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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, this time at least we have had a more robust defence of the Government's policy than we had on the previous two outings. If the noble Earl, Lord Russell, were marking this, perhaps he would give quite a high mark for effort. However, I am not entirely sure that he would give too many marks for content.
It seemed to me that the noble Lord's argument was largely about school and the interaction with university and the fact that English students on leaving school have developed further intellectually than Scottish students and therefore they need only three years at university and they can join a course at the end of the first year. Some of them do that and there is evidence that a slightly greater number are doing that this year. However, that assumes that they
In any case, my understanding is that the Government are not going down the road of trying to take into account the total education bill by saying, "You have already cost us X pounds in school education, and therefore you can cost us only Y pounds in university education. If you cost us slightly more than X pounds at school we will pay less than Y pounds in further education". At one stage in the Minister's speech I wondered whether we would hear of the introduction of vouchers and fees in schools to equate costs as between primary, secondary and university education. I thought that the argument was ingenious and I congratulate the noble Lord on his robust defence of the Government's position. However, he did not address the real issue of fairness as between students from different parts of the United Kingdom studying the same course.
He did not address the European issue at all. He just said that the Government could not be blamed for the paradox. However, the Government have created the paradox. They have caused the paradox. I am providing a way out of the paradox. All they have to do to get out of the paradox is to do what the Scottish Office has done and pay out £2 million to students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland who want to study in Scotland. Then the position is on all fours inside the United Kingdom and on all fours as regards Europe. Frankly, I do not think that my son and daughter-in-law, who would be asked to pay £4,000 to send a child to Glasgow University, would be at all impressed by that reply when a girl from Italy would have to pay £3,000, as indeed would a girl from anywhere in Scotland. The Government say they believe in the integrity of the United Kingdom--we may return to this matter after Easter--and they have a Bill to devolve certain powers to Scotland. They do not seek to split the UK. However, their proposal on this issue splits the UK. I am not in the least satisfied and I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland office (Lord Dubs) rose to move, That the draft orders laid before the House on 23rd February be approved [24th Report from the Joint Committee].
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move en bloc the draft Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 (Code of Conduct) Order 1998, together with the draft guidelines order 1998 and the draft procedural rules order 1998 also made under the Act which were laid before your Lordships' House on 23rd February.
With the enactment of the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act the Government have delivered on their undertaking to address the problems of public order and sectarian divisions which are caused by some contentious parades in Northern Ireland.
As we consider this delegated legislation, I should be grateful for your Lordships' forbearance if I recap briefly the background to the main legislation and its purpose. I am conscious that we have already covered the ground extensively and that these matters have enjoyed the full rigour of parliamentary scrutiny, both here and in another place. Those of your Lordships who have followed these debates may indeed consider themselves to be as familiar with the myriad aspects of the parades question as they would ever wish to be!
Following the serious public disorder at Drumcree in 1996, the previous government set up the independent review on parades and marches under Sir Peter North which provided a very thorough analysis of the issue. The report of that review, published in January 1997, sought to create a framework which would encourage and reward local accommodation. The Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act effectively implements the recommendations of the report.
The central recommendation of the report was to set up an independent body, the Parades Commission, which would work to facilitate accommodation on contentious parades and, where this failed, would take over the decision-making role of the police on such parades. In effect, the Act will introduce a new way of dealing with contentious parades which will enable all the relevant factors to be fairly weighed up by an independent body.
The North Report recommended that the existing statutory criteria for determining whether a parade be subject to conditions should be extended to include a new factor of the impact on relationships within the community. North suggested that the key role of the guidelines should be to clarify for the Parades Commission, parade organisers, participants, police, protesters and all other interested parties, what is the practical application of this new factor.
The report also recommended that an initial task of the commission should be to prepare guidance on the procedures it would follow, in addition to those that are to be followed by the police and the organisers of processions, open-air public meetings and protests.
North also recommended that the commission should produce a code of conduct covering the expected behaviour of participants in a parade and of protesters. The Parades Commission will take ownership of the code, keeping it under review and proposing such amendments as it sees fit.
The Government fully accept those recommendations of the North Report and appropriate provisions requiring the commission to produce a code of conduct, guidelines and procedural rules were included in the Bill; and those provisions of the Bill were the subject of lengthy and rigorous debate both in this House and in another place.
The code of conduct has been prepared in accordance with Section 3 of the Act. Your Lordships will recall that there was considerable support in the House for the extension of the provisions of the code of conduct to cover those who wish to protest against parades as well as those who organise or participate in them. The Government recognise this, and an appropriate amendment was made to what is now Section 3 of the Act.
