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Police (Northern Ireland) Bill

Volume 591: debated on Monday 22 June 1998

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3.6 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 24 [ Attestation of constables]:

Leave out Clause 24.

The noble Lord said: My Lords with the leave of the House, perhaps I may speak at the same time to Amendment No. 5 which is consequential. If agreed to, the effect of this pair of amendments would be to retain the existing loyal oath for recruits to the RUC for the time being. Perhaps I may take a moment to set the scene. As the explanatory and financial memorandum reminds us, the Bill was conceived by the Labour Party in opposition. But no opposition party, however thorough its researches, can have access to all the facts as they evolve in the way that a government do. More importantly, events have developed at an astonishing pace.

Eighteen months ago no one could have foreseen the Good Friday deal or the appointment of the Patten Commission. What might have seemed desirable then may look very different today. Much of the Bill is fairly non-controversial. Few could seriously object to the idea of a police ombudsman, for example. But no matter what the police authority may say, altering the oath is a very different matter and not strictly integral to the Bill.

The senior ranks of the RUC appear to feel that publicly they must go along with the establishment view, whatever their private feelings may be. My information is that the far more numerous junior ranks are most unhappy about the position, as indeed they are with prisoner release and many other aspects of the "peace process". In the Financial Times of 2nd June—by no means a pro-unionist newspaper; if anything somewhat the reverse—its correspondent Jimmy Burns reported that the Royal Ulster Constabulary faced an uncertain future following the Good Friday peace agreement. He highlighted the Ulster Police Federation's's deep distrust of the Government's stance on police reform, and added:

"To many RUC officers, the very word reform smacks of ungratefulness if not betrayal. 'We are the cement that held the province together in the Troubles' [the federation spokesman said] 'and suddenly we're told that we are the problem'".

It is in that context that Clause 24 and Schedule 2 must be viewed.

A number of dishonest commentators claim that the reason for the disproportionately small percentage of Catholics in the RUC is an anti-Catholic bias in the force. That claim is all too readily swallowed by a gullible mainland public. The real reason, as most of us in this House know and as the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, pointed out so forcefully and tellingly on Second Reading, is that Catholic officers are even more vulnerable to assassination by the IRA or the INLA than are their Protestant fellow officers. Remove that threat and Catholic enlistments will rise, perhaps quite sharply.

There is no inherent incompatibility between Irish Roman Catholicism and loyalty to the Crown. I knew a distinguished officer in the Royal Air Force, a charming, interesting and very able man, who happened to be a Catholic from Dungannon. The one thing which marred enjoyment of his career was that he could not visit his elderly and infirm mother in Dungannon because the IRA had threatened to try to kill him if he set foot in the town. How insulting to such a man, and there are many thousands like him, to suggest that Roman Catholics cannot reasonably be expected to be loyal to the Crown.

Perhaps it will be claimed that the revised oath is necessary to attract nationalists as distinct from Roman Catholics. Yet members of the SDLP, such as John Hume and Seamus Mallon, who after all represent the majority of nationalists, are content to take the oath upon entering the House of Commons. It may also be an attempt to justify the proposed change on the ground that the police in Scotland make a broadly similar attestation, yet the Scots form only about 8½ per cent. of the population of the United Kingdom.

A comparison with the Republic of Ireland is far more relevant given the push towards cross-border harmonisation and the fact that "parity of esteem" is the buzz phrase of the moment. Presumably, parity of esteem means the unionists in the south being treated with the same respect and consideration as nationalists in the north. Is the oath taken by those joining the Garda in the south purged of patriotic sentiment so as to avoid offending the tiny handful of unionists still living there who may wish to join? Not a bit of it. I shall read a condensed version of the rather long oath taken in the Republic:

"I … do solemnly and sincerely before God declare and affirm, and my word and honour pledge … that I will render good and true service and obedience to Ireland and its constitution and government as by law established … and that I will prevent to the best of my power all the offences against the same".

That is stirring patriotic stuff. And why on earth not? Unionists in the south accept it.

Questions relating to recruitment and to the culture, ethos and symbols of the RUC are matters for the Patten Commission to advise upon. The commission could recommend maintenance of the status quo. Or it could recommend that the oath should be altered, possibly in the form suggested in Schedule 2. If that were to happen it would be sad—but far better and far less demoralising to the rank and file of the RUC that it should come about as part and parcel of one final comprehensive package deal rather than as yet one more capitulation in the seemingly never-ending war of attrition: death by a thousand cuts.

Perhaps I may suggest a possible compromise. If the Minister will agree to an amendment on Third Reading to postpone the coming into operation of Clause 24 and Schedule 2 for 12 months, or until the Patten Commission has reported—whichever may be the sooner—I shall be glad to withdraw the amendment. The commission may recommend the status quo, in which case Schedule 2 could remain in limbo indefinitely. It may recommend a third, middle way for which there could be swift legislation. Alternatively, it may recommend acceptance of the wording proposed in Schedule 2, in which case it could be brought into operation immediately and without delay. With that offer, I beg to move.

3.15 p.m.

