HL Deb 01 December 1997 vol 583 cc1180-213

3.7 p.m.

Report received.

Clause I [The Commission]:

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

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is one of a number of consequential amendments which are required if Clause 3 of the Bill is to be deleted. I believe that it is helpful to discuss at the same time Amendments Nos. 3 and 19 which achieve that effect. I am sure that there are other consequential amendments that have not been put onto the Marshalled List. We would facilitate those provided that the main amendment, Amendment No. 3, to delete Clause 3 of the Bill were to be accepted by your Lordships' House.

I started off by being sympathetic to what I understood to be the idea behind Clause 3; namely, to put parades into context. With the clause included, the Bill is widened from what to some people seems a simple anti-parades Bill into an anti-offensive action Bill of all kinds since the clause brings in all kinds of other matters that may be offensive to people. I believe that that is now an unwise thing to do. I believe that the Bill should be a parades enabling Bill; that is, a Bill which makes it easier for parades of all kinds to take place without giving offence. I include not only the traditional parades in Northern Ireland with which we are all familiar, held by people from both communities, but also protest marches and the other kinds of marches we see.

The purpose of the Bill is to enable marches and parades of all kinds to take place without giving offence. The more one looks at the intention of the clause, which is to widen the Bill and the duties of the commission so as to include other expressions of cultural identity, the worse it looks in practice.

It became evident in Committee that the Government did not have a clear idea of the other outdoor manifestations of cultural identity at which the clause was intended to be aimed. We pressed a number of possible manifestations of cultural identity to which the clause might be aimed and which the commission might consider, but, for various reasons, all were unsatisfactory.

There is no doubt that people who want to be difficult—and there are plenty of those on all sides in Northern Ireland—would soon find issues in which to enmesh and entangle the commission. There is a danger that people who are so ill inclined will try to use the Bill to make a fuss about processions which would otherwise take place. Under Clause 3, the commission would become involved in many more problems, thereby weakening its authority.

It was suggested in Committee that the clause should refer to sporting occasions. There can be occasions, particularly involving the Gaelic Athletic Association, which cause offence to other people. However, for reasons best known to the Government, sporting occasions are specifically excluded from Clause 3. On the other hand, religious services held in the open air are not excluded from the clause. We all know that religious services in Northern Ireland are or can be an expression of cultural identity, probably the most fundamental expression of cultural identity. They can also be, and sometimes are, occasions which cause offence to people from other communities.

We pressed the Government on whether painted gable ends and kerbstones might be regarded as outdoor expressions of cultural identity. Of course they are. If you have a building with a picture of King Billy painted on it, your cultural identity is clear. The same applies if you have a picture of the Pope. Sometimes the paintings are of paramilitaries exalting or praising one of their organisations. Clearly, they are expressions of cultural identity and are deeply offensive to people of the opposite culture; indeed, to some people of the same culture. However, to involve the commission in dealing with gable ends and kerbstones painted red, white and blue, or green and orange, is difficult and is not what is intended or desirable.

I believe that the clause should be deleted from the Bill and that consequential changes should be made to the Title and in other small respects. It is at the least a clear case of, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". In Northern Ireland, it is not a sound idea to create opportunities which will escalate grievances. There are enough already. I believe that the parades commission will have plenty to do, given its responsibility for parades of all kinds, and that Clause 3 makes its task more difficult. I suggest that it should be deleted from the Bill. I beg to move.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that it would be sensible to deal with Amendments Nos. 1, 3 and 19 together, considering that they are interrelated. I took the view in Committee that as the legislation was proposed precisely because of expressions of cultural identity, it would not be realistic to pretend that such expressions did not exist. However, by the time the Committee considered Clause 3, with its two references to the phrase "cultural identity", it was clear that the phrase could become the deciding factor in decision-making by the Secretary of State, the commission and the chief constable. It was also apparent that there was little support for the phrase within your Lordships' House or within Northern Ireland generally.

As regards Amendment No. 3, the same concessions will apply to this debate. In Committee, during the debate on whether Clause 3 shall stand part, the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, drew attention to the impact of the Human Rights Bill superimposing as it does European law on British law. Those of us who recently participated in such debates in your Lordships' House will remember that we suddenly realised the wide-ranging impact of the Bill on British law.

It will not be a matter of achieving compromises between the two sets of laws because the Bill, which has yet to go to another place, requires that where incompatibility arises, the UK Parliament must immediately bring our laws into conformity with European law. Therefore, even if Clause 3 is withdrawn, one can visualise Northern Ireland Ministers continually bringing forward to your Lordships' House a stream of Orders in Council for the purpose of amending this Bill at the whim of a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights.

I note that if Clause 3 is withdrawn, with it will go the rule of the Parades Commission in regard to events which are wholly or partly open to the air. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, and I did our best to discover what was meant by letting in fresh air to certain events. He and I could give examples where that might be desirable.

Your Lordships will remember that in Committee I stressed the need for the control of so-called festivals designed entirely by paramilitary bodies for the sole purpose of intimidating and threatening law abiding residents by name, employing, as they do, amplifying equipment with a range greater than one mile. I asked the Minister whether that atrocious behaviour could be dealt with under existing public order legislation or whether we needed to include a provision in the Bill. Perhaps he will indicate the results of his inquiries.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I support the amendment. There are many precedents in Great Britain and other democratic countries for exercising some control over marches and parades along a public highway. Unless the marchers are few in number, their rights conflict to some extent with the rights of non-marchers to move from A to B in order to keep appointments, to catch trains and aeroplanes and so forth. Provided that such control is exercised sparingly and sensitively, there can be few objections on libertarian grounds.

However, to try to restrict what might be described as static expressions of cultural identity is a different matter. Of course there is a need for a balance between the sentiments of the different communities. For some time, the ratchet effect of repeated concessions to what might he described as anti-British sentiment has been working to the disadvantage of the wider unionist communities. But that necessary balance can be achieved better, in my opinion, by agreeing to this group of amendments and by supporting Amendments Nos. 4, 6 to 14 and possibly Amendment No. 17.

Lord Alderdice

My Lords, in speaking to Amendment No. I I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 3 and 19, for effectively we are dealing with the removal of Clause 3 and the other amendments are consequential.

It may be useful to give ourselves a brief reprise on how we have reached this position. As noble Lords will be aware, processions and parades have been a matter of conflict and difficulty in Northern Ireland for a long time, but in recent years they have been seized upon to build on and create greater difficulty. No one should be under any illusion that any legislation which we pass or any commission established will solve all the problems in relation to parades or anything else in Northern Ireland.

However, when the matter of parades became contentious, particularly on the Lower Ormeau Road and the Garvaghy Road two or three years ago, my colleagues and I went to the previous government and said that we believed that the Royal Ulster Constabulary was being placed in an invidious position because it was being asked to make decisions on contentious parades and then to implement those same decisions. That is putting the police in the position of both judging and implementing. The RUC was being attacked, as I said, not just on both sides but, quite frankly, on all sides. Therefore, we proposed that a tribunal be established.

The previous government decided, in their wisdom, that there was no necessity to move on that front but when the following year matters became worse, and others began to agree that such a proposition was worth while, the previous government decided not to put in place a commission but to set up a commission to study the possibility of putting in place such a commission. Dr. Peter North, a very eminent and distinguished gentleman, was asked, with a number of colleagues, to look at the matter of public processions and to advise accordingly.

Dr. North gave an extensive report. He consulted widely not only with leaders of the community but, by opinion polls and other surveys, with the community at large. It was quite clear that there was overwhelming support for a commission which could give rulings and which would remove the requirement for the police to both make a decision and implement it. But the government did not move ahead on that. They decided to postpone the matter.

When the matter came to be looked at again by a new Government they found that they had committed themselves, quite rightly, to implementing the North report in full. But over the summer period they found difficulties arising yet again because the commission had not yet been established with the legal powers which Dr. North had recommended. The introduction of Clause 3 in respect of cultural identity came about quite clearly because a deal was done between the new Government and the Orangemen which would, in the event over the past summer, defuse the situation and make the Orange Order feel that the Bill was not an anti-parades Bill (which it was never meant to be) but was, in fact, a balanced Bill.

I was almost going to say that, like many deals arrived at, it was done in the heat of battle and, frankly, over the summer it often appeared that way. Such decisions are rarely well advised and the full consequences are very rarely considered. And so indeed it was, because when the matter of Clause 3—the inclusion of all other aspects of cultural identity coining under the remit of the commission—began to be considered by my colleagues and myself it was clear that that was very foolish indeed. When that became apparent a number of noble Lords and I spoke against it on Second Reading.

What has become striking is that as the community and its representatives in Northern Ireland have considered this matter more and more fully the agreement that Clause 3 is ill advised has become remarkably widespread. During previous stages of the Bill your Lordships will have noted that the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, was very clear in his remarks. It is quite striking that at a recent party conference the SDLP, with which the noble Lord was previously very much involved, came out very strongly against Clause 3 and the power contained in it. It is clear also that the unionist community has begun to realise that the clause could well be a complete boomerang for its part. Your Lordships will notice that not only do we have the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, in the Chamber but we also have the noble Lord, Lord Eames—the Archbishop of Armagh—who spoke powerfully in Committee against the foolishness of including the clause.

