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Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for bringing these orders before us. I entirely agree that the Parades Commission has an extremely difficult task, as he outlined.

A few years ago we debated at some length the Bill bringing into being the Parades Commission and I am pleased to recall that we cut out some of the peripheral duties suggested and kept it focused on this tremendous task of trying to manage parades in Northern Ireland. I must own up to the fact that I had a meeting with the Parades Commission wearing my hat as a member of the Anglo-Irish inter-parliamentary body, so I have had time to discuss its work with its members. I am certain that they are committed to doing the best job they can.

I am sure that Alistair Graham, the chairman, as a trade unionist from the North-East, had a steep learning curve in trying to come to terms and understand the traditions, the feelings and the emotions of the summer season and marching seasons of Northern Ireland. He moved up that learning curve quickly with his team and it is a positive sign that we have these amendments coming through with changes to the codes. I sincerely hope that the commission's learning will increase; that its relations and understanding will continue to improve. I particularly hope and want to put on record that the loyal orders, the Orange Order, will eventually come round to meeting and discussing formally with the government-introduced Parades Commission what it wishes to do. The Parades Commission is part of the democratic process. It is important that the Orange Order wakes up to that and starts to talk and work with it.

Having said that, I wish the Parades Commission an easier time--I doubt that it will get it. I wish it good luck and all speed in its work.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I echo the sentiments shared by all sides of the House in commending the work of the Parades Commission. Its success must be

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shown in the decrease in violence indicated. I commend also the restraint shown by the Orange Order at the difficult parades over the past two weeks. I call on its members to heed the call by all sides that restraint should be shown throughout the rest of the marching season.

Lord Fitt: My Lords, does the Minister have any indication whether the number of parades requested will diminish in view of the successful outcome of Drumcree and the Ormeau Road? Many of the parades were going to take place because of the "aggro" occasioned by the banning of the parade in Garvaghy Road.

I want to ask the Minister an important question. So far we have only been able to read about this matter in reports and in leaks that have come out of the so-called "proximity" meetings between the residents of Garvaghy Road and others involved. When legislation was going through this House and even today, we were told that the Parades Commission is an independent commission; that it will take decisions irrespective of the Government's viewpoint. But it has been regularly rumoured since last year's Garvaghy Road incident, that the residents of Garvaghy Road, through their representative Brendan McKenna, have been asking for government assistance to help with the overall economic plight of what he regards as his constituency in Garvaghy Road and Portadown. We heard that many members of the business community and with banking interests met Mr. McKenna. The figure of £30 million and £15 million has been rumoured as a form of blackmail: that he might be prepared to grant permission to the Orange Order provided that money of that order is given over.

I feel that it would be very bad for the Parades Commission to allow itself to be blackmailed into a position of allowing a march by the giving of money. On the other hand, if economic assistance is needed in that area, it should be up to the Government to provide it irrespective of the parades issue.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I wish to make one correction. I referred to the Anglo-Irish inter-parliamentary body; I should have stated the British-Irish inter-parliamentary body.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful for the words of support for the Parades Commission, and particularly for Alistair Graham its chairman. That is extremely helpful and I am sure that in the difficult task the Parades Commission has, it will be much encouraged by the words of support from your Lordships' House for its work. It has been a success story, despite the difficulties and despite the disappointment that there are people in Northern Ireland who ought to co-operate with it--I hope that they will co-operate with it in the future--so that we can move forward in a better and more co-operative manner.

My noble friend Lord Fitt asked whether there were any statistics about a possible decline in parades following the more peaceful marches that took place at the beginning of this month. I have to tell him that I do

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not have any such statistics to hand, but perhaps I may write to my noble friend if I am able to obtain such figures and give him that information.

My noble friend also asked about economic assistance for the Portadown area. I would certainly refute any suggestion that the Parades Commission is being blackmailed. The members of the commission make their decisions independently; that is to say, independent of other considerations. They work in accordance with the statutory basis under which the commission was established. It is those considerations that the commission takes into account, not any others.

There have, of course, been a large number of parades directly related to the Drumcree protest, but I do not think that there is any validity in the suggestion that economic aid is linked to that. However, there are certainly parts of Portadown which require economic help, as is the case in other towns. The Government will consider that help on the merits of the case for economic health in particular towns, and not on those other factors.

As I said, I am grateful for the support that noble Lords have expressed and commend the orders to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Aeroplane Noise (Amendment) Regulations 1999

11.31 a.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 29th June be approved [24th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move. These regulations are made under the provisions of the European Communities Act 1972 and implement Commission Directive 1999/28/EC. In accordance with these procedures introduced by Council Directive 98/20/EC of 30th March 1998, this is the first action to amend the schedule of exempted aeroplanes from the developing nations attached to the directive.

The Commission has removed 11 aeroplanes from the schedule because they no longer qualify for exemption. Some have been damaged beyond economic repair, while others have moved from the register on which the exemption was granted. The effect of the Aeroplane Noise (Amendment) Regulations is to align exemptions in the UK with Directive 98/20/EC by removing those 11 aeroplanes from the schedule attached to the Aeroplane Noise Regulations 1999.

From the point of view of noise at UK airports, this measure will be beneficial. It will reduce the number of older, noisier aeroplanes allowed to fly into the UK. There are no other effects. I commend the regulations to the House.

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Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 29th June be approved [24th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)

Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, I have looked at the regulations and can see no objection to them. Therefore, I give them my support.

Lord Newby: My Lords, we equally support the regulations.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Local Authorities (Contracting Out of Highway Functions) Order 1999

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 26th May be approved [21st Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move. This contracting-out order seeks to allow local highway authorities to delegate, where they wish to do so, a wide range of operational decisions about road maintenance to private sector contractors. Such delegation is most likely to occur in local authority private finance initiative roads projects, although the order does not specify this as a limitation.

The order before the House today should benefit local authorities and their private contractors alike. This order will reduce the bureaucracy and improve efficiency by giving private sector contractors powers that they need to carry out the responsibilities for managing their contracts effectively. For example, a private contractor will no longer have to ask the local highway authority to get a badly positioned builder's skip removed or re-positioned. The order gives the contractor the power to deal directly with the owner of the skip. This should be particularly helpful in providing value for money in contracts, such as PFI contracts with the private sector. The additional flexibility should feed back the cost of the operation and be reflected in the contract price.

The order is permissive. It gives local highway authorities the power to delegate functions. Although the order provides a menu of powers, the authority will delegate only those functions it sees as appropriate and will not be under any obligation to delegate functions should it not wish to do so. This will ensure that local authorities retain all the responsibility and control that they require in order to ensure good service to the local population, while giving them flexibility when they choose.

The order will have major benefits for the maintenance of local roads operating under a PFI contract. It will allow PFI contractors to assume a local highway authority's statutory responsibility for the functions which the local authority has delegated for the duration of the contract, which could be 25 to 30 years. These are not novel powers; the powers in this order are similar to those in the 1995 statutory instrument No. 1986, which enables the Secretary of State to contract out certain of his statutory functions as the highway authority for the trunk road and motorway

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network. The corresponding order before the House today will allow local highway authorities to enjoy similar benefits.

As a consequence of this order, the local highway authority will remain responsible for its network. Nothing in the order reduces the range of those responsibilities. The underlying purpose of our approach is to widen the range of options available to local highway authorities for managing and maintaining their networks effectively and efficiently. The order under consideration today will help that process forward. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 26th May be approved [21st Report from the Joint Committee].--(Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)

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