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Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I rise to support this amendment. There are many on the government Benches and on the Liberal Democrat Benches who seem to disagree with us on this issue this evening. Those noble Lords may feel that it is inappropriate for the badge of the RUC to be retained by the new police force. But your Lordships must look at the harp and the shamrock for a moment. They are both older than the divisions in Ireland. The harp is used on the emblems of provinces in the Republic of Ireland. It is not on the emblem of Northern Ireland, which has the red hand. The shamrock, likewise, is used.
More recently, the nationalists hijacked the shamrock and Protestants were almost ashamed to wear that shamrock. So it is more of a nationalist emblem in the North of Ireland. Noble Lords may say that I would say that, but it is true and if noble Lords went over there, they would see it. The shamrock is more of a nationalist emblem than a Protestant one at the moment. St Patrick's Day is reasserting itself, as it should, as a national day for Protestants, for Catholics and for all the people of Ireland.
Do not let us criticise the shamrock and the harp for being Ulster, being Protestant, being the RUC. That is complete and absolute rubbish. They are serious Irish emblems, more so for the Republic than for the north. I ask noble Lords who have listened to the debate this evening to give the matter that consideration and support. Ultimately, there has to be a badge that is inclusive. Those emblems are inclusive.
Lord Prior: My Lords, on more than one occasion I was saved from death by the RUC, but that has nothing to do with my views on this amendment. As my noble friend Lord Cranborne said, it is symbolic. Most things in Northern Ireland are symbolic and this is perhaps one of the more crucial, yet at the same time, one of the smallest issues.
Over the past three years, during the course of these debates, I have felt it to be my duty, whenever possible, to support the Government in the policy they have put forward, and I still do that. However, I believe that the symbolism of this matter for the RUC and for the Protestant community is of enormous importance. Too often, in our desire to try to reach and maintain a peaceful settlement, we have under-estimated the enormous sacrifice that we have asked of the Protestant and the unionist side in the negotiations. I say that from a position that in many ways is regarded by the Protestants as being too much in favour of the nationalist view.
From the point of view of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and from the point of view of the symbolism of this matter to the unionist community, the Government should consider the situation extremely carefully before going ahead with it. Recently in this House we have been round this point five or six times--although I have not taken part on those occasions--but more and more I have felt that this is an issue on which it is right to ask the Government to think again. If it is a small issue, it should not be too much for the nationalist community to understand it, and if it is too much for them, the prospects for long-term peace are small indeed.
Baroness Strange: My Lords, I support the amendment of my noble friend. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that I have not spoken on the subject before so I shall not be repeating anything I have already said. Yesterday I had the joy of hearing the chairman of English Heritage speak about the fact that our past is part of our future and both are part of our present. The Crown on the cap badge of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is part of the past as it sits on their
Lord Dubs: My Lords, all noble Lords know that the Patten report, which the Government are implementing, recommended that the Northern Ireland police service adopt a new badge and symbols entirely free of any association with either British or Irish states. That is behind the Government's reasoning.
Before the Patten report was produced, how many Members of this House knew the design of the badge of the RUC? I see raised hands, but I wonder. I have talked to many people and I do not believe that it was particularly obvious. I believe that interest in this matter has increased because of the politics associated with implementing the Patten report recommendations rather than because of any knowledge about the design of the badge.
It is clear to me that quite a number of police officers in Northern Ireland are much more relaxed about this issue than are the politicians who allegedly speak on their behalf. Many police officers are much more concerned about the integrity of policing, the way in which they enforce law and order and the support they receive from their community than in endless arguments about the badge which simply maintains the policing of Northern Ireland at the centre of party politics. That is exactly what the police do not want. I believe that the traditions of the RUC, the way in which they have suffered and the enormous bravery that they have shown will last for many hundreds of year, long after arguments relating to the badge and the name are forgotten.
Lord St John of Fawsley: My Lords, I regret the reference to the Patten report as though it were an infallible document. It is one person's view. Although I launched Mr Patten on his career when I appointed him my PPS when Leader of the other place, I certainly believe that in this instance he was wrong. I associated myself with my noble friend Lord Prior when says that the badge is dear to the unionist community; I add the footnote, dear to the unionist community, both Protestant and Catholic.
Lord Cooke of Islandreagh: My Lords, the case for the retention of the badge and the emblem have been well made. If the Government do not appreciate that, and if the amendment should be rejected, the people of Northern Ireland will draw one conclusion: that this Government will do anything to please the Sinn Fein/IRA. Unfortunately, they do not know enough about Sinn Fein/IRA to know that to change the badge and emblem to please them will not make one bit of difference and it will not encourage anyone to join the police.
We have debated this issue before and it has been debated in another place. I make no complaint whatever about that, but it is plainly a significant issue. The Government recognise and understand the strength of feeling of noble Lords on this matter. However, it is equally clear that while they and many others cherish the emblem of the RUC, there are many others who do not. Perhaps I may quote the remarks of the honourable Member for South Down in another place:
All noble Lords agree that we seek a police service that members of all communities in Northern Ireland would want to join. I quote that passage at length because it gives a clear indication of the views of the nationalists. In a sense, the Government are caught in the middle. They are asked by noble Lords to provide clarity--that noble Lords should decide now--and to retain the elements of the existing emblem. But there is an opposing view. It is against that background and the recommendation of the whole of the Patten commission that the Government concluded and continue to believe that the police board, which should be representative of Northern Ireland society and which will have a majority of members drawn from the elected Assembly, should be involved in the decision-making process.
As we have said before, we would rather not have to make changes that will hurt some in the RUC family, but, like all Members of this House, we want to achieve a new beginning to policing with a service capable of attracting and sustaining support from the community as a whole. We believe that our approach will do that. I earnestly ask the noble Lord not to press his amendment.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response and all noble Lords for taking part in this crucial and critical debate, including the noble Lord, Lord Richard, with whom I agree that we need a decision and we need it now. I have said before that I have every sympathy with the Secretary of State for the position in which he finds himself with the Patten recommendation to remove the hat badge and hence the signs of sovereignty. I suggest it is our duty in this