Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I hope the Minister will forgive me for interrupting. Does he agree that it could be just as simple and still contain the oath of allegiance to the Crown? That is the issue. We are perfectly happy with an amended and simpler statement; what is missing is the allegiance to the Crown. That is what we want to see put back in.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I said that in Scotland--where I believe these arguments have not arisen--the oath is similar to the one that I have read out. I shall deal later with the point that the noble Baroness has mentioned.

The Government have considered this matter carefully and have taken into account the views of, among others, the Police Authority for Northern Ireland. Indeed change was recommended by the Police Authority, the body responsible for putting forward the views of the community in Northern Ireland. The Government believe that the new form of declaration represents a sensible change clarifying what a police officer is undertaking when he or she takes up office.

Before I ask noble Lords to reject the amendment, I shall deal with some of the specific points that were made in the course of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, suggested that implementing this provision might be postponed for 12 months to allow the Patten Commission to consider the matter. In a later amendment we shall discuss the question of an implementation date. I hope that we can deal with the matter then rather than at this point. I believe that the relevant amendment stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux.

Reference has been made to the Sovereign. Other noble Lords have referred to the Garda declaration in the Republic which concerns loyalty to the constitution. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, will not mind my chiding him, but I was surprised when he said that the RUC should adopt the same practices as the Garda. I believe I have quoted him accurately.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. However, I was saying exactly the opposite. We want to allow the Garda time to bring its requirements, affirmation and oath into the 20th century. That is all I am saying.

Lord Dubs: I am sorry if I misunderstood that. I apologise to the noble Lord. However, I understand that the constitutional relationship of the Garda to the

22 Jun 1998 : Column 20

Irish state is not the same as in the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom. The Government want to make the best arrangements for Northern Ireland. It is the interests of Northern Ireland which determine the nature of this provision, as indeed is the case with the whole Bill.

As regards the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, I have already said that I shall discuss the commencement date when we discuss Amendment No. 4. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked about the police being subject to equal opportunities legislation. Currently the RUC is subject to fair employment legislation and equal opportunities legislation. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Blease, asked, why not wait for the findings of the Patten Commission? The Government regard this Bill as a foundation or paving provision. It puts into statute a number of structural changes on which it expects the commission on policing will want to build. It shows that sensible evolutionary change is possible and will produce real benefits within a finite timescale, providing essential reassurance for the community as a whole. These provisions were arrived at after extensive consultation, and there is widespread support for many of them. They include objective-setting, planning processes and complaints. Indeed, the text of the Good Friday agreement and the terms of reference for the independent commission were predicated on the passage of the Bill and its early implementation.

I am checking to see whether any other questions were put to me.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, while the Minister checks, perhaps I may inquire whether he believes that the reference to Her Majesty the Queen will somehow make a policeman less acceptable to the population. Does the fact that the ombudsman is to be appointed by Her Majesty--a specific provision in the Bill--weaken the acceptability of the Ombudsman?

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I do not accept that argument at all. As a debating point it is interesting, but in terms of substance I do not for one moment accept it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park, suggested that this provision would somehow appease the IRA. Emphatically, we are not seeking to appease the IRA. We are seeking to achieve good and proper policing in Northern Ireland and to make the changes necessary to bring that about. I hope very much that the noble Baroness exaggerated when she said that there was demoralisation among serving RUC officers. The Government have given RUC officers many assurances. I believe that the RUC understands the changes that are taking place, why they are taking place, and that they are in the interests of the service as a whole. I appreciate the support given by the noble Lord, Lord Holme, when he said that the new oath is straightforward. I believe it has the particular merit of being simple.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, also talked about pre-empting the Patten Commission. I have dealt with the substance of that. Perhaps I may add to my remarks regarding the fact that the reference to Her Majesty in the oath is to be removed. We are seeking to ensure that all members of the community feel able to join the RUC

22 Jun 1998 : Column 21

provided that they qualify. The tests are quite stringent. The belief is that by making this change we shall make it easier for some Catholics to join the RUC.

I accept the point made by several noble Lords that the main deterrent to Catholics joining the RUC has been intimidation, threats to their families and their homes. That is deplorable. It must be removed if there is to be any progress in Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, it may still deter some to have the oath that presently exists. The Government believe that the change will make the oath that much more acceptable to people. What we want is an RUC in Northern Ireland which has among it people from all the communities it serves. The RUC has served all communities valiantly and courageously over many years. That is why we are making these proposals. I invite the Committee to reject the amendment.

Lord Monson: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, Lord Molyneaux and the noble Baroness, Lady Park, for their powerful support. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cope, on the Conservative Front Bench. As he said, the clause and the schedule in question are an example of pre-empting Patten. Why on earth should we be doing that?

I thought that just for once the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, and myself might find ourselves in agreement, but no such luck. The noble Lord said that it was important for the morale of the RUC to be sustained. If you want further to erode the morale of the RUC, Schedule 2 does exactly that. The noble Lord also complained that the oath in Northern Ireland had not been changed since 1836, whereas it had been changed in England and Wales. Very well, why not update the Northern Irish oath to bring it into line with that in England and Wales--a halfway house, so to speak, or less than a halfway house. Why knock out any reference to the monarchy altogether?

The noble Lord also implied that to pass these amendments would be in conflict with the Good Friday agreement. But it is wrong to imply that the Good Friday agreement requires the insertion of these words in the Bill. That is a job for the Patten Commission.

Finally, the noble Lord said that it was very important--

3.45 p.m.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. This is a difficult matter. However, will he concede that the essence of the Good Friday agreement is to find forms and institutions which have a legitimacy to which members of both communities can respond, rather than continuing to assert the primacy of the Protestant and unionist tradition?

Lord Monson: My Lords, so far as the police are concerned, that is a matter for the Patten Commission. It may take a different view from that taken so far by the Government. It may decide on a different form of oath altogether. I am disappointed that both noble Lords, speaking for the Liberal Democrats and for the

22 Jun 1998 : Column 22

Government, seem so concerned to change everything so as to appeal to, and make life easier for, those with strong republican opinions, when there is no attempt south of the border to appeal to the few unionists who remain by making their life easier by changing oaths and so on. But so be it.

The Minister said that if we were to agree to Amendment No. 1, there would be no form of attestation whatever. That surprises me. The RUC is not being formed from scratch; it is already in existence. I should imagine that if Amendment No. 1 were agreed to, the oath would remain as part of the procedure. Perhaps I am wrong. The noble Lord has access to much greater expertise, so I shall have to study that point.

There are many noble Lords in the House but relatively few in the Chamber. Also, as the amendment seems to be defective, I shall to have look into it again. I shall therefore not press the amendment today. However, I reserve the right to return to the matter at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 64 [Regulations]:

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 2:


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page