Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Glentoran moved Amendment No. 12:

(a) within three months of the passing of this Act make regulations altering the name in the emblem in use by the Royal Ulster Constabulary at the time of the passing of this Act to any new name of the force adopted under this Act; and
(b) make regulations concerning the use of the emblem--").

15 Nov 2000 : Column 305

The noble Lord said: My Lords, once again we come to an amendment which has been debated thoroughly several times in your Lordships' House. However, it concerns a subject that I believe is closely associated with practical, effective policing.

In order to put the matter into context, as I attempted to do on Report, I believe that we need to consider what is happening on the ground. In Northern Ireland is developing probably the most serious situation in the kingdom. According to the Belfast Telegraph of the night of the 13th:

    "Crisis looming as crime rises by 10 per cent".

That followed a report a week earlier which stated:

    "RUC in disarray as levels of sick leave reach peak".

Although I shall not go into them, there are articles which give details supporting both those headlines, as noble Lords would expect.

Why is that important? It is important because the matter should be put into context. As I said previously when debating this subject, it is vital that we have a professional, fit, high-morale police force. The police force needs to have courage. It takes guts and courage to go out on to the streets of Belfast and elsewhere. It requires camaraderie. Everyone in the RUC would certainly welcome more colleagues from the nationalist areas. Interestingly, according to crime statistics, the area with the biggest increase in reported crime is--surprise, surprise--West Belfast. That is an area where people will not join the police force and where it is almost impossible for the police force to go. Therefore, the situation is difficult.

We have agreed that the name of the police force will be changed. However, perhaps even more deeply felt by the members of the force but much less noticed by the population is the matter of hat badges. As has been said before, people are remarkably unaware of them. My noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith telephoned various constabularies in this country to find out about their hat badges. I must tell your Lordships that every police force in this country has the Crown on its hat badge. That has been the case virtually since Peel.

It is hoped that we shall be setting up a new police force based on the present one which is efficient and proficient. Therefore, why do we want to remove that Crown? Northern Ireland, as agreed in the Good Friday/Belfast agreements, is still totally and completely a sovereign part of the United Kingdom. There was nothing in the Good Friday agreement which said or suggested that sovereignty should be fudged, that there should be joint sovereignty or that there should be non-British sovereignty.

I suggest that when the people who serve in that force bravely go out on the streets, they should have the right to know that they are guarding the Queen's peace as members of her sovereign state. That is their authority. The badge gives them that authority and no other will do the same. For years it has been a shared and bipartisan badge with, as I said before, the harp and the shamrock.

15 Nov 2000 : Column 306

I shall not go over the arguments which I have placed before this House and which noble Lords have heard umpteen times over. However, I say simply that this is a police force which operates within the United Kingdom. Why should it be any different? I suggest that the Secretary of State has a dilemma and I have much sympathy for him. In his report, Patten said extremely unwisely that the new police force should have a badge which is basically representative of no one and of nothing. It is vitally important for any regiment or corps to have an insignia to rally round, to have on their flag and to wear on their uniforms, and so on. I believe that Patten made a serious mistake. I beg to move.

Lord Rogan: My Lords, I wish to speak to the amendment in support of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. I, too, support the retention of the cap badge and the insignia of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Some noble Lords and, indeed, some political commentators have stated that it is only a crest. They say that it should not matter what insignia forms the crest of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. However, as anyone who has ever served in or belonged to an organisation well knows, some crests are more important than others.

People have died in the service of the RUC. Others have been cruelly and horribly maimed. The crest has meant enough to the remaining officers to risk death and injury day in and day out throughout the past 30 years. I believe that it still means a lot to the families of the 302 officers who have been murdered in the service of the police in Northern Ireland. The families were justifiably proud of those men and women. And we, as a community, in Ulster are justifiably proud of them. That is the reason why we are fighting so hard to retain the badge and name.

The families of those who were murdered knew and believed that their sons and daughters were defending society and, indeed, keeping Ulster from anarchy. The name was good enough for their sons and daughters to die in the service of all the people of Northern Ireland. The crest is on their headstones in cemeteries the length and breadth of Ulster. Not even the Patten report and this cowardly Government can remove it from there. I support the amendment.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. I do not believe that I need to repeat what I said at earlier stages of the passage of the Bill about the importance of symbols and flags. Noble Lords will have noticed the support from all parts of the House for what the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, said.

