Public Processions (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords]

– in the House of Commons at 12:45 am on 4 February 1998.

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Order for Third Reading read.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office 12:51, 4 February 1998

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Before I make a few remarks about the Bill, I want to touch on some other, related, issues that are worthy of consideration.

I know that all right hon. and hon. Members will share my revulsion at the appalling series of sectarian murders that have heightened tension in Northern Ireland in recent weeks. Those terrible events cast a dark shadow over the Province. Those who carry out such acts speak for no one other than their own extreme factions. Their purpose is malign, but they should know that it will not prevent or distract the Government from achieving their overall objective of bringing about a peaceful and lasting settlement for all the people of Northern Ireland. The RUC and the security forces will do everything in their power to bring those who carry out such evil acts to justice. The Government, with the support of the vast majority of people across the communities in Northern Ireland, are determined to succeed, and the actions of a murderous few will not stand in the way of the wishes and hopes of the many. I know that I speak for all hon. Members when I make those comments.

The Bill was born out of the dramatic, damaging and dangerous events of recent years associated with what is termed the marching season. The previous Government put in place a mechanism to consider the causes of those events and to seek ways to deal with them. The result was the North report, which was an authoritative study of the problem and proposed a range of measures.

My party in opposition made it clear that, when elected, we would legislate for the implementation of the report. We have now carried out that promise in government.

The Bill, as originally drafted and presented for consideration to the other place, was constructed to take account of various representations made on certain key elements. It received full and detailed scrutiny in the other place. From the outset, we made it clear that we wanted it to reflect as best it could cross-community and cross-party views on these matters. Significant changes were made to the Bill in the other place as a result of the expression of such views. Certain matters were left for further consideration because of the complexities involved.

The Committee stage in this House proved very useful in exploring the issues and seeking the best way in which to deal with them. I thank all who served on the Standing Committee. The amendments that have been made to the Bill today reflect many of the views expressed by hon. Members in Committee and I thank them for their contribution.

If the Bill is passed, the Government will have fulfilled the clear commitment that they made on taking office to implement the recommendations of the North report. We said all along that we believed the report to be correct in its judgment that the problem of parades was the accommodation of competing rights. Our endorsement of the report's conclusions and their embodiment in law will ensure a new approach to a difficult and complex problem.

We must all try to ensure that parades never again become the focus for the sectarian bitterness that has plagued Northern Ireland for so long. The events of the past three years at Drumcree, in the Ormeau road and in Londonderry have seen a rekindling of deep community divisions that some hoped had been consigned to the past.

In the wider political context, even in the face of the shocking and futile violence of recent days, the opportunity exists to make real progress. The Bill is intended to ensure that those on either side who seek only to foment discord and prevent progress cannot use the issues relating to parades to bring their malign influence to bear.

Many seek to apportion blame for the problems presented by parades, but we should give credit to those who made the courageous decisions on the weekend of 12 July that ensured that last year's marching season passed off without the serious wide-ranging disturbances of the previous two years. There were problems last year, but fewer than in previous years because of that brave decision by the Orange Order. That is a hopeful sign for this year and the years ahead. I am confident that passing the Bill will pay dividends in the coming months and beyond.

The members of the Parades Commission deserve immense credit for the work that they have done in facilitating agreement and resolving individual disputes to date. I assure them that they have the Government's whole-hearted support in meeting the great challenges that they will face.

The commission has now received views on the three draft documents that were published for consultation purposes in October last year. Following the enactment of the Bill, the documents will be laid before each House and will be brought into effect by an order made under the affirmative resolution procedure. As I announced on Second Reading and clarified in Committee, hon. Members will have the opportunity to debate the documents fully in due course.

Our debates have confirmed the depth of feeling on all sides about the issue—a passion that is peculiar to Northern Ireland. If we succeed in resolving an issue that is, in so many ways, a microcosm of the almost intractable problems that Northern Ireland has faced for so long, it will surely help to serve as a blueprint for a more stable and better future for all the people. That is the Government's earnest wish.

I wish the Parades Commission well in the task that lies before it once the Bill has received Royal Assent. That task could be difficult, or it could be easy. It will depend on the willingness of those who are exercising their right to march, and on those who may wish to protest, genuinely to seek points of agreement, to understand the language of compromise and to accept the other person's right to have a different point of view. That is the true sign of a healthy and mature democracy. The Bill provides a framework and a vehicle to help Northern Ireland towards that end, and I commend it to the House.

Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Conservative, North East Cambridgeshire 12:58, 4 February 1998

Like the Minister, I wish the Parades Commission every success in the difficult task that lies before it this year.

I welcome what the Minister said about the constructive contributions made in Committee, both here and in the other place. I am glad that the Government have looked carefully at Opposition Members' suggestions and gone quite a long way towards taking them on board, with the aim of ending up with a Bill that seeks to heal the wounds and bring the two sides of the conflict closer together. The main thrust of our amendments and comments in Committee was directed at doing that. We wanted to ensure even-handedness and that the perception on both sides in Northern Ireland was that the Bill is balanced. We sought to bring the two sides together, either by mediation or by sensible measures that people felt took the views of both sides into account.

Some fears have been expressed, mainly by Unionist Members, about the way in which the Government are proceeding. I ask the Minister to pay careful attention to those comments before advising the Parades Commission on how the Bill will be implemented. A small point arose today on a Northern Ireland radio programme in which I took part. It was said that, already, so-called facilitators are contacting people who organised parades last year under the current legislation and filled in notice forms. Those forms have been given to facilitators operating under the commission's jurisdiction and the facilitators have been telephoning people out of the blue to talk about this year's parades.

That is an example of the commission not getting to grips with the essential problem. It would have been more sensible for parade organisers to receive letters stating the commission's aims and telling them about the role of the facilitators and mediators. They could have been asked whether they minded being contacted by telephone. It was obvious from the comments of a representative of the Orange Order on that programme that that telephone exercise has not gone down well. It has probably delayed progress on implementation of the Bill.

I welcome new clause 3, which was debated on Report and provides that groups who wish to arrange protests should give notice to the commission and the police, but the House is still anxious about the difference in treatment between those who organise parades and those who organise protests. The commission will determine whether a parade should be allowed and the RUC and, in the final analysis the Secretary of State, will determine whether a protest should be allowed to go ahead. That issue was raised by the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) and by some Opposition Members.

The role of the commission in dealing even-handedly with parades and protest groups was properly addressed in new clause 2, which I presented in Committee. The Government did not see fit to accept that new clause and they did not see fit to table similar amendments on Report. The new clause related to the commission's powers to impose conditions on counter-demonstrations or protests. Perhaps the Government will re-examine the issue before the Bill goes to the other place, which I presume will be within the next few days.

There may be a loophole in the measures that deal with protest meetings. When we tabled amendments in Committee, we used the term counter-demonstrations. I accept that the Minister has gone a long way towards meeting our requests by redefining that term and coming up with the term protest meetings. That is cleverly linked with open-air public meetings so that the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 can apply, but the use of the word meeting might suit people who are out to cause mischief. They could call a number of meetings along the route of a march rather than organise a counter-demonstration against a parade.

As the Minister knows, some marches cover quite a long distance. Several notices may be issued by groups holding protest meetings that they would seek to endorse on the basis of the fact that perhaps a different housing estate was being passed or the parade was going through a different locality. It is worth considering that point to ensure that when the commission comes to implement its policies, is not in any way, shape or form presented with difficulties by people who wish to cause mischief.

I have listened carefully to the debate on the Government amendment to remove mediation from the commission. Powerful arguments were advanced by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber. Again, the Government may need to think carefully about whether they wish the commission to have a hands-on role in mediation, or whether we should have facilitators who, as we have heard already, have not necessarily gone about their work in the right and sensible way.

On the overall thrust of the Bill, as we said on Second Reading and reiterated in Committee, the Opposition are in broad favour of what the Government are attempting to do. The Bill stems from the North report, which the previous Government initiated, although we did not pick it up and run with it as quickly as the current Government have done. We recognise that they are attempting to solve this difficulty and, as long as they do that in a way that brings both communities together, the Government will have all our support.

Photo of Eddie McGrady Eddie McGrady Social Democratic and Labour Party, South Down 1:06, 4 February 1998

I unequivocally endorse the Minister's condemnation of the recent spate of murders immediately before and after Christmas. They were possibly the most horrendous and callous murders that the community has experienced for a long time. There are those who argue that there were two series of killings: so-called tit-for-tat killings following the assassination of Billy Wright in the Maze prison, with the Irish Republican Socialist party involved; and a second campaign to instil sheer terror by killing totally innocent Catholics who were unconnected with any organisation and had no public stance, but were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I am glad that those killings, at least for the time being, seem to have been brought to a halt, but we are still under daily threat from the Loyalist Volunteer Force, which says that it will reintroduce a reign of terror if its demands are not met.

