HC Deb 27 March 2003 vol 402 cc505-33

'(1) The Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c.32) is amended as set out in subsections (2) to (5).

(2) In section 36 (appointments to the Police Service of Northern Ireland) after subsection (3) (training requirements for persons appointed to rank of constable) insert— (4) Subsection (3) does not apply to a person appointed in pursuance of an authorisation under section 47A(1).

(3) After section 47 insert— 47A Appointments to Police Service of Northern Ireland in special circumstances

  1. (1) The Board may if requested to do so by the Chief Constable authorise the appointment to the rank of constable in the Police Service of Northern Ireland of a specified number of persons—
    1. (a) who have a specified policing skill, but
    2. (b) who have not complied with the requirements in paragraphs (a) and (b) of section 36(3).
  2. (2) The Board shall not give an authorisation under subsection (1) in relation to persons who have a particular policing skill unless it is satisfied—
    1. (a) that the requirements of subsection (3) are met;
    2. (b) that any further requirements which are specified by it under subsection (4) and which apply in relation to the giving of the authorisation are met.
  3. (3) The requirements are—
    1. (a) that there is a need for more persons who have the policing skill to be appointed to the rank of constable in the Police Service of Northern Ireland;
    2. (b) that the need cannot be met by the appointment of persons who have complied with the requirements in paragraphs (a) and (b) of section 36(3).
  4. (4) The Board may specify further requirements which apply in relation to the giving of an authorisation under subsection (1).
  5. (5) Any requirements specified under subsection (4) may apply in relation to the giving of all authorisations under subsection (1) or to the giving of a particular authorisation or description of authorisation.
  6. (6) In this section "specified" means specified by the Board."
(4) In paragraph 17(4) of Schedule 1 (procedure for Board decisions) for "paragraph 18" substitute "paragraphs 17A and 18"

(5) After paragraph 17 of Schedule 1 insert— Authorisations under section 47A(1) 17A The Board shall not give an authorisation under section 47A(1) unless a proposal to do so has been approved by each member of the Board present and voting on the question at a meeting of the Board. (6) The preceding provisions of this section expire at the end of a period of two years starting on the day on which this Act is passed.

(7) The Secretary of State may by order amend subsection (6) by substituting "four years" for "two years".

(8) An order under subsection (7) may be made only with the prior authorisation of the Board.

(9) The Board shall not give an authorisation under subsection (8) unless a proposal to do so has been approved by each member of the Board present and voting on the question at a meeting of the Board.

(10) In paragraph 17(4) of Schedule 1 to the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c. 32) (procedure for Board decisions) after "18" insert "and section [Appointment of constables with special policing skills](9) of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2003".

(l1) An order under subsection (7) may not be made after the end of the period of two years specified in subsection (6).'.

[Jane Kennedy.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Jane Kennedy

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Madam Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment (a), in line 43, leave out 'each member' and insert— 'a majority of the members'. New clause 8—Appointments to the Police Service of Northern Ireland'In the event that—

  1. (a) the Chief Constable is unable to appoint his required number of police trainees or police support staff, or
  2. (b) the number of serving officers is below that intended at the time of consideration
the Secretary of State shall, at the request of a majority of the Police Board and acting on the recommendation of the Chief Constable, make an Order to suspend the provisions of section 46 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c. 32) for a period of six months.'. New clause 12—Encouragement of a representative police service
  1. '(1) Part 6 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c. 32) shall be amended as follows.
  2. (2) In section 44 (recruitment arrangements: trainees and support staff), subsections (5) to (7) shall be omitted.
  3. (3) For section 46, there shall be substituted—
46 A representative police force It shall be the duty of the Chief Constable to take all steps he considers appropriate to secure that the Police Service of Northern Ireland, in its composition, represents the population of Northern Ireland. (4) For section 47(1) (meaning of "temporary provisions"), there shall be substituted— (1) In this section "the temporary provisions" means the provisions of section 45.".'. New clause 20—Period of retention in a pool of qualified applicants'In section 46 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c. 32) (discrimination in appointments) after subsection (1) insert— (1A) Where a person from the pool of qualified applicants is not appointed under section 39 (appointment of police trainees) because—
  1. (a) there are insufficient numbers of qualified applicants from persons who are treated as Roman Catholics; or
  2. (b) there are insufficient numbers of qualified applicants from persons who are not so treated
they shall, subject to their consent, remain within the qualified pool of applicants for a period not exceeding eighteen months".'.
Amendment No. 88, in clause 19, page 12, line 33, after 'person', insert— 'who is a member of the Garda Siochana in the Irish Republic'. Amendment No. 89, in page 12, line 36, at end insert— '(2A) In making such appointments the Chief Constable shall appoint an even number of persons of whom—
  1. (a) one half shall be persons who are treated as Roman Catholic;
  2. (b) one half shall be persons who are not so treated.'.

Jane Kennedy

This is not the first time I have had to deal with a new clause four. On this occasion, however, I shall treat the new clause as though it had been moved formally, in order to allow others who have tabled amendments to speak to those amendments.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford)

We are all grateful to the Minister for giving us a little more time for debate.

The new clauses and amendments deal with the important practical issue of the level of policing in Northern Ireland and the numbers and resources available to the police. As we all know, the Patten report proposed that, in conditions of peaceful normal life—very far from what we have at the moment—the strength of the Police Service of Northern Ireland should be 7,500. The last figures that I saw—the Minister of State will have the latest figures, I am sure—showed that the regular service was down to 6,900, below levels that Patten saw as indispensable in conditions of normality, and at the moment the demands on the police are exceptional.

There is, thank heaven, the full-time reserve. Under pressure from us, the Government agreed to renew its contracts last September. The latest figure for the reserve that I have seen is about 1,900. Even so, at present in Northern Ireland the police are overstretched. There is no doubt about that. Their prime tasks must be the priorities, which are, first, to maintain order and therefore to deal with the rioting and difficulties that we have seen all too frequently in the past year, including in recent months, particularly in Belfast; and, secondly, to deal with organised crime and paramilitarism. We all strongly congratulate the Chief Constable on the arrests that he has been able to make among serious paramilitary organisations, particularly in west and north Belfast over the past few months.

Given the need to prioritise those two objectives, it has not been possible for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, to anything like the extent that is desired—including, I think, by every hon. Member—to engage in what Patten calls community policing but what I prefer to call neighbourhood policing, which is an essential part of getting the Province back to normality. Neighbourhood policing means to my mind the bobby on the beat and policemen and policewomen moving around their communities and addressing the challenge of law and order in an anticipatory way, rather than simply responding to calls and crises.Against that background, for reasons that, I think, are understood in the House but are a matter of great controversy here, the Conservative Opposition have accepted the need for the short temporary period to contribute to the essential task of creating a police service in Northern Ireland that genuinely is felt to be owned by both communities in Northern Ireland equally, to represent both communities equally and to be outside politics, in no sense sectarianised or politicised.

The sad history goes back many decades; I suppose it goes back to the old Royal Irish Constabulary before 1922. The difficulty is getting away from that legacy, the misunderstandings and caricatures of the past that are deeply imprinted, sadly, on many people's minds. It was necessary to take dramatic action. It is not reasonable anyway to have a situation where 90 per cent. of a police force comes from one half of the community, so we have accepted, but very reluctantly and conscious of the fact that in doing so we are overriding some fundamental principles of human rights, that there should be a quota system for recruitment to the police service over a temporary period. That is provided for in section 46, if I recall correctly, of the Mandelson Act—the 2000 Act—which provides that there should be 50 per cent. recruitment of people deemed to be Protestants and 50 per cent. recruitment of those deemed to be Catholic.

The new recruitments started at the beginning of last year. Although the first recruitment drive was rather encouraging and we had quite a lot of Catholic applicants, there have not been many Catholic applicants in subsequent recruitment exercises. Therefore, we find a considerable crisis in the numbers in the PSNI.

