HL Deb 12 November 1997 vol 583 cc1-52GC

Wednesday, 12th November 1997.

The Committee met at half-past three of the clock.

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill) in the Chair.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill)

Before I put the Question that the Title be postponed, it may be helpful to remind your Lordships of the procedure for today's Committee stage. Except in one important respect, our proceedings will be exactly the same as in a normal Committee of the Whole House. We shall go through the Bill clause by clause; noble Lords will speak standing; all noble Lords are free to attend and participate; and the proceedings will be recorded in Hansard. The one difference is that the House has agreed that there shall be no Divisions in this Committee. Any issue on which agreement cannot be reached should be considered again at the Report stage when, if necessary, a Division may be called. Unless, therefore, an amendment is likely to be agreed to, it should be withdrawn.

I should also explain what will happen if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting. This is unlikely to arise this afternoon. This Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division bells are rung and will resume after 10 minutes.

Title postponed.

Clause 1 [The Commission]:

Lord Alderdice moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 7, leave out ("and other expressions of cultural identity").

The noble Lord said: We have had opportunity on a previous occasion to look at the broad picture which has brought us to the position of this Bill, but in looking at the amendment my noble colleague and I have put forward on Clause 1 I would also like to refer to our proposition that Clause 3 shall not stand part of the Bill and also the consequential amendment, Amendment No. 40 in the Title referring to "other expressions of cultural identity".

I think it is wise for us, even at this early stage and in particular in relation to these amendments, to reflect on how this Bill came about. There have of course been traditional processions in Northern Ireland, and throughout Ireland, for a very long time indeed, but over a number of years these have been contentious-not by any means all parades, not even by any means the majority of parades, but only a small minority. However they have become contentious and difficult. They have created problems for the police, who have frequently found themselves in the invidious position of being attacked, not just on both sides but on all sides. In an attempt to bring some order back and to give the police the best opportunity to maintain public order, this proposal has come forward. I shall not go into the details of how that came about; suffice to say that the whole issue has been about parades.

When Dr. Peter North was invited by the Government to look into the question, he was not requested to look into the question of cultural identity, its expressions, disputes over signs and symbols, or any of these matters. He was not asked to do that. He was asked to look specifically at the problem of how to deal with contentious parades. He did that and I think by the view of many people provided the Government with an extremely helpful and constructive report, and a somewhat detailed one—one where public opinion was extensively and professionally canvassed on the issue of parades.

If one looks, for example, at the public attitude surveys which were conducted, they are interesting, they are helpful; indeed sometimes the responses are quite enlightening. But they are all on the issue of parades and how to manage them. They do not refer to the question of cultural identity and its expression in the broader way. It can scarcely be disagreed that cultural identity, and its expression, is an enormously broad field.

If we were to enter into contentious questions of cultural identity in general, I would submit that we have entered into a minefield, even in Northern Ireland terms. For example, if it is the case that some of these parades are effectively accepted as an expression of cultural identity, then what about the Church services that are related to them? Few would deny there is an element of cultural identity in religious services. After all, it is often around that whole area that so much of the division has taken place. How are we then going to deal with the impossible enlargements of the application of cultural identity which will inevitably come about either because there are some who will wish, for the sake of clarity, to have rulings on the question, or—and much more dangerously—because malign individuals may well seek to extend the boundaries of cultural identity on a contentious basis?

It is not unreasonable to assume that there might be some malign individuals around in this. After all, it cannot be doubted that some of the parades to which the Bill refers are contentious. There have been demographic changes in various areas, so that Orangemen are now marching through areas which were once in the middle of the country. Protestants may now find themselves walking through areas which are very largely not populated by people supportive of Orange Parades.

I can recall myself in the Ormeau Road, where my mother was brought up, my grandmother speaking about the demographic changes that were taking place and how this was going to affect all sorts of things. It was no surprise to me that in recent years particularly the Ormeau Road has become a flashpoint. Why?—because of demographic changes taking place.

Those are some reasons why things have been sparked off. However, it has to be acknowledged that there are also those who, seeing the contention that was created, recognised that here was an opportunity for them to provoke even greater dissent and to make a political point. In the republican community, when the ceasefire came about, and the energies that were particularly deployed in more violent ways were freed up, it may have been quite attractive for them to seek out other ways of expressing contention.

I do not myself have the view that there was a particular plan laid out initially to focus on this. I think what happened was that a few contentious parades quickly came to the attention of leading figures in the republican movement, and they realised the opportunity that this bestowed upon them to create difficulties. Then the whole thing began to grow and develop and gallop, and we must acknowledge that. We must acknowledge that even if we have a parades Bill and we have a Parades Commission, there will still be those who will seek to make mischief out of it. It therefore behoves us to ensure that the Bill is the best possible; that it is as tight as possible and that it leaves as few loopholes as possible for people who wish to make mischief. On the specific issue of extending it to exclude the whole mass of cultural identity, it seems to me that we are creating an enormous problem for ourselves and for those who want things to happen for the best.

I recognise that there may well be a reason why the Government felt pressed to introduce this Bill. It is not in the North Report. But I feel that over the summer period many unionist people construed the notion of a Parades Commission and a Bill as something that would prohibitor reroute marches. I do not see it as exclusively that. I see it as an opportunity on some occasions for perfectly reasonable Orange parades and other appropriate loyal order parades, including some nationalist parades, which may otherwise be obstructed by those who wish to create mischief or for other quite legitimate reasons to be given a legal stamp of approval. They would therefore have a degree of protection.

I do not see this as being an anti-parades Bill; I see it as being a parades Bill or a public processions Bill which will point up which are the reasonable and appropriate ones and which are those that perhaps ought to be considered in another way. I believe that, particularly in the unionist community, there was a sense that somehow or other this was a Bill that was opposed to them, in the same way as fair employment legislation is often seen as not being fair for everyone but being particularly fair for Catholics and equal opportunities legislation is not there to ensure that both men and women get jobs but in order to protect the rights of women. It is unfortunate that often human rights legislation is seen in that kind of one-sided way rather than as protecting everyone's interests. It is particularly unfortunate in this case.

What happened was that unionists wanted something in the legislation that they felt would balance things up, and perhaps without the deepest of thought this proposition was put in.

If there are indeed concerns about lack of balance, it may be worth considering how that can be addressed. I certainly do not want to see a piece of legislation that is unbalanced in any way—unbalanced in its fairness to the community as a whole or unbalanced in its provisions. But what I judge to be an attempt to create a degree of acceptance and balance has turned out not to be that, but to be something that creates a real problem for us.

The introduction of the notion of cultural identity is not in the North Commission Report and, in my judgment, can open up a Pandora's box which may have an entirely counterproductive effect to the one that unionist leaders and Orangemen wish to have. I request, therefore, that we give serious consideration to withdrawing that provision from the Bill and to seeing whether there are other ways in which reassurances can be given to those who feel some anxiety and concern about the impact of the Bill. I beg to move.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, clearly set out the origins of the Bill and of the North Report on which it is based. He made clear that most of the processions in Northern Ireland are not contentious. Relatively speaking, it is only a few that become contentious, and many of those become contentious because people use the opportunity of a parade to make trouble and to make mischief. Of course we must do our best, in looking at all this legislation, to try to make sure that we do not give further opportunities to people to make mischief.

The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said that the Bill is not only about balancing the rights of people to express their cultural identity—in this case, primarily through processions—but also to minimise the offence which is caused to others by those expressions of cultural identity. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, is also correct in saying that we should not present a one-sided Bill; we should not have a one-sided commission. It may be seen as a one-sided Bill, an anti-Orange Bill, not to put too fine a point on it. I believe it should not be and we should do our best to address that. As the noble Lord suggested, Clause 3 provides one way in which this may be addressed.

Parades are not the only way of expressing cultural identity in Northern Ireland; as we all know, there are many other ways. Clause 3 attempts to put parades into the context of expressions of cultural identity as a whole by giving the commission a duty to recommend, where it seems fit, changes in the law and practice relating to other expressions of cultural identity. That is, of course, a much lesser power than the power it has as far as processions themselves are concerned. It can determine the detailed arrangements for individual processions: it has to be given notice, and so on. That is backed up by the law. As far as other expressions of cultural identity are concerned, all it can do is recommend to the Secretary of State that the law or the practice on those might be modified. It is a much lesser power, but our task is to decide whether Clause 3 is effective in giving greater balance to the Bill. If it is, clearly it should stay in the Bill; if not, it should obviously come out.

I am not clear as to, and I hope the Minister can help us by indicating, what other expressions of cultural identity the Minister believes that Clause 3 is aimed at. What other expressions are likely to be examined by the commission if Clause 3 remains in the Bill and becomes law? We know from the face of the Bill that they do not include sporting events, which seems odd because they are sometimes very clear expressions of cultural identity. They evidently include religious services held in the open air, which can genuinely be expressions of cultural identity. They apparently include painted walls and kerbstones. They presumably also include outdoor meetings which are held at the end of a parade or, for that matter, held separately. I am not quite sure of the position of those that are held adjacent to processions—at the end of a procession or in the middle of a procession. Are those included in the aspects about which the commission can recommend changes in the law, or do they come under the provisions relating to processions with the greater restrictions that those allow the commission to impose? It seems to me that included in outdoor meetings would be bonfires, which are often big expressions of cultural identity. Protest meetings, particularly political protest meetings, often have a cultural identity wrapped up with them; and sometimes, indeed, industrial protests can have that kind of context, rightly or wrongly. We all believe wrongly, of course, but nevertheless sometimes these things might be regarded as having a cultural identity.

On the other hand, as the Bill is written at the moment the commission cannot review indoor meetings, even if they are public and publicised meetings. The commission would not be able to comment on those. We can, of course, discuss the pros and cons of these definitions separately later; but we need to know at this stage, when considering whether Clause 3 should stand part of the Bill, what the Government have in mind. If, in the course of that consideration, we eliminate the need to discuss separately Amendments Nos. 4, 5, 6 and 7, which stand in my name, so be it. It seems to me that we need to look at the definition and what is intended by the Government before we can decide whether Clause 3 should remain in the Bill, and, if so, whether it will help to put in context the detailed controls which the other clauses in the Bill provide over processions.

It is very important that we get this right. As both the noble Lord said and I said, we do not want a one-sided Bill or a one-sided commission.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

On a point of order, I wonder whether the noble Lord the Minister could give us some guidance, particularly in the light of what the noble Lord, Lord Cope, has just said. Would the Minister be prepared to come in now or wait until some of us have contributed?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs)

I thought I would listen to the range of arguments about this and then do my best to answer the points that have been made. However, if I am pressed to come in earlier, I will of course accede to the noble Lord's suggestion.

Lord Hylton

The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, has made a powerful and persuasive speech based clearly on his local knowledge and experience, which we have learned to respect. I can understand the desire of the noble Lord's party, and no doubt also of the Liberal Democrat Party, to narrow and restrict the scope of the Bill. I am not quite sure that I am entirely persuaded by them for a number of reasons.

Cultural identity embraces such issues as flags and emblems and bilingual signs, which have not so far been mentioned. On both those issues rather positive and good conventions have developed in Northern Ireland. For example, at places of work, a general convention seems to have been established that flags and emblems will not be displayed. On the question of bilingual signs, I believe it is already enshrined in law that these may be put up where there has been demonstrated to be a sufficient local demand for them, and that again seems reasonable and seems to my mind to be the sort of thing that the commission should be actively promoting and supporting.

Mention has been made already of Clause 3, and I would just like to emphasise that it says quite clearly that the expressions of cultural identity are limited to those taking place, wholly or partly open to the air".

It may be that the problem could be overcome by having a phased implementation of the Bill, once passed. By this I am suggesting that the commission should first be required to deal with questions relating to marches and parades, and then perhaps after two or three years, and if it made good progress on the more urgent question of public processions, its remit could be enlarged to include other items relating to cultural identity.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. As he knows, we have carried on correspondence over many years. I had the advantage in that I was able to read his writing, but I am quite certain he would have had difficulty with mine.

I beg to differ ever so slightly with my friend and neighbour, the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, in regard to the amendment. I take the view that the whole background of the Bill was coloured by expressions of cultural identity, and if those expressions could be ignored by all concerned-and I say all concerned-then there would be no need for the measure at all. Clearly the Government have recognised that reality in the Long Title, where the phrase appears and may possibly remain.

I imagine the members of the commission will have used that reality in such judgments as they have formed thus far, and if they are to be given such powers as is intended by this Bill, and if Parliament so decides, an awareness of that reality on the part of the commission will be absolutely essential. If they were to ignore that background reality and it could be shown that they did, it would follow that any determination by the commission would be at risk of rejection, perhaps by the Secretary of State, who might feel bound to reject a decision depending on the form in which the Bill emerges from the deliberations of Parliament. An appeal to the judicial process would in those circumstances almost certainly succeed.

In my humble opinion, the withdrawal of recognition of the obvious fact that controversial processions arise from cultural differences would hamper the work of the commission. We would be in the situation where again "expressions of cultural identity" would be taken into account by Her Majesty's Government, by the Secretary of State and the Chief Constable but would have to be discounted by the commission alone.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

I rise to support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Alderdice and myself. The first thing we have to accept is that Clause 3 is a bolt-on. It is an addition to the proposals of Dr. North which would otherwise be substantially and wholly reproduced in the Bill which the Government have brought before us. It might have been bolted-on, and has been argued for purposes of balance.