Against that background, the Bill attempts to resolve the problems of Northern Ireland's communities. I have said before that the necessity for the Bill is a bad reflection on those communities, in that we appear to be unable to compromise when that should obviously be the order of the day. Perhaps a bit of give and take, a bit of understanding and a bit of acceptance of a different view would have done away with the deep divisions that have been created by marches and counter-protests and the enormous economic and social damage that was done as a result of some of those confrontations.

The commission will have to face such difficulties in its first term of office. It has to do the almost impossible: to square the circle and try to bring together those strongly held opinions—opposing rights or, if you like, opposing civil rights. I wish the commission well in that endeavour. My party tabled amendments in an attempt to facilitate the commission's work, to make it easier to accomplish and more acceptable to both communities. That was the spirit in which we approached the Bill.

I know that members of the Unionist community have often regarded the Bill as an anti-parade Bill. I do not see it that way. I would hope that the vast majority of parades, of whatever denomination or persuasion, are allowed to take place but, unfortunately, there are points of conflict and conflagration that have to be dealt with—they will not go away. I hope and pray that the commission, armed with the necessary powers, will bring the various differences to a happier conclusion. I hope that that will be the reward for all of us for passing the Bill.

I thank Ministers and the members of the Committee for our very tolerant and wide-ranging debates and for their expressions of concern. Those debates provided a flavour of the tremendous difficulties that the commission will face, and I hope that members of the commission will read the reports of the seven Committee sittings to get that flavour and that they will use it in their decision making. 1 thank Ministers for being ready to listen, accept and amend. Unfortunately, the Government sometimes rejected our best advice, but that is their prerogative. However, there was a fair bit of give and take. Not only Ministers were up front; various Officers of the House gave me and others assistance and helped make the whole process more intelligible.

I wish the commission well. I hope that what we are striving to accomplish through the Bill will be reflected in our future debates on Northern Ireland and that the tension with which the Bill is intended to deal will be removed from the communities in which we live and which we all love in our different ways.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party 1:12, 4 February 1998

I am sure that everyone will join the Minister in condemning the violence and the tragedies that have taken place. As the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) said at his party conference some years ago, the IRA has killed more Roman Catholics than the police, the UDR or any other forces in Northern Ireland. We should put events into the right perspective. We should also put into perspective the fact that we have suffered a series of killings of Protestant people—a genocide of Protestant people. One has only to go to the graveyards on the border, to Castlederg, for example, to see that. One can see how family after family has been slaughtered by the IRA. Those killings were far more intense and extensive than any of the killings in recent days.

One night, I sat in a room with the Chief Constable and a group of men from Enniskillen who were all members of the UDR. They told the Chief Constable that there used to be 50 of them but that now there were 20. They said that if he came back in a few years, there would not even be 20, and there are not 20 now. I know what happened; it is a serious matter, so we had better remember that.

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

I do not disagree in any way with the comments that the hon. Gentleman has just made, but it appears that there has been another shooting this evening—unfortunately, in my constituency, in the town of Lurgan. It would therefore be appropriate to mention that it appears that those responsible for the shooting are loyalists, although we do not yet know the circumstances or identity of the victim. In view of that, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will join me in underlining our complete rejection and condemnation of such murders, particularly the incident that appears to have happened tonight. I am sure that he does not want his appropriate comments about other circumstances to lead people to assume that we do not condemn the recent murders.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

I join the right hon. Gentleman without reservation in that. One of my ministers is under severe threat in that area. He has been told that he will probably be targeted and taken out. Everyone knows what is happening in Northern Ireland.

We are discussing this because the IRA's strategy is to develop bitterness in communities along the lines that we have seen. That is not just what we say—it is what they say. Gerry Adams, the chief of IRA-Sinn Fein, said on a well-publicised RTE programme that it had taken three years of preparation and planning to organise and orchestrate the anti-parade feeling, which he said would be exploited to the advantage of the Provisional IRA. What words could be clearer? He has exposed their intentions. They succeeded. The hon. and learned Member for North Down (Mr. McCartney), who is not here at the moment, made it clear that there are convicted terrorists in the forefront of the agitation, carrying out murders for the Provisional IRA and Sinn Fein.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South

There have been references to the past tonight. People might think that we are looking at the past. Looking to the future, is the hon. Gentleman aware of the seminars held last summer in which committees for estate control were set up throughout Northern Ireland? Each committee must contain at least one ex-prisoner.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

Chairmen of community organisations have also been told to ensure that the officers appointed at their next annual general meeting include leading members of Sinn Fein and ex-prisoners. That is happening at the moment. The strategy for bringing the IRA's plan to its zenith is set in place. I am alarmed by hon. Members, including Ministers, suggesting that the Orange Order is to blame for what has happened. The Government have failed—

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

I shall give way in a moment or two. The Minister was not so quick to give way to me, so he can wait for it.

