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Lord Molyneaux of Killead: On a point of order, I wonder whether the noble Lord the Minister could give us some guidance, particularly in the light of what the noble Lord, Lord Cope, has just said. Would the Minister be prepared to come in now or wait until some of us have contributed?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs): I thought I would listen to the range of arguments about this and then do my best to answer the points that have been made. However, if I am pressed to come in earlier, I will of course accede to the noble Lord's suggestion.
Cultural identity embraces such issues as flags and emblems and bilingual signs, which have not so far been mentioned. On both those issues rather positive and good conventions have developed in Northern Ireland. For example, at places of work, a general convention seems to have been established that flags and emblems will not be displayed. On the question of bilingual signs, I believe it is already enshrined in law that these may be put up where there has been demonstrated to be a sufficient local demand for them, and that again seems reasonable and seems to my mind to be the sort of thing that the commission should be actively promoting and supporting.
It may be that the problem could be overcome by having a phased implementation of the Bill, once passed. By this I am suggesting that the commission should first be required to deal with questions relating to marches and parades, and then perhaps after two or three years, and if it made good progress on the more urgent question of public processions, its remit could be enlarged to include other items relating to cultural identity.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. As he knows, we have carried on correspondence over many years. I had the advantage in that I was able to read his writing, but I am quite certain he would have had difficulty with mine.
I beg to differ ever so slightly with my friend and neighbour, the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, in regard to the amendment. I take the view that the whole background of the Bill was coloured by expressions of cultural identity, and if those expressions could be ignored by all concerned - and I say all concerned - then there would be no need for the measure at all. Clearly the Government have recognised that reality in the Long Title, where the phrase appears and may possibly remain.
I imagine the members of the commission will have used that reality in such judgments as they have formed thus far, and if they are to be given such powers as is intended by this Bill, and if Parliament so decides, an awareness of that reality on the part of the commission will be absolutely essential. If they were to ignore that background reality and it could be shown that they did, it would follow that any determination by the commission would be at risk of rejection, perhaps by the Secretary of State, who might feel bound to reject a decision depending on the form in which the Bill emerges from the deliberations of Parliament. An appeal to the judicial process would in those circumstances almost certainly succeed.
In my humble opinion, the withdrawal of recognition of the obvious fact that controversial processions arise from cultural differences would hamper the work of the commission. We would be in the situation where again "expressions of cultural identity" would be taken into account by Her Majesty's Government, by the Secretary of State and the Chief Constable but would have to be discounted by the commission alone.
Lord Holme of Cheltenham: I rise to support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Alderdice and myself. The first thing we have to accept is that Clause 3 is a bolt-on. It is an addition to the proposals of Dr. North which would otherwise be substantially and wholly reproduced in the Bill which the Government have brought before us. It might have been bolted-on, and has been argued for purposes of balance.
In trying to solve a problem--which is obviously a real one--that a measure like this must not be seen to discriminate against one community in Northern Ireland, it may be opening up a real Pandora's box of problems, both for the commission, which has to deal with it, and ultimately for the Government, who will end up with the sharp end of a number of these issues.
First, there are many people who will not wish the Parades Commission well. There are many people who, for whatever reason, will hope that it fails. The crucial period will be its first determinations next spring. Many eyes will be on it, and those who do not wish it well will be trying, before it acquires authority, to discredit it and say that it is not working properly.
If we lay on the Parades Commission such an extension of its remit as to take in this very wide definition of "other expressions of cultural identity", we run the risk of it straying into areas of controversy that go even further than the already difficult and contentious issue of the parades themselves; and even this question of cultural identity manifestations in the open-air, so a T-shirt worn indoors is not a manifestation of cultural identity but outdoors it is. A bowler hat - is that a manifestation in itself of cultural identity? I suppose in the Northern Irish context it might be argued to be so. I see debates as to when something is a matter of cultural identity going into matters that could keep a commission of anthropologists, social scientists and philosophers occupied on this issue alone for 20 years.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, has very gallantly by his subsequent amendment attempted to deal with this problem by taking a rather bad bolt-on and putting patches on it, and taking out things, which I do think would be particularly unfortunate, which is trying to whitewash kerbstones and deal with gable ends. I can quite see why he has done that, but I would argue that we should go to the heart of the problem and deal with Clause 3 as a whole.
