HL Deb 15 January 1986 vol 469 cc1137-52

7.49 p.m.

Lord Dunleath

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. In effect this is really a tidying up amendment to bring the law as it applies to Northern Ireland into line with that which obtains in Great Britain. But for all that, it has some significant implications. Perhaps it would be helpful if I were to give your Lordships some background to this. I hope that I may be forgiven if I read portions of my speech on this because, for the sake of the official record and the fact that there are various titles, dates, and quotations involved, I would wish to be accurate.

The background is that the offence of inciting to hatred on the grounds of religious belief, colour, race or ethnic or national origin was introduced in Northern Ireland for the first time in the Prevention of Incitement to Hatred (Northern Ireland) Act 1970. That Act was one of the results of a meeting between the Westminster and Stormont Governments in August 1969. The communique from that meeting stated that it had been agreed that: effective action in the following fields is fundamental to the creation of confidence", and in subsection (2) it said: protection against the incitement to hatred against any citizen on the grounds of religious belief". In the event the Act has proved to be almost useless in terms of preventing incitement to hatred. There has been only one prosecution under that Act, in 1971, and the defendant was acquitted on the basis that he did not actually intend to stir up hatred.

Then, in 1981, when a new public order order was introduced for Northern Ireland, the opportunity was used to repeal the 1970 Act and instead include its provisions in the new order. Therefore the present offence relating to incitement to hatred is to be found in Article 13 of the Public Order Order 1981.

The law in England and Wales has no equivalent to the incitement to hatred offence in Northern Ireland; but in 1965, when the Race Relations Act was first introduced, Section 6 of that Act dealt with incitement to race hatred and was broadly similar in terms to the Incitement to Hatred (Northern Ireland) Act 1970. It perhaps goes without saying that there is a difference in emphasis here, in that the Race Relations Act in Great Britain is concerned more with the ethnic minority, whereas the equivalent legislation in Northern Ireland is more concerned with the religious and differences of loyalty about which state someone considers he belongs to.

As in Northern Ireland, the need to prove a subjective intention on the part of the accused to stir up hatred has stultified prosecutions in this country. The same requirement had a similar effect under the Race Relations Act in England. The fact that in England the law on incitement to race hatred was not achieving its attendant purpose was recognised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, and in the course of his report in 1974 on the Red Lion Square disorders he stated in paragraph 125: Section 6 is merely an embarrassment to the police. Hedged about with restrictions it is useless to the policeman on the street, the section needs radical amendment to make it an effective sanction, particularly … in relation to its formulation of the intent to be proved before an offence can be established". Similarly the right honourable Member Mr. Roy Jenkins in another place, when introducing the Race Relations Act in 1976 said, The prosecuting authorities believe that the need to prove a deliberate intention as well as the other ingredients of the offence have made it unlikely that prosecutions will succeed except in the most blatant and extreme cases". The concerns of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, thus expressed led directly, I am told, to an important reshaping of the incitment to race hatred offence in England and Wales. His concerns were echoed by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights in Northern Ireland, and indeed by spokesmen for my own party, the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland.

The present situation in England and Wales in this regard is set out in Section 70 of the Race Relations Act 1976 where the offence of inciting race hatred is stated to be committed where a person, publishes or distributes written matter which is threatening, abusive or insulting … uses in any public place or at any public meeting words which are threatening, abusive or insulting, in a case where, having regard to all the circumstances, hatred is likely"— that is the important word, "likely"— to be stirred up against any racial group … by the matter or words in question". Therefore it can be seen that in the British context the race hatred offence of 1976 removes the need subjectively to show that the accused intended to stir up race hatred and replaces that requirement with one on the prosecutor objectively to show that hatred is likely"— again the important word— to be stirred up … by the matter or words in question". Since the Northern Ireland Alliance Party's private parliamentary draftsmen drew up this Bill it has come to our notice that the Public Order Bill which was printed on 5th December contains slightly different wording. I believe that this Bill was read a second time in another place just yesterday. The relevant wording, as opposed to "likely" which I have just quoted, is: for anyone to use threatening, abusive or insulting words which are, or behaviour which is, intended or likely either to provoke immediate violence or to cause another to believe that immediate violence will be used". Therefore it is not just "likely" or "intend" but "either." This is a drafting point in regard to the Bill which I am now advocating before your Lordships' House, and it may be felt it should be subject to amendment for that reason.

