HC Deb 04 February 1998 vol 305 cc1118-39

'.—(1)If the Commission, having regard to the time or place at which and the circumstances in which any public procession is intended to be held and to its route or proposed route, reasonably believes—

  1. (a) that the likely actions of those taking part in the parade may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community; or
  2. (b) that the purpose of the persons organising it is the intimidation of others with a view to compelling them not to do an act they have a right to do, or do an act they have a right not to do,
it may issue a determination imposing on the persons organising the procession such conditions as appear to it to be necessary to prevent such disorder, disruption or intimidation, including conditions as to route of the procession or prohibiting it from entering any public place.

(2) The Commission may amend or revoke any determination issued under this section.

(3) A person who knowingly fails to comply with a condition imposed under this section shall be guilty of an offence, but it is a defence for him to prove that the failure arose—

  1. (a) from circumstances beyond his control; or
  2. (b) from something done by direction of a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary not below the rank of inspector.

(4) A person who incites another to commit an offence under subsection (3) shall be guilty of an offence.

(5) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (3) or (4) shall be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both.'.—[Mr. Thompson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Thompson

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 13, in clause 7, page 4, line 24, leave out from beginning to end of line 27 on page 5.

No. 3, in page 5, line 14, leave out from 'procession)' to end of line 16.

Mr. Thompson

Those who know the Bill will understand that clauses 7 to 10 represent its substance. We know, of course, that the Bill deals with important issues, such as law and order and the rights of people to process and to object. My hon. Friends and I do not accept that those matters should be decided by a commission, especially a commission that is a new quango in Northern Ireland, the members of which will be nominated by the Secretary of State. Our experience is that those who are nominated by the Secretary of State to quangos are placed to carry out the Government's business.

We believe that, as with protests, decisions on parades should be taken by the police. We believe also that when public order is at stake, it is the responsibility of the police to be involved. To seek to pass the responsibility over to an unelected lay body seems to my colleagues and me to be completely unacceptable.

The Parades Commission has been given significant powers under clause 7. They enable a determination to be made as the commission considers necessary. Guidelines provide for the commission to have regard to various factors, such as any public disorder or damage to property which may result from the procession … any disruption to the life of the community". Two additional paragraphs refer to the

impact which the procession may have on relationships within the community; any failure of a person of a description specified in the guidelines to comply with the Code of Conduct". We believe that the two additional conditions are completely unacceptable. Furthermore, we believe that they are contrary to the provisions of the European convention on human rights. If the provisions were voluntary, they might be more acceptable. If the commission wishes to have guidelines and a code of conduct, that is up to it, but the idea that such provisions should be statutory and should be used to impose conditions on a parade is to us completely unacceptable.

We believe also that the Bill, in many instances, is a contravention of the European convention on human rights. In another place, the Government are putting through a measure entitled the Human Rights Bill. In the White Paper, there is a wonderful photograph of—guess who?—the Prime Minister. What does the right hon. Gentleman say? He says: We believe it is right to increase individual rights". Yet the Bill is taking away individual rights. These are the rights that are set out in the convention. Article 9 states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance. As the Orange institution is a religious organisation, we believe that we have every right to march the Queen's highway and to proclaim our religion in that respect.

Article 10 states: Everyone has the right of freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers", yet the Bill seeks to restrict the freedom of marchers to express their culture and beliefs.

We read under article 11: Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests. Again, the right of freedom of peaceful assembly is under grave attack in the Bill.

Article 14 states: The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status. The Bill will give rise to instances of discrimination, because certain classes of organisation will not be required to comply with the requirement to indicate their intention to hold a parade, yet other organisations such as Orange and other institutions will be required to do so. That, we argue, is discrimination, in contravention of the European convention on human rights.

A number of human rights cases have gone through the European Court of Human Rights. Two of those cases are relevant to public order and the right of peaceful assembly. One was the case of Plattform "Arzte fur das Leben", an association of doctors that campaigned against abortion with a view to securing changes in the Austrian legislation. It complained to the court about violations of article 11. It is interesting to read about those demonstrations, because it is amazing how they compare with the situation in Northern Ireland.

We read that the applicant association decided to hold a religious service at Stadl-Paura church in upper Austria on 28 December 1980, after which there would be a march to the surgery of a doctor who carried out abortions. As required by law, it gave notice on 30 November to the police authority for the district of Wels-Land. The police made no objection and gave the participants permission to use the public highway. The police did, however, have to ban other planned demonstrations that were announced subsequently by supporters of abortion, as those demonstrations were to be held at the same time and in the same place as the Plattform demonstration.

As the organisers feared that incidents might occur none the less, they sought to change their plans in consultation with the local authority. They gave up the idea of demonstrating outside the doctor's surgery and decided instead to march to an altar erected on a hillside quite a distance away from the church, and to hold a religious ceremony there.

8.15 pm

The police representatives pointed out to the organisers that the main body of the police officers had already been deployed along the route originally planned, and that, because of the lie of the land, the new route was not suited to crowd control. They did not refuse to provide protection, but stated that, irrespective of the route chosen or not to be chosen, it would be impossible to prevent counter-demonstrators from throwing eggs and disrupting both the march and the religious service.

