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Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: My Lords, I did listen carefully to what the Minister said. I have to say that I disagree with him on most of the points that he put forward. I cannot for the life of me see how this restrains parental choice or alters the position. The right reverend Prelate made that point very well. It leaves choice just as it would have been under the Government's own scheme.
The Minister asked what the LEAs have to fear. I thought that we had explained at great length that we fear this enormous rigmarole of administrative hoops that everything has to go through, in many cases to produce the situation that existed before. It is precisely that, and that only, which has led us to bring forward these shorter and more sensible routes to achieve the desired result.
Nor do I believe that it is right to invoke my noble friend Lord Weatherill's law of unintended consequences which he promulgated during our constitutional debate. I do not think that that applies here, except possibly in the Government's case, when it is this rigmarole of which I have already spoken. The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said that this could be a brake on LEA provision, but as I said in my introduction, and as is in the amendment, LEAs can perfectly well bid for new provision under the schemes that exist at the moment. Nothing has taken that away from them. Therefore, the LEAs are in with as good a chance as anyone else. I firmly believe that that is the case. The noble Baroness shakes her head, but there is nothing to prevent them doing that. So for once the playing field is as level as we would all like it to be.
As regards the word "voucher", I have heard nothing to convince me that it is wrong. It may not be the best possible wording but it is a possible wording to have on the face of the Bill. I do not believe that it is fatal to our purposes to have it there and I am quite happy that it should be there in the form that it is.
In short, I have heard no argument which would persuade me that we are on the wrong tack with the amendments that we are putting forward. I am afraid that I must disappoint the noble Lord and ask the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Baroness Denton of Wakefield): My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat the Statement on Northern Ireland which has been made in another place by my right honourable and learned friend Sir Patrick Mayhew. The Statement is as follows:
"In the course of this period two men have tragically lost their lives. The RUC has been stretched to the limit of its ability to maintain order and preserve life. Violent manifestations of sectarian antagonism have occurred. Intimidation, including intimidation of RUC officers and their families, has been rife. The Killyhevlin Hotel at Enniskillen has been gravely damaged by a bomb, with many people shocked and injured.
"All this represents, without doubt, the worst set-back for many years: a return to what so many people in Northern Ireland, and far beyond, had prayed was over for good. This has been a black period for Northern Ireland, with deep fears and anxieties generated on all sides. Trust and confidence have suffered greatly.
"Secondly, if the people of Northern Ireland are to be helped to move back from the abyss and forward to a better future, all of us who claim a right to speak on these matters must seek to be objective and fair. To seize on what is no more than a partisan perception and to proclaim it as an established truth without examination is immensely dangerous and damaging.
"Lastly, I want to say that the scene, grave though it undoubtedly is, does have a crucially positive element. We have in place a democratic process of political talks, for which a large majority of the electorate has voted. I shall return to this and to its paramount importance.
"Sir Hugh Annesley, the chief constable, yesterday gave an extensive interview to the BBC. He described the background to these events and the events themselves. I have placed a transcript of that interview in the Library. I commend it strongly to the House. It sets out the facts.
"Unprecedented efforts had been made by the Government, by Church leaders, by the RUC and by others, to secure an accommodation at Portadown. The chief constable makes it clear that ever since January he personally, and his Deputy Chief Constable, Mr. Flannigan, had tried with both sides at Portadown to negotiate a compromise. I pay special tribute to the entirely independent efforts of the Church leaders, who strove for two days and two nights to bring the two sides together, sadly without achieving success.
"The chief constable is required by law to consider the likelihood of serious disorder if a notified march proceeds. He has to make an operational, professional and impartial judgment. That judgment, under our clearly established constitutional arrangements, is for him alone.
"On Saturday 6th July the chief constable had duly decided to order that the return stage of the Orange Order parade at Portadown, to take place the following day, should be re-routed away from the Garvaghy Road. A lawful order was accordingly made to that effect. That decision was made because he anticipated serious organised disorder, not limited to Portadown protesters, if the intended return stage of the march went ahead. A counter march planned by the Garvaghy Road residents also had restrictions
"Over the next four days there occurred serious disorder both at Drumcree and in many other parts of the Province. There was a clear and reprehensible intention to overstretch the capacity of the RUC to maintain public order.
"At Drumcree itself the chief constable has said, in his own language, that the most insidious, despicable and disgusting threats to his officers in the front line were made, to the effect that their wives or families would be got at. Elsewhere the RUC were fiercely engaged. There was intimidation of their families and other civilians, with widespread blocking of roads and attacks upon property.
"The RUC, with full support from the Army, did its duty with great resolution in responding to this critical situation. At the request of the chief constable, two further battalions were brought into the Province in support of his force. However, despite the sustained efforts to which I have referred, it proved impossible for the two sides within the local community at Drumcree to reach an agreement.
"On the morning of 11th July, after considering a number of options and having awaited the outcome of the ongoing attempts at mediation, the chief constable decided that a limited parade down the Garvaghy Road was the option most likely to prevent loss of life. He has made clear that it was foreseeable that by the night of the 11th July some 60,000 to 70,000 Orange marchers would be invited by the Orange Order to converge on Drumcree, and an attempt had already been made to get through the fence. In that event he foresaw that they would overrun the wire, obliging the police and the military to withdraw and to attempt to protect the Garvaghy Road estate.
