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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Having said that, may I go on to draw the attention of the Committee to Clause 8(1):

    "The Commission may issue a determination in respect of a proposed public procession imposing on the persons organising or taking part in it such conditions as the Commission considers necessary".

As I read that, it could cover such matters as the dates of parades referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. Then in lines 44 to 45, it goes on:

    "may include conditions as to the route of the procession",

as was already mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs,

    "or prohibiting it from entering any place".

That is very significant.

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

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

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

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

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Alderdice moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 2, line 2, at end insert--("( ) issue conclusions covering processions in a particular area over a period of time.").

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

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

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

In recognising this, Dr. Peter North and his colleagues in their report stated at recommendation 59 that,

    "The Commission should be empowered to issue determinations for one or more parades in an area, to do so where appropriate over a period"--

indeed, they went further than myself--

    "longer than one year".

For example, there might be an agreement that in the current climate, a parade might be foregone this year on the understanding that it would be permissible next year.

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

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

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

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

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

There must be some way to achieve this objective. In the view of Dr. North and his colleagues and myself and my colleagues--and I am sure it is a view even more widely held--it would be profoundly desirable to ensure that we can have agreements reached and guidelines and

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recommendations given, even as to the significance of determinations, in order to ensure that the pattern of parades in an area is acceptable. I am sure that, if there were such an agreement, it would reduce the chance of malign individuals coming in and stirring up trouble--for, after all, it would not simply be an informal piece of collusion between two or three organisations. It would be something that, after negotiation, had the stamp of approval and the public registration of a determination by the commission, making it much more difficult to breach for those who want to create trouble.

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

5 p.m.

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

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

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