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Lord Calverley: My Lords, perhaps I may make a point before the Minister sits down. I hasten to add that, as some of your Lordships know, I was a serving police officer for 33 years. We must differentiate between a serving police officer who has been charged with a criminal offence and one who is alleged to have committed an offence. I am a man of few words, but I believe that there is a difference in the police disciplinary system. If a police officer is charged with

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a criminal offence he must be treated as an alleged criminal. The Minister mentioned double jeopardy. Many police officers sometimes feel that they are affected by that. If the allegations made against a police officer are substantiated and the matter becomes a criminal matter, that must be differentiated from an internal matter.

Local Government (Contracts) Bill

Returned from the Commons with the amendments agreed to.

        House adjourned at seventeen minutes past nine o'clock.

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Official Report of the Grand Committee on the Public Processions etc. (Northern Ireland) Bill [H.L.]

Wednesday, 12th November 1997.

The Committee met at half-past three of the clock.

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill) in the Chair.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Ampthill): Before I put the Question that the Title be postponed, it may be helpful to remind your Lordships of the procedure for today's Committee stage. Except in one important respect, our proceedings will be exactly the same as in a normal Committee of the Whole House. We shall go through the Bill clause by clause; noble Lords will speak standing; all noble Lords are free to attend and participate; and the proceedings will be recorded in Hansard. The one difference is that the House has agreed that there shall be no Divisions in this Committee. Any issue on which agreement cannot be reached should be considered again at the Report stage when, if necessary, a Division may be called. Unless, therefore, an amendment is likely to be agreed to, it should be withdrawn.

I should also explain what will happen if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting. This is unlikely to arise this afternoon. This Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division bells are rung and will resume after 10 minutes.

Title postponed.

Clause 1 [The Commission]:

Lord Alderdice moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 7, leave out ("and other expressions of cultural identity").

The noble Lord said: We have had opportunity on a previous occasion to look at the broad picture which has brought us to the position of this Bill, but in looking at the amendment my noble colleague and I have put forward on Clause 1 I would also like to refer to our proposition that Clause 3 shall not stand part of the Bill and also the consequential amendment, Amendment No. 40 in the Title referring to "other expressions of cultural identity".

I think it is wise for us, even at this early stage and in particular in relation to these amendments, to reflect on how this Bill came about. There have of course been traditional processions in Northern Ireland, and throughout Ireland, for a very long time indeed, but over a number of years these have been contentious - not by any means all parades, not even by any means the majority of parades, but only a small minority. However they have become contentious and difficult. They have created problems for the police, who have frequently found themselves in the invidious position of being

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attacked, not just on both sides but on all sides. In an attempt to bring some order back and to give the police the best opportunity to maintain public order, this proposal has come forward. I shall not go into the details of how that came about; suffice to say that the whole issue has been about parades.

When Dr. Peter North was invited by the Government to look into the question, he was not requested to look into the question of cultural identity, its expressions, disputes over signs and symbols, or any of these matters. He was not asked to do that. He was asked to look specifically at the problem of how to deal with contentious parades. He did that and I think by the view of many people provided the Government with an extremely helpful and constructive report, and a somewhat detailed one--one where public opinion was extensively and professionally canvassed on the issue of parades.

If one looks, for example, at the public attitude surveys which were conducted, they are interesting, they are helpful; indeed sometimes the responses are quite enlightening. But they are all on the issue of parades and how to manage them. They do not refer to the question of cultural identity and its expression in the broader way. It can scarcely be disagreed that cultural identity, and its expression, is an enormously broad field.

If we were to enter into contentious questions of cultural identity in general, I would submit that we have entered into a minefield, even in Northern Ireland terms. For example, if it is the case that some of these parades are effectively accepted as an expression of cultural identity, then what about the Church services that are related to them? Few would deny there is an element of cultural identity in religious services. After all, it is often around that whole area that so much of the division has taken place. How are we then going to deal with the impossible enlargements of the application of cultural identity which will inevitably come about either because there are some who will wish, for the sake of clarity, to have rulings on the question, or--and much more dangerously--because malign individuals may well seek to extend the boundaries of cultural identity on a contentious basis?

It is not unreasonable to assume that there might be some malign individuals around in this. After all, it cannot be doubted that some of the parades to which the Bill refers are contentious. There have been demographic changes in various areas, so that Orangemen are now marching through areas which were once in the middle of the country. Protestants may now find themselves walking through areas which are very largely not populated by people supportive of Orange Parades.

I can recall myself in the Ormeau Road, where my mother was brought up, my grandmother speaking about the demographic changes that were taking place and how this was going to affect all sorts of things. It was no surprise to me that in recent years particularly the Ormeau Road has become a flashpoint. Why?--because of demographic changes taking place.

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Those are some reasons why things have been sparked off. However, it has to be acknowledged that there are also those who, seeing the contention that was created, recognised that here was an opportunity for them to provoke even greater dissent and to make a political point. In the republican community, when the ceasefire came about, and the energies that were particularly deployed in more violent ways were freed up, it may have been quite attractive for them to seek out other ways of expressing contention.

I do not myself have the view that there was a particular plan laid out initially to focus on this. I think what happened was that a few contentious parades quickly came to the attention of leading figures in the republican movement, and they realised the opportunity that this bestowed upon them to create difficulties. Then the whole thing began to grow and develop and gallop, and we must acknowledge that. We must acknowledge that even if we have a parades Bill and we have a Parades Commission, there will still be those who will seek to make mischief out of it. It therefore behoves us to ensure that the Bill is the best possible; that it is as tight as possible and that it leaves as few loopholes as possible for people who wish to make mischief. On the specific issue of extending it to exclude the whole mass of cultural identity, it seems to me that we are creating an enormous problem for ourselves and for those who want things to happen for the best.