During the mass, a large number of counter-demonstrators who it seems had not given the notice required under the relevant Act assembled outside the church and were not dispersed by the police. They disrupted the march to the hillside by mingling with the marchers and shouting down their recitation of the rosary. The same thing happened at the service celebrated in the open air. Some 500 people attempted to interrupt it using loudspeakers, and threw eggs and clumps of grass at the congregation.

At the end of the ceremony, when tempers had risen to the point where physical violence nearly broke out, special riot control units, which had until then been standing by without intervening, formed a cordon between the opposing groups, and that enabled the procession to return to the church.

Mr. McGrady


Mr. Thompson

We can see the parallel with Harryville and with Drumcree. However, to return to the case, we read that a second march was contemplated. The competent police authority gave permission for a second demonstration against abortion to be held in the cathedral square in Salzburg on 1 May 1982. An anniversary meeting was due to be held in the square by the socialist party on the same day, but it had to be cancelled because notice of it had been given after the applicant association had given notice of its meeting.

The demonstration began at 2.15 pm and ended with an hour of prayers inside the cathedral. At about 1.30 pm, some 350 people angrily shouting their opposition had passed through the three archways that provided access to the square and gathered outside the cathedral. A hundred policemen—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. I can understand the hon. Gentleman citing cases in other countries, but to go into the detail of two cases that occurred in Austria is stretching the point. I do not mind a mention of those matters, but the full detail of the incidents should not be brought before the House.

Mr. Thompson

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am coming to the end of my remarks, but the incidents are extremely important because they relate closely to the situation in Northern Ireland.

To conclude the account of the second incident, other trouble was caused by sympathisers of an extreme right-wing party, the NDP, who voiced their support for Plattform. The police asked the association chairman to order those people to disperse, without success. In order to prevent the religious ceremony from being disrupted, the police cleared the square.

After the matter went to the court—

Rev. Ian Paisley

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think you will admit that my reference was at least to Northern Ireland, and not far afield.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I think that the hon. Member is raising a matter of history rather than a point of order.

Mr. Thompson

The decision of the court is extremely important in establishing European law in this instance. It is sad that we who live in Northern Ireland, who are part of the United Kingdom, must resort to European law to assert our rights, rather than being able to rely on British law, which we believed was better than European law.

Under this Government, the situation seems to have changed. Now we must appeal to the European Court. What it said was important. In its decision of 17 October 1985 on admissibility, the Commission dealt at length with the question whether article 11 implicitly required the state to protect demonstrations from those wishing to interfere with or disrupt them. It answered that question in the affirmative.

A demonstration may annoy or give offence to persons opposed to the ideas or claims that it is seeking to promote. The participants must, however, be able to hold the demonstration without having to fear that they will be subjected to physical violence by their opponents. Such a fear would be liable to deter associations or other groups supporting common ideas or interests from openly expressing their opinions on highly controversial issues affecting the community. In a democracy, the right to counter-demonstrate cannot extend to inhibiting the exercise of the right to demonstrate.

Genuine, effective freedom of peaceful assembly cannot, therefore, be reduced to a mere duty on the part of the state not to interfere: a purely negative conception would not be compatible with the object and purpose of article 11. The judgment of the court establishes the right of peaceful marching and peaceful assembly. Yet the restrictions in the Bill prevent the exercise of that right. Restrictions can be placed only on rights that are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society. We supposedly live in a democratic society.

A second court case, the Ezelin case, establishes the right of peaceful assembly. The court found: the freedom to take part in a peaceful assembly … is of such importance that it cannot be restricted in any way … so long as the person concerned does not himself commit any reprehensible act on such an occasion. They are the rights and the privileges that we should enjoy as citizens of the United Kingdom and as citizens of Europe. The restrictions outlined in clause 7 contravene our liberty. It is entirely unacceptable that a person's right to march, to process and to demonstrate should be negated by any impact which the procession may have on relationships within the community". The court cases to which I referred negate that stupid argument.

It is also argued that, if people do not follow certain conditions and guidelines established under the code of conduct, their rights will be eliminated. That is a complete negation of our rights and our liberty. That is why we oppose clause 7 and why I have proposed new clause 1—a proper clause —to replace it. If accepted by the Government, it would go a considerable way towards making the Bill more acceptable to Unionists. The clause says that the powers of the commission to apply restrictions on a parade should be similar to those which the Government have now accepted should be applied in relation to an objecting demonstration. In other words, restrictions should be based only on public order issues. New clause 1 says: the likely actions of those taking part in the parade may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community; or that the purpose of the persons organising it is the intimidation of others with a view to compelling them not to do an act they have a right to do, or do an act they have a right not to do". We believe that those conditions, which are similar to those that apply in England and Wales, should be the only ones that the commission uses when making a determination and placing restrictions on a parade.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, if the absolute right to process as enshrined in European law is established and confirmed, protest will be less likely?

Mr. Thompson

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. The problem is that the Government and police leaders have attacked those rights. That is what has caused all the trouble.

