Prohibition Orders

New clause 2 – in the House of Commons at 9:15 pm on 4 February 1998.

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'.—(1) If at any time the Secretary of State is of the opinion in consequence of information furnished to him by the Chief Constable. that the determination by the Commission under section 7(1) or the determination amended by the Secretary of State under section 8(2) will not be sufficient to prevent such disorder, damage, disruption or intimidation as referred to in section 7, he may make an order—

  1. (a) prohibiting for such period not exceeding 28 days as may be specified in the order, the holding in that area or place of all public processions or such classes of public procession as may be so specified; or
  2. (b) permitting the holding in an area or place of a public procession specified in the order and prohibiting, for such period not exceeding one month as may be specified in the order, the holding in that area or place of any other public procession or of any class of procession specified in the order.

(2) Wherever practicable the Secretary of State shall before making an order under the section consult—

  1. (a) the Commission; and
  2. (b) the Committee of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland constituted under paragraph 15(2) of Schedule 1 to the Police Act (Northern Ireland) 1970.
but nothing in this subsection shall affect the validity of any such order.

(3) The power to make an order under this section includes power to revoke or amend any such order.

(4) An order made under subsection (1) has effect to revoke any previous determination made by the Commission under that section in relation to any public procession the holding of which is prohibited by the order.

(5) A person who organises or takes part in a public procession the holding of which he knows is prohibited by an order under this section shall be guilty of an offence.

(6) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (5) shall be liable on summary conviction to imprisotiment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both.'.—[Mr. Thompson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Mr William Thompson Mr William Thompson UUP, West Tyrone

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: New clause 4—

Secretary of State's powers to prohibit non-traditional public processions.'If, in the case of any proposed non-traditional public procession, the Secretary of State is of the opinion that, having regard to—

  1. (a) any serious public disorder or serious damage to property which may result from the procession;
  2. (b) any serious disruption to the life of the community which the procession may cause;
  3. (c) any serious impact which the procession may have on relationships within the community; and
  4. (d) any undue demands which the procession may cause to be made on the police or military forces;
it is necessary in the public interest to do so, he may by order prohibit the holding of that procession.'.

Amendment No. 10, in clause 7, page 4, line 26, at end insert 'new'.

Amendment No. 14, in clause 10, page 6, line 15, leave out from beginning to end of line 33 on page 7.

Amendment No. 11, in page 6, line 16, after 'proposed', insert 'new'.

Amendment No. 12, in clause 16, page 11, line 2, after 'conveyances', insert 'new public procession" means a procession which has not been held for more than 10 years over the route proposed except where it is held as part of a long route of processions.'.

Amendment No. 41, in page 11, line 2, after 'conveyances', insert non traditional public procession" means a procession which has been held for less than 10 successive years on the route proposed except where it takes place as part of a rota of processions which cover a number of different routes.'.

Photo of Mr William Thompson Mr William Thompson UUP, West Tyrone

The new clause is a replacement provision for clause 10, which deals with the Secretary of State's powers in relation to parades. It is—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Order. There are numerous conversations taking place in the Chamber. I ask right hon. and hon. Members to continue their conversations outside the Chamber or to take their seats.

Photo of Mr William Thompson Mr William Thompson UUP, West Tyrone

As I was saying, Mr. Deputy Speaker, clause 10 relates to the powers of the Secretary of State in relation to public processions. In the existing clause the Secretary of State has been given extreme powers to enable her or him to ban a single parade or a group of parades, and to impose a ban for a certain period. The criteria which the Secretary of State can use to ban parades are much wider than they had been previously. In other words, the Secretary of State can consider any serious impact which such processions may have on relationships within the community and any undue demands which such procession may cause to be made on the police or military". The Secretary of State can proceed if in her or his opinion action should be taken. Under the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, the powers of the Secretary of State are not so extensive. Under that provision, a Secretary of State could not ban a single parade. He or she could do that only, mainly, at the request of the chief of police. That being so, the Secretary of State was somewhat limited. There has been only one occasion under the 1987 order where a Secretary of State has so acted.

We believe that the powers that the clause gives to the Secretary of State are, to some extent, dictatorial. They are extensive, and we believe that they are not completely necessary. That is why I have tabled the new clause. If accepted, it would restore, to some extent, the powers of the Secretary of State as they exist under the 1987 measure.