My Lords, I am happy to support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Monson. The thrust of the Good Friday agreement was harmonisation between Northern Ireland on the one hand and the Irish Republic on the other. For understandable reasons, the wordsmiths were anxious to avoid specifics in many key areas and this is one. One would not have expected the two governments to reveal to the innocent the formula of November 1997 at which the wordsmiths were required to work—and I quote as I have in your Lordships' House many times:

"While it would not be possible to grant the demands of Mr. Adams, we shall provide the mechanism to deliver them".
That provides us all with food for thought.

The undertaking was established in full in the Good Friday agreement. The 71 per cent. endorsement was obtained in the referendum by a mixture of crude threats from some quarters and naked pressure from others. There was also a degree of manipulation of the news industry on a scale which sometimes made Dr. Goebbels look like a blundering amateur.

The torture is being repeated in advance of Thursday's assembly elections to ensure that the above-mentioned mechanism—namely, the promised conveyor belt—is set in motion as soon as possible thereafter. To some extent, the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill preceded formal approval of the agreement. It was then presented as a "confidence building measure"—wonderful words—not specifying whose confidence. Being interpreted, it means "increasing the confidence of terrorists and eroding the confidence of the law-abiding citizens of Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom in general".

As the text of the Bill stands, it is outdated by the Good Friday agreement which, by means of the conveyor belt, seeks to press forward measures to secure harmonisation over many areas. But the Bill before your Lordships, in Clause 24 and Schedule 2, creates a yawning gap between the declaration required of the police in the Irish Republic, quoted by my noble friend Lord Monson, and, in the case of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, a mere affirmation to "discharge duties", which is not very different from the promise made by the Sainsbury recruit when interviewed for a job on the check-out.

The Garda recruit will not be enlisted unless and until he has declared before God that he will render good and true service and obedience to Ireland, and to its constitution, and to its government. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, asked what is wrong with that. I am not certain that many Members on the Benches to my left would in former times have pledged allegiance to the government which existed for some 18 years. Not only is the constitution by law established, but also the government. That is an intolerable demand to make of any policeman in any nation anywhere.

I find it curious that nowhere in the negotiations leading up to the so-called Good Friday agreement did any Dublin police federation draw attention to the inferior position in which the Irish police now find themselves. We are told that the convoluted text of the Good Friday agreement is sacred, even more so than the Dead Sea Scrolls, and that not even a word can be changed by either Prime Minister. I acknowledge that your Lordships' House cannot legislate to relieve such an imposition on the Irish police as our jurisdiction does not extend that far. However, Clause 75 of the Bill provides for implementation on different days for different purposes. Would it be possible to obtain an undertaking that Clause 24 shall not be implemented until the Government of the Irish Republic have had a reasonable opportunity to modernise their laws, and thus build confidence within the Irish police security forces?

My Lords, I strongly support the amendment. The notes to the Bill made it clear, as I pointed out on Second Reading (at col. 1362 of Hansard), that the amended form of the oath was put forward for no other reason than that it goes some way to "meeting nationalist concerns". That is not the same as addressing a perceived problem for Catholics wishing to join the RUC. Those few brave men and women who have done so—few because to do so means putting at risk their lives and those of their families, not only during their service but for ever—had no problem with swearing allegiance to the Crown any more than Catholics did in the Armed Forces or in the UK Parliament, because this is above party.

The only people with a problem are Sinn Fein/IRA. Once again, the Government are putting the perceived wish of a militant minority above that of the majority. The majority of people in Northern Ireland do not vote Sinn Fein/IRA and wish to remain part of the UK. I should dare to guess that if a poll were taken in the RUC, an overwhelming number would wish to keep the present form of affirmation and that they would have the support of the vast majority of ordinary people, Catholic and Protestant.

To put this change through, tucked away in Schedule 2 is one more signal that the Government are more interested in, at worst, pleasing the IRA and, at best, in pandering to a general media view that the Queen, the National Anthem and the sinister word "Royal" are not part of Cool Britannia and can easily be discarded. But I do not believe that that is the view of most ordinary people in Northern Ireland. That is not what they think of the Crown. They value the connection and it means a great deal to them. It is arguable that the RUC's commitment to the Crown and all it stands for, above party, has been a decisive factor in their will to continue to serve.

Do the Government really wish to make a move which is likely to demoralise and anger so many serving officers, let alone those who are in retirement because of injuries sustained in the line of duty? They all have families and the families have votes. This is a time to reassure the majority who want peace but who also want their point of view to be listened to and respected.

I hope that the Government will recognise that to retain the existing oath will send an important message to the majority and will not discourage anyone but Sinn Fein/IRA. No one will grieve for the new formula and I hope very much that the Minister will feel able to accept the proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Monson; namely, that at least a decision might be deferred until the Patten Commission has reported and until it has been possible to see this matter in a proper light, away from the pressures of the coming election.

My Lords, I am so often in agreement with the noble Baroness that it is disorienting for me to disagree with her, as I must do this afternoon. However, I do not support the amendment and I should like to explain briefly why that is so.

It is extremely difficult for us to be discussing the Bill at this particular juncture. The Patten Commission has only just been established and it is obviously crucial that the morale of the RUC, which has borne so much of the heat of the day in Northern Ireland, should be sustained. Nevertheless, this new oath, as contemplated, is not difficult for new members, new constables, to make. It is straightforward.

