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

I hope the Government accept the logic of the North Commission that if there is the flexibility to deal with what is referred to in the guidelines procedural rules as a pattern of parades in an area it is far more likely that the outcome that we are all seeking--of trade-offs leading to a win-win solution--will be achieved. I would like to add my own tribute to the efforts last year

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of certain leaders of the Orange Lodge, who clearly treated the problem in exactly this way, asking what trade-offs could accommodate everybody's interests in this area. It is much easier to do that if it is possible to consider a number of parades simultaneously. When the Minister replies, I hope he will tell us whether the Bill does this or, if it does not, that he will accept the amendment.

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

The amendment seeks to implement recommendation 15 of the North Report that:

    "the Parades Commission should be empowered to reach and promulgate conclusions in relation to one or more parades in an area and to do so where appropriate over a period longer than one year".

Given the Government's commitment to implementing North, our decision not to implement this particular recommendation was not taken lightly. But the difficulties involved are, as far as we can see, insurmountable. I can assure members of the Committee that we have gone into this in quite some detail.

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

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

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

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to the code of conduct. And even then, factors such as the public order situation can change rapidly as the proposed parade approaches.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5.15 p.m.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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