|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Cope of Berkeley: The Government's amendments are entirely understandable and can be supported. I want to speak to Amendment No. 185 which stands in my name. It seeks to remove Clause 50(4)(c), which obliges the board to consult the ombudsman, as well as the other organisations, before issuing a code of ethics. The ombudsman is an extremely important person who should be supported but our view is that his job is to deal objectively with complaints about the behaviour of policemen and others. Our concern is that she--at some stage it may be he--may be compromised in looking objectively at a complaint because she will have had some responsibility for the wording in the code.
It is not a major point but it is our view that it would be better if the ombudsman were not involved in drawing up the code. She would then be able to be more objective when later judging cases and would be seen to be so.
Lord Archer of Sandwell: I rise not to take issue with either of the noble Lords who have spoken, although I observe that at a later stage in our deliberations we shall be discussing the functions of the ombudsman. I rise to speak to my Amendments Nos. 186 and 190.
It is to be hoped that the code of ethics will perform two functions, and they will be important. First, it should impress upon police officers that human rights are not just a mantra which they are required to chant before going into action. I hope that those responsible for training will inculcate in trainees an approach to the code not as one more document on which they will have to answer questions but as integral to everything which they do and teach.
I remember a safety expert impressing on me that safety is not one subject additional to all the others which an industrial trainee or someone learning to drive a vehicle needs to master and will be taught to them when its turn comes; it is integral to everything in the course. One does not teach someone to control and steer a vehicle in 11 lessons and then say, "Now we come to lesson 12, which is how to do it safely". Safety is part of everything we teach as we teach it and I hope that that will be the authorities' approach to human rights.
That is the internal function of the code. The second is the external one which ensures that as regards those outside the force--the community among which it is to operate--the rights of everyone will be taken seriously. That will largely depend on the content of the code but also on how seriously it is taken within the force. If it becomes a joke, it will be a very sick joke.
As regards Amendment No. 190, it is essential that the code is not simply something which a police officer receives when he is recruited and then consigns to a draw in the sideboard for the remainder of his service. He needs to read it and to understand it. I am indebted to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission for this amendment. It would make a failure to comply with the code a disciplinary offence. If that is not done, it is certain to raise questions in the minds of the community as to how far all the talk about human rights is a placebo. Therefore, I believe that it should have the status of a disciplinary requirement.
Lord Monson: Perhaps I may put a question to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell. It is not a rhetorical question; I should like to hear the answer if he knows it. Is there any other country in the world whose police force, dealing as it does every day with crime and the seamier side of human nature, has to put human rights above every other consideration?
Lord Smith of Clifton: I rise to support the two amendments tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, and to speak to my Amendment No. 187. It complements the second of the noble and learned Lord's amendments, Amendment No. 190. In addition simply to reading the code of ethics, officers should undertake to abide by it. The mere intellectual act of reading might not result in the desirable behavioural change which we all seek. Therefore, I ask the Minister whether or not we should firm up the act of reading by requiring constables to undertake to abide by the code of ethics.
Lord Eames: Of the amendments we are considering today, I can think of none more important than that tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, which is now before us. It is a consolation to many of us who want to see a fair and accountable police force in Northern Ireland that, as a result of the consultations which took place across the community during the drafting of the programme for training, the subject matter of the amendment was incorporated into the syllabus.
I cannot imagine wording more important to the heart and soul of a police service for Northern Ireland than that contained in the group of amendments now before us. Let us leave aside the words "ethics" and "standards" and think only of the performance in the eyes of the community as a whole of a police service. There, in the cold light of day, standards and ethics for the service concerned will have to be judged. There will be situations in which it will be tested by the individual reaction of officers.
However, as I see the history of Northern Ireland, and judging by the experience that I have come through, as well as listening to those from both communities, those people have every reason to say that, in the past, they believe that they would have questioned some of the actions of the police. They deserve to hear that we take very seriously the way in which a code of behaviour is implemented in a police service for the future.
It is for that reason that I welcome what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, said. I reiterate the importance of incorporating these principles in the training procedure. I should also welcome an assurance from the Minister that in whatever way this Bill eventually finds the light of day, strenuous efforts will be made to ensure that a code of ethics, a code of behaviour--indeed, a pattern for professionalism--is placed before the people of Northern Ireland in both communities in such a way that they can respect it and feel sure that it will be implemented with integrity and fairness.
Lord Fitt: I should like to support the amendment tabled by my noble and learned friend Lord Archer and to ask my noble and learned friend the Minister to clarify any misgivings that there may be about the code of ethics that everyone accepts is so necessary in police behaviour. It has been said that the young trainees entering the police force will be made aware of this code of ethics during the period of their training. However, can my noble and learned friend the Minister assure the Committee that this code of ethics will apply to officers who are currently serving in the force? Can he confirm that the same code of ethics will be applicable both to those young people who are entering the force and those who have been serving in the force for many years?
Lord Laird: I, too, wish to support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, and to reiterate some of the earlier comments that have been made. This is an extremely important group of amendments. As someone who is interested in equality and in parity of esteem for all sections of the community, I certainly support the two amendments relating to equality.
I am chairman of Ulster Scots Agency in Northern Ireland, which is part of the cross-border body that has been set up, not at the behest of Ulster Unionists but at the behest of others. It is a cross-border implementation body. We are most interested in the entire process of human rights and equality. I am sure that Members of the Committee will be delighted to
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|