Police (Northern Ireland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:30 pm on 8th November 2000.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Archer of Sandwell Lord Archer of Sandwell Labour 7:30 pm, 8th November 2000

My Lords, a theme which ran consistently through the previous debate and through all those in Committee on the Bill was that we need a force, which is now being created--perhaps, more accurately, recreated--to be representative in its membership of all the people of Northern Ireland and in particular of both historic and cultural traditions. It should be a force which a nationalist can join without diminishing his credentials as a nationalist.

Throughout the previous debate and all those in Committee, noble Lords have expressed regret at the discouragement encountered by young nationalists who desire to enlist in the police. I share that regret. But those of us who wish the peace process well have two alternatives. We can regret it, leave it there, declare that the issue is insoluble and walk away. Alternatively, we can try so far as can be achieved to encourage the nationalist community--not the paramilitaries, as my noble friend Lord Dubs pointed out--in the belief that the force really is dedicated to justice without discrimination. Anything which will reinforce that confidence can only be of benefit to recruitment and to the peace process.

My noble friend on the Front Bench will remember that in Committee I moved amendments to Clause 3 to add to the board's obligations a requirement to ensure that the police comply not only with the Human Rights Act but also with international human rights obligations. My noble friend replied that the number of human rights obligations which exist as actual or potential obligations in international law are so legion that it would be impossible to monitor them all in any meaningful way.

Whether or not we have a listening Government, we have a listening Back Bench. Therefore, I have modified the suggestion which I ventured to make in Committee. I now suggest that there might be three specific international instruments, each specifying particular obligations and all of which, I hope, create standards which the Government would wish to see achieved and monitored. I am grateful to the Northern Ireland Commission on Human Rights, the Equality Commission and the Northern Ireland Committee on the Administration of Justice for the assistance they have given me with this theme and the measure of assurance they have been able to give me that it really would make a difference to the feeling in the nationalist community that it would be appropriate to enlist.

The United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms and the Council of Europe Declaration on the Police consist of clear and specific recommendations. I do not believe that there is anything in any of them which we would not all wish our police to observe. If they were included in the Bill, I believe that it would achieve two things. First, I believe that any police officer of whatever rank would approve of all those recommendations if asked. But the problem is not when someone asks his opinion; it is when the pressures are on, when the situation is an emergency and when the chips are down that the test arises. It is then that words which they have been required to learn and note as part of their reading and training will register in what they do.

Secondly, if hearts and minds are to be won for the process of supporting the police and persuading their sons and nephews to enlist, this amendment would send a message which might help in the winning. I beg to move.