By contrast, the amendment seeks to say that there is something special about the form of the present oath. That dates back a long way, in fact to the Constabulary (Ireland) Act 1836. Although I can see that in this House we may be particularly watchful of tradition, it is worth noting that the oath which is made on the mainland by MPs, justices of the peace and constables has been revised during the past 160 years. Therefore, there does not seem to be any intrinsic reason why the equivalent oath in Northern Ireland should be immune to change.

However, the crucial reason for rejecting this amendment is, of course, the Good Friday agreement, which was mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Monson, and Lord Molyneaux. That agreement states that the participants,
"believe that this agreement offers a unique opportunity to bring about a new political dispensation which will recognise the full and equal legitimacy and worth of the identities, sense of allegiance and ethos of all sections of the community in Northern Ireland".
It goes on:
"They consider that this opportunity should inform and underpin the development of a police service representative in terms of the make-up of the community as a whole".
Therefore, the Good Friday agreement makes it plain that the police service must be reformed to accommodate the allegiances, identities and ethoses which were not represented—it is no good pretending that they were—by the 1836 oath. The current drafting of the Bill is entirely in line with both the letter and sprit of the Good Friday agreement. That is why I trust that the amendment will be rejected by your Lordships' House.

My Lords, there is one point about which I am concerned. I notice that, under this Bill, the RUC will be covered by equal opportunities legislation which was not the case before.

I believe that the present oath is fairly inadequate. When you join a serious service, which the Royal Ulster Constabulary is, it should be a serious ceremony. The two lines which constitute the present oath are fairly weak. However, I should be concerned if a person could be found to do something illegal under equal opportunities legislation if that person were part of an organisation in Northern Ireland whose rules require that, to be a member of it, you must take an oath to the Queen, to our Kingdom.

My Lords, is there anything to prevent this Bill as it stands being examined by the Patten Commission when it is established? If the Patten Commission wishes to examine this Bill, or if anyone wishes to draw it to the attention of the commission, that can be done. The Bill had a tremendous number of changes and amendments made to it in another place.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Blease, may have been looking forward to Amendment No. 4 in suggesting that the whole Bill should be left for consideration by the Patten Commission and not implemented until afterwards, but it is a shrewd point.

However, the purpose of this amendment is more limited. It is concerned solely with the change to the oath to be taken by the new members of the RUC. It seems to me that this is a particular example of pre-empting Patten in the name of modernisation, as far as I can detect. The terms of reference of the Patten Commission on policing for Northern Ireland include specifically the composition, recruitment, training, culture, ethos and symbols of the police in Northern Ireland. The commission is asked to look specifically at those aspects, and the oath is obviously a major part of that process.

Therefore, I believe that this pre-empts Patten in the name of modernisation. The present oath has survived since 1836, so it does not seem to me that there need be any particular hurry to change it when the Patten Commission is to report within 12 months or so. In any event, this Bill will not come into effect for quite a period within that year.

Every change these days is recommended with the single word "modernisation". We hear that all the time. The Government wish to modernise everything and sometimes no other argument is thought necessary. In the particular case of the RUC oath, the two Ministers in the different Houses used almost identical paragraphs on Second Reading to recommend the change. Both of them said that the new oath was "broadly similar" to that in use in Scotland. It is not precisely the same, but it is broadly similar. The Notes on Clauses state that it is copied from the Scottish oath and that ought to recommend it to the unionist community. It is true that the words used in both Houses were not precisely identical because the Minister changed the order of the words in one sentence, apparently to avoid ending the sentence with a preposition. It occurred to me this morning that the Lords Hansard writers may have tidied up the English so as not to record a Member of your Lordships' House speaking bad English, but perhaps that is an unworthy thought!

More significantly, the Minister omitted the last sentence used by Mr. Ingram, the Minister in another place. That was the sentence in which he implied—although he did not exactly say it—that the change of the oath would encourage nationalist members of the community to join the RUC. I do not believe that argument stands up to examination, as the noble Lord, Lord Monson, said in moving the amendment, and as the noble Baroness said a few minutes ago. I think the Minister was quite right not to pursue that argument in this House and to leave out that sentence on Second Reading.

The noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, spoke of the importance of the morale of the RUC. I believe that morale is extremely important to the future of the agreement and to the future of Northern Ireland. Even if the agreement proceeds in the smoothest possible way, the high morale of the RUC will remain essential to future peace in the Province. This is, of course, a confidence-damaging measure as regards the RUC. I believe it is seen as such by many people who support the RUC, as well as by many members of the RUC itself.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, drew a comparison with the Garda oath, which was expanded later by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux. It is interesting to consider the Garda oath, although I do not think we should consider that the practice in the Republic in that regard should be followed in the north. We all know that the Garda oath reflects the greater political control that is exerted over the police in the Republic of Ireland than is exerted, or should be exerted, in any part of the United Kingdom. There is a different philosophy as regards the policing of the two different countries.

Many noble Lords and others have emphasised my next point on numerous occasions. We prefer the philosophy of the independence of the chief constable and the independence of the police from the political process. However, the position is not the same in the Republic. I do not necessarily say that either approach is more or less valid. Each country must choose the approach which it thinks best for itself. However, there is no doubt about the approach of the United Kingdom. I, for one, believe that it is the correct approach.