There is another difference, in that "hatred" is not actually used here in the Public Order Bill, and in the Bill which I am presenting to your Lordships we have a number of words which perhaps ought to be amended. I am entirely open to suggestion on that. We say: to stir up hatred, violence, contempt or hostility". There is a drafting difference between this Bill and the Public Order Bill, and I should be flexible on the wording of that.

But in Northern Ireland it is a relatively straightforward matter to change our incitement to hatred law in the same manner so that it would become irrelevant to know what the accused intended. The question is really, having regard to all the circumstances, whether his words or any other matter have the likely effect, not necessarily the intended effect, of hatred being stirred up against any section of the population.

As I said, this would bring the legislation more or less into line. The fact that the Attorney-General would have to be consulted before any prosecution were brought would ensure against there being any trivial or frivolous prosecution, as is the case on this side of the water. I can think of examples. For instance, shortly after the 1971 measure was passed in Northern Ireland a member of the Opposition in the original Stormont Parliament asked whether the writing on a gable wall in the militantly Protestant Shankhill Road of Belfast, where there appeared the words "No Pope here", was an incitement to hatred or violence. The answer came from the Front Bench at that time, "No, sir. It is not an incitement to hatred or violence. It is a plain statement of fact whose accuracy cannot be disputed. Inquiries have revealed that His Holiness was not in the Shankhill Road on that particular Saturday evening. Instead, he was in the Vatican minding his own business".

Well, the writing of a slogan like that in the Shankhill Road may not be an incitement to hatred, but written in other circumstances it could be. Individuals have been subjected to harassment through having slogans written on the walls of their houses. An isolated Protestant in a mainly Roman Catholic area can have a considerable degree of intimidation inflicted on him by having, "No Pope here!" written on his house. Similarly, an isolated Roman Catholic in a mainly Protestant area can suffer intimidation by having "Up the IRA!" written on his house. Indeed, on my own wall which surrounds my house at the moment I have a slogan written by an anonymous contributor, "Ulster says No!". I was tempted to write underneath it, "But the man from Delmonte says, `Yes'!—and he is an Orangeman". But I desisted from so doing because I did not want to start a mural correspondence column which might be acceptable in Peking but would hardly add to the attractiveness of the Northern Ireland countryside.

Nevertheless, there are certain speeches, certain actions and certain writings of slogans and certain graffiti which can lead to dire consequences. There is the self-fulfilling prophecy, the warning to Her Majesty's Government that, "If Her Majesty's Government do not do so-and-so, I cannot guarantee that the people whom I represent will not take to the streets, will not take up arms, will not resort to violence". And the speaker or writer may claim that he or she has no intention of stirring up violence. But we know well that that can be a provocative statement. We know well that the prisons in Northern Ireland are bulging with people serving long sentences and that in many cases they are young people easily swayed who, like me, are not possessed of the mental capacity of the late Dr. Einstein, who are persuaded by these speeches and who think that in conducting whatever activity they have been persuaded to conduct—an act of violence, probably—they are striking a blow for freedom of one sort or another.

They are now, many of them, languishing in gaol serving long terms for crimes very often as serious as murder; yet those who have incited them to it, whether they be politicians or not, are free and indeed basking in the publicity that they have gained from the statements that they have made, and do not appear to have all that much concern for the gullible people who acted as a result of their statements and actions and who have had to pay the penalty therefor.

While, as I say, the purpose of this amendment is to aim for conformity between the law as it stands in England and Wales and the law as it would stand in Northern Ireland, there are significant implications to it. Therefore, I would respectfully submit to your Lordships that this Bill be read a second time. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Dunleath.)

8.5 p.m.

Lord Hampton

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, is once again to be congratulated on introducing a Bill designed to help in the battle for sanity and calmer times in Northern Ireland affairs. Our task tonight is to consider whether this Bill, introduced with the most honourable intentions, will help to that end. As has been made clear, the aim is to check the spread of hatred by making incitement to hatred an offence without having to prove that the accused consciously intended this. It is worth re-emphasising that this will do no more than bring the law in Northern Ireland into conformity with the similar law in Great Britain on incitement to race hatred as contained in the Race Relations Act 1976.