The code is designed to assist organisers of parades and of protest meetings by providing both a check-list and reminder of the points they will need to cover and the issues they will need to address in planning and on the day.
Similarly, the procedural rules have been made under Section 4 of the Act. They set out the procedures to be followed by the commission in the exercise of its functions under the Act and those to be followed by others in their dealings with the commission.
The procedural rules explain how the commission will accommodate information about the various factors detailed in the guidelines: how it will hear the views of supporters and opposers of parades; how it will express an informal broad view of the overall pattern of parades in the areas in which they are contentious; and how it will issue formal determinations on individual parades within a fixed timescale.
Section 5 of the Act requires the commission to issue a set of guidelines to which it is to have regard in deciding whether to impose conditions on a public procession. The guidelines are, in essence, the factors to which the commission will have regard in making a judgement on each individual case and they are intended, as the North Report said, to lead to greater transparency and consistency on decision making.
The Parades Commission issued the code of conduct, procedural rules and guidelines in draft form for public consultation last October. The revised versions which we are considering today have benefited greatly from this consultation. The commission then submitted the documents to the Secretary of State for laying before Parliament in draft.
We believe that these documents get the balance right and can play a very valuable role in getting to grips with what is undoubtedly a difficult and thorny issue. However, we recognise that experience on the ground may lead to a need for change and it is for this reason that Schedule 2 to the Act sets out the mechanisms by which the documents can be changed in the light of experience.
The Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act and the mechanisms it is setting up will break new grounds in the handling of parades in Northern Ireland. I recognise that we are moving into uncharted waters and that the commission will have a very challenging task in the months ahead. We do not expect that the commission will immediately bring about a marching season free of controversy or dispute. There will undoubtedly be problems and many hurdles on the way to overcome. But I believe that, with the passing of the Act and the introduction of these three documents, we
The draft orders, which will bring into effect the three Parade Commission documents, are vital components in the effective working of the new legislation. They are mechanisms which will directly assist and improve the regulation and conduct of parades and will as a result immeasurably improve prospects for peace and stability for the people of Northern Ireland over the coming months. I commend them to the House.
Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, although from these Benches we unreservedly support the orders in the light of the debates that have taken place and the amendment to the Bill itself, the notice has been very short. We are discussing orders that are already printed (and I shall say a word about the attractiveness of the design) and which come into effect at midnight. One might be tempted to say that their progress through this House is being taken pretty much as a formality and a rubber stamp. That seems regrettable. We were originally to have discussed the orders last week, and I am unclear as to why even that short space of time has disappeared. As a result, we are almost literally discussing them at the 59th minute of the 11th hour. However, carping aside, the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act has finally reached the statute book--based on the North Report and substantially amended, it must be said, in many cases by the initiative of this House--and it deserves our support.
I said that I would comment on the presentation of the booklets. They are supposed to be written so that they are useful to the man in the street, and even more so to the man who might march down the street. They are well designed and a great deal more attractive than many Northern Ireland Office documents. However, I wish I could say the same for the content. I wonder what the Plain English Campaign would say about the sentence on page 7 of the guidelines:
Perhaps I might make a suggestion to the Northern Ireland Office. It might be sensible in future to use the draftsman of the appendices to the Code of Conduct, which are absolute models of succinct Anglo-Saxon clarity. Nobody who reads the appendices is left under any misunderstanding as to what they are supposed to say. Perhaps whoever drafted the appendices might in
That said, the booklets need to be widely distributed. In responding, will the Minister say how they are to be made available? It will be no use at all if they sit in the office. I know that leading members of the Orange Order, the Apprentice Boys and most other marching groups will already be aware of the implications of the public processions Act, as, I suspect, the organisers of some counter-demonstrations will be, too. However, I wonder whether the people who participate in marches are going to know about the new rules. I should be interested to know how they are to be made available. When I last visited the Parades Commission in Belfast, it was impossible to escape without being given the sets of draft guidelines. Although I have complained about the fact that we are discussing these orders at the last minute, I wish to pay tribute to the long period of consultation which preceded the publication of these documents.
Finally, I hope that the whole House will wish Mr. Alistair Graham and the newly announced members of the Parades Commission success in their work. We are now beginning to enter the preliminaries of the parade season, from Easter weekend onwards beginning to build up to the marches of the summer. This year of all years it will be a particularly sensitive season. I hope that the codes of conduct and the guidelines will be helpful and will be made available to all those who would benefit from reading them.