3.30 p.m.

My Lords, the effect of Amendment No. 1 would be to remove the requirement that every member of the police force be attested as a constable on appointment. I am somewhat surprised that the noble Lords, Lord Monson and Lord Molyneaux, would wish to proceed in this way. It is the established practice, not only in the UK but in many parts of the world, that every member of the police force be attested as a constable on appointment.

The office of constable is of ancient origins. The hallmark of the present day constable remains, as in previous centuries, his attestation. Until he is so attested, by making the appropriate declaration, he or she cannot hold the office of constable. One of the effects of this would be, for example, that RUC officers would not have a constable's power of arrest while off duty. In view of this I invite the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

I turn to Amendment No. 5. I believe we are now getting to the core of the issue. All noble Lords who have taken part in this debate have referred to this amendment, implicitly or explicitly. As noble Lords will be aware, the Bill changes the declaration of office made by RUC constables to a form broadly similar to that used to affirm constables in office in Scotland. This measure is in line with other changes in recent years to oaths or declarations of office throughout the criminal justice system. As noble Lords will know, for example, modernising changes have been made to the oaths taken by jurors and QCs.

Outdated and overly-complex language has been eliminated and clear, simple wording used. The new declaration states,
"I hereby do solemnly and sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of constable".
That is clear, simple wording. The role of the police in Northern Ireland—

My Lords, I hope the Minister will forgive me for interrupting. Does he agree that it could be just as simple and still contain the oath of allegiance to the Crown? That is the issue. We are perfectly happy with an amended and simpler statement; what is missing is the allegiance to the Crown. That is what we want to see put back in.

My Lords, I said that in Scotland—where I believe these arguments have not arisen—the oath is similar to the one that I have read out. I shall deal later with the point that the noble Baroness has mentioned.

The Government have considered this matter carefully and have taken into account the views of, among others, the Police Authority for Northern Ireland. Indeed change was recommended by the Police Authority, the body responsible for putting forward the views of the community in Northern Ireland. The Government believe that the new form of declaration represents a sensible change clarifying what a police officer is undertaking when he or she takes up office.

Before I ask noble Lords to reject the amendment, I shall deal with some of the specific points that were made in the course of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, suggested that implementing this provision might be postponed for 12 months to allow the Patten Commission to consider the matter. In a later amendment we shall discuss the question of an implementation date. I hope that we can deal with the matter then rather than at this point. I believe that the relevant amendment stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux.

Reference has been made to the Sovereign. Other noble Lords have referred to the Garda declaration in the Republic which concerns loyalty to the constitution. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, will not mind my chiding him, but I was surprised when he said that the RUC should adopt the same practices as the Garda. I believe I have quoted him accurately.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. However, I was saying exactly the opposite. We want to allow the Garda time to bring its requirements, affirmation and oath into the 20th century. That is all I am saying.

I am sorry if I misunderstood that. I apologise to the noble Lord. However, I understand that the constitutional relationship of the Garda to the Irish state is not the same as in the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom. The Government want to make the best arrangements for Northern Ireland. It is the interests of Northern Ireland which determine the nature of this provision, as indeed is the case with the whole Bill.

As regards the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, I have already said that I shall discuss the commencement date when we discuss Amendment No. 4. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked about the police being subject to equal opportunities legislation. Currently the RUC is subject to fair employment legislation and equal opportunities legislation. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Blease, asked, why not wait for the findings of the Patten Commission? The Government regard this Bill as a foundation or paving provision. It puts into statute a number of structural changes on which it expects the commission on policing will want to build. It shows that sensible evolutionary change is possible and will produce real benefits within a finite timescale, providing essential reassurance for the community as a whole. These provisions were arrived at after extensive consultation, and there is widespread support for many of them. They include objective-setting, planning processes and complaints. Indeed, the text of the Good Friday agreement and the terms of reference for the independent commission were predicated on the passage of the Bill and its early implementation.

I am checking to see whether any other questions were put to me.

My Lords, while the Minister checks, perhaps I may inquire whether he believes that the reference to Her Majesty the Queen will somehow make a policeman less acceptable to the population. Does the fact that the ombudsman is to be appointed by Her Majesty—a specific provision in the Bill—weaken the acceptability of the Ombudsman?

My Lords, I do not accept that argument at all. As a debating point it is interesting, but in terms of substance I do not for one moment accept it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park, suggested that this provision would somehow appease the IRA. Emphatically, we are not seeking to appease the IRA. We are seeking to achieve good and proper policing in Northern Ireland and to make the changes necessary to bring that about. I hope very much that the noble Baroness exaggerated when she said that there was demoralisation among serving RUC officers. The Government have given RUC officers many assurances. I believe that the RUC understands the changes that are taking place, why they are taking place, and that they are in the interests of the service as a whole. I appreciate the support given by the noble Lord, Lord Holme, when he said that the new oath is straightforward. I believe it has the particular merit of being simple.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, also talked about pre-empting the Patten Commission. I have dealt with the substance of that. Perhaps I may add to my remarks regarding the fact that the reference to Her Majesty in the oath is to be removed. We are seeking to ensure that all members of the community feel able to join the RUC provided that they qualify. The tests are quite stringent. The belief is that by making this change we shall make it easier for some Catholics to join the RUC.

