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Lord Alderdice: My Lords, when this matter came before your Lordships at Committee stage there were, as the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, said, two amendments. One was to equalise up, as the noble Lord, Lord Cope, suggested, to two years; the other was to level down, as the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, suggested, to six months. The key point is to achieve a degree of equity. It seems unfair to penalise more severely those who digress on legal parades than those who wilfully digress on illegal counter-demonstrations, and I believe it would send an unhelpful and inappropriate message. For my part, I would take the line of making it six months for both rather than two years. It may be that the Government wish to consider the matter and strike a bargain on 12 months. For me, equity is the issue, not the length of sentence. The issue is an important one and I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, it occurs to me that there must be a misprint in Amendment No. 5 as printed on the Marshalled List. The word "on" appears twice, in relation to both conviction and indictment. I feel it would be valuable to have a distinction between summary conviction, on the one hand, and indictment, on the other, so that the charge can be brought in the appropriate court and an appropriate level of penalty can be imposed if the charge is proved.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may explain to him, with regard to the question of "on" appearing twice, that the amendment is drafted in the same terms as subsection (9)(b) of Clause 8 at the bottom of page 5 which deals with offences and punishments in the case of those who organise or take part in processions and break the conditions. I followed entirely the precedent with which I wish to balance the punishments. That is why "on" appears twice. I also think it is better English.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I have some sympathy with the thinking behind these amendments. In drafting the Bill, we carried forward the existing penalties set out in the Public Order order. I recognise that there is an anomaly here, with those organising illegal public processions and those seeking to break up legal public processions facing a lower maximum penalty than those who fail to comply with conditions imposed on the procession or those failing to comply with a banning order. It is generally agreed that these are all serious, or potentially serious, offences. At all times a balance needs to be struck between demonstrating that the rule of law must be respected and ensuring that sentences are proportionate.

I note that at Committee stage the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, took the rather more liberal line-- I hope I am not damaging his reputation by accusing

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him of having been liberal--of proposing that all the maximum sentences in the Bill should be reduced to make them punishable on summary conviction only. The noble Lord, Lord Cope, took a more robust line in wanting the possibility of convictions on indictment throughout the Bill. I wonder how the noble Lord, Lord Cope, brought the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, round to his sterner way of thinking.

We are still considering the questions sent to us, and I apologise for the fact that we have not yet made a final decision on which way they should go. There is a difficult balance to be struck. I am sure that many of your Lordships would share my reluctance to see disproportionate sentences for offences under the Bill. While there is the potential for conviction on indictment for offences in the Public Order order, such as defying conditions set by the police, in practice the summary procedure has been seen as the most appropriate way of pursuing offenders.

We also need to ensure that penalties remain in line with those for comparable public order offences. Increasing the maximum sentence to two years on indictment for offences which do not involve violence, such as organising a parade which has not been notified, could well seem disproportionate if offences such as disorderly conduct--which normally involve violence, or at least the threat of it--were still punishable with a maximum of six months on summary conviction only.

I can assure your Lordships that we shall consider how best to bring sentences into line. We are reminded at this stage to look seriously at Lord Molyneaux's original, rather more liberal line. If we conclude that we can adopt this approach, we shall seek to introduce government amendments as soon as practicable, perhaps at Third Reading. On that basis, I urge your Lordships to withdraw the amendment at this stage, on the understanding that we shall consider most carefully the thinking behind it.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, that seems to be another wise decision by the Minister and his colleagues. As to whether the sentences should be equalised up or down, while I am not entirely indifferent, that is a secondary question which I am happy to leave to the judgment of the Minister. I am grateful to the Minister for giving way on this matter and agreeing that at a later stage the punishments for the different offences will be brought into line throughout the Bill. On the basis of that assurance, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11 [Secretary of State's powers to prohibit public processions]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 6, line 33, after ("procession") insert ("or likely counter- demonstration to a proposed public procession").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Clause 11 deals with the Secretary of State's powers to prohibit public processions. It is worth pointing out to those who have not followed the debates closely that the commission has no power, and is not due to have any power under the Bill, to ban a public procession. It can lay down

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conditions about the route, and so on, but it cannot ban it; only the Secretary of State can do that. The Secretary of State's powers to prohibit public processions already exist in the Public Order order but have been used extremely rarely.

The Minister made clear in Committee that--obviously depending on circumstances--it is hoped that the powers will not be used any more extensively in the future than in the past. One hopes that, if the parades commission satisfactorily takes some of the anger and steam out of parades, the power to prohibit parades will be used even less in the future than it has been in the past. Nevertheless it is important that the powers to be given to the Secretary of State should not be weakened by comparison with the powers he already enjoys under the Public Order order. In my opinion, they are weakened a little in two respects. The main one we shall discuss under the next group of amendments, headed by Amendment No. 7. So far as concerns Amendment No. 6 and the amendments grouped with it, Amendments Nos. 9, 11 and 13, the intention is to make sure that, before banning a public procession, the Secretary of State considers the effect of counter-demonstrations.

Generally speaking, no procession, when it is not a counter-protest, will create trouble. The big trouble occurs only when there is a vigorous counter-demonstration as well as the procession itself. It therefore seemed to me right that we should write into the clause the reference to counter-demonstrations for which Amendment No. 6 and the others provide.

It would mean that the Secretary of State, in the case of any proposed public procession or counter-demonstration, should have regard to possible disorder, damage and to the other matters laid down in the Bill. It is obvious that the Secretary of State will consider counter-demonstrations in deciding whether or not there is likely to be damage, disorder and so forth. It is probably better, therefore, to put that on the face of the Bill rather than it should be implicit. I beg to move.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I am happy to report that on this occasion there was no conflict between the thinking of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and myself. We each tabled our amendments on the same lines and on the same points in the clause. It may have been a case of great minds thinking alike, but we are at one on this issue. I have pleasure in supporting the amendment.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, we are now dealing with the power of the Secretary of State to prohibit public processions. It would appear that the intention of these amendments is to ensure that there is a parallel and balanced system for dealing both with public processions and with proposed counter-demonstrations to those public processions.

I recognise that there has often been considerable violence associated with counter-demonstrations to parades coming from both sides of the community. Clause 11 is not intended to put parades in a disadvantageous position compared with such counter-demonstrations. Indeed, the Secretary of State already has powers to tackle the potential violence and

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the burden on security force resources which can result from violent counter-demonstrations. Those provisions are set out in Article 5 of the Public Order order. Schedule 3 of this Bill amends those powers to bring them broadly into line with the corresponding power in Clause 11 to ban public processions. In addition, the amendments would not actually enable the Secretary of State to ban counter-demonstrations. In order to achieve that, the words "or likely counter-demonstration" would need to be inserted after "procession" in line 44 at the end of the clause but such an amendment has not been tabled; but perhaps I should not be so helpful to the noble Lord in making that suggestion.

I feel that the practical effect of these amendments might be the opposite of what noble Lords intend. The amendments as drafted would in practice require the Secretary of State, when considering whether or not to ban a parade, to have regard to the disorder, damage to property or adverse impact on community relations which would be caused by a demonstration against the parade. In other words, a threat of violence from counter-demonstrators might result in the banning of a parade. That would not seem a just outcome, and I am sure it is not what noble Lords are intending to achieve. Indeed, these amendments might have the effect of giving those opposed to a procession an incentive to threaten violence, disruption and relationships within the community.

This Government fully recognise that the violence associated with parades is not always the fault of the organisers or those participating, but can result from the actions of those protesting against the parade. I therefore urge your Lordships to reject this amendment, however understandable the motives underlying it.

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