I refer also to the Human Rights Bill, which is currently in the House of Lords. Clause 19 states: A Minister of the Crown in charge of a Bill in either House of Parliament must, before the Second Reading of the Bill— (a) make a statement to the effect that in his view the provisions of the Bill are compatible with the Convention rights"— in other words, it is a statement of compatibility or (b) make a statement to the effect that although he is unable to make a statement of compatibility the government nevertheless wishes the House to proceed with the Bill. This statement must be in writing and be published in such manner as the Minister"—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is reading from clause 19, but we are dealing with new clause 1. We cannot range too widely on Report.

Mr. Thompson

You misunderstand me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am reading from clause 19 of the Human Rights Bill, which is at present in the House of Lords and which is relevant to the legislation that we are considering tonight.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That makes the situation even worse. The hon. Gentleman should confine his remarks to new clause 1, which he has proposed. This is not a Second Reading debate; it is the Report stage. I must confine the hon. Gentleman's remarks to new clause 1.

Mr. Thompson

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will be pleased to hear that I am drawing my remarks to a close.

I ask the Government: have they fulfilled the requirements of clause 19 of the Human Rights Bill in relation to this legislation? I accept that this Bill will pass through the House before the Human Rights Bill. However, if the Government are keen to enshrine people's rights in legislation, they should produce a written statement explaining, in detail, how this legislation—which is so important to the rights of the people of Northern Ireland—complies with the European convention on human rights. I ask the Government to do that.

New clause 1, which is a substitute for clause 7 in the existing legislation, would retain the law in sympathy with the rest of the United Kingdom and would not contravene the European convention on human rights. Therefore, in the interests of peace, stability and balance, I ask the Minister to accept the new clause.

8.30 pm
Mr. McGrady

An explanation is required of my amendment No. 3 to clause 7, since the word "procession" appears twice in line 14. The amendment applies to the second "procession": in other words, it would delete subsection (6)(e), which deals with a preference—or an intention to give preference—to processions that are customarily held along a particular route. Subsection (6) states that the guidelines of the commission shall in particular have regard to five matters, including whether a procession is customarily held along a route.

The words "customarily held" mean traditional. It will be difficult for the commission or anyone else to define traditionality. In Committee, the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) gave a perfect example of the problem of traditionality. He said that the structure of the Orange Order was such that demonstrations could move around in different areas in different years. In one extreme case, a traditional parade was held every 41 or 47 years—I am not sure which. Therefore, traditionality could mean intervals of 40 or more years. No reasonable person would accept that something which has not taken place for the best part of two generations could genuinely be deemed traditional.

I hasten to add that it is desirable that as many parades as possible, excluding those which impinge on the rights of others or cause distress or public disorder, should be allowed. There is no problem about that. But traditionality should not be one of the major bases on which a decision is made.

For example, in an area which I prefer not to name in case it exacerbates the situation, a parade was taking place on several Friday nights, as they are wont to do, until 11 pm or 12 pm, and it went into a mixed estate. There were some protests, but the police, in their wisdom, said that the parade could go ahead because it was traditional. The traditional parade to which they were referring was an extension of a parade into a new housing estate where the roads were not even made up. That parade had nothing to do with traditionality. The houses had not been there 24 months before. That was about extending the dominance of the traditional parade into a new community which happened to be particularly diverse.

I shall not press the amendment to a vote, but I hope that the Minister will say that, when the guidelines are being drawn up or reviewed, that element of traditionality will not be a major or primary factor in the decision-making process. As I have said, over four decades, the topography, demography and social structure of any given area can change. Traditionality is not only a bad basis in practice on which to make a decision but a difficult basis in terms of interpretation.

Mr. Thompson

If the hon. Gentleman were a member of such organisations, he would realise how a traditional parade could come about only every 41 years. More important, however, does he accept that, under European and British law, processions have the right to march on a public road which passes through or by a nationalist estate, even though there may be people there who do not like them or agree with them, and may object to them, provided that they do it peaceably?

Mr. McGrady

The hon. Gentleman raises the question of the right to march. In Committee, the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), who sat on the same side of the Committee as the hon. Gentleman, and who I understand is a learned gentleman, said that he thought that, under English law, there was no right to parade, simply an entitlement under the common law to do that which is not forbidden. There is no automatic right to march—a concept which Ulster Unionist Members have consistently put across. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Beaconsfield is right in his semi-judicial assessment of the situation, but I put it forward for what it is worth.

My amendment simply asks that traditionality is not taken literally but is made subject to other matters which must impinge on any decision making. To have it as a primary and particular concern gives it a prominence which, owing to the difficulty of interpretation and explanation, could give it an undue influence in the decision making of the commission, or of the police, who deal with protest meetings rather than parades.

Mr. William Ross

I support new clause 1. It is very reasonable and will be found to be in keeping with the spirit and the letter of the Human Rights Bill which will complete its passage in the other place tomorrow and then come to this House for debate and amendment.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson) read out the clear judgments of the European Court, which will override domestic law. We in the Ulster Unionist party have always opposed the concept of European law, but if the House decides to implement it, it will have to live by it. I suspect that the first Orange procession that is blocked will see the Government in court, and that will not be in the European Court, but in the domestic courts. If my understanding is correct, once the Government are found guilty, as they will be, they will find themselves having to pass through the House forthwith an Order in Council implementing the European law in that regard. If the Government are sensible enough to accept my hon. Friend's proposals and live by them, I suspect that they will never be in that unhappy position. New clause 1 is very important. It is the first of a number that my hon. Friend has tabled on the issue, and no doubt he will return later this evening to some of the matters he has raised.