In trying to solve a problem—which is obviously a real one—that a measure like this must not be seen to discriminate against one community in Northern Ireland, it may be opening up a real Pandora's box of problems, both for the commission, which has to deal with it, and ultimately for the Government, who will end up with the sharp end of a number of these issues.

First, there are many people who will not wish the Parades Commission well. There are many people who, for whatever reason, will hope that it fails. The crucial period will be its first determinations next spring. Many eyes will be on it, and those who do not wish it well will betrying, before it acquires authority, to discredit it and say that it is not working properly.

If we lay on the Parades Commission such an extension of its remit as to take in this very wide definition of "other expressions of cultural identity", we run the risk of it straying into areas of controversy that go even further than the already difficult and contentious issue of the parades themselves; and even this question of cultural identity manifestations in the open-air, so a T-shirt worn indoors is not a manifestation of cultural identity but outdoors it is. A bowler hat-is that a manifestation in itself of cultural identity? I suppose in the Northern Irish context it might be argued to be so. I see debates as to when something is a matter of cultural identity going into matters that could keep a commission of anthropologists, social scientists and philosophers occupied on this issue alone for 20 years.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, has very gallantly by his subsequent amendment attempted to deal with this problem by taking a rather bad bolt-on and putting patches on it, and taking out things, which I do think would be particularly unfortunate, which is trying to whitewash kerbstones and deal with gable ends. I can quite see why he has done that, but I would argue that we should go to the heart of the problem and deal with Clause 3 as a whole.

It is true to say that there is now some danger that this is seen by some people—the unionist community in Northern Ireland—as their quid pro quo, as it were, for accepting the Parades Commission. I hope my unionist friends would not see it that way because ultimately it could be damaging to expressions of unionist identity, probably more so in Northern Ireland than it would be to equivalent expressions of nationalist identity.

The final question I would like to ask is this. Clause 3 wisely provides for more research in this area, which is just as well, for some of the reasons I have outlined. I do not think any government should rush into this area, and I am quite certain the unfortunate Parades Commission will not want to be driven into this area until a great deal more research has been done.

The first question is, are we quite clear that the research has to be done first? Secondly, if the Government maintain Clause 3, which we certainly would not advocate, are they prepared to let a decent period of time elapse so that the Parades Commission can be established properly, working on the remit which Dr. North was asked to consider, and which the Parades Commission was set up to deal with, namely the question of marches and parades and the real balance between the expression of a tradition on the one hand and aggressive assertion of sovereignty of one community over the other? That is the meat of the problem, and I hope the Parades Commission, at worst, could be given a great deal more time.

I put the question in that form because I think the attitude of my noble friend and myself to the amendment will be very much conditioned by whether the Government propose to place what seems to us an inoperable extra responsibility on the Parades Commission within a short timetable.

4 p.m.

Lord Dubs

I thank all the noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, which indeed is an interesting one. I am aware that opinions differ in the Committee, so the argument is not all in one direction.

Clause 3 provides that the commission shall keep under review and make determinations in relation to the law and practice concerning expressions of cultural identity which appear to the commission to have, or to be likely to have, an adverse impact on relationships within the community". Of course, there may be many expressions of cultural identity, but they would only come within the scope of Clause 3 if they are judged to have an adverse impact on relationships within the community.

As some noble Lords have indicated, the clause does not apply to sporting events, or to public processions which are covered by the remaining provisions of the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Holme, said, it also enables the commission to commission research.

In including this clause in the Bill we have been acutely aware of the feeling in some quarters that the Bill and the structures it establishes are exclusively targeted at a form of cultural expression favoured mainly by one side of the community. Of course the Parades Commission will treat all applications for parades according to the same criteria and in an even-handed way. Nor is it true that the Bill is designed to be anti-parades, to create no-go areas for them or reduce the overall number. What we want is local agreement; otherwise we have no fixed outcome in mind.

Nonetheless, concerns about a perceived lack of balance remain, and we feel it is important to address them. Indeed, many noble Lords referred in their speeches to the need to achieve balance. Parades are not the only form of cultural expression which can cause hurt and resentment, and we see a valuable role for the commission in identifying other ways in which public space can be used by one side of the community in ways which, intentionally or not, can damage community relations.

Your Lordships will note it is not our intention to commence this clause immediately. The noble Lords, Lord Holme and Lord Hylton, talked about phased implementation, or something of the sort. We believe that the new structures of the Bill as a whole need to be given time to bed in, and the commission will want to focus in its first months on its key responsibility of working towards a peaceful resolution of disputed parades in the course of the coming 1998 marching season.

We hope, however, to commence the clause within a matter of months. That is the timescale that was indicated recently by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State-within a matter of months. That means that the beginning of the marching season will be such that the commission will be able to concentrate solely on its main remit, and that within a matter of months, after the commission has got down to its key work, the Secretary of State will consider the right time to give effect to this clause.

I want to make sure that I have dealt with the specific questions that I was asked. I was asked what other expressions of cultural identity there might be. I would think it better for the Government not to start telling the commission in advance of the commission starting its work what those expressions of cultural identity might be. It would not be helpful; indeed, it would pre-empt the decision of the Committee in coming to a balanced assessment of what those expressions of cultural identity might be. Otherwise it would simply be a matter of the Government saying, "This is what we think they are", and the Secretary of State would then be advised by the commission as to there being such expressions of cultural identity. It would not be helpful, and I believe that noble Lords will understand why I am reluctant to start giving examples.

The question of phased implementation I have already dealt with. The other point was about research. I do not want to be too dogmatic about that. Clearly it depends on the scale of the research that the commission would have in mind. What I do not think the Secretary of State would be inclined to do would be to say that there was a research project that the commission had in mind and so we would wait until that was finished before Clause 3 came into effect. My right honourable friend would be unlikely to want to take that path. We would need to see what the commission has in mind about research before being too precise about a timetable for research in relation to the implementation of Clause 3.

I know that there is a great deal of interest in the points that have been made, and the question of balance has been well recognised. But the Government will consider all the points made very carefully and will see whether any amendments might be appropriate at a later stage. However, I am bound to say that, whereas many noble Lords have indicated their wish to see some changes in the clause or to put something in its place, I have not heard any particular suggestions as to what those changes might be. I am happy to listen to other points that might be made, and if we can come up with anything better, we will do so.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

Before the noble Lord sits down, will he make it absolutely clear what he has told us about the timing of the Secretary of State's likely decision on the implementation of Clause 3? I should say in parenthesis that I am very uneasy with the formulation that says that we are going to do research but we will not wait to see what it says before we start acting. That seems to me to be a curious view of what research is for. But it was the remarks that the noble Lord made earlier about the possible implementation of Clause 3 in relation to next year's marching season that concerned me. Will he please repeat what he said so that we can be clear about the implementation of the clause in relation to the key negotiations on next year's marching season?

Lord Dubs

If I may deal first with the point about research, it depends upon the scope of the research, the length of time, and so on. I am not sure that the Secretary of State would want to delay giving effect to Clause 3 because there was some rather long-term research proposal that the commission had in mind. I know that this is speculative, but I do not want to be drawn into giving a categorical answer one way or the other as to what effect the research would have, although I believe it is unlikely that a long piece of research will be a sufficient justification for delaying giving effect to Clause 3.

The noble Lord asked a more particular question. Let me repeat what I said. We believe the new structures need to be given time to bed in, which is the overall scheme of the Bill, and the commission will want to focus in its first months on its key responsibility of working towards a peaceful resolution of disputed parades in the course of the 1998 marching season. However, we hope to commence the clause within a matter of months. I am not sure I can do better than that, because quite clearly the Secretary of State will wish to he influenced by the burden of work on the commission and whether the commission has managed to concentrate sufficiently on its main remit before adding other responsibilities.

Lord Alderdice

I thank the Minister for his response, though I must confess that it seemed to me that he had accomplished facing two ways at the same time within the confines of the one sentence—that it was going to be delayed, but that it would not be delayed very much, but we are not really terribly sure how much. If the delay were such that the initial indications of determination were to be made, which one would assume would be perhaps around the February/March period, the implications of those determinations would be coming to fruition at precisely the time when this more contentious responsibility would be becoming the responsibility of the commission. So I regret to say that at this point I do not find myself particularly reassured by the Minister's responses.

I am somewhat of a new boy to this House and its proceedings, and I am not entirely clear if my assumptions are correct. It seems to me that the particular arrangements of this Grand Committee may be rather helpful in this instance, because we have the opportunity of considering all the various matters through to completion before having to move to a Division on any matter. The Minister has indicated that he is interested to hear what other alternatives there might be which would give balance, and there are indeed a number of propositions by other noble Lords which, when we have explored them further, may begin to open up to us some of those alternatives. This is one of the reasons why I have not alluded to them in the comments I have made. Therefore, the mechanism chosen may be a particularly useful one for this process.

One of the things I am not at all clear about is this. If the members of the commission—and, after all, they undertook their task largely in the knowledge that they would be dealing with the question of public processions—were to indicate to the Secretary of State that there were any areas of cultural expression to which they wished to extend their remit, would the Secretary of State be in a position to say, "I know you have indicated that and I know it is a rather tough job, but I am sorry, you are going to have it anyway"; or would the Secretary of State in that context be in a position to say, "You have considered the matter and I take what you have said, and therefore we simply will not implement this section of the Bill at all, given that the commission as it is now feels that that is not appropriate"? Or, indeed, if the commission were to return and say, "Indeed, there are matters of this kind but we would recommend to the Secretary of State a totally other mechanism for dealing with this, because we don't believe it is appropriate for the commission itself", would this put the Government in an invidious position, or would this assist the Government in making their difficult decision? Would it provoke the Secretary of State to overrule the advice of the Parades Commission, or would she perhaps be somewhat relieved to accept its advice?

It seems to me that we must discuss quite a lot of the implications of what has been said. Therefore at this point I feel it is important for us to continue to press for this. It would be a grave mistake to include this notion of cultural identity, which would be thoroughly regretted all round, including by those who were most keen to see it. However, it is perhaps good fortune that it is not necessary to press it to a Division at this point, and we can consider the other matters as they come forward. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

Before calling the next amendment, may I apologise for the fact that the Committee has been in such deep gloom. The Clerk and I have been struggling to get the lights turned up but it was maintained that it would disrupt the proceedings. But someone seems to have managed to do it!

Clause 2 [Functions of the Commission in relation to public processions]:

4.15 p.m.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead moved Amendment No. 2: Page 2, leave out lines I and 2.

The noble Lord said: As one of the principal geriatrics in this gathering, I am deeply grateful to the Chair for that improvement in the illumination because my eyesight is fading rapidly.

I beg to move Amendment No. 2 standing in my name. My decision to table the amendment arose from my exchange with the noble Lord the Minister on Second Reading. He will remember that on that occasion I suggested that where a decision had been made by the commission and the determination issued, the commission became the deciding body. He did not contest that. The drafting does not spell out its subsequent role as the implementing body, and it was for that reason that I suggested to the Minister that members of the commission would have to be present at the potential flashpoint. I was not influenced in my thinking by the dictum that nothing stimulates the mind as much as being shot at without result. It was rather that the Minister assured me the members of the commission had been present in many areas of dispute. I naturally accepted his assurance in regard to the recent past.

However, once the Bill receives Royal Assent, the nature of the commission alters dramatically. It makes decisions, it issues determinations, but it must ensure that its determinations are in force, and that is the central problem in this measure. It could be said that the police would find this preferable to a situation where their own Chief Constable makes the decision. The police would then be seen in new circumstances to be enforcing a decision and directive of a lay body, namely the commission.

However, there must be visible evidence of responsibility on the part of the commission dealing with any disturbance which might result from its determination in order to convince international opinion, and international television teams in particular, that the responsibility rests with the commission and not the police. In order to ensure that that is done, members of the commission must be on the spot to explain to the news industry present on that occasion that it, the commission, accepts full responsibility for any unseemly activity which might result, which journalists will have come to see and to some extent usually done much to incite.

The second reason for my amendment arises from what seems to be an absence of repeal of the relevant sections of the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987. That appears to be intact if I have read the schedule of repeals at the back correctly. Article 5(1) of that order is still in force, except for the deletion admittedly of four words which are not relevant to Clause 2 which we are debating.

The Chief Constable and the Assistant Chief Constable may recommend a ban on one of two grounds. The relationship to that is to be found in that section of the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order to which I have referred. The first one is that rerouting or imposing conditions might not be sufficient to prevent serious disorder, serious damage, disruption or intimidation. The second part—and I quote directly from it—is that, rerouting or imposing conditions would place undue demands on police manpower". Most of the decisions taken over the past three years by both Chief Constables would have been based on that particular article. I believe it was that second reason that governed many decisions, particularly in the Garvaghy Road, in previous years.

