|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Richard: My Lords, I share the noble Lord's views. The Government are conscious of the responsibilities that they owe to their fellow Commonwealth members. As regards negotiations inside the European Union, we stated in the communique that we shall do everything we can to ensure that, for example, the position of the Caribbean banana producers is assured in the light of the rulings of the World Trade Organisation.
As regards the way in which the Commonwealth should now be approached, it is not often a chairman can say with conviction, "I was right", as the noble Lord can. His committee was right and I hope that we are continuing the process successfully.
Lord Richard: My Lords, I am not sure that I totally understood the question. If my noble friend is asking me whether there are any proposals for encouraging democracy in individual countries, the answer is only in the most general sense of the word and through the existing Commonwealth institutions. It would not be sensible for the Commonwealth to embark on a democratic education programme of all the member countries. On the other hand, severe sanctions are available to it if a country is in persistent and serious breach of the Harare Declaration. On that the Commonwealth was totally agreed.
Viscount Waverley: My Lords, I, too, unreservedly congratulate the meeting on its economic agenda, in particular the debt and development issues relating to small states. Will the Government follow through issues relating to banana quotas, which I trust will continue to feature in a successor Lome agreement?
The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, was there any discussion on accession to the Commonwealth of countries which are in the queue to join? Is there any procedure for accepting and acknowledging the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth and what functions are or might be implicit in such a procedure?
Lord Richard: My Lords, in order for a country to become a member of the Commonwealth three things must be in place. First, it must have had a constitutional association with another member of the Commonwealth. Secondly, it must have a regime which is consonant with the Harare principles, as set out in the declaration. Thirdly--and I omitted to mention it earlier--it must recognise the Queen as the Head of the Commonwealth. If those conditions are satisfied the application will be received and considered in the usual way.
The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, I am obliged for that answer. Is there a formula whereby a newly acceding country recognises the Queen as Head of State? Is there a set formula or occasion for that purpose?
Lord Richard: My Lords, I am not sufficiently "protocolaire" to know whether there is a precise sentence which the head of the incoming state must utter. Certainly, the new state must accept the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth.
Lord Richard: My Lords, I know of no proposed mechanism whereby the dependent territories should be "coalesced" into one set of representatives at the Commonwealth Conference. If I am wrong I shall write to the noble Lord.
As regards Mozambique, perhaps the Commonwealth heads of government decided to admit it in the light of the conditions which were then prevalent and had been prevalent in southern Africa and the fact that there were a large number of Commonwealth countries in southern Africa. It was a practical and pragmatic decision which this Government would not wish to reverse.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I believe that I can speak for other noble Lords who plan to speak in the Northern Ireland debate today by saying that we in no way resent the injection of the Statement and the subsequent exchanges on Commonwealth affairs, given the fact that we in Northern Ireland are deeply concerned and interested in the well being of the Commonwealth in general.
I, too, should like to offer my sincere congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, on his impressive maiden speech; and, indeed, on his first speech from the Dispatch Box. That is an example of speedy promotion which comes as no great surprise to any of us who had the great privilege of working with the noble Lord during his very beneficial service in Northern Ireland. I should also like to point out that we are encouraged by the presence today of at least two former Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and of several Ministers who served in the Province.
As the Minister and the Liberal spokesman have said, the 1997 phase plainly failed because the organisers of traditional processions refused to play the enemy game. That avoidance of the traps, particularly in the 24 to 48 hours before 12th July of this year, threw the IRA/Sinn Fein into such confusion that, in a desperate attempt to regain the high moral ground, they called the current ceasefire. I do not complain about that; indeed, it is a bonus for everyone. I have outlined the background because in the remaining six weeks of the so-called marching season--that is, from the 12th July to the end of August--the entire situation was transformed and, as a result, the Province was, and is, well on the road to normality. In a sense that confirmed the view of the previous government that heavy handed legislation might not be the wisest course. They may have had in mind the Americanism, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". So I would absolve the previous Secretary of State of accusations of delay in such matters. I believe that he was wise to wait and see how the so-called marching season progressed.
When I accepted an invitation to tender my views to Dr. North and his review body, I advised against hasty measures of a permanent nature, explaining that the IRA always orchestrated a given target until success was achieved and then simply moved on to another target. I have to say with a great deal of sadness and regret that the IRA has now identified such a fresh target in the Province--the widespread Royal British Legion parades on Remembrance Sunday, when, like many of your Lordships, I shall be participating as a branch chairman in a truly cross-community, non-sectarian tribute which has been observed for 75 years. Over recent weeks certain bodies, not far removed from the so-called, "concerned citizens", have been going around expressing concern and opposition to those customary observances. For example, seeking assurances that Royal British Legion standards bearing a small element of the national flag in one corner should not be displayed; and, further, that no regimental colours or, indeed, Naval or Royal Airforce Ensigns should be carried.