Hatred is an ugly attitude of mind and I imagine that there is probably no Member of your Lordships' House and none present this evening who does not consider it an unmitigated evil. Without hatred in the first person, there would be no desire to incite hatred in a second person. The disease, as perhaps I may term it, lies in the initiator; and that is what really needs to be cured. It is nonetheless important to stop it spreading.

There are those who hold that freedom of speech is of paramount importance and must in no way be checked. In an ideal society that would be so but, when we read of bitter men stirring up mob violence in the strife of the Province, I cannot believe that all restraints should be abandoned. It is a loss of personal freedom not to be able to say exactly what one thinks. But if by so doing one causes mental or physical suffering to another, the privilege has been taken too far.

The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, my good friend, kindly drew my attention to the debate on the Prevention of Incitement to Hatred Bill in the Northern Ireland House of Commons on 30th June 1970 and the noble Lord. Lord Dunleath, referred to this. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, has been over much of this ground already and I note that he has not put down his name to speak tonight. He said then that the great difficulty lies in proving the intent to stir up hatred. That, of course, will no longer be necessary. He accepted that that Bill was bristling with difficulties and I think that we also may well question the effect for good that the present Bill may have. The Public Order Bill introduced by the Government yesterday, I think, will need careful perusal.

I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, two questions when he comes to wind up in the debate. First, I would ask about graffiti and writing on the walls. He has referred to this. Many vicious messages are spread in this way. Does he not think that the task of preventing it may be almost impossible and failure counterproductive? Secondly, can the people of Ulster be assured that incitement to hatred will be punished quite impartially from whatever quarter it arrives?

It seems to me important to keep things in proportion, to face the unpalatable fact that there is much hatred in Northern Ireland today. Free the Province of hatred and of fear and you will have solved its problems. That may sound simplistic and it is certainly immensely difficult to achieve, but it remains the truth. While we concentrate on the negative influence of hatred, let us not forget the many positives in the Province today.

Only recently, many of us received a news sheet from Lagan College, proud of its splendid progress in the field of integrated education of excellence. Let us salute the courage and determination of those beavering away to spread goodwill and break down the divide between the two communities. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, again for his work in this field. I believe that in the long run we need to find a better way than the way of legislation to tap the powers that can change the human heart and make the ideal we all cherish of a happy and united Northern Ireland a practical possibility. But in the meantime, while regretting this necessity, we on these Benches support the aims and intentions of this Bill.

8.10 p.m.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Dunleath and congratulate him on introducing and explaining this Bill tonight. My noble friend, I would say, has a very enviable record when it comes to legislation. Seven or eight years ago he piloted through the House a measure to do with schools which has made it possible for shared, integrated Christian schools to be accepted into the system of public education in Northern Ireland. That is of very great benefit, in my view, in enabling children to grow up mixing freely with each other and learning to appreciate the good and constructive points of their respective traditions. Lagan College has already been mentioned this evening. It was the first of these schools and has by now proved the point beyond question. Last term, Lagan was joined by the two Hazelwood schools in North Belfast and by the Forge Primary School in South Belfast: three new, integrated, shared schools opening in one term.

The Bill promoted by the noble Lord was an enabling one. Tonight's measure I would describe as a preventive one. Its purpose is to diminish, if not eliminate, the flow of incendiary language. When I use those words, I think I should point out that we have seen and heard some language which very precisely and literally was of an incendiary nature. Such language is bound to disturb people's emotions and I fear it is all too likely to create fears and mistrust. As the noble Lord pointed out in his opening speech, it can be an incentive to intimidation when it is not in itself an act of intimidation.

It is for these reasons that I personally welcome the changeover in the onus of proof from the question of intention to the more provable matter of likely effect. If we look back over the last few years and perhaps go back as far as 1969, it can be seen, I think, that successive governments have laboured hard and honourably to change the institutions of Northern Ireland. Perhaps the classic example was the creation of the Housing Executive, which has done—I think it is widely acknowledged—some very good work.

This process of changing institutions has been tried not only in the executive sphere but also in the judicial and legislative spheres and has culminated, one might say, in the recent Anglo-Irish Agreement. That is desirable and it may be necessary in many ways, but, alas, it has not had the effect yet of changing deep-seated attitudes. I would submit that a great deal more work is going to be called for in modifying, changing and improving attitudes—for it is attitudes that are to a large extent the cause of the troubles we experience, as they are the cause of threats and of language used which is likely to provoke hatred and disturbance.