If this House is for anything, surely it is for the proper consideration of such matters in detail. During the full consideration of Clause 3 it has become apparent that it is simply a mistake. There is no shame in making a mistake when it is made, as I believe to be the case, with all good intent to defuse the difficulties throughout the summer period and to create some kind of equitable approach to the problem. Therefore, there is less shame than ever in a mistaken decision taken for the best possible reasons.

When one recognises that a mistake has been made and has an opportunity to put right that mistake with no loss of face and no damage done, then shame enters in when one does not take the opportunity, seize it with both hands, and, in this case, removed the offending Clause 3. I know that the Government have considered this matter carefully and I urge them to take on board the advice coming, almost remarkably, from all quarters in Northern Ireland and to remove Clause 3. That clause is of advantage to no one but is a very real risk and threat to our community.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, first, I apologise that I must leave the Chamber at 3.45 for another event. However, I support the removal of Clause 3. For the benefit of some of your Lordships, for whom this may be a first exposure to parades issues, I should like to say that when one mentions parades to people in England they all say, "Parades, what about them? Why are you parading? What's up? Parades cause problems". Great Britain is one of the very few countries in Europe, and perhaps in the world, which does not have national parades to any great extent. France has Bastille Day, America has 4th July and Spain seems to have parades almost every day in the streets. Throughout the remainder of the world parades are considered to be an every-day event. Many parades have been like that in Northern Ireland.

When people in Great Britain see a parade, unless it is the Notting Hill Carnival, it is generally either a ceremonial or protest parade. That is not so in Northern Ireland. Although there have been problems with certain parades—and it is hoped that this Bill will address many of those problems—people here should understand that, as a whole, the parades are not troublesome. I support the removal of Clause 3 for all the reasons that have already been given. Virtually everything that one does in Northern Ireland, whether it is going to watch a Gaelic football match or flying a certain flag, is bound to be an indication of cultural identity. Whether you have "IRL" or "GB" on the back of your car may indicate cultural identity. It goes a very long way. Therefore, and I do not want to be contentious, it is possible to create arguments about very simple issues. I ask the Government to consider removing this clause before the commission becomes embroiled in some extremely petty issues which will take a long time to sort out.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, I too support the withdrawal of Clause 3. I spoke to that effect in Committee while sitting beside my noble friend the Archbishop of Armagh. I do that for reasons similar to those advanced by the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, but I pay attention also to the difficulty of interpreting the law once it is in place.

This matter of parades will require a great deal of concentration. It is an extremely serious issue which needs to be addressed by this Bill. Anything else in this Bill will be a red herring. The inclusion of that clause will cause the commissioners great difficulty and may create an excuse to avoid the main issues. I ask the Government to withdraw Clause 3.

3.30 p.m.

Lord McConnell

My Lords, I believe it is a fundamental principle of legislation that it should be clear and easily understood. The expression "cultural identity" could mean anything that anyone wants it to mean. It could lead to more argument, more ill will, and, possibly, more litigation in the courts as to what it really means. For example, the flying of the Union Jack is an expression of cultural identity. Will that be prohibited under the legislation?

For many years, people of different cultural backgrounds in Northern Ireland got on very happily with each other's expressions of identity. But recently, troublemakers, often connected with terrorist organisations and calling themselves "residents' associations", have used threats to persuade some of the peaceable people in their area to protest. This is a gift to them. They need not confine themselves to processions: indeed, they could say, "Oh look, 'cultural identity', you have to protest about that." I am convinced that the provision could lead to a great deal of trouble within Northern Ireland. We have a lot of that, so let us do away with this rather ill-thought-out piece of legislation.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, rarely can there have been such unanimity in relation to Northern Ireland as has been witnessed here today in this Chamber. Everyone who has participated in the debate has spoken clearly about what this disastrous clause would mean if it were included in the legislation. The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, will have had some experience in relation to parades in Northern Ireland because, as a former Minister of Home Affairs, he would have had quite a lot to say in relation to parades. The noble Lord will be very much aware of just how explosive certain parades can be in Northern Ireland.

I fail to understand how the Government allowed themselves to be persuaded to put such a clause in the Bill. It is quite obvious to anyone who has any experience of Northern Ireland that every sore head, every agitator, everyone who believes that he has a grievance of some sort, would have used the clause to justify his opposition to the Bill. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said; indeed I have found myself in the same position. In all the contacts I have made in Northern Ireland since the Second Reading of the Bill, I have not encountered one who disagrees with the deletion of the clause from the Bill. I have never seen such unanimity in the House and, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said, within the general community in Northern Ireland.

The Bill will eventually go to the House of Commons where there are elected representatives. Some of them may be persuaded by how many votes there are, and are not, as regards the attitude they adopt. I hope that they will consider the debates which have taken place in this Chamber on Second Reading, in Committee, and today on Report, and realise that it would be to the advantage of everyone in Northern Ireland if the clause were deleted from the Bill.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I apologise for having arrived slightly late. We have all listened with care to the rather grave warnings uttered about Clause 3. However, as I asked in Committee whether the difficulty might be overcome by having a later commencement date for the clause, I would be interested to hear whether the Government considered that suggestion and what conclusion they reached in that respect.

Lord Cooke of Islandreagh

My Lords, I express my support for the removal of Clause 3 for a very simple reason. Expressions of "cultural identity" should be a matter of respect between people and, in days gone by, I believe that they were. It is only in recent times that they have been found to be an effective excuse for causing trouble. That is why, right across the cultural differences in Northern Ireland, it is now accepted that the less we talk about them and argue about them the better. There is a very simple reason why they should be removed from the Bill: so as not to have another reason to cause trouble.

Lord Stewartby

My Lords, I do not wish to repeat any of the arguments deployed by those who have much more recent experience in such matters as I have not been engaged on that score for nearly 10 years. However, I hope that the Government will accept that there is a serious risk that Clause 3 could produce more opportunities for mischief makers as opposed to those who want to keep the peace. Today's short debate has been remarkable, as a number of noble Lords have said, because of the unanimity displayed in all quarters. I suspect that the unanimity of approach to the amendment will also be noted. For my part, if the Government were to withdraw Clause 3, or take on board the comments of this debate by responding in a different way but with a similar effect, I believe that it would not be a case of anyone rejoicing in the Government's discomfort but, indeed, one of congratulating them on their common sense.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, in my limited experience, there is no part of the United Kingdom where memories are longer than is the case in Northern Ireland. I am very much afraid that, if the commission starts with the millstone around its neck which Clause 3 obviously is—a view clearly expressed from all parts of the Chamber—it will effectively be killed off. This is a very bad provision.

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

My Lords, Clause 3 provides that the commission shall keep under review, consider and make its determinations in relation to the law and practice relating to 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". Our intention in including Clause 3 in the Bill was to recognise the feeling which many had expressed that the Bill was exclusively targeted at only one side of the community. I believe that that point has been well understood. According to my arithmetic, 13 noble Lords had actually contributed to the debate before I stood up to reply.

Perhaps I may briefly digress from the main argument to deal with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. He asked a specific question about the use of loudhailers at community festivals and that type of conduct. We agreed that we would look at the matter when we discussed the point in Committee. I can now confirm that the sort of behaviour described by the noble Lord is already covered by existing legislation. Intimidatory behaviour of that type might be prosecuted under a Public Order order (Article 9 on intimidation) or under Section 1 of the Protection of Persons and Property (Northern Ireland) Act 1969. We are satisfied that we already have the powers to deal with such behaviour.

I return to the specific points raised by the amendment. In drawing up the Bill and designing the new structures we have been keen to stress our commitment to even-handedness, and we remain receptive to suggestions as to how that could be achieved in practice. Far from being a blunt instrument aimed at the other side of the community as part of some crude quid pro quo, the proposed extended remit of the commission was designed to build on our commitment to taking steps to tackle issues which might have a seriously damaging effect on community relations. I think that it is generally accepted that parades are hardly the only manifestation of cultural identity which could have a damaging effect on community relations.

It is fair to say, however, that the proposals as drafted in the Bill have raised fears on one side of the community and are not considered useful by the other. We have listened carefully to the debate as it has developed through discussions in Committee stage. I have listened carefully to the 13 contributions—perhaps unanimous contributions—that we have heard this afternoon. The developments in the arguments have confirmed our belief that it was right to put these measures through the full parliamentary scrutiny of a Bill rather than simply an Order in Council.