The Chief Constables were supported by the police authority, which even now harks back to the financial cost of police operations. The police were also supported by the Ministers then in the Northern Ireland Office, who explained that cuts in expenditure on education and health budgets were necessary because of the limited police costs which could not be met in any otherway—limited in the sense that, had the police ignored Article 5(1) of the existing Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, that, rerouting or imposing conditions would place undue demands on police manpower", the cost would perhaps have increased tenfold. With hindsight, those decisions of the Chief Constables were probably wise in the interests of the community in general.

As this Bill does not list Article 5(1) in the repeals section of Schedule 4, it would appear to me that police decisions will still be based on the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 and not necessarily on the Bill which we are discussing in your Lordships's Committee today. I have to ask whether the commission will, in the exercise of its powers which we are now conferring upon it, particularly in Clause 2(2)(b), base its decision on Article 5(1) of the order now in force; or when it issues a determination and commits the police to implementing that determination, will it have the advanced approval of the Northern Ireland Office Minister heading up the Department of Finance, and will it also have the advanced approval of the police authority for additional costs of placing undue demands on police manpower? Hitherto Chief Constables have been very cost-conscious. Will the commission be as sensitive in regard to Treasury-imposed budgets in this particular matter?

In the light of all these conflicting issues I would respectfully ask the Committee to support Amendment No. 2.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

I wonder whether the noble Lord, in proposing this amendment, is aware of the research done on this very difficult decision about who decides. It showed within Northern Ireland by a clear majority of the whole community that an independent commission should decide rather than the police. Indeed within the Protestant community that was true as well. We oppose the noble Lord's amendment, not because we do not have a great deal of sympathy with the point he is making, but to remove this clause from the Bill invalidates the main purpose of the North Report and the main development which the commission represents as a way of trying to deal with this intractable problem in Northern Ireland. I am afraid that the noble Lord cannot count on support from these Benches.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

I wonder whether the noble Lord will give way. I am most grateful. But the simple point remains: will the commission then shoulder the burden of ensuring the costs which will be imposed as a result of an undue burden on police manpower? Will the commission find some means of funding the increased expenditure which would automatically arise from that decision of the commission?

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

I had sat down, but I shall await the answer of the Minister on that point with great interest.

Viscount Brookeborough

I am inclined to support this amendment, mainly because of the practical problem: should a parade go wrong and should there be trouble, who will take responsibility for acting on the spot? Do the police have the right, in order to save lives, in order to protect the community, to override what the commission has decided in the meeting previous to that parade in order to carry out their job correctly? I am quite happy that the commission should initially be the authority to decide whether the parade should go forward. However, in Northern Ireland parades, and people, have a funny knack of going wrong at very short notice indeed. If there are not enough police and security forces on site at that time, it has previously been the responsibility of either the most senior policemen or indeed, taking it further, the Secretary of State. However, the commission is a group of people. Those people will not all attend every single parade. Indeed, they may not all be in Northern Ireland at any particular time. So will there be a quorum that has to be in the country which has to be available? I should like to ask the Minister to clarify that.

Lord Hylton

As I see it, the commission is being asked first of all to facilitate and encourage local agreement by whatever means it can. If that fails, and it may fail, it is being asked to exercise a quasi-judicial function, and it is desirable that it should exercise that function as a matter of last resort rather than the decision having to be taken either by the Chief Constable or by the Secretary of State. The commission may have to exercise that responsibility on the balance of probabilities and on its knowledge of the resources available. It is for those kind of grounds that I am not inclined to support the amendment.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

I have much sympathy with a great deal that the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, said. However, he went considerably wider than the detailed terms of the amendment. There is clearly a difficulty if a parade goes badly wrong and large resources of the police or, for that matter, the military are called upon. Indeed, we all remember instances when the numbers of police have needed to escalate very quickly and there have been difficulties about getting the police or for that matter the numbers of military on the ground in the right place at the right time. It has been the practice to have large numbers standing by in order to assist, if required. That can be a considerable waste in one sense of police and indeed military time. However, it is necessary in the circumstances which arise.

Clearly, on the day, as the noble Lord pointed out, the situation can be different from what was expected at the time the commission made its determination a number of days before—sometimes a while before. It is important that the police continue to have the right to change the situation in the interests of public order—if necessary even to stop the march altogether—with the Secretary of State's powers possibly being involved as well. As I understand it, the Bill preserves the right of the police in these circumstances to alter the determination effectively: to issue an overriding determination in the interests of public order on the ground on the day. If the Bill does not, I believe that it should.

The amendment would take away from the commission the right to issue the determinations. It has been argued that it is wrong for the commission both to be the mediator attempting to get agreement in the early stages of a parade being set up, and also to be the judge who says at a certain point, "You may go ahead but not down this road or with this condition", or whatever it is. Certainly it seems to me that if the commission is in a position to issue a determination, it alters the way in which the negotiations are likely to go. In a sense the negotiations are under some form of duress because the big stick of the commission's determination is under the table all the time as the discussions proceed. I understand that difficulty but we have to accept it in the light of the way that the Bill and the commission are being set up.

If it were not the commission which issued the determination and determined the detailed conditions for a march, either the police would have to do so—that is what we are trying to get away from—at the suggestion of the previous Chief Constable, or, for that matter, the Secretary of State. While not coming to the same thing, that is also what we are, in a way, trying to get away from. There is a further alternative: that we should have one body set up to deal with the mediation; and a different body set up to make the determination in the light of the mediation if the mediation does not succeed. But I do not want to see two bodies; one is enough. I should therefore be happy for the commission to have the dual role of presiding over the mediation, and ultimately, in the necessary cases, of issuing the determination.

Of course it is right that it is the police who have to carry out on the ground the necessary operations to ensure that the determination is put into effect and that offenders who go against the determination are dealt with in a proper way. It will fall back on to the police to enforce the determinations. That is why ultimately the police must also have the fallback power in cases of public order, in effect to overrule the determination and take charge of the situation on the day on the ground and deal with it as best they can.

Sometimes the police will be influenced in their decisions in this by the available police resources. If they are extremely stretched at a certain point the amount of resources required will influence their decision. That is inevitable. It is not possible to ring up Stormont to get the Finance Minister's permission to call a few more police out. At one stage I was in the position of being both the Finance Minister and the Security Minister, so I could ask myself if such a situation occurred! In practice, of course, it does not, because the police operations on the ground are conducted by the police and by the Chief Constable in particular.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. With the recollection in mind that he had very admirably looked after our housekeeping allowances when he was a Minister at Stormont, I make a final plea to him. Would he suggest that the Government do all in their power to persuade the commission to be as cost conscious as previous chief constables in the making of decisions and assessing what the cost of those decisions might be?

Lord Cope of Berkeley

The short answer to the noble Lord is yes. One of the matters that the commission has to take into account in the later clauses is the burden on the police and the resources available to support law and order. It is something of which the commission should take account. Indeed, the commission will be obliged to take it into account as one of the factors; and it is quite right that it should.

Lord Dubs

May I try to reassure some noble Lords as regards how the police can influence what may happen. In the first case, the commission will take a number of views, including the views of the police, in arriving at a determination. Secondly, having made a determination, if the Chief Constable is unhappy he may then make an application to the Secretary of State to ask her to review the determination that the commission has made in Clause 9. Thirdly, in Clause 10 it says very clearly that nothing as regards the determination of the commission affects the common law powers of a constable to take action to deal with or prevent a breach of the peace on the day. The police could make a decision on the day based upon the possibility of a breach of the peace being threatened.

We know that the RUC has done an excellent job over many years, at times when resources have been very stretched. I am sure they will continue to do so in this particular case. If the likely resources on the day seem to he inadequate, I am sure that the police will make that known. If they were not happy with the commission's response to that fact, the Secretary of Statewould, of course, listen to what the chief constable had to say.

There are a number of checks and balances in the system. We would hope that there will never be a time when police resources are too stretched to deal with all the demands made upon them on any single day. It may have happened in the past. I am hopeful it will not happen in the future.

Obviously the Secretary of State is mindful of the needs of the police to have adequate resources to police Northern Ireland whatever the security situation demands. I believe there would be a sensitivity to the points made by the noble Lord.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

I am grateful to the Minister. We are moving closer on this topic because the Minister is getting to the point—and I do not want to press him too far—that consideration will be given by the Secretary of State to the expense involved by increasing the burden on police manpower. I would not want to press him for an assurance at the moment, but I hope we can get it before the Bill leaves this House. If it were to happen again, the additional cost would not come from the health and social services budget, education, or any of those other worthy departments.

Lord Dubs

It would be difficult for me to give categorical assurances as regards public expenditure. All I would say to the noble Lord is that if he had been party to some of the public expenditure discussions that the ministerial team in Northern Ireland have had recently, he would know just how closely the Secretary of State scrutinises all headings of expenditure, and how she is very careful to ensure that public money is spent sensibly and properly. I could not give a further assurance as to how specific additional financial needs, if they arose, would be met. That is going beyond what I am able to do here and now, and I know Members of the Committee will appreciate that.

Having said that, perhaps I can deal with a couple of specific questions asked. Article 5(1) of the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order will only apply to banning open air public meetings. The power to ban parades is that contained in Clause 11. Both powers belong to the Secretary of State. I think it is probably widely understood that the commission now has power to ban parades. However, I am concerned that the effect of Amendment No. 2 would materially damage the main thrust of the Bill.

The commission does, of course, have a very important power to conciliate, to mediate, and to achieve a peaceful resolution of any disputes about a specific parade. If the commission is to be 100 per cent successful, that would be the totality of its work. In the real world it may not always be that successful in its mediation responsibilities. Therefore, we need the commission to have the powers which the noble Lord seeks to delete in his amendment. I think that would not be appropriate; it would damage the whole concept of the commission's work; it would undermine the way in which the North Report approached it, and I very much hope the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Fitt

I apologise for coming in late. I was at a commemoration service for Vincent Hanna.

If we were to accept this amendment, it would mean in effect that it would nullify the whole raison d'être of this Bill.

In the real world of Northern Ireland, in relation to these contentious parades the commission will not be able to take a decision on a recommendation which may be at variance with that of the RUC, which in the final analysis will be responsible for the conduct of those parades. Another element will be the Northern Ireland Office—in other words the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. In any conclusion leading to the conduct of these parades, it will have to be a tripartite arrangement. The Northern Ireland Office Secretary of State must be asked for her opinion; the RUC must be asked for its opinion; and the commission will be asked to give its opinion. It is highly unlikely, and indeed it would be disastrous, for the commission to make a decision or a recommendation in relation to a parade which would not meet with the sole approval of the RUC, because at the end of the day it will be the RUC who will have to police those parades. It would have to take into account the views of the commission, and the views of the Northern Ireland Office which in the final analysis will be responsible for all the financial considerations—the pay of the police and the pay of everybody else in the security field in relation to the conduct of these parades.

In this present situation it may be considered that the Bill is directed at one section of the community in Northern Ireland. That, perhaps, is the reason for this amendment, because the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, represents one section of the community in Northern Ireland: that he is taking whatever measures he can to lessen the impact of this commission in relation to the parades with which he has been associated, and indeed has taken part in over many years.

It was said during the Second Reading of the Bill that only 20 to 25 of these parades are contentious, and have led to contradictions over many years. Before the Bill becomes law, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said, one would hope that the police, the Northern Ireland Office and the commission do not have to wait until February of next year. We are all aware of the contentious parades due to take place. There is a great deal of time between now and February.

On the question of police manpower, nobody knows more about police manpower in Northern Ireland than the RUC Chief Constable. He will know whether there will be a large parade or a small parade in Bellaghy; or a large parade in the Garvaghy Road, and another more contentious parade in the City of Belfast. On a fair analysis, the RUC will have to agree with the commission; the commission will have to agree with the RUC; and the overall responsibility will be that of the Northern Ireland office.

I cannot support the amendment because I believe that it will nullify what the Bill, the commission and the RUC will be called upon to do in the event of contentious parades. To accept this amendment would nullify the whole concept of the Bill.

Lord Dubs

Perhaps I may comment on what the noble Lord said. I am not in major disagreement with him, but I want to stress that the commission is an independent body. That is one of the reasons that we are setting it up. It is independent of Government and independent of the police. We will come to the point in later clauses, but of course the commission has to take a number of different factors into account in arriving at a determination, and the views of the police will be one of them. I do not, however, think that the views of the Secretary of State will be fed in. The Secretary of State would only come in at a later stage if the Chief Constable felt it necessary to ask the Secretary of State to consider a particular determination.

I want to stress that one of the gains to Northern Ireland is that the commission will be independent. It will not be a plaything of one group, of the police or of politicians. It will have that independence, and that is surely its strength and why we believe that the structure we have in the Bill and the independence of the commission ought to appeal to people in Northern Ireland in order to see that that independence is a safeguard for their rights and freedoms in these rather vexed areas.

Let me just comment on another point that the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, made earlier, to which I did not refer when I spoke a few minutes ago, and that is the presence of the commission members at parades. It is not possible to lay down that commission members ought to be at any of these contentious parades. I understand that some members of the commission were present on some occasions earlier this year, but I do not want to be categoric about that. It is up to the commission members themselves to decide what they want to do and whether they feel being on the spot would be useful in terms of their work. It would be inappropriate for a Minister to tell the commission how it should exercise its functions, including attendance at flashpoints, although I suspect in the real world they might well wish to be present at any flashpoints that they perceive in the coming months.

