procession of which the required notice has riot been given in the time and manner required. Article 3(5)(b) makes it an offence to organise or take part in a procession held on a date or at a time or on a route different from that given in the notice. Those matters are under the control of the organisers of a parade. We fully recognise that the numbers taking part are not under the control of the organisers. Therefore, it would be wrong to penalise the organisers if, for example, more members of the public turned up than they had estimated. That would not be an offence, but the other matters clearly would be under the order.
A point has been raised about including those who take part in the sanctions provisions of the order which, in a sense, is directed mainly against the organisers. However, in the special circumstances of Northern Ireland—the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) will certainly recognise this — it is necessary to make participants liable for an offence as it may well be impossible to identify the organisers of illegal processions. It would then be appropriate for the police to seek to make amenable any ringleaders whom they could identify in any particular parade. That is not a new provision; it has been part of Northern Ireland legislation since 1970.
The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West and others have raised the question whether the police should be prepared to give advance notice of their intention to impose conditions. As a variation on that, some hon. Members raised the question whether it was appropriate that the police should be the people to impose those conditions and whether my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State or some other authority should have that duty put on them. However, that would be totally impracticable in the circumstances of Northern Ireland. Not infrequently, the police have to impose such conditions at the last minute, taking into account all the circumstances of the march, the likely reaction of the local community, the numbers assembling for the march and a whole range of other matters that only a senior police officer on the spot could properly take into account. It would be impossible to provide that flexibility of response if those decisions were to be taken in advance by policemen, and still less by Ministers or some other tribunal who might have that responsibility put upon them.
263 The right hon. and learned Gentleman also raised the issue of the wearing of political uniforms in a public place. Again, I make it absolutely clear that article 21 makes no change in the existing law in Northern Ireland. The wearing of political uniforms in public places or at public meetings has been an offence there since 1970. Indeed, the provision is based on the Public Order Act 1936. It would be for the courts to determine whether any particular item of clothing constituted a uniform within the purpose of legislation. The discretion and common sense of the courts about such matters is well recognised in the United Kingdom as a whole, and to seek to define rigidly what a uniform does or does not do would swiftly be overtaken by events.
Several hon. Members have referred to the European convention on human rights and its relevance to the order. As the hon. Member for Middlesbrough made clear, article 11 of the convention specifically recognises that restrictions may be placed on the exercise of the rights of peaceful assembly, if they are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, the protection of health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others. The Government's clear view is that the draft order is within the terms of the convention.
§ Mr. Scott
I am not a lawyer, but where the demands of policing particular demonstrations or processions were likely to divert the police from other duties in the interests of public safety, we would have a good case for arguing that we were acting within the terms of the convention.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked whether the recital by the Secretary of State should be conclusive in terms of the courts. We are not fearful of any judicial review of a decision on these matters. In the special circumstances of Northern Ireland—this has happened more than once since I have had responsibility for these matters—it may be necessary to take decisions about political processions on the basis of information which it would be impossible to produce in court. Therefore, this is a proper provision in the order.
I was asked whether it would be right that notice by organisers should be served by post or in person. The legislation on this side of the water provides for such notice to be given by post rather than in person because a procession may well go through more than one police area. The whole of Northern Ireland is a single police area, so it is right that the notice should be given by the organisers to the nearest appropriate police station to the beginning of any procession, not least because that gives the organisers of the parade and the RUC a chance to get together and have an initial discussion about the parade, the likely scale of policing and the possibility of perhaps arranging with consent, rather than imposing, any conditions.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh said that he had to swallow hard about some of the provisions, but that on balance he came down in favour of them. All of us are nervous when we legislate on public order. Several times the point was made about the balance between individual 264 freedom and the need to preserve public safety. We know how the parades and marches in Northern Ireland can lead to disorder, disruption, intimidation and damage and I believe that we have the balance in response to those dangers right.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the question of the exemptions for the BBC and IBA under broadcasting provisions and asked about their application to Radio Telefis Eireann. The offence in relation to broadcasting under article 12 occurs at the point of transmission, not reception, so RTE broadcasts from the Republic are not within the jurisdiction of the Northern Ireland courts.
