Police (Northern Ireland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:15 pm on 8th November 2000.

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Photo of Lord Smith of Clifton Lord Smith of Clifton Liberal Democrat 9:15 pm, 8th November 2000

My Lords, I support broadly the amendments standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and oppose Amendments Nos. 61A, 63A and 67A. I note that in Committee when discussing the cap badge and emblems of the RUC a number of noble Lords urged their retention. They did so on the grounds that, containing the Crown, harp and shamrock as they do, the existing insignia were neutral, being symbolic of the two communities by reflecting both the British and Irish elements that largely comprise the divided society of Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said with passion,

"it is all the more important to keep the badge and reinforce the continuity between the RUC and the newly named force that the Secretary of State is so keen to maintain".--[Official Report, 25/10/00; col. 349.]

But that is precisely the point: no matter that in the abstract the current badge could be seen to reflect the symbols of both communities, the historical fact is--this is the point Patten made--it was seen, and would continue to be seen, in the Catholic community as representing the past. As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, a new beginning requires a new set of emblems to symbolise that a new start is being made. It is an earnest of real intent. A new logo for a new launch is a commonplace in the worlds of industry, commerce and the voluntary sector, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Laird, would confirm in his professional capacity.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, also said in Committee at col. 349:

"There is no evidence that the badge is a deterrent to Catholic recruitment".

With great respect, that is somewhat disingenuous. Without appropriate market-testing, we do not know that. It may or may not be a deterrent. As I observed earlier this evening, in my time in Northern Ireland I never came across Catholics who would encourage their co-religionists to join the RUC. Certainly some would be fearful of possible intimidation, but there was an overwhelming sense that a job in the RUC was inconceivable given a history, however recently improved, that included the notorious work of the "B" Specials.

And yet almost every noble Lord wants to see a dramatic increase in Catholics working in the new police service. That will only come about if it is actively endorsed by all sections of the Catholic community--the Church, the SDLP and Sinn Fein. That will not be forthcoming unless they see a truly fresh start, and that means a new set of emblems symbolic of that fresh start. More importantly, it would lead to the development of a police service that could go into the existing "no go" areas, currently the fiefdoms of the Mafia that has grown out of the paramilitary organisations, where they would be welcomed by the majority of decent citizens. That must surely be our overriding goal.