A tangle of red tape to block march organisers

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Key points

• New restrictions to various marches in Scotland to be introduced

• Numbers per year to be reduced as requirements are tightened up

• Both republican organisations and Orange Order welcome recommendations

Key quote

"My recommendations are not designed to undermine anyone’s legitimate right to march. They are, however, intended to ensure better organised and better regulated and more accountable marches, and, hopefully, a better informed community." - Sir John Orr

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MINISTERS have unveiled the secret weapon in their campaign to curb loyalist and republican parades in Scotland - red tape.

Jack McConnell has already made clear that he wants fewer marches in Scotland and Cathy Jamieson, his justice minister, brought this a step closer yesterday, by adopting nearly 40 new measures designed to regulate marching culture.

The strictures were recommended by Sir John Orr, a former chief constable of Strathclyde Police, who had been asked to look into every aspect of parades in Scotland. Yesterday, he published his report, calling for new regulations and restrictions on marches that will make it much more difficult for them to take place.

Under his plans, march organisers would have to meet council officials and the police to plan any parade, would have to give a full 28 days’ notice of their intention to march - as opposed to seven days now - and would have to submit a formal notification to the council before the process could begin. They would have to be briefed before the march and debriefed afterwards, would have to provide adequate stewarding and might have to provide a "good behaviour bond" which they would forfeit in the event of any damage or trouble during the march.

Sir John’s plans would also place additional burdens on local authorities and the police to monitor, approve and regulate parades, while marching bands would be held responsible for the behaviour of their supporters in the crowd.

Sir John admitted the end result of his recommendations would probably be a reduction in the number of marches that take place in Scotland every year. But he stressed he did not want to stop people exercising their right to march - all he wanted to do was curb the number of "inappropriate" and unnecessary parades.

"My recommendations are not designed to undermine anyone’s legitimate right to march," he said. "They are, however, intended to ensure better organised and better regulated and more accountable marches, and, hopefully, a better informed community."

Sir John said his aim was to curb what he called "mirror" parades. These are marches which take place along similar routes to other parades, at similar times, with no discernible difference between them. He said: "The public perception is that there are inappropriate parades. They go out early in the morning, you see them again at lunchtime and they then have a mini parade in the evening."

The new regulations would make it much more difficult for marchers to adopt this kind of haphazard approach, because everything would have to be agreed, in writing, with the authorities beforehand. "If the recommendations are rigorously applied, it would mean that only legitimate parades would take place," he said.

The Scottish Executive will have to introduce legislation to implement some of the changes and this will take place over the next year. However, other measures can be adopted without the approval of parliament and these will be brought forward in the next few months, possibly in time for this year’s marching season.

Every year, there are about 1,700 marches and parades in Scotland. Of these, the biggest number are Orange Order marches. In 2003, there were 853 Orange marches in Scotland, 20 Catholic parades and 839 other marches, ranging from political demonstrations, such as anti-Iraq war protests, to local celebrations involving floats and pipe bands.

The Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland welcomed Sir John’s recommendations and said he had produced "a measured and inclusive report" that balanced rights and responsibilities.

"The recommendations must be seen as a complete package and must not be cherry-picked," Ian Wilson, the grand master, said. "We would now expect any legislation arising from the report to reflect both the spirit and context of Sir John’s report, and we look to ministers to give that assurance at the earliest opportunity.

"For our part, we have no hesitation in pledging ourselves to work with the relevant individuals and bodies to ensure that these recommendations are adopted and implemented."

Sir John’s report was also welcomed by a republican body, Cairde na hEireann. Jim Slaven, its national organiser, said: "Republicans are prepared to work with others, including our political opponents, to resolve this issue. We are committed to playing our part to end sectarianism and anti-Irish racism in Scotland."

One of the potential pitfalls Sir John had to avoid was the placing of unnecessary restrictions on legitimate marches that had nothing to do with either loyalists or republicans. There were concerns that any new regulations would place unreasonable burdens on protestors demonstrating, for example, over the closure of a local factory or swimming pool. But Sir John has insisted on an opt-out, allowing local political demonstrations to avoid the need for a 28-day notice period.

One note of caution was struck by local authorities, who warned it would be difficult for them to take on new responsibilities without receiving more money from the Executive.

Pat Watters, the president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said: "Ministers must provide the necessary resources to implement these recommendations - there will be a whole raft of new functions for local government, which we cannot deliver from within existing staff or financial resources, period.

"They must also introduce the legislation councils need to act on community views: at present, we can consult until the cows come home, but the law does not allow us to reach a compromise or re-route marches on that basis - only if the police believes there to be a risk to public safety."

Ms Jamieson said Sir John’s review had struck "the right balance" between the right to march and the right of communities to have a say in how, where and when marches took place. "What we are setting out today, in recommendations and in action, should not be seen as a threat to culture, tradition and free speech," she said.

"This is not about the heavy hand of authority, but it is about how legitimate marches and parades can be planned, notified, discussed and carried out in a modern, professional way."

Ms Jamieson went on: "The First Minister has made it clear that, in his view, there are too many marches in some parts of the country.

"However, he has also made clear that it is for communities themselves - better informed and with more powers - to work with their locally elected democratic representatives in local government to take decisions to change that."

She added: "This package of reforms and the steps we will take to implement them will give communities and local authorities the strength to strike the right balance."

SIR John Orr’s recommendations:

• Organisers should give 28 days notice to councils and the police of any parade - up from the current seven days.

• Some marches, protesting against unforeseen circumstances like a factory closure, will be able to waive the 28-day notice period.

• Councils and the police should set "single gateways" to deal with applications.

• Councils and the police should analyse and assess march applications, taking account of the potential risk to the public, before making any decisions.

• The Scottish Executive should monitor the process to make sure the new rules are properly implemented.

• Councils and the police should liaise to share good practice.

• Councils should prepare an annual diary of processions and update it every quarter so the public know what to expect.

• Communities should be informed about forthcoming marches and given the chance to make their views known.

• Councils should have responsibility for deciding whether marches go ahead.

• Councils should have the ability to impose restrictions and conditions on any march.

• March organisers should meet with council officials and the police before their request is submitted.

• Marches should only be allowed to go ahead once a "permit to process" certificate is received by the organisers, setting out what is expected and required by the council.

• March organisers should take part in de-brief sessions with the police and the council after any parade.

• March organisers should consider taking out public liability insurance and, in some circumstances, councils could request a "good behaviour bond" which the organisers would forfeit if there is any trouble.

• March organisers should realise they have a responsibility for the behaviour of onlookers and should ensure they have sufficient stewarding.

• Any bands playing at the parade should name an individual to be responsible for the behaviour of the band and its supporters.

• Councils which do not have by-laws which forbid the drinking of alcohol outside should consider applying for them.

• March organisers should not be expected to meet policing costs.

• Police officers covering marches should be trained in the nature of the march and its history.