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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, as a fellow Fabian, does my noble friend the Minister agree that the philosophy behind the report is not just the efficiency of government services but also the impact upon the citizen? Is it not important that recipients of government services--for example, those on benefits--should be beneficiaries of the new technology, rather than being bypassed or disadvantaged by it?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government cannot neglect the fact that £38 billion a year is spent on the delivery of their services. Therefore, the cash nexus cannot be very far from our minds. However, my noble friend is right to say that the purpose of the

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exercise is not only to save money but also to improve the quality of services and to improve the quality of communication from the citizen to government.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, will the Minister accept my thanks for the fact that, some six long months after first having asked, I have now received my first electronic answer to a Written Question tabled in this House? I am most grateful. Will the noble Lord address himself in particular to the fourth of the requests made by the Fabian Society; namely, to introduce a local help line for people to enable them to find out what is going on in their area and receive answers from their councillors and MPs? Does the noble Lord support that aim, and does he envisage that it will involve a greater provision of offices and support to MPs in their local areas?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am sorry that it has taken so long for the noble Lord to receive electronic responses. For a number of months now I have been signing Written Questions contained in a folder to which a diskette has been attached. I thought we could have beaten the timescale that we have in fact achieved.

However, in response to the noble Lord's final question, I would not like it thought that local authorities are not already doing what is recommended by the Fabian pamphlet. Many local authorities already operate help lines or one-stop shops, and information technology is already making it possible for them to integrate advice from local and central government, and from the voluntary and private sector. We are encouraging single-entry points to which all those parts of the broad spectrum of government will contribute.


3.8 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m., my noble friend Lady Jay of Paddington will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is to be made in another place on the White Paper regarding the new National Health Service.

I should like to take this opportunity to remind the House that the Companion indicates that discussion on the Statement, following the end of the Minister's initial reply to the Opposition spokesmen, should be confined to,

    "brief comments and questions for clarification".
There is a mandatory limit of 20 minutes from the end of the Minster's initial reply to the Opposition spokesmen.

Supreme Court (Offices) Bill

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in

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Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Moved, That the order of commitment be discharged.--(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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

Read a third time.

Clause 1 [The Commission]:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs) moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 6, leave out from ("established") to ("Northern") in line 7 and insert ("a body to be known as the Parades Commission for").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment and those grouped with it serve to remove Clause 3 of the Bill, which covers the Parades Commission's extended remit, and make the necessary consequential changes. The Government's decision to remove Clause 3 follows extensive discussion in this House at all stages, and the emergence of a clear cross-party consensus that the clause as drafted would not have the desired effect. I believe this decision demonstrates how right the Government were to decide to make this legislation through a Bill rather than Order in Council, an option which was open to us. I have been most grateful for the vigorous debate surrounding this clause, and am now convinced that removing it is in everyone's best interest.

But equally, I have been heartened by the recognition from all sides of this House that the Bill needs to be even-handed and be seen to be even-handed. A number of other amendments tabled today will, I believe, go some way towards reassuring people on this account. But it is highly important that people do not see removal of this clause as leaving us with a Bill which is straightforwardly anti-parading and targeted to the culture of one particular part of the community. We shall continue to consider carefully all suggestions as to how our commitment to implement the findings of the North Report can be carried out in a balanced and even-handed way. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, this House is often described as a revising Chamber. We have certainly revised this Bill, or at least we shall have done so by the end of the afternoon. The face of the Bill, as it is now intended to go to another place, is substantially changed. The government amendments to be moved today, all of which, including this first batch, have my support, strike out one of the main clauses, Clause 3, entirely, rewrite six of the other 18 clauses and two of the three schedules, and alter both the Short and Long Titles. That is the extent of the revision. There are some outstanding matters which we shall discuss later in our deliberations.

As regards Clause 3, the Bill came to us with the power for the commission to consider all kinds of other outdoor expressions of cultural identity, including

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church services and painted gable ends, although not offensive sporting occasions. Now the Bill deals only with processions such as parades and protests. The Bill came to us--as it seemed to many of us--as an anti-parades Bill. However, after all these amendments, it will leave us as a parades enabling Bill, which is what I think it should be.

First, the Secretary of State's powers to ban parades or protests are not now to be easier to invoke, as the original Bill suggested. Secondly, the penalties for parade organisers when a parade goes wrong are not now--as they were originally--to be four times the maximum penalties for those who set out to break up parades. Thirdly, the same penalties will also be available for organisers of or participants in an illegal parade held without notice as are available for the organisers of or participants in a legal parade which goes wrong in some way.

The Government are to use again the old definition of processions, which includes car-borne processions or vehicle processions. The original wording of the Bill was changed from the present law and did not seem to provide for that. The Government have accepted the recommendation of your Lordships' Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation on the handling of changes to the code of conduct, the procedural rules and the guidelines. That is a complete raft of changes which alter the whole effect of the Bill. Of course we know that some people both north and south of the Border wanted an anti-parades Bill--a Bill which they could exploit as widely as possible. This House, in the amendments we are about to make, will deny them that. This Bill is now fairer, more balanced and much more likely to prove workable, effective and acceptable to everyone of good will.

It is also worth drawing your Lordships' attention to the fact that these revisions have been achieved by different parties acting together and by distinguished Cross-Benchers. I add for the record that the changes have been pressed on the Government by both life and hereditary Peers within this House. The Government were wise to accept the suggestions that have been made. The Minister gave in with good grace and was clearly effective in arguing the case that was put in your Lordships' House with his colleagues in the department. I am therefore delighted to accept all the amendments which the Government will propose this afternoon.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, the Government deserve double congratulations. First, they have achieved the remarkable feat of having united all quarters of the House in opposition to Clause 3, with which this bundle of amendments deals. To unite your Lordships' House--albeit against the clause--is no mean feat. The Government should also be proud that they had the grace to withdraw the clause and thus to improve the Bill when faced with the fact that the clause does not enhance the Bill and might well damage the ability of the Parades Commission to establish itself as a useful way of managing the parades process in the public interest. I use the word "manage" rather than "enable". I say that with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Cope.

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As regards this group of amendments, and in particular Clause 3, I wish to pay tribute from these Benches to my noble friend Lord Alderdice who in the Committee stage adopted a leadership role which assembled this motley coalition of Cross-Benchers--as has been said--the heavy and weighty guns of the Opposition Front Bench and other quarters of the House against the Government. I believe that it was largely his intellectual leadership which has led us to the point of identifying that the Bill is better without Clause 3.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Cope, I shall support the amendments before us this afternoon. However, at the end of the day, the Parades Commission will have a difficult job next spring. Its task next spring will coincide with the crucial stage of the peace process, running up to the Government's hoped for deadline of 1st May to arrive at a settlement of the difficult and contentious issues in Northern Ireland. It is extremely important that all people of good will, both in your Lordships' House and, much more importantly, in Northern Ireland itself, now try to give the Parades Commission a fair wind in this agonizingly difficult task. It will not be any easier for that body than it has been for successive governments to manage this process. I offer Mr. Alistair Graham and his colleagues best wishes in that task.

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