There could be no doubt that this marks the beginning of a new phase of IRA activity which could not possibly have been foreseen by the North review body. Given the fact that the Royal British Legion is a United Kingdom organisation, I have to say that Her Majesty's Government should not ignore the possibility of an extension of those activities to England, Scotland and Wales of the IRA turning crowd scene tactics to Great Britain. I hope that the Minister will consider expanding and extending the Bill to cover the whole of the United Kingdom. The fact that such powers were on the statute books would be a real deterrent to any IRA sub-contractors planning various forms of disruption in Great Britain, based as they would be on the existing networks in this country which have sustained the bombing campaign far beyond Northern Ireland.
With the Committee stage of the Bill ahead of us, it is unnecessary to go into detail on the various clauses. Therefore, I shall confine my remarks to what I believe are the underlying issues. We shall need to look carefully at Clause 2 which gives the commission two
There is a further inconsistency between Clauses 7 and 14 in the matter of penalties in regard to failure to comply with the law. When we come to the Committee stage, surely we ought to try to achieve a real balance between those who deliberately break the law and those who do their best to comply with it but may have found it difficult in certain circumstances to do so. Clause 7 also requires the giving of 28 days' notice, which will not greatly affect traditional parades because most of them are organised at least 12 months in advance. However, I wonder whether there is an infringement of civil liberties implicit in the clause. To me the only safeguard resides in subsection (5)(b) which provides for an exemption of a "class",
I believe that there is also need for a rethink on Clause 8, subsections (1) and (2), which give powers to the commission to issue determinations. Presumably those determinations will have to be enforced by the police. The police will therefore be exposed to censure, first, by the news industry and then, to some extent, by sections of the public who will misunderstand the real situation and the real powers of the commission. I have one suggestion which your Lordships may like to consider between now and Committee. Might it not be possible for two or three members of the deciding body--that is to say, the commission--to be physically present at the limited number of predictable flashpoints to make it clear that the decisions were theirs and to explain to television teams on the spot that the police had no discretion in the matter?
Finally, might it be possible to have clear guidance on the input of the Irish Government? That is not a hypothetical question because Irish Government Ministers have in the past stated--and, on occasions, boasted--that they have applied pressure on Her Majesty's Government in regard to decisions made on various processions. Until now that was the only identifiable channel between Dublin Ministers and Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office. However, it would be safe to assume that there could have been day to day communication via the joint secretariat, and no doubt that occurred.
However, this Bill alters the situation considerably. The key body in this whole operation is now the new commission which will in practice take the important decisions. Will the commission be subjected to direct pressure from the Irish Government or any other western government, or will all foreign influence be brought to bear on the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who might then have difficulty in transmitting the foreign
Lord Fitt: My Lords, the Northern Ireland representatives in this House, who formerly were elected representatives for many years, still carry with them the baggage of their cultural identities. I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Cope, to the Opposition Benches. He and I were Members of another place. He will know that in this House opinions are held but not with the same enthusiasm--for want of a better word--as those held by elected representatives who have to fight the next election. I am certain that the noble Lord will consider that everyone speaks sincerely in this House.
This legislation which has been brought before the House is controversial. As I have already said, we carry the baggage of our experiences in Northern Ireland over many years. The noble Lord who has just spoken and I are perhaps the two oldest former Northern Ireland elected representatives. I remember vividly a procession on the Longstone Road that was led by a Northern Ireland Cabinet Minister. It was one of the most contentious and controversial marches that took place at that time. That Northern Ireland Cabinet Minister, a Minister of home affairs who was in charge of law and order in Northern Ireland, led that unionist march much to the chagrin, fear and loathing of the minority community who lived in that area. I am happy to say that that Minister began, over many years, to realise that such demonstrations of his authority and superiority at that time were no longer relevant. Indeed he became a colleague of mine at the time of the Sunningdale Agreement. I refer to Brian Faulkner. Therefore changes have taken place but at that time that march engendered fear. People living in Northern Ireland, particularly those of my age, still carry memories of that march.
The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, spoke of human rights and liberties. I remember sitting in the old Stormont Parliament in 1953. At that time the unionist government, which represented the overwhelming unionist majority, brought to the statute book in Northern Ireland one of the most draconian, apartheid Acts of Parliament ever promulgated in Northern Ireland--the flags and emblems Bill. That Bill gave the unionists in Northern Ireland every right to march wherever and whenever they wanted. At the same time the Bill placed restrictions on the nationalist minority in Northern Ireland.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, said that he thought the civil rights movement began in 1969. However, that is not the case. I was there when it began in 1964 in the general election of that year. I was an agent in West Belfast. One of the candidates, Liam MacMillan, was a Republican candidate. On his platform there was an Irish tricolour to establish his cultural identity. The
We still carry memories of those marches and of the people involved in them. It has been said that of the 3,000 marches that occur at the moment in Northern Ireland only 20 or 30 are contentious. That is quite true. I have anxieties about the Concerned Residents' Association, some members of which are genuine but some are bogus. Some of them are manipulated by Sinn Fein and the IRA. Their actions are not directed to help the interests of residents and tenants. Their actions are dictated by political objectives. However, most of the marches in Northern Ireland have taken place for many years and are non-contentious.