There are some people who react. The Unionist Members here, both Ulster Unionist and Democratic Unionist, will I am sure, take that line. They respond to this situation, understandably, by saying that we have to go back on the 50–50 arrangements in section 46, but I do not think, for the reasons that I have just mentioned, that that is a sensible solution, so we must find some other way forward.

Mrs. Iris Robinson

For accuracy, it is not 50 per cent. Catholic, 50 per cent. Protestant, but 50 per cent. Roman Catholic, 50 per cent. "other", which includes all others.

Mr. Davies

I am familiar with the clause and the hon. Lady is right, but I am using shorthand, as is conventional on these occasions. I had to explain to a colleague that part of the absurdity of the situation is that, in Northern Ireland, an atheist or a Jew is regarded as an honorary Protestant for the purposes of section 46.

Lembit Öpik

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not stick to that shorthand, which is offensive to a lot of people who are neither Catholic nor Protestant. As the hon. Lady said, it means 50 per cent. Catholic and 50 per cent. not Catholic, and quite explicitly lumps all other groups together, but does not assume that they are all Protestant.

Mr. Davies

I have just made that point, and the hon. Gentleman and I agree. He is trying to censor my use of language. He is good at intervening on Members of the official Opposition or Ministers, who find themselves subject to his well-intentioned censorship. We are told at times that we cannot use certain words; the Minister of State got into trouble with him for using the word "community". I understand exactly where the hon. Gentleman is coming from.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon)

Since the scheme came into being, there have been 250 non-Catholic applicants and 26 Roman Catholic applicants, so plainly it is not working. Is my hon. Friend aware of any support that the Government are giving to the Chief Constable to overcome this, as the situation is going to get worse?

Mr. Davies

My hon. Friend is right, and the situation is serious. Understandably, and rightly, when the new Police Service of Northern Ireland came into being, generous redundancy arrangements were offered to those with a full service record in the RUC who wished to take advantage of them. Inevitably, a large number did; more or less all those with 30 years of service have done so. Financially, it would have been irrational not to do so. We have faced an exceptional haemorrhage of officers, particularly experienced officers. That is another problem.

To answer my hon. Friend, the Government are trying to do something with new clause 4. The question is whether that is sufficient to solve the problems that he set out. The Ulster Unionist party has proposed new clause 8, which is an alternative way of solving the problem.

New clause 4, at first sight, is entirely unexceptional and welcome. It provides that while the PSNI remains under-strength because of insufficient Catholic recruitment, although theoretically it could be because of insufficient recruitment of Protestants and others, given the provisions of section 46, the Chief Constable should have the right, with the consent of the board, to recruit constables for a two-year period outside the quota system in section 46 of the 2000 Act. The phrasing is something like "the board at the request of the Chief Constable". That would last for two years, and could be renewed for up to a maximum of four years. The unanimous approval of the board would be needed for the Secretary of State to make such a proposal, which would have to be brought before a statutory instrument Committee. That is satisfactory, in that it provides a way of relieving the pressure, and it appears to address the problem. It is also temporary, which we feel very strongly is right. We do not want the 50:50 system to be permanent—it must be temporary—but we do not want it to be set aside definitively, because that would unravel an important part of the peace process.

Many aspects of the clause strike me as entirely favourable and well thought-through, and it is not our intention to oppose it in principle. However, three problems arise from our reading of it, and I ask for the Government's responses to them before we take a definitive decision on this—or, indeed, before we take a decision whether to support new clause 4 or the rival solution, new clause 8, which certainly does not contain the three problems that I am about to mention.

The first problem arises from new section 47A(1)(b) and (3)(b) in new clause 4. The effect of those provisions is to relax the requirement in section 36(3)(a) and (b) of the Mandelson Act that constables should have undergone training. The Act states: A person shall not be appointed to the rank of constable unless he has—

  1. (a) completed such a period of service as a trainee (a "police trainee") as may be prescribed by regulations under section 41(3); and
  2. (b) complied with such other conditions relating to training as may be so prescribed."
It seems dubious to provide for a power—albeit against the background of the pressures and the rationale that I have described—that allows for recruits to come into the Police Service of Northern Ireland who have not met the training provisions. I want to know why the Government are proposing that. Perhaps I am misreading the new clause, in which case we need an explanation and all will be well. But if I am not misreading the effect of the provision in this respect, why do the Government think that it is judicious—or, indeed, acceptable—to provide for the recruitment of people who have not gone through the appropriate training preliminaries?

I can see several reasons why that would be undesirable. The pressures on police constables in Northern Ireland are greater than on those in England, the Republic of Ireland and other normally stable societies. We do not want to recruit people whom we might regard as not quite up to the grade required elsewhere. To dilute standards in that way seems contrary to our objective—which I think we share with the Minister—of doing everything possible to promote the morale and sense of high standards in the new Police Service of Northern Ireland.

It would be particularly undesirable if constables were recruited into the mainstream regular police service without having had the same training as constables in the full-time reserve. Those constables often feel that they are unfairly discriminated against, vis-à-vis regular officers. They have had the same training and perform the same tasks. These days—this might not always have been true—they have very much the same responsibilities. It would therefore be invidious to introduce such a provision, and I would like the Minister to explain the rationale behind this relaxation of the training provisions in the 2000 Act in respect of constables recruited under the new procedure as foreseen in new clause 4.

I must say openly that I am not addicted to conspiracy theories, even when dealing with this Government, with whom we have had differences on their tactics in Northern Ireland. However, when reading the new clause, it occurred to me that it could give rise to certain, no doubt entirely unfounded, suspicions. So as to ensure that they are not only unfounded but, we hope, will not arise at all, I would be grateful for an explicit comment from the Minister on this matter. There could be suspicions that the purpose of this formulation—of allowing the board to approve the recruitment of constables outside the clause 46 framework, and without the training that would otherwise be required—is to allow a massive infusion of republicans to dilute the Police Service overnight. We know that an unacceptable part of republican demands during the peace process—the Government seem to agree that it was unacceptable—has been that the Police Service of Northern Ireland should somehow absorb former paramilitaries. We want to make absolutely certain, however, that in the highly charged climate of Northern Ireland, no suspicion can arise that this provision could turn into such a Trojan horse. [Interruption.] I should like to tell the Minister, if I may have her attention for a moment, that that is the second matter on which I would like an explicit explanation before we take a decision on this important new clause.

The third issue that arises—for us, at least—in looking at this new clause is the provision for unanimity, whereby the board can trigger the Chief Constable's use of these exceptional powers to recruit outside the clause 46 framework only if there is unanimity among board members, or at least among all those members present at the meeting. The relevant provision is new clause 4(5), which would insert into the 2000 Act the following: The Board shall not give an authorisation under section 47A(1) unless a proposal to do so has been approved by each member of the Board present and voting on the question at a meeting of the Board. If there were truly a danger of those who have not met the training requirements, and who are inappropriate for the other reasons that I have mentioned, being allowed into the Police Service of Northern Ireland through the back door—an extremely serious and sinister threat, were it to emerge—it would of course be highly desirable, as a brake and a protection, for just one member of the board to be able to veto the whole process. However, I assume that the Government are about to tell me that my fears are entirely fanciful, that no such abuse or Trojan horse effect could arise, and that the new clause contains sufficient protections—at least, I certainly hope that I will be told that. In the light of that, it makes no sense to provide for unanimity, because doing so gives a veto to any member of the board who may, for whatever reason, not want the Police Service of Northern Ireland to be reinforced, and who may want to use this provision to apply some form of political leverage. They would be able to say, "Whatever the needs of the Chief Constable and of policing in Northern Ireland, I oppose the recruitment of constables outside the 50:50 procedure."

