16 Jul 1999 : Column 627

House of Lords

Friday, 16th July 1999.

The House met at eleven of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester.

North/South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies) (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1999

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 28th June be approved [24th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the order before us today is entirely of a technical nature. As I announced in your Lordships' House yesterday, the Government will be taking steps, with the Irish Government, to institute a formal review of the implementation of the Good Friday agreement. We nonetheless consider that before we embark on the review we should be in a position whereby all of the Good Friday agreement is capable of being implemented in full. This means ensuring that all the institutions are able to fulfil the functions for which they were established. The order is necessary to ensure that the north/south implementation bodies, an important aspect of the Good Friday agreement, are able to operate in the manner agreed by the political leaders north and south and endorsed by the Assembly and the Dail.

The Implementation Bodies Agreement between the Government and the Irish Government, signed in Dublin on 8th March 1999, provided for the establishment of north/south implementation bodies as proposed under Strand II of the Good Friday agreement. The North/South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies) (Northern Ireland) Order 1999, which gives effect in domestic law to that agreement, was approved by your Lordships' House on 9th March and subsequently made on 10th March 1999.

The agreement provided for the establishment of six bodies, including an implementation body for special EU programmes. It is to have a number of functions in relation to the structural funds' community initiative programmes which benefit Northern Ireland, including the new round of community initiatives post-1999. As detailed in the agreement, it was expected that any successor to the current peace programme would be in the form of a community initiative and would fall within the terms of the treaty and the order. However, at the Berlin European Council of 25th and 26th March 1999, provision was made for the continuation of the peace programme, but not as a community initiative.

The European Commission's draft regulations for implementation of the Berlin conclusions of 29th March 1999 showed that the proposed allocation of 500 million euros for the new peace programme will come from the EU's mainstream Objective 1 budget as opposed to its separate and distinct Community initiatives budget.

16 Jul 1999 : Column 628

To ensure the implementation body has the authority to fulfil the relevant functions for the post-1999 peace programme, as was the clear intention of both governments, it has been necessary to clarify the interpretation of the original treaty agreement in respect of the establishment of implementation bodies. This was done by means of an exchange of letters between my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Ireland on 18th June 1999, confirming that the treaty should be construed as including any successor to the peace programme established within the framework of the European Community's structural funds. The text of the exchange of letters is set out in Schedule 1A to the draft order before your Lordships' House today.

The next and final step in this clarification is for both governments to bring the exchange of letters within the terms of their associated domestic legislation. Hence the order we are considering today. The equivalent Irish Government amendment Bill was passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas on 24th June 1999.

As I said at the outset, we want to ensure that the Good Friday agreement can be implemented in full. It is therefore important that this technical matter should be resolved satisfactorily. That is the purpose of this short order. I commend it to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 28th June be approved [24th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Dubs.)

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing this order today and explaining it so clearly, as he always does. I do not intend to take up a great deal of your Lordships' time. I should like to put on record that I have read Hansard from the other place where various matters were challenged by my honourable friends. I am perfectly satisfied by the responses given by the Minister in that place.

I am, however, slightly unsure of one area, which may be due to my own ignorance. While devolution has not yet taken place, I am a little concerned as to how these cross-border implementation bodies will come under scrutiny. Perhaps the Minister could enlighten me. Apart from that, I thank the Government, and in particular the Government Chief Whip's office, for all the assistance we, as the Opposition, have had during this difficult and fast-moving week.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for those comments. I am happy to hear that the Government Whips' office is co-operative, as usual. I do not think there is any doubt about that on our side. The cross-border implementation bodies will not come into existence until devolution has taken place. They will be one of the immediate consequences of a transfer of power to the Assembly. As that has not yet taken place and they do not exist, there is nothing for them to do. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

16 Jul 1999 : Column 629

Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 (Procedural Rules) Order 1999

Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 (Guidelines) Order 1999

Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Act 1998 (Code of Conduct) Order 1999

11.12 a.m.

Lord Dubs rose to move, That the draft orders laid before the House on 30th June be approved [24th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move en bloc the three orders before the House today. Under the terms of the 1998 Act, the Parades Commission is required to issue a code of conduct, procedural rules and guidelines. It is also required to keep those documents under review and has discretion to revise them from time to time, subject to the consideration of this House. The three orders we are considering this morning are a consequence of such a review.

The original documents issued by the commission were laid before Parliament on 23rd February 1998, only days after the commission assumed its full statutory powers. The commission has the 1998 marching season behind it and many major parades in the 1999 season have now also passed. With the benefit of that experience, the commission believes that the original documents can be improved upon.

As all your Lordships will be aware, parades in Northern Ireland are the subject of strongly held views on both sides of the community and consequently the commission works in a highly charged environment. Inevitably, it has been much criticised, particularly, but not exclusively, by the Orange Order. Those criticisms are well known and it is not for me to rehearse them for the benefit of the House. Indeed, I consider the criticisms to be ill-judged and ill-founded.

The Government are clear that the members of the commission have an extremely difficult task which they strive to carry out even-handedly in the best interests of all the people in Northern Ireland. To put this matter in context, it is important to stress that 97 per cent of all parades proceed without the intervention of the commission. Since 1st April 1998, the Commission has received notification of over 6,000 parades. It has found it necessary to issue route restrictions in respect of fewer than 200.

There were 616 parades notified to take place between 10th and 15th July this year. The commission issued 46 decisions in respect of these, of which only 26 consisted of route restrictions. Those are significant statistics and are usually overlooked by those commenting on the work of the Commission.