Viscount Brookeborough

Before the Minister sits down, I accept that the commission does not ban parades. However, the wording of the clause says to issue "determinations". What is a determination if it is not a decision? It does not say "to issue advice"; it says "to issue a determination".

4.45 p.m.

Lord Dubs

The commission, as I said earlier, has no powers to ban parades. A determination would be largely a matter of indicating the particular route that a parade should follow; that is to say, they would have to do that if the process of mediation and conciliation had not arrived at an outcome without making a determination necessary.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

With regard to this matter of the members of the commission attending parades, on the one hand, it is impossible for the commission to do its job properly without seeing some parades on the ground, seeing what happens, what goes wrong, what goes right and so on. The members need to do this as background information for the determinations that they have to make.

As I read the Bill, and I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm this, there is no question of members of the commission being present on a parade to issue further determinations in the course of the afternoon, or even in the course of several days, because, as we know, these situations can go on for several days. The purpose of their attending would be as background information to do their general job, not to try to take command of the situation away from the police commander on the spot in a difficult situation. If a situation becomes difficult, it is for the police themselves under the public order legislation to which the Minister referred to take any necessary action.

Lord Dubs

If members of the commission attend on the day, they would do so simply as people who want to see how their determinations work out on the ground. However, the commission's determinations would have to be available some time before the day of the parade in order for them to make it clear to those organising the parade what was the basis on which the parade might proceed. My understanding is that on the day itself the commission would have no remit except to learn what has happened as a result of what it did or did not decide sometime previously.

The Earl of Erne

May I ask the Minister this? If on the day things go wrong, who makes the decision: the police, the commission or the Secretary of State?

Lord Dubs

Clause 10 makes it clear that that would be a breach of the peace and that any decision on the day would be made by the police.

Lord Fitt

We want to live in the real world of Northern Ireland. If I were a member of a concerned residents' association—and there are far too many of them in Northern Ireland at the moment—I would arrange to have four or five different contentious parades taking place on the one day, and where is the commission going to go then? Are there enough members of the commission to sit around from Garvaghy Road to Bellaghy to Newtown butler to the Armagh Road? That is what will happen in Northern Ireland because of the IRA and its supporters and those who have fuelled all these so-called concerned residents. It is easy for them to spark off a whole lot of different contentious parades. And where will the commission be? Perhaps some photographs of members of the commission will be available before then which may be leaked to the press.

Take, for example, a contentious parade on Garvaghy Road. One member of the commission may be standing there and another member of the commission is in Bellaghy and another one is in Dunlewy. I would not give too much for their survival if a riot were to break out at such parades.

That is why the commission has been set up, because of the possibility of riotous behaviour. I would urge the Minister to take on board the fact that he is not dealing with very innocent people in the organisation of these parades. There may be three, four, five or more contentious parades on the same day. What will the commission do then? Will its members go to watch what happens at that parade? It is too late then, because whatever is going to happen will have been stoked up by those who are opposed to the parade, by the concerned residents' association.

All that will have to be gone into with the police. The Minister had said that one of the great attributes of the commission is that it is independent. Independent of what? The independence of that commission will be guaranteed only by its ability to seek what will be a contentious parade. Whether we in this Committee like it or not, the commission will have to consult the RUC. If there are four or five different contentious parades on the one day or in the one week, at the end of the day it is the RUC that will have to police them.

I urge the Minister not to depend too much on the commission's neutrality, therefore, because that will be put to very severe test by those who are opposed to the parades in the first place.

Lord Hylton

This might be a good moment for me to pay tribute to the very valuable work carried out last summer by the interim commission—if I may call it that—and in particular by the Reverend Roy Magee who in certain parades was able to bring all parties concerned to adopt a problem-solving attitude to the proposals under discussion.

Having said that, may I go on to draw the attention of the Committee to Clause 8(1): The Commission may issue a determination in respect of a proposed public procession imposing on the persons organising or taking part in it such conditions as the Commission considers necessary". As I read that, it could cover such matters as the dates of parades referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. Then in lines 44 to 45, it goes on: may include conditions as to the route of the procession", as was already mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, or prohibiting it from entering any place". That is very significant.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

May I elaborate for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, on the brief point that he made. I still feel that there is a real need for members of the commission to be in the position, wherever that may be—even if it is only in a television studio—to protect the police against criticism for their handling of a situation which the police had no part in creating.

Secondly, in the light of the Minister's assurance, it is to be hoped that the independent commission will not act so independently in the matter of incurring expenditure so that the cuts that we had to suffer in Northern Ireland last year will not again fall on the most needy sections of our community.

Lord Dubs

I should like to give an absolute assurance on how Northern Ireland expenditure will develop. Clearly no Minister in Northern Ireland, nor the Government, would wish any cuts to fall on the most needy members of the community. That is a general political proposition to which the Government subscribe. It is a matter for argument as to whether a particular cut falls on a specific sector of the community, but it is not the Government's motive. We would not wish that to happen.

I cannot be pressed any further on what is an attempt to pin me down to future public expenditure patterns, and I know that the noble Lord is not seeking to do that.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Alderdice moved Amendment No. 3: Page 2, line 2, at end insert—("( ) issue conclusions covering processions in a particular area over a period of time.").

The noble Lord said: It might appear on the face of things that the amendment I propose is in direct contradiction to the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead. He was indicating a wish that the power of determinations be withdrawn from the commission; and I am asking that the power be extended to ensure that conclusions can cover processions over a period of time in a particular area.

In fact, we are not at variance on this. It is quite clear from what the noble Lord said that he wishes to see the best of all possible worlds: that there be some discussion, negotiation and agreement within the community. It seems more likely that one could achieve that kind of agreement within the community if a pattern of parades were to be agreed over a period of time.

If we consider any of those areas where there have been contentious parades, in particular areas such as Drumcree, the Ormeau Road, around the Ballymena area and so on, almost all attempts to reach an understanding have been posited on the notion that some parades would be allowed in some circumstances while other parades would be foregone by the organisers. That cannot be undertaken if one simply looks at each single individual parade by each individual organisation.

In recognising this, Dr. Peter North and his colleagues in their report stated at recommendation 59 that, The Commission should be empowered to issue determinations for one or more parades in an area, to do so where appropriate over a period"— indeed, they went further than myself— longer than one year". For example, there might be an agreement that in the current climate, a parade might be foregone this year on the understanding that it would be permissible next year.

I submit that this is remarkably congruent with the underlying approach of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, that there should be some agreement within the community. We all realise that there are those individuals who do not want agreement, and will try to stir up trouble. But their efforts are much more likely to be frustrated if the opportunities for reaching accord are maximised. It seems to me that if a commission can look at only every individual parade as it arises, the prospects for a real agreement are much reduced.

I know that there have been indications from those who are legally better informed than I that such propositions might be in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights. Many of us look forward to the Government incorporating such legislation in our own domestic law.

I am always a little sceptical of lawyers and legal advice. I trust that those who are so qualified will not hold that against me. But for example, in the field of town and country planning, it seems entirely permissible that if the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland issues guidelines for a particular area—perhaps it is an area of town-scape character which they wish to protect—it is making it crystal clear that almost any application which comes forward, which is outside those guidelines, will not be accepted. Of course anyone is entirely permitted to put forward an application that contravenes the guidelines, and in exceptional circumstances it might even be that it would receive approval. But they would be exceptional circumstances; otherwise there would be no point in having such guidelines.

There are areas which are important, and indeed in local terms—as we all know as representatives of areas—quite contentious in their own way but nevertheless not of the security import concerning the parades about which we have been speaking. It would seem to me extraordinary that the Parades Commission could not be empowered to issue definitive guidelines for parades over a particular period of time, doing so after full consultation, as we indicate in the more detailed Amendment No. 17, with all those who are likely to want parades.

On this side of the water it may seem an impossible task to speculate on who might wish to have a parade down a particular road at any time of the year. Let me assure your Lordships that it is not in the slightest degree difficult to suggest who would be likely to have a parade. We are talking sometimes of a few weeks' notice of a parade. In Northern Ireland we can sometimes have 100 years' notice of a parade, because they have been continuing for that length of time. It is referred to in amendments that some of the parades are those which we know will take place, or are proposed to take place, not just next year but every year thereafter, barring some unusual eventuality.

There must be some way to achieve this objective. In the view of Dr. North and his colleagues and myself and my colleagues—and I am sure it is a view even more widely held—it would be profoundly desirable to ensure that we can have agreements reached and guidelines and recommendations given, even as to the significance of determinations, in order to ensure that the pattern of parades in an area is acceptable. I am sure that, if there were such an agreement, it would reduce the chance of malign individuals coming in and stirring up trouble—for, after all, it would not simply be an informal piece of collusion between two or three organisations. It would be something that, after negotiation, had the stamp of approval and the public registration of a determination by the commission, making it much more difficult to breach for those who want to create trouble.

I would appeal to you, and I would appeal to the Minister to give the most earnest consideration to the amendments we have put forward.

5 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

I am in sympathy with the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. It seems to me that it would be helpful to everybody, the commission, those organising parades and those taking part in them, that, as it were, groups of parades in a particular area should be able to be considered together, particularly when they are being organised by the same people. I am not a lawyer any more than the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, but it seemed to me that the Bill permits this as it is. I noticed in the draft of the guidelines issued by the commission that in considering what it should do about parades one of the things it proposes to have regard to is the frequency of such parades along the route in question. It is paragraph 4.3 of the guidelines. That seems to indicate that the commission also thought that it could see individual parades in the context of others.

It is not precisely the same point as that being made by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, because he wants the commission to be able to issue what is described in the amendments as "conclusions", although they are not actually defined very carefully—but we all understand what he means. The commission should certainly be able to consider groups of processions in making its decisions, and sometimes will wish to make decisions on a whole series of parades in a particular area at the same time. If the Bill does not do this, then the Minister should look for ways to ensure that the commission is able to do it.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

I rise briefly to support my noble friend on this amendment and to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cope. I would like to make the very practical point that it is far easier in negotiations to arrive at a conclusion, whether it is a commercial or a political negotiation, if you have a number of factors to put together in a package deal. If you have to take them seriatim, one by one, then there can be quite the reverse effect—the domino effect of attitudes entrenched and hardening.

I hope the Government accept the logic of the North Commission that if there is the flexibility to deal with what is referred to in the guidelines procedural rules as a pattern of parades in an area it is far more likely that the outcome that we are all seeking—of trade-offs leading to a win-win solution—will be achieved. I would like to add my own tribute to the efforts last year of certain leaders of the Orange Lodge, who clearly treated the problem in exactly this way, asking what trade-offs could accommodate everybody's interests in this area. It is much easier to do that if it is possible to consider a number of parades simultaneously. When the Minister replies, I hope he will tell us whether the Bill does this or, if it does not, that he will accept the amendment.

Lord Dubs

I appreciate that on this issue the Bill departs from the recommendation of the North Report. I am aware that at Second Reading some noble Lords referred to this particular point. Given that this is a fairly complicated issue, perhaps I could spend a few moments trying to explain the Government's position and why there are difficulties, but offer a little comfort at the end.

The amendment seeks to implement recommendation 15 of the North Report that: the Parades Commission should be empowered to reach and promulgate conclusions in relation to one or more parades in an area and to do so where appropriate over a period longer than one year". Given the Government's commitment to implementing North, our decision not to implement this particular recommendation was not taken lightly. But the difficulties involved are, as far as we can see, insurmountable. I can assure members of the Committee that we have gone into this in quite some detail.

I suggest that the draft clause demonstrates neatly the problems with this recommendation of the report. The proposed new clause would give the commission power to issue determinations before it was in full possession of the facts. Given the lack of this information it is inevitable that such decisions would be taken on a vague basis. The new clause simply empowers the commission to impose such conditions as it may consider necessary without clarifying the factors it would need to take into account. While implementing one North recommendation, giving the commission this power would ironically go quite against the spirit of the report that decisions should be made on an entirely open and transparent basis.

This is not a problem with the noble Lord's drafting. It is inherent in the proposal. We recognise that the likely date of a parade may be known well in advance—I believe the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said 100 years in advance. But the factors which everyone agrees need to be taken into account in deciding whether to impose conditions on a parade include public order, disruption to the life of the community, danger of intimidation and impact on relationships within the community. But all of these are closely associated with the facts of an individual parade.

In the procedures and guidelines, to which we shall turn before too long, the commission has made clear that it intends to start gathering evidence as early as possible on all planned parades for the year ahead and issue a preliminary view. But short of increasing the notice period to, say, six months or a year, the commission cannot know the full facts of the case. It will not have notification of key issues like how many will be attending, how many bands, the organisers' adherence to the code of conduct. And even then, factors such as the public order situation can change rapidly as the proposed parade approaches.

What a package deal at the beginning of the marching season cannot take into account are parades of a more spontaneous nature which the commission will still need to consider on their merits when the application has been received. The commission could not rule out in advance allowing such spontaneous parades to go ahead without being vulnerable to charges that it had fettered any discretion. But given the possibility that such parades could be applied for and would go ahead, even a power to make a determination for an entire marching season cannot provide total assurance about how many processions will take place in a given area.