The underlying attitudes in many ways are still much as they were, and I should like to suggest tonight that the attitudes of people, both in Britain and in the Republic of Ireland, have a strong bearing on the situation in the North of Ireland. In Britain, alas, too many people look upon Northern Ireland as a remote and incomprehensible place. Really, to put it briefly, too many people do not want to know about it. Others in Britain take the line that we ourselves are not too closely involved and can therefore be considered to be neutral, to be arbitrators of a kind and peace-keepers of a kind.

That, I would suggest, is an insufficient attitude. We need to be a great deal more constructive and creative than that. Some of these attitudes apply in the Republic of Ireland but I think one should point out that in that country there has traditionally been, and still is, a greater commitment to one particular cause. And that cause, of course, has been the cause of the nationalist community in the North. But one has only to think of the very great financial burdens that fall as a result both on Britain and on the Republic of Ireland to see how desirable it is that our own attitudes should change and thereby help attitudes in Northern Ireland to change. It seems that on a rough calculation it is costing the inhabitants of Great Britain something like £1,000 a year per head of the Northern Irish population. The Forum for a New Ireland did some work on quantifying the cost to the Republic of Ireland, particularly the security costs, the loss of revenue from tourism and the loss of investment from outside the country.

To come back to the internal attitudes of people inside Northern Ireland, the events of 1981 and of the last year, 1985, have shown how relatively little change there has been and how very easily fears, emotions and prejudices can be stirred up. I think that probably all we can do at present, and certainly this evening, is to urge and encourage bodies such as churches, trade unions and the very numerous voluntary organisations of Northern Ireland to keep up the good work which has been started on changing some of those fundamental internal attitudes.

In conclusion, I would say it is becoming clear that there are regular and frequent elections of all kinds in the North of Ireland but that there is very little representative democracy, as we know it, in this country. I say that because there are no parish councils or town councils. District councils have very limited powers, and indeed at the present time a considerable proportion of them are unfortunately adjourned by their own act. The elected Assembly remains consultative, and of course at the level of the House of Commons, even when there are no by-elections pending, the small number of elected Members are unlikely, in the nature of things, to be able to change the policy of any determined Government sitting in London.

It is because of this lack of representative democracy in a situation of direct rule that the question of human rights becomes so important, in my view. Here is the opportunity for government action; and once again I should like to urge the Government to take steps to legislate so that the European Convention on Human Rights is written into the law of Northern Ireland. This, in a simple and direct way, would make it possible for human rights issues to be heard in the courts of Northern Ireland, thus eliminating the extremely long delays which happen whenever an aggrieved individual wishes to take his case through the European Commission and on to the European Court of Human Rights.

I again urge the Government to consider bringing together into one human rights commission the somewhat numerous pieces of machinery and advisory bodies—ombudsmen and so on—which at the present time deal with human rights locally in the North of Ireland. I hope that I have not strayed too far from the original Bill, but I should like to support it and I consider that it is a timely measure.

8.20 p.m.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, I fully support this Bill and I fervently hope that the Government will assist it in its passage through this House. Any attempt to bring about legislation which will dissipate some of the passions and allay some of the fears and suspicions that are in Northern Ireland is to be welcomed. I have vivid memories, which have already been referred to by my noble friend Lord Hampton, of 3.45 p.m. on 30th June 1970 in the Northern Ireland Commons, when the Government introduced the Prevention of Incitement to Hatred (Northern Ireland) Bill. Within the space of five or six hours, it had passed all its stages.

The Bill was regarded with such urgency at that time that there were only two dissenting voices in the Northern Ireland Parliament, which had 52 Members. One of them was then the honourable Member for Bannside in Northern Ireland, who is now the honourable Member for North Antrim, and the other was his colleague, who was then the honourable Member for South Antrim and is now in the Northern Ireland Assembly as well. There were a number of Divisions on amendments put down by those two gentlemen, but at the end of the day the Bill was passed almost unanimously, with the exception of those two honourable Members.

