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Volume 566: debated on Wednesday 10 July 2013

It is vital that the determinations of the Parades Commission are obeyed and that the rule of law is respected. We encourage all concerned to work to ensure that parades pass off peacefully and that different traditions can be celebrated in an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding.

The Parades Commission has an unenviable task, and although I commend the work of the commissioners and acknowledge the difficulty of the job that they have to do, it is clear that there are issues to consider about confidence in their deliberations and decisions. Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that, and does she agree that we need to address the matter in the weeks and months to come?

I certainly agree that the Parades Commission’s decisions can spark controversy but, in a sense, that is inevitable given the nature of its role. I welcome the initiative to consider a reform of parading matters, which we spoke about earlier, which provides an opportunity for all of us in the House to call on all concerned to work constructively and peacefully together so that parades can pass off peacefully in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

For many, like myself, the Parades Commission in Northern Ireland has a reputation of driving the communities further apart and being deliberately provocative in its determination to humiliate the Orange tradition in Northern Ireland while rewarding violent republicanism. What is the cost of that unelected, unaccountable quango that the Secretary of State keeps in place, and is it not long overdue that it is abolished?

The cost of the Parades Commission is set out in the Northern Ireland Office annual accounts. I know there are concerns about the Parades Commission’s decisions and I know that they are controversial, but it is absolutely crucial that the rule of law is respected. All of Northern Ireland will suffer if the pictures that go around the world this weekend are of violent scenes. There is a way to ensure that these events pass off peacefully. I urge everyone to seek that.

Has the Secretary of State consulted Lord Ashdown, whose commission included both a senior republican and a senior member of the Orange Order, and was able to come to a consensus? Will she also talk to Roger Poole, whose chairmanship of the Parades Commission was very successful? There might be lessons there.

May I endorse the view expressed by the Secretary of State that the decisions of the Parades Commission have to be supported? Does she and the Northern Ireland Office have any plans to work at or develop better dialogue, so that contentious parading can be avoided in the future?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support. It is vital that Parades Commission determinations are obeyed. He is also correct to say that local dialogue is the way forward. I welcome the fact that that took place for a few days last week. I hope that both sides will continue that dialogue, with a view to a local and sustainable resolution to parading next year.

More than 550 parades are taking place in Northern Ireland over the 12th, the vast majority of which will pass without incident. I wish those taking part an enjoyable and peaceful day. There are, however, a number of very contentious parades. Will the Secretary of State update the House on arrangements to ensure that the Police Service of Northern Ireland is able to deal with any public order issues that arise? Of course we hope that none does, but we must always be prepared.

I spoke this morning to the Chief Constable for exactly such an update. The shadow Secretary of State will be aware that that includes approximately 600 mutual aid officers from Great Britain, drawing on the experience of the G8. Those officers have started to arrive. The PSNI is doing all it can to ensure that we have a peaceful 12 July. I hope it will receive the support of the whole community in seeking to achieve that.

I thank the Secretary of State for her response. She will know, as I do, that there is particular concern regarding the Ardoyne. I have spoken with representatives of the Orange Order and the residents’ association, and continue to encourage them to re-enter talks to try to find a way forward. The Parades Commission has given its determination and the law must be respected. Does the Secretary of State agree that even at this late stage we must not give up on dialogue, we must not give up on talks and we must not give up on trying to find a peaceful way forward?

I am in complete agreement with the shadow Secretary of State. Dialogue is always helpful, no matter how late in the day. It is particularly important in finding a sustainable way forward for next year’s parade.