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Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I am grateful to the Minister. We are moving closer on this topic because the Minister is getting to the point--and I do not want to press him too far--that consideration will be given by the Secretary of State to the expense involved by increasing the burden on police manpower. I would not want to press him for an assurance at the moment, but I hope we can get it before the Bill leaves this House. If it were to happen again, the additional cost would not come from the health and social services budget, education, or any of those other worthy departments.
Lord Dubs: It would be difficult for me to give categorical assurances as regards public expenditure. All I would say to the noble Lord is that if he had been party to some of the public expenditure discussions that the ministerial team in Northern Ireland have had recently, he would know just how closely the Secretary of State scrutinises all headings of expenditure, and how she is very careful to ensure that public money is spent sensibly and properly. I could not give a further assurance as to how specific additional financial needs, if they arose, would be met. That is going beyond what I am able to do here and now, and I know Members of the Committee will appreciate that.
Having said that, perhaps I can deal with a couple of specific questions asked. Article 5(1) of the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order will only apply to banning open air public meetings. The power to ban parades is that contained in Clause 11. Both powers belong to the Secretary of State. I think it is probably widely understood that the commission now has power to ban parades. However, I am concerned that the effect of Amendment No. 2 would materially damage the main thrust of the Bill.
The commission does, of course, have a very important power to conciliate, to mediate, and to achieve a peaceful resolution of any disputes about a specific parade. If the commission is to be 100 per cent successful, that would be the totality of its work. In the real world it may not always be that successful in its mediation responsibilities. Therefore, we need the
In the real world of Northern Ireland, in relation to these contentious parades the commission will not be able to take a decision on a recommendation which may be at variance with that of the RUC, which in the final analysis will be responsible for the conduct of those parades. Another element will be the Northern Ireland Office--in other words the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. In any conclusion leading to the conduct of these parades, it will have to be a tripartite arrangement. The Northern Ireland Office Secretary of State must be asked for her opinion; the RUC must be asked for its opinion; and the commission will be asked to give its opinion. It is highly unlikely, and indeed it would be disastrous, for the commission to make a decision or a recommendation in relation to a parade which would not meet with the sole approval of the RUC, because at the end of the day it will be the RUC who will have to police those parades. It would have to take into account the views of the commission, and the views of the Northern Ireland Office which in the final analysis will be responsible for all the financial considerations--the pay of the police and the pay of everybody else in the security field in relation to the conduct of these parades.
In this present situation it may be considered that the Bill is directed at one section of the community in Northern Ireland. That, perhaps, is the reason for this amendment, because the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, represents one section of the community in Northern Ireland: that he is taking whatever measures he can to lessen the impact of this commission in relation to the parades with which he has been associated, and indeed has taken part in over many years.
It was said during the Second Reading of the Bill that only 20 to 25 of these parades are contentious, and have led to contradictions over many years. Before the Bill becomes law, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said, one would hope that the police, the Northern Ireland Office and the commission do not have to wait until February of next year. We are all aware of the contentious parades due to take place. There is a great deal of time between now and February.
On the question of police manpower, nobody knows more about police manpower in Northern Ireland than the RUC Chief Constable. He will know whether there will be a large parade or a small parade in Bellaghy; or a large parade in the Garvaghy Road, and another more contentious parade in the City of Belfast. On a fair analysis, the RUC will have to agree with the
I cannot support the amendment because I believe that it will nullify what the Bill, the commission and the RUC will be called upon to do in the event of contentious parades. To accept this amendment would nullify the whole concept of the Bill.
Lord Dubs: Perhaps I may comment on what the noble Lord said. I am not in major disagreement with him, but I want to stress that the commission is an independent body. That is one of the reasons that we are setting it up. It is independent of Government and independent of the police. We will come to the point in later clauses, but of course the commission has to take a number of different factors into account in arriving at a determination, and the views of the police will be one of them. I do not, however, think that the views of the Secretary of State will be fed in. The Secretary of State would only come in at a later stage if the Chief Constable felt it necessary to ask the Secretary of State to consider a particular determination.
I want to stress that one of the gains to Northern Ireland is that the commission will be independent. It will not be a plaything of one group, of the police or of politicians. It will have that independence, and that is surely its strength and why we believe that the structure we have in the Bill and the independence of the commission ought to appeal to people in Northern Ireland in order to see that that independence is a safeguard for their rights and freedoms in these rather vexed areas.
Let me just comment on another point that the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, made earlier, to which I did not refer when I spoke a few minutes ago, and that is the presence of the commission members at parades. It is not possible to lay down that commission members ought to be at any of these contentious parades. I understand that some members of the commission were present on some occasions earlier this year, but I do not want to be categoric about that. It is up to the commission members themselves to decide what they want to do and whether they feel being on the spot would be useful in terms of their work. It would be inappropriate for a Minister to tell the commission how it should exercise its functions, including attendance at flashpoints, although I suspect in the real world they might well wish to be present at any flashpoints that they perceive in the coming months.
Viscount Brookeborough: Before the Minister sits down, I accept that the commission does not ban parades. However, the wording of the clause says to issue "determinations". What is a determination if it is not a decision? It does not say "to issue advice"; it says "to issue a determination".
Lord Cope of Berkeley: With regard to this matter of the members of the commission attending parades, on the one hand, it is impossible for the commission to do its job properly without seeing some parades on the ground, seeing what happens, what goes wrong, what goes right and so on. The members need to do this as background information for the determinations that they have to make.
As I read the Bill, and I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm this, there is no question of members of the commission being present on a parade to issue further determinations in the course of the afternoon, or even in the course of several days, because, as we know, these situations can go on for several days. The purpose of their attending would be as background information to do their general job, not to try to take command of the situation away from the police commander on the spot in a difficult situation. If a situation becomes difficult, it is for the police themselves under the public order legislation to which the Minister referred to take any necessary action.
Lord Dubs: If members of the commission attend on the day, they would do so simply as people who want to see how their determinations work out on the ground. However, the commission's determinations would have to be available some time before the day of the parade in order for them to make it clear to those organising the parade what was the basis on which the parade might proceed. My understanding is that on the day itself the commission would have no remit except to learn what has happened as a result of what it did or did not decide sometime previously.
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