I should like to welcome the legislation that we are discussing, but I have reservations as to whether it will be effective. The commission may sit and perform its functions, but at the end of the day the RUC will have to police all the demonstrations. The RUC will be the body in the middle, as it has been for many years.
The noble Lord, Lord Holme, expressed some reservations about Clause 3 of the Bill. I have many reservations about that clause. I do not understand why it was introduced at the last minute. The words "Public Processions etc." on the front of the Bill are a reference to the provisions of Clause 3. The Bill seeks to take account of expressions of cultural identity of the people of Northern Ireland. I wish to discuss further some of these cultural expressions. In unionist Protestant areas there are kerbstones painted red, white and blue, but in other areas kerbstones are painted green, white and orange. There are some gable walls depicting William crossing the Boyne and other gable walls depicting the Pope and the Virgin Mary. There are some gable walls depicting IRA volunteers and other gable walls depicting UVF volunteers. These are all expressions of the cultural identity of those areas. Are we to see members of the commission going from kerbstone to kerbstone, from gable to gable and from flagpole to flagpole giving their impressions of these items? The whole stance of Clause 3 is ludicrous. I am sure that by the time this Bill leaves this House that will have been recognised.
I believe that the commission's report was drawn up in its entirety by Dr. North. It pointed to the divisions which exist between the two cultures in Northern Ireland. When the recommendations of the commission start to bite, the marching season in Northern Ireland will be starting. That will be in March or April of next
The Bill refers to public expressions of culture identity, and states that these must be carried out in daylight. One cannot paint kerbstones in the dark. One cannot draw murals of King William, the Pope, or anyone else in the dark. So they will have to be done in daylight. Will a member of the commission watch? If he watches King Billy being painted on a gable wall, and makes any objection I would not lay too much money on his survival. We have to look at the reality of the situation.
We are still living with the past, with the flag and emblems legislation which created such a mindset among the minority in Northern Ireland. The incoming Labour Party abolished that legislation in 1966, and certainly not before its time. However, the existence of that Act in Northern Ireland created in the minds of the majority community the concept that, "We are the masters. We have the Government behind us. We will decide where we will march. But, more importantly, we will decide where you will not march". I talk only of the 50 years about which I can recall. It will be very difficult for all those involved in this legislation to get over that past history.
I believe that the personnel on the commission are responsible people. But they will have to be very aware of the sensitivity of both communities and must not appear to ban one community from marching, and then give the other community some scrap to keep it quiet. The people of Northern Ireland are not fools. The vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland wants to see the marches take place, as they have done over many years without difficulty.
Lord Blease: My Lords, at this Second Reading of the Public Processions etc. (Northern Ireland) Bill, I wish to say that I welcome the Bill. I commend the efforts of the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Dr. Mowlam, the Northern Ireland Office and the newly formed Parades Commission for the speedy way in which the complex aspects of parades have been examined and the proposed legislative measures compiled. I support the declared principles of the Bill and will join in every way possible to expedite the essential parliamentary procedures in this House.
I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley. I am pleased to see him here and compliment him on his maiden speech. With his understanding and experience of affairs in Northern Ireland, his opinion in this House will help with the growing awareness of the totality of affairs in the Province.
I listened with interest to remarks of my noble friend Lord Fitt on the role of the RUC. I share my noble friend's respect and join with his thanks for the way that the RUC has dealt in the past with the tremendous problems of marches. I join with my noble friend also in saying that 3,000 parades are held annually in Northern Ireland. About 20 of those cause trouble. Those troubles could be sorted out at their origin. The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, has also had experience of Northern Ireland. He pointed out in a positive way that we must discuss the principles of the Bill in detail, and referred to the role of the commission.
My experience has not been that of an elected Member of the Northern Ireland Parliament but as a trade union official for over 20 years. I had to organise, arrange and be responsible for hundreds of marches, to Stormont, to my noble friend Lord Fitt and others lobbying against unemployment and for change in our community. There was always a sense of responsibility. The May Day parade in particular was welcomed by the public in general. I always received help from the RUC, and had every convenience made available to achieve success. I am sure that such help is always forthcoming when a parade is mounted with a specific need.
I do not wish to go into great detail on the Bill. There are many problems as regards the day-to-day operation of the commission. My noble friend Lord Fitt examined the detail of the day-to-day working of the commission. However, there is also the operation of the 28-day period. The police have to have notice of parades. The commission has to be referred to. The legislation provides that the commission presents an annual report. I am not sure that an annual report by the commission will help this House to understand the times in which the problems occur. It will probably be the responsibility of the Secretary of State and the Minister in this House to report on the experience of the commission.