New clause 1(1)(a) would make an issue of the conduct of those in the procession. It is a reasonable provision, and I believe that we would all like to see it included in the Bill. If people took part in a parade, they would have to behave themselves. No one in a loyalist order or organisation, such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians, would behave in the way described in the new clause. Given that fact, the law-abiding, decent elements of Northern Ireland society could live with and, indeed, would welcome the new clause.

New clause 1(1)(b) is an equally reasonable provision and would provide an excellent back-up to the Government's new clause 3, which the House has just accepted. Ministers should have the wit to welcome the sensible proposals in new clause 1. They are a much simpler statement of what is needed to control processions in Northern Ireland and could be implemented easily by the police. The new clause makes it plain that, if people do not behave when they are on procession, that will be a good reason for ensuring that they do not return.

The Bill as it stands is far too complex. It introduces elements that, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Tyrone vividly illustrated, will not stand up when the European human rights law is applied in the United Kingdom. Under the European laws, people will have the right to process, and to police and military protection when they do so. That is the point that I made in Committee: we will eventually reach a situation in which everyone will have the right to march more or less at will and to be protected while doing so.

The Government should pause and think again about the consequences of the Bill. They should consider ways in which it could be improved and made acceptable and compatible with European law. The Government could pre-empt a conflict with European law, and that would be a happy outcome of our proceedings. As the Bill stands, the Government will have to reconsider it in a year or so.

I am happy to support the proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for West Tyrone, and I hope that they find favour with the Minister. If the Minister thinks carefully about the new clause, he will realise that it is sensible and much superior to the proposals in the Bill. I hope that the Government will accept the new clause.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I rise to support new clause 1, tabled by the hon. Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson). The Government cannot take an a la carte approach to Europe. They must either accept all that Europe says or none of it. I am not a fan of Europe, but I believe that the Government will be hoist by their own petard when the Bill to incorporate European civil rights provisions receives Royal Assent. What will happen then?

I do not agree with the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) that the British people have no right to process. Everybody knows that common law gives people that right, and that has been argued in the courts of this land. This is not the first time that processions have been in the political arena in Ireland—or in England, especially Liverpool. It can be seen from the past that the right to march has been treated in the same way as the right to assemble and the right to free speech.

We are discussing public order issues tonight. I have already said this evening—I shall repeat the point—that the Government should have considered the public order order and dealt with the provisions in it that gave a lever to those who wanted to disrupt processions, and to disrupt them violently.

It seems entirely unfair for the authorities in Northern Ireland to tell the Portadown Orangemen that they cannot ever walk again in the Tunnel area. They have been walking to Drumcree for more than 100 years. They asked, "How do we get to it?" The authorities said, "This is the way you get to it." The Orangemen replied, "Will you guarantee us that we can get that way?" I was present. I know what I am talking about. The police vowed that the Orangemen could go that way. Of course, when they started walking that way, the IRA decided that it would have to implement the orders of its leader, Gerry Adams, and take part in the agitation to stop the parade. The Orangemen were allowed to get to the church and were then suddenly told by the police that they would not be getting home.

Mr. Ingram

indicated dissent.

Rev. Ian Paisley

It is not right for the Minister to say that it is untrue. That is what happened. They got to the church on the first occasion and were told that they could not get back. That is a matter of fact.

8.45 pm
Mr. McGrady

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the facts were that the parade went to the church and could have gone back by the same way that it arrived without hindrance from the police or anyone else? As I understand it, it was going back by a different route that caused the problem and the counter-demonstration.

Rev. Ian Paisley

The arrangement made with the police was that the parade was to go one way and come back by another. That was the original agreement that the police made. The police cannot get away from that. I sat in a meeting with the police and they admitted that that was right. Let us get the facts right without having an argument.

Mr. William Ross

The hon. Gentleman knows that the police notification document, form 11/1, specifies the route and the return. As he says, the return route shown was different from the route to the church.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Portadown is not a nationalist town. Let us get that straight. It is one of the most Protestant towns in Northern Ireland, the very heart of County Armagh Protestantism. The road is a main road. In the past 20 or 25 years, houses have been built. They have not been built on the roadside. Not one lies on the actual road. They are in estates on either side. That does not produce what people in Northern Ireland like to call a particular coloured area.

The coloured areas came in when troops first came to Northern Ireland. The troops were given maps with green and orange areas. The Ravenhill road, where I have laboured in Church work for 52 years, is not a Roman Catholic road. From the bottom right up to Rosetta, it is a Protestant road. I was walking up that road when a police officer accosted me and said, "I don't think you should be walking here, Mr. Paisley." I said, "Why?" He said, "You are in a Roman Catholic area." I said, "No. 1, what would it matter if I was? What business is it of yours? Secondly, who told you that?" He showed me his map. The right-hand side of the road was coloured dark green. He said, "This is a republican area." I said, "Go away home. You don't know what you're talking about." On both sides it is a Protestant road. Even if it had been a Roman Catholic road, surely a minister, whether a priest in the Roman Church or a Protestant, is entitled to walk there and look after people who reside there. I find that attitude disconcerting.