We accept that Clause 3 does not have the kind of cross-community support which it will need if the commission were to be able to play a useful role in this area. Accordingly I inform your Lordships that the Government intend to remove this clause at a later stage. We are not removing Clause 3 at this stage for one reason only, and that is because a number of consequential amendments need to be made to the Bill in addition to those which have already been tabled this afternoon. Some have been identified by your Lordships in their amendments, but for convenience's sake we thought that it would be better to sweep them all together in a series of government amendments which we hope to bring before the House at Third Reading. On the basis of that assurance I very much hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment this afternoon.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, it is extremely agreeable for me as a brand new Member of your Lordships' House to find such unanimity on this occasion with the views which I expressed. Coming from another place I am not quite used to that! Nevertheless the Minister and his colleagues have been extremely wise to take the decision which he has just announced to the House. I make no complaint at all about his doing the deed as it were, or the collection of deeds, by tabling the necessary amendments at Third Reading. That is entirely acceptable. I just hope that the unanimity we have achieved so far this afternoon continues throughout the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

3.45 p.m.

Lord Alderdice moved Amendment No. 2: Page 2, line 2, at end insert— ("( ) In making a determination in respect of a particular proposed public procession the Commission may take into account the known or likely pattern of processions in the same locality.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, another issue which has been to the fore from a fairly early stage is the value of having the commission look at the pattern of processions over a period of time when considering parades and processions. One of the reasons that is so important is because when there is to be agreement about the conduct of a contentious parade, almost inevitably there will have to be some negotiation and discussion, and some kind of compromise will have to be reached. Sometimes a compromise is achieved as regards the re-routing of a parade. If it takes a different route, it may be more acceptable to the community as a whole. Sometimes a compromise may be reached on the conduct of a parade. For example, when an Orange parade passes through a nationalist area a compromise may be reached in that there will be no playing of music, and in particular no playing of party tunes if the procession passes a Catholic church. There are various ways in which compromises can be arranged which make parades possible and more acceptable.

Given the number of parades that pass through particular areas, for example, the Lower Ormeau Road or Garvaghy Road—those are two of the most contentious areas—one compromise that has been found to be acceptable in the past is to reduce the number of such parades over the period of a year. Whereas five or six parades may not be acceptable to the local community, one or two are acceptable. When we discussed this matter in Committee, the Minister indicated that as far as he was concerned such power or advice was already implicit in the Bill in the powers of the commission. He may well be right about that. Certainly in the guidelines that have been drawn up by the commission there seems to be some indication that that is the case.

However, I find it somewhat troublesome that the Minister said that if we were to make the provision explicit in the Bill it may come in conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights. I find it somewhat astonishing that it is recommended that we accept the provision as being implicit in the Bill, but that if we make it explicit it would contravene the European convention. I do not believe that that is a reasonable position to take. I speak as one who strongly supports the incorporation of the European convention. Therefore I have returned with a changed amendment which seeks to indicate on the face of the Bill that the commission, may take into account the known or likely pattern of processions in the same locality".

I believe that it is important for the commission to have that opportunity.

I look forward to hearing the Minister's response. I know that he has considered this matter. I know that he appreciates that the principle to which I advert is important if we are to achieve compromises. It is valuable to have that on the face of the Bill because then we shall not have any disagreement on the part of those who would query whether or not the commission had the power to address the matter in the manner in which I have described. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, I am not quite sure that this amendment is directed at the right part of the Bill, or that it is perfectly drafted from the point of view of the commission on human rights. I realise that both those objectives are difficult to achieve judging from the debates that were held in Committee. However, I most certainly support the sentiment that lies behind this amendment. Clearly a parade once or a few times a year is much more tolerable than parades taking place every few weeks down the same road. There is nothing surprising in that. If one's neighbour holds a noisy party once in a while to celebrate some special family occasion no one complains, or not much. However, if one's neighbour holds noisy parties every weekend or at frequent intervals, that becomes intolerable. The same principle can apply to parades in certain parts of Northern Ireland. It is not the case in Northern Ireland that it is only local people who are concerned about this; some people travel quite long distances in order to be offended by a parade. Nevertheless we need to consider those who live in the areas where parades take place, particularly if those parades are held frequently. Therefore I support the sentiment behind this amendment. I shall be interested to hear how the Minister is progressing with the drafting to ensure that the measure is explicit and can work.

Lord Desai

My Lords, at Second Reading I said that it would be a mistake to make this into a big problem. There are few parades. If one can establish legislation to give the commission the flexibility to compromise on the few parades which are known to cause problems, that would be the solution. As I have said before, it is not that this is not "broke" but the breakage is small. To fix it we must apply a small remedy and not dismantle the whole machine and try to put it together again. It is important to avoid general statements and to allow for every contingency. The commission has been appointed and is doing a good job. It should be allowed full flexibility. The less said on the face of the Bill from that point of view, the better.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords, at an earlier stage I expressed some reservations about how the laudable objective of achieving balance could be secured by the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. I contrasted the position with regard to processions using a main arterial road as a legitimate and sensible means of getting from A to B—which would entail use of the road by several traditional or customary processions organised by several different organisations over the years—with, on the other hand, processions taking place in a small village or hamlet where there are perhaps no more than three such events in one calendar year. In Committee I asked whether the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, had in mind some form of rationing of processions. The noble Lord explained that his objective was to persuade the commission to look at the broader picture. I do not take issue with that. As the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said, we sometimes have 100 years' notice of certain parades which have been held on an annual basis on a fixed, traditional date and a fixed, traditional route. I assume that such a factor would be given due weight, perhaps in conjunction with the common sense view that insistence on processing through housing estates should be discouraged and the residents of such estates should be protected from such intimidation outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. I refer to the pressure applied to them to rise from their beds before seven o'clock in the morning and, complete with their children and other persons, to proceed to a traditional arterial route to be offended by a procession lasting some 15 minutes; and then, it is to be hoped, they go back to their beds.

I gathered from the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, that he did not have in mind a rigid directive, even in a limited area—no equivalent to what I call a Heathrow air traffic slot. If that is the case, I shall feel much easier in my mind.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I fully share the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, for the commission to take a broader view. Perhaps I may say how grateful I am that the noble Lord is present this afternoon. I know that he has had difficulties because of the talks. I am glad that he has managed to be, as it were, in two places at the same time—at the talks on some days and in the Chamber this afternoon. Perhaps I may also say how pleased I am to see my noble friend Lord Callaghan. I know that he has a lot of experience of this issue. It is a pleasure to have him with us.

I listened carefully in Committee and today to the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. But I am satisfied that the Bill as currently drafted enables the commission to do that which the noble Lord requires. The amendment would make it clear that in making decisions on individual parades the commission can take account of the broader view in the area. For example, no matter how innocuous an individual application may he, if it is requesting the 27th parade in the past couple of weeks in a major flashpoint area, this is clearly a factor which the commission should be able to take into account.

As we discussed in Committee, the North Report wanted to go further if possible, and recommended that the commission should have power to set out its determinations for a particular area for the entire marching season, and even for years ahead. We do not believe this is practicable for the reasons I described in Committee.

But it is entirely clear in both the guidelines and the procedural rules which the commission has already issued in draft form that the frequency of parades in a given location is a factor which can be taken into account. The commission will be working very hard to ensure local accommodation, not just on individual parades which have caused trouble in the past, but will be seeking to broker agreement in flashpoint areas over a longer period. Indeed, not only will the commission be seeking to broker voluntary agreements, but in the draft procedural rules it makes it clear that the Parades Commission will be setting out its preliminary views on the forthcoming marching season well in advance.

Many noble Lords will have heard the chairman of the Parades Commission, Mr. Alistair Graham, on Radio Ulster's "Talkback" early last week, in which he announced that it was planning to publish a preliminary view by early April; that is, before the marching season begins. This preliminary view will attempt to set out what the commission is achieving, taking into account the broader pattern of parades.

Therefore, I believe that the commission has made it clear that it will meet precisely what the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, wants it to do without the requirement of this binding amendment. In the circumstances, I do not believe that the proposed amendment is necessary. I urge the noble Lord to withdraw it.

Lord Alderdice

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister, first, for his kind remarks about my attendance, but more particularly for his explanation of the Government's views of the matter.

In terms of what we all aim to do, I do not think that we are far apart. I believe that there is an appreciation that these matters should be available to the commission in coming to its determinations; and that it should be able to give a form of guidance. As noble Lords know, my main concern is that there should be no dispute about whether or not the commission has the power. It would be greatly disadvantageous if shortly into its proceedings the matter was taken to judicial review or some other form of legal process. That would only diminish the commission and its laudable work.

I realise that the Government have given considerable thought to this matter and for that I am grateful. It is clear that as the Bill has proceeded through this place it has achieved some refinement of a fairly considerable order. It will, of course, go to another place where further refinements may take place. I am much reassured by the Minister's undertaking to deal with Clause 3 and other matters before the Bill leaves this House. That is extremely important.