Anything to do with the 50:50 procedure is highly controversial in Northern Ireland—on both sides of the divide. Perhaps the Liberal Democrats do not want to allow me to use the word "divide", but I am afraid that such a divide exists. Like them, I hope that it disappears tomorrow, but for the time being we probably have to use that phrase. It seems self-defeating to include in new clause 4 a provision that will almost certainly ensure that it never takes effect in practical terms. There will probably always be someone who will have some reason or other to veto it. It is very dangerous to allow members of the Policing Board to veto things, because if a single veto can affect such decisions, the pressure from the outside community on members of the board who might be considered potential candidates for exercising such a veto becomes very great.

My problem with the veto leads me to my third question. I should like the hon. Lady to explain the rationale for the veto as fully as she can when she explains the rationale for the new clause. In the meantime, we, as a responsible Opposition—we do not only criticise and find fault but to remedy where we see deficiencies—have come up with our own proposal. Amendment (a) to new clause 4 would delete from it the phrase "each member" and insert a majority of the members". That amendment would mean that what is a sensible arrangement for dealing with an emergency or crisis in numbers in the Police Service of Northern Ireland might be of practical use and is more likely to be effective.

The new clauses and amendments in this group have been selected very rigorously, if I may say so, Madam Deputy Speaker. The fact that they all relate to one another contributes to the coherence of our debate. The next new clause that I wish to speak about is new clause 8, which is the Ulster Unionist party's answer to the same examination question. It is a much better answer than the Government's new clause 4 and avoids the three problems that I mentioned. New clause 8 does not relax the training standards, and provides that a majority on the board is required. We therefore prefer it. If the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) presses for a Division, we shall support her. If new clause 8 becomes part of the legislation, the House will have done a good afternoon's work. The new clause not only avoids some of the perils of the Government's proposal, but has been much more clearly drafted than the somewhat convoluted text of new clause 4.

Moving logically on, again, I come to the new clause proposed by the Democratic Unionist party. It is slightly insidious because it is drafted in such a way that at first reading it might persuade any reasonable man or woman that there was nothing to object to. It seeks to insert into the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 the sentence: It shall be the duty of the Chief Constable to take all steps he considers appropriate to secure that the Police Service of Northern Ireland, in its composition, represents the population of Northern Ireland. I find nothing to quarrel with in that; in fact, I congratulate the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) and his colleagues on avoiding what I am sure the Liberal Democrats would have put in. They would have put in the usual modish mantra of political correctness about ethnic balance, balance for homosexuals, balance for people who are left-handed or have red hair or green eyes, and whatever. New clause 12 offers altogether a better formulation.

Mr. Carmichael

That was pitiful. Go for the Government for once.

Mr. Davies

The hon. Gentleman is less than fair. Had he followed our Northern Ireland debates, he would have seen that I rarely do anything else. However, I hope that I do so constructively. We oppose only when we think that there is a need to oppose. We are happy to support the Government—even on difficult matters, such as the 50:50 arrangements in section 46—when we think that it is right to do so. Of course we oppose when we see the Government making mistakes; and we ask questions, as I have been doing, when we think that there is a possibility of the Government making mistakes in legislation.

Let me return to the main thrust of the DUP's new clause. A second reading of it reveals the sleight of hand. The sentence that I read out is intended to replace the whole of section 46 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, thus removing the 50:50 mechanism. I know that the hon. Member for North Antrim and his hon. Friends have consistently opposed that mechanism. I have said before from the Dispatch Box that there is not only a cogent intellectual argument, but a strong moral argument for opposing any discrimination of that kind. Because a balance must be struck between alternatives—neither of which is ideal—we have concluded that we ought to allow derogation, at least temporarily, from the principle of non-discrimination. That is why we support the 50:50 mechanism. We have taken that decision, so it will come as no surprise to the hon. Member for North Antrim and his hon. Friends that we shall be consistent with that decision today. We are therefore unable to support new clause 12.

Lembit Öpik

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Conservative party was in error to oppose the 50:50 mechanism in the past?

Mr. Davies

I have been asked that question before—I think, by the hon. Member for North Down. It seems extraordinary that I should be asked, by the Liberal Democrats of all people, a question about consistency, a virtue to which I and my right hon. and hon. Friends subscribe. There is an irony in that question.

4.15 pm
Mr. Carmichael

Answer the question.

Mr. Davies

I must be allowed to make that introductory comment, but of course I intend to turn to the question. I have said in the past that this is a very difficult decision. Indeed, I have never mentioned this point without saying that it has been a difficult decision for my party. I quite understand the strong reservations that members of my party have about this matter, and the fact that a different view has been taken in the past.

I speak from the Dispatch Box in support of my right hon. and hon. Friends. The Conservative party feels that we do not live in an ideal world; we live in a world that is never completely ideal, and there is sometimes a conflict between desirable objectives. There is a conflict between principles to which we are attached, and one must have the courage to face up to that honestly and say what one is going to do. One has to prioritise these principles; there must sometimes be a hierarchy of objectives.

We have also taken the view that the need to make a success of the peace process in Northern Ireland and to establish a Police Service in Northern Ireland that, for the first time since partition, if not before, really has a chance of gaining the allegiance of the whole population, is a sufficiently important objective to warrant a derogation, which must be temporary—I have always insisted on the word "temporary"—from the principles to which, in theory and in principle, the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) and I are both attached. I hope that I have dealt with that matter.

I am expecting to be asked that question whenever I speak about policing in Northern Ireland. After all, that is what we are here for: to respond to the concerns of colleagues on both sides of the House. I am perfectly happy to go on answering the same question, but I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman will be disappointed if he finds that in future I give a very different answer.

Lembit Öpik

I understand that the hon. Gentleman wishes to move on, and I think that we have got as full an answer as we are going to get. I asked that question because, at one point, we worked very hard with the Conservatives, together with the Ulster Unionist and Democratic Unionist parties, to oppose the Government's introduction of 50:50. It is more than slightly surprising and disappointing to some of us that the Conservatives seem to have withdrawn on what the hon. Gentleman in his own words described as a principle.

Mr. Davies

I have explained that there are at least two principles at stake. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that, in politics, one often takes a stand on an issue and loses the debate, and the situation moves on. One then has to decide whether to expend one's energies trying to unravel what has been achieved or to address current and future problems. We have taken the latter course, so there is no question of going back and trying to unravel the Mandelson Act. In fact, I have criticised the Government in these debates for trying to unravel the Mandelson Act, and we shall continue to do so. I am putting our focus on opposing making the Mandelson Act a great deal worse by introducing not only the basic Bill, which has some nasty flaws, but the initial new clauses that the Government suddenly decided to table, which were the subject of my remarks yesterday. I spoke at length on these matters yesterday, so I need not remind the House now of our strong feelings on those subjects.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Government may not even be certain of how much support they receive from hon. Members on their own Back Benches? He may not yet have seen a written answer that I received today. The Secretary of State now says that on 23 February, at public expense, he entertained a party of backbench Labour MPs at the Hilton hotel at a total cost to the public purse of £639.35. Is that not—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)

Order. That is a very lengthy intervention.

Mr. Davies

That sounds extremely dubious. I thought that when the Government of the day—the Executive branch—were entertaining the legislature they would always do it on an all-party basis. I hope that my hon. Friend will send a copy of the document that he has just quoted, which is now on the record—we are all grateful to him for putting it on the record—to the Public Accounts Committee.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. May we return to the debate on the new clause in question?

Mr. Davies

Indeed, Madam Deputy Speaker—the more so because I am reaching the key point in my remarks.

New clause 20 is our main and, I think I can fairly say, original contribution to the issue of how to address the problem of police numbers in Northern Ireland at the present time. I would be grateful for the opportunity to discover the House's views on the new clause, so I shall press it to a vote, if I am able to do so, in a few moments' time.