The Secretary of State should be able to ban parades only on public order grounds. In dealing with objectors, the Secretary of State would be restricted, as she now is under the 1987 order. That would restore compatibility and parity, and would prevent the criticism that would be made against any Secretary of State that, if she banned a particular parade, it would be as a result of political, rather than public order, considerations.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry 9:45, 4 February 1998

Will it be possible, Mr. Lord, to vote separately on new clause 4 and some of the amendments? As you see, new clause 4 was tabled by me, whereas new clause 2 was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson). He has explained to the House the reasoning behind his new clause, which is quite different from mine.

New clause 4 attempts to separate out non-traditional public processions, and I have kindly provided two possible ways of determining what a non-traditional or a new public procession is. I prefer amendment No. 41, which arose as a result of further information that came to light a day or so after amendment No. 12 had been tabled.

The last words of amendment No. 12, a long route of processions", contain a typographical error, and should read a long route of processions". It is intended to define a new parade as one that has simply been created, whereas a traditional parade is one that has been held for more than 10 successive years, except where it was held as one of a long rota of processions over different routes.

That takes care of the cycle of events run by the Orange institution in various parts of the Province, and by other organisations, such as the Black institution, the Apprentice Boys, whose processions are few in number, and the Ancient Order of Hibernians. There are other organisations such as the Foresters that may follow the same general principles, although I cannot speak for them. For that reason, I am especially anxious that the amendment should be considered as a separate item from my hon. Friend's new clause 2.

My hon. Friends intended new clause 1 to apply to all processions. New clause 4 is analogous, as it covers new or non-traditional processions. It is a difficult issue that has not been properly addressed, and this is a way in which it could be addressed.

The Minister was not wholly convinced by what we said about the issue in Committee, and he was rather scathing about the fact that some of our amendments did not advance the case. Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 introduce the concept that the Secretary of State should look only at new processions. I believe that new processions should be subject to more scrutiny than the long-standing processions that have been held for many years without causing any problems.

At the weekend, I spoke to a senior police officer in my constituency who pointed out that bands that practise marching on the road are legally required to submit 11/1 forms. Some bands do that, but some do not. The 11/1 form provides protection for the bands, but they do not do any harm, and usually march on roads near the halls where they train. There is nothing worse than seeing marching bands whose members appear to have three left feet. We want to teach our band members to march properly, and we cannot do that in a hall: bands must practise on the road, with band members carrying their instruments and playing as they march.

Under the existing legislation, every band training session is a procession. Therefore, band sessions account for many of the so-called processions and parades that occur every year. Some bands never bother to apply for 11/1 forms, but all bands will have to do that when this legislation starts to bite. Instead of 3,000 processions, we shall be presented with a grossly inflated figure that does not reflect what is happening on the ground. [Interruption.]

The Government should consider that point. If every band—some of which hold training sessions at fairly short notice—must submit an 11/1 form to the police, it will not be long before—[Interruption]

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Order. There are numerous conversations going on in the Chamber. I remind hon. Members that they should be listening to the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross), who is on his feet.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry

We are well aware that hon. Members often do not listen to us. On the many occasions that they have not listened to us, they have seen the legislation end in tears—which is what will happen in this case. I hope that hon. Members will learn to listen to us before we are much older and the situation has worsened.

The proper legal process regarding processions is not fully complied with at present: bands train by simply marching down the road. If every band must submit an 11/1 form for every training session—and there will be hundreds every week—it will not be long before the police commissioner will be able to paper not only his office but police headquarters with 11/1 forms.

That is only one nonsensical aspect of the Bill. Thousands of processions of various types are held every year in Northern Ireland without the slightest sign of trouble. Therefore, I believe that only new processions should come within the ambit of the legislation. We require the definition of a new procession—or perhaps "non-traditional" procession is a better term. That is why we have tabled our amendments.

As I have said, amendments Nos. 12 and 41 offer the Minister two versions of the same thing—so he can choose whichever he wants. I hope that he will choose one of them, and act upon it. New clause 4 addresses the concept of non-traditional public processions so that the Secretary of State may take action in that regard.

The reason I say that the Secretary of State can take action is that these processions will arise as a result of Sinn Fein-IRA trying to step up the pressure in the coming weeks and months. They will get on the bandwagon too, so action will need to be taken swiftly.