I remember speaking on a number of occasions during the course of that debate in June 1970. The troubles had broken out in Northern Ireland after the Civil Rights march in Derry in 1968. In 1970, the deaths that had been brought about by the violence were still in double figures at less than 100. I remember thinking, and fervently hoping, that the legislation which we were enacting would do something to ensure that no further deaths would occur. Now, 16 years after, I read the reports of the speeches which I made during that debate, as well as the other speeches. There have now been 2,000 more deaths in Northern Ireland, with all the terrible things that have happened and we find that legislation such as that brought forward by my noble friend Lord Dunleath is still more necessary.

Since 1970, we have had four Westminster Governments. We had the two Labour Governments of 1968 and 1974 and the two Conservative Governments of 1979 and 1983, and there have been no Northern Ireland Parliaments since 1972. A succession of British Governments and of Secretaries of State must be only too well aware how necessary it is to have legislation of this type on the statute book, to see whether it will prevent any further erosion of humanity and civilisation in Northern Ireland.

It is well-known that some of the greatest legal luminaries in the land, the most eminent legal brains that can be found in this country, sit in this House, and we have had the experience of the Northern Ireland Act, which, as was rightly said by my noble friend Lord Dunleath, was totally ineffective. Many of us had reservations when it was going through Parliament. We found that only one case was taken and the person was acquitted, because it could not be found that he had the intention of creating insulting behaviour, harassment and intimidation.

As was said in that earlier debate, it all depends on what is meant by "insulting" and what is meant by "abusive language". I am quite certain that the Minister who is here tonight will be in no doubt as to what is abuse and insulting language, and the Secretary of State will have his opinions after what happened to him at the City Hall in Belfast and what happened yesterday afternoon to the Minister of State, Dr. Boyson. So they themselves could be protected by the provisions of this Bill.

We have to remember as well, as regards intimidation and harassment, which are in the wording of this Bill and were in the wording of the Northern Ireland Act of 1970, that it was taken that Protestants or Unionists could be harassing or intimidating Republicans, or the other way round. But in Northern Ireland there has been such a breakdown in community relations since then that it is now not uncommon for Protestants to be intimidating Protestants because they do not agree with the political stance which the others are taking.

One can only recall the Unionists, Loyalists and Protestants, and the intimidation and harassment of members of the RUC which took place in August last year because the RUC had insisted on rerouting Loyalist demonstrators in Portadown. It was not Catholics or Nationalists, it was not Unionists, Republicans or Loyalists who intimidated or attempted to intimidate me for so many years in Northern Ireland. It was not Unionists or Loyalists who burnt my home to the ground. So one can see that intimidation can be used within the two communities in Northern Ireland.

I should not like to think that this House will tonight give approval to the Second Reading of this Bill and then just say, "We have expressed our good wishes, but nothing will happen." I appeal to the Government to do everything they possibly can to ensure that this Bill passes through the House and that it is taken seriously in another place.

As I said, 16 years have elapsed since the first introduction of the Prevention of Incitement to Hatred (Northern Ireland) Bill in Northern Ireland. I am quite certain that the legal brains in this House can give advice and that my noble friend Lord Dunleath will be quite happy to accept that advice if it will put on to the statute book a law which will afford some protection to those people within both communities in Northern Ireland who have been so intimidated, harassed and victimised over so many years. Anyone with any knowledge of events and history as they have been seen unfolding in Northern Ireland should be only too happy to be in a position where he can encourage this Bill on to the statute book. So many people in Northern Ireland will want to see it become an Act, rather than remain a Bill.

8.28 p.m.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, I, too, should like to join in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, for his contribution in sponsoring the Bill and for intoducing it to the House this evening. We see clearly that the Bill introduces into the law of Northern Ireland the main provision of Section 70 of the Race Relations Act 1976. Indeed, it follows the wording of that section, except that it also covers hatred stirred up on grounds of religious belief. But the main change is clear. As the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, has explained, it is the abandonment of the requirement of intent to stir up hatred.

The Bill if enacted would close a gap in the law which applies in Northern Ireland. But interestingly the general argument advanced tonight by the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, is the argument heard in your Lordships' House 10 years ago when the Race Relations Bill, and in particular Section 70, was before the House. On that occasion, the House followed the lead of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, and came down heavily on the side of freedom of speech. The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, has touched upon the significance of the freedom of speech in this context. In the result, 10 years ago in the context of England and Wales the House supported an amendment that the intent to incite hatred should remain an essential element of the offence. But—we think fortunately—the House of Commons took a different view. It decided that the offence would be committed if the words complained of were likely to stir up hatred.