We believe the commission, as an independent body, can play a valuable role, one hopes, primarily in facilitating local agreement but, if this is not possible, in issuing determinations which stand a chance of achieving the respect of both sides of the community. But we believe this responsibility could he undermined if the powers it is given are sweeping and unspecific. To issue determinations on parades six months or even longer ahead would require the commission to make binding legal decisions on scanty evidence.

We believe this could also run into difficulties with the European Convention on Human Rights, to which the noble Lord, Lord Holme, referred. Under the convention, governments are required to show that restrictions on the exercise of rights are necessary and proportionate for the purpose in question. It could be difficult to show that if the decision is taken so far in advance that the facts are not fully known. Giving the commission power to demand full knowledge about future parades would require an extension to the notice period for many months ahead, which would itself be dubious in European convention terms.

The alternative approach might be to give the commission a licensing role, enabling it effectively to set quotas for the number of parades it was prepared to see in a given area over a given time. But this would be a remarkable incursion on what is seen as a basic civil right in every western democratic society, and we do not believe it would be justifiable or defensible in convention terms.

We are deeply conscious of the need to broaden the picture and seek accommodation in given areas over a wider time. This would clearly be one of the commission's top priorities. The procedural rules to which the noble Lord, Lord Holme, has already referred also make clear that the commission will want to issue initial views setting out the position it is minded to take. These will not be legally binding, but they will provide a certain level of assurance about the commission's long-term approach. May I say that I suspect in practice there will be little difference between an initial view of this type and the sort of package deal determination recommended by the noble Lord. After all, realistically circumstances may change so much between the time of the initial determination and the parade that the commission will be forced to review an advance decision anyway.

I believe that what I have said goes quite a long way towards meeting the points made by the noble Lord and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and I hope therefore, for reasons of practicality and principle, the Committee will feel that this new clause is not appropriate and that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, greatly assisted us in the explanations he gave as to his intentions and objectives, and the Minister has also been very helpful with that information which introduces a new angle to the whole issue.

The difficulty arises from the words "particular area". In a village or hamlet it might be simple to relate the number of processions to, for example, the make-up of the population in the locality. It should be possible to judge whether the locality itself would generate a proportionate—to use that word again—number of processions at a given time, and then to make allowance for a rather odd phenomenon of which we ought to take note—the phenomenon of the village playing host to a much larger event or procession, which could happen on a rota system once in 10 or 15 years. It is not uncommon.

A different aspect arises if a major arterial road passes by but not through a built-up area. In such a case to consider the local factor pertaining in the village is not appropriate. The use of the main arterial road might justify a greater number of processional occasions, and the same road might provide for road traffic on the arterial route as the natural and shortest way from the start of a journey to its termination.

The words "period of time" require further consideration. Do they imply some form of rationing or, if we use air traffic control language, do they mean slots? Until about three years ago, when the IRA launched its campaign against peaceful processions—that is not an assumption or an allegation; we have the words of one, Mr. Adams, that he and his colleagues spent two years planning this particular campaign—there had been a steady reduction in the frequency of processions and but for the Adams' campaign, my assessment is that such reduction would have continued quite markedly.

If we were to insert in the Bill the amendment and the new clause implying—it may not be the intention—quotas and rationing, the tendency to reduce would be reversed, just as church attendance in England would mushroom following a ban on Sunday worship.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Fitt

The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, has rightly drawn the Committee's attention to the words in the amendment "a particular area". That could lead us into a long discussion on what an area or a particular area means. The noble Lord did not mention Drumcree in his remarks, but we know that he was referring to the arterial road which passes down by Drumcree church and past the nationals. We all understand that. In fact, many people in Northern Ireland did not understand the meaning of, or could not spell, arterial road until the events of Drumcree.

Is Portadown to be taken as an area? Is the whole area around Drumcree or the town of Portadown to be taken as an area? Only one part of that area will be contentious, and that is the Drumcree area. One could have 100 or 1,000 Orange parades in the town of Portadown itself and nobody will object to them. Therefore one will not be in a position to do a trade-off because there is no trade there. That is a wholly unionist area, and there will be no objection from any concerned residents in the town of Portadown itself.

The conflagration would break out in Drumcree. No trade-off could be achieved in relation to Drumcree. Last year I found it frightening that Drumcree was relating its activities to what occurred in the Ormeau Road in Belfast, which is 60 or 70 miles away. The Ormeau Road is absolutely nothing to do with Drumcree, but the organiser of the Drumcree opposition and the organiser of the Ormeau Road opposition were saying, "We will have a parade if you are not allowed to have your parade", or "If there is any attempt by the police to stop your parade it will have an effect on our deliberations." That was totally wrong within the context of Northern Ireland.

One could have all kinds of marches at the top end of the Ormeau Road, which involves a unionist community where there has never been any difficulty. It is the parade which comes down over the Ormeau Road bridge which causes the contention. There is no way that one could have a trade-off with the concerned residents' association because that is the only parade with which the residents are concerned.

There are about two or three parades a year in Bellaghy, another concerned residents' flashpoint. Again, I found it very disheartening that the Poppy Day parade this year has been dragged into political considerations. Does one have a parade there? Does one say, "You can have your 12th July parade, but you are not allowed to have your Poppy Day commemoration parade"? Can you do a trade-off in that area?

The geography of Northern Ireland and the demographic changes that have taken place would make it difficult to have parades. In Belfast we know that parades take place in nationalist areas—the Falls Road, West Belfast, the New Lodge Road and the Ardoyne—and they are restricted to those areas.

We know that again there is no trade-off in those areas. It is not possible to say to those who are organising opposition parades in West Belfast: "We will let you have those parades there if you don't have parades in Ardoyne". They are all different geographic areas and parades that they hold there will be determined by the people who live in those areas. To try to involve them in an in-depth discussion or analysis of what is a "particular area" will be a difficult job for the commission, but we should not rule out further clarification on that.

Lord Alderdice

I am interested in a number of the comments made by Members of the Committee, particularly about the wording of our amendments. I shall come back to that in a moment. Perhaps I may first comment on some of the things that have been said.

The Minister said that if the commission were to make a determination in advance over a period of a year, it would be fettering its decision-making further down the line. He implied that the key issues in making a decision were on matters very much of the time in terms of public order, the atmosphere in the community, the impact on the local community, and so forth. The reality is that when looking at any specific parade, the commission already takes into consideration how many more parades there are to be.

Here I must differ a little from the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. In the Ormeau Road, for example, it is not a question of the one parade that comes across the bridge. It is an issue of a whole series of parades that come across the bridge. In fact, when agreements have been reached, as they have been in one fashion or another, they have been reached in relation to the number of parades that come down through that stretch of the road. I entirely agree with the noble Lord when he says that it would be futile for us to get into speculation about when an area is an area, and when a "particular area" is a "particular area". Noble Lords may be assured that in Northern Ireland there is no lack of creative capacity in constructing argument and debate on such matters.

However, the reality is that in our proposition we are simply making it possible for the commission to take these matters into consideration if it is appropriate. I believe that there is a fair appreciation of what areas are specific areas and what areas are contentious.

The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, refers to areas round Portadown. I have visited and talked with folk there and they made it clear to me that the impact not just of parades but of prayer meetings in the open air on a bridge—one such meeting stopped a parade last year—and so forth, does transfer across. There are, of course, malign individuals, as we know, who will want to refer to what is happening in a totally different area as justification for what they are doing. But any reasonable person and reasonable commission would rule that out of order in much the same way as the authorities ruled out of order any tinkering with the Royal British Legion parade in Bellaghy. All the residents accepted that that was truly the case anyway.

Although it may seem otherwise, therefore, there is not yet a total lack of reasonableness in Northern Ireland, and I trust that there will continue to be sufficient for our commission to operate in a reasonable fashion.

I am somewhat puzzled by the view expressed that it is likely to be in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights to put on the face of the Bill that the commission could make such determinations, but at the same time would not be in contravention of the ECHR for the commission itself to publish guidelines that indicated that that was precisely what it intended to do. It seems to me that there is bound to be a problem if at first one simply maintained the position that it would be an informal view and therefore not fettering the discrimination and judgment of the commission. I can guarantee that an informal view would not be satisfactory to some people in the area. It is merely inviting further pressure on the commission to ensure that its informal view stated on one occasion is not transferred into the opposite formal view at a later occasion, so making the situation much worse than if it had not expressed a view at all.

The commission must be able to consider everything and then make a decision which is tolerably binding. If it issues an informal view it is likely that it will simply come under further pressure. On the other hand, if guidelines implicitly indicate that the commission is capable of looking at the pattern of parades, as the noble Lord, Lord Cope, mentioned, and that is not in contravention of the ECHR, then I cannot see how, if they explicitly indicate that, they would be in contravention. That seems to me to be a somewhat extraordinary position, though it may be entirely legally correct.

In view of those matters, and in view of the indications from other Members of the Committee (which I take seriously) that the wording of the amendments we put forward are not perfect—that I entirely accept—we would certainly be prepared to re-visit the wordings that we have made. I also urge other Members of the Committee, particularly the Minister and his colleagues, to re-visit the question and look at other possible forms of wording rather than simply say that this wording is not immaculate and therefore they dismiss the whole notion.

Lord Fitt

Before the noble Lord sits down, I accept what my noble friend said in relation to my mention of the area of the Ormeau Road. The contentious area in the Ormeau Road is the Ormeau Bridge, and the noble Lord has already said that there are a number of parades scheduled to take place there. The reason why the parades take place there is that some people want to cause contention in that area. Is the noble Lord suggesting that here we can have a trade-off? Is he saying that the commission could say to the organisers of those Orange parades, because they are the parades that cause the trouble, "You have four or five parades scheduled to go over the Ormeau Bridge, and every one of them is liable to cause a great deal of dissent. If we allow you to have two of them, will you do away with the other three"? If that question is put to the organisers of that parade, the concerned residents of the Ormeau Road will also have to be asked, "Would you permit two of those parades rather than the five or six which have been scheduled?". Would that be a legitimate trade-off on the part of the commission?

Lord Alderdice

Far be it from me to propose a solution to the Ormeau Road, or to any other problem in the area. The issue that the noble Lord has begun to open up and unpack for us is the possibility that a whole series of flexible agreements might be possible in terms of whether one went down to the bridge and then re-routed another way; or went down to the bridge and over the bridge; or went over the bridge and did not play with the band; or went over the bridge and played a hymn tune, and so forth. There are enormous possibilities. But the point the noble Lord addressed is the fact that it would have to be with consultation with those who lived further down. If we simply stay back in a position of consultation, as the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, has already said, we find the number of parades increasing and increasing.

Northern Ireland has had the extraordinary capacity to increase the number of traditional parades by some 50 per cent, in the past couple of years—traditional parades. It does not take as long as one might imagine for things to become a tradition in Northern Ireland. There are those who have now made it traditional to picket a Catholic church in Harryville and that has taken less than a year; it has taken only a few weeks. We want to defuse all of that and so we will happily revisit the wording; but I appeal to colleagues, to other Members of the Committee and to the Government also to re-visit that notion and not simply set it aside on the basis that our wording was indeed not perfect.

Lord Dubs

I appreciate what the noble Lord has just said, but I can assure him that it is not on the technicality of the wording that I am unhappy about the amendment. I am unhappy about the new clause proposed by the noble Lord because we think it is fundamentally flawed. We have spent many, many months considering this point. It was not easy for us to come to the view that it is proper to depart in this particular respect from the North Report. We did so only after thorough scrutiny and much thought and much attention to the detail. I do not want to sound as if our minds are closed, but I assure the noble Lord that we have thought very hard indeed over a long period of time about this issue, and I am not sure that any change in the wording of the amendment will deal with the fundamental problem of principle.

Lord Alderdice

Could I press the noble Lord on the particular point on which I requested clarification? How might such a power be implicit in the legislation and within the remit of the commission, yet to make it explicit would be to make it in contravention of the ECHR? It seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, was under the impression—one which I share to some extent—that the power to do this was implicit. Perhaps that is incorrect.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Dubs

I am not quite sure whether the words "implicit" or "explicit" apply to the point I am about to make, but let me make it anyway. I refer to the procedural rules, and I made some mention of them when I spoke previously. Those rules make it clear that the commission will want to issue initial views about the position it is minded to take about marches, and that can be some time ahead. They differ from what the noble Lord wants in that those initial views will not be legally binding, but I would have thought they would provide a certain level of assurance about the commission's long-term approach, even though, when the commission comes to make its determination in a particular instance nearer the time, that determination will not necessarily be in line with the initial views. At that point the commission will have more information that will enable it to take all the factors into account. However, in terms of setting out the views initially and over the longer term, the commission will be able to do that but, I repeat, not on a legally binding basis.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

Could I interpose before the Minister sits down and press him again on this point? Is he saying—and I will put it in my own words--that, if there were wording to the effect that in making individual determination the commission shall bear in mind the possibility of a local pattern or package, that would be acceptable?

Lord Dubs

I think I would want to consider the implications of that if the noble Lord tables an amendment. What we do not want to do is to proceed in a way which fetters the commission's discretion or in any way leaves us open to a breach of the European convention. We are dealing with basic freedoms here and these are very fundamental issues for the community. If the noble Lord tables the amendment, I would want to think hard about the implications.