Our first debate this evening concerned the Government's attempt to deal with protest demonstrations— the sit-down demonstrations. We have already been told that there are other ways of dealing with other processions; that they should all come under the Bill. I believe that the non-traditional ones need a sharper treatment, and a quicker way in which to deal with them.

In some ways, the non-traditional public procession that I outline in new clause 4, in conjunction with that which the House has already accepted in the Government's first group of amendments, would strengthen the legislation for the benefit of the law-abiding, and make life somewhat more difficult for the ungodly, as I always term them. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will give careful attention to what I have said and am trying to do in new clause 4 and the amendments which are grouped with it in my name, which are different from those of my hon. Friend the Member for West Tyrone, so I hope that we shall be able to have a separate vote on them.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

I am prepared to consider a separate vote on new clause 4 when we have seen how the debate goes.

Mr. Öpik:

The question of traditionality causes me some concern, because it raises the valid issue of special status. Surely the real issue is one of public order and other rights. I recognise that there is a genuine debate to be had here, but the important question is whether a procession is acceptable and unprovocative, or not so provocative as to cause danger.

Having lived in Northern Ireland, it seems to me that traditional marches have generally ploughed their own furrow, and tend to be accepted in a way which new processions may not be. However, that is more of an observation than a reason for allowing a procession to proceed.

Photo of Robert McCartney Robert McCartney UKUP, North Down

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that one of the inherent points about traditionality is that, if something has been done for 150 years by our fathers and grandfathers, although logically it may not matter, the truth is that the removal of such marches engenders the greatest possible opposition? Therefore, if the object of the Bill is to lessen community confrontation, traditionality must be taken on board.

Mr. Öpik:

I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman. However, traditionality is not the reason for adopting the path he suggests: rather, it is everything else that is associated with the march—for example, its symbolic importance, the fact that it has been held repeatedly, possibly with no trouble, and the skill with which it has been organised. Those are the kind of matters that the commission should consider. The word "tradition" is simply a shorthand for all the things that we might associate with a well-run, long-standing event.

Therefore, I have no quarrel with the hon. Gentleman's point, at least from the empirical standpoint of allowing many of those traditional marches—perhaps all of them— to carry on. I am simply concerned that we are tying ourselves to the word "traditional", which is a shorthand way of describing the seven or eight key factors which really matter to the marches we are considering.

I should prefer us not to tie ourselves to the word "traditional", but to look behind that at all the things that the commission should consider. There is also the slight danger that, if we ascribe importance to the words "traditional" and "non-traditional", we open up a whole new front of conflict and debate as people seek to ascribe some extra status to their marches. That is not helpful in trying to be objective, in the interests of maintaining public order.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

We have two different debates taking place on new clauses 2 and 4 and the consequential amendments. The new clauses would make radical changes to the provisions currently in clause 10. Clause 10 as it stands sets out the powers of the Secretary of State to prohibit parades. The Secretary of State already has, of course, power in the public order order to prohibit parades, but this power, as with the police's powers to set conditions on parades, may be exercised only on the basis of criteria that are exclusively related to public order.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business),That, at this day's sitting, the Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords] may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Dowd.]

Question agreed to.

As amended (in the Standing Committee), again considered.

Question again proposed, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) said that he had received the impression that Ministers were not listening to what he had said about the Bill and its ramifications. If he believes that, he cannot have been listening to the debates in the other place, in Committee and tonight. As I explained earlier, substantial changes have been made following the input of noble Lords and of hon. Members in Committee. We have not only listened, but we have absorbed the arguments and modified the legislation to meet some of the concerns and issues that have been raised on both sides of the House.

In line with the recommendations of the North report in paragraph 15 of chapter 14, clause 10 empowers the Secretary of State to prohibit parades, taking into account a range of factors that include the new factor of the impact of the parade on relationships within the community, as well as the existing public order factors. A further change from the existing law is that the powers given to the Secretary of State in clause 10 are now proportionate. That is to say, if the problems can be addressed by prohibiting an individual parade, that is what the Secretary of State will do. It would only be in circumstances in which the banning of an individual parade did not resolve the problem that the Secretary of State would move to ban all parades of a particular type, or indeed all parades.

A further significant change is, of course, that the maximum period for which parades may be banned under clause 10 is 28 days, which contrasts with three months under the existing law. It is worth recalling that, in 1970, under the old Stormont Parliament, which was of course under Unionist control, the Minister for Home Affairs imposed a blanket ban for a period of six months. That was a much more draconian approach than that allowed in the Bill.

