Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

9.44 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration of Commons amendments be now adjourned. In moving the Motion perhaps I may suggest that the Commons amendments be further considered not before 10.30 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

City of Edinburgh (Guided Busways) Order Confirmation Bill

Brought from the Commons, read a first time, and (pursuant to the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act 1936), deemed to have been read a second time and reported from the Committee.

Police (Northern Ireland) Bill

9.45 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 24 [Attestation of constables]:

Baroness Park of Monmouth moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 11, line 30, at end insert ("(which reproduces the form of declaration set out in Schedule 4 to the Police Act 1996).").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak to Amendment No. 3.

At Second Reading the Minister told the House that the Bill changes the declaration of office to be made by RUC constables to one broadly similar to that used in Scotland, adding that it was in line with other changes in recent years to oaths and declarations throughout England and Wales. He said:

He quoted the declaration given at Schedule 2 to the Bill and said that it was clear, simple wording. The note to that schedule repeats it with the important addition that it,

    "does not contain any reference to the Sovereign or any reference to Her Majesty's subjects. This formulation goes some way to meeting nationalist concerns. At the same time, the fact that it is copied from another UK jurisdiction should soften the impact for Unionists".--[Official Report, 18/5/98; col. 1362.]

I shall not rehearse at this stage the arguments advanced against the proposal nor the Minister's replies at Second Reading except to say again that Catholics

22 Jul 1998 : Column 977

rather than nationalists have not been deterred so far from joining the RUC by the need to swear allegiance to the Queen, who is, after all, the head of state in Northern Ireland, any more than members of the Armed Forces or of the other place. If they are fewer than we and the RUC would wish, it is because to join is to become with one's family a lifelong target of the IRA. However, I recognise that there may be much to be said for a simple clear affirmation. So, instead of using the form of oath used, it seems, in Scotland, I merely propose the use in Northern Ireland of the form of declaration used in England, and revised as recently as 1996. Policemen in Wales also use either the English version or some Welsh version which contains exactly the same commitment to our Sovereign Lady the Queen.

The participants in the Belfast agreement acknowledged that the present wish of a majority of the people in Northern Ireland is to maintain the Union and accordingly that Northern Ireland status as part of the United Kingdom reflects and relies upon that wish. Unless the Government's chief concern is for those nationalists who do not accept the statement in Annex A to the Belfast agreement--that Northern Ireland in its entirety remains part of the United Kingdom, rather than for those both Catholics and Unionists who do--there should be no difficulty in using the form of declaration which is already acceptable in two rather than one of the other three jurisdictions in the UK. I beg to move.

Lord Monson: My Lords, I am pleased to rise in support of the noble Baroness. Although it is wearying to have to consider two important and contentious Northern Ireland Bills on the same day, with an extremely important and even more contentious matter concerning the welfare of 16 and 17 year-olds sandwiched in between, it does at least enable us to adopt a balanced approach.

Those of us who wish to modify--or as we would describe it "improve"--the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Bill, are constantly frustrated at being reminded that almost any change would run counter to the Good Friday agreement. No such inhibitions apply to the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill, which has nothing at all to do with the Good Friday agreement.

The Bill which we debated earlier today is widely perceived, not only in the Province, as favouring men of violence on both sides, although loyalist terrorists enjoy little support from the unionist community at large. Most other aspects of the Good Friday agreement are perceived as favouring the republican/nationalist community in particular. Voting patterns in the referendum bear that out. Whereas 99 per cent. of the broadly nationalist community voted for the agreement, barely 50 per cent. of the broadly unionist community did so. Even that 50 per cent. was heavily influenced by a lavishly financed campaign of propaganda and spin doctoring.

Although the violence at Drumcree cannot be excused, it can perhaps be partially explained by a growing fear that the dice are increasingly loaded against the broadly unionist culture, tradition and ethos.

22 Jul 1998 : Column 978

This amendment gives us the chance to redress the balance somewhat and give heart to those who support the Union, irrespective of religion. It also fulfils the requirement of "parity of esteem", which has been much talked about recently in Northern Ireland and in the Irish Republic, in that the political minority in the north--that is to say, the non-unionists--will be treated in exactly the same way as the political minority in the south--that is to say, the non-nationalists--who when they join the police in the south have to swear allegiance to the Irish Republic, whatever their innermost feelings may be.

The revised wording meets the criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, that the existing 19th century loyal oath is out of date. Therefore, I hope that the Liberal Democrats will feel able to support these excellent and fair amendments.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I wish to support the group of amendments, in particular Amendment No. 1 moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth. In view of the established fact that the oath required of policemen in the Irish Police Force pledges loyalty to the state and to the government, which is rather unusual and might not have been accepted in total by many members of, for example, the Metropolitan Police during the previous parliament, it is odd that a change which was designed to give confidence to terrorists--who, incidentally, murdered around 300 RUC men--departs from the much proclaimed desire for uniformity within what is referred to usually in the Good Friday agreement as "the island of Ireland".