As we know, something happened in Londonderry. The leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party made it clear at the time that he had nothing to do with what happened and condemned it. That condemnation was accepted. Tonight, I heard the Minister praising people of the committee. My party did not get on to the committee. The Government have said that they are not going to appoint people in keeping with the community. The Democratic Unionist party is not regarded as part of the community. I get the largest vote across Northern Ireland in election after election for the European Parliament. I must be part of the community. I do not know why the Government leave us off committees. It will not do them any good. If the community is not equally represented, the Government make trouble for themselves. Having said that, I shall give way.

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

The hon. Gentleman said that Ministers had made accusations, and attributed blame to the Orange Order for the problems. He will not find one word during any stage of the consideration of this Bill, or anywhere else, that can uphold that charge. Indeed, in my opening remarks, I paid tribute to the Orange Order for the brave decisions that it took during the 12th weekend last year. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would get the facts right when he is speaking about very important issues such as this.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

If the hon. Gentleman reads in Hansard tomorrow what his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said, and not what he tried to say, I shall be proved right. Let us just keep to the facts.

People say on television that they will not tolerate the majority of the thugs. Who was the majority? Who did we hear saying that the bully boys were out? I live in Northern Ireland. I hear what Ministers say, and I hear what others say, too. The Orange Institution and the Protestant people are not responsible for this. This has been orchestrated by the IRA.

I was called to order earlier because I was exposing the IRA. Now, on Third Reading, I can make the statement that I wanted to make. Who are these IRA people? One is a man called Martin McGuinness. If I said things about him in the House, people would say, "That's just Ian Paisley," but 1 have in my hand an article written by a Roman Catholic journalist from the Bogside. She takes Martin McGuinness to task; she deals with him as she knows him. Those people are organising what the Government say they are going to deal with. She of course supports the Bloody Sunday investigation.

This journalist says about Mr. McGuinness: How dare you, big chief republican. current killers' mouthpiece, former killers' colleague, clamour for prosecutions.If we inquired into the entirety of the violence of the early 1970s with half the vigour you want for the Bloody Sunday investigators, who would stand accused beside the paratroopers.'I think General Sir Robert Ford (Commander of Land Forces in Northern Ireland in 1972) in particular is going to come under the microscope,' you said.It's a pity you could not go under with him. Perhaps the search for truth and justice will someday uncover the role of command you had in another land force of the time. That is where I was stopped in the previous debates. The article continues: Mrs Rose Heggarty must long to know. Who is Rose Heggarty? The article continues, saying to Martin McGuinness, You promised, on bended knee, that her son was safe to return from exile.He was in hiding from the IRA who had threatened to kill him. You promised and cajoled and charmed her into telling him to come home.A few boys would question him and he'd be free to go, you told her. His sister drove him to the appointed place. His sister, unwittingly, drove him to his death. He was shot and his body unceremoniously dumped.Those women long for the truth behind that atrocity. They won't hold their breath waiting for you to speak it.As Sinn Fein spokesman, your truths, like your morality, are selective. Your double standards are sickening … Sinn Fein should shut up … They have covered a dirty, murky, bloody past of their own in a way that makes Widgery look positively Godly. That is a statement not of a Unionist leader or an elected leader, but of a Roman Catholic journalist from that area. She knows what people have had to put up with.

Martin McGuinness is a man who has been behind the whole thing as an agitator, yet now we hear condemnations of ordinary decent law-abiding citizens simply because they want to hold on to their culture and heritage. The House needs to realise how deeply all that goes into the quick not only of Protestant people but of people such as Mrs. Heggarty.

What about the bodies that the IRA, although it knows where they lie, will not give up for decent Christian burial? Yet I am told that I have to negotiate with such people and reach some sort of rapport with them. Ministers say that they hope that the two sides will come together. How can we come together with such a person, who has never once breathed a regret that those things should have happened?

Tonight, we are dealing with a Bill about processions, and we all know where it is directed. It is directed against Orangism, the Black Institution and the Apprentice Boys of Londonderry. We shall see that when it comes into operation.