New clause 20 is based on the acceptance of section 46 of the 2000 Act and the 50:50 mechanism, which we have just discussed. It would address not only one of the injustices, but one of the dysfunctions of the present system, which occurs when those from the Protestant or other community—perhaps that is the best way that I can describe it—have passed the tests and met the recruitment standards to be sent to the police training college in Northern Ireland and are told that their names cannot go forward because not enough people in the other category, the Catholic category, have put themselves forward, so they cannot be admitted to a career for which they would qualify.

That is unfortunate from two points of view. It is clearly unfortunate because the Police Service of Northern Ireland loses a potentially good recruit, and it is very unfair and unjust for the individual who is told, "Right, you passed the exam, but you can't have the prize. Indeed, other people who may not have higher marks than you will have the prize." So the question is how to try at least to reduce those anomalies and the sense of unfairness that results.

We propose in new clause 20 that, when any candidate has passed muster, scored the necessary marks and qualified for admission to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, that candidate should not be told, "Sorry, you aren't going to be recruited because you are in the wrong community group. Go away. That's the end of it." Instead, that candidate would be told, "I am sorry, we can't take you on today because of the 50:50 mechanism, but you will go on to a waiting list, or into a pool, and you will go forward as soon as you can." That response is a great deal better.

Mr. Swire

Does my hon. Friend not think that, in the interests of fairness, those who have gone through that process and qualified should be told that they will be given places in the police, perhaps on mainland Britain, in the United Kingdom until such time as the quota changes and they can go back?

Mr. Davies

Of course those people could automatically apply to another police service in the United Kingdom, but the people whom I have in mind will have decided that they want to spend their time, careers and lives in Northern Ireland. There is already a brain drain in many fields from Northern Ireland, which worries those of us who have the interests of Northern Ireland very close to heart, and I would not want there to be a brain drain of potentially able policemen and women. It would not be a totally satisfactory answer to say, "Seek your fortune across the water." What I am trying to do, so far as possible, is encourage people to feel that there is some purpose in staying in the pool, if we create one by virtue of new clause 20, so that they can pass into the Police Service of Northern Ireland as soon as possible.

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South)

Under new clause 20, if the individual were held for 18 months, would he be paid during that period?

Mr. Davies

No, he would not; nor would he have duties to perform. Of course, he could take another job or continue with his existing activity. He would not be a member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, but he would be assured that, as and when a vacancy opened, his name—or her name—would be brought forward automatically, to take advantage of that vacancy without any further formality or the need to pass any further test.

Mr. Beggs


Mr. Davies

Of course I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I do not want to give way too often because we must move on.

Mr. Beggs

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for promoting new clause 20. Does he agree that it is absolutely ridiculous that applicants have been twice into the competition—twice into the pool—and still have not yet got a place?

Mr. Davies

Yes, I do. It is a great shame that the Police Service of Northern Ireland is losing good, potentially enthusiastic and valuable recruits and it is a great shame for individuals who had hoped for a career in the Police Service. They would have passed the test and thus know that they were capable of doing the job, but the door would be slammed in their face.

I have already set out why we must accept the higher need to ensure that we have a successful police service in Northern Ireland. We want to mitigate the sense of injustice and unfairness, and the loss of good human resources to the police. That happens under the present mechanism, which is why we tabled the new clause.

The new clause would also save public money—the Government can tell me how much—because if people pass the test but are not allowed to join the Police Service at that time, they have to take the test all over again. That is demoralising and a waste of time for them, and represents an unnecessary drain on public finances.

I set most store by pressing new clause 20 to a Division, but I should mention our other amendments in the group. Amendment No. 88 would make an assurance given by the Minister of State in Committee explicit in the Bill: that the purpose of clause 19 is to provide the ability to recruit from the Garda Siochana. Clause 19 allows the Chief Constable to recruit a person for three years under a special procedure, but it does not say that he may recruit from the Garda Siochana. We should not be afraid to say that the clause has that purpose, so the provision should be included in the Bill for the sake of transparency and honest government.

We are in favour of recruits from the Garda Siochana joining the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Such people are well qualified and trained. They would be mostly familiar with the situation in Northern Ireland and would be reasonably compatible with the service. In fact, I understand that the pay scale is lower in the Republic of Ireland, so I hope that we might find good recruits from there to address the shortage of policemen.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies

I shall, but it will be the last time.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Given the religious constituency of that police force, how would the hon. Gentleman strike the balance? He told us that he has gone back on what we thought his party believed in: that the rule should not be 50:50. He says that he is now prepared to wear that, but that police force could not provide the number of people to achieve that balance.

Mr. Davies

The hon. Gentleman is talking about new clause 20 rather than amendment No. 88. I believe that more nationalists and people from a Catholic and, indeed, republican background will join the Police Service of Northern Ireland. That will certainly happen if the peace process is successful, if Sinn Fein joins the Policing Board and if other prerequisites are met. I hope that it will happen because it is the whole purpose of the exercise. Indeed, we might get a rush of many applicants who were either intimidated from applying by Sinn Fein-IRA or who were reluctant to apply until the peace process had achieved the comprehensive and definitive settlement that we want. I hope that many people will come forward after that happens. A pool of people from Protestant and other backgrounds could be absorbed into the PSNI immediately because of a new wave of Catholic applications. That is another reason why new clause 20 should be supported, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will do that.

I shall return to amendment No. 88. It would be desirable to recruit people from south of the border and, indeed, from England, Wales and Scotland—from anywhere in order to meet the pressing crisis of numbers.

Amendment No. 89 is designed to kill two birds with one stone so that, when we successfully recruit Catholics from the Garda in the Republic, they qualify as Catholic entrants for the purposes of section 46 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000. That would enable us immediately to recruit Protestants from the pool that would be created by new clause 20. So the measures fit together well.

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To be frank, however, it struck me that the amendment might not be technically effective in achieving that purpose. We must also take account of the possibility that Protestants or other non-Catholics from the Republic of Ireland might want to be appointed, and they would add to the Protestant quota. That would be fine, but the amendment might not be effective in achieving that. For that reason, we will not press it to a vote, but I thought it worth while explaining the spirit in which it was tabled.

Mr. Mallon

I shall attempt to concentrate on new clause 4, mainly because the essence of the other amendments and new clauses has been debated at great length, riot just in terms of the Bill's contents, but in terms of many other pieces of legislation that preceded it.

I am intrigued by some approaches to the new clause. As hard as I try, I simply cannot understand how it is a Trojan horse, or how it is either a Machiavellian Government device to cover up the fact that 50:50 is not working—that implication might not be deliberate, but it is hanging about—or a devious way to get hordes of Catholics into the policing service by the back door. I suppose those concerns could lead to the Trojan horse syndrome, but I fail to understand why people should be fearful. The board is allowed to appoint a specified number of constables who have specified policing skills. The new clause is not a device to allow people in by the back door or a device to cover up the fact that people are not joining. Instead, it provides a means of making specified expertise available in the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

It follows that those with specified skills have undergone training. Wherever they come from outside Northern Ireland, they must have undergone training to give them a specified skill that is required and desired within the PSNI. That is crucial. The 50:50 element comes into play at the point of training. It is not a clever device to get people into the police service by the back door; nor is it a clever device to compensate for a failure in the 50:50 process. It is quite the opposite. It is a means of ensuring that the professional Police Service of Northern Ireland has access to the highest specified policing skills. It is right that that is done, and it is right that it be done not just in the interests of good policing, but to meet a gap in skills caused, I admit, by the retirement of many serving police officers as a result of changes and the compensation package recommended by Patten.

I should like to touch on another need. We tend to be a very insular people in Northern Ireland: we tend to look inward at our problems and we often assume that we are the only people in the world who have problems. That is hardly the case. It will be a distinct advantage to have people with skills coming from outside the Police Service of Northern Ireland to bring another dimension to the attitude within policing and towards policing. Such input is facilitated by new clause 4. The more that happens, the better it will be for serving police officers in Northern Ireland and the better for public attitudes to policing on the ground. I greatly welcome the provision. It is technically correct and right that those specified skills are brought into the police service.