Amendment No. 14, tabled by the hon. Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson), would delete clause 10, on the Secretary of State's banning power, and new clause 2 would restructure that power. It is very similar to one tabled by the hon. Gentleman in Committee, and we have already rehearsed the arguments elsewhere. This is a good opportunity to clear up some of the points the hon. Gentleman made in Committee, where we seemed to be at odds at times in trying to understand the issues at stake.

First, let me make it clear what new clause 2 would do. It would amount to a significant curtailment of the Secretary of State's banning power under the public order order. In Committee, the hon. Gentleman suggested that the Government were seeking to expand the Secretary of State's power in clause 10. I disagreed with him then and I disagree with him now. The banning power in the Bill is different, but it is not fundamentally broader. His new clause would make bans much more difficult to impose. That may be his intention.

In the first place, new clause 2 would allow the Secretary of State to impose a ban only in consequence of information furnished to him by the Chief Constable". In the public order order, a ban can be imposed in consequence of such information or for any other reason". The Secretary of State is not constrained in existing legislation to impose bans only on the basis of the Chief Constable's information. That is not to say that the Secretary of State would make decisions off her own bat without consulting the Chief Constable, but the flexibility to deal with exceptional circumstances needs to be there.

During the drafting of the Bill, I considered whether there was a need for a reference to consulting the Chief Constable, as set out in clause 10. It seemed so straightforward and obvious that the Secretary of State would be in constant touch that it seemed superfluous to mention it in the Bill. However, discussion in Committee set out a different perspective. It is obvious that we were wise to make it clear in the Bill that we envisaged consultation with the Chief Constable. At times, the hon. Member for West Tyrone seemed to suggest in Committee that the Secretary of State would impose bans with no reference at all to the Chief Constable. That would be nonsense.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

No, the hon. Gentleman has only recently entered the Chamber. I might give way to him when he has absorbed some of the debate. We have had an extensive debate; he may find it worth while to listen to some of the arguments that are being advanced.

Photo of Mr Ken Maginnis Mr Ken Maginnis UUP, Fermanagh and South Tyrone

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On the Minister's implication, I have been engaged in what is known as the talks process—in case he is not aware of it—and have recently arrived in the House to contribute what I can to this debate. I just wanted to make that clear.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

The hon. Gentleman has made it clear, but it is not a point of order for the Chair.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I was not implying that the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) was not engaged in important business, but I was saying that it would be worth his while to pick up the flow of the debate rather than immediately trying to intervene. I was trying to be helpful, not insulting.

We are dealing with the notion that the Secretary of State would not consult her main security adviser before making decisions. That argument is the import of new clause 2, and it is nonsense. That is why the Bill provides for such consultation.

Photo of Mr William Thompson Mr William Thompson UUP, West Tyrone

Does the Minister agree that the power given to the Secretary of State to ban a single parade is additional to what she had under the 1987 order? Will he explain why, if she would normally consult the Chief Constable, it cannot be put in the Bill as it is in the 1987 order?

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I was going to come to that aspect of new clause 2. I shall discuss the basis of the powers that now exist, because there are inherent contradictions between the hon. Gentleman's new clause and that of the hon. Member for East Londonderry. It might be worth setting out the detail of what they are trying to achieve in them.

I have dealt with the consultation aspect, but new clause 2 would also restrict the basis on which the Secretary of State could ban processions to factors that are exclusively public order related. That ignores the fundamental recommendation of the North report, that the factors that should be taken into account in imposing both conditions and bans should be expanded to cover the wider impact that the parade may have on relationships within the community.

The Government are completely committed to that core recommendation of the North report. We would not have established the commission in the first place had we believed that the criteria in the public order order were adequate. We set up the commission not as a snub to the RUC, but because we believed that the RUC is put in a difficult position under the current legislation, and that it would not be best placed to judge the community relations issues that the commission will need to assess.

As well as differing from the existing powers in the public order order, new clause 2 is also very different from clause 10 of the Bill. Specifically, it was suggested in Committee that the power to ban individual parades by the Secretary of State was wrong-headed and vulnerable to political interference. Accordingly, new clause 2 retains only the power to ban all parades or parades in specified classes, as in the existing public order order.

