Functions of the Commission

Clause 2 – in the House of Commons at 10:15 pm on 4 February 1998.

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Amendment made: No. 15, in page 1, line 16, at end insert 'and protest meetings'.—[Mr. Ingram.]

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

I beg to move amendment No. 16, in page 1, line 21, leave out 'mediate, or'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 33, in page 1, line 21, leave out from 'mediate' to 'between'.

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

As was pointed out in Committee, clause 2 does not impose a duty on the commission to mediate; it simply empowers it to do so. As drafted, the Bill would give the commission the flexibility to act as it believes most appropriate in the circumstances. However, many people have made representations on this point and believe that the mediation function is incompatible with the adjudicatory function.

I do not believe that the commission would in practice be faced with conflicting duties in this regard. In fact, the commission would only—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Order. There is far too much conversation, in front of the Chair and behind it.

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

I do not believe that the commission would be faced with conflicting duties. It would have only a power, not a duty, to mediate. It could choose not to do so if it considered that there would be difficulty.

I have had to recognise the strong counter-view that the same body should not mediate and have responsibility for issuing determinations. I have given that further thought. Government amendment No. 16 deletes the references to direct mediation, while leaving the power to facilitate mediation.

That is another example of our approach to the Bill. There are competing arguments on specific issues. As I have said in earlier debates, sometimes it is difficult to come to a firm conclusion because of the strength of the arguments on both sides. I hold to the arguments that I advanced in Committee, but I respect the strong views that others have expressed. That is why we have tabled Government amendment No. 16 to delete the references to direct mediation.

Facilitating local agreements is the way forward. I hope that those who have influence to bring to bear on the way in which the Parades Commission will operate agree that it should do everything in its power to pursue that aim. The Parades Commission will learn from last year's experience and that to be gained in the coming marching season and future years. The amended power will still be flexible enough for the commission to put what it regards as best practice into operation.

Amendment No. 33, to which the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) will undoubtedly speak, would have the opposite effect. It would give the commission the power only to mediate directly. It could not facilitate mediation through whatever means it thought best. Its time would be taken up by mediating between the parties. I am not sure that there would be enough commissioners to get through all the work if that responsibility were imposed. The hon. Gentleman will set out his arguments, but I felt it important to define what I understand to be the purpose and impact of the amendment.

We have tried to give the commission the flexibility to facilitate and encourage mediation. Mediation leading to local accommodation is a key to the Bill. On that basis, I ask the House to support amendment No. 16.

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

As the Minister has said, the amendments contradict each other. I hope that we shall have two Divisions on them, because they represent two different approaches. The Minister told us a moment ago that the Government find it difficult to come to firm conclusions. That is evident. They have written the Bill ambiguously so that, on almost any provision, one can come to several different conclusions. Sadly, they come to the wrong one far too often. We who have had experience of running processions—and who will, no doubt, have further experience of it—know how much more difficult the work will be.

When I saw the Minister's amendment, I thought back to the long debate that we had in Committee on the rights of the commissioners and said to myself, "Good heavens! There has been another typing error. The Minister has taken out the wrong bit. I shall be helpful to the poor chap and take out the right bit." When I came here this evening, I found that, lo and behold, the Government have not made a mistake but have acted with malice aforethought. That is not a sensible way to proceed.

Perhaps we should explore the matter. We have been told by all and sundry that there are only 12, 15, 20 or a maximum of 30 or so commissioners—we hear all sorts of figures—but that there will be only a tiny number of processions where there is be any trouble. Now we are told that there will be so many decisions to make, so many problems to settle, that the commissioners will not have time for them all. Will the Government make up their mind? Are there 10 or 20 or 30 commissioners—or as many as the IRA will manufacture? The Government—not by their words but by their actions—have come down on our side of the argument. They are by their action admitting that we are right—that the IRA will ensure that there are more confrontations this year.

We are making progress, albeit slowly. It takes time to convert these people to the truth, to let the light of knowledge shine through. We are doing our best. It has been a long, hard slog, but we are getting there. It might yet take another go or two at this legislation before it is founded on fact rather than myth and nonsense, but we will get there.