The reality is that the commission's first year with full powers was undoubtedly a difficult one. All of us will remember the scenes at Drumcree last year. Particularly tragic was the murder of the three young

16 Jul 1999 : Column 630

Quinn boys, which was associated with events at Portadown and Drumcree. Our thoughts are with the Quinn family who, particularly at this time of year, must feel that senseless loss.

In the year that followed, because of the stand-off at Drumcree, RUC officer Frankie O'Reilly was murdered, over 200 other RUC officers were injured and 73 officers were forced to leave their homes. That does not include the four families who had to flee their homes because they had a son or daughter who was a member of the RUC.

Many on both sides of the community in Portadown are prevented from leading a normal day-to-day life and the residents of the Garvaghy Road have had to endure a wholly unacceptable living environment because of the level of sectarian threat against them. The cost in human terms is appalling and is a damning indictment of the actions of a small minority of extremists who do not represent the wishes of the overwhelming decent majority of people in Northern Ireland.

However, against that, many parades passed off peacefully last year, and a different climate prevailed this summer, bringing with it a markedly different outcome. This outcome has owed much to the dignified and disciplined behaviour of the Orange Order and the restraint of the local residents. Having said that, the order still declines to engage with the commission or, in the main, to talk face-to-face with residents.

However, it has, under protest, abided by the commission's determinations and has urged its membership and supporters to uphold the law. That is reflected in the security statistics which, comparing this year with last, make striking reading. Perhaps I may quote a few, covering the period 4th to 13th July 1998 and for this year from 2nd to 13th July, which are roughly comparable periods. In 1998 there were 614 public order incidents; in 1999 there were 43. In 1998 there were 625 petrol bombing incidents; this year there were 17. In 1998 there were 137 instances of criminal damage to homes; this year 29. In terms of baton rounds fired by the security forces, 823 had to be fired last year and one was fired this year.

This outcome is due in large part to the painstaking and responsible way in which the commission, under its chairman, Alistair Graham, carried out its responsibilities, and he and his colleagues have our gratitude. As Mr Graham recently stated, it is important that the peaceful atmosphere so far this year should be built upon for the future.

I turn specifically to the orders before us. In the light of the experience to date, the commission believes that procedural changes are necessary. The orders in front of us give effect to their considered opinion on changes which are designed to enhance their operational effectiveness.

The orders deal with the commission's code of conduct, its procedural rules and guidelines orders and will give effect to the revised versions of the commission's statutory documents which were also laid before this House on 30th June. As the three orders are so closely related, it is appropriate to consider all three together.

16 Jul 1999 : Column 631

I stress to the House that many of the amendments in the revised documents are simply good housekeeping on the part of the commission. As it is under an obligation to review and revise the documents, it has taken the opportunity to update them, where necessary, and make minor grammatical changes which would not, by themselves, merit revision of the documents. I do not propose to take up the time of the House with these changes. However, having said that, there are some important amendments which are intended to streamline the existing system.

For example, changes to the procedural rules reflect the commission's experience of the limitations of the formal evidence-gathering procedure. Considerable effort was expended initially in arranging evidence-gathering sessions, with sometimes only two or three people attending to give evidence. The revised procedural rules provide for this procedure to be retained, but only as an option and where appropriate. The commission will continue to welcome all evidence, information and advice which would assist it in arriving at its final decisions. Those changes of greatest substance reflect the experience of the past year.

Paragraph 4.2 of the guidelines for commission members originally provided that, as a general rule, the commission would regard the commercial centres of towns and cities as neutral zones, and would be inclined to support the case for processions. Experience has shown this to be factually inaccurate. Commercial premises have owners and employees, all of whom come from one tradition or the other, and town centres are evenly balanced in sufficiently few cases for this to be unsafe as even a general rule. Under the revised procedures, the commission will consider the demographic balance among the residents in the immediate area surrounding any contested parts of a route and, if the area is genuinely neutral, its determination will reflect that.

Section 4 of the procedural rules originally provided for the commission to express a preliminary view about parades in a particular location. However, by the end of the 1998 marching season, the commission had issued determinations in respect of all the areas in which contentious parades take place. Its view for each location is therefore known: in addition, its annual report effectively provides a de facto preliminary view. A formal preliminary view, as originally envisaged, is now deemed to be unnecessary.

Paragraph 1.2 of the introduction to the guidelines lists factors to which the commission shall have regard in determining whether or not to impose conditions upon a parade. A new paragraph inserted after that list reflects an Appeal Court ruling that the commission is not restricted to having regard exclusively to those factors.

Having produced its amendments in draft form at the end of January, the Parades Commission engaged in an extensive consultation exercise. It was originally intended that Parliament should consider these orders in April of this year. The commission, however, agreed to defer submission of its documents at the request of several of its consultees so that they might give a fuller response. We believe it is now appropriate to take

16 Jul 1999 : Column 632

forward the revisions to these documents. One factor is the considerable increase in the number of parades being notified.

On average the commission has recorded a 50 per cent increase this year over last. Between 1st April 1998 and 31st March 1999, the commission received notification of 3,211 parades. Already this year since 1st April there have been over 2,900 parades notified to take place. If that trend continues, it can expect to receive notification of approximately 2,400 parades in the period between 1st August this year and 31st March next year.

These documents provide for a system which is even handed and impartial, to the benefit of both sides of the community. As many of the amendments are designed to streamline the system, they will be of benefit both to the commission and to those who organise and take part in parades. It is in everyone's interest that the amendments are made at the earliest opportunity. I commend these three orders to your Lordships' House.

Moved, That the draft orders laid before the House on 30th June be approved [24th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Dubs.)

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page