Police (Northern Ireland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:45 pm on 8th November 2000.

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Photo of Lord Archer of Sandwell Lord Archer of Sandwell Labour 8:45 pm, 8th November 2000

My Lords, these debates have become a constructive dialogue between the Government Front Bench and the various sections of the House. I hope that that process will not be interrupted at this point.

Clause 38 prescribes the oath which every officer will be required to take on appointment. It sets out the standards which we would expect from a good and conscientious officer and it is confidently to be hoped that the police in Northern Ireland would accord us no less. The question then arises: why is it only to be new recruits who are to take the new oath? Surely the Bill is intended to represent a new beginning for everyone. That is what the Belfast agreement was about. So why not a new beginning for existing officers? Surely every member of the force would be happy to pledge himself to observe those standards. That is what the Patten commission recommended. In paragraph 4.7 the report emphasised the importance of human rights as the very purpose of policing. It then formulated the oath, which the Government have adopted in the Bill, and introduced it as,

"a new oath to be taken individually by all new and existing"--

I emphasise "and existing"--

"police officers".

Then, in paragraph 15.15, after emphasising that, to whatever other organisation an officer may belong, his primary loyalty should be to the police service, it states:

"The new oath we have recommended (in paragraph 4.7) is drafted with this point in mind. All officers"--

I emphasise again, "all officers"--

"should in our view swear to 'accord equal respect to all individuals and to their traditions and beliefs'. This undertaking should have precedence over any other oaths or qualifications associated with other organisations to which an officer may belong".

That is what was said by the Patten commission. It is not clear for what reason Patten's "new and existing officers" and "all officers" have now become only "new officers". The change is likely to be seen as part of a process of whittling down Patten, and that is hardly likely to inspire confidence in the new beginning.

I should like to ask my noble and learned friend who, if anyone, objects to taking the new oath? If the answer is "no one", why not enact accordingly? I beg to move.