Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Archer of Sandwell moved Amendment No. 6:

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, a theme which ran consistently through the previous debate and through all those in Committee on the Bill was that we need a force, which is now being created--perhaps, more accurately, recreated--to be representative in its membership of all the people of Northern Ireland and in particular of both historic and cultural traditions. It should be a force which a nationalist can join without diminishing his credentials as a nationalist.

Throughout the previous debate and all those in Committee, noble Lords have expressed regret at the discouragement encountered by young nationalists who desire to enlist in the police. I share that regret. But those of us who wish the peace process well have two alternatives. We can regret it, leave it there, declare that the issue is insoluble and walk away. Alternatively, we can try so far as can be achieved to encourage the nationalist community--not the paramilitaries, as my noble friend Lord Dubs pointed out--in the belief that the force really is dedicated to

8 Nov 2000 : Column 1611

justice without discrimination. Anything which will reinforce that confidence can only be of benefit to recruitment and to the peace process.

My noble friend on the Front Bench will remember that in Committee I moved amendments to Clause 3 to add to the board's obligations a requirement to ensure that the police comply not only with the Human Rights Act but also with international human rights obligations. My noble friend replied that the number of human rights obligations which exist as actual or potential obligations in international law are so legion that it would be impossible to monitor them all in any meaningful way.

Whether or not we have a listening Government, we have a listening Back Bench. Therefore, I have modified the suggestion which I ventured to make in Committee. I now suggest that there might be three specific international instruments, each specifying particular obligations and all of which, I hope, create standards which the Government would wish to see achieved and monitored. I am grateful to the Northern Ireland Commission on Human Rights, the Equality Commission and the Northern Ireland Committee on the Administration of Justice for the assistance they have given me with this theme and the measure of assurance they have been able to give me that it really would make a difference to the feeling in the nationalist community that it would be appropriate to enlist.

The United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms and the Council of Europe Declaration on the Police consist of clear and specific recommendations. I do not believe that there is anything in any of them which we would not all wish our police to observe. If they were included in the Bill, I believe that it would achieve two things. First, I believe that any police officer of whatever rank would approve of all those recommendations if asked. But the problem is not when someone asks his opinion; it is when the pressures are on, when the situation is an emergency and when the chips are down that the test arises. It is then that words which they have been required to learn and note as part of their reading and training will register in what they do.

Secondly, if hearts and minds are to be won for the process of supporting the police and persuading their sons and nephews to enlist, this amendment would send a message which might help in the winning. I beg to move.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I find this a somewhat offensive amendment. Once again, it seeks to bring aspects of extraterritorial jurisdiction into our affairs and I am in general opposed very strongly to extraterritorial jurisdiction. I am opposed to the way in which so many international bodies produce rules, laws and regulations which we are expected to observe without this Parliament having adequately discussed them and legislated upon them.

8 Nov 2000 : Column 1612

I am sure that the noble Lord is right and that there is much virtue in many of the things which are contained in all these resolutions. I would much have preferred the noble and learned Lord to have set out all those good things in these resolutions on the face of the Bill. That would be the appropriate way for a sovereign parliament to legislate.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, I suspect that there is an unbridgeable gap between us. However, would it offer the noble Lord comfort if the codes suggested enjoyed approval not only in this country but also across the whole civilised international community?

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I am not sure that the United Nations necessarily always speaks for the whole civilised community of this world. It does not do me much good to know that some of these resolutions have been supported by some of the most repulsive regimes in the whole of this world. Of course they will support them. They will not do anything about them, as we know. But I believe that good intentions of this kind should be set out clearly on the face of the Bill.

That is not just a matter of principle for me. It also reflects what the noble and learned Lord said. If the amendment is to have any effect, the words have to be clear in the minds of police officers on the streets. Can one imagine a member of the police force in Northern Ireland confronted with the situations which we have seen in Northern Ireland in the past? Standing there, suddenly there come before him, like the life of a drowning man, umpteen resolutions from the United Nations. He would see them all in his mind and suddenly know what to do! Of course he would not. But he just might if the matter was on the face of the Bill, having been filleted out and put into plain common sense language.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord again. However, would he settle for having these texts set out in schedules to the Bill?

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I would settle for having them set out clearly in the Bill, for us to legislate upon them and, if necessary, amend provisions, because I might not like every bit of the provision and this sovereign House has every right to object to some of it. I shall not detain the House longer. I think it wise that these points are made.

Lord Monson: My Lords, perhaps I may put a different question to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer. When he replies, can he tell us whether the police forces of England, Scotland, Wales and the Irish Republic are monitored for compliance with the various codes and declarations which he extols?

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, with the Minister I was one of those noble Lords who criticised the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, for the vagueness of his amendment in Committee. I acknowledge that he

8 Nov 2000 : Column 1613

has listened to those criticisms. I agree with him that we all want and believe that the RUC--whatever it will be called--will follow very high standards on these lines. But I do not want to see them made into a statutory provisions for the reason that my noble friend Lord Tebbit summarised.

The police in this country generally, and the RUC in particular, are already subject to a whole lot of restraints. They are, I think, the most inspected, examined, monitored and supervised group of individuals that we have, with many bodies looking at them continuously--both official bodies and unofficial bodies in the media and so on. They inspect their every action, rethinking over a long period every split-second decision if it goes wrong. If we overdo that, we are in danger of making their lives impossible. We should also remember that the terrorists with which this particular police force has had to contend and may well have to contend again do not follow any remotely comparable codes. On the contrary, their standards are appalling.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the amendment raises the question of applying international human rights standards to the police. I concede that we have come a little further in identifying which instruments we are talking about. For that I am grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell.

However, to give one example, the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials refers to dozens of other international instruments. None of the three instruments specified in the amendment has been formally ratified by the UK or is legally binding in international law in the same way as is a treaty. The documents are aspirational statements. It is difficult to require in statute that the police should comply with them. It would also be difficult to identify the exact text of the instruments, because they are subject to change from time to time. We are still in doubt about exactly what standards the police are being asked to adhere to. That cannot be right.

Any particular issue in these or other instruments that could help to inform the standards that police officers should strive to achieve should be made explicit. I hope that I can reassure my noble and learned friend that we are confident that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission will comment on the issue during consultation on the code of ethics. We cannot accept the statutory application of aspirational standards for the police rather than clearly defined ones.

We all agree on the need for very high standards to be drawn fairly and clearly to the attention of those who are asked to live up to them. This debate is about the best means of achieving that. I hope that I have been able to reassure my noble friend that we are at one in that cause and that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page