I am grateful again to the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, for giving us the history of this legislation in Northern Ireland. I was puzzled on reading the Bill to discover that Northern Ireland had been left outside the scope of Section 70 of the 1976 Act. It seemed very odd and anomalous that Section 70 did not apply to Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom where, as every noble Lord has mentioned this evening, there is so much serious social disharmony and deep rooted religious division. Why should that be so? Why was Northern Ireland left outside the scope of the Act? I now know why it had been excluded. It had been excluded at the request of Stormont because Stormont saw the problem in Northern Ireland not as being racial but as being religious.

I should like to know from the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, to what extent Section 70 has been successful in practice in the 10 years which have passed since its enactment. Has it helped to make speakers and writers tone down and modify their language? Is there any comfortable evidence available? Is there any firm evidence to show that it has helped to prevent discrimination and intolerance? Is there any comfort from the Great Britain statistics? Has it been any more successful than the Prevention of Incitement to Hatred Act 1970? I ask these few questions because there are people who believe that there is no short cut to solve deep rooted problems of hatred within our society. Nevertheless, if there is just a possibility that this Bill will help to prevent hatred and intolerance, if there is just the possibility that it could have some practical value, it is sound and worthy of our support.

That may not be quite the end of the matter in terms of new legislation because we find that Section 70 is in fact an amendment to Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1936. Indeed, it is regarded as Section 5A of the 1936 Act. That is right and proper because there is a close link between this offence and the preservation of public order.

Therefore I wish to ask the Government this question. When the Public Order Bill comes before Parliament, is it intended that Clause 17 will apply in the Northern Ireland situation? Is there an intention on the part of the Government to look at the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order with a view to reviewing it in its entirety and not merely concentrating on the one section? With those few questions to the Minister, we give our support to the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, and we look forward anxiously to the Government's response.

8.35 p.m.

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

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, for raising this most interesting subject before your Lordships this evening and, as I am sure all noble Lords will agree, for making such a fair and reasoned case for his Bill in his traditional forthright and succinct manner.

I should like to look at Article 13 of the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1981 as it stands at present and comment on how we think it would be changed by the Bill which has been put forward this evening by the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath. Article 13 makes it an offence for a person to publish written or other matter or to use publicly words likely to stir up hatred against, or arouse fear of, any section of the public in Northern Ireland on grounds of religious belief, colour, race or ethnic or national origins. It also states that for this to be an offence, such a person must intend that his words or actions should have these consequences.

As I understand it, the noble Lord's Bill goes a little further. It would remove the intent provision, by providing—with certain limited exceptions such as court reporting, and the reporting of proceedings in your Lordships' House and perhaps in another place—that a person disseminating matter or words likely, having regard to all the circumstances, to stir up hatred, violence, contempt or hostility against, or arouse fear of, any section of the public in Northern Ireland should be guilty of an offence. I think the noble Lord will agree that in the case of his Bill it would not be necessary to prove that his actions or his words were intended to have that effect.

As I am sure the noble Lord will agree, this aspect would bring the public order law in Northern Ireland into line with the similar law in England and Wales on incitement to racial hatred. It would have the second effect of making it easier to mount prosecutions against those extremists on both sides of the community in Northern Ireland who, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, may from time to time make statements which are likely to stir up hatred there.

But the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, places the Government in some difficulty. Your Lordships will know—the noble Lord pointed it out, as did the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies—that the Public Order Bill, as distinct from the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order which we have been discussing this evening, is currently being considered in another place and received its Second Reading earlier this week. That Bill, which with certain exceptions applies to England and Wales, already contains proposals which, if they meet with the approval of another place, and of course your Lordships, would revise the Great Britain legislation into the line where the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, is seeking to bring Northern Ireland this evening with his Bill. Of course, we look forward to considering the Public Order Bill on your Lordships' House in due course.