Something else needs to be said in the House tonight. The suspicion in Northern Ireland is that the reason why there has been a shift from putting the commission in the front line to adjudicate, is that the Government know that the ordinary general public have had a bellyful of that kind of thing, and will not take too well to people telling them that they have to make their peace with the Martin McGuinnesses and the Gerry Adamses of this world, despite the fact that those men fomented the conflict and brought it into being.

Now the commission will be in an ivory tower. It will not be down at the coal face seeing what is happening. Already, unofficially appointed facilitators who have happened to obtain the names of people who have made applications for parades are going round trying to talk to them. How dare any Government or authority hand names over to a commission that is not yet in position, and get it working already on making calls to those people? If that is the way things are to be done, no wonder there is outrage among the people concerned.

We had better realise now that that will not be a solution. I have been a Member of the House since 1970, and I have heard many similar debates down through the years, in which people have said, "We have come to the end; we are going to get a solution." The solution that was put to us—

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

The hon. Gentleman has been explaining to the House that some people who ran processions last year are getting telephone calls from the facilitators—or whatever the Dickens they are called. How do the facilitators get hold of those names and telephone numbers? After all, the only people who should know them are the police. Did the Government release the names? If so, why?

The names are those of ordinary citizens—men and women who hold no public position whatever—and they are now being exposed in their own communities to harassment, danger, intimidation, terror and threat of death. The hon. Gentleman knows that one of the Unionist councillors elected in Londonderry in May has had to leave the city because of threats. There are supposed to be at least 30 other people under threat of death from the terrorist organisations at this moment—yet those terrorists are the people with whom we are supposed to be doing a deal.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

The only way in which people could have those names and numbers is through the applications made to the police. That is where the first names were removed. Evidently, the names came into the hands of the commission, and although it will not be fully appointed until the Bill becomes law, it is already employing people to telephone and say that they want to talk about next year.

A friend of mine who lives in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), the leader of the Unionist party, has been called by the police and told that people want to talk to him about what is to happen in July. That is going on, and it is not right. I want the Minister to dissociate himself from that and say that there is no right to do that until the machinery is in place. That is his responsibility.

It is terrible that information about people signing a document for a parade should become public property. Information on a secretary of an organisation should be confidential to the security authorities. Everyone can be put on a death list, and everyone can be subject to intimidation from those who want to deal with the particular interest that that person has.

I was amazed that the Minister said that the body had to be representative of the people, but added that he was going to bring in people from other parts of the UK to be on the body. I do not know how in the name of goodness the Government can twist the Bill to say that the body will represent the community. A person who is not a member of that community is not in a fit position to represent it. He must be a member of the community, he must live in it and he must know something about it. It is like saying that an hon. Member should represent a constituency but should never go near it, have nothing to do with it and just tell the people what he wants.

I have heard claims about the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland wanting this, that or the other thing. However, the people making those claims never submitted themselves to the electorate. The Government say that they told the people that, if they came to power, the Bill would be passed, but they never put up one candidate. I understand that their party does not permit anybody to organise in Northern Ireland—yet the Government say what will be done. That is not what was done in Scotland or Wales, where the people were given a referendum and were permitted to say what they wanted.

When the Government see that the Unionists in this House together have one mind on this issue, they should pay a little heed to what Unionist leaders are saying. If the Government steamroller on, the sad thing is that it is not the Government but the ordinary people of Northern Ireland who will reap the consequence, with all the trouble and problems that that will bring. The people of Northern Ireland will have to reap the whirlwind that comes from the sowing of the wind. The House should take note of that.

Northern Ireland is in an evil case because there has not been a frank and forthright facing up to those who intend to take it down an evil road. We have seen what the IRA is doing, and it has succeeded. Nobody is more happy that we are having this debate tonight than the IRA, and nobody is more happy that the Bill is going through. The Bill is a nursery of grievances. People wishing to demonstrate are given less time than the people who are to organise the parade, and they can do it.

Even if those involved do not give the 21-day notice, they have a way out. Is it not practical for them to say, after receiving 28 days' notice, that they are to protest? That is the law of the land, which will bring a reaping of tears. The Bill will not bring the peace and reconciliation that we are told it will bring. It will bring confusion and help the IRA with their dastardly work. We shall reap a sad harvest of this night's work. It has happened before in this House and it is happening again tonight.