That being the case, I shall be content for the present to see how matters move along while keeping an eye on this issue as the Bill continues its passage. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

Clause 4: [Code of conduct]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley

moved Amendment No. 4: Page 2, line 26, at end insert ("or a counter-demonstration to a public procession"). The noble Lord said: My Lords, Clause 4 provides for the commission to issue a code of conduct providing guidance to persons organising a public procession. That code of conduct has already been issued in draft by the commission. It lays down in great detail what parade organisers should do, how people should behave, dress, and so on, when taking part in a parade, what tunes bands should play on certain occasions, and many other details. But there is no code of conduct, and no indication of what should be done, for those seeking to arrange counter demonstrations to a parade.

The idea underlying the Bill is that people should be able to express their views, traditions, and so on, by processing within a framework of acceptable rules of conduct. The code of conduct forms a large part of that aim. Similarly, those who take an alternative view to that being expressed by a procession should be able to make their alternative view clear within acceptable rules of conduct. Frankly, no procession leads to a great deal of trouble with the police unless there is a counter demonstration. It does not seem right or sensible to lay down elaborate rules in a code of conduct for the organisers but no rules for the protesters who are likely to object to the procession taking place.

I believe that this omission is an example of why the Bill looks to some people like an anti-parades Bill, despite the Government's protestations. I believe that those are genuine protestations and that the Government do not deceive us by saying that they do not intend it to be an anti-parades Bill. But the Government should take account of some of the points which make people believe that it is an anti-parades Bill. There is a lack of a code of conduct for those who wish to make clear that they do not agree with those taking part in the procession. I believe that this is an instance where the Government could make such provision. That is why I commend the amendment to your Lordships.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords, if the amendment were accepted, Clause 4(1)(b) would state: The Commission shall issue a code … regulating the conduct of persons organising or taking part in a public procession or a counter-demonstration to a public procession". As the noble Lord, Lord Cope, indicated, that achieves exactly the right balance. The provision is not so much in the Bill for its legal implementation as for the code of conduct. However, the fact that it is designed to influence and give guidance to those who will be operating the code of conduct—namely, the commission—indicates that a degree of flexibility can be shown. I think that Parliament has a solemn duty to give the commission guidance on this matter.

4 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, as I said when speaking in favour of Amendment No. 1, this amendment seems a much better way of achieving the necessary balance between the communities than the soon-to-be-deleted Clause 3. This is because, as I understand it, the majority of counter-demonstrations are launched against parades which are broadly unionist in character.

Lord Alderdice

My Lords, I simply want, in the briefest way possible, to indicate that I agree with noble Lords in their comments. As I said in Committee, there are other ways of achieving balance. This does seem to me to be part of the issue. Of course it is only a matter of giving guidance regarding counter-demonstrations which are notoriously difficult to deal with, even with the giving of guidance, although guidance would be welcome. My colleagues and I believe that it is important to give our support to this proposition.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, I wish to support this amendment as well. It is evident from the sentiments expressed in the House this afternoon that all noble Lords are determined to try to put on the statute book in Northern Ireland something of relevance to the whole community in Northern Ireland. Counter-demonstrations have been part and parcel of parades in Northern Ireland since the onset of the civil rights movement in 1968, particularly in the city of Derry where many counter-demonstrations in 1968-69 led to a great deal of trouble.

I believe that this Bill is of great importance. It should be seen in Northern Ireland that the Members of your Lordships' House are trying to the best of their ability to ensure that Northern Ireland legislation is in the interests of the whole of the community there. It would be a very sad occasion if the House were to divide on amendments such as we have opened up today. I do not believe that there is any need for division. If we show unanimity, understanding and compassion, the legislation will have the effect that we want it to have.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, one of the gratifying aspects of debates on Northern Ireland in this House is that so many noble Lords bring great experience to bear in trying to solve the problems we are discussing. Perhaps it would be appropriate for me to say how delighted I am to see the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, here, given that he was the first Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and therefore has a particular place in the history of that part of the United Kingdom.

The idea of a code of conduct was one for which the North Report found considerable public support. Many believe that it is often not the parades themselves which cause trouble but the behaviour of some of those participating in them and of their "hangers-on". The same has often applied to counter-demonstrations, which can vary from dignified and peaceful protests by the side of the road to highly provocative, intimidatory and sometimes violent and unlawful protests.

This amendment seeks to give the Parades Commission the responsibility for a code of conduct which would cover not only those organising and participating in a parade but also those organising and taking part in demonstrations against a parade. We understand the thinking behind the amendment but we are not sure that this is the right way to go about it. The North Report itself considered the possibility of a code of conduct for counter-demonstrators but recommended that the police should give serious consideration to applying a similar code to counter-demonstrators.

The North Report did not believe it would be appropriate for the commission to have the ownership of such a code for the very good reason that the commission would not be responsible for monitoring or imposing conditions on such demonstrations. Under the new legislation, the power to impose conditions on counter-demonstrators remains where it was in the Public Order order—in the hands of the police. Moreover, unless there is a legal obligation on organisers of the counter-demonstration to notify these demonstrations in advance it is not easy to see how the code could bind such organisers, or indeed in some cases how the organisers could be identified.

The code of conduct is not legally binding in the sense that those committing breaches of it are not guilty of a criminal offence. While the Parades Commission is able to take account of the past misconduct of parade organisers and participants in setting future conditions on parades, it is hard to see a corresponding sanction which could apply to counter-demonstrators. Having said that, we will give serious consideration to the possibility of a code of conduct for counter-demonstrators although in general we believe that the problems they pose are normally straightforward public order problems which the police already have the power to deal with in particular through Clause 14 of the Bill, the subject of which is the breaking up of public processions.

However, the Government have considered this matter in detail and I believe that the outcome of our further consideration will be most appropriately dealt with when the Bill reaches another place. On that basis I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, that was not exactly an acceptance of the amendment but it was an acceptance of the possibility of thinking further about it, and that encourages me to withdraw the amendment. However, I have just had time in the last few moments to look at the summary of the conclusions of the North Report. It states: We recommend that a Code of Conduct should be introduced covering the behaviour both of participants in a parade and of protestors". I believe therefore that we should be heading towards a code of conduct in some form for the protestors as well as for the participants in a parade. However, in the light of the helpful attitude expressed by the Minister towards this particular proposal I beg leave, at this stage at any rate, to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 [Advance notice of public processions]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley

moved Amendment No. 5: 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 My Lords, I beg to move this amendment, which brings us to Clause 7 of the Bill. The last subsection provides for penalties for a person guilty of the offence of holding a procession without having given due notice of it: that is to say, an illegal procession. Another amendment, Amendment No. 16, relates to Clause 14 and addresses itself to the punishment available for those who break up or attempt to break up public processions.

The purpose of the amendment is to draw attention to the fact that there are stiffer penalties available to the courts for someone who breaks the conditions laid down for a legal parade, whether he is the organiser or somebody taking part in a legal parade. Someone who breaks the conditions for a legal march is faced with potentially stiffer sentencing than the person who attempts to break up a public procession or, for that matter, someone who organises a wholly illegal march. That does not seem to me to be balanced: nor indeed does it seem to be sensible.

Apart from anything else, there is an incentive, at any rate of a sort, to someone thinking of organising a protest march of some kind not to give notice but just to hold an illegal protest march, knowing that the maximum sentence that can be given is six months' imprisonment, whereas if he organises a legal march, gives notice properly, has conditions laid down and then breaks the conditions, he can be sent to prison on indictment for up to two years: a much longer sentence for that offence. So there is a small incentive to hold illegal parades rather than legal ones as a result of the disparity in the punishments available. It is not fair that the legal organisers of a parade or those who legally take part in a parade but find that it goes wrong should face higher sentences than a group of people who are protesting and trying to stop that legal parade and trying to break it up.

It seems to me unwise to have different sets of penalties available to the courts for these two very similar offences. In addition, it sends a message that the Bill is an anti-parades Bill rather than an anti-protestors Bill. I believe that that is not the message that the Government or this House wish to send. It is not how we expect that the commission will behave in practice. I therefore hope that the two sets of fines and sentences of imprisonment will be brought into line for the different offences. I beg to move.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords, most of your Lordships will have noticed that, earlier, I tabled an amendment on similar lines. However, I believe that the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, is more effective and likely to be more easily understood. For that reason, I warmly support it.