Others also agree with the noble Lord about the importance of symbols. Why, otherwise, do commercial organisations spend so much time and money on their own symbols? An enormous amount of publicity has been given to BP-Amoco, which appears to have spent vast quantities of its shareholders' money in trying to get its logo right. There is a reason for that. The symbols attached to an organisation surely embody the traditions and aspirations of that organisation and they matter very much to all those who work in it.

15 Nov 2000 : Column 307

Of course, if it applies to commercial organisations, I suggest that it applies dramatically more to members of organisations which must go out and face the sort of mayhem which the police force in Northern Ireland still has to face. If they are to do that and to show the extraordinary esprit de corps and morale that they have shown over the past 30 years under appallingly difficult circumstances, I suggest that the continuity of the symbol is at least as important now as ever it has been.

Those noble Lords who think that the words "Royal" or "the Crown" will put off anybody whose allegiance is to the Republic of Ireland need only travel to the capital of the Republic of Ireland, where 78 years--if my mathematics is right--have elapsed since independence was declared and 51 years since the Republic left the Commonwealth, to see that the words "Royal" and "the Crown" are not so repugnant to the citizens and government of the Republic as to make them disappear from everyday national life South of the Border.

The second point that I make is a point made by my noble friend Lord Glentoran when he talked about the role of the Crown. I was much reassured that during the course of the debate on another piece of rather curious legislation that the Government are trying to push through at the moment--the Disqualifications Bill--the Minister who was replying for the Government assured me with some vigour that there was absolutely no question that the Province of Northern Ireland would leave the United Kingdom without the majority support of its inhabitants for doing so. Of course, that has been a mantra which governments of both persuasions have reiterated during the course of the entire peace process.

If that is so, then is it not equally so that a part of the United Kingdom, whether or not all of its inhabitants wish to remain part of the United Kingdom, should, for its own institutions, be happy to see the Crown, which is the principal symbol of the United Kingdom, remain part of the badge of the most important law enforcement agency in the Province?

A number of us have felt increasingly on this issue, as well as many others--perhaps our relationship with our great European home may be another case in point--that Ministers are rather prone to maintain that there is no question of what a number of us fear ever happening and that such a suggestion is absurd. That has been true over the entire Northern Irish peace process. We have been assured that the Northern Irish people will remain part of the United Kingdom no matter how much pressure is put on the British Government until those people wish that situation to change.

Yet we are all too well aware that a number--I put it no higher than this--of the actions of the British Government and the agreements they have reached have made it at least apparent, particularly to a number of people who live in the Province, that perhaps there is something of a gap between what is claimed and what actually happens. For example, it is becoming clear that the Republic is developing a fairly

15 Nov 2000 : Column 308

effective veto, first through the Maryfield Secretariat and through other means, on any policy initiative which is taken in Northern Ireland.

If we are to be reassured as much as we should like to be by the efforts of Ministers from that Dispatch Box to give us that reassurance, then keeping the badge of the RUC, or whatever may turn out to be the name of its successor police force--the police force of Northern Ireland, I presume--would be an enormous reassurance, not only to those of us in this Chamber who are worried that there is an extraordinary hollowing-out in the assurances about the Province remaining part of the United Kingdom which the Government give us but, more importantly, to those people who are very much in the majority in the Province.

I believe that the Government have an opportunity to keep a badge which is extremely important to the morale and effectiveness of the new police force because of what it represents. I believe also, in a broader context, that they have an important opportunity to give a wider reassurance, not only to this Chamber but, more importantly, to those who live in the Province that the Government intend to keep their promises and that, under the surface, they are not moving to a condominium or a united Ireland.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Richard: My Lords, this is an important issue. The noble Viscount is quite right to say that symbols are extremely important and this is a very important symbol. Therefore, it is right that the House should vote on the matter, and I hope that it will vote on it fairly soon.

It is right too that we should reach finality in this House on this particular issue. After all, this is about the fifth time that we have had this debate. We had it on Second Reading, quite extensively in Committee and on Report. In my view, it would not be right for us now to go over the same ground, very frequently with the same words uttered by the same people to the same effect. We all know what the issue is and, with great respect, it is more important that the House should now take a decision rather than having another debate.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page