I find it amusing to hear some of the fears that have developed recently for expediency purposes or whatever. They are derived directly from Patten, who is explicit about them. I see that the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) is becoming rather excited, so I shall continue to give him reason for his excitement by quoting what Patten said. He clearly recognised that many Catholic people from Northern Ireland who, for various reasons, were serving in police services in other parts of the world might want to come back and bring their skills back with them. That is happening in every form of industry at present. Patten recommended—and I quote, for the further excitement of the hon. Member for East Londonderry— that the recruitment agency should seek to identify such officers, contact them and encourage them … to apply for positions in the Northern Ireland police. He could not be more explicit than that, and I believe that it was right to make that recommendation. For far too long, the north and south of Ireland have sent people abroad, taking their skills and training with them, to be lost for ever to the north and south of Ireland. I greatly welcome the opportunity to encourage those skills back.

Lateral entry is another element of the legislation. I welcome provisions on that, because the subject should be viewed for its potential benefits. I quote Patten again. He stated: Lateral entry of experienced officers from other police services, and secondments or recruitments from non-police organisations should be actively encouraged. That is happening, and has been happening for some considerable time in respect of police services in England, Scotland and Wales. It is written into legislation that that will happen with the Garda Siochana in the Republic of Ireland. Indeed, that legislation has passed through both Parliaments, which I welcome, because the more interchange there is, the better policing becomes and the more prejudices and myths start to evaporate.

I recommend that we reconsider another of Patten's recommendations, which is sometimes overlooked: recruitments from non-police organisations should be actively encouraged". Policing has changed dramatically everywhere over the past 10 to 15 years. Various skills and disciplines are needed; they are not offered in normal police training and we need to bring in outside help to develop such expertise.

I shall not touch on the other amendments and new clauses, as I shall not support them. I conclude by setting out some of the safeguards in the new clause to show that it is not a fiendish plot. The board must agree unanimously to the authorisation. I understand that it was the board itself that made that requirement. The provisions apply only for two years, after which the board must again reach unanimous agreement on them. There is thus no way in which the procedure can be manipulated by either the Government or the Chief Constable.

The crucial point is that the Chief Constable must make a case to the board that the police service needs persons with specific skills and there are no such people in its ranks. The board will then be asked to facilitate the Chief Constable's request by going outside the Police Service of Northern Ireland to bring in people who are already trained to exercise the necessary skills. The board must be shown that the need cannot be supplied from within the service.

The proposal is good. Apart from its practical advantages, it will introduce new thinking not only to policing in Northern Ireland but to attitudes to policing. Above all, however, it sets out specific requirements.

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We have heard various theories: the Trojan horse, the greens under the bed and the droves of nationalists being pushed into the police service by the back door. Although it is amusing to listen to them, we should disregard them and accept the new clause for what it is: a good provision that could bring substantial results.

David Burnside (South Antrim)

Did the hon. Gentleman read the reports published in the Irish Independent and The Irish Times, which came straight from the Sinn Fein leadership, that one of Sinn Fein's next demands of the Government—who, of course, always give in to its demands—will be for special placements for republicans in the Police Service of Northern Ireland who should have special treatment so that they can represent the republican movement.

Mr. Mallon

I must be honest and tell the hon. Gentleman that I did not have the opportunity to read either of those worthy publications yesterday; they were not in any of the news outlets available to me. However, I am not one of those people who hang on every word said by republican leaders. I am not one of those who are obsessed by their propaganda. I am not one of those who would agree to give them a full day's debate on two issues, as others did. I do not make my political decisions or base my political thoughts, policies, decisions or activities on what is stated by people from that organisation.

It is curious that those who become obsessed with that organisation, hang on its every word and develop almost paranoia about an essential part of its propaganda actually facilitate it. I will not give it that satisfaction. I shall make up my mind according to my views, those of my party and my beliefs, not on the comments of any gentleman whom the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not deny that yesterday he made it clear that he believed that the House's discussions constituted only the beginning of the debate. He said that it would discuss justice and the courts and that they, too, would be included in the same circle of argument. Unless I was sleeping or dreaming, he made that distinctly clear. I was impressed by his comments because I had already made them. I said that the provisions marked only the beginning and that the Government would advocate more of that way of thinking. The Conservative party is now advocating it, too.

Mr. Mallon

I said what the hon. Gentleman attributes to me; I have been saying it for years. I advocated the devolution of justice and policing powers long before any Government decided that they might do that. I supported it long before the organisation to which DUP Members referred became involved in the political process. My reasons remain the same and are especially pertinent to policing. I believe that devolution comes of age and becomes capable of sustaining itself when it makes hard decisions. Policing and justice require such difficult decisions.

Making decisions about justice will not be easy, just as those on policing have not been easy. I ask hon. Members not to view the matter as a response to a demand by the organisation to which they have referred. For years, I have advocated that we should act because that is the way to make devolution work. I make a plea to the hon. Members for South Antrim (David Burnside) and for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) to consider that There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than what Gerry and Martin say every day. They should disregard them at times and listen to other people in the community. Those people might have more interest in the community as a whole than in party political advantage.

Mr. Carmichael

We are considering an interesting string of amendments, which cover ground that was well worn in Committee and previously. The discussion is none the less useful. I am mindful of the pressures of time and I do not wish to detain hon. Members unnecessarily, but I cannot allow the pejorative remarks of the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) on political correctness to pass without comment. He appeared to equate the discrimination suffered by, for example, homosexuals, with the disadvantage of being left handed. His remarks will be heard beyond the Chamber, and many in the wider community will listen to them with disbelief. When one hears such comments from the Conservative Front Bench, it is hardly surprising that its own party chairman describes it as "the nasty party."

I am unapologetic about being politically correct. Any politician should want to be politically correct. There is not much point in being here if we are politically wrong. However, the options available today are for the Liberal Democrats to be politically correct, for the Labour party to be politically successful, and for the Conservative party to be neither.

The Conservative position with respect to new clause 4 is very interesting. The hon. Gentleman started from the perspective that he believed that the principle was wrong. He then made it clear that his party supported the Government's aims but that the Conservatives felt it necessary to introduce some further mechanism to dilute the principle. At one point, it felt as though we had fallen through the looking glass.

However, the hon. Gentleman said one very interesting thing that gave away the truth of his party's position. He said that he accepted that there was an intellectual and moral argument in favour of our position. That is why the Tories are prepared to support the Government—our position has intellectual and moral credibility, and so one would not expect the Tories to support it.

The amendments before the House form a sort of hierarchy Government new clause 4, the Conservative's amendment (a) and new clause 20, and the Ulster Unionists' new clause 8 all aim to make a bad situation better in some way. I have no problem with them for that reason, and would support them all, but it reveals a certain paucity of ambition if all that the House can do is to make a bad situation slightly better. Surely hon. Members should be engaged in making a bad situation good? Is not that why we are all here? To that extent, I find myself making common cause with the Democratic Unionists today. Their new clause is a fairly blunt tool, but it represents the purest position.

Liberal Democrat Members will support the new clause if it is pressed to a vote. I accept that Government new clause 4 is a substantial improvement, and I accept that it allows them some flexibility.

Mr. Quentin Davies

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Policing Board, the Chief Constable, all the senior officers to whom I have spoken and a very large number of policemen and women in the PSNI accept—albeit with the reservations that I have set out—the new 50:50 recruitment system as a temporary measure?

Mrs. Iris Robinson

They do not.