Lord Alderdice

My Lords, when this matter came before your Lordships at Committee stage there were, as the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, said, two amendments. One was to equalise up, as the noble Lord, Lord Cope, suggested, to two years; the other was to level down, as the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, suggested, to six months. The key point is to achieve a degree of equity. It seems unfair to penalise more severely those who digress on legal parades than those who wilfully digress on illegal counter-demonstrations, and I believe it would send an unhelpful and inappropriate message. For my part, I would take the line of making it six months for both rather than two years. It may be that the Government wish to consider the matter and strike a bargain on 12 months. For me, equity is the issue, not the length of sentence. The issue is an important one and I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, it occurs to me that there must be a misprint in Amendment No. 5 as printed on the Marshalled List. The word "on" appears twice, in relation to both conviction and indictment. I feel it would be valuable to have a distinction between summary conviction, on the one hand, and indictment, on the other, so that the charge can be brought in the appropriate court and an appropriate level of penalty can be imposed if the charge is proved.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may explain to him, with regard to the question of "on" appearing twice, that the amendment is drafted in the same terms as subsection (9)(b) of Clause 8 at the bottom of page 5 which deals with offences and punishments in the case of those who organise or take part in processions and break the conditions. I followed entirely the precedent with which I wish to balance the punishments. That is why "on" appears twice. I also think it is better English.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I have some sympathy with the thinking behind these amendments. In drafting the Bill, we carried forward the existing penalties set out in the Public Order order. I recognise that there is an anomaly here, with those organising illegal public processions and those seeking to break up legal public processions facing a lower maximum penalty than those who fail to comply with conditions imposed on the procession or those failing to comply with a banning order. It is generally agreed that these are all serious, or potentially serious, offences. At all times a balance needs to be struck between demonstrating that the rule of law must be respected and ensuring that sentences are proportionate.

I note that at Committee stage the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, took the rather more liberal line— I hope I am not damaging his reputation by accusing him of having been liberal—of proposing that all the maximum sentences in the Bill should be reduced to make them punishable on summary conviction only. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, took a more robust line in wanting the possibility of convictions on indictment throughout the Bill. I wonder how the noble Lord, Lord Cope, brought the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, round to his sterner way of thinking.

We are still considering the questions sent to us, and I apologise for the fact that we have not yet made a final decision on which way they should go. There is a difficult balance to be struck. I am sure that many of your Lordships would share my reluctance to see disproportionate sentences for offences under the Bill. While there is the potential for conviction on indictment for offences in the Public Order order, such as defying conditions set by the police, in practice the summary procedure has been seen as the most appropriate way of pursuing offenders.

We also need to ensure that penalties remain in line with those for comparable public order offences. Increasing the maximum sentence to two years on indictment for offences which do not involve violence, such as organising a parade which has not been notified, could well seem disproportionate if offences such as disorderly conduct—which normally involve violence, or at least the threat of it—were still punishable with a maximum of six months on summary conviction only.

I can assure your Lordships that we shall consider how best to bring sentences into line. We are reminded at this stage to look seriously at Lord Molyneaux's original, rather more liberal line. If we conclude that we can adopt this approach, we shall seek to introduce government amendments as soon as practicable, perhaps at Third Reading. On that basis, I urge your Lordships to withdraw the amendment at this stage, on the understanding that we shall consider most carefully the thinking behind it.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, that seems to be another wise decision by the Minister and his colleagues. As to whether the sentences should be equalised up or down, while I am not entirely indifferent, that is a secondary question which I am happy to leave to the judgment of the Minister. I am grateful to the Minister for giving way on this matter and agreeing that at a later stage the punishments for the different offences will be brought into line throughout the Bill. On the basis of that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11 [Secretary of State's powers to prohibit public processions]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 6: Page 6, line 33, after ("procession") insert ("or likely counter-demonstration to a proposed public procession").

The noble Lord said My Lords, Clause 11 deals with the Secretary of State's powers to prohibit public processions. It is worth pointing out to those who have not followed the debates closely that the commission has no power, and is not due to have any power under the Bill, to ban a public procession. It can lay down conditions about the route, and so on, but it cannot ban it; only the Secretary of State can do that. The Secretary of State's powers to prohibit public processions already exist in the Public Order order but have been used extremely rarely.

The Minister made clear in Committee that—obviously depending on circumstances—it is hoped that the powers will not be used any more extensively in the future than in the past. One hopes that, if the parades commission satisfactorily takes some of the anger and steam out of parades, the power to prohibit parades will be used even less in the future than it has been in the past. Nevertheless it is important that the powers to be given to the Secretary of State should not be weakened by comparison with the powers he already enjoys under the Public Order order. In my opinion, they are weakened a little in two respects. The main one we shall discuss under the next group of amendments, headed by Amendment No. 7. So far as concerns Amendment No. 6 and the amendments grouped with it, Amendments Nos. 9, 11 and 13, the intention is to make sure that, before banning a public procession, the Secretary of State considers the effect of counter-demonstrations.

Generally speaking, no procession, when it is not a counter-protest, will create trouble. The big trouble occurs only when there is a vigorous counter-demonstration as well as the procession itself. It therefore seemed to me right that we should write into the clause the reference to counter-demonstrations for which Amendment No. 6 and the others provide.

It would mean that the Secretary of State, in the case of any proposed public procession or counter-demonstration, should have regard to possible disorder, damage and to the other matters laid down in the Bill. It is obvious that the Secretary of State will consider counter-demonstrations in deciding whether or not there is likely to be damage, disorder and so forth. It is probably better, therefore, to put that on the face of the Bill rather than it should be implicit. I beg to move.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords, I am happy to report that on this occasion there was no conflict between the thinking of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and myself. We each tabled our amendments on the same lines and on the same points in the clause. It may have been a case of great minds thinking alike, but we are at one on this issue. I have pleasure in supporting the amendment.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, we are now dealing with the power of the Secretary of State to prohibit public processions. It would appear that the intention of these amendments is to ensure that there is a parallel and balanced system for dealing both with public processions and with proposed counter-demonstrations to those public processions.

I recognise that there has often been considerable violence associated with counter-demonstrations to parades coming from both sides of the community. Clause 11 is not intended to put parades in a disadvantageous position compared with such counter-demonstrations. Indeed, the Secretary of State already has powers to tackle the potential violence and the burden on security force resources which can result from violent counter-demonstrations. Those provisions are set out in Article 5 of the Public Order order. Schedule 3 of this Bill amends those powers to bring them broadly into line with the corresponding power in Clause 11 to ban public processions. In addition, the amendments would not actually enable the Secretary of State to ban counter-demonstrations. In order to achieve that, the words "or likely counter-demonstration" would need to be inserted after "procession" in line 44 at the end of the clause but such an amendment has not been tabled; but perhaps I should not be so helpful to the noble Lord in making that suggestion.

I feel that the practical effect of these amendments might be the opposite of what noble Lords intend. The amendments as drafted would in practice require the Secretary of State, when considering whether or not to ban a parade, to have regard to the disorder, damage to property or adverse impact on community relations which would be caused by a demonstration against the parade. In other words, a threat of violence from counter-demonstrators might result in the banning of a parade. That would not seem a just outcome, and I am sure it is not what noble Lords are intending to achieve. Indeed, these amendments might have the effect of giving those opposed to a procession an incentive to threaten violence, disruption and relationships within the community.

This Government fully recognise that the violence associated with parades is not always the fault of the organisers or those participating, but can result from the actions of those protesting against the parade. I therefore urge your Lordships to reject this amendment, however understandable the motives underlying it.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, the Minister is being extremely helpful, even when he does not agree with us, in the sense that he is hinting what we may do on Third Reading or perhaps in another place to improve our amendment.

The noble Lord made a shrewd point, particularly at the end of his remarks, in relation to the possibility that if the amendments are included in the Bill they may produce an effect opposite to that desired. It would therefore be better for me to withdraw the amendment and I beg leave to do so.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 7: Page 6, line 35, after ("any") insert ("serious").

The noble Lord said My Lords, in moving the previous amendment I referred to changes in the threshold which must be reached before the Secretary of State bans a procession. The threshold provided in the Public Order order was that the Secretary of State had to consider whether it was likely that there would be serious disorder if the procession took place, serious damage to property, serious disruption to the life of the community and so forth. But when the provision was redrafted so that it could be included in Clause 11, the word "serious" was omitted throughout.

As the Bill is drafted the Secretary of State must have regard to, any public disorder or damage to property … any disruption to the life of the community … any impact which the procession may have on relationships within the community; and any demands which the procession may cause to be made on the police or military forces". To lower the threshold which has to be reached before the Secretary of State can impose a ban is a mistake. It implies—probably wrongly—that the Secretary of State will ban parades more frequently on less evidence of less trouble in the future than has been done in the past. That is not the signal the Government wish to send. On the contrary, it would be better to maintain the word "serious" in the various subsections and that is what this set of amendments seeks to do.

I am speaking primarily to Amendment No. 7. Amendments Nos. 8, 10, 12 and 14 insert the word "serious"—or in one case "undue"—in the relevant parts so as to achieve the changes I wish to achieve and I commend them to the House. I beg to move.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords, the question for me in this modest set of amendments was to maintain and respect the terminology currently used in the legislation now in force. It does not seem to be helpful to omit words which have a great deal of significance. I strongly support the amendments.