No doubt the Irish Government played their part in removing yet another manifestation of Britishness which, after all--and we have to face this fact--is the main objective of the Good Friday agreement. It is said that members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary have no particular view one way or the other, so the question then arises: what need is there for the declaration, not the oath, which terminates with the words,

    "I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of constable"?

Why would a young recruit for the RUC apply for an application form, fill in the form, collect references, undergo a series of medical examinations, complete the various other forms and attend at least several interviews, if he did not intend to,

    "discharge the duties of the office of constable"?

Would it not be fair to assume that, having gone through all that difficulty and having undertaken all those onerous duties, he had every intention of discharging the duties of a constable?

Are such words not implicit at, for example, the conclusion of a Sainsbury's interview panel? Would it not be assumed that such an applicant for a post in a Sainsbury's store would discharge his duties at the checkout point in the supermarket as an unspoken understanding that he would want to retain his job, which surely would be his main consideration? So, if necessary, he could cheerfully repeat that phrase as regards discharging his duties as a Sainsbury's employee. With that rather cynical comment, I wonder

22 Jul 1998 : Column 979

whether it is too late to suggest the deletion of Schedule 2 on the grounds that it is completely unnecessary, irrelevant and inapplicable.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I was interested in the proposal put forward by my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth in Amendments Nos. 1 and 3; namely, to replace the present proposed Northern Ireland declaration in the Bill with the present English declaration. However, I have ventured to put forward an alternative which appears on the Marshalled List as Amendment No. 4. I have attempted to use up-to-date language as we were urged to do by the Minister, though I hesitate to suggest that it is a modernisation. I am beginning to think of that as a derogatory term rather than anything else, as it is used so frequently these days to describe all kinds of things.

My alternative draft seems to me to have several advantages. In the first place, it contains a reference to "Her Majesty the Queen" because she is the constitutional head of state and because, in this United Kingdom, the Crown is above party, above government, above opposition and above every other division in our society; indeed, it is the focus of loyalty for all. However, at the same time, I recognise that some citizens of Northern Ireland hope for a change in the status of the Province so that it can become part of the Republic at some stage. Of course, that is an entirely legitimate hope for people to cherish.

The Belfast agreement and the Bill, which is now before another place, make provision for this to occur if the majority in the future should wish for such a change. That is why my draft amendment refers to the,

    "Queen and her legal successors".

I have not put forward the phrase which is used, for example, in your Lordships' House--indeed, as we have heard this afternoon when we had more Introductions--namely:

    "Her heirs and successors according to law",

Instead, my amendment refers to "her legal successors". Of course, I hope that her legal successors in Northern Ireland will in due course be her heirs. But it may be that her legal successors become--under the legislation being considered--the Republic of Ireland.

As the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, indicated, the Garda are much more answerable to Ministers than we in the United Kingdom think desirable for impartiality. There is a big difference as regards philosophies relating to how to control the police. But be that as it may, the phrase "her legal successors" seems to me to cover the different eventualities and therefore to take out of the declaration, as modified, the idea that it is a totally unionist affair.

The other, perhaps novel, word in my draft is "impartiality". I think that every new constable should have the necessity for impartiality impressed on him on his first day in the force. The RUC is exceptionally impartial in the way it has carried out its duties over many years. I worked closely with it when I was a Minister responsible for security in Northern Ireland and therefore I know that is the case. However, that is obvious to anyone. The most recent example of that has

22 Jul 1998 : Column 980

been Drumcree, where the RUC upheld the law and the decisions which had to be taken. But that is only the most recent example. Over a longer timescale one can consider the successes it has had in bringing to justice loyalist terrorists. It has achieved greater success in that regard than in bringing republican terrorists to justice. I think therefore that the RUC is extremely impartial, but I also think it is no bad thing that a constable should affirm that impartiality on starting his career. The RUC is an extremely effective and staunch force. We should take every opportunity to pay tribute to it. I pay it that tribute.

As regards duties, I have slightly adapted the words of Clause 18. It seems to me that a draft along the lines I have suggested might serve the Minister's purpose of using up-to-date words, and at the same time fulfil the other purposes which other noble Lords have suggested in the course of our earlier debates and this evening.

10 p.m.

Lord Fitt: My Lords, on this Third Reading it may be appropriate to look back at the events of the past few weeks and to consider the activities of the RUC. These amendments may appear technical but noble Lords should give their opinions of the RUC.