I accept the point made by several noble Lords that the main deterrent to Catholics joining the RUC has been intimidation, threats to their families and their homes. That is deplorable. It must be removed if there is to be any progress in Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, it may still deter some to have the oath that presently exists. The Government believe that the change will make the oath that much more acceptable to people. What we want is an RUC in Northern Ireland which has among it people from all the communities it serves. The RUC has served all communities valiantly and courageously over many years. That is why we are making these proposals. I invite the Committee to reject the amendment.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, Lord Molyneaux and the noble Baroness, Lady Park, for their powerful support. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cope, on the Conservative Front Bench. As he said, the clause and the schedule in question are an example of pre-empting Patten. Why on earth should we be doing that?

I thought that just for once the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, and myself might find ourselves in agreement, but no such luck. The noble Lord said that it was important for the morale of the RUC to be sustained. If you want further to erode the morale of the RUC, Schedule 2 does exactly that. The noble Lord also complained that the oath in Northern Ireland had not been changed since 1836, whereas it had been changed in England and Wales. Very well, why not update the Northern Irish oath to bring it into line with that in England and Wales—a halfway house, so to speak, or less than a halfway house. Why knock out any reference to the monarchy altogether?

The noble Lord also implied that to pass these amendments would be in conflict with the Good Friday agreement. But it is wrong to imply that the Good Friday agreement requires the insertion of these words in the Bill. That is a job for the Patten Commission.

Finally, the noble Lord said that it was very important—

3.45 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. This is a difficult matter. However, will he concede that the essence of the Good Friday agreement is to find forms and institutions which have a legitimacy to which members of both communities can respond, rather than continuing to assert the primacy of the Protestant and unionist tradition?

My Lords, so far as the police are concerned, that is a matter for the Patten Commission. It may take a different view from that taken so far by the Government. It may decide on a different form of oath altogether. I am disappointed that both noble Lords, speaking for the Liberal Democrats and for the Government, seem so concerned to change everything so as to appeal to, and make life easier for, those with strong republican opinions, when there is no attempt south of the border to appeal to the few unionists who remain by making their life easier by changing oaths and so on. But so be it.

The Minister said that if we were to agree to Amendment No. 1, there would be no form of attestation whatever. That surprises me. The RUC is not being formed from scratch; it is already in existence. I should imagine that if Amendment No. 1 were agreed to, the oath would remain as part of the procedure. Perhaps I am wrong. The noble Lord has access to much greater expertise, so I shall have to study that point.

There are many noble Lords in the House but relatively few in the Chamber. Also, as the amendment seems to be defective, I shall to have look into it again. I shall therefore not press the amendment today. However, I reserve the right to return to the matter at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 64 [ Regulations]:

Page 34, line 3, leave out ("shall") and insert ("may").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is suggested that with this amendment we should also discuss Amendment No. 3. The rather interesting Clause 64 under which the Secretary of State may make certain regulations, and particularly subsection (2), under which the Secretary of State is required to make certain other regulations, brings into the debate the dreaded figure of Henry VIII to loom over us.

Amendment No. 2 suggests that the Secretary of State, instead of being obliged to make the regulations set out in subsection (2), should have the power to do so. It is a modest amendment; nevertheless, it seems worth bringing to your Lordships' attention. There are 14 parts to the regulations the Secretary of State is obliged to introduce under subsection (2). I am not sure that that amounts to 14 sets of regulations; certainly, however, there are 14 elements. I am not quite sure by when he would be obliged to bring them in; he is merely obliged to bring them in. Presumably that does not mean by the time of Royal Assent; perhaps the commencement Act will state when. That is odd when applied, for example, to paragraph (e) which states that the Secretary of State shall, by regulation, provide,

"for enabling the Ombudsman to dispense with any requirement",

of the Bill—not every requirement, but "any requirement". That seems to me to be an extraordinarily wide power.

My Lords, excuse me for interrupting, but the words are,

"any requirement of this Part",
of the Bill.

My Lords, I beg your pardon. Yes, it is "any Part" of the Bill. If that is not what I said, it is what I should have said, and I accept the correction.

If all these sets of regulations are to be required from the Secretary of State, it would have been a good idea if some of them had been put in the primary legislation.

Amendment No. 3 goes particularly to paragraph (1) in subsection (2), which requires the Secretary of State to make regulations so that,
"the Chief Constable shall have power to delegate any functions conferred on him by or by virtue of this Part"
of the Bill—that is, the part dealing with the ombudsman. It seems to me odd that the Secretary of State must make regulations giving the chief constable the power to delegate. There are earlier clauses in the Bill which allow the chief constable to appoint someone to act in his place in various other circumstances. I am interested to know why it is regarded as essential that the Secretary of State should make regulations of this kind at this point and why these powers have not been put into the primary legislation instead of being left to regulations, thus obliging your Lordships' House, apart from anybody else, to consider all these matters again when the various sets of regulations come before us. An enormous number of sets of regulations regarding Northern Ireland flow from the overall structure of legislation in the Province and this Bill provides for an enormous increase in the number of such regulations.

