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Lord Biffen: I have heard a great deal of the debate on the Bill, but I have had the proper diffidence of an Englishman in not wishing to make too assertive a comment. The debate echoes the constant desire for constitutional and social fine-tuning to bring about a more settled future for the Province.
It seems to me that, far from bringing about a greater settlement, new recognitions and new loyalty, the current proposals on the emblems will bring about uncertainty and resentment. The Committee would be wise to accept Amendment No. 199.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: As a member of the committee that has been referred to, I am grateful to the Government that they will at least provide for the affirmative resolution procedure. It is outside the jurisdiction of the committee to go much further than that. The issue is of such political and social importance that it is unwise to leave it at large for the Minister or Secretary of State to deal with in regulations at some future stage, if so minded, because the necessary order will be dealt with relatively briefly at a late stage in the proceedings of the House.
I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that the clause is permissive and not obligatory. However, it is a time bomb. I reinforce what my noble friend Lord Cranborne said. As the debate has shown, immense importance is attached to the emblem, primarily by those who bear it, those who have borne it and those who are related to those who have borne it, but also more widely than that.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, picked up on the comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Blood, that many people had not noticed the badge. It is one thing not to notice something while it is there; it is very different when the proposal is to take it away.
Surely it is sensible that the badge should represent the place in which it exercises that authority. What could be more appropriate than the harp and the shamrock for the reasons mentioned already by the noble Viscount, Lord Brookebrough? It is that, which embraces so aptly all the principal factors which are germane to the jurisdiction of the police service in Northern Ireland--I use a neutral expression--which is to be taken away. People will ask themselves why that is to be taken away. I am afraid that many people will say that it is because the nationalist community, at whose behest the Government would be doing that, cannot tolerate a symbol which is so all-embracing. They cannot tolerate something which is a symbol of unity. That is extremely harmful and damaging.
I do not know whether or not my noble friend will seek to divide the Committee. But the opportunity of this debate has been extremely welcome because I am certain that it will, at the very least, serve to inform the Secretary of State of the strength of feeling on this and the reasons for that. I wonder how one could possibly fail to put enormous weight on the words of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, with whom, I am proud to say I share in, I think it is, the Irish News today, the cartoon to which he referred. It was particularly accurate in this respect: that he comes out of it much better looking than I do.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, asked why we are debating this in the light of the deregulation committee's report. In a sense that focuses on the nature of the provision which is a process provision. As I indicated to the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, we accept the recommendations of the committee and later this afternoon, we shall bring forward an amendment which will mean that any regulations produced under this provision must be dealt with by affirmative order so there will be a debate in both Houses of Parliament on any regulations brought before them by the Secretary of State in relation to emblems.
We recognise the significance and sensitivity of the emblems and have sought to deal with this in a way that recognises the significance of the current emblems for one side of the community but which recognises also, as Patten did, that there are those who do not identify with them. We believe that the best way forward is the way which the Government have proposed; namely, to allow the Secretary of State to regulate the flags and emblems after consulting the various parties, including the new police board, which will be representative of both the wider community and political opinion. There would be real advantage in obtaining the views of the board on that sensitive matter.
The amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, would prejudice the conclusions of the board. It would be much better to proceed by way of consensus, if that were possible. In another place, the Government said, when debating this very amendment, that this amendment makes an assumption about the emblem that should be used by the new police service. Although the Government are not unsympathetic to the view that the new emblem of the police service may not necessarily be free of association with both traditions, and have said so, the proposal restricts the movement of the Secretary of State who wants to consult the board. This provision merely lays out a process which is a sensible process. Therefore, I respectfully ask the noble Lord not to move his amendment.
Lord Glentoran: Before the Minister sits down, I wish to respond in relation to my Amendment No. 199. I thank all Members of the Committee who have taken part in the debate, which has been extremely demonstrative. The noble and learned Lord may not think that it has been useful, but it has been demonstrative.
The point has been made clearly that the hat badge and the emblem are now political subjects. It is the objective of Patten and, I think, the rest of us to set up an apolitical police force and an apolitical board. Therefore, in my view, it must be wrong that this major political problem should be one of the first matters with which the new board must deal.
The Minister says that the Government want more time to negotiate, discuss and consult. I tell the Government that they have until Report stage when we shall return to this matter. At that time, this decision and several others must be taken by the Government. Those decisions must be taken sooner or later. It is for the betterment of Northern Ireland, democracy and the future police force that those decisions are taken as soon as possible. Ideally, I should like to see them taken now. However, this afternoon, I notify the Government that we shall return to this in an equally strong, or stronger, manner on Report. Therefore, I shall not press my amendment.
Clause 54 provides for co-operation between the RUC and the Garda Siochana. Clearly, we are all in favour of that, the more the better. However, it seemed to us that the way in which it is expressed may even limit the co-operation because the Bill provides that the board and the Chief Constable,
We suggest that there should be a duty on the board and the Chief Constable to promote co-operation "wherever practicable". Of course, that means co-operation resulting from agreement between the two governments; but it means a lot more than that.
It means also co-operation between the two forces themselves and, indeed, at the lower levels between the individual units of the various forces. It was my experience, when I had responsibility for security in Northern Ireland, that the co-operation seemed to be better the lower down the scale you went. The station sergeants in police stations either side of the border were much more likely to telephone each other than were the people in the headquarters of the two police forces or--even less likely--the two governments. We had discussions about co-operation and we constantly tried to achieve more co-operation out of the government of the Republic at that point. I am talking about 10 years ago. The work was extremely sticky and difficult, whereas co-operation between the sergeants on day-to-day matters was, as far as I could detect, fairly good. I do not suggest that today co-operation at the top level is not equally good; certainly, it is now much better than at the time of which I speak. We believe that such co-operation should take place extremely widely.
Chapter 18 of the report of the Patten commission deals with co-operation and makes several sensible recommendations about how it can be improved, for example that there should be more joint planning, joint exercises and that kind of thing, protocols between the two police forces and agreements between the two governments. We seek to widen the clause so that the board and the Chief Constable are under an obligation to promote, wherever practicable, co-operation on policing matters between the RUC and the Garda Siochana. I beg to move.
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