HC Deb 08 September 2004 vol 424 cc708-9
7. Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP)

What plans he has to review the (a) membership and (b) remit of the Parades Commisson; and if he will make a statement. [187649]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Ian Pearson)

The current members of the Parades Commission have been appointed to serve until the end of next year. I have been considering policy on future parades legislation and structures and I hope to be in a position to bring forward proposals later this year.

Mr. Donaldson

Although we had a relatively quiet summer this year, the Under-Secretary knows that some of the Parades Commission's decisions have caused widespread concern in Northern Ireland. The commission made decisions that were sometimes unnecessary and resulted in appalling situations where there had been no potential for unrest. Far from increasing the remit of the Parades Commission, is it not time for the Government to review its role? Far from resolving the parades issue, the commission is part of the problem, not the solution.

Mr. Pearson

I agree that we have had an overwhelmingly peaceful marching season. Out of nearly 2,200 parades, disturbances, which were mostly minor, happened at only 16. Upholding the rights of marchers and protesters is a difficult problem with which to grapple. The Parades Commission performs its duties in the most difficult circumstances and it needs everyone's full support.

Clearly, we will reflect on the most recent marching season, but let us not get this out of proportion. The two recent marching seasons have been the most successful in most people's living memory. Great progress is being made in Northern Ireland. If we can make sensible reforms to parading legislation, we will clearly wish to do so, but let us not forget the progress that has been made.