Finally, I wish to deal with a few points that I believe may arise. I do not wish to detain the House with a half appraisal; we shall be occupied with the details at Committee stage. In my experience, problems arose not with members on the parades but from the hangers on,
I refer to a point which perhaps should be conveyed to the commission rather than dealt with in the Bill. At this stage one wonders about the proper way to handle it, but it is important to draw attention to this fact. At what age should people agree to participate in a parade? I have seen hundreds of children in a parade. I have seen babies in prams and youngsters being carried. It makes for a sensitive area in which it is difficult to apportion responsibility. One is worried as to how the situation can be controlled if something happens.
My noble friend Lord Fitt mentioned the use in the Bill's Title of the term "etc." in relation to public meetings. Very often, following parades, public meetings are held. It is at those meetings that the flames are fanned and the difficulties arise. I am sure that the Minister will be called upon in Committee to deal with a number of these matters--how they should be conveyed to the commission, how they should be dealt with on the Floor of the House and what should be included in the Bill. Those are the problems that immediately arise. In any case, I wish to indicate to the Minister who will reply that he has huge support in many aspects of the very difficult job that he has to undertake.
Lord Alderdice: My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for the conscientious and detailed way in which he outlined the provisions in the Bill. We have quickly come to recognise that approach as characteristic of the way in which he works and presents matters in this House, and we greatly appreciate it. Perhaps I may add my own word of welcome to the noble Lord, Lord Cope, who made his maiden speech. I came to know the noble Lord when he served at the Northern Ireland Office. He was recognised there with some distinction for the solid, informed, conscientious and steady way in which he carried out his responsibilities. In someone who dealt with security matters in Northern Ireland, those characteristics were of enormous and reassuring importance. They were apparent in his speech today. We welcome the noble Lord, and look forward to his further contributions on Northern Ireland and other issues in this House.
As the noble Lord, Lord Cope, will know, the issue of parades, or indeed any other aspect of Northern Ireland life, tends to become quickly infected with the ancient feud. Over a long period of time parades have shown themselves to be susceptible to that infection. In Northern Ireland, it is not just a question of the past 20 or 30 years--or in the more extensive experience of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, 50 years. If we go back 100 years we find that governments were moved to ban all marches for a period of time because they became the occasion for violence, trouble and disorder.
That was not always the case. There were times, for example, when Orangemen went out not to march but, as they said, to walk. That distinction in terminology was significant. At times when the community was more
More recently, those kinds of difficulties have come to infect the whole process. The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, alluded to that, pointing out that there are those who wish to express objections to particular parades--in some cases parades that have gone on for a long period of time without significant disorder--because they want to make a political point that they are now in control of the particular area. There are some on the loyalist side who, knowing that significant demographic changes have taken place in an area and that it is no longer their particular area, nevertheless want to continue to hold their march, as though in some way they will continue to show that they have control. They often wish to do so at a time of greatest anxiety on their part that they are no longer in control. So in recent years the matter has come to the fore in a way that it did not previously.
In this regard the noble Lord, Lord Cope, will find a change in his experience. Previously, he had the good fortune to be in government. Now he will experience the enormous frustration of being requested by government to provide advice. Noble Lords may ask why it should be frustrating to be requested to provide advice. When one is first asked, one feels honoured. One gives consideration to the matter, consults widely, returns with the best thought-out plans that one can, presents them to the Minister, and then finds that one of two things tends to happen. Either the Minister refuses to accept the advice--that is the more fortunate possibility--or, less fortunately, the Minister accepts some of the advice and puts it into operation in such a way as to produce the worst possible result and the greatest possible frustration, and you receive the blame for having tendered the advice in the first place.
Dr. Peter North may well find himself in that situation, and to some extent at the hands of two succeeding governments. The first, the previous Government who asked for the advice, received it. Reading through it in detail at the time it was published and again more recently, I find the report remarkably good. I should not say "remarkably" in relation to Dr. North and his two colleagues; I should say, "expected" good report. I particularly expected it because so many of the matters that he included were based on advice that I and my colleagues had given to him. The first was that it would be good to have a commission to produce some kind of advice, mediation, and indeed determination if that were required.
The next year, 1996, the whole Drumcree episode was every bit as bad as we had predicted it would be. So we returned with our proposals, newly burnished and expanded a little, with more detail, and this time with much greater support from all and sundry, who had begun to realise the trouble that was brewing. The North Commission was established and produced the report; and the Government, I fear, balked somewhat at it and felt it would be better to engage in what may be described as "wheelbarrow" politics; that is to say, you put the matter in front of you and wheel it along, not necessarily unpacking the burden at that stage.
