HC Deb 18 July 2001 vol 372 cc275-7
3. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

What factors the Parades Commission takes into account when deciding whether to ban or re-route a march. [2874]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy)

As my hon. Friend may know, the Parades Commission has no statutory power to ban a parade. The factors to which the commission has regard in deciding whether to impose conditions on a procession are set out in the Public Processions Act 1998 and in the commission's statutory guidelines. It may, for example, take into account the likelihood of public disorder or damage to property, the potential impact on community relations and whether a parade is a traditional parade. In reaching a decision, the commission also takes into account the requirements of the Human Rights Act 1998.

Mr. Prentice

I understand that only 151 out of 3,400 parades have been re-routed. A tiny number of parades cause problems, yet the same parades cause them year in, year out. Should not parades that habitually cause offence and disorder and offend community relations be re-routed as a matter of course? The Drumcrees would not then happen year after year.

Jane Kennedy

My hon. Friend exaggerates slightly. As always with Northern Ireland, it is important to keep matters in perspective. Last year, the Parades Commission found it necessary to restrict routes on only 130 of the 3,440 parades of which it was notified. As my hon. Friend knows, the Government have consistently stated that our preferred outcome is the resolution of disputes through local agreements that reflect mutual respect for people's rights, traditions and sensitivities, thus rendering determination by the commission unnecessary.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

Will the Minister join me in condemning those who took part in a republican-orchestrated attack on the RUC while it was carrying out its lawful duty of upholding a decision by the Parades Commission? In upholding that decision, the RUC made limited use of plastic bullets. Does the Minister agree that the do-gooder, naive comment by Professor Brice Dickson that the use of plastic bullets should be ended should be put to him face to face and that he should be asked to withdraw such a ridiculous statement?

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

And he should resign.

Mr. Beggs

And he should resign.

Jane Kennedy

May I first place firmly on record our appreciation of the work, courage and endurance displayed by the RUC in the situation that it faces? It is important to recognise that it was serving both sides of the community in implementing the decisions of the Parades Commission.

On the hon. Gentleman's point about baton rounds, everyone agrees that we would like to find an alternative. We are following the recommendation of the Patten report by urgently researching alternatives, but until they can be found we cannot take from police officers the ability to defend themselves from blast bombs, petrol bombs, acid bombs and live fire.

Mr. Peter Mandelson (Hartlepool)

I welcome my hon. Friend's strong expression of support for the police service in Northern Ireland. It is not responsible for creating the divisions, the sectarianism or the ensuing disorder that still blights Northern Ireland's society. Does my hon. Friend agree that, for the police to do their job in Northern Ireland, they need adequate manpower resources, in terms of the number of officers available to go on to the streets during times of disorder, and financial resources to cope with the disorder and violence and to see through the reforms resulting from the Patten legislation? Will she reassure the House that those manpower and financial resources will continue to be made available to the police in the coming years?

Jane Kennedy

I am happy to give the House those assurances. As my right hon. Friend says, policing in Northern Ireland will require additional funds during 2001–02 and in subsequent years. That is due to the specific pressures caused by sectarian tensions and parades. We are well aware of the concerns expressed about funding, and we have given assurances—I do so again today—that the RUC will have the resources necessary to continue to deliver a high-quality policing service.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

As we have already heard, the RUC is primarily responsible for enforcing the determinations on marches. I hear what the Minister says about adequate resources. Is she saying, therefore, that she will make good the £117 million shortfall in resources that the RUC estimates it will require adequately to do the job that we all agree it must do? Will she confirm that specific figure?

Jane Kennedy

I will not confirm any specific figure today. My officials are continuing discussions with the Police Authority for Northern Ireland and with the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland, and it is likely that we shall consider carefully the proposals that they make.