It is always a pleasure to speak in the pre-recess Adjournment debate. Mr Amess is not here at the moment, but he did his introduction. I always look forward to his introductions, because they are always full of fun and he refers to many things. But there is one thing that he referred to that I did not agree with: not attending premier league football matches. I am a Leicester City football supporter—as I have been for 45 years, just to put it on the record as other Members have done—and we are back in the premier league for the first time in 10 years, so we are very pleased. I would urge everyone to go and support Leicester City whenever the opportunity comes.
I should like to raise an issue that is close to my heart, one that I feel is extremely important in England, Scotland and particularly Northern Ireland. That is the role that the loyal Orange Order plays in our society. Throughout the years, especially in the summer months, we commemorate the brave actions of William III, Prince of Orange, and we celebrate the actions of 1690, which secured religious freedom and toleration for everyone. It is always good to remember that it is toleration and religious liberty for everyone. The Orange Order is a Protestant fraternity, with members throughout the world. Grand lodges are to be found in Ireland, in Scotland, in England, the United States of America, Canada, new Zealand and Australia, and in many countries across the African continent. Therefore you would not be surprised to learn, Madam Deputy Speaker, that as a member of the Orange Order, I feel a great sense of pride and camaraderie with my brothers and sisters in lodges throughout the world.
The Orange Order is an integral part of the community, raising money for many local charities, as well as helping to raise funds for those in developing countries and supporting disadvantaged children in local areas. One example of such charitable work was the work centred on a district lodge in Randalstown that produced badges to raise over £16,000 for the Royal Ulster Constabulary/Police Service of Northern Ireland Benevolent Fund and the Royal Engineers Benevolent Fund. Those charities were chosen because of the brutal murders of two soldiers in Antrim and, earlier in the year, PSNI Constable Stephen Carroll by dissident republicans in 2009. As well as the established Grand Master’s Charity Appeal, the Lord Enniskillen Memorial Orange Orphan Society is an institution that has a magnificent record for helping boys and girls who have been deprived of the love and the contribution of a parent, either through death by natural causes or as a result of continuing violence in Northern Ireland.
Parades are a key factor in the Orange Order celebrations, as people will know, the biggest of which takes place on the twelfth of July each year. This year we had no bother whatsoever. Indeed, many people said to me, “It was that good this year, I wish every day was the twelfth of July.” That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it is always good to have a parade that goes off without any bother, and it is always good to have an opportunity to enjoy the celebration of that occasion.
The parading tradition that the Orange Order upholds is an honourable and historic tradition, which was the norm for other fraternities in the past. The parades of the Orange Order are the largest public Protestant witness of their kind anywhere in the world. In Northern Ireland we are very pleased to know that they are attended by people from both sides of the community, who enjoy the pageantry of the occasion. The parades are a glorious display of pageantry. The flags and banners are full of religious, cultural and political symbolism, depicting biblical scenes, famous people or events in history, and in themselves portray the rich cultural heritage of our people in pictorial form. The music provided by the accompanying bands is of a very high standard and in rural areas especially people will come across an instrument that in many people’s minds is synonymous with Orangeism—the Lambeg drum.
I remember that 10 or 12 years ago, when a group of young people came from Germany to meet some of our young people in the Ards peninsula, the thing that those German young people enjoyed most of all about the twelfth was the Lambeg drums. It was good to know that they have that attraction in other parts of the world.
Of course, parading is loved throughout the world, as we all know, from the fantastic carnivals of Rio or the mardi gras in New Orleans to the St Patrick’s day parades in New York and Dublin. There is a great tradition of parading in other cultures and for other celebrations as well. Those are fantastic celebrations in their own right, but to me, nothing can quite compare to the sheer thrill of marching on the twelfth of July, seeing the delight in spectators’ faces and the various colours that an Orange parade bears, be it in the various collarette colours or in the vibrant images on the banners. My own lodge is LOL 1900, “Kircubbin True Blues”, so it will be no surprise to learn that our collarettes are blue.
This year in Northern Ireland, we witnessed a very peaceful twelfth of July. Unfortunately, due to some ludicrous decisions by the Parades Commission, many lodges were prevented from returning home via the straightforward route. Under the leadership of the Orange Order, a six-minute protest was held, with demonstrations across Northern Ireland. Every lodge and the accompanying bands stopped marching, silenced their instruments and stood in solidarity to represent the six minutes it would take for the lodges to pass the so-called contentious area and return home. The issue is one that greatly concerns us all across Northern Ireland. I congratulate the order on that response, because it was undoubtedly its careful and responsible leadership that led to such a glorious and peaceful twelfth.
The Orange Order represents an important part of our community, but it means even more than that, particularly this year. The Orange Order represents Unionism, so it was extremely poignant to see the many lodges and bands that came to Northern Ireland from Scotland. I have kept up to date with the latest statistics and national opinion polls, so I am under no illusion that Scotland will opt to leave the Union rather than stay within it, but the very fact that the question has arisen is sad for Unionism. Each time I stand in Westminster, I love to see the four national emblems and four flags of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England, and know that this is where they all merge to form one flag and one identity: that of being British. This is where our strength lies and this is where we need to remain.
It should be remembered that the order has a worldwide membership. The structure that is Orangeism has its basis in the coming together of men and women of good will who are determined to use what power and influence they can muster to ensure that civil and religious liberty is maintained. Members of the Orange Institution are pledged to uphold the Protestant faith and liberty under the law. Orangemen are neither bigots nor extremists, standing for tolerance and compassion towards all; they also stand for the underlying principle of the Christian faith and the dignity and rights of the individual.
The Orange Order represents civil and religious liberty as it always has done, but today it means much more than that: it stands for unity and Unionism at its deepest level. It allows those of us in Northern Ireland who want to celebrate our British heritage and culture to do so and to enjoy the fact that we represent an essential part of the United Kingdom. We are proud to be part of the United Kingdom—I emphasise the word “United”—and hope to remain so for a long time. To sum up, the Orange Order is a fantastic organisation. It promotes Christian values, friendship and unity. Orangemen share common interests, beliefs and goals, which tie all of us together. It is a bond of the deepest kind.
Perhaps not all Members are aware, but love is in the air in the House of Commons: this week, three MPs are getting married. Kris Hopkins is getting married in the morning of
Madam Deputy Speaker, I thank you, the other Deputy Speakers and the Speaker, and your staff, for all your graciousness and good humour and for the fair way you conduct the business of the House. It is greatly appreciated by us all, and even more appreciated by me. Thank you very much.