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Lord Holme of Cheltenham: I wonder whether the noble Lord, in proposing this amendment, is aware of the research done on this very difficult decision about who decides. It showed within Northern Ireland by a clear majority of the whole community that an independent commission should decide rather than the police. Indeed within the Protestant community that was true as well. We oppose the noble Lord's amendment, not because we do not have a great deal of sympathy with the point he is making, but to remove this clause from the Bill invalidates the main purpose of the North Report and the main development which the commission represents as a way of trying to deal with this intractable problem in Northern Ireland. I am afraid that the noble Lord cannot count on support from these Benches.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I wonder whether the noble Lord will give way. I am most grateful. But the simple point remains: will the commission then shoulder the burden of ensuring the costs which will be imposed as a result of an undue burden on police manpower? Will the commission find some means of funding the increased expenditure which would automatically arise from that decision of the commission?
Viscount Brookeborough: I am inclined to support this amendment, mainly because of the practical problem: should a parade go wrong and should there be trouble, who will take responsibility for acting on the spot? Do the police have the right, in order to save lives, in order to protect the community, to override what the commission has decided in the meeting previous to that parade in order to carry out their job correctly? I am quite happy that the commission should initially be the authority to decide whether the parade should go forward. However, in Northern Ireland parades, and people, have a funny knack of going wrong at very short notice indeed. If there are not enough police and security forces on site at that time, it has previously been the responsibility of either the most senior policemen or indeed, taking it further, the Secretary of State. However, the commission is a group of people. Those people will not all attend every single parade. Indeed, they may not all be in Northern Ireland at any particular time. So will there be a quorum that has to be in the country which has to be available? I should like to ask the Minister to clarify that.
Lord Hylton: As I see it, the commission is being asked first of all to facilitate and encourage local agreement by whatever means it can. If that fails, and it may fail, it is being asked to exercise a quasi-judicial function, and it is desirable that it should exercise that function as a matter of last resort rather than the decision having to be taken either by the Chief Constable or by the Secretary of State. The commission may have to
Lord Cope of Berkeley: I have much sympathy with a great deal that the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, said. However, he went considerably wider than the detailed terms of the amendment. There is clearly a difficulty if a parade goes badly wrong and large resources of the police or, for that matter, the military are called upon. Indeed, we all remember instances when the numbers of police have needed to escalate very quickly and there have been difficulties about getting the police or for that matter the numbers of military on the ground in the right place at the right time. It has been the practice to have large numbers standing by in order to assist, if required. That can be a considerable waste in one sense of police and indeed military time. However, it is necessary in the circumstances which arise.
Clearly, on the day, as the noble Lord pointed out, the situation can be different from what was expected at the time the commission made its determination a number of days before--sometimes a while before. It is important that the police continue to have the right to change the situation in the interests of public order--if necessary even to stop the march altogether--with the Secretary of State's powers possibly being involved as well. As I understand it, the Bill preserves the right of the police in these circumstances to alter the determination effectively: to issue an overriding determination in the interests of public order on the ground on the day. If the Bill does not, I believe that it should.
The amendment would take away from the commission the right to issue the determinations. It has been argued that it is wrong for the commission both to be the mediator attempting to get agreement in the early stages of a parade being set up, and also to be the judge who says at a certain point, "You may go ahead but not down this road or with this condition", or whatever it is. Certainly it seems to me that if the commission is in a position to issue a determination, it alters the way in which the negotiations are likely to go. In a sense the negotiations are under some form of duress because the big stick of the commission's determination is under the table all the time as the discussions proceed. I understand that difficulty but we have to accept it in the light of the way that the Bill and the commission are being set up.
If it were not the commission which issued the determination and determined the detailed conditions for a march, either the police would have to do so--that is what we are trying to get away from--at the suggestion of the previous Chief Constable, or, for that matter, the Secretary of State. While not coming to the same thing, that is also what we are, in a way, trying to get away from. There is a further alternative: that we should have one body set up to deal with the mediation; and a different body set up to make the determination in the light of the mediation if the mediation does not succeed.
Of course it is right that it is the police who have to carry out on the ground the necessary operations to ensure that the determination is put into effect and that offenders who go against the determination are dealt with in a proper way. It will fall back on to the police to enforce the determinations. That is why ultimately the police must also have the fallback power in cases of public order, in effect to overrule the determination and take charge of the situation on the day on the ground and deal with it as best they can.
Sometimes the police will be influenced in their decisions in this by the available police resources. If they are extremely stretched at a certain point the amount of resources required will influence their decision. That is inevitable. It is not possible to ring up Stormont to get the Finance Minister's permission to call a few more police out. At one stage I was in the position of being both the Finance Minister and the Security Minister, so I could ask myself if such a situation occurred! In practice, of course, it does not, because the police operations on the ground are conducted by the police and by the Chief Constable in particular.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. With the recollection in mind that he had very admirably looked after our housekeeping allowances when he was a Minister at Stormont, I make a final plea to him. Would he suggest that the Government do all in their power to persuade the commission to be as cost conscious as previous chief constables in the making of decisions and assessing what the cost of those decisions might be?
Lord Cope of Berkeley: The short answer to the noble Lord is yes. One of the matters that the commission has to take into account in the later clauses is the burden on the police and the resources available to support law and order. It is something of which the commission should take account. Indeed, the commission will be obliged to take it into account as one of the factors; and it is quite right that it should.
Lord Dubs: May I try to reassure some noble Lords as regards how the police can influence what may happen. In the first case, the commission will take a number of views, including the views of the police, in arriving at a determination. Secondly, having made a determination, if the Chief Constable is unhappy he may then make an application to the Secretary of State to ask her to review the determination that the commission has made in Clause 9. Thirdly, in Clause 10 it says very clearly that nothing as regards the determination of the commission affects the common law powers of a constable to take action to deal with or prevent a breach of the peace on the day. The police could make a decision on the day based upon the possibility of a breach of the peace being threatened.
We know that the RUC has done an excellent job over many years, at times when resources have been very stretched. I am sure they will continue to do so in this particular case. If the likely resources on the day seem to be inadequate, I am sure that the police will make that known. If they were not happy with the commission's response to that fact, the Secretary of State would, of course, listen to what the chief constable had to say.
There are a number of checks and balances in the system. We would hope that there will never be a time when police resources are too stretched to deal with all the demands made upon them on any single day. It may have happened in the past. I am hopeful it will not happen in the future.
Obviously the Secretary of State is mindful of the needs of the police to have adequate resources to police Northern Ireland whatever the security situation demands. I believe there would be a sensitivity to the points made by the noble Lord.
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