One might say that the commissioners are the greatest of the great and the best of the good. The countryside, the whole nation, has been searched. It has been necessary to come across to Great Britain to get someone impartial enough and with enough experience of processions to chair the commission. The Government are saying that those people will be put in an ivory tower. From there, the commissioners will send their carefully selected minions into the country to do we know not what we know not how.

The Minister is asking us to accept that the commissioners should be let off the hook completely and allowed to live in a remote ivory tower, never to come down to the ground, never to play an active part, never to meet the citizens, never to meet Mr. Rice and Mr. McKenna—no, that would never do. Let the minions do it; let somebody else take the brickbats; let somebody else take the insults. Three, four, five, six or seven commissioners will sit in their ivory tower and make decisions on the basis of what is carried back to them by people who will be suspected—certainly by the Unionist population, and if the past is anything to go by. almost certainly by the IRA-Sinn Fein population with whom they are dealing.

The Government have got it completely, utterly and monumentally wrong. We should go in totally the opposite direction, and say to the commissioners, "You have taken on this job. We are paying you a very considerable salary for a few weeks' work every year. The Government have been telling us up to now that there are only 15 or 20 hot spots." They can start the day after Her Majesty's signature goes on the Bill. They can go now to Mr. Rice and Mr. McKenna, or Mr. Hasson and Mr. Smith in Bellaghy. They can go to all sorts of places. All the individuals who are going to raise problems are known.

If the Government and all the great and good in Northern Ireland are to be believed, they would have the whole thing wrapped up in a month. It would be no problem at all. They would have a wonderful agreement, because the IRA are just dying to reach an agreement with them.

Of course, nobody believes the Government and the great and the good. If folk take on a job and get paid for it, they should blooming well do it. I see no reason why we should let those people off the hook. The Government should say to the commissioners, "Away you go, boys. There's the job we've given you. Go and get at it. Go and find a sensible conclusion as soon as possible."

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

The Rev. Roy Magee resigned. Has the Minister managed to replace him yet—and replace him with an individual who is acceptable to the Unionist and loyalist community, as Roy Magee was? If not, why not?

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

I do respect the opinions of Roy Magee, but I think that his feet told the story rather better than his words.

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

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Roy Magee, whom he respects, took a view completely different from his on the point at issue? Of course, there was the difference between mediation and adjudication. He felt that he had a more specific role to play in mediation, and did not see his role as that of an adjudicator. Contrary to what the hon. Gentleman is arguing, Roy Magee saw a differentiation of powers.

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

If I recall correctly, Roy Magee saw his role as that of a mediator. Yet the Government are now taking that mediation role away from the commission and putting it into the hands of others. Roy Magee resigned over that issue. Have the Government managed to replace him yet with a man of similar standing. If not, why not? Are they really finding it so difficult?

I would be grateful if the Minister would answer. I am prepared to give way to him again. I have all night; I am not in a hurry to go home. As you will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, once I get my teeth into something I do not mind how late I stay up. It does not worry me in the slightest. I could happily stay here until tomorrow night.

Photo of Robert McCartney Robert McCartney UKUP, North Down

One hesitates to make remarks, but the name of the Rev. Roy Magee has been put into the melting pot here by the Minister, and it is right to say that that person does not enjoy universal regard throughout the pro-Union community. Moreover, does the hon. Gentleman accept that that there is a suggestion that the reason why the Rev. Roy Magee withdrew is that he did not wish to be placed in the position of adjudicator rather than mediator, because the last thing that he wanted to do was to show which way he would move?

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

That is the very point that I was making, and also the point of my amendment. The commissioners would be mediators. Of course I know that Roy Magee did not enjoy universal acclaim. My hon. and reverend Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) does not enjoy universal acclaim, either, and neither does the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley)—or, indeed, the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney).

No one else in the House enjoys universal claim within his or her own community, either, and we all know it.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South

Does my hon. Friend accept the fact that some of us live our lives mindful of the injunction, "Woe unto me when all men speak well of me"?

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

I have to tell my hon. and reverend Friend that that is one of the reasons that brought us here. We are here because we speak our minds—because we believe in something and we are prepared to defend it in this place and to express our views wherever we may be.