Lord Alderdice

We wish to consider whether an alternative wording might be more helpful and we will revisit it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Functions of the Commission in relation to other expressions of cultural identity]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 4: Page 2, line 14, leave out ("wholly or partly open to the air").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 4 and Amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 7, which it is suggested we should discuss with it, bring us back to Clause 3 which we discussed earlier. During that discussion, I pressed the Minister for a little more of the Government's thinking as to what other expressions of cultural identity might be covered by Clause 3 and hence might be considered by the commission. The Minister said that the Committee would understand why he was reluctant to get drawn into this subject. I understand that he would be very reluctant to get drawn into a very different area, but that is not quite what the Minister meant. He meant that he did not want to fetter the hands of the commission by stating in advance the expressions of cultural interest which it might look at. I understand that, and the court case of Pepper v. Hart makes Ministers extremely cautious about what they say on such occasions which might later be used in courts of law and elsewhere to draw a meaning out of the Bill which is not on the face of the Bill.

Nevertheless, it seemed to me when I read the clause that there was some very precise wording both left in and left out to which presumably, as the Minister was saying in respect of the previous amendment, careful consideration was given by the Government and by the legislative draftsmen. These amendments press the Government to tell us at least why various items have been included or excluded from the things that the commission may consider.

Amendment No. 4 relates to the phrase, wholly or partly open to the air". I am not quite sure what "partly open to the air" means: presumably part of the event in question is inside and part is outside. That seems to me to be odd in itself. In any case, I am not sure that one should limit the commission's discretion to look into things wholly to things that are out of doors. There are some extremely contentious expressions of cultural identity that take place indoors at meetings of one sort or another, often fully reported outside with the aid of television and so on and extremely offensive to people of a different persuasion. It might be that the commission would think that some of those indoor meetings were just as much to be looked into as outdoor meetings that happened to be held in a field instead of a hall.

It seems to be that at least some explanation needs to be given there. I appreciate that the amendment would very much widen the duties of the commission under Clause 3 because all sorts of additional matters would need to be considered. I therefore proposed Amendment No. 5, at least ruling out services held in a recognised place of worship. In the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Eames, I wish to emphasise that I was anxious that the commission should not be given the duty of inquiring into whether Church services are expressions of cultural identity that offend people, although, sadly, the fact is that the cultural identities in Northern Ireland are often expressed in terms of the religious denomination to which people belong.

There is, incidentally, nothing exclusive about this kind of division causing difficulties. People sometimes think in this country that Northern Ireland is unique in having such difficulties. When they do, I point out to them that the keys of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, one of the holiest places in the world to any Christian, have traditionally been kept by a Moslem family. The Christian denominations cannot agree who should keep the keys because it would imply ownership of the church, and they have been kept by the same Moslem family since around 600 AD, which is a very long time indeed. Some of the problems between different parts of the Christian Church, therefore, go back even further than they do in Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, an outdoor service, as I understand it at the moment, could be held to be an expression of cultural identity and might give rise to the commission looking into it under Clause 3 as it is worded.

One of the most contentious areas is sporting events. I have drawn attention to this in Amendment No. 6. We all know that sporting events can also be a clear expression of cultural identity and the events themselves, and certainly the events surrounding a sporting occasion, can give offence and cause difficulty to other people.

The notes on clauses, which were helpfully made available to us before we came, contain an error in this respect. I am sure it is a mistake rather than anything else. But in relation to Clause 3 they say that subsection (3) provides, that this section does not apply to public processions or sporting events which are covered by the provision of the rest of the Bill". Of course, public processions are covered by the provisions in the rest of the Bill but sporting events are not. Sporting events are unique in being left out of the provisions both in Clause 2 that cover processions for the commission to make determinations and in Clause 3 for the commission to look at and make recommendations as to any changes there might be in the law. In the context of Northern Ireland, that is not a balanced provision if Clause 3 is to exist at all.

Lastly, in Amendment No. 7 I have drawn attention to the painting of property. At Second Reading a good deal of mention was made of gable ends with King Billy painted on them in some places and the Pope in other places, and with paramilitaries of both sorts represented on different gable ends in different parts. We all also know of the kerbstones being rather gaily painted but nevertheless in a definite expression of cultural identity—either red, white and blue or green and white. If the commission is to involve itself in whether a particular gable end, or gable ends in general, should be painted, in whatever direction, it will get into a good deal of trouble.

The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said at Second Reading that he would not give much for the chances of the person whose duty it was to paint out a picture either of King Billy or of anybody else who might be thought undesirable on a gable end. I agree with the noble Lord in that. I have therefore suggested that we should take out the painting of property to rule out both these types of things. Of course, it can be offensive, and some of the individual graffiti, never mind the more artistic efforts, can be offensive to people, and they are certainly expressions of cultural identity as we understand the words. I would personally wish to rule them out from the commission's powers under Clause 3.

All these four amendments seek to press the Government more as to what the commission will be expected to look at under Clause 3, if we pass it. This runs alongside the debate we had earlier as to whether Clause 3 should exist in this Bill. We are not trying to fetter the commission, except by precise wordings that might be added to the Bill—it will be at its discretion. But if we had a better idea as to what the commission might look at, we would have a better idea as to whether Clause 3 would add balance to the Bill, and we want a balanced Bill. That is why it is important that, if possible, the Minister can give us more indication of what was in the Government's mind in preparing this clause, particularly about the four matters to which I have drawn attention in the four amendments. I beg to move.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

I wonder whether the Minister would be in a position to give us a definition as to what was meant by the section about open-air events and whether he intended to include, perhaps on the advice of the authorities, some measures to control what are called festivals but which take the form of the installation of loudspeakers which can be clearly heard at least one mile away. The sinister thing about that is that it is not entertainment.

What happens, and I have checked on this myself with my own hearing, is that a republican song—I am just taking that side; there is no doubt it works both ways—is played over this loudspeaker system and the announcer says, "This is dedicated to John Smith, number such and such Whitewell Road, and John Smith had better pay heed to what befalls the person concerned in the verse because he will suffer the same fate very soon", meaning he will be shot fairly soon. I know it sounds rather facetious, but it is a real concern to law-abiding people of both communities living in the areas selected for this type of action. My understanding is that there is a loophole in the existing law and I wonder whether the Minister might undertake to consider it. He may not be able to get an undertaking, but it would be a help to know whether those so-called festivals are included within the meaning of that phrase.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

I am inclined to support the noble Lord's amendments but on the grounds that they are trying to make the best of a bad job and the bad job is Clause 3. The longer this discussion goes on, the more apparent it is that the Government are in an impossible dilemma. On the one hand, they say it is up to the commission to arrive at a definition of cultural identity; they cannot possibly do that—yet we know very well that the commission does not want to do that. The commission does not want to be landed with this task of defining cultural identity because it is a poisoned chalice; and this short discussion indicates just how difficult the matter is.

Having generally supported the amendments, not least because they expose the problems with Clause 3, I am not sure I followed—perhaps it is my fault—the reasons why the noble Lord, Lord Cope, wanted to leave out "or sporting events". It seems to me particularly undesirable that sporting events are sucked into this terrible definition of cultural identity. Certainly from these benches we do not want sporting events to become the subset of cultural identity; sport is sport. Although I know traditionally there are arguments about Irish sports and other sports, if we end up with Clause 3 in its present form—which I would very much regret—I hope that we do not throw on to the commission the yet further burden of defining which sporting events are not just sport but manifestations of cultural identity.

Lord Lye11

I apologise for the fact that I was not with noble Lords at Second Reading but I was at what is always known as the second city of the empire, in Glasgow.

I follow on from what the noble Lord said about sporting events. Indeed, where might the sporting events take place? I can tell the Minister—I am sure he is aware; the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, will certainly be aware—that a major sporting event took place last week in the city of Glasgow. Usually it involves both sport and cultural identity, and it is certainly way outside Northern Ireland. I do not know whether it is beyond the scope of the Bill; should it be beyond the scope of the commission? I refer of course to the happy, four times a year meeting of the Celtic Rangers, the result of which can give rise to scenes of considerable disorder in the Province.

Indeed, the noble Lord said that sporting events are inextricably intertwined: if you play Gaelic games, that is a strong assertion of your culture. I had always expressed a wish in my career in Northern Ireland to play Gaelic sports, and noble Lords, and indeed the Minister, will know very well what the reply was.

My noble friend's amendment enters very much into my thoughts about the Bill before us and the discussions of the Committee. Sporting events look quite harmless but I am sure the Minister will understand that they are not.

Lord Fitt

As time goes on, it will become clearer and more evident that the clause should never have been included in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, has already said that even from his side of the Committee he finds it very difficult to understand the full ramifications. If one wanted to be less than serious one could say that in the amendment he has moved to exclude sporting events, and the Government have included sporting events. In view of all the facts relating to Formula One that we have been reading about over the past few days, has any subscription to be made to any of the major parties in Northern Ireland in relation to sporting events?

It can clearly be seen that to implement any of this will cause turmoil in Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, has put down amendments relating to public processions and sporting events. That can be related to the winning of a match, or attendance at a football match or a Gaelic match; but when does a procession become a parade, and when does a parade become a procession? The Government will find great difficulty in determining what is a parade and what is a procession.

As I said on the Second Reading of the Bill in relation to this question of expressions of cultural identity which take place wholly or partly in the open air, in Northern Ireland the flying of a flag is an expression of a cultural identity, and I referred to the flags and emblems Bill which we had in Northern Ireland. People conversing in any particular area might see one or half a dozen Union Jacks at a distance, or a half dozen tricolours at a distance. If it offends their cultural identity, do they make representation to the commission to have those flags removed? Who removes them? If they are removed by the police it immediately throws the police again into the cauldron of sectarian politics in Northern Ireland.

In relation to this whole business of wholly or partly in the open air, how do you determine what is right? Could you paint either King William or the Pope on a gable wall? Does it have to be done in the open air? It cannot be done at two or three o'clock in the morning; it has to be done during the hours of daylight, although some graffiti has been done in the early hours of the morning. That is an expression of cultural identity again. Carrying it to its most laughable extent, there is the red, white and blue of the kerbstones. People traversing from one Protestant area to another, and I am thinking particularly of County Antrim, can pass through from Ballycastle to Coleraine and see two different expressions of paintings on gables in Coleraine and in Ballycastle and in Dunloy and in Armoy. Does the commission have the power under Clause 3 to prevent either the painting of those gable walls, or, if the gable walls had been painted, to make sure that they are erased because they offend one section of the community?

It is very difficult for the Government in any way to implement Clause 3, and I would ask the Minister why it was included in the Bill. What representations were made to the Government? Was it included with the intention of balancing the Bill, recognising that the main thrust of the Bill was aimed at the Protestant or Orange cultural identity so something had to be included in the Bill which would show that it was not one-sided or biased but reflected impartiality and neutrality? If that was the intention, it has signally failed.

I do not think there is any necessity for Clause 3 in this Bill, and any reasonable Member, either of this Committee or who lives in Northern Ireland, will see that this Bill was brought before your Lordships' Committee to deal specifically with trouble that had been brought about by contentious parades. That was the reason for this Bill being brought to this Committee, and why it will be brought to the other end of the building. You could have dealt with what we call republican parades, or Irish nationalist parades. They would all come within the context of this Bill. But in relation to all the other issues contained in Clause 3, I do not believe the provisions will ever be implemented. If you bring a bad law to the statute book, you will have every sore head in Northern Ireland bringing grievances to the political arena. People will use Clause 3 to invent grievances. Many inventive minds in Northern Ireland will see something as provocative because they want to be provocative. They want to be provoked. Clause 3 gives them every indication that if they do so they will get away with it.

I urge the Minister to consider this clause again; it will not mean anything in Northern Ireland.

Lord Glentoran

I apologise that I was not present at the Second Reading debate. I was elsewhere on committee business.

I feel deeply concerned about Clause 3. I dislike the thought of sporting events being brought into the Bill. During the nine years I spent on the Sports Council, and the 20 or more years I have been involved with sport in Northern Ireland, we have done our best to keep sporting events and sport out of the political arena. It would be a great tragedy if it were sucked in by this provision.

I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, about painted gable and painted kerbs, abortions that they are—sometimes artistic, but nevertheless abortions. To place the responsibility on the commission to decide what is right and wrong is like trying to make choices of which painting should go to the National Art Gallery. It would be totally impossible.

Clause 3 as it stands is inadequate to do the job that we clearly think that it should do. Were I ever to be a member of that commission I should be concerned as to how I could honestly do the work requested of the commission in relation to expressions of culture and identity.

This is a good Bill. It is a necessary Bill in relation to parades. It would be a pity to contaminate or overload the commission by giving it a task which at this stage seems to be verging on the impossible.

Lord Eames

I have hesitated to take part in this discussion for obvious reasons. However, I believe that discussion on Clause 3 is the opportunity for me to say something on an issue which has concerned me greatly as I have watched the development of the Bill. I apologise that I, too, was unable to be present at Second Reading. However, I hope what I have to say is relevant to the present discussion.

First, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, as regards religious services. That will not surprise him. I wish to express to the Minister a deep concern as one who has found himself in the cock pit of all that the Bill is set to ameliorate.

