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Lord Alderdice: I am interested in a number of the comments made by Members of the Committee, particularly about the wording of our amendments. I shall come back to that in a moment. Perhaps I may first comment on some of the things that have been said.
The Minister said that if the commission were to make a determination in advance over a period of a year, it would be fettering its decision-making further down the line. He implied that the key issues in making a decision were on matters very much of the time in terms of public order, the atmosphere in the community, the impact on the local community, and so forth. The reality is that when looking at any specific parade, the commission already takes into consideration how many more parades there are to be.
Here I must differ a little from the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. In the Ormeau Road, for example, it is not a question of the one parade that comes across the bridge. It is an issue of a whole series of parades that come across the bridge. In fact, when agreements have been reached, as they have been in one fashion or another, they have been reached in relation to the number of parades that come down through that stretch of the road. I entirely agree with the noble Lord when he says that it would be futile for us to get into speculation about when an area is an area, and when a "particular area" is a "particular area". Noble Lords may be assured that in Northern Ireland there is no lack of creative capacity in constructing argument and debate on such matters.
However, the reality is that in our proposition we are simply making it possible for the commission to take these matters into consideration if it is appropriate. I believe that there is a fair appreciation of what areas are specific areas and what areas are contentious.
The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, refers to areas round Portadown. I have visited and talked with folk there and they made it clear to me that the impact not just of parades but of prayer meetings in the open air on a bridge--one such meeting stopped a parade last year--and so forth, does transfer across. There are, of course, malign individuals, as we know, who will want to refer to what is happening in a totally different area as justification for what they are doing. But any reasonable person and reasonable commission would rule that out of order in much the same way as the authorities ruled out of order any tinkering with the Royal British Legion parade in Bellaghy. All the residents accepted that that was truly the case anyway.
Although it may seem otherwise, therefore, there is not yet a total lack of reasonableness in Northern Ireland, and I trust that there will continue to be sufficient for our commission to operate in a reasonable fashion.
I am somewhat puzzled by the view expressed that it is likely to be in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights to put on the face of the Bill that the commission could make such determinations, but at the same time would not be in contravention of the ECHR for the commission itself to publish guidelines that indicated that that was precisely what it intended to do. It seems to me that there is bound to be a problem if at first one simply maintained the position that it would be an informal view and therefore not fettering the discrimination and judgment of the commission. I can guarantee that an informal view would not be satisfactory to some people in the area. It is merely inviting further pressure on the commission to
The commission must be able to consider everything and then make a decision which is tolerably binding. If it issues an informal view it is likely that it will simply come under further pressure. On the other hand, if guidelines implicitly indicate that the commission is capable of looking at the pattern of parades, as the noble Lord, Lord Cope, mentioned, and that is not in contravention of the ECHR, then I cannot see how, if they explicitly indicate that, they would be in contravention. That seems to me to be a somewhat extraordinary position, though it may be entirely legally correct.
In view of those matters, and in view of the indications from other Members of the Committee (which I take seriously) that the wording of the amendments we put forward are not perfect--that I entirely accept--we would certainly be prepared to re-visit the wordings that we have made. I also urge other Members of the Committee, particularly the Minister and his colleagues, to re-visit the question and look at other possible forms of wording rather than simply say that this wording is not immaculate and therefore they dismiss the whole notion.
Lord Fitt: Before the noble Lord sits down, I accept what my noble friend said in relation to my mention of the area of the Ormeau Road. The contentious area in the Ormeau Road is the Ormeau Bridge, and the noble Lord has already said that there are a number of parades scheduled to take place there. The reason why the parades take place there is that some people want to cause contention in that area. Is the noble Lord suggesting that here we can have a trade-off? Is he saying that the commission could say to the organisers of those Orange parades, because they are the parades that cause the trouble, "You have four or five parades scheduled to go over the Ormeau Bridge, and every one of them is liable to cause a great deal of dissent. If we allow you to have two of them, will you do away with the other three"? If that question is put to the organisers of that parade, the concerned residents of the Ormeau Road will also have to be asked, "Would you permit two of those parades rather than the five or six which have been scheduled?". Would that be a legitimate trade-off on the part of the commission?
Lord Alderdice: Far be it from me to propose a solution to the Ormeau Road, or to any other problem in the area. The issue that the noble Lord has begun to open up and unpack for us is the possibility that a whole series of flexible agreements might be possible in terms of whether one went down to the bridge and then re-routed another way; or went down to the bridge and over the bridge; or went over the bridge and did not play with the band; or went over the bridge and played a hymn tune, and so forth. There are enormous possibilities. But the point the noble Lord addressed is the fact that it would have to be with consultation with those who lived further down. If we simply stay back
Northern Ireland has had the extraordinary capacity to increase the number of traditional parades by some 50 per cent. in the past couple of years--traditional parades. It does not take as long as one might imagine for things to become a tradition in Northern Ireland. There are those who have now made it traditional to picket a Catholic church in Harryville and that has taken less than a year; it has taken only a few weeks. We want to defuse all of that and so we will happily revisit the wording; but I appeal to colleagues, to other Members of the Committee and to the Government also to re-visit that notion and not simply set it aside on the basis that our wording was indeed not perfect.
Lord Dubs: I appreciate what the noble Lord has just said, but I can assure him that it is not on the technicality of the wording that I am unhappy about the amendment. I am unhappy about the new clause proposed by the noble Lord because we think it is fundamentally flawed. We have spent many, many months considering this point. It was not easy for us to come to the view that it is proper to depart in this particular respect from the North Report. We did so only after thorough scrutiny and much thought and much attention to the detail. I do not want to sound as if our minds are closed, but I assure the noble Lord that we have thought very hard indeed over a long period of time about this issue, and I am not sure that any change in the wording of the amendment will deal with the fundamental problem of principle.
Lord Alderdice: Could I press the noble Lord on the particular point on which I requested clarification? How might such a power be implicit in the legislation and within the remit of the commission, yet to make it explicit would be to make it in contravention of the ECHR? It seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, was under the impression--one which I share to some extent--that the power to do this was implicit. Perhaps that is incorrect.
Lord Dubs: I am not quite sure whether the words "implicit" or "explicit" apply to the point I am about to make, but let me make it anyway. I refer to the procedural rules, and I made some mention of them when I spoke previously. Those rules make it clear that the commission will want to issue initial views about the position it is minded to take about marches, and that can be some time ahead. They differ from what the noble Lord wants in that those initial views will not be legally binding, but I would have thought they would provide a certain level of assurance about the commission's long-term approach, even though, when the commission comes to make its determination in a particular instance nearer the time, that determination will not necessarily be in line with the initial views. At that point the commission will have more information that will enable it to take all the factors into account.
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