My Lords, I am happy to support the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Cope. His final point referred to the chief constable having power to delegate any functions. With great respect to the chief constable and his immediate subordinates, I believe that that is a provision that we ought to look at very closely. There are circumstances in which such a power could be undesirable. I am not thinking in this regard of any given chief constable or any given subordinate, but my experience in dealing with chief constables over decades, more latterly as a Privy Counsellor, has given me an insight into functions which are not apparent to the general public. There is, for example, the relationship with the Secretary of State and the minister responsible for security in the Northern Ireland Office. I imagine that that would not be the kind of situation that one would expect in the case of the Metropolitan Police.

To some extent, when faced with a crisis—and I have been at least on the fringes of many of them—the chief constable, the Secretary of State and the minister for security work as a kind of trio. Given their overlapping powers, I do not see how it could be otherwise. The Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is in a real sense the chief security adviser to the Secretary of State. He has to a great extent—and the House may be a little alarmed by this news, although it should have been apparent—a degree of jurisdiction over the Army, which does not come under the Northern Ireland Office. Again, I am not thinking of personalities, but I take the view that it would be unwise to regard this situation as comparable to that of a fairly minor constabulary anywhere else in Great Britain. We are dealing with a key appointment. The chief constable rightly has access to state secrets and is in close co-operation with the elected Secretary of State and the elected minister for security. We should consider carefully whether we want those onerous duties to be shared with a subordinate of the chief constable.

My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy for Amendment No. 2 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, to substitute "shall" in line 3 on page 34 with "may". I shall listen closely to the Minister's response as to why the mandatory verb is essential here.

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and I part company as regards Amendment No. 3 to delete lines 46 and 47. I think I may agree with the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, on this point, although I am not sure that I am clear about the final line of his argument. These are onerous responsibilities, whether they are mandatory or conditional. I think that, as a matter of practical administrative procedure, it is unlikely that, should the Secretary of State need to make these regulations, he would not want the chief constable to have power to delegate some of the functions conferred on him.

My Lords, before I deal with Amendments Nos. 2 and 3, I should like to correct an error I made in dealing with Clause 64(2)(e) in Committee. Hansard was accurate and I was not.

Clause 64(2)(e) states that the Secretary of State shall by regulations provide,
"for enabling the Ombudsman to dispense with any requirement of this Part".
It replicates Article 19(2)(e) of the Police (Northern Ireland) Order 1987.

In Committee I said that it would enable the ombudsman to ask the Secretary of State to remove a provision if it was not working well or was particularly onerous. That is not, I am afraid, entirely accurate. The subsection is targeted at the Secretary of State regulating to enable dispensation by the ombudsman from the full rigours of the part of the Bill. It would not be used to remove a whole provision.

It may be helpful if I give your Lordships an example under the existing legislation. The example will undoubtedly be repeated in regulations under the Bill. Under Regulation 17 of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (Complaints etc) Regulations 1988 the commission may, if requested to do so by the appropriate authority (which means the chief constable or police authority),
"dispense with the requirements mentioned in paragraph (1)".
In other words, where a complaint is anonymous, repetitious or vexatious, or it is not reasonably practicable to complete the investigation of a complaint, then the commission, on application by the appropriate authority, can decide that the requirements of the order should be dispensed with. The investigation would be curtailed. Obviously this makes sense. The provision would apply, for example, if a complainant made the same allegation several times or failed to provide any evidence to back up the complaint. The ombudsman may conclude in these circumstances that there is no purpose in a full investigation. The regulation-making power is, therefore, necessary, and has been used in the past. I apologise to noble Lords for not describing its purpose accurately in Committee.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, has tabled two amendments to Clause 64. First, he seeks to substitute "may" for "shall" in Clause 64(2). The effect of this would be to make it purely discretionary for the Secretary of State to make regulations for the procedures to be followed by the ombudsman when dealing with a complaint. However, the whole ombudsman system would not work unless regulations of the type listed in Clause 64(2) are made. It must be a duty on the Secretary of State to provide regulations for the handling of complaints, informal resolution, and so on. Indeed, the current formulation is the same as that in the Police (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 for the Independent Commission for Police Complaints and that in the Police Act 1996 for the Police Complaints Authority. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

I now turn to the second amendment, which seeks to delete the provision in Clause 64(2)(1) allowing the chief constable to delegate his functions under this Part of the Bill to another senior officer. I mentioned this point in Committee. This provision is necessary, as otherwise the Chief Constable would have to do everything personally. It is not a new provision. It is seen in Article 19 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 and Section 81 of the Police Act 1996.

The power has been used in regulations deriving from the 1987 Police (Northern Ireland) Order. The RUC (Complaints, etc) Regulations 1988 provide that the Chief Constable may delegate the provisions in Articles 4 to 14 of that order, which relate to the handling and investigation of complaints and disciplinary proceedings to the deputy chief constable or an assistant chief constable. The regulations also provide that the chief constable may delegate all or any of his functions or duties in relation to the informal resolution of complaints to a member of at least the rank of chief inspector.

Perhaps I may turn briefly to the specific points made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. He asked whether we need 14 sets of regulations. We do not believe that we do. But it is envisaged that there will be a number of regulations covering the framework for dealing with complaints. That is a similar arrangement to the existing one found under the Police (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 for the Independent Commission for Police Complaints. The regulations will commence when that part of the Bill commences.

