|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Dubs: I think that the noble Baroness, for whose views I normally have enormous respect, conceded the point by saying that until recently no one had noticed the detailed design of the badge. I was thinking the same thing as the debate progressed. During two and a half years I frequently met RUC
In one sense this debate is a repeat of Monday's debate on the name except that on this occasion the Secretary of State has reserved for himself the ability to make a decision on this issue at a later date. That seems a sensible way forward. It gives the Secretary of State more time to discuss and to consult before arriving at a decision. I hope therefore that the noble Lord will not press his amendment, but will withdraw it and enable the Bill, and therefore the Secretary of State, to consider these issues more carefully.
In previous debates on this issue, I have referred to the fact that when I was a Minister with responsibility for Northern Ireland I had meetings with RUC officers at various police stations in Northern Ireland. The object of those meetings was to discuss the Patten report. I am bound to say that although RUC officers were not happy with the suggestions in regard to the name and badge, they said that if those changes, and the others in the Patten report, achieved the aim of getting more Catholics into the police and giving the police the support of nationalist politicians, they would, reluctantly, go along with the changes. I believe that that view reflects common sense and logic.
Lord Dubs: The objective of the Patten report and of the Government's Bill is to achieve just that. Sometimes matters in Northern Ireland do not work out as quickly and logically as one would wish. But I believe that this is the right way forward. The Patten report came from the Good Friday agreement. It is right that the Government should proceed with legislation to give effect to the Patten report in the hope of gaining the support of both communities. It is very difficult: if the Government move further in one direction, they are opposed from the other side.
Lord Laird: I am grateful to the noble Lord for again giving way, but will he answer the question? What happens if we make these changes but do not achieve the targets about gaining support in full measure from the Catholic Church, the SDLP, Sinn Fein and everyone else?
Lord Dubs: Given that resistance to some measures of the Bill come from the Catholic Church and the SDLP, I am not so naive to say that overnight that resistance will disappear. If the Government proceed with the Bill and send a signal to the people of Northern Ireland that there is to be a new beginning in terms of some of the Patten recommendations for policing in Northern Ireland, retaining--not disbanding--the police, I believe that increased support for the police from the nationalist population will be forthcoming. I believe that and I am hopeful that that will be the case.
I refer briefly to a point the noble Lord, Lord Laird, made earlier. I understand the difficulties that David Trimble is in. I understand that the Ulster Unionist Council is meeting on Saturday and there may well be problems for his freedom of action as regards his membership of the executive. I hope that that will not be the case, but it may be. Nevertheless, I believe that the Bill in a sense does not weaken David Trimble's position on the matter under discussion. It gives the Secretary of State the opportunity to make the decision at a later date, having consulted further. For that reason, and for the others, I hope that the noble Lord will not proceed with his amendment.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: I am amazed to find that we are still discussing this issue given the recommendations of the deregulation committee. I always greatly respect the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. However, in this case I think that his advice would send a distinct and terrible message to everyone concerned. No one has disputed that the present emblem embraces all traditions and must be pretty inoffensive since, first, the noble Baroness, Lady Blood--I greatly respect her for what she said--said that people do not notice it. Secondly, Catholics have not been prevented entering the RUC because of the emblem but because to do so has been dangerous and they would be killed if they tried. Those are the reasons; we keep trying to ignore them.
Viscount Brookeborough: I support the amendment and agree with those noble Lords who have said that it is all encompassing. The emblem contains the harp and the shamrock, both of which were around a long time before the IRA. Long before English people went there, the shamrock was growing for thousands of years in the boggy ground. It is a very appropriate emblem.
We hear that RUC officers are reluctant but they might accept the change. The problem is that everything is discussed piecemeal. They are reluctant to see their uniform changed; they are reluctant to see the name changed; they are reluctant to see the emblem changed. As a whole, they are against all these changes together which fundamentally change the force. Therefore, I believe that at present it is a serious mistake to leave the matter to the Secretary of State. People should have the assurance that not everything is up for change now or later. If changes are to be made, let us get them over and done with--it is to be hoped not to the name or the badge--but do not let us have the matter dribbling on for years with one knock after another. I am much against that. I am sure that anyone who works in business or is a part of any group of people, social or otherwise, does not want to continue for ever to have changes.