I support the Bill strongly; I wish to see it come into operation. However, there are two major problems. First, if there is to be negotiation between those who want to hold marches--they need not necessarily be loyal orders; they may well be nationalists--and those in the area who are at best unsure about the march being held, often a deal must be struck.
Given that there are usually a number of marches down any particular road over a period of a year, there needs to be some balance of the number of marches, the kind of marches, and what is expected over a period of time. Peter North recognised that. He referred to it in Recommendation 15, in Chapter 12 of his report. He states that the pattern must be viewed over the period of a year. It is clear that the current commission believes that to be a good idea. In the procedural rules published yesterday, it points out that in expressing a preliminary view it would like to examine any or all of the parades in a location. But if the provision is not clearly marked on the face of the Bill, I guarantee that there are those who will challenge whether the commission can enforce its recommendations; who will put the matter to judicial review, and so on. The last thing we need is for the commission to be dragged through that kind of situation where there is an uncertainty in its own mind and that of the community as to whether it really has the power to look at these matters. I hope that either the Minister and his colleagues will consider including a clause with appropriate wording that would not be incongruent with the European Convention on Human Rights or that they might be prepared to accept the views of some of the
The second problem has already been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and my noble friend Lord Holme of Cheltenham; that is, the provisions of Clause 3 relating to expressions of cultural identity. I can only assume that the Orange Order, the Black Preceptory and the Apprentice Boys assumed that the purpose of the commission was to ban a certain number of marches--enough to appease those who did not want the marches. I have a different view. Where Orange marches or Apprentice Boys marches are inappropriate or insensitive and should be banned or re-routed, then so be it. But there could well be unreasonable requests by residents who are simply trying to stir up trouble. In such cases the Orange march should be allowed to go its course with legal backing; the police should not have to make the determination but simply ensure that the march went through. Unfortunately, I have the feeling that unionist people assumed that the commission was going to be anti-unionist and suggested to the Government that some balancing clause would need to be put in.
The term "cultural identity" tends to be one used more by nationalists in Northern Ireland, at least in the past. Therefore the connoting of other forms of cultural identity in the Northern Ireland context is the kind of language used to describe what unionists might think of nationalists and therefore something that could be banned on the other side.
In a previous debate in your Lordships' House I pointed out that the way forward was not to produce two sets of rights which would always have to be balanced one against the other because there would always be a dispute as to who was on the short end of the stick. The way forward is to produce one set of rights which applies to everybody: one commission for parades, no matter who sets them up, to adjudicate between the paraders and the residents, no matter which side of the community they come from.
When you introduce expressions of cultural identity, you do two things. First, you identify cultural identity with political allegiance. That notion has bedevilled politics in Ireland for the last 100 years: the insistence that if you are a Protestant you have to be a unionist and, at best, light on your Irishness; and if you are a Catholic you have to be a nationalist and certainly would put Irish at the top of the tree.
When we include in a piece of legislation a commitment that cultural identity will be some kind of balance to the commission on parades, which is mostly concerned with Orange parades, we fall into that very trap. It is a particular foolishness because, as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, pointed out, while unionists, Orangemen and others might well think the commission will find itself applying cultural expression mostly to representations of Gaelic/Catholic/nationalist identity, I can guarantee that there will be those sophisticated enough in the nationalist community to say, "Here is another stick with which to beat unionists". And there
I hope that the Minister and his colleagues will be prepared to look carefully at whether a clause such as Clause 3 adds to or enormously detracts from the possible success of the Bill, which otherwise, in its fullness and its congruity with the North Report, I fully endorse and heartily welcome.
Lord Cooke of Islandreagh: My Lords, all the points which I intended to make today have been covered--and in most cases covered rather better than I could do--by other noble Lords and my remarks will therefore be brief.
I welcome this Bill as a serious attempt to find a better way forward. It will at least relieve the Chief Constable of the sole responsibility for permitting or banning parades or processions. He and his officers have in the past acted as mediators, arbitrators and then decision-makers where there have often been significant political implications. He has had an impossible job. The commission will have a difficult job, but at least the way it will operate will be laid down in a structured manner.
Several noble Lords have spoken of the 3,000 or more marches and parades which take place every year, 20, or even fewer, of which perhaps give rise to serious problems. We should not forget that walking or parading throughout the Province is on many occasions a social activity. Throughout the Province parades by Orange orders or the Ancient Order of Hibernians have often taken place in the same area with some understanding and mutual respect. It has not been uncommon for there to be co-operation, perhaps in the lending or borrowing of band instruments and so on. I hope that the scale of the structure to be imposed will not be totally out of line with these peaceable parades.
There are endless parades. What is a parade? Is it a small Church parade, a walk on a Sunday? Such things happen almost spontaneously. Care will need to be taken about the definition of a parade. There are all sorts of small gatherings and those involved would not think of giving 28 days' notice; they just happen. That must be made clear; otherwise there will be great confusion and tension.