The houses are back from the road. There was never any attempt by Orangemen in Portadown to walk through those estates, nor would they do that. That lie was spread all around the world. I do not know how many programmes I appeared on in the United States of America, but the first question I was always asked was whether Orangemen had walked through Roman Catholic housing estates. I was in America when a man said to me, "Of course, the Roman Catholics don't have any houses in Northern Ireland." I said, "That's interesting. They are now running a rent and rates strike, so if they don't have any houses, how can they successfully do that?" That strike was organised by the SDLP.

The Northern Ireland people, especially the Protestants, have been slandered. There is now a vicious campaign. The so-called loyalist terrorists are called Protestants—the Protestant Ulster Freedom Fighters and the Protestant Ulster Volunteer Force—but those people have no religion: they are the haters and revilers of religion. We never hear anyone referring to the Roman Catholic Provisional IRA. In fact, I tabled a question in the House using that expression and I was called into the office and told, "You don't use that language here." I said, "Here's one tabled by Gerry Fitt referring to the Protestant UVF. What about that?" and they said, "We'll get that off the Order Paper." A campaign is being waged to blacken the decent Protestant people of Northern Ireland. It is a scandal.

The people who walked down from Drumcree were not against their Roman Catholic neighbours. They were coming from a place of worship and were entitled to come down that road. The Bill is all about Drumcree. It is an attempt by the Government to find a way of stopping the parade. Government researchers should read the history of the Procession Acts that have littered the statute book. Where did they get us? Nowhere.

People may not want others walking down a particular road, and they may not like what those people are doing, but they just have to let them walk down that road. Hibernian processions go through almost 100 per cent. Protestant areas in my constituency and nobody says anything. Orange parades go through Rasharkin, which has a majority Roman Catholic population, and nothing is said. That is the only way that parades can be accomplished in peace.

I used to spend my holidays in a place called Killowen in the constituency of the hon. Member for South Down. Killowen was strongly Roman Catholic, although there were some Protestant families. On 12 July, the Roman Catholic boys and the Protestant boys went together to see the Orangemen. On 15 August, we all went to Warrenpoint to see the Hibernians. On 12 July, the Hibernian neighbour did the farm chores and sent his Orange friend off to walk in the parade, and his friend did the same on 15 August. That is the way it was, and that is the way it needs to be. That is the only answer.

People think that they will stop an event that has been going on for hundreds of years, but it cannot be done. The sad thing is that this problem now affects church services. Mention was made of Harryville. The House should know that Harryville sits in a 99 per cent. Protestant area, yet the chapel was built there and nobody said anything about it until we had the agitation in Dunloy. Orangemen were not allowed to go to the Presbyterian church. The Presbyterian church was attacked. All the windows were broken, the graveyard was dug up and, one by one, people were driven out of the church by intimidation.

The Protestants in Harryville then decided to organise a protest there. I do not agree with banned protests; I think that protests should take place within the law, and I do not think that anyone should have to listen to curses and bad language from anyone. I believe that people should be allowed to go in peace to their place of worship. I have made my position clear in my constituency, and everyone there knows it. The point is that, outside Ballymena, in a place called Dunloy, Orangemen were not even permitted to hold a religious service in their own Orange hall because the Orange hall was occupied by IRA men. They sat on the roof and wrote the slogan "You will never use this hall again". The hall is now an IRA-Sinn Fein advice centre.

Fortunately, following a good deal of consideration, we succeeded in holding a religious service in the hall with no trouble a few weeks ago. The police were at long last prepared to do for the people of Dunloy—the Protestants—what they had done for the people of Harryville, the Roman Catholics: they were prepared to say, "You are entitled to hold your religious service, and we will look after you." That is a duty that the police must perform across the board and it is why this is and always will be a public order issue. Even the Minister said—referring to some of the remarks that I, and others, had made—that public order issues were involved in the debate about protests. The House will eventually have to look again at the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, because it has within it the seeds of what is now happening.

There was a man on the Armagh road who said, "No Orangeman will ever walk down this road again." On one side of the Armagh road, from the direction of the King's bridge, is what is known as the holy land, because all the streets have names like Jerusalem street and Jericho street. It is predominantly a Protestant area. When I went to Belfast some 49 years ago, I lived in Cooke street, which is at the bottom of the Armagh road. The Orangemen walked up and down the road, using it as a main thoroughfare. They cannot do so today, because the IRA has said—Gerard Rice has said—that they are not allowed to set foot on the Armagh road. That will gain momentum, and nothing but anarchy will result. The new clause makes reasonable proposals to deal with some of what results from unruly elements taking over in parades and in protests against parades.