That is why I believe that, if the commissioners are able to do their job, they should be prepared to go and express their views, and to use their tremendous negotiating skills to get agreement on the ground. Heavens above; that is why we are employing those chaps—and ladies. The lady in the group may have been able to persuade the SDLP to elect her as chairman of the constituency association of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), but I do not think that she would enjoy universal acclaim as an independent individual among the Unionist population.

I expect that Government Members will defend that lady again, but if we were talking about the chairman of my constituency association, I know who would be screeching their heads off whenever that person's name appeared as a member of the Parades Commission.

Let us be clear about the fact that people who are deeply politically involved are unlikely to have any standing. Only those few people who have not been deeply politically involved and have built up a rapport across the community might possibly find themselves acceptable. Even those people could find their acceptability evaporating like snow on a June day whenever they started actively trying to negotiate with the groups on the road.

That is the crux of the whole matter; it is supposed that we are dealing with some mild difference of opinion, whereas we know that we are dealing with war, murder and violence, and with men and women who are prepared to engage in violence. If some hon. Ladies think that I am being harsh on their gender, they should remember how the guns got into the Maze prison to kill Billy Wright and how the clothes got in to get Mr. Averill out. They were not carried in by men, as I am sure will eventually be proven.

I am very disappointed that the Government are taking this attitude, and that they cannot see that the men of the quality that they need for the job should be able to combine education with mediation. Those involved should have the guts to issue determinations in the light of their personal experiences and of conversations on the ground in which they can see the body language of the people they are dealing with—in which they can look into their eyes and so reach a clear understanding of the sort of people they are. They will then have a clear understanding of what they are about and what the decision should be.

The Government are sending the minions out. They are trawling around the country, through the mediation network, trying to find individuals whom they can send out to take decisions and report back. There is nothing like the personal touch or touchy-feely politics in a case like this, and the Government should start practising that. Let us get them down on the ground and see what can be done. The Minister should withdraw his foolish amendment and accept mine. If he did that, he would find that he had a far happier group of Ulster Unionist Members.

Photo of Eddie McGrady Eddie McGrady Social Democratic and Labour Party, South Down

I support amendment No. 16. I am glad that the Government have been convinced by the argument in favour of the amendment, which is identical to one I tabled in Committee. The reasons are fairly fundamental. It is a proper attempt—an attempt that has been endorsed by those engaged in the process and in the commission in the north—to ensure that there should be a divide between mediation and decision making. That does not mean that all the contacts, information and influences of mediation should not impinge on the decision makers; it is important that there is a division between the mediator and the decision maker, as it would facilitate the difficult role of the mediator if he or she were not seen to be making the decision. This is a reasonable proposal to facilitate the mediation process and the determination process.

Much has been said of the reverend gentleman who withdrew from the commission. My recollection of his reasoning is clear. He saw his role as a mediator, a go-between and a facilitator in the accommodation of opinions. He did not think that that should be linked with a decision-making role or with the determination of conditions. This is a logical, proper and facilitating amendment which would add flexibility to the work of the commission in, hopefully, achieving mediation, and decision making based on that mediation, on all occasions.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East

I believe that the issue at the centre of the amendment is the crucial issue in terms of the whole Bill.

There are few people in Northern Ireland or outside who, when looking at the disruption surrounding some parades over the past few years, do not recognise that some change was necessary to the general position regarding parades. In most circumstances, if there was a genuine and realistic reason why there should be some modification of a route, the organisers of any parade would look at the proposal and consider whether it would be sensitive to modify the route. For example, I have been involved in parades that were voluntarily rerouted because there had been a death along the route. If there are genuine reasons, organisers are genuinely prepared to make changes.

However, in recent years—the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) identified the past couple of years—there has been a change in the attitude toward parades. There has been a distinct heightening of opposition to certain Orange and other loyalist parades, which has been politically motivated. As soon as there is a politically motivated attack on parades, which is seen as an attack on Orange, Protestant, loyalist, Unionist culture—whatever one wants to call it—the organisers, instead of being generous and prepared to make some sensitive modification to their proposals, dig in their heels. They do so because they recognise that a politically motivated attack is being made on their organisation.