Lord Monson

My Lords, as the noble Lords, Lord Cope and Lord Molyneaux, explained, these amendments would ensure that the Bill conforms to the words of the existing 1987 Public Order order. The wording in that order was surely wisely chosen. If the words "serious" and "undue" are not included, there is a danger that a parade which has been taking place for 100 years or more may be banned on the grounds that a couple of youths might throw empty lager cans at the parade as it passes or it requires the attendance of an extra constable. That surely would not be acceptable.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I fully support the thinking behind these amendments. Clause 11 sets out the Secretary of State's power to ban public processions. We have already discussed the proposal that this clause should be extended also to cover counter-demonstrations. It has, however, been noticeable in discussion in Committee that many believe the change in wording between the Public Order order and the Bill is a sign that the Government are intent on lowering the threshold at which parades can be banned. In some eyes that may seem to confirm the impression some appear to have that this Bill is intended to be "anti-parades". I can assure your Lordships that that impression is mistaken, and perhaps it would be worth explaining in a little more detail than I have done so far why there have been changes in the language since the Public Order order.

Article 5 of the Public Order order sets out the Secretary of State's current powers to ban both public processions and open-air public meetings. Under Article 5, if the Secretary of State is of the opinion that, the holding in any area of place of any public procession or any open-air public meeting is likely to cause: (i) serious public disorder, (ii) serious disruption to the life of the community or, (iii) undue demands to be made of the police or military forces she may make an order prohibiting such a procession. Your Lordships will notice that those criteria are overwhelmingly public-order based. A high threshold of disruption, disorder etc. is set, but after that threshold has been reached, the Secretary of State may make an order.

One of the main insights of the North Report was that the exclusive reliance on public order factors in the current legislation has provided a perverse incentive to disorder to both sides. The North Report calls instead for public order factors to be balanced against the wider community relations picture, both in deciding whether or not to impose conditions and whether to impose bans on public processions. What the report proposed was that the authorities should be able to take all the factors into account and balance them one against the other. That meant, however, that the current provisions in the Public Order order needed to be restructured. As they are set out at the moment, they are effectively criteria. If any one of the criteria, for example, serious disruption, serious disorder and so on is fulfilled, the condition imposing or banning provisions can immediately be activated. What the report recognised, however, is that there may be circumstances in which the various factors point in different directions. It would be for the parades commission and, in the case of the banning power, the Secretary of State, to balance those various factors and come up with whatever decision is best overall in the public interest.

Accordingly, we thought it would be better for the Secretary of State to be able to take into account all of the factors, even when they are relatively insignificant. All disruption might be relevant, not just serious disruption, although if the disruption is not serious clearly as a factor it will not weigh very heavily in the Secretary of State's thinking. What Clause 11 does not do, however, is reduce the threshold for which the banning power comes into force. After all, in the Public Order order, if any of the criteria applies the Secretary of State is immediately empowered to take action. In Clause 11, however, the factors of disorder, disruption and so forth, are not in themselves enough. The Secretary of State must believe, having regard to all of those factors, that it is necessary in the public interest to impose a ban. That is wholly in line with procedure in Strasbourg when measures are challenged under the European convention. The Government need to demonstrate that any infringement of civil liberty, of which banning a parade is a clear example, must be demonstrated to be necessary and proportionate to the circumstances of the case.

We recognise that banning parades is an emotive subject. As I made clear in Committee, the power to ban parades is serious, raising fundamental questions of civil liberties and rights. The banning powers have only been needed in exceptional circumstances in the past, and I can assure noble Lords that that will remain the case and nothing in the drafting of Clause 11 was intended to detract from it.

We do, however, recognise that Clause 11 as drafted is open to misunderstanding. We want there to be no doubt in anyone's mind, whether they be organisers, objectors or indeed those applying the law, that the Bill is not seeking to make the banning power an everyday tool to deal with contested parades. Indeed, the whole purpose of the Bill is to put structures in place to avoid our ever needing to use last resort powers such as banning. I am therefore happy to accept this amendment in principle. We will look once again at the wording to see whether that proposed in this amendment is the most appropriate, and bring forward government amendments, preferably on Third Reading.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for accepting once again the wording that we have suggested. I was slightly surprised by some of the arguments that he used, because he said that, as a result of the insights in the North Report, it was thought wise to take all the factors into account, not merely public order factors, when considering what action to take in connection with a parade. I accept that entirely. That is what has been put in place as regards the commission, and the decisions that it has to make about rerouting, and so on.

However, when, in Committee, I sought to move another amendment, which I have not pursued at this stage of the Bill, to add "traditionality" as one of the conditions in this part of the Bill for the Secretary of State to take into account in deciding whether to ban a parade, the Minister rejected it on the grounds that one should not look at "traditionality" when considering whether to ban a parade; it was such a serious decision that one should look only at what I can summarise as being public order matters. That is the opposite argument to the one that he has just been using. However, as he agrees with the amendments, I had better not quibble about that, at least at this stage. I do not claim that the drafting is necessarily perfect, and I am happy to leave the Minister to reorganise it, if he so wishes. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 8 to 14 not moved.]

Clause 13 [Control of alcohol at public processions]:

Lord Alderdice moved Amendment No. 15: Page 9, line 24, at end insert? ("( ) Where a person to whom subsection (1) or subsection (3) applies fails to comply with a requirement imposed on him under subsection (1) or subsection (3), a constable may use such force as may be reasonable in the circumstances to seize or dispose of any intoxicating liquor in the possession of that person.").

The noble Lord said My Lords, in Committee—it is referred to in the Official Report at col. CWH 78I raised with the Minister the powers of the RUC should it be confronted with a minibus load of people attempting to take part in a procession who had chanced to bring along with them a number of cans of intoxicating liquor. I ask him what would be the position of the police if they tried to remove the offending cans on the reasonable assumption that if the marchers were to proceed without the alcohol they would he likely to be less disorderly than if they proceeded with the alcohol.

The Minister clarified the position in the following column. He pointed out that the police could remove the offending alcohol, but only with the power of arrest. That leaves the RUC in an invidious position. I shall look briefly at the type of circumstances that the police are likely to find, particularly around the time when parades are commonly held. We may find large numbers of minibus loads and carloads of Orangemen and others descending upon a particular locality, and, usually, to protect themselves against the vagaries of Northern Irish weather and to provide themselves with a little amusement, they bring along some sustenance, and, indeed, something with which to wash it down.

If the police were to stop such a minibus load of attempted paraders, and point out to them that it would not be in anyone's best interests for them to bring those large consignments, and they frequently are large consignments, to the field—as it is often described—it may be that those normally law-abiding citizens would immediately consent, and indicate to the police that they would happily convey themselves to the nearest police station on the following day to collect the cans of lager, or whatever, and consume them in a more appropriate place.

On the other hand, in certain circumstances the would-be paraders might not accede so readily, particularly if they had already opened the consignment and had gone some way towards consuming it. There are a number of possibilities for the police. First, they could accept that they were unable to remove the lager, and they could proceed to issue a summons at a later stage. That does not seem to be helpful in terms of dealing with the immediate problems of the day of the march, because the police know well that if they remove the alcohol they would probably remove the danger of a problem arising.

The police could, of course, just arrest them on the spot. That would be likely to put that particular minibus load of paraders out of action for the day, but they are frequently accompanied by colleagues, who may come in minibus loads behind. If one bus load is stopped and arrested, one might be sure that their colleagues would make clear their view that that was not well-advised action by the RUC. What started as an attempt to remove some danger from the situation would create a greater danger. However, if the police were to have the possibility of simply removing the cans of lager, or whatever it might be, and telling the paraders that they should proceed on their way, and quickly too, or they would be late for the march, it would be much less likely that either they or their colleagues coming behind would create anything like so much trouble. The police would thus have the power to defuse the situation rather than be forced to use the power of arrest, which is much more likely to inflame the situation.

I have explained the amendment in some detail because I readily accept that there is a degree of inelegance in the terminology I have struggled with. However, I think the House will understand the point I am trying to make and the power which I hope will be made available to the RUC. I believe myself, although it will be for others to make a judgment, that this would be a useful power to confer on the RUC. It has frequently been remarked on that when paraders are entirely sober they are often easier to deal with than when they have consumed one or two, and on occasion more, cans of lager. Arrest is using something of a sledgehammer to crack the nut. I beg to move.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords, I know that, through no fault of his own, the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, is not as yet a member of what people refer to as the Loyal Orders. Perhaps I may correct any impression, particularly as one of the right reverend Prelates is present, about one of those main institutions which I have the honour to lead. They are under strict instructions, and have been for many years, that if it is reported to me or any of my senior officers that they have been transporting intoxicating liquor to, or consuming it at, the venue, in the field or recreation ground or in the vicinity of such, the unit concerned—whether it be the lodge or the band—will never walk again in my lifetime. I hope that that will entice the noble Lord to apply for an application form, which I would be very happy to supply.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, anyone who knows Northern Ireland would have to question the sentiments expressed by the mover of the amendment, and particularly the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. I have lived in Belfast for most of my life. It may be that noble Lords will not understand the geographic designations. The parade takes place on 12th July. It starts off at Carlisle Circus. It passes by Donegall Street into the main arterial road of Royal Avenue and Donegall Place. At the beginning of the parade the vast majority of the people taking part are sober. They then proceed to the field. If I were to believe what I do not believe and accept what the noble Lord. Lord Molyneaux, said about drinking at the field or in surrounding areas, there would be mass expulsions from the Orange Order. There would be very few of them left.

