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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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