Lord Fitt: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Holme, and myself have had occasion over many years in this House to draw to the attention of the House, when there is a debate on Ireland, the vast attendance of noble Lords, who rush in to hear the debate. It is potentially one of the most dangerous situations in the United Kingdom. It is something of a shame that there are not more Members present in this House to take an interest in what is happening in Northern Ireland.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will understand that he will meet no opposition in this House in relation to the orders. We have already debated them at great length both in this Chamber and in Committee. This is unique legislation for Northern Ireland, a part of the United Kingdom. It is unique and unprecedented--and, as yet, untested. I do not think that there is anyone in Northern Ireland with experience of being a representative or of living there who is not apprehensive about the marches that will take place there this year.
The noble Lord, Lord Holme, made a point that I fully support. An hour ago I received a telephone call from a journalist friend of mine whom the Minister may have met in Northern Ireland. He told me that he had read this paraphernalia, which I understand has been sent out to 600,000 people. He told me that he could not understand it. And he is a journalist--with, I suspect, a certain command of the English language. If he cannot understand it, there will be many, many people in Northern Ireland who will be even more doubtful about its contents.
Perhaps I may ask the Minister a few questions. I understand that there is a mediation role for the commission. I believe it has attempted to meet some of the more controversial figures who will be in charge of the more controversial areas in Northern Ireland. As the Minister said repeatedly, they will oversee certain marches, and there are only about 20, or at the very most 30, very difficult areas. Will the Minister tell the House whether the commission has met the spokesmen for those areas? I think immediately of the Bogside in Derry, the Ormeau Road in Belfast and a location in County Antrim. Have the persons responsible for those areas met the commission? Have they had discussions? Or have they rejected any submissions made by the commission? Is it true about the extremes on both the nationalist and the unionist sides? I feel sad to have to say that I understand the unionist side contains some Unionist Members of Parliament, elected representatives, who refuse to meet members of the commission. In the dangerous situation that exists in Northern Ireland now those elected representatives are not acting in the interests of their own constituents or in the wider interest of the people of Northern Ireland.
I understand that today Alistair Graham and two or three other members of the commission have gone to America. Whom are they expected to meet in America? With whom are they expected to hold discussions? Is it the Irish-American lobby? Because, to say the least, the Irish-American lobby has been very unhelpful in the past. Indeed, many of its members come to Northern Ireland every year at the end of July or in August, which is a very dangerous marching season in Northern Ireland, and they have been anything but helpful. They have thrown their full support behind one set of nationalist extremists against unionists in Northern Ireland. I wonder whether anything will come out of the meetings with Alistair Graham and those with him.
At the end of the day, as has been said repeatedly in this House and in another place, the conduct of the marches will be a matter for the RUC. The responsibility will fall on the police, whatever the commission may or may not do. The responsibility for maintaining law and order in Northern Ireland will rest on the shoulders of the RUC. All I can do is to wish them every vestige of luck, because they will certainly need it.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, we find ourselves in a distinctly peculiar position this evening. We are invited to approve drafts produced by a newly appointed commission, the composition of which was decided by the Secretary of State in accordance with powers conferred upon her by both Houses of Parliament in an Act which received Royal Assent on 16th February 1998.
I understand that there is to be a meeting of the Anglo-Irish conference in Dublin later this week. Your Lordships will have to wait until then to discover whether the Irish Government agree with your Lordships' decision tonight or whether the drafts before us really have the approval of yet another new commission more to the liking of the Irish Government. From the way the situation was developing in Northern Ireland before I left today, it seems very doubtful that the new commission, with its present membership, will remain in being in that form.
If anyone should doubt the leverage of Irish governments in the internal affairs of the United Kingdom, they have only to look at the scandal of an earlier Irish Government's blatant action in overturning the report of the Parliamentary Boundary Commission on which the general election last year was conducted. The Irish rejection of the Boundary Commission report, forcing Her Majesty's Government to send the commission back to the drawing board, had the effect of depriving Dr. Hendron, formerly the Member of Parliament for West Belfast, of his seat and securing the election of one Mr. Gerry Adams in his place. That was a direct result of the intervention of the Irish Government.
Last year, around 12th July, some of us were credited with taking decisions which averted a planned IRA uprising over that weekend. I shared a hope that a pattern had been established for future years. Such hopes have today been dashed by the irresponsible outburst of the Irish Foreign Minister, who is also his government's spokesman on Northern Ireland and involved in the current talks.
Even if Her Majesty's Government remain firmly in support of the membership of the commission, which they have recently appointed, the perception--and noble Lords will agree that perceptions are everything in Northern Ireland--will be that, in all its determinations, the commission will be doing the will of Dublin, and every decision of the commission, the police and the Government will henceforth be suspect. That is the uncomfortable truth.