Secondly, with the other Church leaders in Northern Ireland, I have found myself on several occasions attempting to negotiate solutions to individual parades. My concern is based on my thoughts since the North Report became public. In the growing expansion of details being given to the commission, there is a real danger that what is initially essential to the life of Northern Ireland will deteriorate because of the vast amount of detail that the commission will be asked to address.

I took the simplistic view, not just as a Church leader but as a lawyer, that the commission would deal as fairly as possible with this cancer which is the sectarian aspects of public processions. I took the view, perhaps naively at the beginning, that the commission was being given a specific task. I respected that task, and I encouraged it. Now I find, as I listen to this discussion, as I read the debate in Hansard, the commission's remit is growing, growing, growing. It is going into areas of concern where the sensitivities cannot even be described in speech. They have to be felt on the ground, they have to be experienced by those who are involved and by those who have a part in them. I am sorry to take up the Committee's time in expanding this theory under Clause 3, but this is the crucial point in the discussion.

If we allow our party continually to expand the remit given to this important commission, we will regret it. I also believe that it will become a mockery on both sides of our religious and political divide if it is not seen to be addressing the essentials of our problems.

I have referred in public to a cancer of sectarianism, and that cancer is equally shared on both sides of our community. I believe in my heart that this commission can make a definite contribution to relieving that cancer. It will not solve it all but it can take us along the way. If that is to be the vision of this commission, what I believe is happening now is that by constantly expanding the area of its remit we are going to dilute it so much in the perception of the people of Northern Ireland that it will lose very much of the potential and the vision that I believe it ought to have.

6 p.m.

Lord Rathcavan

Like the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, I would much prefer that Clause 3 was not included, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, proposed earlier. I do not think that tinkering with the words will achieve a desirable result, although the noble Lord, Lord Cope, made the best of a bad job.

I should like to make one brief point. The Minister said in his earlier comments that it is not the Government's role to start telling the commission what expressions of cultural identity are. It is not the Government's role to start giving examples, and that is just what the clause is doing: it is flagging up a definition and going into detail. There is no end to this path if you start going down it, and it is very dangerous. What the clause proposes is completely contrary to what the Minister said earlier.

As the noble Lord, Lord Holme, said, this is an unnecessary bolt-on, and I hope that the Minister will seriously reconsider, particularly what is said in line 17. As most of us know, there is a long history in Ireland of sporting events and clubs being used for political purposes, and it is unfortunate if sporting events are introduced into the Bill in any form. I do hope that the Minister will seriously reconsider Clause 3.

Lord Dubs

I thank the many Members of the Committee who have spoken in this debate on all sides of the argument. May I try to deal with some of the specific points that have been raised before dealing with the main issue of principle.

If I may take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, first, it was a question about threats issued by loudspeakers which could be heard some distance away. I am certainly happy to look into that. My first inclination is to think that that sort of reprehensible behaviour would already be covered by existing legislation, namely by public order legislation dealing with provocative or threatening conduct or intimidatory behaviour. If that is so, I shall be able at a later stage to assure the noble Lord; if it is not so, we will have to think again. But I will look into what he has said.

I should make it clear at the outset that under Clause 3 the commission has one power in keeping under review these expressions of cultural identity; that is to make recommendations to the Secretary of State. That is the sum total of the powers that Clause 3 will give to the commission.

Secondly, within Clause 3 it is made clear that we are concerned with those expressions of cultural identity that have an adverse impact on relationships within the community. I would suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that some of the examples that he has introduced by way of amendment would be unlikely to have an adverse impact on relationships within the community because of the nature and locations he has described. It is important to know what are the powers of the commission and the fact that they are limited to those expressions that have an adverse impact on relationships within the community. Therefore, as the clause now stands, sporting events are specifically excluded—it says so very clearly—and they would only be included if the noble Lord's amendments were to be accepted.

If the noble Lord, Lord Rathcavan, who is concerned with sporting events, gets dragged into this, I can assure him that if he does not support the amendment he will keep sporting events out of it. I appreciate nevertheless that many noble Lords are concerned about the point which the noble Lord, Lord Eames, made about putting too much of a burden on the commission and diluting its main task. That is why this clause will not come into effect until the commission has had a chance to deal with its main task for several months. It will not be an immediate responsibility of the commission to take on board the extra responsibility in Clause 3.

The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, asked me why we had Clause 3 in the Bill. But indeed he answered the question: it is to achieve a sense of balance. We want to persuade the whole of the community in Northern Ireland, of both traditions, that the Bill is even-handed. We want to do this in such a way that we will achieve wider support for the Bill than we would have if it were perceived to be unbalanced and only had an impact on one section of the community and not on the other. That is the sole purpose. The noble Lord may think we have not achieved that end, but that is our proper aim.

Let me now deal with the specific points in the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Cope. Clearly, they would imply quite a considerable extension of the commission's remit. I would suggest that some of these extensions would be into areas which would not be helpful.

On the definition of a public place, for example, we have been careful to restrict it to remain as close as possible to what the ordinary man or woman in the street would understand by it. If the noble Lord's amendment were accepted, the committee would realise that the sort of public places covered would involve not only churches, as the noble Lord recognised in a subsequent amendment, but also, say, concert halls or pubs. The commission would then be required to consider manifestations of cultural identity which may take place in, say, a pub in an area solidly of one tradition or the other. Being realistic, we have to recognise that quite a lot of cultural manifestations in those areas would not pass muster if they were taking place in a public space shared by those of both traditions. Similarly, it seems bizarre to cover cultural manifestations which may take place in a hall which those present had chosen to attend or to which they had even paid admission. If they did not like what they were going to hear or see, they would not need to attend, and I would think that in the situation in Northern Ireland they would not attend.

The last amendment relates to the painting of property. I know many noble Lords have expressed reservations about how the commission could really get to grips with problems like kerbstones and murals, and this has been a thread running through the discussions on this clause. If the commission is to have an extended remit, and I recognise that opinions are divided on this subject, it would be strange to exclude those manifestations of cultural identity which are perhaps most obvious and may have the greatest potential for causing offence. That is not to say that the Government are indicating to the commission that that is what they should do as regards Clause 3, but simply that by excluding the painting of property we would be unduly restricting the effect of Clause 3 in a way which might go against its intentions.

The noble Lord also proposes to introduce sporting events. We left out sporting events after some thought. First, we do not want to politicise sport. Secondly, while the event may take place in the open air, it too is an activity which people are entitled to take or leave as they wish. Nobody is forcing anyone to watch Linfield play football or attend a GAA match. What we are seeking to achieve by the new remit is ideas and proposals on how to ensure that cultural manifestations in shared public space can be regulated so that they do not give offence to those of the opposing tradition.

There has been considerable discussion of the clause, and I am aware that views are divided. All I would say is that the Government will listen and take account of what has been said here this afternoon. I cannot go further than that, but we will scrutinise the contributions that have been made to the debate and we will think hard about the implications of what has been said. At this stage, I cannot say more than that.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

Before the noble Lord sits down, he has in a sense just given the game away. He said he did not want sport to be politicised. The implication is that everything else will be politicised, and that is precisely the issue which has concerned most of the noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon. They are putting into an arena of contention, of analysis, of adjudication, things which are part of the tapestry of life in Northern Ireland. Then the Government, and we can all understand what they are trying to do, are attempting to reach an accommodation that allows the unionists to say, "There is something for us in it". I am sceptical, incidentally, if that is the case, because they are very hard on many of the traditional practices of unionists in Northern Ireland. But let us assume that that was the Government's motive in doing it.

The effect in the Bill of the Government in trying to reach that accommodation is to put the whole onus of picking up the pieces after the Government on to the wretched commission, which has a big enough problem trying to deal with parades. I am pleased to hear the noble Lord say the Government will think about it and I hope they will think about it very hard.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

We have had a further interesting debate on the principles behind Clause 3, as well as on the detail of the amendments, and I am grateful to the Minister for saying that he will reflect on what has been said in our debates today. I do not want to add much more at this point, but he said that the Government do not want to politicise sport, and of course I agree with that as a principle, but it is far too late in the case of the GAA. It has been highly political for a very long time, and if he doubts that he should look at the rules of the GAA, particularly those which refer to members of the RUC, for example, who are not permitted to join in any circumstances. That is obviously a highly political rule.

We have been trying both to insert and to exclude various items from the clause and the discussion has been useful. I am grateful to the noble Lord for undertaking to consider what has been said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 5 to 7 not moved.]

6.15 p.m.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead moved Amendment No. 8: Page 2, line 20, leave out subsection (5).

The noble Lord said: As a parliamentarian of some 27 years, I have a natural horror of untidiness in drafting legislation. I am not accusing the draftsmen in this case because no doubt they were under a number of pressures.

It is true that subordinate legislation is frequently used by departments in phasing implementation of sections of wide-ranging legislation where there is need for what one might call a timed sequence. In this Bill there appears to be no good reason for two separate commencement dates. That is my elementary instinct, but it may be that, given the opposition to Clause 3 in its entirety, the need for any amendment such as mine may be removed. Although I move it, I shall not press it to a conclusion. I beg to move.

Lord Dubs

In tabling the amendment, the noble Lord seeks to commence immediately Clause 3 of the Bill, which extends the remit of the Parades Commission to include expressions of cultural identity other than parades and sporting events. I acknowledged in my speech introducing the Bill that we have added this provision to it in recognition of the widely expressed concerns that the commission would focus too narrowly on parades, in practice, of course, the predominant form of cultural expression of one side of the community.

It is our view that to include at the outset this very considerable additional burden to the commission as it begins the difficult task of considering and deliberating upon parades would be to ask too much of its members, dedicated though they have shown themselves to be. No one can yet know just how the commission will in practice take forward its responsibilities, and the Government consider that a bedding-in period is desirable to allow the commission to establish itself in its new role.

The timing of the Bill coming into effect will not give us very long before the marching season commences, and to give the commission this additional responsibility from the outset might well detract it from paying full attention to the parades. I am not therefore happy that we should seek to fetter the power of the commission to deal with parades in the first instance by putting these other responsibilities upon it.

As I have said before, the Secretary of State will keep the commission's remit under close review and she hopes to activate it within a matter of months. However, the noble Lord's amendment would make things unduly difficult for the commission.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 3 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Alderdice

We have had a fairly full debate on this issue and I have to say that I fully expect that we shall be revisiting it even as we continue our discussions; that is already clear. Before withdrawing my objection on the understanding that the Government have indicated their preparedness to look very seriously at this matter, I mention one further matter which has come out of some of the comments of the Minister.

The Minister made it clear that one major concern about the other amendments that I and my noble friend put forward is the conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights. I am concerned to ensure that there is no conflict in the legislation. I put it to the Minister that he may very well have a problem with Clause 3, because the ECHR enshrines the right to express cultural identity. If Clause 3 stands part of the Bill, it is quite possible that that right will effectively be removed, not just for an individual or a group in an area for a specific circumstance, but in general terms over a certain area. There is a difference between adverse aspects of relationships and the denial of rights because they impact, or potentially impact, as an infringement of someone else's rights.

The Government's lawyers will need to look carefully at whether handing to the commission not just the right to make representation back to the Secretary of State with its advice but the fact that it will be expected effectively to give advice is in contravention of the ECHR. Of course, it may be the case that there is no real intention to introduce the clause. However, that would be an entirely unfortunate way to proceed with a piece of legislation—including for political purposes something which one specifically did not want to find oneself acting upon—and I cannot see that the Government could possibly wish to proceed in that way.

Lord Dubs

Perhaps I could just comment on the noble Lord's point about the European Convention on Human Rights. The action that would be taken as a result of whatever the commission recommends under Clause 3 would be for the Secretary of State to consider the commission's recommendations. Therefore, it would be up to the Secretary of State to take or not to take whatever action she saw fit, and I am absolutely certain that she would take the requirements of the European Convention into account in deciding what action to take. However, the onus would be on the Government through the Secretary of State to make sure that we comply with the European convention. I do not think the commission could be in breach of the convention merely for making a recommendation to the Secretary of State. It would be the action that the Government took that would determine whether we were in breach of the convention. I can assure the noble Lord that we believe very much in the European convention, as does he, and we do not want to find ourselves in breach of it.

Lord Alderdice

I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying that point. It does rather seem to confirm that the commission might be encouraged to consider all these contentious issues and make doubly contentious recommendations only with the possibility that the Secretary of State would be in a position to declare herself completely unable to proceed with the legislation and with the empowerment because it would contravene ECHR. Perhaps the Minister will come back to that at a later stage. At this point I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Code of Conduct]:

Lord Molyneaux of Killead moved Amendment No. 9: Page 2, line 26, at end insert ("or a counter-demonstration to a public procession").

The noble Lord said: The North review body has been mentioned favourably many times this afternoon and was very clear in its thinking. In all my contact with the members of that body it was clear that they were determined that where a procession had been approved, any person attempting to obstruct or break up such a public procession should be severely punished. That meant that where the statutory requirement had been met in terms of giving notice in compliance with any changes suggested by the Royal Ulster Constabulary and when all that had been done, they were obstructed sometimes at the last minute by a person or persons—usually persons—very well organised.

