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Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, if the amendment were accepted, Clause 4(1)(b) would state:

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As the noble Lord, Lord Cope, indicated, that achieves exactly the right balance. The provision is not so much in the Bill for its legal implementation as for the code of conduct. However, the fact that it is designed to influence and give guidance to those who will be operating the code of conduct--namely, the commission--indicates that a degree of flexibility can be shown. I think that Parliament has a solemn duty to give the commission guidance on this matter.

4 p.m.

Lord Monson: My Lords, as I said when speaking in favour of Amendment No. 1, this amendment seems a much better way of achieving the necessary balance between the communities than the soon-to-be-deleted Clause 3. This is because, as I understand it, the majority of counter-demonstrations are launched against parades which are broadly unionist in character.

Lord Alderdice: My Lords, I simply want, in the briefest way possible, to indicate that I agree with noble Lords in their comments. As I said in Committee, there are other ways of achieving balance. This does seem to me to be part of the issue. Of course it is only a matter of giving guidance regarding counter-demonstrations which are notoriously difficult to deal with, even with the giving of guidance, although guidance would be welcome. My colleagues and I believe that it is important to give our support to this proposition.

Lord Fitt: My Lords, I wish to support this amendment as well. It is evident from the sentiments expressed in the House this afternoon that all noble Lords are determined to try to put on the statute book in Northern Ireland something of relevance to the whole community in Northern Ireland. Counter-demonstrations have been part and parcel of parades in Northern Ireland since the onset of the civil rights movement in 1968, particularly in the city of Derry where many counter-demonstrations in 1968-69 led to a great deal of trouble.

I believe that this Bill is of great importance. It should be seen in Northern Ireland that the Members of your Lordships' House are trying to the best of their ability to ensure that Northern Ireland legislation is in the interests of the whole of the community there. It would be a very sad occasion if the House were to divide on amendments such as we have opened up today. I do not believe that there is any need for division. If we show unanimity, understanding and compassion, the legislation will have the effect that we want it to have.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, one of the gratifying aspects of debates on Northern Ireland in this House is that so many noble Lords bring great experience to bear in trying to solve the problems we are discussing. Perhaps it would be appropriate for me to say how delighted I am to see the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, here, given that he was the first Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and therefore has a particular place in the history of that part of the United Kingdom.

The idea of a code of conduct was one for which the North Report found considerable public support. Many believe that it is often not the parades themselves which

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cause trouble but the behaviour of some of those participating in them and of their "hangers-on". The same has often applied to counter-demonstrations, which can vary from dignified and peaceful protests by the side of the road to highly provocative, intimidatory and sometimes violent and unlawful protests.

This amendment seeks to give the Parades Commission the responsibility for a code of conduct which would cover not only those organising and participating in a parade but also those organising and taking part in demonstrations against a parade. We understand the thinking behind the amendment but we are not sure that this is the right way to go about it. The North Report itself considered the possibility of a code of conduct for counter-demonstrators but recommended that the police should give serious consideration to applying a similar code to counter-demonstrators.

The North Report did not believe it would be appropriate for the commission to have the ownership of such a code for the very good reason that the commission would not be responsible for monitoring or imposing conditions on such demonstrations. Under the new legislation, the power to impose conditions on counter-demonstrators remains where it was in the Public Order order--in the hands of the police. Moreover, unless there is a legal obligation on organisers of the counter-demonstration to notify these demonstrations in advance it is not easy to see how the code could bind such organisers, or indeed in some cases how the organisers could be identified.

The code of conduct is not legally binding in the sense that those committing breaches of it are not guilty of a criminal offence. While the Parades Commission is able to take account of the past misconduct of parade organisers and participants in setting future conditions on parades, it is hard to see a corresponding sanction which could apply to counter-demonstrators. Having said that, we will give serious consideration to the possibility of a code of conduct for counter-demonstrators although in general we believe that the problems they pose are normally straightforward public order problems which the police already have the power to deal with in particular through Clause 14 of the Bill, the subject of which is the breaking up of public processions.

However, the Government have considered this matter in detail and I believe that the outcome of our further consideration will be most appropriately dealt with when the Bill reaches another place. On that basis I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, that was not exactly an acceptance of the amendment but it was an acceptance of the possibility of thinking further about it, and that encourages me to withdraw the amendment. However, I have just had time in the last few moments to look at the summary of the conclusions of the North Report. It states:

    "We recommend that a Code of Conduct should be introduced covering the behaviour both of participants in a parade and of protestors".

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I believe therefore that we should be heading towards a code of conduct in some form for the protestors as well as for the participants in a parade. However, in the light of the helpful attitude expressed by the Minister towards this particular proposal I beg leave, at this stage at any rate, to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 [Advance notice of public processions]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 4, line 38, at end insert ("or
(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or to a fine, or to both").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move this amendment, which brings us to Clause 7 of the Bill. The last subsection provides for penalties for a person guilty of the offence of holding a procession without having given due notice of it: that is to say, an illegal procession. Another amendment, Amendment No. 16, relates to Clause 14 and addresses itself to the punishment available for those who break up or attempt to break up public processions.

The purpose of the amendment is to draw attention to the fact that there are stiffer penalties available to the courts for someone who breaks the conditions laid down for a legal parade, whether he is the organiser or somebody taking part in a legal parade. Someone who breaks the conditions for a legal march is faced with potentially stiffer sentencing than the person who attempts to break up a public procession or, for that matter, someone who organises a wholly illegal march. That does not seem to me to be balanced: nor indeed does it seem to be sensible.

Apart from anything else, there is an incentive, at any rate of a sort, to someone thinking of organising a protest march of some kind not to give notice but just to hold an illegal protest march, knowing that the maximum sentence that can be given is six months' imprisonment, whereas if he organises a legal march, gives notice properly, has conditions laid down and then breaks the conditions, he can be sent to prison on indictment for up to two years: a much longer sentence for that offence. So there is a small incentive to hold illegal parades rather than legal ones as a result of the disparity in the punishments available. It is not fair that the legal organisers of a parade or those who legally take part in a parade but find that it goes wrong should face higher sentences than a group of people who are protesting and trying to stop that legal parade and trying to break it up.

It seems to me unwise to have different sets of penalties available to the courts for these two very similar offences. In addition, it sends a message that the Bill is an anti-parades Bill rather than an anti-protestors Bill. I believe that that is not the message that the Government or this House wish to send. It is not how we expect that the commission will behave in practice. I therefore hope that the two sets of fines and sentences of imprisonment will be brought into line for the different offences. I beg to move.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, most of your Lordships will have noticed that, earlier, I tabled

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an amendment on similar lines. However, I believe that the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, is more effective and likely to be more easily understood. For that reason, I warmly support it.

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