Representatives from Northern Ireland only can feel heart sorrow for their people and for the people of all representatives, because the SDLP Members and others who represent another strand of society have their difficulties too—no one knows that more than I. No one in North Antrim or Northern Ireland, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, can point a finger at me and say, "You don't represent your constituents," because I do. I represent them all and I know how they all feel. I say to the House, do not think that this measure will be any panacea for this ill; it will make it worse.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry 1:34, 4 February 1998

The Minister started his speech on Third Reading by referring to recent murders in Northern Ireland, and the implication of his remarks was that the Bill would go some way toward resolving the difficulties that Northern Ireland experiences. The last time I heard that was when Mrs. Thatcher told us in 1985 that she had signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement, because something had to be done to stop the violence. At that time, my wife wrote to Mrs. Thatcher and said that the blood of every man and woman who died from that day on would lie on her head, because she had sold out to the threat of violence. She would never have signed that deal had it not been for the IRA, its murders and its violence. We all knew that that was true and the end result is that there has been a lot of bloodshed from that day to this.

Tonight, the Minister stands and tells us that the Bill will stop the violence. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) has been in the House longer than any of the rest of us from Northern Ireland and has said plainly that the Bill is a factory of grievances. I have heard that expression used in respect of Northern Ireland legislation before on many occasions, and every single time it has been used, events have proven it correct—the downstream consequences have proven that our words were absolutely accurate. However, it does not seem to matter how often we are right in this place; the Government, of whatever complexion, go on doing their own thing and the end result is more and more misery for those whom we represent.

The Minister may sit and chatter and laugh and think that he is going to have a wonderful time this coming summer. He referred to Drumcree, the Ormeau road and Londonderry and the implication is that, by passing the legislation, all those things will be prevented in future. However, the only person who could draw that conclusion from the events of the past year or two is one who completely misunderstands what is going on in Northern Ireland.

The Government are accepting the Sinn Fein-IRA analysis, as they call it, of the situation, but that analysis is totally false. The real analysis is that Northern Ireland is suffering from an assault on its constitutional position by a terrorist organisation—a ruthless, violent and evil terrorist organisation. Despite the fact that Sinn Fein-IRA have had the same opportunity as anyone else to ask people to vote for them over a long period of time, they have never been able to convince other than a small fraction of the population of the rightness of their cause or of the merits of a united Ireland. Because they could not convince people, they turned to violence—it is as simple and as straightforward as that.

Faced with a terrorist organisation, one has a simple choice: one can defeat it or one can be defeated by it. This House has been constantly defeated by it for the past 30 years. It is from this House that the men, the material and, above all, the political will have to come to defeat that terrorism. That will has been sadly lacking throughout my period—and more than my period—in this place, and I have been here longer than most hon. Members present tonight.

Today we shall wind up with a Bill. Where do we go from here? We are told in amendment No. 27 that the Government want to secure that as far as is practicable the membership of the Commission is representative of the community in Northern Ireland. As has been said, people cannot be representatives of the community unless they live in it. It was not even possible to find a chairman who was representative of the community. It was necessary to appoint someone who had experience of settling industrial disputes in Great Britain, as if Northern Ireland was an industrial dispute rather than a terrorist war.

There was a mess in the group of amendments to which I have just referred, when even the Minister could not get his amendment right. Instead of a provision that reflected percentages of population and the number of commissioners, we ended up with a quorum of three, regardless of whether there are two, three, four, five or six members of the commission. That seems crazy. But there we are; that is the way it is.

We are told that the marchers, the people of Northern Ireland, must seek agreement with their neighbours. They will not have to seek agreement with ordinary, decent neighbours, however, because those neighbours are not causing any trouble. Instead of throwing stones, those people are getting on with their lives. However, marchers are told to do a deal with the IRA. Perhaps the Minister wants to deal with the IRA, and there are a hell of a lot of people in Northern Ireland who think that that is exactly what the Government are up to. I repeat: there are a hell of a lot of people in Northern Ireland who think that that is what the Government are up to. That is what colours the approach of many of us to this Government, given their behaviour in Northern Ireland.

I will not go much further than to say that some of us have the gravest suspicions about some of the things that happened under the previous Administration and the one before that. We cannot understand how anyone can be so blind to what is happening in Northern Ireland as successive Administrations have been in this place. Surely they must have been, and are, wilfully blind and wilfully unwilling to face facts.

Those of us who live in Northern Ireland understand the situation. Although I and others have expressed our views in the House, we have been constantly ignored. The result is the state in which we see our Province.

The House has ensured that democracy will not work in Northern Ireland. It will not allow democratic standards to work in Northern Ireland. In Scotland and Wales, no matter what happens, it is proposed that there will be majority rule. When was majority rule ever dreamed of by any occupant of either Front Bench for Northern Ireland? It has never been considered for more than 30 years. The Government then try to tell us that the House lives by democracy. I say to the Government Front Bench, "Gentlemen, if you are to make us believe that, you had better start acting according to what you say, rather than saying one thing and doing another." To say one thing and do another in present conditions and in the current situation, so far as the people of Ulster are concerned, is nothing more nor less than base treachery.

