Police (Northern Ireland) Bill

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

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Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip 7:30 pm, 8th November 2000

My Lords, the amendment raises the question of applying international human rights standards to the police. I concede that we have come a little further in identifying which instruments we are talking about. For that I am grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell.

However, to give one example, the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials refers to dozens of other international instruments. None of the three instruments specified in the amendment has been formally ratified by the UK or is legally binding in international law in the same way as is a treaty. The documents are aspirational statements. It is difficult to require in statute that the police should comply with them. It would also be difficult to identify the exact text of the instruments, because they are subject to change from time to time. We are still in doubt about exactly what standards the police are being asked to adhere to. That cannot be right.

Any particular issue in these or other instruments that could help to inform the standards that police officers should strive to achieve should be made explicit. I hope that I can reassure my noble and learned friend that we are confident that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission will comment on the issue during consultation on the code of ethics. We cannot accept the statutory application of aspirational standards for the police rather than clearly defined ones.

We all agree on the need for very high standards to be drawn fairly and clearly to the attention of those who are asked to live up to them. This debate is about the best means of achieving that. I hope that I have been able to reassure my noble friend that we are at one in that cause and that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.