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Lord Holme of Cheltenham: Before the noble Lord sits down, will he make it absolutely clear what he has told us about the timing of the Secretary of State's likely decision on the implementation of Clause 3? I should say in parenthesis that I am very uneasy with the formulation that says that we are going to do research but we will not wait to see what it says before we start acting. That seems to me to be a curious view of what research is for. But it was the remarks that the noble Lord made earlier about the possible implementation of Clause 3 in relation to next year's marching season that concerned me. Will he please repeat what he said so that we can be clear about the implementation of the clause in relation to the key negotiations on next year's marching season?

Lord Dubs: If I may deal first with the point about research, it depends upon the scope of the research, the length of time, and so on. I am not sure that the Secretary of State would want to delay giving effect to Clause 3 because there was some rather long-term research proposal that the commission had in mind. I know that this is speculative, but I do not want to be drawn into giving a categorical answer one way or the other as to what effect the research would have, although I believe it is unlikely that a long piece of research will be a sufficient justification for delaying giving effect to Clause 3.

The noble Lord asked a more particular question. Let me repeat what I said. We believe the new structures need to be given time to bed in, which is the overall scheme of the Bill, 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 1998 marching season. However, we hope to commence the clause within a matter of months. I am not sure I can do better than that, because quite clearly the Secretary of State will wish to be influenced by the burden of work on the commission and whether the commission has managed to concentrate sufficiently on its main remit before adding other responsibilities.

Lord Alderdice: I thank the Minister for his response, though I must confess that it seemed to me that he had accomplished facing two ways at the same time within the confines of the one sentence--that it was going to be delayed, but that it would not be delayed very much, but we are not really terribly sure how much. If the delay were such that the initial indications of determination were to be made, which one would

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assume would be perhaps around the February/March period, the implications of those determinations would be coming to fruition at precisely the time when this more contentious responsibility would be becoming the responsibility of the commission. So I regret to say that at this point I do not find myself particularly reassured by the Minister's responses.

I am somewhat of a new boy to this House and its proceedings, and I am not entirely clear if my assumptions are correct. It seems to me that the particular arrangements of this Grand Committee may be rather helpful in this instance, because we have the opportunity of considering all the various matters through to completion before having to move to a Division on any matter. The Minister has indicated that he is interested to hear what other alternatives there might be which would give balance, and there are indeed a number of propositions by other noble Lords which, when we have explored them further, may begin to open up to us some of those alternatives. This is one of the reasons why I have not alluded to them in the comments I have made. Therefore, the mechanism chosen may be a particularly useful one for this process.

One of the things I am not at all clear about is this. If the members of the commission--and, after all, they undertook their task largely in the knowledge that they would be dealing with the question of public processions--were to indicate to the Secretary of State that there were any areas of cultural expression to which they wished to extend their remit, would the Secretary of State be in a position to say, "I know you have indicated that and I know it is a rather tough job, but I am sorry, you are going to have it anyway"; or would the Secretary of State in that context be in a position to say, "You have considered the matter and I take what you have said, and therefore we simply will not implement this section of the Bill at all, given that the commission as it is now feels that that is not appropriate"? Or, indeed, if the commission were to return and say, "Indeed, there are matters of this kind but we would recommend to the Secretary of State a totally other mechanism for dealing with this, because we don't believe it is appropriate for the commission itself", would this put the Government in an invidious position, or would this assist the Government in making their difficult decision? Would it provoke the Secretary of State to overrule the advice of the Parades Commission, or would she perhaps be somewhat relieved to accept its advice?

It seems to me that we must discuss quite a lot of the implications of what has been said. Therefore at this point I feel it is important for us to continue to press for this. It would be a grave mistake to include this notion of cultural identity, which would be thoroughly regretted all round, including by those who were most keen to see it. However, it is perhaps good fortune that it is not necessary to press it to a Division at this point, and we can consider the other matters as they come forward. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Clause 1 agreed to.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: Before calling the next amendment, may I apologise for the fact that the Committee has been in such deep gloom. The Clerk and I have been struggling to get the lights turned up but it was maintained that it would disrupt the proceedings. But someone seems to have managed to do it!