A recent and more sinister development is that Sinn Fein/IRA regards many nationalist areas as its territory and has actively encouraged resistance to parades by the loyal orders, perhaps under the excuse of culture but in fact to increase unrest and to prove that the police are not accepted and that it is the police who provoke riots in their areas.
The Sinn Fein/IRA objective is to prevent loyal order parades by threat of violence. On occasions this summer concessions were offered by loyal orders for some contentious parades but these did not meet with a positive response. In the past few days in Bellaghy in Co. Londonderry the residents committee objected to the traditional Armistice Sunday parade by the Royal British Legion, an entirely non-political organisation, because of the band that will be used. This clearly suggests the nature of the problem and the commission's task.
Reasonableness and mediation are not the answer where the Sinn Fein/IRA tactic is to cause trouble. If it bans traditional parades by the loyal orders because nationalists threaten violence, that will not be acceptable. If the commission determines that a parade cannot reasonably be objected to and permits it to take place, any breach of the peace will be another problem for the police. The commission's task is not an enviable one.
Clause 3 has been spoken of at length. It makes no sense to me. I know that it was added at the last moment to try to bring in the matter of cultural identity. I see nothing but trouble from it, and serious consideration must be given to abolishing Clause 3 or writing it in some way that makes sense. At the moment, it is a recipe for trouble. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, that any expression of cultural identity immediately starts apparently to favour one side or the other. That is quite the wrong way to go about it. The Bill must be written in a way in which the treatment will be the same and be fair treatment for all concerned.
Clause 7 requires notice of a parade. What is a parade? That question must be looked at very carefully. To go through such an enormous procedure for very small gatherings and walks will create an impossible situation.
The work of the commission has to be formalised with a code of conduct and procedural rules. But laying down a formal procedure for objections may--indeed, will--encourage objections and protests. It could become a shop for manufacturing grievances. That aspect must be watched because there are enough alleged grievances already in Northern Ireland.
Lord Desai: My Lords, several noble Lords have spoken on this subject with much greater authority than I could ever bring to it. Perhaps I may bring to this matter a different perspective, which I feel it is a duty to bring to the problem of Northern Ireland. After all, it is the problem of all of us, whether or not we live there.
First, as many noble Lords have said, out of the 3,000 or so parades, demonstrations and marches which take place, only a very few cause problems. It is only a very small number which has caused the major problems that we have seen on our television screens. That happened especially in 1995 and 1996, when there were two such episodes.
The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, said, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." I say, "If it's broke, please only fix that part which has gone wrong. Don't replace the whole machine." We must understand precisely the way the commission has to operate. All parades are not at issue. All parades should not become an issue. All forms of expression of cultural identity are not in contention and we should not bring them into contention. It is very important that we concentrate on the two or three major "set piece" occasions (if I may so call them) which have in recent years become occasions for confrontation.
If that is the case, we must consider the work of the commission in a different way. One of the great problems in setting up commissions is that they want to have something to do. If they do not have anything to do they will invent something to do and it will become a huge industry. There will be lists of issues such as cultural identity, and so on, and they will go on for ever.
Also, it is very important that the guidelines issued by the commission talk about "local accommodation" in a very positive way. I believe that it is a problem of local accommodation and consultation between the citizens so far as possible without having to bring in the commission. Ideally, the commission should be an invisible hand--it should not actually be there. So far as possible it should encourage the local community to act.
In that respect, confusion often arises through defining the problem in much greater generality. I am always surprised when people discuss this matter or write reports on it. Excellent as this report is, it does not go into the laws of those countries in which communal
So I believe that this is not a problem of cultural identity or whatever. It is a problem of how one can stop a process before it becomes a seriously physically violent process. Everything else should be allowed to happen as it does. We shall not solve the whole problem by this legislation or any other piece of legislation. The problem may or may not solve itself, but that is another issue.
I see the commission's remit as centred very much around Clause 2--mediating, helping, informing and educating--rather than taking the route of determinations, where it will get into a very invidious position. People will ask, "Who does the commission represent? What power does it have?" Eventually, it will become a political body. Political power lies with the Secretary of State, and that is where it will end up. That will only devalue the commission. A tough decision cannot be taken by the commission; all it can do is solve problems which are suitable for resolution at a fairly friendly level.
It will be very important to see the commission as much more of a civil society organisation, helping other forces to achieve local reconciliation and local accommodation, than as a body which frequently takes the determination route, which I hope it does not have to do. That way lies trouble.
I also share the reservations of other noble Lords with regard to Clause 3, which I do not even understand. Certainly, if the intention is to open out to many more issues, I would suggest that either we stop now or, if there must be a Clause 3, then forget to implement it.