The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, suggested that it may be undesirable for a chief constable to delegate. But the power is for the Secretary of State to make regulations on complaints issues. The examples I mentioned show the limited extent of the delegation that we intend. I am sure your Lordships will agree that the regulation-making power serves an important purpose and I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

4 p.m.

My Lord, before my noble friend sits down, I apologise for not even whispering notice that I would make this point. However, the House did not know that he would give that explanation of the meaning of one of these provisions when he gave his explanation in Committee.

Am I not right in thinking that some consideration ought to be given to the wording of paragraph (e) of Clause 64, which states that the Secretary of State shall provide regulations,
"for enabling the Ombudsmen to dispense with any requirement of this Part"?
The argument that my noble friend worthily put forward relates to paragraph (1), which says that,
"the Chief Constable shall have power to delegate any functions conferred on him by or by virtue of this Part".
Would it not be perfectly proper for the ombudsman to say that he can dispense with that requirement because it is a "requirement of this Part" of the Bill? Perhaps the Minister will look at that point between now and Third Reading.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for raising that matter. I shall look into it rather than give an answer today.

My Lords, the Minister was kind enough to correct one error that he made in the course of the Grand Committee proceedings. As a matter of fact, there was another to which I should perhaps draw his attention. It appears in Hansard of 8th June at col. 31 and relates to the fact that the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee considered the regulation-making powers in this Bill and reported that it was content, save for one small point in relation to Clause 64(2). In fact, it was in relation to Schedule l paragraph 2(2). That was the power which was criticised, though not very strongly. That is why I did not pursue it.

The Minister said a few minutes ago that he was referring to Clause 64(2)(1); I believe he meant Clause 64(2)(1). It is difficult to see in print the difference between a small "1" and a large "1". For the sake of those who might read our proceedings I should like to correct that.

Having said that, I am not entirely happy about the vast amount of matters which have been left to regulation in the Bill. That is part of an undesirable tendency which I endeavoured—not very successfully—to combat while a Minister in the other place. Nevertheless, I do not wish to press the amendments at this point and beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 2.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

Clause 75 [ Commencement]:

Leave out Clause 75.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 4, which seeks to delete Clause 75, is a probing amendment. It provides an opportunity for your Lordships to examine the relationship between the provisions of the Bill and the Patten Commission.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, drew attention to what appeared to be a never-ending stream of reports. We would be doing much to stabilise the situation if we could guarantee a kind of closed season for some years, to allow already approved changes in legislation to become established before we pull up the plant yet again to see how the roots are getting on.

I take the view that there is adequate provision in the Bill to authorise reporting arrangements without overlaying them with yet another layer in the form of the Patten Commission. I sometimes wonder what would have been the reaction of Londoners in September 1940—the climax of the Battle of Britain—if Churchill had established a commission to examine the structures, methods and attitudes of Fighter Command and to take account of the sensitivities of the Luftwaffe bomber crews. Such a proposal may well have been regarded by residents of the South-East generally as ingratitude for the protection provided by the few in those critical months.

In Committee I expressed reservations about the two sets of inquiries proceeding in tandem. The present Police (Northern Ireland) Bill before us is to be implemented as and when the Secretary of State feels it desirable, without at this stage any apparent guidelines as to the timing. While I remain uneasy about the possibility of the Patten Commission producing proposals for measures which will conflict with this Bill, to some extent I was reassured by the reply of the Minister in Committee to my question as to which of the two—the Patten Commission or the Bill—would carry the greater weight. I welcomed the declaration by the Minister on that occasion that Patten is not empowered to override Parliament. I am grateful for that assurance, as I am sure are other noble Lords. That reply clarifies the relative positions and is therefore helpful to all concerned.

In Committee, the Minister was also good enough to explain that it would not be possible to delay Royal Assent given that Patten would not report for around another year. For the avoidance of uncertainty, perhaps it will be possible to reduce that timetable for Patten—a point which seemed to be misunderstood in the earlier debate. That would give the Irish Government time to modernise their rules, declarations and oaths regarding their security forces. In addition, it may be possible for

the Secretary of State, armed with Clause 75(2) terminology, to

"appoint different days for different purposes and for different provisions",

to ensure that there exists a degree of cross-reference between the mechanisms of this Bill (shortly to be approved by Parliament), and the thrust of the Patten Commission. That may be a useful safety device when the Secretary of State comes to drafting the "principles for policing" as provided for under Clause 37. I beg to move.

My Lords, though I realise that this is only a probing amendment, I fully understand my noble friend's reasons for moving it. As I said when moving Amendment No. 1, it is the steady drip, drip erosion of the ethos of the RUC which is so demoralising. New legislation seems to arise every few months. Something in the Minister's voice when he was replying to Amendment No. 1 suggested that he might look favourably on the idea of postponing the coming into operation of parts of the Bill, in particular, Schedule 2. I hope I am right in that assumption.

If the Government refuse to yield on anything, they will confirm the growing impression that 90 per cent. of the concessions made in Northern Ireland in recent months, together with those in train, are being made by the unionist community, using the term "unionist community" in its broadest sense. Such an imbalance is not a recipe for long-term peace.