§ Mr. Scott
Although RTE records and transmits in Belfast, it transmits the programmes back to its headquarters in the Republic, and the actual transmissions emanate from the Republic. That is my understanding of the technical aspect of that question.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) said that he shared the general concern for human rights expressed by several hon. Members and went on to ask about the importance of the RUC's liaison with the local community. I wholeheartedly echo his anxiety and I long to see the early introduction of liaison committees between the police and the elected representatives and to see them flourishing and playing a useful part. However, until the elected representatives of the two main Unionist parties are willing to resume their full range of responsibilities in local government, those developments are unlikely to occur.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about street names and, by implication, wider matters about the role of the Irish language in Northern Ireland. The Government are still considering those matters.
§ Mr. Alton
The Minister will recall that I asked about the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act (Northern Ireland) 1947, which outlaws the use of Gaelic signs on the streets of Belfast and is often linked with the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act (Northern Ireland) 1954. Can he tell us when he may introduce an order to deal with that prohibition?
§ Mr. Scott
It is not as simple as that. If one were to repeal that Act without introducing any sort of scheme, there could be anarchy in these matters. That merits careful consideration and we are giving it careful consideration, but it is too early to say exactly how we may move.
Before I close, I want to take issue with the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley). He was generous in his praise of the RUC and the way in which it performed in scenes of public disorder last summer. It is not true to say that that was the first time that the RUC had behaved in such a way. Throughout recent years, in the marching season, the RUC has distinguished itself and made enormous efforts, in an impartial way, to maintain public order on both sides of the community. It should not be suggested that that is a recent development in terms of the RUC's behaviour.
I should make it clear to the hon. Member for Hammersmith that pickets fall within the definition of open-air meetings. A police officer would be able to 265 impose conditions in the likelihood of serious public disorder if the rigorous tests in article 4(2) were met. That would apply to picketing and other matters.
The order addresses three important matters in Northern Ireland. It seeks to establish a set of conditions and responses for the police to the problem of parades and marches, which my right hon. Friend outlined at the outset of the debate. The vast majority of parades and marches in Northern Ireland pass off without serious disorder, but a minority can cause acute public order problems. The Chief Constable of the RUC has drawn attention to that in all his reports during this decade.
Part II of the order seeks broadly to follow the British legislation with regard to incitement to hatred, and in particular to remove the need to prove intent. We are seeking to remove from the statute book the Flags and Emblems (Display) Act (Northern Ireland) 1954, which is redundant.
I am as conscious as anybody that, when considering public order legislation, we have to find the right balance between individual liberties and giving the police the powers that they need to protect society or substantial minorities in a particular society, from disorder, disturbance and distress. In Northern Ireland the balance must be struck at a slightly different point. We all regret that, but it is a fact of life. The penalties of striking the wrong point on either side are great.
The debate has demonstrated the concern that is felt by hon. Members about the need to get the balance right. It has been a constructive and useful debate. However, I have not been persuaded that we need to withdraw the order because I do not believe that we have got it wrong.
