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Lord Glentoran: I shall speak to Amendment No. 199 tabled in my name. This concerns the emblem of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Aside from the proposal to change the name, it is difficult to think of anything in the Patten report that has caused so much hurt in the past to serving officers of the RUC and their families than the decision to scrap the cap badge of the force.
Patten states that there should be a new emblem for the force which is free of association with either the British or the Irish states. The purpose behind this was genuine: to try to depoliticise the police force. However, in our view the assumptions on which it was based are entirely false. The Belfast agreement settled the constitutional status of Northern Ireland. It made it clear that Northern Ireland would remain an integral part of the United Kingdom on the basis of the consent of a majority of the people who live there. I make no
Anyone who doubts that should ask the Northern Ireland Secretary why he is bringing forward an order in the Commons this evening and in this place a little later, to make clear that the only flag which will be flown from government buildings in the Province is the Union flag. It is not some newly-created emblem free of constitutional associations; it is the flag of the country of which Northern Ireland forms an integral part. The notion that the police service should be free of association with the symbols and emblems of the state in which it operates and whose laws it seeks to enforce is frankly not good sense.
Police officers serve the Crown. They uphold the Queen's peace. It is for that reason that every police force in the United Kingdom carries on its emblem the Crown, and so it should be in Northern Ireland. But in Northern Ireland the emblem of the force is not exclusive to one tradition. We already have a kind of compromise. Anybody charged with the task of drawing up an emblem that represented both traditions in Northern Ireland could hardly have come up with a better design than the current one. It embraces the Crown, representing the British tradition, and the Irish harp and shamrock, representing the Irish tradition. I simply fail to see how that can be deemed offensive to one section of the community or another. The emblem of the RUC could cause offence only to those who are opposed to what the Royal Ulster Constabulary represents; namely, the rule of law itself. They are the people who will see this measure as a victory. They have never supported the police who represent the thin green line between them and that which democracy denies them.
The Bill, as drafted, gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations over an emblem for the police service following consultation with the board, the Chief Constable and the Police Federation. We welcome the commitment to consult and not to take a precipitous decision. But in reality we see no need for a new emblem at all. The existing one should be retained. It is a source of tremendous pride not just to those who currently serve in the RUC, but to retired officers and the widows of those who have been murdered wearing the proud insignia of that great force.
Our amendment will enable the existing RUC to carry on wearing its proud emblem and cap badge. Even if the Government succeed in their intention of giving the force a new operational name, it is all the more important to keep the badge and reinforce the continuity between the RUC and the newly named force that the Secretary of State is so keen to maintain. There is no evidence that the badge is a deterrent to Catholic recruitment. Retention of the badge would be widely welcomed within the RUC family and much more widely in the community. Nothing could better signify the fact that the RUC is not being disbanded
Lord Laird: I support the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and his very useful remarks in support of this amendment. Over the past few days there has been discussion in your Lordships' House about the state of opinion in Northern Ireland. We have talked about the state of unionist opinion. I wish to reiterate one point on the political side. In political terms this Bill has had a number of amendments, but not sufficient, in the opinion of anyone back home, to be supportive of the unionist community.
I said on Monday, and I underline it again, that if one wants a peace agreement, that can only be achieved with the support of both communities. The peace agreement can only be attained with the support of David Trimble. If we do not have his support because he cannot take his community with him, one will not get a peace agreement. I cannot see why that logic has not got through to the Government.
I endorse the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. The RUC badge is a symbol, if anything is a symbol, of the cross-community nature of activities on the island of Ireland. The harp incorporated in the badge is a symbol of the state of the Irish Republic. It is the official seal of the president of that republic. Therefore, why are we told that it is offensive? The only people to whom it is offensive are the fascist thugs who wish to degrade and demoralise the RUC at all costs.
I draw a comparison with the work I am involved in with the cross-border language implementation body and the other major cultural activities with which we are concerned. Whereas we are engaged in reshaping the police force on the southern side of the border as part of the Belfast agreement of parity of esteem and total equality, it is not our view that sovereignty in the Irish republic remains anywhere else but in the sovereign government of that republic except that which it has conceded to us in the Belfast agreement. There is not joint soveignity on both sides of the border or Northern Ireland. When we require the name of the Garda Siochana to become the Garda Siochana Hainin-Polis, which is required under the Belfast agreement, we still recognise that it will be the police force of the Irish Republic. I support this amendment.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I support the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and my noble friend Lord Laird. It has been pointed out that the emblem is that of law and order and nothing else. Earlier this week, I stated that no criminal loves a policeman. Therefore, all criminals want rid of the police simply because it is a law enforcement agency. Whether the criminal is a republican or a so-called "loyalist" is neither here nor there; they equally loathe and hate the law enforcement body, which is the RUC.
Viscount Cranborne: I support this amendment. Before I come to its substance, when the Minister replies, I wonder whether he could address himself to the recommendation--once again I am beginning to sound like a cracked record--contained in the report of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation on Clause 52. The committee recommends at paragraph 8 that these matters are of such political importance as to require the endorsement of Parliament by application of the affirmative procedure.