In the present circumstances, the organisers can be in no doubt of that motivation, because the leader of Sinn Fein-IRA, Gerry Adams, was shown by the broadcasting company in the Republic of Ireland boasting that his organisation had been working for several years to bring about the disruption we have witnessed around the parades. The organisers see the whole issue of concerned residents and disruption of parades as an attack on their political philosophy and way of life.

The issue is, in such circumstances, what is it appropriate for the Government to do? The Government—not the present Government, but the Government of the day—commenced by indicating that it would be appropriate to have a commission. Its role was essentially to be one of mediation: its key function was to talk to the various sides, determine how genuine their arguments were and attempt to find a way through. Over the past few years, in some small areas, the mediation that the commission carried out before the new powers were made available to it worked. In one area, Roy Magee himself acted as a mediator and succeeded in overcoming some difficulties. The previous Government recognised that there was an important role of mediation that could be done.

The commission's role has been moved away from mediation towards adjudication—towards confusing people and blurring the edges about who is responsible for decisions to such an extent that, despite the Government's hope that the Bill will make a helpful contribution toward alleviating problems relating to parades, the exact opposite will occur. When responsibility is blurred and more confusion and complication is injected into the issue of parades, the consequences in the streets of Northern Ireland can be devastating and have the potential to lead to injury and death.

The Government have not recognised that, at the end of the day, somebody has to take a decision, and the person best placed to do that will always be the Chief Constable. The Government may not like his decision, if they have a political view on a parade, those involved in the parade may not like his decision, and those who are concerned residents may not like his decision, but, in law, if somebody has to take a decision, the person best placed to take it will be the Chief Constable. Nobody will be better placed. There is recognition of that fact in the fallback positions in the Bill.

Having moved away from having mediation as the commission's central role, we are moving tonight toward removing mediation from the picture. That is a mistake. If there is to be any resolution of the problems surrounding parades and counter-demonstrations, it has to come through mediation. The Minister ensures that that is less likely by introducing the amendment.

I hope that the Minister will understand that the effect of the amendment perhaps justifies the walking away, as it has been referred to, of Dr. Roy Magee. Roy Magee entered the commission because he believed that the road forward would at least include mediation, and that mediation would probably be central to the road. As soon as he understood the Government's intention, he walked away. Whatever we might think of Roy Magee, his action shows that there was a change of intent between the Conservative Administration and the present Labour Administration.

11 pm

The Minister might like to take the opportunity to adjust some terminology that was used earlier. The remarks could have been misinterpreted. I hope that it was merely bad phraseology. It was said, in effect, that the largest group of thugs and criminals would get its way. I hope that the Minister is not suggesting that the Orange Order is a group of thugs. He might like the Government's position on that issue to be cleared on the record. The interpretation that I have described could be given to the Minister's remarks. I offer him the opportunity to clarify the position before the earlier remark is misunderstood.

Photo of Mr Tony Worthington Mr Tony Worthington Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office

I referred earlier to what the Chief Constable said. He said that he had to evaluate evils. That is what I meant by my expression. I was not implying that people in the Orange Order are thugs. On the streets, however, we saw that illegal forces could hold sway. That is why the Chief Constable was unhappy with the law as it stood and why we were unhappy with it.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East

I am grateful to the Minister for his intervention. I am even concerned about the Chief Constable's terminology, which suggests that the intention of those who parade, or of those who may on occasions protest against parades, is evil.

Photo of Robert McCartney Robert McCartney UKUP, North Down

My recollection is that the term "thugs and criminals" was used about numbers. It was suggested that the thugs and criminals who could arrive in the greatest numbers would hold sway. I may be wrong but that is my overall impression. The implication seemed to be, if we remember Drumcree, that the greatest number of thugs and criminals there were the many Orangemen, who demonstrated their position.

Mr. Deputy Speaker:

Order. We are talking specifically about mediation.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East

Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) for his intervention. At least the Minister has set the record straight from his point of view.

As for mediation, the Government have made a grave error. The amendment, if agreed to, will isolate those who will take critical decisions from those who will lead to those decisions being taken. Much can be learnt from the personal contact that the amendment will prevent: it is possible to learn who is being stubborn and who is not, or how genuine and sincere people are in their arguments. The decisions of an adjudicator would be greatly assisted by a personal understanding of the position of those in relation to whom he will adjudicate. Having said that, however, my argument is that the body should be involved in mediation, not adjudication.