I regret that it looks likely that we shall have a Division. I believe that there is a great deal of common consent in the House about what we need to do in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland on the three matters under consideration. I hope that it will be possible for us not to divide the House because of the importance of this matter and the need, wherever possible, for the House to come to a consensus view about the actions that we should take in this sensitive area of individual liberty in Northern Ireland. I commend the order to the House.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Let it be shown that the Minister has refused to answer any of the allegations that were made during the debate.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 160, Noes 106.267
|Division No. 114]||[11.28 pm|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Carttiss, Michael|
|Alexander, Richard||Cash, William|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Conway, Derek|
|Alton, David||Coombs, Simon|
|Amess, David||Cope, John|
|Batiste, Spencer||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Bellingham, Henry||Farr, Sir John|
|Best, Keith||Favell, Anthony|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Fenner, Dame Peggy|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Fletcher, Sir Alexander|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Forman, Nigel|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Forth, Eric|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Norman||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Franks, Cecil||Murphy, Christopher|
|Freeman, Roger||Nelson, Anthony|
|Galley, Roy||Neubert, Michael|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Newton, Tony|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Gow, Ian||Onslow, Cranley|
|Gower, Sir Raymond||Osborn, Sir John|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Ground, Patrick||Portillo, Michael|
|Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)||Powley, John|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Raffan, Keith|
|Hawkins, Sir Paul (N'folk SW)||Rathbone, Tim|
|Hayward, Robert||Renton, Tim|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Heddle, John||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Henderson, Barry||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Hirst, Michael||Rowe, Andrew|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Rumbold, Mrs Angela|
|Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)||Ryder, Richard|
|Holt, Richard||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|Howard, Michael||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)||Scott, Nicholas|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Hunt, David (Wirral W)||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Jackson, Robert||Silvester, Fred|
|Jessel, Toby||Sims, Roger|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Jones, Robert (Herts W)||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine||Speed, Keith|
|Key, Robert||Spencer, Derek|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'field)||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Knight, Greg (Derby N)||Steen, Anthony|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)||Stern, Michael|
|Knowles, Michael||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Lamont, Rt Hon Norman||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Lang, Ian||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Sumberg, David|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Lester, Jim||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)||Terlezki, Stefan|
|Lord, Michael||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Luce, Rt Hon Richard||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Thurnham, Peter|
|McCurley, Mrs Anna||Tracey, Richard|
|MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Maclean, David John||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Waddington, Rt Hon David|
|McQuarrie, Albert||Wallace, James|
|Major, John||Waller, Gary|
|Mallon, Seamus||Ward, John|
|Malone, Gerald||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Marlow, Antony||Watts, John|
|Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Mather, Sir Carol||Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Wheeler, John|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Wolfson, Mark|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Wood, Timothy|
|Mayhew, Sir Patrick||Woodcock, Michael|
|Meadowcroft, Michael||Yeo, Tim|
|Montgomery, Sir Fergus||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Moore, Rt Hon John||Mr. David Lightbown and|
|Morris, M. (N'hampton S)||Mr. Tony Durant.|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Birmingham, Gerald|
|Ashton, Joe||Bidwell, Sydney|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Boyes, Roland|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Bray, Dr Jeremy|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)|
|Beggs, Roy||Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)|
|Bell, Stuart||Caborn, Richard|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Clarke, Thomas||Loyden, Edward|
|Clay, Robert||McCrea, Rev William|
|Clelland, David Gordon||McCusker, Harold|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||McGuire, Michael|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S)||McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|Cohen, Harry||McNamara, Kevin|
|Conlan, Bernard||McWilliam, John|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Madden, Max|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Maginnis, Ken|
|Crowther, Stan||Maxton, John|
|Dalyell, Tam||Michie, William|
|Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)||Molyneaux, Rt Hon James|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)||Nellist, David|
|Deakins, Eric||O'Brien, William|
|Dixon, Donald||Paisley, Rev Ian|
|Dormand, Jack||Patchett, Terry|
|Dubs, Alfred||Pendry, Tom|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Powell, Rt Hon J. E.|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Eadie, Alex||Prescott, John|
|Eastham, Ken||Redmond, Martin|
|Evans, John (St. Helens N)||Robertson, George|
|Fatchett, Derek||Robinson, P. (Belfast E)|
|Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)||Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)|
|Fisher, Mark||Ross, Wm. (Londonderry E)|
|Flannery, Martin||Rowlands, Ted|
|Forrester, John||Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)|
|Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Foulkes, George||Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Smyth, Rev W. M. (Belfast S)|
|George, Bruce||Soley, Clive|
|Godman, Dr Norman||Strang, Gavin|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Taylor, Rt Hon John David|
|Hamilton, James (M'well N)||Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)|
|Hogg, N, (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Tinn, James|
|Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)||Walker, Cecil (Belfast N)|
|Home Robertson, John||Warden, Gareth (Gower)|
|Hoyle, Douglas||Welsh, Michael|
|Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)||Winnick, David|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Kilfedder, James A.|
|Lamond, James||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Leighton, Ronald||Mr. Frank Haynes and|
|Litherland, Robert||Mr. Tony Lloyd.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
That the draft Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, which was laid before this House on 19th February, be approved.