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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I express my apologies and my astonishment.

Middle East Peace Process

2.57 p.m.

Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we have worked hard with the US and our EU partners to keep the peace process on track. We have taken strong positions on terrorism, Israeli settlements, and the need for all sides to fulfil their commitments.

Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Will she assure the House that, following Mr. Netanyahu's visit to London, everything possible will be done to promote final status talks between Israel and the Palestinians?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Israeli Prime Minister was in London on 13th and 14th November, when the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary made clear to him the extent of international concern at the current difficulties in the Middle East peace process and our commitment to the negotiating framework. They also urged Israel to implement full commitments under existing agreements, including further redeployments. Her Majesty's Government have supported Mrs. Albright's insistence on full security co-operation and a freeze on unilateral action such as settlement building and the confiscation of Palestinian identity cards in Jerusalem.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, is the Minister aware that a former Minister at the Israeli Foreign Office said yesterday that the bottom line was that the present Israeli Government were not implementing the signed peace agreement? Since that is the view of one of the authors of the peace agreement, can the Minister give the House an assurance that, especially during the UK's presidency of the EU, Her Majesty's Government will take a robust attitude to the failure of the Israeli Government to implement that signed peace agreement?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I give the noble Lord the assurance that, together with their EU partners, Her Majesty's Government will work assiduously for the implementation and furtherance of the peace process. We all recognise that serious negotiations must proceed urgently without overlooking the equally important issue of a freeze on settlements and other outstanding elements of the interim agreement.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that the Government will

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continue to make clear to the Israeli Government that their claim that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of that country is not accepted by either the British Government or the United Nations, and that Her Majesty's Government will continue to resist any proposal that embassies should be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the status of Jerusalem is to be determined in the final status talks. Neither side should pre-empt those talks. Her Majesty's Government have condemned Israeli policies aimed at altering the demographic balance in East Jerusalem, including settlement building, the confiscation of Palestinian ID cards and house demolition. Pending the agreement, we recognise de facto Israeli control of West Jerusalem but consider East Jerusalem to be illegally occupied. We recognise no de jure sovereignty over the city as a whole.

Lord Beloff: My Lords, does the Minister agree that this matter is one of peoples as well as of governments? Can one seriously expect a rational policy on the part of the Government of Israel while the Israeli people live under the daily threat of chemical and biological warfare? Does the Minister agree that the best contribution that Her Majesty's Government can make to the peace process is to act with other members of the international community to ensure that Saddam Hussein is deprived of these weapons of mass destruction as soon as possible?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I have made clear from this Dispatch Box on a number of occasions that Her Majesty's Government attach the highest priority to ensuring that Saddam Hussein does not have weapons of mass destruction at his disposal. The question of the Middle East peace process, like so many other peace processes around the world, involves the human element. It is always important to ensure the security of both parties when negotiating any peace settlement.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, with regard to the attacks made on the Government of Israel from time to time in this House, does the Minister agree that, while democracies sometimes elect absolutely splendid governments, there are occasions when they elect governments for whom none of us would ever vote? In those circumstances, does the Minster agree that, Israel having elected a Government, we must deal with that Government and help in any way we can to ensure that both they and the Palestinians reach an agreement which is permanent, fair, and one with which both sides can live?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, in your Lordships' House I do sometimes reflect on the governments that people from time to time elect. On this occasion one is dealing with a government who have got into difficulty in terms of international opinion. It is important that the rights of both the Palestinian and the Israeli communities are fully recognised in the peace

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process. That is what Her Majesty's Government are striving for in concert with our friends in the United States and our European partners.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, is the Minister aware that friendly Arab countries are distancing themselves from US foreign policy in line with popular opinion? If she accepts that, is she concerned that the United Kingdom is losing its friendship with those Arab states that closely identify this country with that same foreign policy?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I have seen reports in newspapers which reflect the position that the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, puts forward. I believe that those reports have in large part reflected what some people perceive as double standards. For example, some perceive the United States Government as having failed to bear down sufficiently forcefully on the Israeli Government on the question of settlements. I do not believe that that perception is a fair one. We and like-minded countries have repeatedly pressed Israel about the need to implement the agreement into which it entered under the Middle East peace process. I hope that our allies and friends elsewhere in the region recognise the efforts that we have made to persuade the Israeli Government that what they have been doing in relation to those settlements is wrong.

Lord Annan: My Lords, does the Minister recall the moving occasion when, five hours before he died, Sir Isaiah Berlin dictated a very short memorandum about the situation in the Middle East in which he said that Israel must be prepared to give up territory on the West Bank but that Jerusalem must inevitably, as a quid pro quo, become the capital of Israel, with very strict safeguards for the Moslem holy places and population of that city?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sure that a number of noble Lords in this House wish to put forward ways in which the Middle East peace process may be taken forward. But we all recognise, following so many press reports over the weekend about what is happening over the Middle East peace process, that the best course is to wait for the final status talks so that all these issues can be considered together, rather than that one particular strand of the peace process should be singled out and lit upon. All of them need to be considered.

Public Processions etc. (Northern Ireland) Bill [H.L.]

3.7 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [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.

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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

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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

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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.

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