Mr. Davies

Will not the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) find himself in conflict with the Chief Constable over the needs of policing in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Carmichael

I assure the hon. Gentleman that that would not be the first time that I have been in conflict with a chief constable. However, he will have heard the comment made from a sedentary position behind him. That shows that his is not a view held universally in Northern Ireland. I take the views of chief constables carefully into account, but Members of Parliament are elected to decide matters of principle. It is not for chief constables to make policy decisions. A strong distinction must be made between policy and operational matters. Policy matters are rightly the preserve of this House.

As I was saying, new clause 4 provides a lot of useful flexibility. I do not understand why the Government should insist on the veto provision, which would be removed by the Conservatives' amendment (a). The veto is very unhelpful. I believe as a general rule that one cannot have too much democracy. The bottom line is that vetoes are profoundly undemocratic. I shall listen carefully to what the Minister has to say.

Lady Hermon

The reality is that new clause 4 will drive a coach and horses through section 46 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, because we are considering the recruitment of constables, and that is what the discriminatory recruitment procedure attaches itself to. That is why the board will have to be unanimous. There would inevitably be divisions within it, and it is not hard to guess where they would lie.

Mr. Carmichael

We are now well and truly into the can of worms. Once one moves away from the strict principle that there should not be discrimination, one gets compromise, which begets more compromise, and that is how one reaches such a convoluted position that one can operate only if there is unanimity. I accept the force of the hon. Lady's point. I still think that the imposition of the veto would be regrettable.

New clause 8 has a lot to recommend it. It is a novel approach to the same old fence. The possibility of suspension would give a degree of flexibility. I am sure that the hon. Lady agrees that it would be preferable for there to be no suspension in the first place, but that being the case I have no difficulty in supporting her in that regard.

New clause 12, tabled by Democratic Unionist Members, is one with which we are broadly sympathetic.

Finally, I turn to new clause 20, tabled by the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford. We can see the force that it would have as an operational measure. Indeed, I can see no reason why the Government are unable to accept it. Even if they will not accept it in its present form, there is no reason why the Minister cannot say that the Government will find another form of words that achieves the same mechanism before the Bill goes to another place. The new clause is the ultimate modest proposal, to use a Swiftian analogy. It is an operational measure that would not in any way affect the principle of 50:50 recruitment. It might go some way towards addressing the profound sense of grievance that exists in the Unionist community among those who feel that they have lost out on a career opportunity. If that situation lasts for the whole 10 years that is envisaged, closing the window in a young person's life for joining the police could effectively exclude a whole generation of people from serving their community in the police. Given the staunch support that the Minister has received from the so-called official Opposition, I do not understand why she is not prepared to make even that very small concession.

Lady Hermon

I want to speak to new clause 8, which is supported by Unionist colleagues whom I am pleased to see here today.

It is well known that I object to the discriminatory recruitment procedure that was put in place almost three years ago by the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000. I find religious discrimination deeply offensive and repugnant. The Government tell us time and again that they are committed to full implementation of the agreement, which was endorsed in referendums by the majority of people in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland. That agreement twice on the same page guaranteed to everyone in Northern Ireland equal opportunity in all social and economic activity, regardless of creed or political opinion, yet the British Government wilfully defied the wishes of the people of the island of Ireland and legalised discrimination two years after those referendums.

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Section 46 has had a detrimental effect not only on recruitment procedures, but on confidence in the agreement itself. It ill behoves the Government to maintain a discriminatory recruitment procedure on the statute book. We have made changes to policing legislation to assist Sinn Fein in deciding whether to join the Policing Board, but the main cause of low Catholic recruitment to the police has always been intimidation and thuggery. It was not discrimination that deterred young Catholic recruits from entering the RUC; it is a well-known fact that it was intimidation by republicans. If Sinn Fein were to join the Policing Board and call on young republicans to join the police force, in which, of course, they should rightly play a part, there is no justification whatever for maintaining any discriminatory recruitment procedure on the statute book.

New clause 8 provides that, at the request of the majority of the Policing Board, when the Chief Constable has a shortfall in recruits, the provisions of section 46 can be suspended for six months. We tabled the amendment now because section 46 will come up for renewal and consideration only in spring 2004. Until then, it will remain on the statute book, and it will divide and become a source of great grievance in many households throughout Northern Ireland, where letters of congratulation to a young person on having passed their examinations are followed by rejection on the basis of their community background. That is wholly unacceptable.

As for new clause 4, I am not at all pleased to see it. It allows the Government to have things both ways—to have their cake and eat it. On the one hand, they can maintain the discriminatory recruitment procedure of section 46, which means that there will be a shortfall of detectives who have the skills that we need at present in the Police Service. On the other, they can make up the shortfall by bringing forward constables with special skills, as the provision operates at the level of constable. I will therefore not support, nor will I encourage my colleagues to support, the new clause, but I hope that hon. Members will support our proposals.

Mr. Gregory Campbell

I want to confine my remarks to new clause 12 tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) and other hon. Friends. In doing so, I must express extreme regret at the comments of the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies), who seemed to be indicating that the Conservative party is abandoning the principle of merit and merit alone as the decisive criterion when considering employment, whether in the police or elsewhere.

The purpose of the new clause is to try to encourage a representative police force. I hope that that aim is shared across the board politically. In every avenue of responsible society in Northern Ireland, we want to encourage a representative police force. We must concede that, given the serious situation that has prevailed for a number of years in Northern Ireland, the police force is not representative. In doing that, however, we must examine why that has been and is the case—we cannot simply say that it is unrepresentative, and take steps to make sure that it becomes representative. In doing so, we must put at the top of the list of reasons why it is unrepresentative the factor of intimidation. That has been a factor for a number of years. When the RUC was established in 1921, the number of Roman Catholics was about 20 per cent. of the whole. That number rapidly went downhill not because of discrimination, but because of intimidation and because, even in those days, the IRA found it acceptable to attack and intimidate those applicants to the RUC.

Mr. Mallon

The historical fact is that the level went from 22 per cent. up to 28 per cent. when a number of people were transferred from what was then called the Royal Irish Constabulary into what became the RUC. The level rose to a high of more than 28 per cent. within five or six years and then began to drop for a number of reasons, one of which was intimidation.

Mr. Campbell

I totally accept that, and I hope now to expand on it. One reason for the fall in numbers was intimidation. That has continued until today.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is it not a fact that the recruits coming in from the old RIC were largely and overwhelmingly Roman Catholic?

Mr. Campbell

Yes, that was indeed the case, but discrimination was not a part of any of the recruitment procedures in the old RUC, or even the RUC of latter years.

The stark reality—I know that this grates with the Government and with supporters of the 50:50 contention as set out in section 46—is that, in the past, there was no discrimination in RUC recruitment. In fact, for many years, extensive efforts were made to recruit Roman Catholics. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) outlined how some of them came to be recruited into the RUC because of the changeover from the RIC to the RUC. There was no discrimination against Roman Catholics coming into the RUC.

The present reality under section 46, however, is that there is discrimination against Protestants coming into the present Police Service. There can be no grey areas on discrimination under section 46. Discrimination is a bit like a pregnancy—one cannot be a little bit in favour of discrimination, just as one cannot be a little bit pregnant. One is either in favour of it or against it. Any hon. Member who supports the retention of section 46 in its present format is for discrimination. There can be no prevarication about that—those Members will be for discrimination. That is why we unequivocally seek the removal of section 46. We do so because it discriminates.

People may respond, as the Government have done, by saying, "Yes, but this approach is being taken for a very good reason" and telling us that they want to do something that is unacceptable to try to reach an acceptable conclusion. Such people say that, because of the very low numbers of Roman Catholics, they are going to take the 50:50 approach, but only temporarily. My response in the Committee and today is the same: if that is the case, and if people accept this perversion and this obnoxious and reprehensible system of discrimination, why should they stop at the police? Why should it apply only to the police, and only where Roman Catholics are coming forward in small numbers? Why should people not say that they will employ 50:50 recruitment procedures in the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, where there is a problem in getting Protestant recruits? But, we hear, "Oh no; that's different." Why do we not adopt such an approach in the Child Support Agency or in the general service grades of the civil service, where there is a problem in getting Protestant recruits? I never hear an argument for taking that approach, and I hope that I never will, because it is reprehensible and unacceptable. The merit principle must be the one that we abide by in getting people into employment in the Police Service.