May I say to the Minister that the political motivation behind opposition to parades is seen most clearly with reference to a parade that takes place in the Republic of Ireland, in Donegal, which passes off quite peacefully. The Orangemen involved can have a good day out celebrating their culture, as they would seek to do anywhere in Northern Ireland. Many of us are left wondering why they are allowed to do that in the Irish Republic, where the massive disposition of those around them would be of a nationalist or republican leaning, whereas in a Protestant town such as Portadown they are not to be allowed those rights to express their culture.

That example identifies a political motivation that shows clearly to those of us in Northern Ireland who might in other circumstances wish to see some flexibility that there should not be flexibility if that means giving way to those who are seeking to attack and disrupt a culture. I hope that the Minister will recognise that the Bill will do nothing to ensure that those people lose or fail. In effect, it marks their success. It shows that their years of work behind the scenes at raising the issue of parades and causing disruption has had an impact on the Government and is causing changes to take place.

Photo of Robert McCartney Robert McCartney UKUP, North Down

The debate must be seen in the context of the peace process as a whole. Everyone appreciates that the IRA declared its first ceasefire on 31 August 1994, and it is not without relevance that the first confrontation at Drumcree occurred the following summer, in July 1995, and has been building up ever since not only there, but on the lower Ormeau road and in Derry.

The significance of that is that, once under the terms of the ceasefire Sinn Fein-IRA had agreed that they would not overtly bomb and shoot, they had to carry on the struggle by other means. There were two other means. First, as Gerry Adams openly admitted on an RTE programme, the protests and confrontations did not happen spontaneously. They were the work of Sinn Fein activists over a period of years. The other aspect in which they carried on the struggle was the domination in their own areas of control by a vast increase in punishment beatings, which escalated by 400 per cent.

Those were the twin aspects of the struggle being carried on, as Clausewitz might have said, by other means. That situation was deliberately constructed, and the Bill deals with it. The Bill purports to deal with a problem that did not arise organically, as it were, but was the deliberate creation of a small group of terrorists. All the front men in the areas of most acute confrontation are ex-IRA men with criminal convictions for serious crimes. That is the background.

On the amendments, one of the objections to the original proposals for a commission of the kind that the Bill puts in place was that it should both mediate and adjudicate. Anyone who has any experience of judicial or quasi-judicial proceedings knows that it is impossible for the arbitrator or the adjudicator to perform both functions—and it should be impossible.

If the arbitrator mediates between two parties, inevitably, in the course of mediation, the desirable outcome that he envisages as judge and the view that he would recommend as mediator become known to the parties. If the parties do not agree following mediation, the arbitrator must then don his adjudicator's hat. At that stage, he will arrive at a decision—which he has already identified to the parties in the course of mediation as his preferred option. I know of no judge who will directly undertake mediation between parties if, ultimately, he will be called upon to make the definitive decision.

Therefore, I can understand to some extent why the Minister seeks to remove the term "mediate" and to use instead the term "facilitate mediation". It is clearly recognised that the commission should not perform both functions. If that were the true position, and mediation were to be removed from the equation altogether, we could perhaps run with the amendment. However, I suspect that it is simply a play upon words. What is the distinction between the meaning of "mediate" in this context and "facilitate mediation"? Does it amount to a hill of beans? Does it mean that, instead of mediating directly, the commission will mediate by proxy? Is "facilitating mediation" really mediation by proxy? If it is, will the commission's views not be made evident to the parties?

The language employed by the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) is significant. He described the commission as acting as "mediator, go-between and facilitator"—I am subject to what subsequently appears in Hansard, but I am pretty certain that he used those words. In other words, the distinction between someone who does not mediate and someone who facilitates mediation will be completely blurred. If we permit the phrase "facilitate mediation" to remain, we shall end up with the worst of both possible worlds: we shall have someone who is nominally not a mediator mediating, and an adjudicator certainly adjudicating.

We should avoid that situation. The commission is either a mediating body or an adjudicating body. We must deprecate the practice of including in the legislation words that are capable of giving the commission both those functions without actually saying so

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

What point is there in having an adjudicating body that can be overridden by the police and the Secretary of State further down the line? That is what will happen in a really intense situation.