For many years in Northern Ireland the RUC has been a bone of contention between nationalists and unionists. I speak as one with a nationalist background. There have been occasions in the past when the RUC has appeared to carry out the instructions of a unionist Minister of Home Affairs. Whether that was the case is open to argument. I lived in Northern Ireland for many years and fought many elections in which the RUC was asked to carry out the edict of a unionist Minister of Home Affairs. In so doing it engendered the hostility of the nationalist community.

On the question of the oath, I do not think that many members of the RUC--over many years I have known many of them personally--will lose any sleep about swearing an oath of loyalty to the Queen or to the sovereign. For many years the unionist government in Northern Ireland deliberately inserted the oath of loyalty to the Queen. I remember, as a member of the Belfast Corporation many years ago, that before anyone obtained a job as a dustbin man in the city of Belfast he had to sign an attestation that he swore loyalty to the Queen. To obtain many other menial jobs an oath of fidelity to the Queen had to be sworn. It was not because the authorities wanted a person's fidelity to the Queen; it was meant to prevent people of a nationalist background applying or being given a job, because many refused to sign an oath of loyalty in order to get such jobs. That went right through the Civil Service in Northern Ireland and the police.

We have heard a great deal today in relation to the sentences Bill about the new agreement. The Good Friday agreement, as it is called, was essentially an agreement between nationalist Northern Ireland and unionist Northern Ireland. Had it not been for the agreement between the majority nationalist party-- the SDLP--Sinn Fein and the majority unionist party, there would not have been any agreement.

22 Jul 1998 : Column 981

I had some difficulty in restraining my remarks in relation to the sentences Bill. The Secretary of State has been handed a very hot potato in relation to Guardsmen Fisher and Wright. The decision that she will have to take will be purely political. Nationalist Ireland, from every Catholic viewpoint and perspective, from leaders in the Irish Times, from the Catholic Church and the SDLP to Sinn Fein all believe that Guardsmen Fisher and Wright were guilty. This is a balancing act. If the Secretary of State decides, on a response from the Queen, that the guardsmen should be released, it will infuriate one community. If she does not release them, it will infuriate the other. Again, the question of the oath comes into that balancing act.

Is it necessary for the oath to be taken by members of the RUC? I honestly do not believe that it is. For many years, but recently in the public mind in relation to Drumcree, the RUC has proven beyond all possible doubt that it is acting in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland. No longer can members of the nationalist community condemn the RUC as a sectarian force. No longer can members of they say that it is acting in a biased way against the minority nationalist community. The RUC will have to overcome some hurdles, perhaps in days, perhaps in weeks, in order again to assure the people of Northern Ireland that it is the impartial force that I know it to be.

I have in front of me an extract from yesterday's edition of the Irish Times reporting a statement by the RUC that this year there were 122 paramilitary shootings in Northern Ireland, both by those in the loyalist community and the IRA. Anyone who has any contact with Northern Ireland knows that those alleged punishment shootings have led to deaths. They have been carried out by loyalist paramilitaries and the IRA. Not only have those organisations been welcomed into the Assembly. Some have won seats. On the New Lodge Road the other day, a young man named Kearney was cruelly and brutally murdered by the IRA. Under the terms of the agreement those who support such terrible atrocities should not be given ready access to the newly established Assembly.

I understand that on Monday evening in the House of Commons the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said that she will have to find out for certain who was responsible for carrying out that dreadful murder. I understand that from the New Lodge Road, North Queen Street area where the murder took place, the police who were on the spot saw the life blood drain from that young man. They are in no doubt that the murder was carried out by the IRA. They will give their report to the Chief Constable. The Chief Constable will consider what his experts saw on the New Lodge Road that night. He will then tell the Secretary of State that he is in no doubt that it was the activities of the IRA.

What then will the Secretary of State do? Will she accept the word of the Chief Constable with all the evidence that he has at his disposal and take steps to prevent members who represent the IRA from taking their full place in the Assembly? Or will she try to rejig the whole situation? From her point of view, she does

22 Jul 1998 : Column 982

not want anyone to be thrown out of the Assembly. She wants to keep the Assembly on an even keel and in that we may have the beginnings of conflict.

I sincerely hope that we do not face that conflict. I believe that the RUC, as has been proven conclusively over these past weeks, is acting in the interests of everyone in Northern Ireland. It should have the full and absolute support of every Government Minister in Northern Ireland. That is why I say that it is not necessary to have the RUC swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen. That would give those who are opposed to the RUC a reason for objecting to it and saying that it should not give an oath of loyalty outside of Northern Ireland.

The only oath that may be necessary is for RUC men to swear their allegiance, if that is necessary, to the people of the state of Northern Ireland. That should be sufficient. It would take away another stick which could be used by the opponents of the RUC to try to depict its members as being openly sectarian. I do not believe that the RUC is sectarian. I believe that its activities over these past weeks prove that conclusively. I do not want to hear ever again any criticism from the nationalist community that the RUC is a bipartisan force.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page