Clause 2 [Functions of the Commission in relation to public processions]:

4.15 p.m.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 2, leave out lines 1 and 2.

The noble Lord said: As one of the principal geriatrics in this gathering, I am deeply grateful to the Chair for that improvement in the illumination because my eyesight is fading rapidly.

I beg to move Amendment No. 2 standing in my name. My decision to table the amendment arose from my exchange with the noble Lord the Minister on Second Reading. He will remember that on that occasion I suggested that where a decision had been made by the commission and the determination issued, the commission became the deciding body. He did not contest that. The drafting does not spell out its subsequent role as the implementing body, and it was for that reason that I suggested to the Minister that members of the commission would have to be present at the potential flashpoint. I was not influenced in my thinking by the dictum that nothing stimulates the mind as much as being shot at without result. It was rather that the Minister assured me the members of the commission had been present in many areas of dispute. I naturally accepted his assurance in regard to the recent past.

However, once the Bill receives Royal Assent, the nature of the commission alters dramatically. It makes decisions, it issues determinations, but it must ensure that its determinations are in force, and that is the central problem in this measure. It could be said that the police would find this preferable to a situation where their own Chief Constable makes the decision. The police would then be seen in new circumstances to be enforcing a decision and directive of a lay body, namely the commission.

However, there must be visible evidence of responsibility on the part of the commission dealing with any disturbance which might result from its determination in order to convince international opinion, and international television teams in particular, that the responsibility rests with the commission and not the police. In order to ensure that that is done, members of the commission must be on the spot to explain to the news industry present on that occasion that it, the commission, accepts full responsibility for any unseemly activity which might result, which journalists will have come to see and to some extent usually done much to incite.

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The second reason for my amendment arises from what seems to be an absence of repeal of the relevant sections of the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987. That appears to be intact if I have read the schedule of repeals at the back correctly. Article 5(1) of that order is still in force, except for the deletion admittedly of four words which are not relevant to Clause 2 which we are debating.

The Chief Constable and the Assistant Chief Constable may recommend a ban on one of two grounds. The relationship to that is to be found in that section of the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order to which I have referred. The first one is that rerouting or imposing conditions might not be sufficient to prevent serious disorder, serious damage, disruption or intimidation. The second part--and I quote directly from it--is that,

    "rerouting or imposing conditions would place undue demands on police manpower".

Most of the decisions taken over the past three years by both Chief Constables would have been based on that particular article. I believe it was that second reason that governed many decisions, particularly in the Garvaghy Road, in previous years.

The Chief Constables were supported by the police authority, which even now harks back to the financial cost of police operations. The police were also supported by the Ministers then in the Northern Ireland Office, who explained that cuts in expenditure on education and health budgets were necessary because of the limited police costs which could not be met in any other way--limited in the sense that, had the police ignored Article 5(1) of the existing Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, that,

    "rerouting or imposing conditions would place undue demands on police manpower",

the cost would perhaps have increased tenfold. With hindsight, those decisions of the Chief Constables were probably wise in the interests of the community in general.

As this Bill does not list Article 5(1) in the repeals section of Schedule 4, it would appear to me that police decisions will still be based on the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 and not necessarily on the Bill which we are discussing in your Lordships' Committee today. I have to ask whether the commission will, in the exercise of its powers which we are now conferring upon it, particularly in Clause 2(2)(b), base its decision on Article 5(1) of the order now in force; or when it issues a determination and commits the police to implementing that determination, will it have the advanced approval of the Northern Ireland Office Minister heading up the Department of Finance, and will it also have the advanced approval of the police authority for additional costs of placing undue demands on police manpower? Hitherto Chief Constables have been very cost-conscious. Will the commission be as sensitive in regard to Treasury-imposed budgets in this particular matter?

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In the light of all these conflicting issues I would respectfully ask the Committee to support Amendment No. 2.

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