Everyone in Northern Ireland knows that when they go to the field they have already established their traditionality and what they are there for. They have paraded to the field. They have then to stand there and listen to the most boring speeches they have heard all year. There will be all kinds of resolutions—loyalty to the Queen, loyalty to the Crown and loyalty to all kinds of other people—and religious acclamations as well. One has only to look at the pictures in the Belfast Telegraph that evening to see the expression of terrible boredom on the faces of those people who are unfortunate enough to be there to listen to the awful speeches being made. What else are they going to do during the interminable one or two hours there?

I have to tell the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, what they do. They set about opening up these cans and consuming them to the best of their ability as the speeches come through the loudspeakers. Is that an offence? The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, says that it is. I do not believe that it is against the law for people to take part in a parade and sit down in a park, a field or wherever it may be, and consume alcoholic liquor. It is not an offence; nor should it be an offence. If the police apprehend a minibus or van which is taking some cans of lager or perhaps something stronger and the occupants of that minibus or van are stone-cold sober—this is the beginning of the parade and they have not heard all the boring speeches that are liable to drive them to drink—the police will then speak to the occupants who are there to do their traditionality without causing offence to anyone. It would be terribly wrong for the police to say, "You haven't got that there for decoration. You are going to take it somewhere and drink it." That is exactly what they are going to do.

What is more worrying about Clause 11 is that it says that the police can confiscate the alcoholic cargo and dispose of it in whatever way they think fit. That puts a great onus on the police. There will be quite a lot of police present. They will seize lots of cans of lager. They could confiscate it in their own interests. That would cause quite a lot of trouble in Northern Ireland. I can see people turning up at the police station to say that six, and not two, cases of lager had been confiscated.

I do not think it should be an offence for Orangemen to drink at the field. They have been doing it for many years. They continue to do it. I do not think it would be right to place a legal restriction on them. They will have marched five or six miles. They bring their wives and the female members of the family. Some of the women I know who take part in the parades are just as big drinkers as some of their husbands or boyfriends taking part in the parade. I do not think that any restriction should be placed on people who are obviously sober. I hope that that gets me in well with the Orange Order.

4.45 p.m.

Lord LyelI

My Lords, it is difficult to try to follow the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. I shall make a humble attempt so to do. Those of your Lordships who attended the Committee will remember that I moved a somewhat mischievous amendment to subsection (5) about what would happen to the alcoholic liquid in cans. Are they called alcopops or something of that nature? I suggested that some members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary should take responsibility for the disposal of the liquid. I paid close attention to the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, and I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, will go by the name of "Mineral Water Molyneaux". I served for six happy Orange occasions in Northern Ireland and I was under the perhaps mistaken impression that many of the parades were official Orange parades. I was quickly disabused of that notion by being told that there were all kinds of unofficial and independent Orange parades, let alone the Apprentice Boys, who were more militant than many of the others. I just wonder whether there is a more serious aspect to the amendment.

Seventeen years ago I was in the position of the Minister, having to move amendments to the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill 1980, dealing with what might be in the context of this Bill something akin to a cultural identity. which was confiscating large amounts of alcohol moving about Scotland—indeed, past my home—on arterial routes. Members of the warring tribes, if I may call them that, north of the Border, were attending matches where their favourite football team was playing. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, has it absolutely right. It was not necessarily the content of the alcohol. In Scotland we call them "controlled containers". One can throw them and make use of them. That applies even to mineral water or alcopops, let alone what had been taken by the participants in these cultural identity parades and football matches before anyone even arrived at them.

It seems to me that the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, gives a grain of flexibility to the police and the Royal Ulster Constabulary to take action swiftly, on the spot and without further ado. In moving the amendment it was suggested that there could be problems. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, went on to ask about what happened to the can of lager which was not the one that was sent along. It was a different one and there would be an argument about that. There was a grain of good sense in the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. The Minister very kindly put me in my place when I moved an amendment which was akin to the one that we have today. He very tactfully and kindly said at an earlier stage that he could perhaps look on the amendment favourably or might give some argument as to the flexibility which perhaps the RUC and the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, are looking for.

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, perhaps I may take my normal place astride the fence, being neither for nor against my noble friend on the Front Bench. I was greatly impressed by the speech made by my noble friend Lord Fitt on the virtues of strong drink, to which I adhere. I was also greatly impressed by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. I was drawn to my feet by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, who recalled our debates of some years ago on the Scottish situation where we were dealing with quite a different matter. We were not dealing with marches devoted to religious or quasi-religious, political aims, but with football hooliganism. It was thought that the Scots were given to strong drink and therefore to unreasonable behaviour. I found that a very odd idea for people to adhere to, but it seemed to be widespread. We have had debates in this House about alcoholic drink. That is exactly what my noble friend Lord Fitt was talking about—namely, the confiscation of alcoholic drinks before football matches and events of that nature. It was thought that the Scots were likely to become unseemly in their behaviour. I cannot see why that should be thought, but it was.

In the course of those debates my late lamented friend Lord Ross of Marnock, whom the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, will remember with affection, argued very strongly against the confiscation of drink as an interference with civil liberties. But if we look at the situation as it has developed since the distant days of about 10 to 15 years ago—I cannot quite remember, being in my declining years—we shall find that the atmosphere in Scottish football as regards alcoholic drink and other quite desirable refreshments has changed. Scottish football supporters are renowned throughout the whole of Europe, and possibly throughout the world for all I know, for their abstemiousness and good behaviour. That partly derives from their own good nature and possibly from the prohibition. It may well be that prohibition has turned out to be advantageous in that limited sphere. The Scots are, I am quite sure, much better behaved than the Northern Irish. What brought the Scots—I shall not say "to heel"—to better behaviour might be applicable to Northern Ireland. I do not wish either side in Northern Ireland the slightest harm and I hope that I have not annoyed any of them in any way by entering into this debate.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, I had the pleasure, while a Minister in Northern Ireland, of seeing a parade of the Royal Black Preceptory in Carrickfergus, I believe it was. A more sober and respectable group of gentleman on parade I could not imagine. Therefore, I leap to the defence of my noble friend Lord Molyneaux as regards that group.

However, I saw a parade on 12th July which was towards the end of the marching part of the day. It was about to reach the field which the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, described so vividly a few moments ago. By that time the parade was moving relatively slowly and not evenly. There were long pauses because of confusion up ahead. That always happens when one has many people and vehicles in procession. I noticed that some members of the Orange Order were taking the opportunity given by the pauses to go into local hostelries, which happened to be open nearby, even before they got to the field.

The only conclusion that I draw from the two experiences, among others, of watching parades in Northern Ireland is that the Royal Ulster Constabulary will need to carry out the powers that it is given in the clause with great discretion and care. I note that the constable is being given the opportunity to confiscate alcohol rather than the duty to do so on the various occasions provided for. The RUC will need to use it with discretion.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, this is a serious matter that could lead to trouble. Clause 12(5) says, A constable may dispose of anything surrendered to him under this section in such manner as he considers appropriate". That leaves the situation wide open to abuse. If there is no abuse there will be allegations of it. The RUC will be charged by all kinds of ill-intentioned persons of behaving in a way which is not appropriate. After the constable has taken the drink away it should be clarified as to what he is to do with it.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Lyell drew specific attention to that in Committee. It seems to me that if the RUC is to have this power it needs to be a practical one which it can use with the minimum of difficulty. The points that the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, made in moving this amendment suggested to me that it, or something very like it, is necessary to enable the RUC to use the powers which it has rightly been given by this clause.

5 p.m.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, a few moments ago the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, gave us a very entertaining insight into what might happen on a hot afternoon in Northern Ireland in the middle of July. It is not for me to comment from the Government Front Bench on whether the speeches on such an occasion will be compelling or tedious. That would be inappropriate. However, the noble Lord asked what the marchers would do when they got to the field. Having looked ahead in my diary, I believe that 12th July is the day of the World Cup final, so I wonder what will happen with regard to the competing attractions on that day.

I turn now to the serious issue raised in the amendment. The Government recognise that alcohol is often the cause of many difficulties experienced at contested parades in recent years. Indeed, the North Report's recommendations in this field were so popular that the previous government moved to implement them early to ensure they were in force in time for the last marching season. In drafting the powers in this Bill we bore in mind comparable legislation on the confiscation of alcohol from under-age drinkers, and provisions for those travelling to sports events in Great Britain.

In Clause 13 as it stands the police have a power to require the surrender of alcohol from those at the vicinity of, or on the way to, a public procession if they reasonably suspect that such a person is consuming intoxicating liquor. Failure to comply with an instruction is a criminal offence, and a police officer can arrest without warrant. What this amendment proposes is that the police should have an additional power to use force to seize alcohol.