At last Friday's trade union meeting, some elements sought to take over and to destroy the very purpose for which the meeting had been called. The Chair did not allow me to read out today some of the things that Roman Catholics have been saying about the way in which the IRA has treated them. All I can say is that this will not end when we pass the Bill. We must look forward to the days that lie ahead. If the House thinks that banning Drumcree this year is all that will be needed, it has another think coming. It is impossible to stop something that has gone on, with the majority of the population behind it, in a town such as Portadown, which is the centre of Protestantism. We might as well say to the people of the Bogside, "You will never walk to Free Derry corner again." What person with a titter of wit would say that? The House does not have a Canute to stop the waves. The waves will come in and we must be reasonable and seek legislation that will at least help to reduce tension and not stir the pot.

9 pm

I say to the people of Northern Ireland and to the House that there are some things that we have to thole, and everyone in Northern Ireland has to thole processions. Those who do not agree with them need not look at them. Some processions last for only a few minutes. I am told that the Drumcree parade takes nine minutes to go along that stretch of road. If we cannot have tolerance for nine minutes, we will never have the tolerance to live together and take the actions that people say we should take together. We should look carefully at the Bill. I hope that the Government appreciate the force of the new clause.

Mr. Öpik

Estonia does not have many rules about processions, but it had sectarian problems. There was tension between the Russian and Estonian communities, and it was a miracle that it had not erupted into violence. As far as I can tell, when people from one side or the other wanted to process, they did it, made their point and that was it. My guess is that, if we transposed the entire legislation on processions in Northern Ireland to Estonia, it would not make a blind bit of difference to how people there go about their business. The same is probably true of Northern Ireland.

No matter how much legislation we produce on processions in Northern Ireland, the situation will not change much. The reason for that—as I listen to the debate I become even more persuaded of it—is that the House is trying to legislate for human nature. The more we try to legislate for circumstances and difficulties, the more it becomes a virtual certainty that those who want to will find creative solutions to enable them to circumvent the legislation.

We must be realistic. The concerns that have been expressed in the debate simply reflect the degree to which the debate is not about getting the right legislation but about getting the right attitudes, and such attitudes can come only from the participants. The hon. Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson) made an interesting comment about freedoms and civil liberties. I have some sympathy with his proposition. His most striking comment related to clause 7(6)(c), which states that the commission should consider

any impact which the procession may have on relationships within the community". That is close to the question whether one should allow people to make statements with which one does not agree. We were taught in philosophy the saying I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. There is a danger of illiberality, of taking away that fundamental right to self-expression. However, I am not at all clear why the proposals by the hon. Member for West Tyrone would alleviate the danger of illiberal restrictions. Unreasonable people will behave unreasonably, and no matter how much we legislate, that will continue.

The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) said that, if the legislation is passed in the form that the Government want, it might have to come to the House again next year for further improvement. It may have to come back for ever if we think that legislation will resolve the problems. We could have this debate every year if we think that debate will resolve problems. I was going to make some points on traditionality, but I think that they will come up when we discuss the next group of amendments, if we get to it.

As a result of the points that I have made, I ask the hon. Member for West Tyrone to explain why he feels that his proposals will make the situation better in Northern Ireland. The reason I ask that question was summarised by the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), who said that the problems will not end—by implication, with the passage of the Bill. He is right, because it has to do with attitude.

Therefore, my question is: why is the hon. Member for West Tyrone confident that his proposals, with which, as I say, I have quite a lot of sympathy, will improve the difficult situation with regard to processions in Northern Ireland? If he can provide a convincing explanation to that, he will have gone a long way to explaining how we can begin to change attitudes in Northern Ireland, to remove the need for such complex legislation in the first place. However, I am sceptical.

Mr. William Ross

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will have noticed that, in this group of amendments, there are two in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson) and one in the name of the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady). However, they are very different. Do you intend to allow separate Divisions on those two sets of propositions?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

I think that the answer to that is no.

Mr. Worthington

I understand the thinking behind the amendments of the hon. Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson), but, given the Government's overall policy in this area, in effect, they are, as he knows, wrecking amendments. We shall therefore resist them.

The hon. Gentleman's whole case was based on the European convention on human rights, which I am pleased to hear he has discovered because it was ratified in 1950—about 48 years ago. Since a few years after that, any British citizen has had the right to go to the European Court of Human Rights and seek to have the rights in the convention brought into effect.

Since that time, it has been possible for any Unionist or Orangeman, when there have been march restrictions that they feel contravene the convention, to go to the European Court in Strasbourg and say, "We believe that the restrictions that were imposed by the Secretary of State or by the Chief Constable were in contravention of the convention." That right has been there all those years and, to the best of my knowledge, it has never been used by people of the persuasion of the hon. Member for West Tyrone.

Mr. Thompson

I thank the Minister for what he says, but I do not need a lesson on the convention. The point is that it is difficult to get redress in Strasbourg before the police re-route a parade, especially if they do so two hours before it is due to take place. The fact that someone can get redress two or three years later is not relevant and is very costly. The question that the Minister has to answer is: has he produced a written document showing how this Bill complies with the European convention? Will he acknowledge that, when the Human Rights Bill becomes law, it will be much easier for us to get redress?

Mr. Worthington

The major reason why we are introducing the Human Rights Bill in the Lords is to make it easier for British citizens to get redress through the British courts, rather than to go to Strasbourg, but nothing in this Bill contravenes the rights of British citizens. There are no restrictions in the Bill. It introduces a different way of administering marches. As the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) has said, whether there are more marches and parades or fewer marches and parades will depend on people's attitudes.