Photo of Robert McCartney Robert McCartney UKUP, North Down

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that observation. No matter what structures or institutions we create by way of this legislation, a decision must ultimately be taken by a person on the ground who has the authority to say yea or nay.

Ultimately, when the confronting bodies face each other and there is a likelihood of a serious breach of the peace, some decision will have to be made on what is to be done. The hon. Gentleman is correct. That decision will ultimately be made by the Chief Constable. Although nominally in some circumstances the decision may be taken by the Secretary of State, it will be a strong, and perhaps foolish, Secretary of State who, in the face of a clear, positive recommendation from her Chief Constable as head of the security forces, will do the opposite. Then, not only will security responsibility be assumed by the Minister, but ultimate political responsibility for the outcome will also be assumed by the Minister in the worst possible circumstances.

Essentially, the legislation is about putting some sort of cover mechanism between political responsibility and the decision made. It is a situation in which political responsibility and operational responsibility, which should rest with the Chief Constable, will be blurred by the amorphous body in the middle, the commission. The Government will seek to shelter behind that commission in its adjudicating function. Therefore, it should be made as clear as it can be made in this legislation what the function of that body is. It should be made clear that it is either an adjudicating body that takes responsibility to whatever level—

Photo of Mr Andrew Hunter Mr Andrew Hunter Conservative, Basingstoke

I entirely accept the line of argument that the hon. Gentleman is pursuing, and I ask him to entertain the proposition that the blurring that the creation of the commission creates may be part of that progressive programme of disengagement and should be seen in a wider context of the betrayal of British Ulster.

Photo of Robert McCartney Robert McCartney UKUP, North Down

Certainly, one of the common perceptions among the pro-Union community in Northern Ireland is that the Government are seeking to divest themselves of authority. That can also be seen in that wider context of the Government saying that nasty decisions have be taken for which Governments should in the normal course of things be taking political responsibility. If we interpose between Government and the people, on whose behalf those decisions are being taken, some other body, such as the commission, the decision or decisions are the commission's. Only in the acute situation where it is plain that the commission's decision will be neither respected nor honoured, and there is a confrontation between the conflicting parties that requires the possible intervention of the civil arm in the form of the Chief Constable and the RUC, will any political responsibility be taken. In all other cases, there will be this shock absorber, this blurring effect of the commission.

Be that as it may, the point is that, if we are to have the commission, its functions and powers must be defined in the clearest possible way. If it is to have mediation as well as adjudicating functions, so be it; if it is to have adjudicating functions only, that is all it should have. The use of nebulous language about facilitating mediation might mean that we had the worst of both worlds. The provision would infringe the basic, accepted principle of judicial and quasi-judicial matters that someone should not mediate if he or she will also be the ultimate adjudicator. The position should be clear. Let us take the requirements for the Parades Commission to mediate and to facilitate mediation out of the Bill. The body should simply adjudicate or mediate, but it should not combine two functions that are recognised as incompatible.

Mr. Öpik:

I shall advance the fourth of the four possible positions in the debate on the amendment. I believe that we should maintain the status quo and leave the Bill as it was originally drafted. The commission should have the options to mediate or to facilitate mediation. It would be sad if we had to take away from the commission the opportunity to mediate, which should be one of its main purposes. Government amendment No. 16 would remove the opportunity for direct mediation and amendment No. 33, tabled by the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross), would remove the opportunity to facilitate mediation.

The North report revealed that 80 per cent. of the population want parades to be mediated. In other words, the function of mediation is a vital expectation of the people whom the commission is intended to serve. The North report states: Mediation can play a crucial role in helping to resolve potential conflicts. It also states: We doubt whether the Parades Commission itself would need to develop a professional mediation capability amongst its own staff. However, we would lose nothing by giving the commission the opportunity to test that point.

The commission will have to find the most effective way to mediate, and it would be premature to remove the commission's opportunity—through experimentation and trial and error—to discover whether it should mediate directly. That does not have to mean a formal process. If we expect the process always to involve facilitation, we would formalise a matter with which the commission could sometimes deal informally. That point brings us back to the difficulties of definition that the hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) described.