Although I sympathise with the wish to tackle the problems of alcohol, I believe that giving the police seizure power would not be appropriate in these circumstances. For one thing, it would take this legislation out of line with comparable UK and GB legislation. More importantly, it would be quite unprecedented for the police to have powers of seizure in cases where possession of alcohol is not a criminal offence. We have considered making possession an offence, but feel that it would be quite disproportionate and extremely difficult to draft. One would not want to see a circumstance where somebody walking back from the off-licence and passing a public parade inadvertently committed a criminal offence. We believe the power to arrest without warrant is already sufficient to deal with this problem, and I urge the House to reject this amendment.

Lord Alderdice

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. It is clear that the Government have considered the matter and that they have encountered something of the same difficulty as I encountered when trying to draft an amendment. I hope that the Government will continue to look at this because it seems to me that on this matter (as on so many others) the experience of Northern Ireland is a little different from experience in the rest of the United Kingdom. I believe that such a power would be of some advantage to the RUC.

The Minister has been extremely helpful. I am struck by his advice, which will no doubt be transmitted by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, to the Orangemen for 12th July next year. Perhaps extra large television screens should be erected at the field so that the Orangemen can participate both in the 12th July and observe the World Cup final. From the noble Lord's comments, I gather that instead of singing "You'll never walk alone", they will sing "You'll never walk again".

I am grateful for your Lordships' consideration of this matter which, although amusing, has also been serious. I know that it has received full consideration. Given the somewhat inelegant nature of the amendment and the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that I still have some way to go to reach full accomplishment in the art of the parliamentary draftsman, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 14 [Breaking up public procession]:

[Amendment No. 16 not moved.]

Clause 17 [Interpretation]:

Lord Molyneaux of Killead moved Amendment No. 17: Page 11, line 13, at end insert ("and includes cavalcades or processions of motor vehicles along any public highway").

The noble Lord said My Lords, the previous debate was most satisfactory from a recruitment point of view and I shall remember to bring a stock of application forms with me at the beginning of next week.

The amendment is intended to close what I regard as a serious loophole in the existing law and in this Bill. Cavalcades are a fairly recent innovation among paramilitary bodies. They get around the restriction on marching feet where no notice whatsoever will be given if they are mobile. In some respects, the cavalcades have the capacity, by reason of their mobility, to stir up apprehension, fear and reaction in a matter of hours and over wide areas of the Province—in fact, right across the Province—almost simultaneously.

I give an example of what has horrified me. On one occasion two years ago, in the late afternoon when the bereaved relatives of a chap who was shot by terrorists were attending the grave in the cemetery, seven motorcars appeared adorned with certain flags and those inside hurled insults in the name of the organisation which had assassinated the deceased. That incident and others like it are what I have in mind.

The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said—I agree with him—that it is somewhat illogical to build into the Bill controls over walks while ignoring the far greater menace of motorised columns. When I raised this point in the Grand Committee the Minister undertook to look at the need for some changes and possibly to introduce an amendment at some stage. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, this seems a sensible amendment. It arises from the definition of public procession which is given on page 11 of the Bill, just before the place where this amendment is to he inserted. It states: 'public procession' means a procession in a public place". One wonders why the draftsman bothered to define the phrase if that is its only definition. However, that definition of "public procession" differs from that given in the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, which the Bill replaces. The order states: 'public procession' means a procession in a public place, whether or not involving the use of vehicles or other conveyances". I must admit that before I read that part of the order alongside the Bill I had assumed that as it was not stated that "'public procession' means a procession on foot in a public place", it probably included vehicles. However, whoever drafted the order found it necessary to make it clear that the definition included processions involving vehicles and I am sure that we all want to include processions involving vehicles as well as processions on foot in the provisions of this Bill. There are some important examples, including some connected with the sporting events which take place in Northern Ireland.

There are also examples relating to protests. In Committee the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, drew our attention to what happened in May 1974 when a cavalcade of vans, tractors and other vehicles descended on Stormont and had a very decisive political effect. That was obviously a perfectly legitimate protest, but it was a cavalcade or procession of the sort that should be covered by this Bill. In addition to its provisions relating to processions on foot, it is important that the Bill also covers that point. I believe that it would be better if the Bill covered it specifically, as did the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order, rather than leaving it to be implied in the wording.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I have great sympathy with this amendment, particularly in the light of the terrible incident in the churchyard to which the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, referred. My only worry is this: what about motorised funeral processions? They can often be political or quasi-political in nature, and not only in Northern Ireland. Many years ago I found myself in a self-drive car stuck behind the massive funeral cortege of a Mafia boss. It consisted of at least 50 large, mainly black, shiny cars which were being driven very slowly. It was obviously meant to intimidate the inhabitants of the many mountain villages through which it passed. It was made quite clear to me by the locals that it would be extremely unwise to try to overtake it. That was an example of a funeral procession and a political procession rolled into one. Having said that, I recognise that trying to regulate funeral processions of any nature is a highly delicate matter and I look forward with interest to the Minister's reply.

Lord Alderdice

My Lords, this appears to be a reasonable proposition on two counts. First, I do not believe there is any reason why in terms of the regulations there should be any distinction between parades on foot and cavalcades in motorised vehicles when effectively they are for similar purposes. Secondly, by the removal of Clause 3 we have sought to find other ways to ensure that the Bill is seen as a balanced measure. I believe that this is, together with other amendments that have in effect been accepted, another way in which that can be achieved. I look forward to the response of the Minister in regard to this amendment, which we on these Benches support.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I am grateful that this amendment has come back. As I mentioned at Committee stage, we accept that the existing definition of public processions in the Bill is not as clear as it might be. We want to ensure that it covers this kind of cavalcade with vehicles to which the noble Lord referred. We shall introduce an amendment at a later stage, possibly at Third Reading and if not in the other place, although it will probably not be along the lines proposed. What we intend to do—I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, got it right—is to restore the definition in the 1987 Public Order order which describes a public procession as, a procession in a public place, whether or not involving the use of vehicles or other conveyances". I hope that on that basis the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for his sympathetic consideration. I am happy to agree with his suggestion. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 2 [Provisions relating to code of conduct, procedural rules and guidelines]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 18: Page 15, line 4, leave out ("paragraph 4") and insert ("paragraphs 4 or 9").

The noble Lord said:My Lords, we now come to Schedule 2 to the Bill. The particular provision to which this amendment is directed is that which provides for the way in which alterations to the code of practice, the procedural rules and the guidelines—three separate documents—are brought before Parliament. The Bill provides that the original documents shall be brought before Parliament under the affirmative procedure but that when amendments are made to them they shall be subject only to the negative procedure.

The Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation of this House looked at the Bill as a whole and drew the attention of the House to this particular provision. The committee recommended that the House should, consider whether the Bill should be amended to allow Ministers the option of using either the affirmative or the negative resolution procedure for variations [to the documents]".

I have tabled this amendment in perhaps a slightly "overkill" manner. It provides that all amendments shall be subject to the affirmative procedure. As a matter of fact, that is not my intention. My intention is to carry out the recommendation of the Select Committee, but that is very difficult to draft. Initially it seemed to me to be better to bring it before the Committee in the form in which it appears in the Marshalled List today. As I was given an assurance at that time that the Government would amend the provision as recommended by the committee in respect of the guidelines, it appeared to me that by this stage a draft would be available to implement what the committee recommended, at least in respect of the guidelines. The committee made its recommendation in respect of the guidelines, the code of conduct and the procedural rules—all three documents—although the current undertaking from the Minister relates only to the guidelines.

The Select Committee does not make recommendations on these matters lightly. I believe that this House should take very careful note of the recommendations that it has made about this particular provision. All that my amendment seeks to do is to bring that recommendation of the Select Committee before your Lordships in the hope that the Government will say what they propose to do about it. I beg to move.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I am reassured that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, means something different from his amendment. To be serious, I have sympathy with the drafting point to which he refers. I am grateful for this amendment which touches on the very important issue of parliamentary scrutiny of statutory documents issued under the Bill. As explained in Committee, in drafting the Bill the Government needed to strike a difficult balance. On the one hand, we recognised that documents like the code of conduct, guidelines and procedural rules were potentially of great interest and deserved maximum parliamentary scrutiny. But, equally, changes of a fairly technical nature might need to be made to them in future. We do not want to waste parliamentary time by requiring a full debate, save for minor changes in the procedural rules of the Parades Commission. We therefore propose using the affirmative resolution procedure for the first issue of the document and the negative resolution for any subsequent amendments.

However, we had before us the work carried out by the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. For that I am most grateful. That committee came up with a very interesting suggestion as to how the Government could deal with amendments to the statutory document. It proposed that the Government should retain the option of affirmative or negative resolution procedures; namely, to use the affirmative procedure for matters of substance and the negative procedure for minor matters or matters of a purely technical nature. We have a good deal of sympathy with that proposal and we are considering it very carefully. I hope that on that basis the noble Lord will be willing to withdraw his amendment so that we can have a little more time to consider how to proceed.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, in view of the helpful nature of the Minister's reply and indeed his helpful responses throughout today, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 19 not moved.]

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