My Lords, this Bill turns out to be badly timed. I do not think that is entirely the Government's fault. Indeed, the reasons why it has turned out that way are to some extent to the Government's credit because they flow from the successful agreement reached on Good Friday.

The Bill has been a long time in gestation and has now reached its final stages. But it will not come into effect until next year, and by next summer we shall have a report from the Patten Commission which will go over a great deal of this ground again, judging by the enormously long terms of reference given to the Patten Commission. Those terms of reference include the requirement that its proposals should be designed to ensure that the scope for structured co-operation with the Garda Siochana and other police forces is addressed. I am not sure exactly what "the scope for structured co-operation … is addressed" amounts to, but clearly that is one aspect of it.

At Second Reading in another place the Minister of State said that the Bill might be amended during the course of its passage to allow for any of the effects of the agreement, if an agreement were reached. It is difficult to see that that can be done now unless the coming into effect of the Bill is postponed for a time so as to make sure that we know what the Patten Commission recommends. The Minister seemed to be hinting slightly that the provisions would be brought into effect in different ways. Therefore, I look forward to hearing what he has to say in response to this interesting amendment.

4.15 p.m.

My Lords, the effect of the amendment would be to delete Clause 75 and thus bring the Bill into force immediately on Royal Assent. I think that is contrary to the noble Lord's intention, which is to ask why we are putting forward the Bill at this time. Technically, his amendment is likely to have the opposite result of the one intended.

I am aware of the noble Lord's concerns, which he articulated during our debate in Committee, about implementing the provisions of the Bill in advance of receipt of the findings of the independent commission. Indeed, I recall that he suggested that Royal Assent should be withheld until the Patten Commission had reported. In addressing this concern I cannot overemphasise the importance of the Bill as a clarifying measure. As I have said on a number of occasions in the House, the provisions in the Bill are designed to establish a more efficient, effective, accountable and acceptable police service in Northern Ireland. The Bill contains a number of significant provisions which I believe it would not be proper to delay until the Patten Commission had reported.

Let me remind your Lordships of one or two of those significant provisions. The Bill preserves the operational independence of the chief constable; it preserves and more clearly focuses the role of the police authority; and it introduces new police objective setting and planning mechanisms. In addition, it enables financial responsibility for the day-to-day management of policing to pass to the chief constable from the police authority; it provides for the establishment of a new independent system for investigating complaints against the police; and indeed there are many other important provisions.

I think it would be remiss of the Government not to proceed with the Bill and to give effect to it. After all, we do not know what the Patten Commission will propose and we are liable to delay any changes for a great deal of time because, as the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, said, the Patten Commission will make recommendations. It is likely that to give effect to those, if the Government agreed with the Patten Commission, there would have to be further legislation. That is a quite lengthy process so we would be delaying matters for a long time if we were to go down the path suggested by the noble Lord.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has said that the Bill will be implemented in April 1999. The Patten Commission is to report in the summer of 1999. To convert the Patten Commission's conclusions into legislation, if the Government were so minded to agree with them, means that we would be talking about another year and a half or longer. I believe that that would not be the right way forward. The Secretary of State is very anxious to make proper progress.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, said that 90 per cent. of the Bill's concessions were to nationalists.

My Lords, I am sorry if I did not speak clearly enough for the noble Lord. I was not talking specifically about the Bill; I was talking about the concessions made generally in Northern Ireland over the past few months and those that are in train at the moment.

My Lords, I do not agree that the majority of the concessions have been made to nationalists. I think that concessions have been made fairly even-handedly across both communities. However, I think it would be trespassing on the time of the House this afternoon if I were to be tempted to go down that path and try to elaborate. I think we ought to leave that point for another day.

There was widespread support for the Bill's provisions as it left another place. Its aim is, after all, to provide effective and fair policing for all people in Northern Ireland. I believe that is the right way forward. I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment, particularly as it will not have the effect which he intends it to have.

My Lords, the noble Lord will recollect that in my opening words I said that this was a probing amendment and that we wanted to discover the Government's thinking on this matter. It is very interesting and reassuring that the Secretary of State has given a target date for the implementation of nearly all of the provisions, because at earlier stages there was an implication that it would be a never-ending process and that parts would be introduced from time to time without any coherent plan.

I derived great reassurance from what the Minister appeared to be saying in his final words—I do not want to put words in his mouth—that the Government hope to bring the legislation into effect and have it in place. Then there was something he did not say but I would say. I hope that, that being the case—the will of Parliament having been expressed on these matters and the Bill having been carried through both Houses and receiving Royal Assent—the Patten Commission might respect the will of Parliament and would not lightly embark on changes which would be likely to cut clean across what your Lordships' House and the other place have put in place.

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may say, for the avoidance of doubt, that the Patten Commission has a free hand to decide the best way forward. I would not wish to say anything to, as it were, limit the freedom of the Patten Commission to deal with its terms of reference.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that clarification. However, I should have thought that, your Lordships' House having given the final seal of approval to this legislation, it would not entirely welcome a suggestion from the Patten Commission that it should overturn its previous conclusions just because the commission had produced proposals which ran counter to what we have put in place today. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 2 [ Form of declaration]:

[ Amendment No. 5 not moved.]