When we consider the question of adjudication versus mediation, we should remember that the commission may have problems in performing both roles in a particular instance, but we should not prevent it from deciding to act as an adjudicator on one occasion and as a mediator on a separate occasion. If the commission could perform both roles on different occasions, it would have more flexibility to adopt the most suitable approach for the circumstances it faced.

I do not agree with the fears expressed by the hon. and learned Member for North Down about a conspiracy theory in which the Government and political leaders would hide behind the commission to avoid taking political decisions. The Government have shown some courage in their dealings with Northern Ireland, as did the previous Administration. They did not indulge in scapegoating or hiding behind other organisations. It is a fair risk to take to assume that giving the commission the opportunity to mediate and to adjudicate on different occasions would not result in an abdication of responsibility by Westminster's representatives in Northern Ireland.

Why should the commission not be allowed to deem what sort of mediation would be appropriate, as the North report envisaged? That returns us to importance of flexibility. By taking away direct mediation from the commission's repertoire, are we not moving further away from peaceful resolution by tying the commission's hands before it has even had the opportunity to try that approach? I understand that the Minister intends mediation to be done by others, but surely who mediates will vary from circumstance to circumstance.

The difficulty of finding the right mediator in each given circumstance has been lucidly highlighted, but it cannot be insuperable. If we cannot find one among the 1.5 million people of Northern Ireland, there are other places we can go to find one. It is a red herring to assume that it is impossible to find someone who would be acceptable to both sides. The Parades Commission is given the duty of being aware of what to do in particular circumstances. The professionals involved in that role will be more than able to ensure that mediating facilitators can do the job.

Either amendment would take away from the Bill. I re-emphasise that we could not vote on both amendments together because they are mutually contradictory. If it goes to a vote, I assume that we shall have the opportunity to vote on each amendment individually.

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

The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) talked of the fourth dimension to the debate. In doing so, he reminded me of the debate that I have been having in trying to arrive at a conclusion about the best way forward. The Bill as it stands tries to take on board one important dimension of the issue and set out the sort of arguments that the hon. Gentleman raised about the role of mediation, facilitating mediation, and adjudication.

In the debate and in listening to representations about the precise nature of what the Parades Commission should do, I took into account the commission's view of its role. It is easy for Governments to legislate and impose powers on bodies but we must take the good advice of those who will have to carry things out. The commission has a view about that.

The hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney) discussed whether mediation should appear at all and whether there should be a straightforward adjudicatory role for the Parades Commission. If he takes that view, he had the opportunity to table amendments to that effect. I do not think that he did. It is all very well arguing that principle, but he could have sought to amend the Bill. We do not have the opportunity to discuss that. It so happens that I do not accept his conclusions. If I recollect correctly, he claimed that the original intention—I assume he means of the North report—was that the commission should both mediate and adjudicate. Paragraph 29 of chapter 12 of the report recommended that the remit should include promoting and facilitating mediation and the search for local accommodation, along with the adjudication role.

Standing back from the debate, considering my earlier views about the way in which the Bill was constructed, then going back to North, listening to the arguments that were advanced, and knowing that the Parades Commission saw the need—again consistent with what was laid down in North—to place the mediation role in the hands of authorised officers who would discharge the function of mediation and get as closely engaged with the process as possible, I felt that it was desirable to move the legislation back closer to what North originally recommended. I would not say that that is easy. The report of our proceedings in Committee shows the arguments that I advanced, which were not dissimilar from those expressed by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire. I have said consistently that it is important to listen to other opinions to try to reach the best conclusion.

The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), by his logical argument, could almost convince people that all is sweetness and light in Northern Ireland, that this task is easy, and that two people can have different points of view. Clearly, the reality is fundamentally different. This is not a black-and-white issue, with all the bad guys on one side, and all the good guys on the other. He cannot argue that it would be all sweetness and light if only people were reasonable. We are dealing with a deeply difficult problem.