The issue is this: how do we create a more representative police force? Should we advertise more comprehensively? We would endorse such a suggestion, and if special efforts were made in all schools to persuade leavers to apply for positions in the police force, we would endorse that as well. Such efforts would not compromise the merit principle. In the past, there have been several thousand applicants for the various tranches of recruitment in the police who have been assessed in terms of suitability.

Mrs. Iris Robinson

Is my hon. Friend aware of reports that the next batch of new recruits is down to single figures, although 60 places must be filled? Does he agree that it is a travesty that we cannot call on previously successful young recruits simply because they come from the Protestant community?

Mr. Campbell

I know about that, because it was in the public domain only yesterday. It was said that in all probability fewer than 10 people would be offered employment, although according to a police spokesperson 60 places are available. Because of the reprehensible, repugnant 50:50 rule and the insistence on implementation of section 46, more than 50 places will remain unfilled.

Over the past three phases of recruitment, thousands of people have applied, of whom several thousand have been regarded as suitably qualified. All those people—whether Protestant, Catholic or of some other faith—should have been offered employment purely on the basis of merit. The highest-scoring candidates ought to be recruited, whether they are Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, atheists or whatever. If that produces a particular breakdown, so be it. That is the beauty of merit: it means that the best-qualified people get jobs.

Unfortunately, over those last three phases, hundreds of Protestant recruits have been told, "Yes, you are suitably qualified, but no, you will not be offered employment." When they have asked the reason, they have been told that it is the 50:50 rule. They have gone away disillusioned and disenfranchised. They and their families ask what is the point and what is the future in Northern Ireland when, although they are considered to be suitably qualified, they are told—because their religion is other than Catholic—that they have no future in the Police Service.

Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of figures published yesterday by the Policing Board? They reveal that confidence in policing in Northern Ireland has dropped from 67 per cent. last year to 60 per cent. this year. That is due in no small measure to the 50:50 recruitment policy, which is regarded as discriminatory, and the lack of police officers on the streets to deal with rising crime.

Mr. Campbell

I know of those figures, and I agree that they are due in no small measure to the 50:50 rule.

There is a common fallacy that until a few years ago Catholics did not apply for positions in the Police Service. In fact, the father of the present SDLP leader was a member of the RUC. He was a Roman Catholic, he was employed on merit, and he served admirably, with courage and distinction.

Three days before Bloody Sunday, in Londonderry, two police officers were killed. One was a Protestant, the other a Roman Catholic. Both had been employed on merit, and both were murdered. No distinction was made between their religions. They were brutally murdered by the Provisional IRA. The last RUC officer to be shot dead in the city of Londonderry, only five years ago, was a Roman Catholic.

Merit and merit alone must be the criterion that decides whom we employ in the Police Service. For that reason, I would find it impossible to endorse a temporary abrogation of the merit principle. If it is wrong in principle to discriminate, it is wrong in principle to discriminate on a temporary basis. It cannot be justified, it cannot be defended, and for that reason I fervently hope that I will get the opportunity to press new clause 12 to a Division.

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Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe)

I support new clause 20. My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) put the case for it very well, as did the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), the Liberal Democrat spokesman, who made a powerful case and said that he looked forward, as I do, to hearing what the Minister could possibly say that justified the rejection of the new clause.

My hon. Friend emphasised, if I read him rightly, that our present support for the principle of 50:50 is essentially on the basis that it is a choice between two evils. It is worth pointing out that new clause 20 and even new clause 12 would probably not be before us if a certain new clause that was tabled by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) on behalf of his party had not fallen in Committee. That new clause sought—I will put it plainly—to drive a coach and horses through section 46 of the 2000 Act by deleting it entirely. The new clause sought to give the Chief Constable discretion to take such steps as he determines appropriate to encourage applications by persons currently under-represented in the police support staff. Who were those persons? According to the new clause, they were persons forming part of a social group by virtue of their sex, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation who at the time of consideration by the Chief Constable are under- represented". That was voted for in Committee not only by the hon. Members for Orkney and Shetland, for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) and for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) but by my hon. Friends the Members for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) and by me. Had it been passed, section 46 of the 2000 Act would have been substituted by the new clause.

I return to 50:50. I have been listening carefully to the debate. I have great sympathy with what the hon. Member for East Londonderry said and with the points that were made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland. Naturally, I support my Front-Bench spokesman, and I heard him say clearly that we are making a choice between evils. However, I entertained a moment of nostalgia when the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire said that there was at one point a coalition of interest between our party, those on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench and those Members from the Unionist parties who drew together closely to oppose 50:50. Since our support for 50:50 is temporary, I trust that soon we will be able to reform a coalition along those lines. I look forward to that day.

Jane Kennedy

The provision would enable the Chief Constable to bring into the PSNI a specified number of officers with specialist policing skills in areas where he is able to demonstrate that the service is suffering a significant shortfall: for example, in detectives. This exceptional mechanism could only be utilised where certain criteria, established by the board, have been met, and where there is unanimous approval for its use from the board.

These exceptional arrangements will be available to the Chief Constable for two years, starting from the date when this Bill receives Royal Assent. I must reiterate that this proposal is intended purely to alleviate the Chief Constable's current, and hopefully short-lived, resourcing problems in respect of skilled constables. In no sense does it reflect any departure from, or dilution of, the 50:50 recruitment arrangements recommended by the independent commission, which continue—despite the nonsense said in the Chamber today—to operate very successfully, and which will remain the norm for recruitment at the rank of constable.

Amendment (a) would enable these measures to be activated with the approval of only a majority of the Policing Board, rather than with unanimity. The board has, as I have said, shown maturity on this and earlier occasions in achieving unanimity in respect of difficult and sensitive issues and I have no doubt it will be able to do so in the future. The detail of this exceptional mechanism has been the subject of lengthy and painstaking consideration by the board, and it has expressly requested that its unanimity be a precondition for use of the measure. The Government are eager to honour the board's wishes in this regard, and I would invite hon. Members not to go against the express wishes of a cross-community, all-party Policing Board that has arrived at a solution to this particular and immediate problem.

New clause 8 would require my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, if requested to do so by the board, to make an order suspending the 50:50 provisions, either if the required numbers of police trainees or police support staff could not otherwise be appointed or if the number of serving officers was below complement at the time of consideration. That power already exists in legislation.

The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) said that the level of applications had fallen off. He is wrong. The level of applications from Catholics has remained constant at around 35 per cent.; that is very favourable by comparison with previous recruitments. Why is the measure needed? It is not because of any failure of the 50:50 recruitment measures. One of the impacts of the voluntary severance scheme has been to leave specialised areas of the PSNI seriously short of experienced officers at constable rank; I have already given the example of detectives. We are considering a temporary expedient that will remedy a problem recognised both by the Chief Constable and the board. It is in no way a reflection on the 50:50 arrangements.

The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford also asked about the waiver of training requirements. My hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon)—who, I am bound to say, is the only Member participating in the debate who has actually read the Government's new clause—made it clear that the recruiting of specialist skills for a specific purpose requires experienced officers from other police services to apply. I want to take hon. Members back to the new clause.

The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford said that a specified number of persons who have a specified policing skill would be sought. The new clause makes implicit the requirement for unanimity; therefore we could not conceive of a Sinn Fein or republican element manipulating the measure. It is simply nonsense to suggest that that would occur.

Lembit Öpik


Jane Kennedy

The hon. Gentleman might want to contain himself for a moment. I shall come to his party's position in a moment, if he will allow me.