It is true to say that there is now some danger that this is seen by some people--the unionist community in Northern Ireland--as their quid pro quo, as it were, for accepting the Parades Commission. I hope my unionist friends would not see it that way because ultimately it
The final question I would like to ask is this. Clause 3 wisely provides for more research in this area, which is just as well, for some of the reasons I have outlined. I do not think any government should rush into this area, and I am quite certain the unfortunate Parades Commission will not want to be driven into this area until a great deal more research has been done.
The first question is, are we quite clear that the research has to be done first? Secondly, if the Government maintain Clause 3, which we certainly would not advocate, are they prepared to let a decent period of time elapse so that the Parades Commission can be established properly, working on the remit which Dr. North was asked to consider, and which the Parades Commission was set up to deal with, namely the question of marches and parades and the real balance between the expression of a tradition on the one hand and aggressive assertion of sovereignty of one community over the other? That is the meat of the problem, and I hope the Parades Commission, at worst, could be given a great deal more time.
I put the question in that form because I think the attitude of my noble friend and myself to the amendment will be very much conditioned by whether the Government propose to place what seems to us an inoperable extra responsibility on the Parades Commission within a short timetable.
Lord Dubs: I thank all the noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, which indeed is an interesting one. I am aware that opinions differ in the Committee, so the argument is not all in one direction.
Clause 3 provides that the commission shall keep under review and make determinations in relation to the law and practice concerning expressions of cultural identity which appear to the commission to have, or to be likely to have,
Of course, there may be many expressions of cultural identity, but they would only come within the scope of Clause 3 if they are judged to have an adverse impact on relationships within the community.
As some noble Lords have indicated, the clause does not apply to sporting events, or to public processions which are covered by the remaining provisions of the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Holme, said, it also enables the commission to commission research.
In including this clause in the Bill we have been acutely aware of the feeling in some quarters that the Bill and the structures it establishes are exclusively targeted at a form of cultural expression favoured mainly by one side of the community. Of course the Parades Commission will treat all applications for parades according to the same criteria and in an even-handed way. Nor is it true that the Bill is designed to be anti-parades, to create no-go areas for them or
Nonetheless, concerns about a perceived lack of balance remain, and we feel it is important to address them. Indeed, many noble Lords referred in their speeches to the need to achieve balance. Parades are not the only form of cultural expression which can cause hurt and resentment, and we see a valuable role for the commission in identifying other ways in which public space can be used by one side of the community in ways which, intentionally or not, can damage community relations.
Your Lordships will note it is not our intention to commence this clause immediately. The noble Lords, Lord Holme and Lord Hylton, talked about phased implementation, or something of the sort. We believe that the new structures of the Bill as a whole need to be given time to bed in, and the commission will want to focus in its first months on its key responsibility of working towards a peaceful resolution of disputed parades in the course of the coming 1998 marching season.
We hope, however, to commence the clause within a matter of months. That is the timescale that was indicated recently by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State - within a matter of months. That means that the beginning of the marching season will be such that the commission will be able to concentrate solely on its main remit, and that within a matter of months, after the commission has got down to its key work, the Secretary of State will consider the right time to give effect to this clause.
I want to make sure that I have dealt with the specific questions that I was asked. I was asked what other expressions of cultural identity there might be. I would think it better for the Government not to start telling the commission in advance of the commission starting its work what those expressions of cultural identity might be. It would not be helpful; indeed, it would pre-empt the decision of the Committee in coming to a balanced assessment of what those expressions of cultural identity might be. Otherwise it would simply be a matter of the Government saying, "This is what we think they are", and the Secretary of State would then be advised by the commission as to there being such expressions of cultural identity. It would not be helpful, and I believe that noble Lords will understand why I am reluctant to start giving examples.
The question of phased implementation I have already dealt with. The other point was about research. I do not want to be too dogmatic about that. Clearly it depends on the scale of the research that the commission would have in mind. What I do not think the Secretary of State would be inclined to do would be to say that there was a research project that the commission had in mind and so we would wait until that was finished before Clause 3 came into effect. My right honourable friend would be unlikely to want to take that path. We would need to see what the commission has in mind about research before being too precise about a timetable for research in relation to the implementation of Clause 3.
I know that there is a great deal of interest in the points that have been made, and the question of balance has been well recognised. But the Government will consider all the points made very carefully and will see whether any amendments might be appropriate at a later stage. However, I am bound to say that, whereas many noble Lords have indicated their wish to see some changes in the clause or to put something in its place, I have not heard any particular suggestions as to what those changes might be. I am happy to listen to other points that might be made, and if we can come up with anything better, we will do so.
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