11.30 pm

The Government of the United Kingdom are charged with that problem, and must represent not just the views of people in Northern Ireland, but those of the British people. They see what happens in those parades and marches, only a few of which are contentious and result in major disorder. We are charged on behalf of all the citizens of the United Kingdom to resolve this issue. That is why the previous Administration established the North committee, and why we have taken the matter forward. We must deal with the wider constituency of interests in the United Kingdom. That is an important aspect of our job. The people of the United Kingdom want good and responsible legislation to deal with a problem that is on their doorstep. It is not easy: it is incredibly difficult.

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

No. I am concluding my remarks. We have had a long debate on this issue, as we did in Committee. I have tried to explain why I have come this conclusion. It is a difficult issue, and I have taken account of the views of the Parades Commission and others.

I shall close my remarks by responding to the pointed question of the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross). He asked whether we have a replacement for Roy Magee. The answer is no, but I hope that the Secretary of State will make an announcement in the next two weeks. I ask the House to support the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 174, Noes 26.

Division No. 151][11.32 pm
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Alexander, DouglasHowells, Dr Kim
Atherton, Ms CandyHoyle, Lindsay
Atkins, CharlotteHughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Austin, JohnHughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Barnes, HarryHumble, Mrs Joan
Begg, Miss AnneMutton, John
Benton, JoeIddon, Dr Brian
Blackman, LizIngram, Adam
Blears, Ms HazelJackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Boateng, PaulJackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Jenkins, Brian
Bradshaw, BenJohnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Browne, DesmondJones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Burden, RichardJones, Helen (Warrington N)
Burgon, ColinJones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Caborn, RichardJones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Campbell-Savours, DaleKennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)Kilfoyle, Peter
Clapham, MichaelKing, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)Kumar, Dr Ashok
Levitt, Tom
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Lock, David
Clelland, DavidMcAllion, John
Clwyd, AnnMcAvoy, Thomas
Coffey, Ms AnnMcCabe, Steve
Connarty, MichaelMcCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
Corston, Ms JeanMcFall, John
Cousins, JimMcGrady, Eddie
Crausby, DavidMcGuire, Mrs Anne
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)McIsaac, Shona
Davidson, IanMcKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)McNulty, Tony
Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)Mactaggart, Fiona
Dawson, HiltonMcWilliam, John
Dewar, Rt Hon DonaldMallaber, Judy
Dobbin, JimMarek, Dr John
Donohoe, Brian HMarshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Doran, FrankMeale, Alan
Dowd, JimMichael, Alun
Drown, Ms JuliaMichie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Edwards, HuwMiller, Andrew
Ennis, JeffMoonie, Dr Lewis
Fitzsimons, LornaMoran, Ms Margaret
Flint, CarolineMorgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Foulkes, GeorgeMorgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Fyfe, MariaMountford, Kali
George, Bruce (Walsall S)Mudie, George
Gilroy, Mrs LindaMullin, Chris
Godman, Norman ANorris, Dan
Godsiff, RogerO'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Golding, Mrs LlinO'Hara, Eddie
Grogan, JohnPalmer, Dr Nick
Hain, PeterPickthall, Colin
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)Pike, Peter L
Hanson, DavidPope, Greg
Healey, JohnPrentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)Primarolo, Dawn
Heppell, JohnProsser, Gwyn
Hill, KeithPurchase, Ken
Home Robertson, JohnQuin, Ms Joyce
Howarth, Alan (Newport E)Radice, Giles
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)Stringer, Graham
Roche, Mrs BarbaraSutcliffe, Gerry
Rooker, JeffTaylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Rooney, TerryTaylor, David (NW Leics)
Rowlands, TedThomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Roy, FrankTimms, Stephen
Ruddock, Ms JoanTipping, Paddy
Ryan, Ms JoanTodd, Mark
Savidge, MalcolmTrickett, Jon
Sedgemore, BrianTurner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Sheerman, BarryTurner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Singh, MarshaVaz, Keith
Skinner, DennisVis, Dr Rudi
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)Wareing, Robert N
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)Watts, David
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Wise, Audrey
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)Wood, Mike
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)Worthington, Tony
Spellar, JohnWright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Starkey, Dr PhyllisWright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Steinberg, Gerry
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)Tellers for the Ayes:
Stinchcombe, PaulJanet Anderson and
Stott, RogerMr. David Jamieson.

Question accordingly agreed to.