Lord Fitt: I intervene with the intention of giving further employment to some of the cartoonists in the nationalist newspapers in Northern Ireland which I saw today. No doubt what I say here today will lead to further cartoons.
The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, and I are two of the oldest politicians in this Chamber who have had an interest in Northern Ireland for many years. On reading the Marshalled List today I see dotted throughout the words "flag" and "emblem". That brings back vivid recollections. In 1953 I sat in the distinguished Strangers' Gallery in Stormont when the Unionist government, as they then were, pushed through a flags and emblems measure which subsequently became an Act. While listening to the debate, I seethed with anger. The legislation was entirely directed at the Catholic minority community in Northern Ireland.
A few years later I began to fight elections. I had the honour to represent a small dock constituency for many years. I had to take a circuitous route because there were four Protestant houses at the top of Annadale Street. Those people did not like the flag I carried on my election platform. It was not the tricolour but the starry plough--the flag of the Irish workers which had been designed by James Connolly,
I realise how one's blood can be affected by the emblems in Northern Ireland. The harp and crown is of such significance to the unionist community in Northern Ireland that if it is taken away it will be like taking away one of their limbs. If it is not taken away, the republican community--I would not say the nationalist community--will also feel that it has suffered. Again, in Northern Ireland there is no compromise; there are victories and defeats. If the badge is kept, the republicans will see it as a victory for unionism or Protestantism, or whatever other term is used. If it is not taken away, the unionists will be able to claim some sort of victory. I believe that they are entitled to that victory--here go the cartoonists--and to retain the cap badge, because it represents both communities in Northern Ireland. It represents the unionist community, which is currently the majority and it represents the Irish community with the shamrock and the harp.
No one could have designed an emblem that was more helpful in bringing together communities in Northern Ireland. The noble Baroness, Lady Blood, may be interested to know that only in the past two or three years have I looked at the RUC badge. I had never seen it as divisive, but it looms large in the politics of Northern Ireland now.
The First Minister, David Trimble, has a difficult meeting to get through. On the badge and the name, the question is whether we want the peace process brought to an end. I am not threatening that the peace process will be brought to an end if the Government do not agree with me or with David Trimble. Some people would quite like that, but I am not one of them. I hope that David Trimble will remain in place after the meeting on Saturday.
The Government can help the peace process in Northern Ireland by recognising what I have recognised since my earliest days in politics: there are two communities in Northern Ireland and one of them must not be allowed to triumph over the other. There is a wave of republicanism overtaking every aspect of life in Northern Ireland. As I said on Monday, the unionist majority population now feels as I felt until 1968 when the civil rights movement began in Northern Ireland. Many concessions have been made to terrorists on both sides, but in this case I am referring to republican terrorists. The ordinary poor Protestant worker sees his whole culture being taken away from him. Part of that culture is the badge of the police force that he believes has protected him over 30 years of violence. It would be helpful if the Government took into consideration the tremendous impact on community relations in Northern Ireland of allowing the badge to remain.
Lord Hylton: I have deep respect for the strength of conviction with which many of your Lordships have spoken on Amendment No. 199, but I regret that I do not feel able to support it. It is too prescriptive and would go too far, upsetting the balance of the Bill. I follow the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who pointed out that Clause 52 as drafted is permissive and does not oblige the Secretary of State to do anything.
In a deeply divided society, as we all know Northern Ireland to be, the symbols of state should be as neutral and impartial as possible. I shall give one or two examples of how that has worked out in the recent past. The letterheads of government departments in Northern Ireland are in plain print, with no symbols representing any particular traditions. The oath or affirmation that a constable has to take on entering the police service has been redrafted and redesigned to tie in with upholding the law, respect for human rights, and so on. The same has been done with the oath or declaration expected of Queen's Counsel when they enter their new, grander status. We should follow such precedents.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page