The new clause makes it clear that we are expecting experienced constables to apply, under the measure, from other forces across the United Kingdom. To require them to undergo the training currently expected of new entrants to the Police Service of Northern Ireland would therefore be nonsense. The Government have said on several occasions during the passage of the Bill that the possibility of a limited exception to the 50:50 provisions to alleviate the current skills shortage was under consideration by the Policing Board.

As we signalled in Committee, the new clause before the House today has the board's unanimous support, and I want to pay tribute to the commitment of its members in putting forward the proposal. I know that, for some, it challenges deep-seated views, but it is a sign of the board's maturity in addressing the real issues facing the Police Service of Northern Ireland and enabling it to become still more effective and efficient. I had hoped that hon. Members around the Chamber would have welcomed the measure in that same spirit, and with generosity. Instead, what have we had this afternoon? The official spokesman for the Conservative party took 50 minutes of the House's time to demonstrate his complete inability to understand a measure that every member and political party on the Policing Board has not only understood but effectively drafted for the Government's consideration. The Liberal Democrats argued that they had adopted an intellectually and morally superior position on the matter. Quite frankly—

Mr. Carmichael

It was the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford who said it in the first place.

Jane Kennedy

No, I am responding quite specifically to a comment from the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael). The Liberal Democrats propose to oppose new clause 4—

Lembit Öpik

No, we do not.

Jane Kennedy

In that case, I apologise. I withdraw that comment.

Lembit Öpik

Just for clarification, we have one small issue with new clause 4, but the Minister must understand that we are going to vote for it. She was under a misapprehension there.

Jane Kennedy

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am glad that I gave way and allowed that intervention, because it has clarified a misunderstanding on my part.

Mr. Quentin Davies


Jane Kennedy

I am not going to give way to the hon. Gentleman. While I have the Floor, I am not going to give way to an hon. Member who took 50 minutes to explain how he simply did not understand this measure—which confounds me.

The Chief Constable asked for this measure, and the Policing Board considered it at length. The representatives of the Social Democratic and Labour party, the Ulster Unionist party and the Democratic Unionist party on the Policing Board accepted the need for it. I will be more than disappointed if their party representatives oppose it in the House today.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is it not a fact that there was no vote on this issue in the Policing Board? Tell the House the truth!

Jane Kennedy

Madam Deputy Speaker, I had not given way. I had finished my comments.

Madam Deputy Speaker

I beg your pardon. Does the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) have a point of order? He does not.

Question put and agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put, That the clause be added to the Bill.

The House divided: Ayes 258, Noes 6.

Division No. 146] [5:29 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)
Adams, Irene (Paisley N) Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Allen, Graham Davidson, Ian
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen) Davis, rh Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Dawson, Hilton
Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary Dhanda, Parmjit
Atkins, Charlotte Dismore, Andrew
Austin, John Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Baird, Vera Donohoe, Brian H.
Barron, rh Kevin Doran, Frank
Beckett, rh Margaret Doughty, Sue
Begg, Miss Anne Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)
Beggs, Roy (E Antrim) Drew, David (Stroud)
Berry, Roger Drown, Ms Julia
Blackman, Liz Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Blizzard, Bob Efford, Clive
Boateng, rh Paul Ellman, Mrs Louise
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)
Bradshaw, Ben Etherington, Bill
Brake, Tom (Carshalton) Farrelly, Paul
Brooke, Mrs Annette L. Fisher, Mark
Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend) Follett, Barbara
Foster, rh Derek
Browne, Desmond Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Buck, Ms Karen Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)
Burnham, Andy Gardiner, Barry
Burstow, Paul George, Andrew (St. Ives)
Byers, rh Stephen George, rh Bruce (Walsall S)
Cable, Dr. Vincent Gerrard, Neil
Cairns, David Goggins, Paul
Calton, Mrs Patsy
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Caplin, Ivor Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Carmichael, Alistair Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Casale, Roger Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Cawsey, Ian (Brigg) Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Challen, Colin Hancock, Mike
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford W & Abingdon)
Chaytor, David
Clapham, Michael Healey, John
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)\ Heath, David
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston) Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hepburn, Stephen
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Heppell, John
Coffey, Ms Ann Hermon, Lady
Coleman, Iain Hesford, Stephen
Connarty, Michael Heyes, David
Cooper, Yvette Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Corston, Jean Hinchliffe, David
Cotter, Brian Hodge, Margaret
Cousins, Jim Holmes, Paul
Cox, Tom (Tooting) Hopkins, Kelvin
Cranston, Ross Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E)
Crausby, David Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Howells, Dr. Kim
Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston) Perham, Linda
Picking, Anne
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Pickthall, Colin
Hurst, Alan (Braintree) Pike, Peter (Burnley)
Hutton, rh John Plaskitt, James
Iddon, Dr. Brian Pollard, Kerry
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate) Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jenkins, Brian Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)
Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W) Prosser, Gwyn
Kaufman, rh Gerald Purnell, James
Keen, Alan (Feltham) Quin, rh Joyce
Keen, Ann (Brentford) Quinn, Lawrie
Keetch, Paul Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Rendel, David
Kidney, David Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Andy (Rugby) Roy, Frank (Motherwell)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Bow) Ruddock, Joan
Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)
Knight, Jim (S Dorset) Salter, Martin
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen Sarwar, Mohammad
Lamb, Norman Savidge, Malcolm
Lammy, David Sawford, Phil
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie Sheridan, Jim
Laxton, Bob (Derby N) Shipley, Ms Debra
Levitt, Tom (High Peak) Simon, Siôn (B'ham Erdington)
Linton, Martin Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Love, Andrew Smith, rh Andrew (Oxford E)
McAvoy, Thomas Smith, Angela (Basildon)
McCabe, Stephen Smith, rh Chris (Islington S & Finsbury)
McCafferty, Chris
McDonagh, Siobhain Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
McDonnell, John
McIsaac, Shona Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
McKechin, Ann Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
McKenna, Rosemary Soley, Clive
McNamara, Kevin Southworth, Helen
MacShane, Denis Squire, Rachel
Mactaggart, Fiona Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
McWalter, Tony Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
McWilliam, John Stinchcombe, Paul
Mallaber, Judy Stoate, Dr. Howard
Mallon, Seamus Stunell, Andrew
Mandelson, rh Peter Sutcliffe, Gerry
Mann, John (Bassetlaw) Taylor, rh Ann (Dewsbury)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Marshall, David (Glasgow Shettleston) Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)
Martlew, Eric Thurso, John
Meale, Alan (Mansfield) Tipping, Paddy
Merron, Gillian Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
Michael, rh Alun Tonge, Dr. Jenny
Miller, Andrew Trickett, Jon
Moffatt, Laura Truswell, Paul
Moore, Michael Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)
Moran, Margaret
Morley, Elliot Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Morris, rh Estelle Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Mountford, Kali Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Mudie, George Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Mullin, Chris Vis, Dr. Rudi
Munn, Ms Meg Watson, Tom (W Bromwich E)
Murphy, rh Paul (Torfaen) Watts, David
Naysmith, Dr. Doug White, Brian
Norris, Dan (Wansdyke) Whitehead, Dr. Alan
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Wicks, Malcolm
O'Hara, Edward Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Olner, Bill Williams, Betty (Conwy)
O'Neill, Martin Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Öpik, Lembit Wills, Michael
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr) Winnick, David
Palmer, Dr. Nick Wood, Mike (Batley)
Woodward, Shaun Wyatt, Derek
Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Tellers for the Ayes:
Wright David (Telford) Mr. Nick Ainger and
Wright, Tony (Cannock) Jim Fitzpatrick
Burnside, David Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Dodds, Nigel
Donaldson, Jeffrey M. Tellers for the Noes:
Hunter, Andrew Mrs. Iris Robinson and
Paisley, Rev. Ian Mr. Gregory Campbell

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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