It is certainly not my task this evening to pre-empt any view which will be taken on that Bill in another place and certainly not in your Lordships' House. I ask your Lordships' indulgence to look at the relevant clauses. Under the Public Order Bill as it stands at present your Lordships will see that Section 5A of the Public Order Act 1936, which was inserted by the Race Relations Act 1976—this was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies—is to be re-enacted and revised. It will be an offence for anyone to publish or to distribute, or indeed possess, with a view to publication, written matter which is threatening, abusive or insulting and intended, or is likely, to stir up racial hatred. It will also be an offence to use in a public place or at a public meeting words or gestures which are threatening, abusive or insulting and which are intended, or likely, to stir up racial hatred.

These provisions of the Public Order Bill, if both another place and your Lordships' House adopt them, will place English and Welsh law on incitement somewhat in advance of, and different from, Northern Ireland law as it would be if the noble Lord's Bill were to amend the law in Northern Ireland. I want to stress that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is looking very closely at the proposals for England and Wales contained in the Public Order Bill. In the light of whatever is finally approved in another place and by your Lordships' House, my right honourable friend will consider amending Northern Ireland legislation on similar lines.

This last point that I have thrown into the discussion this evening is where the dilemma lies for your Lordships' House and for the Government. I ask your Lordships to consider with me the question of what we should do. Should we go ahead and amend Northern Ireland legislation on the lines so eloquently proposed by the noble Lord this evening? Or should we take the defensive line and wait to see how your Lordships and another place react to the Public Order Bill? I think that the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, touched on one element of this consideration.

I have to say that the Government would prefer to adopt the latter course of seeing how the Public Order Bill rubs down and how it finishes its passage in another place and here. In the light of this, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, to be patient enough to await the passage of the Public Order Bill, especially when it comes to your Lordships' House, and then see whether my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is able to bring proposals which meet his concerns. We are more than grateful to the noble Lord for allowing this matter, of which the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, has such experience, to be raised with your Lordships this evening. However, I think that the noble Lord will understand that we have one or two doubts on how we want to achieve what he wishes to achieve.

I shall now answer one or two of the points raised this evening. We are very grateful for the forthright comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hampton. We hope that the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, will be of considerable assistance to my right honourable friend in his consideration of the Public Order Bill. The comments that have been made this evening by the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, and by all noble Lords, will be of considerable value to my right honourable friend.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised one or two queries. I stress to the noble Lord that so far as concerns human rights, tonight's Bill is just one item in the vast area of human rights. I am sure that he will accept my replies tonight in that light. I stress to him, and to your Lordships, that the Government are committed to the protection of human rights in Northern Ireland. However, we are not entirely certain that the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights is immediately the best way of ensuring that.

I want to pay tribute, and the Government's tribute, to the work of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights and to the work of other human rights bodies in Northern Ireland. They are, of course, independent bodies and we shall have to look with particular care at any proposals to amalgamate them.

We were very grateful for the brief and forthright comments of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. He referred to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I am sure the noble Lord, and all noble Lords, will wish me to pay our wholehearted tributes to that body. Indeed, those of us who have anything to do with Northern Ireland, let alone those of us who live and work there, pay wholehearted tribute to the officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary who enforce the law fairly and impartially for every member of the community in Northern Ireland.

The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, also said that abusive words had been flowing around. The noble Lord is very gracious and I shall certainly see that his good wishes are passed to my honourable and right honourable friends who, the noble Lord feels, may have been the unfair victims of those abusive comments. When I read what is said about me in the newspapers I often think that it is just the Ulster way of expressing things, and I reflect that possibly I deserve about half of the comments directed to me. The other half of the comments are, of course, aimed in the direction of the Almighty since most of them concern the atrocious weather of 1985. Of course, abusive, violent and intemperate language causes a great deal of distress, fear and alarm in Northern Ireland. Possibly noble Lords and my honourable and right honourable friends in another place ought to develop slightly thicker skins; but it is no excuse for the use of intemperate language and actions. We are grateful for the tributes paid this evening by the noble Lord. Lord Fitt.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, asked about Section 70 of the 1976 Act. I am sure he agrees that there are problems with it. We can see how these problems are covered in paragraphs 6.5 and 6.9 in the White Paper which was issued by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. That is why the Government are introducing legislation in another place. Of course there are difficulties but I hope that the noble Lord will accept that we should try to keep the difficulties of Section 70 in perspective and, above all, on a Northern Ireland plane.

