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Petroleum Bill [H.L.]

3.9 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill on re-commitment and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of re-commitment be discharged.

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

On Question, Motion agreed to.

9 Feb 1998 : Column 864

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

3.10 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons amendments be now considered.

Moved, That the Commons amendments be now considered.--(Lord Dubs.)

COMMONS AMENDMENTS
[The page and line refer to Bill (101) as first printed by the Commons.]
COMMONS AMENDMENT

1

Clause 2, page 1, line 16, at end insert ("and protest meetings")

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No.1. It may be helpful if I speak also to Amendments Nos. 3, 4, 5, 6, 11, 12 and 13.

The amendments reflect considerable discussion both here and in another place about the need for balance in the Bill. I know some have suggested this Bill is aimed exclusively at the traditions of one side of the community. The Government do not believe that that is the case, but have recognised the strength of feelings the issue arouses, as well as the wide degree of support expressed for the balancing measures introduced by the Government during the Bill's passage through this House.

After considerable reflection, the Government put down further amendments during the Bill's progression through the Commons. They introduce a notice requirement for those organising protest meetings against public processions, and extend the coverage of the code of conduct to deal with the conduct of those participating in protest meetings as well as processions.

The amendments are not simply designed to address perceptions of the Bill, however. The Government believe they are useful in their own right. I do not think anyone could object to the introduction of a notice requirement for protest meetings. It is clearly important that the police and the commission have as much information as possible in dealing with possibly contested parades.

We have not chosen to go so far as to put protest meetings under the jurisdiction of the commission. For one thing, that would represent a major increase in the commission's workload; but nor do we think it is necessary.

The police already have sufficient powers to deal with protest meetings under the public order order. When they pose a problem, as they sometimes do, it is usually a public order one which the police are in the best position to deal with.

There will however be close co-operation between the police and the commission. The new clause provides for the commission to receive copies of the notice as soon as it is handed in to the police. I am confident the police

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and the commission will be able to co-ordinate any actions necessary to minimise the difficulties which a contested public procession and related protest meeting might cause.

Similarly, the Government have recognised the weight in the arguments put forward both here and in another place about the need for a code of conduct for counter-demonstrators as well as marchers. A code of conduct could be useful in itself. In addition, for the sake of balance we think it is important that when assessing any past breaches of the code of conduct by marchers, the commission should also be able to take account of the behaviour of counter-demonstrators, for example to judge the level of provocation there may have been.

These measures were discussed during the Bill's passage through this House. No doubt some of your Lordships feel these amendments could have been made at an earlier stage. However, I am confident that they will be supported. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1.--(Lord Dubs.)

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, the Minister has rightly anticipated the general support for the amendments in this group. The amendment with which we are dealing, Amendment No. 1, requires the commission to keep itself informed of protest meetings. I should have expected it to do that in any event but it is no bad thing to have that provision on the face of the Bill.

The next two amendments in the group introduce the code of conduct in relation to protest meetings. I am sure that that is right, too. As the Minister stressed, it is extremely important to achieve the right balance with this Bill. In my view, as I said before at earlier stages, the balance of the Bill was not right when it came before us originally and this measure helps to correct it. By extending the requirement to have a code of conduct applying to protest meetings, we are improving the balance of the Bill and it is right that we should do that.

The main new clause introduces the requirement to give notice of protest meetings relating to public processions. I believe that 14 days' notice is the right period to choose. Clearly there needs to be 28 days' notice in relation to public processions and the 14 days is to follow after that.

The only difficulty is in connection with the definitions of what is a "related protest meeting". The Government have tried to tackle that, particularly with Amendments Nos. 11 and 12. So far as I can see, they have not made a bad fist of it. However, I was rather surprised that it took two bites at the cherry as it were. The matter is complicated because the definition of "related" is in a different clause from the definition of "protest meeting". But I do not complain too much about that. It is helpful to have that new clause and those provisions generally in the Bill.

Our consideration of the matter has not been made easier by the speed with which the amendments have been brought before your Lordships' House. Last week there was an indication that we should be dealing with

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these matters today but the papers were not available when the House rose at the end of last week. They did not become available to noble Lords generally until this morning. That is an unsatisfactory way in which to try to unravel the complexities of the wording of this matter. This House is a revising chamber but it needs the opportunity to consider words in order to get the revisions correct.

However, I am quite sure that the thrust of the amendments is right in order to improve the balance of the Bill.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

COMMONS AMENDMENT

2

Page 1, line 21, leave out ("mediate, or")

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 2.

This amendment would remove from the face of the Bill references to the Parades Commission engaging in direct mediation, while retaining references to its power to "facilitate mediation".

In introducing this amendment, the Government have taken account of the strong feelings expressed both here and in another place that there might be a clash for the commission engaging both in direct mediation, and in being the ultimate decision maker on contested parades.

Facilitating mediation will of course be a prime responsibility of the commission, and a lot of good work has already begun to that effect. The commission will seek to encourage dialogue through a network of "authorised officers" who will seek to encourage local agreement.

I am sure that the Parades Commission will learn from its experience on the ground both last year and in the coming marching season. The amended power will still be flexible enough for them to put what they see as best practice into operation.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 2.--(Lord Dubs.)

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I am not sure that there is as much difference as has sometimes been represented between engaging in and facilitating mediation. If people are gathered around a table discussing a particular matter and trying to arrive at a conclusion, the point at which it goes from facilitating mediation to being mediation seems to me could give rise to difficulties.

Nevertheless, the amendment cleans up the wording a bit without interfering too much with what we all want to see the commission achieve--that is, mediation to assist people to arrive at agreement about how parades can properly take place.

Lord Cooke of Islandreagh: My Lords, I believe that the amendment is probably more important than it may seem. For the commission to have been responsible for the mediation at the same time as carrying out the determination would, I believe, have been quite impossible. Perhaps I may speak also to the amendments in general. Although we have had only a very short time

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to study them--in my case, only about an hour-- I recognise that, together, they make a considerable improvement and will reduce the difficulties which will arise from the Bill as it is enacted in Northern Ireland.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

COMMONS AMENDMENTS

3

Clause 3, page 2, line 10, after ("procession") insert ("or protest meeting")

4

Page 2, line 12, at end insert ("or protest meeting")

5

After Clause 6, insert the following new clause--


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