I say only one more thing, relating to what was said by my noble friend Lord Fitt. We more or less have a fixture list of major parades; we know the dates, and so forth. Therefore, as happened in 1997, one can take anticipatory action. The major problem arises from starting in March, while the talks process is at an extremely delicate stage. We may fix a deadline; but deadlines can be inciting.
I ask my noble friend to say to the commission--there are now only four or five months--"make sure the discussions start now", especially if the talks process either does not finish in May, looks as though it may be prolonged or--heaven forbid!--breaks down. There will then have to be a solid third line of defence because that is not the task of the commission. That is something we must anticipate early on.
As has been pointed out, there are interesting inter-relationships between ceasefires and no ceasefires and civilian troubles in relation to marches. That interaction is going to be extremely important.
I welcome the Bill but hope that my noble friend will take on board the comments made this afternoon. The smaller and more accommodating a civil society the commission becomes, the better it will be. We do not want to get into a situation whereby more issues become contentious than is already the case.
Lord Monson: My Lords, I start from the distinctly unfashionable proposition these days that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a good thing and ought to be sustained. A prerequisite for that, in my opinion, is that there should be common rights and common duties throughout the kingdom, because it is right that there should be and because it helps to create a sense of common identity. For the same reason, laws ought also to be harmonised unless there is good reason for doing otherwise.
How does the Bill stand up to that test? Unlike some of my libertarian colleagues, I have never maintained that the right to demonstrate is an absolute and unqualified right. When people talk about the right to demonstrate, they normally mean mobile as opposed to static demonstrations like the rallies in Hyde Park. This Bill, first and foremost, concerns the right to demonstrate. Like the noble Lords, Lord Holme of Cheltenham and Lord Fitt, and others, I do not believe that one can take Clause 3 seriously.
As a general principle--again on an "all United Kingdom" basis--the right to march must be balanced against the right of others to get from A to B without missing their trains, their flights, their job interviews and so forth. But to that end it should not be necessary to ban marches and parades altogether; merely to require some minor modifications to them. For example, people could be required to march no more than three or four abreast so that traffic can flow freely and, if the road is narrow, that could be reduced to two abreast. Nor would it be unreasonable to curb excessive noise.
What worries me about the Bill is whether the principle of absolutely minimal modification will be adhered to in practice under sustained pressure from Sinn Fein/IRA. We all know, though it is not spelt out, that the Bill is introduced above all to cope with Orange and other loyalist marches and, to a lesser extent, with Remembrance Day parades.
The strategy of Sinn Fein and its fellow travellers is to try continually to get the goal posts moved to the detriment of unionism in its widest sense and to destroy the morale of unionists, again in the widest sense of that word. To that end the members do their best to stir up a hostility to those traditional parades which rarely occurred in the past or, to the extent that it did, was only in a lukewarm, half-hearted form. It is as though national socialists--of a different ilk from the IRA--in England, taking advantage of the mild irritation felt by the residents of Notting Hill and Bayswater over the inevitable noise and litter associated with another
There is certainly a good case for banning any parade which proposes to march through residential streets in the centre of a hostile area, though there are not many such attempts. But marching along main roads on the periphery of a hostile area is a different matter, and there is no case for banning processions in places which are merely in sight of a hostile area, like the walls of the old City of Derry. In borderline cases a reasonable compromise would be to require participants to march in complete silence and to carry no provocative banners. That should be good enough for anybody apart from the fanatics on both sides.
Remembrance Day parades should never be banned; after all, they are open to everybody and many members of the nationalist community died fighting the Kaiser and Hitler respectively--the latter at a time when the IRA was secretly negotiating with Ribbentrop, the Nazi foreign minister, as we learnt from a recent television documentary.
I enjoy a good marching tune as much as the next man. But even if I lived in Northern Ireland--which I do not--I could never consider joining anything like the Orange Order; it is simply not my cup of tea, for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, I can understand why so many people do so, which may seem surprising to those on the mainland who have never faced any genuine threat to their national identity.
We are constantly enjoined by republicans to look at everything from an all-Irish perspective. If one does exactly that and examines the history of the island of Ireland over the past 80 years, one will see that, though ethnic cleansing was certainly carried out by both communities (there can be no dispute about that), the overwhelming majority of those dispossessed were Protestants and unionists. The population statistics, the voting statistics and the abandoned churches in the South testify to that. The Spectator recently carried some interesting correspondence about the pogroms, as they were described, of 1921 and 1922 in the west of Ireland.
Evictions in the North have been fewer but bloodier. No less an authority than Dr. Conor Cruise O'Brien has written of the systematic liquidation of unionists in the border areas of County Fermanagh. That perhaps helps to explain why many Orange parades (which, by all accounts, were genuinely festive and could be enjoyed by all and sundry, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice pointed out) have in recent years unfortunately taken on a much harder edge.