Nothing in the legislation is restrictionist or anti-restrictionist. It simply sets out a new framework because we and the North committee judged that the previous framework, which included the role of the police and other interested parties, was unsatisfactory. Part of the framework, to which the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) objects, allows for "traditionality" to be taken into consideration. That in no way alters our relationship with the European convention on human rights. That convention is not changed, and nor is our interpretation of it. At every stage, the hon. Member for West Tyrone has been free to go to Strasbourg, and he will be free to do so in future.

Obviously, we have taken legal advice—I should be interested to know whether the hon. Member for West Tyrone has done so—and we are confident that nothing in the Bill is contrary to the ECHR. It does not restrict the right to march. It simply sets out a different framework for the monitoring of marches. Whether it is more restrictionist or not will depend on the commission, just as in the past it depended on the Chief Constable or the Secretary of State at the time.

Mr. Thompson

If the Bill is so compatible with the European convention on human rights, why do not the Government publish a document explaining where it conforms to the convention, as will be required under the Human Rights Bill which is now going through the other place and which will eventually come to this place? If the Bill does not contravene the convention, why have the Government not published such a document?

Mr. Worthington

The hon. Gentleman initially asked for a statement, which I am making, to the effect that the Bill does not contravene the convention. We feel no need to do as the hon. Gentleman suggests, because the Bill does not restrict the right to parade. It sets out a different framework for the decisions on parades and the monitoring of competing rights. The North report referred to those competing rights—the right to parade and the right to protest.

There has never, in any sphere, been an absolute right to do anything. What exists is a general principle that has to be taken into account and given due weight. If one took one's rights to the absurd limit and said that they were unfettered rights, it would make life intolerable for other people. Everyone knows that.

Mr. Öpik

I have just two quick questions for the Minister. First, does he agree that it is rather nonsensical to imagine that one has absolute rights, because at some point they begin to impinge on someone else's? Secondly, at the start of his comments the Minister said that he regarded the new clause as a wrecking measure. Why?

Mr. Worthington

That was an interesting intervention in that it prevented me from explaining why.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is it not a fact that one cannot take a case to Europe until one has exhausted all the possibilities in the courts here? It is almost impossible to take the marching issue to the courts; it is not as easy as the Minister suggests. One cannot just take a case to Europe immediately. He should be fair to the hon. Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson) and make it clear that one has first to exhaust all the avenues here in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Worthington

What action has the hon. Gentleman—or the hon. Member for West Tyrone—taken to exhaust any legal mechanisms when they feel that their rights have been overridden?

I should like to progress—

Mr. Robert McCartney

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Worthington

In a moment. I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that I have been reasonable.

In Committee we had detailed discussions about—

Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

9.15 pm
Mr. Worthington

No. That would not be fair. I have just refused to give way to the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) because I want to deal with the intervention. of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik). I shall give way later.

Amendment No. 13 would delete clause 7. New clause 1 would restrict the powers of the Parades Commission to impose conditions on public processions, making its powers even narrower than those currently enjoyed by the police. The current law has created a situation in which the Chief Constable felt confronted by alternative evils, as he has graphically described, putting the RUC in an invidious position. Decisions were based on public order considerations alone. That meant that the side with the largest crowd who threatened most got their way. We cannot accept that as the rule of law. People were offended by the biggest group of thugs being allowed to get their way. We had to establish a different framework.

Mr. Robert McCartney

In relation to the point made by the hon. Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson), does the Minister accept that the phenomenon of violent objections to parades is relatively recent? As the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) has pointed out, the fons et origo was the 1987 order, which was a protester's charter. Only since 1994 has opposition to parades—Drumcree, Ormeau road and Deny—been organised by convicted IRA men. Men convicted of the most substantial crimes organising violent protests is a recent phenomenon.

Mr. Worthington

My experience in Northern Ireland has discouraged me from any interest in history. I am interested in the present situation. That situation is unacceptable and we are trying to deal with it.

Mr. Stott

My hon. Friend talked about unfettered rights a little earlier. He said that nobody has the unfettered right to do what they want in the face of the authorities' decisions on public order. I was not a member of the Standing Committee, but I have read the Hansard. Those who know me know about my experience of Northern Ireland. I view the issue as a matter of public order. We are trying to ensure that people's rights are safeguarded. I remind—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Is the hon. Gentleman making an intervention or is he starting a speech?

Mr. Stott

I am making an intervention. I remind—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Could it be an intervention, please, and not a speech?

Mr. Stott

During the miners' strike, the chief constable of Nottinghamshire prevented miners from going down the M1 to a secondary picket protest on public order grounds. I heard nothing from Northern Ireland Members about that.

Mr. Worthington

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am disinclined to go not only into historical studies but cross-cultural studies.

The Government are making an honest attempt to balance competing rights. We are essentially about recognising the importance of the ability to march, but not regardless of the impact on others. It is as simple as that. We cannot go back, as the hon. Member for West Tyrone would want, to an even narrower definition than that in the 1987 order. That is the order that we are trying to deal with.