The same perception and suspicion will surround the commission's powers to review and revise its own rules and procedures, as authorised in the Act, and also the power to review the working of the Act itself now that the commission has been contaminated by the unwise intervention of Mr. Andrews.
Last Thursday in another place, in the First Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation, the Minister for security explained that the new commission was appointed on 19th February, met the following day and endorsed the orders before your Lordships' House this evening. It is not clear to me whether the drafts were produced by the former members of the commission and then rubber stamped by the new commission within
In the changed circumstances, I have to ask the Minister whether the chief constable will still be required to supply to the commission and all its members copies of advance notices of processions, giving very sensitive information in regard to the names and addresses of every organiser and details of dates, times, routes and numbers of any procession.
Although disclosure of what should be strictly confidential information was not objectionable when the Bill was drafted last year, the position has been transformed, whether we like it or not, by the injection of the Irish Government and its agents and the probable insertion of placemen of the Irish Foreign Minister at this late stage.
In the light of these unforeseen developments, I trust that Her Majesty's Government will think again about disclosure of what amounts to classified information to persons who refuse to be classified as Crown servants. I trust that Her Majesty's Government can be persuaded of the risks involved before it is too late.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Holme, I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to hold this debate today rather than last week. The debate was not signalled on the Order Paper until the day before it was due to take place last week and the documents were not available in the Printed Paper Office until later that day. I do not regard that as an acceptable way to put legislation before this House. It has happened before; it should not happen again, in my view. It means that we are discussing this matter shortly before the code of conduct and the other documents are due to come into force. Were we not to approve these orders--although I do not anticipate that--obviously that timetable would go by the board. That is not something I would recommend to the House, on grounds of timetable or anything else.
The documents have been some time in gestation. We saw earlier drafts of them when we discussed the Bill and previously. The procedural rules document sets out the elaborate system for the commission to gather information, to take evidence and to express, first, a preliminary view and then a determination in the case of contentious parades. It is crucial--indeed the basic point of the commission's existence--that determinations should be as acceptable as possible to all concerned. It therefore seems to me right that an elaborately fair method of decision-making should be put in place, as the procedural rules do. But the rules provide much less information about how the
I should point out that in the explanatory note to the procedural rules order this part of the commission's power is described as to mediate, not to facilitate mediation. The Minister will know that this point was a matter of some contention in discussions on the Bill, and it is disappointing that those who drafted the explanatory note seem to have missed that. It does not form part of the order, so we do not need to fuss unduly, perhaps. However, it does not inspire confidence. The commission has taken that point fully on board, and that is what matters in this case.
The next document, the guidelines, sets out the factors which the commission will have to take into account in making decisions about parades and about protest meetings. They seem to cover the relevant factors, but the skill of the commissioners will lie in how they weigh up the different factors in each case. On that skill hangs their contribution to this aspect of peace in Northern Ireland.
It is the third document, the code of conduct, which is the most important of the three documents before us. It provides a check list of what needs to be considered by the organisers of parades and the organisers of protests. For those of goodwill it will be useful, no doubt, in avoiding the causing of offence and disorder. Of course, we all know that some organisers of parades wish to cause offence and some organisers of protests go to some lengths to be offended or to encourage others to be offended and sometimes to cause disorder, too.
It is, after all, obvious that no legal parade leads to disorder unless there is also a protest. That is why it is right for the code of conduct to cover protests as well, and I am glad that the Government agreed to that in the course of the Bill and that it is included in this code of conduct. But no code of conduct can prevent disorder, particularly when, as in this case, the commission's only sanction if the code is broken is to take that fact into account next time that particular organisation applies to it for a parade or for a protest. What a code of conduct may be able to do on the day is to help make clear who is responsible for causing offence or for causing disorder. As always, the disorder will fall to be dealt with by the police--by the RUC--and it is they who remain responsible for the maintenance of public order. As the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, said, that is the heaviest responsibility of all, over and above the responsibility of the commission, important as that is.
There may be some who set out to use the commission as an additional excuse for grievance. For that reason it is vital that the commission, both in its membership, which was the point of the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, and in the way it goes about its duties, is seen to be fair to the point of obsession. Fairness in this context does not mean the same as balance. Often in Northern Ireland's history, balance has been used as a substitute for fairness, but fairness is an altogether more complicated concept. Reading the code of conduct, it seems to me that the commission realises that, but the difficulty will come in putting it into practice.