My Lords, I conclude my remarks by saying that we are most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, for raising this very important matter so well in your Lordships' House this evening. He seeks with his Bill to bring Northern Ireland legislation into line with the law in England and Wales. This, as I have spelled out to your Lordships, is in process of revision starting off in another place, and very soon we shall have our chance to add our thoughts to that as well.

The Government will certainly not oppose the noble Lord's Bill this evening, but I should just like your Lordships, and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, to know of the reservations which I raised earlier in the course of my remarks. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, and I want to thank everyone who has spoken this evening, since it has provided much valuable material for us.

8.50 p.m.

Lord Dunleath

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lords who have so kindly contributed to this short debate for their very helpful and constructive comments. The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, referred to the problem of graffiti. I understand only too well the difficulty that this presents, because unfortunately, as I said in my opening remarks, they are normally the work of anonymous contributors. They do not sign their literary efforts, which they write on walls, any more than did the person who wrote "Ulster says No" and accompanied it by a very attractive Union Jack. Therefore it is very difficult to see how the provisions of the Bill which I am proposing could be brought to bear on that. However, as I also tried to bring out, graffiti are not all that much of a worry except under certain circumstances. There are many more things to be worried about, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said during his speech.

The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, also wondered whether it would be possible to administer the provisions of this Bill in an impartial manner. I sincerely hope so, because incitement to hatred and violence can come from any section. On the one hand, you have Sinn Fein who speak in glowing terms about the cutting edge of the IRA as being the element which will produce progress; on the other hand you have the inflammatory statements of so-called Loyalist spokesmen. Incidentally, I should add that when this Bill was drafted we did not know that the Anglo-Irish agreement was going to be signed at Hillsborough on the date that it was and we did not know that there would be an "Ulster says No" campaign. But this is a sensitive period and I should hope that, if the provisions of this Bill were in force (and of course I cannot expect them to be in force in the very near future), then it would discourage certain Loyalist leaders from making statements which could result in the sort of violence which took place outside the gates of Maryfield at the end of the march just after Christmas.

Incidentally, I am not saying that the Loyalist leaders who were on that march incited violence. In fact they were responsible for appealing to their followers that there should not be violence. But there were others whose statements, public or otherwise, obviously incited some people to take certain most regrettable action, with the result that over 30 policemen were injured on that occasion. So, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, I sincerely hope and am confident that the provisions of this Bill would be implemented in a totally even-handed manner.

I was grateful for the support of the noble Lord, as I was grateful for that of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. Both noble Lords made mention of Lagan college, and in that connection I would remark that although the 1978 Education Act (which I proposed to your Lordships and which your Lordships' House was good enough to agree to, as was another place) may have been slow off the mark, in fact integrated education in Northern Ireland seems to be really taking off now and I think we shall see more and more results from it. I am grateful to the noble Lord for having mentioned that point.

I was also glad to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, had to say. I entirely agree with him that we have a weight of legal expertise in this House which I would greatly welcome if we come to the point of trying to get this measure which I am proposing on to the statute book. I certainly freely acknowledge that I am no legal expert and would welcome any guidance at all which can be obtained.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, made reference to the Lord Chancellor's point about freedom of speech. I would merely draw attention to the fact that, as I said in my opening remarks, we should be quite happy with the wording of the new Public Order Bill, which I understand had its Second Reading yesterday in another place, where it says, "intended or likely". Either covers it perfectly well, I think. We should be quite happy about that and I hope that there would be no question of infringing freedom of speech in that respect.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, for his reply on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. I take his point that the new Public Order Bill is in process in another place. I should not like to withdraw at this stage but I am just wondering what the procedure would be if the Bill were allowed to lie in abeyance, perhaps for a short while, until we see how the Public Order Bill progresses in another place. Perhaps that might make it more relevant.

If the noble Lord would like me to give way, he would be very welcome to reply to that point. I should be happy enough to allow the Bill to lie in abeyance for a while—but I prefer not to withdraw, if your Lordships are in agreement, because I should not like us to lose sight of it. I think it is important and I would like to see it followed through without too much delay. So long as there is an assurance that the other Bill is being processed in another place, I should be happy enough not to press for a Committee stage in the immediate future.

In conclusion, I should like to thank those noble Lords who have participated in the debate. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at two minutes before nine o'clock.