When I met the North review body in its very initial stages, I noticed that the members could not understand why such disruptive behaviour had been tolerated in the past. It was something that I could not explain away. I note that the conclusions of the North review body have been reflected in Clause 14, but I am convinced that the recommendation must be included earlier in the Bill, in the code of conduct mentioned in Clause 4, to ensure fairness and balance to all concerned. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

I rise briefly to support the amendment. In discussing parts of the Bill earlier, particularly Clause 3, a large number of us emphasised the desire to achieve balance in the Bill. There are on the Marshalled List a number of occasions when a greater balance can be put into the Bill as it stands, and this is the first of them.

We all know that processions go wrong not so much when the procession itself takes place but when there is a counter-demonstration. To a great degree it is the counter-demonstration that sets off the trouble. I do not mean to say that the blame is necessarily wholly on one side or the other, but the counter-demonstration is what leads to the trouble and to the police having to get involved, and so on. On many occasions there is no counter-demonstration, even though the parade might be regarded as provocative, either because the police are holding people back sufficiently to make it impossible or not disruptive if it does take place or because those involved do not press it to the point where difficulties arise.

Where there is a counter-demonstration that is serious, that is what leads to the loss of order, which the police then have to do their best to restore. It seems to me, therefore, that this is one of the occasions where balance can be put into the Bill. I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux.

Lord Monson

The Minister has just defended the inclusion of Clause 3 in the Bill on the grounds that it will provide an element of balance between the different cultural traditions in the Province. I would have thought that acceptance of amendments like Amendment No. 9 might be a better way of achieving this.

Lord Alderdice

The Minister referred earlier to his wish to see other possible balances than Clause 3. I must agree with the two previous noble Lords who have indicated that they see this as one of a number of contexts in which the balance could be provided in a better way than in Clause 3. I am minded, with my colleagues, to support the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, in his proposition.

Lord Dubs

I am aware that some in the unionist community, and particularly those in the loyal orders, feel that this legislation is excessively targeted at those organising and taking part in public processions. It has been suggested that the thrust of this legislation is that marches are the problem and must somehow be dealt with. Many feel this is unfair and point to the provocation which some marchers have been subjected to. I understand those feelings. It is often clear from scenes of disturbances associated with parades that the fault is not only on one side, and this Government have never attempted to argue the contrary.

The Government are determined that the legislation and the structures established under it should show balance and even-handedness in practice. My only doubts about the amendment are what its practical effects will be. The amendment deals with changing the code of conduct. Breaking the code of conduct does not itself constitute a criminal offence. Many of the things which counter-demonstrators are accused of—for example, blocking roads—are criminal offences in their own right. The purpose of the code of conduct is both to enable march organisers to demonstrate in a practical way that they have taken account in all reasonable ways of the sensitivities of those in areas through which they are passing and to enable the commission in those rare cases where that is not the case to take account of that in future determinations. I am not quite clear what conclusions the commission will be expected to draw from the misbehaviour of protesters. There is a difficulty in terms of how the amendment will work in practice.

The Government are, however, prepared to consider the amendment, or any other ways of enhancing the structures, to ensure that they operate in an even-handed way in practice. I am aware of the technical difficulties of drafting an amendment to achieve that end.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

The Minister says the code of conduct is designed to enable march organisers to organise their marches in an acceptable way. It seems to me perfectly proper to permit counter-demonstrators to organise counter-demonstrations in an acceptable way in order to make clear their opposition to the particular parade or point of view of it taking place without disrupting it and without necessarily causing a public order difficulty but nevertheless indicating that their point is different from the marchers in a reasonable way. That is why I think the code of conduct should provide for counter-demonstrations as well as for the processions themselves.

Lord Dubs

I understand what the noble Lord is saying—that there is a difficulty because when we are dealing with a march we are dealing with organisers. Therefore, we can have a code of conduct which the organisers would have available to them so that they would know what was expected of them. The trouble is we may not know precisely who the protestors are. Therefore, it is difficult to make available to the protestors the code of conduct when we are not aware of who they are. It is a practical difficulty. The problem is also that if the marchers are in breach of the code of conduct, that will be held against them in the future should they wish to march again.

It is difficult to apply the same principle to protestors because one cannot say, "Here is a code of conduct, and if you protest again this is what the problem will be", because protestors are by definition not organised in a way that marchers are. I am not trying to denigrate what the amendment is seeking to do. I said that the Government would consider it. I am simply pointing out that there are some practical difficulties to doing it precisely in the way the noble Lord who moved the amendment has suggested.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

I was just going to respond to say that the Minister is surely aware that counter-demonstrations are often organised; there is an organiser behind them. His name may not be apparent and of course he does not have to give 28 days' notice or whatever that he is going to organise a counter-demonstration. The idea that therefore he will not have a copy of the code of conduct seems to me to be rather naive, if I may say so to the noble Lord. The code of conduct will, after all, be widely available, dealing with both processions and counter-processions if the amendment were carried, and would be known to all sorts of people and I believe would be helpful to those organising peaceful counter-demonstrations.

It is wrong to say that the code of conduct will go only to those people to whom the commission sends it. It will no doubt be available widely in public libraries and everywhere else and will get into an awful lot of hands in addition to those to whom the commission actually sends it.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

As we are all trying desperately to be helpful to each other, I can be helpful to the Minister, with great respect. If he looks at his Clause 14, the offence is stated quite clearly there, and what is more important, the penalty is also stated—Clause 14, page 10 "Breaking up public procession".

Lord Dubs

I was just reading Clause 14. I said we would consider the point. I am not sure I can be more helpful than that. I have said we will consider it and I repeat that we will do so. I am just concerned about the precise way of giving effect to what the noble Lord wishes to achieve; that is why we want to consider it.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

I could quote the penalty section: (2) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1) 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". There are those who believe that that should perhaps be increased, but we will not come to that one for a moment.

Lord Dubs

Could I respond, not so much on the offence, because we are coming on to the offences in a later amendment, but just to say that one of the reasons I want to consider it is that I want to consider what we already have in Clause 14, assuming that the Committee and Parliament as a whole approve it, in relation to what the noble Lord has attempted to achieve with the amendment we are now discussing, to see whether Clause 14 is sufficient, or whether the further powers might be appropriate. That is again a reason why I want to think about it.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My purpose in tabling the amendment for an earlier stage in the Bill was to ensure that there was a degree of priority in bringing it forward in the legislation.

In the mood of co-operation existing between all sides of the Committee, I beg to leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clauses 5 and 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Advance notice of public processions]:

Lord Molyneaux of Killead moved Amendment No. 10: Page 3, line 29, leave out ("28") and insert ("7").

The noble Lord said: Given the degree of co-operation received thus far it would be a pity to spoil it by making a long speech. The reason for our suggesting that "28" should be left out and "7" should take its place is that there is reason to believe that notice as long as 28 days would be a standing temptation to all manner of people to organise that which we have just been discussing, namely counter-measures and all the rest of it. It is not something which would affect many of the organisations of which I am a member because, as has been already said, many of these plans are known and published as far as a year ahead. If all parades, and particularly those in sensitive areas, were required to observe 28 days instead of seven as at present, this could place temptation in the minds of people who were not terribly sympathetic to the maintenance of law and order.

On the second point, processions are customarily held in an area or areas. We have given that a fair amount of coverage in the debates on the amendments moved by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, and I do not think that it is necessary to go back over that.

Amendment No. 12, would add: a procession to or from a church for or in connection with a service of divine worship". I beg to move.

Lord Dubs

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his amendments, but we are not happy with them. His suggestion that the proposed period of notice be reduced from 28 days to seven days would do nothing to address the problems presented by such a short period of notice which Dr. North and his review team identified. To take the amendment on board would therefore run counter to the North Report's recommendations, which suggested extending the period of notice to allow information to be made available to the local community and for anyone who might wish to make representations to the commission to do so. That process would be made impossible. The extension of the notice period would also give the commission time properly to assess representations made to it, and enable the RUC to plan the policing of potentially contentious parades.

Neither can I agree with his proposals that parades which may be considered traditional, or which have particular associations with church services, should be exempt from these notice requirements. Surely, if a parade is of long standing, it is generally known from year to year when it will take place in any case. Indeed, one noble Lord said we normally knew 100 years in advance when these parades were to take place. There are, as I hope the noble Lord will recognise, additional difficulties in trying to differentiate in law between parades of long standing and those which are not, and those which have a religious character or otherwise. We are committed to balance and even-handedness in this legislation, and believe that creating privileged categories of parades in this way would run counter to that. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw these amendments.

Lord Alderdice

In a spirit of co-operation and mutual elucidation, upon which the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, has remarked, I bring to his attention that were his amendments to proceed—particularly Amendments Nos. 11 and 12, referring to what we would call traditional parades and parades to and from a church—that would mean that the parade at Drumcree would therefore be removed from the remit not once but twice, all in one go. Given that this whole Bill has largely come about through the difficulties there, I am sure that my having pointed that out to the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, it will immediately become clear to him that it would not be the best thing to do to proceed with these amendments.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

In the light of that very helpful advice, and given that I conceded that there were some difficulties, I hope that we can accept that in principle, in an ideal world, this ought to be the position. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 not moved.]

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No.13:

Page 4, line 38, at end insert ("or (b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or to a fine, or to both").

The noble Lord said: We have been searching for ways in which to improve the balance of this Bill as between those who organise parades and those who break them up, among other balances, but that is the particular balance to which this amendment is addressed. The amendment increases the possible penalties under this part of the Bill so as to make the penalties the same for breaking a procession up and subsequently for organising a wholly illegal procession the same as the penalties for a legal organiser of a procession which breaks the conditions imposed on it by the commission. It seems to me that it is only fair that the potential fine and the potential prison sentence should be the same for those who organise processions which go wrong and for those who break them up. To have a lower limit on the breakers-up of processions seems to me to be unbalanced.

I appreciate that in both cases—that of the organiser of the processions which go wrong in some way, and those who try to break them up—other offences will often be committed, in particular public order offences. Those people may find themselves in greater trouble and liable to longer sentences as a result of the public order offences with which they are charged than from the offences under the Bill. In that sense, the Minister may argue, as he did at Second Reading, that there is no need to have a higher maximum level, but that there is a need to make the Bill balance on the face of it, as well as fairness in having the same fine for the different offences and the same possibility of being sent to prison on indictment for the different offences.

I am aware that the disparity between the two levels of sentencing for the different offences reflects precisely the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987. There is the difference in the existing order. However, that is not necessarily a reason for continuing the difference if it is unfair and unbalanced. We should not be so hidebound by tradition that we feel it necessary to carry forward the offences from one document to another just because they have existed in the old document. It seems to me that it was probably wrong in the 1987 order to have different levels of punishment for the corresponding offences. But it seems to me that it would be right in this Bill, in the interests of balance and effect, to have the same punishments for the two different kinds of offences. I beg to move.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

I have great sympathy for the logical case which the noble Lord, Lord Cope, has made. However, the onus is on the Minister to tell us whether there is a reason other than the precedent of the 1987 order for this apparent disparity which gives confused signals if the wrecker of the peace is let off more lightly than another.

Lord Monson

I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Cope, but it seems to me that the penalties outlined in the Bill in Clause 7 are precisely identical to the maximum penalty imposed in Clause 14: Imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both". would appear in both clauses.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

If the noble Lord refers to page 4, line 38, he will see that six months' imprisonment is the punishment there, and on the next page, page 5, the bottom line reads: (b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or to a fine, or to both".

There is, of course, another way of doing it, as proposed in another pair of amendments to be moved later by the noble Lord. Lord Molyneaux. Instead of increasing both punishments, as my amendment suggests, to two years, the noble Lord being a more merciful man, has decreased the punishments to six months' imprisonment in both cases. We are both trying to achieve the same level, but we have done it in different directions.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

It is true that we did go in slightly different directions, but with the same objective—to secure uniformity in the matter of the penalties. Given that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, is senior to me in terms of service—I have never yet been a member of a government—I shall leave it to him. I propose, with the leave of the Committee, not to move my amendments and to support his.

Lord Monson

I prefer the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. I know he is not going to proceed with it, but image is everything, as we know in Northern Ireland. It will appear to the public rather draconian to have the possibility of a maximum sentence of two years. I know the maximum is not often imposed, but it is possible, and with an unlimited fine for what is not really a very serious offence, looked at objectively, I would have thought it was better to equalise downwards rather than upwards.

Lord Alderdice

I was not going to comment at all, but I have to say that when such disruptions lead to losses to the public purse in excess of £20 million or £30 million, it is perhaps not unreasonable that one should consider this as a matter of considerable gravity, and indeed sometimes of course loss of life. It is a matter of considerable gravity.

Having said that, the key issue raised by the noble Lords, Lord Cope and Lord Molyneaux, is the question of equality, and I certainly look forward to what the Minister has to say about it.

Lord Dubs

I would like to consider the points that have been made to see what is the best way forward. In other words, I am sympathetic to some of the arguments that have been used, and I want to see whether we can make progress on the matter.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

In view of that undertaking by the Minister, which seems to me both gracious and sympathetic, and of the fact that the changes required in the Bill are extremely simple and should not need a great deal of consideration, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 agreed to.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

This may be a convenient moment to adjourn until tomorrow.

The Committee adjourned at thirteen minutes before seven o'clock.