I must admit that I found that argument and that reasoning hard to understand in Committee, and I have not found anything to dissuade me from that impression. The power to ban all parades in a given area over a period or to ban whole classes of parades seems to me to be more extensive than the power to ban individual parades.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The hon. Gentleman is shaking his head. We are trying to introduce some form of proportionality into the banning powers. The power to ban in certain areas or to ban certain classes of parade could have been drafted in such a way as to affect only one particular parade if the Secretary of State had been so minded.

The suggestion that giving a specific power to ban individual parades somehow extends the Secretary of State's power is entirely misplaced. I note that new clause 4, tabled by the hon. Member for East Londonderry, would give the Secretary of State the power to ban only individual parades, rather than whole categories. Presumably, he does not believe that the power is as draconian as the hon. Member for West Tyrone seems to think. That is where the contradiction between the two new clauses comes into play.

The provisions of new clause 4 are totally incompatible with those of new clause 2. I find it rather strange that the hon. Members do not seem to be speaking with one voice on this aspect of the legislation. It is perhaps a case of Unionism disunited.

The hon. Member for East Londonderry's new clause 4 seeks to exempt traditional parades from the banning power. That was discussed in detail in Committee, and has been discussed in passing tonight. It would be wrong to go over that ground again: it was given an extensive airing in Committee, and I do not think that much is to be gained from covering it again.

I do not think that it would be acceptable to the European Court of Human Rights or responsible on the part of Government to treat parades radically differently, as suggested. We all know that some serious trouble has been associated with what are undoubtedly traditional parades. It would be wrong to prejudge the issue or the merit of those parades. Stripping the Secretary of State of her last resort power to ban such parades would be irresponsible, and contrary to the recommendation of the North report.

The banning power has been used very sparingly in the past: in fact, only once under the 1987 order. We expect that to remain the case in the future. We are determined that, should it ever be necessary to use the power, the Secretary of State should impose the minimum possible restriction on these important civil liberties. An ascending scale of banning powers from individual parades, to classes of parades and to all parades seems sensible in that context. That is what I mean by the proportionality principles laid down in clause 10.

The two new clauses are substantial in their own right.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I am coming to a conclusion. The hon. Gentleman had a fair go at explaining his position.

The way in which clause 10 proposes to deal with banning powers is clearly consistent with the North report. It is important that the range of factors that must be taken into account remain in the Bill; I do not think that any change would improve it.

Throughout our proceedings, we have demonstrated our readiness to take on board reasoned and reasonable arguments, but I do not think that those who have spoken to the new clauses and amendments have advanced reasoned or reasonable arguments. I therefore ask the House to reject their proposals.

Photo of Mr William Thompson Mr William Thompson UUP, West Tyrone 10:15, 4 February 1998

The Minister spoke at some length. The argument that allowing the Secretary of State to ban a single parade does not represent a new power is Machiavellian: if the Secretary of State did not have the power before and now has it, it must be an additional power.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I think I said that it was an additional power.

Can the hon. Gentleman tell me why he resists the concept of a proportionate approach to the banning power, starting with single parades and proceeding to clashes and worse?

Photo of Mr William Thompson Mr William Thompson UUP, West Tyrone

If the Minister looks at the legislation applying to England and Wales—and, indeed, the White Paper that dealt with the legislation relating to the 1987 order—he will find that that was one of the suggestions turned down by the eminent people who were members of a commission on public order. It was turned down because it meant that the then Secretary of State would leave himself wide open to a charge of political intervention—to the charge that he was banning a parade only on the basis of political considerations.

No doubt any future Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who bans a single parade can be well assured of being open to the charge that he did it for political reasons. That is why the suggestion was rejected in England and Wales, and that is why it has never been part of the legislation of those countries—or, indeed, Northern Ireland. Clause 10 brings the power to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and, moreover, widens the criteria enabling her to take such action. The North report did not recommend giving the power to the Secretary of State; it recommended that no change should be made, other than the introduction of the additional criteria for the judgment of parades.

Under the clause, the Secretary of State can ban a parade without consulting the Chief Constable. It is necessary for her to consult the Chief Constable only "where practicable". A Secretary of State with a certain whim and fancy could, if he or she did not approve of a parade, ban that parade. That is an exact interpretation of the clause. My new clause would prevent that: it would keep the Secretary of State's powers in line with those that exist here in London.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 11, Noes 267.

Question accordingly negatived.