"He concluded that there would be serious risk of lives being lost, including on the Garvaghy Estate, and he has said that he would not in any circumstances have 'traded one life for the Garvaghy Road'. In that decision also the Chief Constable has the full support of the Government. We also share his regret at what he has described as an outrageous attempt by one side to impose its will on the other by the sheer weight of force.
"I recognise, of course, that the nationalist community, or many of them, are bitterly critical of this decision, but it was taken very much with the safety of the Garvaghy Road residents in mind. I am in no doubt, however, that under the circumstances it was the right one. The violence which followed in many nationalist areas was no more justified or acceptable than that fomented by loyalists earlier in the week.
"Once again, the security forces came under intense attack, from gun fire as well as petrol bombs and other missiles. The police have responded proportionately and with great courage and professionalism to these attacks.
"The police investigation into the bomb attack on the Killyhevlin Hotel is now under way. While it is too early to say which organisation was responsible, it seems clear that preparations for this attack began well before the events of Drumcree.
"These events surrounding Drumcree, and those surrounding the march on the Lower Ormeau Road in Belfast on 12th July, have underscored the potential destabilising effect of controversial parades. There are no immediately obvious answers. My right honourable friend the Minister of State, the Member for Westminster, North, has over many months been seeking to help the avoidance of conflict in this year's marching season. As I said in the House last week, I now have in mind a general review that will make recommendations about the better management of future controversial parades. I therefore confirm today that the Government intend to establish a review based on evidence which any interested party will be free to submit. I envisage that the review would examine the current arrangements for handling parades and marches in Northern Ireland. I shall announce later further details of the review, including the name of the chairman and detailed terms of reference.
"Recent events are, however, but a symptom of the much deeper divisions which plague Northern Ireland. We must, along with all politicians committed to a peaceful solution, continue to seek to overcome those. This can be done only in a talks process in which all these issues can be addressed and which is committed to securing an agreed outcome which respects the aspirations and principles of both parts of the community. I referred earlier to the democratic process of talks which is in place. It is now more imperative than ever that it begins to address the substantive issues that lie at the heart of the divisions which have had such terrible consequences. I am pleased that this process continues tomorrow.
"For our part the Government are fully committed to the talks process. I and the Prime Minister will be meeting with the leaders of each of the parties involved over the coming days to hear their views of the way forward and to emphasise our commitment to the talks process.
"I shall also be making arrangements in consultation with the Irish Government to meet them in an intergovernmental conference to discuss the mutual security interests between our two countries and to demonstrate the reasons behind the decisions taken last week. We intend on this basis to rebut very firmly quite unjustified and unwarranted criticism which has been made of the Government and of the RUC. In particular my purpose will be in the presence of the chief constable to rebut any suggestion of political interference in his operational decisions.
"All those who wish to lead Northern Ireland towards a more peaceful future--and they certainly include the Government--must now work together to re-establish trust and dialogue. None of us can accept
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, as always on these occasions, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. This is a profoundly depressing occasion for us all and I believe it to be a time of potential great danger in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.
We all condemn the murder of a taxi-driver, killed for no greater sin than being a Roman Catholic; the destruction of the hotel in Enniskillen; and the mindless violence and intimidation of these past days. We particularly congratulate those responsible for this morning's success in discovering what seems to be a bomb factory as close to us as south London.
It all seems to be so sad--the hopes and dreams of thousands shattered in just a week of madness. I agree as emphatically as I can over the importance of trying to secure the continued ceasefire by the loyalist paramilitaries.
It was only on Tuesday last week in this House that the noble Baroness, Lady Denton, answered a Starred Question on Northern Ireland. As the House will recall, I assured her of our bipartisan support, and she very generously, as always, recognised that. It was only Tuesday. I asked her whether Her Majesty's Government were content with the arrangements for security and peacekeeping at Drumcree and Portadown. Something went very badly wrong. The threat of violence succeeded. The chief constable, in the quotation which the Minister herself adopted, described this as "outrageous". I agree.
The honourable Member who speaks on these matters in another place, Dr. Mowlam, and I have been deeply concerned about the flashpoint which we knew would come. Because of that, we started discussions about what should be done in July of last year. This is a bleak and unfortunate story. Dr. Mowlam wrote to the Secretary of State on 17th July 1995 saying:
The Secretary of State said that he had accepted advice that the disadvantages of such a commission outweighed the advantages. That was his view on 26th June 1996. I am sorry to say that I believe the advice was wrong and the acceptance of it deeply mistaken.
There are at least three important aspects on which we must focus our minds. I am grateful to see that the Secretary of State, in the Statement which was repeated, is now going to appoint a commission. It seems to us that that must report before the end of this year at the very latest.
Secondly, the closest co-operation is called for between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the Irish Republic. Of course I welcome the Secretary of State's decision to meet the Irish Foreign Minister tomorrow. We welcome the intergovernmental proposals referred to in the Statement. I shall be grateful if the Minister will indicate what sort of timescale the Government have in mind.
I repeat that no terrorist or malcontent will get any opportunity to destroy our bipartisan support. But if this weekend's events have demonstrated anything, it is that imaginative forward thinking and planning on a political basis is the only key. I believe that no one can blame the Chief Constable; but there are questions about the political decisions which were made as a background to the disasters that have befallen us. I entirely agree with the Minister. Although this is a dark time, there is some light. However, the problems are becoming more difficult by the day.
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