Photo of Mr William Thompson Mr William Thompson UUP, West Tyrone 1:42, 4 February 1998

We are near the end of a long debate on the Bill. Anyone who has read the Bill and listened to all that has been said must realise that while Ministers have not criticised the Orange Institution or the Loyal Orders, the implication can be only that the Bill is designed to act against them.

When we read the guidance notes, the code of practice and all the rules and regulations, we find that in the main they are directed at the Loyal Orders and the Protestant community in Northern Ireland.

At the last minute, to seek to appease us, the Government threw in notification of those who wish to protest against parades. The responsibilities that they will have will be far fewer than those that have been placed on those who wish to hold parades.

The Bill will produce more bureaucracy, more objections and more trouble for those who wish to hold parades, who will have to notify others that they wish to exercise their rights. Indeed, we have been told tonight about the plans that are going ahead in certain quarters to produce more protests in Northern Ireland. There is no doubt that, as time goes on, that will happen.

The Government must recognise that the Bill does not have the support of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland, or of the elected representatives from Northern Ireland, yet they have chosen to ignore our arguments. The Government are determined to drive on in their own sweet way, irrespective of what the majority think. That is a negation of democracy.

As my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) said, we who represent the majority in Northern Ireland are tired of being treated as second-class citizens in Northern Ireland. Everywhere else in the United Kingdom, elections can be held and the majority get their way and are entitled to rule. In Northern Ireland, however, we are second-class citizens. We can have elections and win them, but it does not make one bit of difference, because we do not get the results of those elections, and we are not allowed to have our way. That is a derogation from democracy.

The Bill is completely impracticable. Anyone who knows anything about parades in Northern Ireland knows that. The idea that a commission of six people will be able to review all the parade applications in Northern Ireland in order to decide whether there should be a determination against them is nonsense. In May, June and July, they will be overwhelmed with applications. It will be an unacceptable work load for them to meet and to dissect each application, and decide whether a determination is necessary.

Moreover, the Bill will mean that on the day of a parade, the police will have fewer powers than they have now. That will create more problems, as there will be more people out on the streets objecting to loyalist parades.

We cannot accept that an unelected body nominated by the Secretary of State can take decisions on law and order. That body is unacceptable to the elected Members from Northern Ireland. The Orange Institution has said clearly that the Parades Commission is unacceptable to it. We had hoped that the Government would make substantial changes during these debates, and that they would take our views on board more than they have, but they have refused to do so.

When the trouble comes, when it escalates, and when we have more objections, the responsibility will lie entirely and exclusively on the heads of this Administration, who have sought to impose this disastrous Bill on the people of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Öpik:

We, too, record with the greatest sadness the violence of the year so far. Lest we forget what we are doing here, let us recall the terrible headlines that remind us that this is no academic debate. It is a stepping stone, I hope, to a more secure present and future. It is tragic to learn that, even as we have been discussing what we hope is a path towards peace tonight, another life has been taken in Northern Ireland. Our thoughts must go to the family and friends of that victim.

Parades are a unique part of Northern Irish life, and it is sometimes hard for people on the mainland and abroad to understand how very important they are. The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) referred to give and take. It is sometimes hard—

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

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I do not believe that another life has been lost in Northern Ireland. According to my information, there has been an incident, but no loss of life. I do not want the hon. Gentleman to misinterpret the remarks of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble).

Mr. Öpik:

I am glad to hear that the incident is not as serious as I thought. Nevertheless, the continuation of violence at any level is greatly regretted when we believe sincerely that a ceasefire and a cessation of violence would be in the best interests of Northern Ireland and the future of the United Kingdom as a whole.

It is difficult for people to identify any way forward when there appears to be such intransigence—such a big barrier—dividing the communities in Northern Ireland. Some actions may appear to be symbolic, but that symbolism is very important and can lead to real, practical changes that impact directly on other processes that we desperately hope will produce a lasting settlement. We should remember that only a tiny minority of parades that are held every year in Northern Ireland involve flashpoints and incidents. However, those flashpoints justify this legislation.