At any rate, the branding of those parades as "triumphalist" by those who disapprove of them seems wide of the mark; the description "survivalist" would be more accurate. That is why, if the Bill is accepted without amendment, one trusts that its provisions will be applied with the greatest tact and sensitivity and with a built-in predisposition towards allowing long-standing traditional parades to continue to take place with the minimum of restriction.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for taking part in the debate and for their valuable, interesting and well-informed contributions. I pay particular tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Cope, on his maiden speech. We were both in the other place together, I for a shorter time than he. He has had a distinguished ministerial career, including a period in Northern Ireland where he is still well remembered and well regarded. I congratulate him on an excellent maiden speech. I am pleased to say that he was broadly supportive of the Government's position; woe betide us when the day comes that he is not. I hope that that day will not come in relation to Northern Ireland.
We know only too well the complexity of the problems Northern Ireland has faced for so long. The parades issue has proved in recent years to be one of the most complex. It is a microcosm, as many noble Lords have indicated, of the religious and political entrenchment which still, despite the invaluable progress we have seen, characterises society there.
One lesson that has been learnt down the years--many noble Lords referred to this point--is that imposed solutions cannot work. The source for an acceptable settlement must, by definition, be the people of Northern Ireland. So it is with parades. The central aim of the legislation, therefore, as I have set out for noble Lords, is to encourage agreement between those who are locked in confrontation. Although we have entrusted the new body with the power to make all important decisions on disputed parades, we want above all to create the conditions in which this power need not be used and instead agreement can be facilitated. That is the key aspect of the Bill.
We are committed to preserving the civil rights of all our citizens and our intention to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic legislation is a pledge of our commitment in that respect. Accordingly, our principle is equal treatment for both sides of the community in Northern Ireland. It is this principle which lies at the heart of our approach.
Many noble Lords made important contributions. I do not wish to get into details of what will be an interesting Committee stage. On the other hand, I want as much as possible to deal with some of the specific points that were raised and questions that were asked. If I do not deal with all of them, I hope noble Lords will accept that the Committee stage will be the next opportunity when they can, as it were, press their particular points.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, made a number of points. He asked about financial assistance in Clause 2. The commission has a duty to promote greater understanding of parades and to promote and facilitate mediation. The provision in subsection (3)(a) would be, for instance, to enable the commission to give financial assistance to any person or body which is engaged in the business of mediation and conciliation. As the noble Lord said, we do not envisage that the sums involved will be major--small sums of money but as part of a useful process.
The noble Lord asked a technical question--I call it technical--about the Secretary of State's power to ban marches and said that this does not require the Secretary of State to have regard to traditionality or the failure of those involved to comply with the code of conduct. The desirability of allowing a procession customarily held along a particular route to proceed along that route is relevant to the question whether the commission should impose a condition on that parade since one of the conditions the Government can impose relates to the route that that parade may follow. But it is not relevant to the overall power to ban a parade. That is a different matter. Once the power to impose conditions is considered inadequate, the route which it should follow is not therefore relevant to the question whether it should be banned completely. Therein lies the difference. The code of conduct is also relevant to the imposition of conditions but has no direct significance for the banning power. It would be too extreme to allow breaches of the code to result in a total ban. In the distinctions we have drawn here, to which the noble Lord referred, we have kept faithfully to the recommendations in the North Report.
The noble Lord also asked about different penalties for different offences under the Bill. This is a quite complicated point. It would seem here both that the possible penalties are maxima and that the authorities have a range of possible charges depending upon the circumstances. Some of these provisions re-enact existing legislation. But on the specific example given, I think it is reasonable that the maximum penalty in events where no notice has been given but no further trouble has resulted should be lower than in those cases where the organisers consciously decided to defy a legal ruling reached by the commission after due consideration. As for breaking up processions, if that is done with violence, there are a variety of other public order offences which can be put against those involved in such activities.
The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, asked a number of significant questions. He asked about 28 days' notice being required under Clause 7. He asked about those individuals who might wish to organise a parade which concerned, for example, an issue which arose at short notice--such as a trade union dispute. Under Clause 7(2) notice must be 28 days or as soon as reasonably practicable. Therefore, account can be taken of issues which have arisen so quickly that the 28 days' notice would not have been appropriate.
A number of contributions covered the question of Clause 3 and what might be called the extended remit. I was asked what it would cover. It would be for the commission itself to consider--and make recommendations if necessary--the law and practice concerning other expressions of cultural identity. We have no fixed views about what it should look at, although the Bill will make it clear that we have excluded sporting events. Undoubtedly, the commission would receive representations from the public and others about those expressions of cultural identity which concerned them. However, the key point on this-- I understand the different feelings in the House--is that, as originally conceived and based on the North recommendations, we felt that the Bill might be seen as not being even-handed across both communities and both traditions in Northern Ireland. We sought to redress that so that the Bill can be seen to be even-handed across the whole of Northern Ireland. To deal with that we felt that this extra provision would be desirable.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page