Of course, there are some people, it has already emerged, who are deeply distrustful of this whole process. That was particularly obvious in the debates on these orders in Committee in another place. They want to have as little to do with the commission as possible. I do not believe that is a wise course for them to take. Anyone who is thinking of ignoring the commission or trying to sideline it should think again. It has been given, by statute, a job to do and every citizen should help it to do just that job.
On the general subject of parades in Northern Ireland, the question is sometimes asked over here as to why people in Northern Ireland need to march as they do. What good does it do? Having spent yesterday marching in London in the countryside march, I have had reason to ponder that question in a different context. There is no doubt that marching in public with those who think alike is a natural and satisfactory way of expressing one's point of view. In a democracy there are other ways, too, and there are legislatures whose job it is to make decisions, but marching is a legitimate way of drawing attention to views, and legislatures are wise to take account of those views.
I am glad to say that yesterday's march was very good tempered. Incidentally, that was by no means a foregone conclusion. The origin of the march and the immediate motivation was the proposed abolition of hunting. Small counter-protests were mounted by the "antis" and feelings run high on both sides. There has been a lot of violence at demonstrations of that kind; there has been violence at meets of the hounds. When I was representing a constituency in another place there was an attempt to dig up the grave of His Grace the Duke of Beaufort a few months after he died while his widow was still living nearby. Very strong emotions were afoot yesterday; it was nevertheless a peaceful march. In my view, it was stronger in its message for that reason. The same applies to marches of all kinds in Northern Ireland. The message is stronger when the march is peaceful.
I hope that during the coming marching season in Northern Ireland the activities of the commission will help to allow the expression of strong and enduring emotions without violence. The commission, however carefully and wisely it discharges its responsibilities, cannot achieve the impossible. But its existence can help, even if the police have to carry the ultimate responsibility.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I thank the few noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I will deal with the specific points made. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Holme, thinks that the notice was very short. In fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Cope, said a few moments ago, it was originally suggested that the House might wish to debate these orders last week. The debates were delayed in order to give noble Lords more time to consider the contents of the three documents. It was done entirely to meet the wishes of certain Members of this House. I hope that that was helpful.
The Government do not regard this House as a rubber stamp. This debate is not a formality. It is a proper debate and, throughout the discussions on this particular Act, we have listened very carefully to this House. The noble Lord will have to agree that the Government took into account many of the points made during the debates in this House. Indeed, the Bill was amended accordingly. One point which was made in this House was subsequently the subject of an amendment in another place. Nobody should accuse us of treating this House as a rubber-stamping body. I am sure that the noble Lord was not suggesting that.
I understand that copies of the draft orders and all the Parades Commission documents were sent to all noble Lords who contributed to the Second Reading debate when the Bill was going through the House. Some effort was made to ensure these were in the possession of all those who might want to contribute.
The documents were written by the Parades Commission, not by the Northern Ireland Office. I shall certainly pass on the comments about the appendices and the text to the Parades Commission, but it is not the responsibility of the NIO. I agree that we should endeavour to produce all government publications in good and clear English so that anyone can understand them. I made similar complaints over the years about the previous government's documents, so I am very sympathetic to the point made. The Government want to improve the standard of English so that what we turn out in any form is comprehensible to all who wish to read it. However, I thank the noble Lord for his helpful and supportive comments in relation to the orders and the Bill as a whole.
My noble friend Lord Fitt put his finger on the point: this is a unique piece of legislation. It is untested and clearly there must be some apprehension as to how it will work in the coming marching season. If there is goodwill, it will work well; if there is not, then we may face some difficulties. However, I hope that it will be seen by all fair-minded people that the three publications are intended in all good faith to make the situation sensible and to show that we are adopting an even-handed approach to these contentious issues.
The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, referred to a leaflet going out to 600,000 people. That was not the code, the rules or the guidelines, which have not yet gone out because they have not yet been passed. However, he referred to a leaflet that has gone through many doors in Northern Ireland. It is fairly clear. I do not know to whom he was talking, but that is the history of that matter.
The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, asked a number of specific questions. He asked whom the members of the commission had met. I understand that a number of meetings have taken place between the commission and representatives of the Bogside and Ormeau Road residents groups. He also asked whom the commission would meet on its present visit to the United States. I understand that the commission intends to meet a whole range of opinion formers in the United States on the role of the commission and how the legislation will work. I do not have precise details of the commission's itinerary or plans. I repeat that the commission is an
The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, slightly confused me. He said on the one hand that the Republic of Ireland had indicated that it was unhappy about the most recent appointments to the commission. On the other hand, he suggested that the commission would do the bidding of the Republic. I am not sure that both those propositions can stand and I suggest that neither is on the mark.
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