Tonight's debate has revealed the intricacies of the issue. The Liberal Democrats are not 100 per cent. satisfied with the final outcome, but we believe that the legislation is a big and important step forward. It establishes a strategy and gives the commission a clear mandate on how to proceed. I do not envy those in Northern Ireland who must perform what must be regarded as one of the most difficult functions in the Province. I believe that mediation will be one of the most testing aspects of the commission's work, and precedent and experience will clarify that process. It is sometimes difficult for Governments to concede ground, but the Minister withdrew an amendment earlier. I hope that the Government will continue to listen to a variety of opinions about Northern Ireland.

The Bill will not bring peace to Northern Ireland—it is only a small part of the process, and addresses the symptoms of the problem and not the underlying cause. The process is slow. It is now nearly 2 am, and the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) said that he would debate the legislation all night if necessary—although we have already been here for much of the night. That says something about the debate and the character of Northern Ireland. There is a passion peculiar to the issue that tends to keep us here. Whatever one may feel about the contributions of other hon. Members, there is no doubt that they are offered sincerely. The progress of these debates has great gravitas, and I am sure that their importance is not lost on a single hon. Member.

In many ways, the wonderful passion of Northern Ireland is also what divides it. In that sense, one of Northern Ireland's greatest strengths is also its greatest weakness. There are many good, decent people here tonight who are doing their best to secure an enduring peace that will help to heal the divisions in Northern Ireland. The Liberal Democrats support the Bill, knowing that it is not us but the good people of Northern Ireland who, by their actions, will ultimately determine when the commission's work is done.

Photo of Peter Robinson Peter Robinson DUP, Belfast East 1:54, 4 February 1998

I join the Minister and other hon. Members who have already condemned the outrages of the past few weeks in Northern Ireland. From before Christmas, there have been a number of deaths and serious injuries. The serious injuries have been a daily occurrence in the Province. It is right that each one of us should in the strongest and clearest terms condemn the organisations that carry out the shootings, killings and beatings in the Province, whether they be the Ulster Volunteer Force, the Ulster Defence Association, the Ulster Freedom Fighters or the Loyalist Volunteer Force, or the IRA or the Irish National Liberation Army, or whatever other flag of convenience those organisations may choose to use.

For the past few weeks, literally dozens of people have had their knees either bashed with hatchets, baseball bats or iron bars, or shot, as part of the rule of law that those terrorists would seek to impose on the areas in which they live. People have been killed in the most brutal circumstances. During the past few weeks, a young man trying to earn money for his young family by taking a taxi round was found in the middle of the road in a pool of blood, having already been struck in the face before he was shot in the head.

Another man out in a digger, working in an area where he was supporting two blind brothers, was shot. Neither of those people had the remotest connection to any terrorist organisation or appears to have any political background whatever. They were innocent people, picked out and shot.

We have to ask ourselves, because it is relevant to the debate, why terrorists carry out such activities. The sad reality is that they are rewarded for doing so. We can all condemn them, but there is no use condemning the acts of terrorists and then rewarding those terrorists thereafter. If Gerry Adams is elevated, it is in effect saying to those whom Gerry Adams sent out to kill—yes, himself, sent out to kill—that we are forgetting the deaths that he caused and the acts that he carried out. Whether it was La Mon or Bloody Friday, he was the man who sent people to carry out those killings. Where is he today? He is sitting around a negotiating table with the Government, having been elevated by the previous Government to a position as if he were a statesman in our Province.

We must not condemn on the one hand and elevate and reward on the other. The Bill is about rewarding terrorism. Let no one think that this is an attempt to resolve problems in Northern Ireland that the Government would have made anyway. This has been promoted by the Provisional IRA. On the boast of Gerry Adams, it attempted to disrupt parades which for decades, in some cases more than 100 years, have passed off peacefully. It spent years doing it and it succeeded in doing it. It did so because it wanted to attack the Protestant and loyalist culture; it wanted to undermine the Unionist tradition. It has effectively succeeded in so far as it has got the Government to set in motion a process that the Government before too long will come to regret.

What have the Government done by this legislation? Have they stopped one parade or counter-demonstration? Have they resolved one dispute between concerned residents and marchers? Not at all. They have set in motion a procedure that complicates, confuses and blurs the issues. They have resolved nothing by this legislation. They have, if anything, made it more difficult to resolve the issues.

The issues can be resolved only through mediation. The Government have deliberately taken the role of mediation away from this body. They have done nothing to contribute towards getting peace and stability in the Province, and before too long I rather suspect that the Minister will have to come back to the matter, and the Bill will go the way of many other attempts to resolve the issue of parades in Northern Ireland—into the trashcan.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 121, Noes 9.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.