The noble and learned Lord knows that both during my time as Leader of your Lordships' House before the last election, and I believe since that time, both Government Front Benches in your Lordships' House--
Viscount Cranborne: In that case I am extremely grateful and I can spare the Committee yet another boring disquisition on the subject. I shall proceed to the subject of this amendment and look forward very much to what the noble and learned Lord has to say in due course.
It has been said by other noble Lords that one has to emphasise how important emblems are in human affairs. After all, man is not an entirely rational beast, to put it mildly, except perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who I believe is entirely rational. The rest of us do not enjoy the noble Lord's rather unique attributes. We mind very much about emblems. I notice that when a nation throws off the colonial yoke, one of the first things it does is to invent a new flag. That is a matter of enormous moment to that nation as it is to institutions acquiring their own emblems: not only a flag, but badges and all the other paraphernalia of nationhood.
There is good reason for that. In that symbolism is embodied--or we hope will be embodied--all that we wish for our country and all that we believe that it should stand for. In the flag and the emblems there is contained the shorthand of why we want our country to flourish. It seems to me that that should be as true of the United Kingdom as it is of India, South Africa or France. I sometimes wonder whether nowadays we have reached a condition in which all of us are browbeaten into being ashamed of being British when we have perhaps rather more to be proud of in our history and traditions than most other countries. The Committee may consider that a chauvinistic view, but it is one that I hold.
It is interesting to note that since 1997 it has been clearly implied, particularly by certain Members of this Government--although, I am sure, not by the noble and learned Lord--that history began in May 1997 and that we should begin to be ashamed of, and forget, what happened before that. I believe that one of the more recent Members of this Chamber chaired a commission which rather clearly implied that, although he was careful to deny it under questioning. It is interesting to note that while this process has been going on, the public's interest in history seems rather paradoxically to have increased. People are perhaps beginning to understand that history and our past are at least as important as anything else to our understanding of the present and future. There again it seems to me that there is an additional reason for our being careful before we idly throw away emblems which encapsulate a great deal of which we should be proud and which make an enormous difference to our perception of ourselves, our esteem of ourselves and the polity in which we live.
That is perhaps rather a blindingly obvious analysis, but there is another point which I believe makes it particularly important in the Province. I was never a soldier but I am perhaps one of the few people of mine and a younger generation who has been shot at and bombed. I have noticed that that rather unpleasant experience tends to concentrate the mind and to produce rather different assumptions among those who experience such dreadful events than among those who merely watch them at the movies. I notice that for soldiers, or people who are in the front line even if they are not soldiers but who are effectively policing a difficult situation, emblems and the traditions of the forces in which they serve become increasingly important. In my limited experience of such things--many Members of this Chamber have far greater experience than I of this kind of thing--it seems that these matters loom large in maintaining the esprit de corps, the traditions and the good behaviour of the bodies concerned, whether it be a regiment, a band of guerrillas or a police force.
Therefore, it seems to me that we may be asking rather more than the Government perhaps think if we remove the emblem of the RUC and expect the new police force to start afresh with traditions which emphatically will be very much the same as those which are embodied in the cap badge and the aspirations of those who wear it at the moment. I hope, therefore, that for those reasons the Government will think carefully before refusing to accept my noble friend's amendment, or at least a version of it.
I also hope that they will take into consideration one further point of which my noble friend, with his great experience of the Province, quite rightly made great play in his remarks. We are aware how delicate the peace process is and how delicately poised it is at the moment. I sense among the majority side in the Province at the moment a growing feeling that the Government perhaps do not realise to what extent they will depend on their good will if we are to pursue this process to its conclusion. One of the things the Government could certainly do to show that they at least hold the Protestant/Unionist tradition--indeed, as we know, there are many Catholic Unionists in the Province, although that is something many of us are prone to forget--on a par with the nationalist tradition is to look sympathetically at my noble friend's amendment. I suspect that that would make more difference than perhaps the noble and learned Lord might think to the prospects of Mr David Trimble this coming Saturday.
Baroness Blood: I make two points in support of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. First, as he rightly said, the emblem reflects the community and the make-up of Northern Ireland. If someone had been asked to design it, they could not have done it better. It would be a serious matter to have a change of name and to throw out the emblem too. We are throwing out our past. We cannot have a future if we do not remember our past. We should not live in the past, but we must remember it.
Secondly, I agreed with what the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said, in that the Patten report has certainly concentrated the minds of people in Northern Ireland. I have lived in Northern Ireland all my life, but until recently I could not have said what the cap badge of the RUC consisted of. Now everyone is looking at it. When I saw the uniform as a child I knew that a policeman was coming, end of story. I did not look at his badge or even his name.
On Monday we discussed whether it was a matter of the Protestant community or the Catholic community accepting a change. Here we have a badge that adequately reflects both communities. What are we going to do? Are we going to tell a group of people to create a new badge? Who will be involved in that? Are we going to wrangle over what the badge will consist of and get no further? We have to take decisions. One of the decisions that I hope the Minister will consider in the light of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, is not to change the symbols because, apart from the fact that they are held dearly, we have to retain something; we cannot throw out everything.
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