Mr. Thompson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Worthington

I think that everyone in the House would recognise that the hon. Gentleman has had a fair shout.

If we accepted the new clause, we should be taking away the central thrust of the North report. As we all know, North found that legislation provided a disincentive to disorder by focusing mainly on public order factors, and he recommended that the Parades Commission should also be able to take into account the wider impact that a parade may have on relationships in the community. That is really North's most central recommendation. That is why the new clause is completely unacceptable. We must take into account the impact on the community, while recognising that there are malevolent people on both sides.

At present, the police are able to impose conditions concerning parades if they

reasonably believe that it may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community". The new clause would make the commission's task altogether more contentious. It would mean that conditions could be imposed only if the commission reasonably believes that the likely actions of those taking part in the parade may result in serious public disorder. We cannot accept that, although we recognise the thinking behind it. The hon. Gentleman believes that it is not fair that conditions should be imposed on a parade when the threat of violence comes from those opposing it rather than those taking part, but the public order issue essentially remains the same. Such a new clause would cripple the new structures and lead to endless judicial reviews.

Amendment No. 3, tabled by the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), presents the other side of the matter, and deals with the commission's powers to impose conditions. He does not believe that the traditionality of a parade is a factor that the commission should take into account. Well, we do. We believe that it is one of several significant factors that should be taken into account when weighing up whether a parade should go ahead. That is what is even-handed about the Bill. Although we understand the hon. Gentleman's point, the Bill's wording reflects the finding of the North report that whether … a parade or a route is long-standing should be one of the points to take into account as a feature of a parade. It is only one of the factors.

We believe that we have suggested a sensible compromise; it is about balancing rights. That is why what we have proposed should be accepted, and why we should resist the new clause and the amendments.

Mr. Thompson

I very much regret that the Minister has found it impossible to accept the reasonable new clause. On his statement on the European convention on human rights, I should have thought that there was an onus on the Government to issue a statement of compatibility with human rights. Certain issues in the Bill seem to be contrary to those rights. For example, a procession of a class or description specified in an order made by the Secretary of State will not need to apply to the commission. I think that, under European law, the idea that one can distinguish between classes of people has now become highly suspect.

In other words, if the Salvation Army says, "We are the Salvation Army; we preach the gospel and we are good people, so we have to be exempted," and the Secretary of State says, "It's all right for you," but when the Orange Order says, "We are the Orange Order; we are a religious organisation, we owe loyalty to the Queen and we should be released from the obligation," the Secretary of State says, "No, you can't," she would be discriminating between lawful people. She would find that distinction difficult to establish in the European Court of Human Rights.

What about the situation of a person who takes part in a public procession? Again, it would be difficult to uphold a conviction in the European Court of Human Rights if a person went along to a parade and exercised his rights, not knowing that the parade was banned.

Clause 7 refers to any impact which the procession may have on relationships within the community", yet it is unlawful to place restrictions on a parade on the grounds that it will have some kind of adverse effect on the community. The provision could not be upheld in the Court of Human Rights, because it does away with the right to march—although I know that the Minister refuses to accept that.

The hon. Member whose constituency I do not know, who referred to the miners' strike—[Interruption.]—the hon. Member for Warrington?

Mr. Stott

Wigan. It has a better rugby team.

Mr. Thompson

I know the case that the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) mentioned. There was a lot of trouble at the strike and the police were of the opinion, whether rightly or wrongly it is not for me to say—[Interruption.] A public order decision—

Mr. Stott

The chief constable had people stopped on the motorway.

Mr. Thompson

Correct. I understand the situation. The chief constable understood that there was trouble there, and he stopped miners going in a van—

Mr. Stott

No, no trouble. They were going down to picket—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We cannot have continual interruptions from a sedentary position.

Mr. Thompson

I understand that people going to increase the numbers at the protest were stopped by the police and turned back. That was a new situation in British law.

Mr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

No, it was not.

Mr. Thompson

A lot of people did not agree with what happened. However, it is now established in law.

The restrictions in the Bill are even wider than that. That is why we believe that the provisions should be removed and replaced by my new clause. The Minister said that the restrictions there were less than those under the existing order of 1987, but that is not true; they are exactly the same. There is no diminution, and they relate to public order issues alone. That is the way that things should be under European law.

Therefore, I believe that it is right for the Government to accept the new clause. The Minister says that, if it were accepted, it would destroy the Bill. That is not correct, either, because the commission would still be there and would still be able to give advice and guidelines. The only restriction would be that it could not use the guidelines, restrictions or codes of conduct in a determination against a parade. That should be accepted, and would go a long way to mitigate many of our objections to the Bill. I ask the Government to reconsider on that important issue.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. Gentleman wish to withdraw the motion?

Mr. Thompson

No. I wish to press it to a Division.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 9, Noes 287.

Division No. 149] [9.28 pm
Beggs, Roy Thompson, William
Forsythe, Clifford Trimble, Rt Hon David
Walker, Cecil
McCartney, Robert (N Down)
Maginnis, Ken Tellers for the Ayes:
Paisley, Rev Ian Mr. William Ross and
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E) Rev. Martin Smyth.

Question accordingly negatived.

Forward to