I recognise that there may well be a reason why the Government felt pressed to introduce this Bill. It is not in the North Report. But I feel that over the summer period many unionist people construed the notion of a Parades Commission and a Bill as something that would prohibit or reroute marches. I do not see it as exclusively that. I see it as an opportunity on some occasions for perfectly reasonable Orange parades and other appropriate loyal order parades, including some nationalist parades, which may otherwise be obstructed by those who wish to create mischief or for other quite legitimate reasons to be given a legal stamp of approval. They would therefore have a degree of protection.

I do not see this as being an anti-parades Bill; I see it as being a parades Bill or a public processions Bill which will point up which are the reasonable and appropriate ones and which are those that perhaps ought to be considered in another way. I believe that, particularly in the unionist community, there was a sense that somehow or other this was a Bill that was opposed to them, in the same way as fair employment legislation is often seen as not being fair for everyone but being particularly fair for Catholics and equal opportunities legislation is not there to ensure that both men and women get jobs but in order to protect the rights of women. It is unfortunate that often human rights legislation is seen in that kind of one-sided way rather than as protecting everyone's interests. It is particularly unfortunate in this case.

What happened was that unionists wanted something in the legislation that they felt would balance things up, and perhaps without the deepest of thought this proposition was put in.

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If there are indeed concerns about lack of balance, it may be worth considering how that can be addressed. I certainly do not want to see a piece of legislation that is unbalanced in any way--unbalanced in its fairness to the community as a whole or unbalanced in its provisions. But what I judge to be an attempt to create a degree of acceptance and balance has turned out not to be that, but to be something that creates a real problem for us.

The introduction of the notion of cultural identity is not in the North Commission Report and, in my judgment, can open up a Pandora's box which may have an entirely counterproductive effect to the one that unionist leaders and Orangemen wish to have. I request, therefore, that we give serious consideration to withdrawing that provision from the Bill and to seeing whether there are other ways in which reassurances can be given to those who feel some anxiety and concern about the impact of the Bill. I beg to move.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, clearly set out the origins of the Bill and of the North Report on which it is based. He made clear that most of the processions in Northern Ireland are not contentious. Relatively speaking, it is only a few that become contentious, and many of those become contentious because people use the opportunity of a parade to make trouble and to make mischief. Of course we must do our best, in looking at all this legislation, to try to make sure that we do not give further opportunities to people to make mischief.

The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said that the Bill is not only about balancing the rights of people to express their cultural identity--in this case, primarily through processions--but also to minimise the offence which is caused to others by those expressions of cultural identity. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, is also correct in saying that we should not present a one-sided Bill; we should not have a one-sided commission. It may be seen as a one-sided Bill, an anti-Orange Bill, not to put too fine a point on it. I believe it should not be and we should do our best to address that. As the noble Lord suggested, Clause 3 provides one way in which this may be addressed.

Parades are not the only way of expressing cultural identity in Northern Ireland; as we all know, there are many other ways. Clause 3 attempts to put parades into the context of expressions of cultural identity as a whole by giving the commission a duty to recommend, where it seems fit, changes in the law and practice relating to other expressions of cultural identity. That is, of course, a much lesser power than the power it has as far as processions themselves are concerned. It can determine the detailed arrangements for individual processions: it has to be given notice, and so on. That is backed up by the law. As far as other expressions of cultural identity are concerned, all it can do is recommend to the Secretary of State that the law or the practice on those might be modified. It is a much lesser power, but our task is to decide whether Clause 3 is effective in giving greater balance to the Bill. If it is, clearly it should stay in the Bill; if not, it should obviously come out.

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I am not clear as to, and I hope the Minister can help us by indicating, what other expressions of cultural identity the Minister believes that Clause 3 is aimed at. What other expressions are likely to be examined by the commission if Clause 3 remains in the Bill and becomes law? We know from the face of the Bill that they do not include sporting events, which seems odd because they are sometimes very clear expressions of cultural identity. They evidently include religious services held in the open air, which can genuinely be expressions of cultural identity. They apparently include painted walls and kerbstones. They presumably also include outdoor meetings which are held at the end of a parade or, for that matter, held separately. I am not quite sure of the position of those that are held adjacent to processions--at the end of a procession or in the middle of a procession. Are those included in the aspects about which the commission can recommend changes in the law, or do they come under the provisions relating to processions with the greater restrictions that those allow the commission to impose? It seems to me that included in outdoor meetings would be bonfires, which are often big expressions of cultural identity. Protest meetings, particularly political protest meetings, often have a cultural identity wrapped up with them; and sometimes, indeed, industrial protests can have that kind of context, rightly or wrongly. We all believe wrongly, of course, but nevertheless sometimes these things might be regarded as having a cultural identity.

On the other hand, as the Bill is written at the moment the commission cannot review indoor meetings, even if they are public and publicised meetings. The commission would not be able to comment on those. We can, of course, discuss the pros and cons of these definitions separately later; but we need to know at this stage, when considering whether Clause 3 should stand part of the Bill, what the Government have in mind. If, in the course of that consideration, we eliminate the need to discuss separately Amendments Nos. 4, 5, 6 and 7, which stand in my name, so be it. It seems to me that we need to look at the definition and what is intended by the Government before we can decide whether Clause 3 should remain in the Bill, and, if so, whether it will help to put in context the detailed controls which the other clauses in the Bill provide over processions.

It is very important that we get this right. As both the noble Lord said and I said, we do not want a one-sided Bill or a one-sided commission.

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