|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
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 be 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. 1 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 coming 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
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.
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.
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.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page