§ Baroness Amos
My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Northern Ireland has made the following Ministerial Statement.
On 21 September 2003, I announced a review of the effectiveness of the temporary provisions of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000. Principally these relate to 50:50 recruitment. That review was initiated as part of the Secretary of State's statutory duty, under Section 47 of that Act, both to have regard to progress made towards securing that membership of the police and police support staff is representative of the community in Northern Ireland, and to consult the Policing Board, when making a decision as to whether those temporary provisions should be renewed. The review ended on 19 December, but I have continued to meet with political parties on this issue until recently.
As a direct result of these temporary provisions, steady progress towards a more representative police service has been achieved. The number of Catholic applications to the PSNI has been unprecedented, averaging 35 per cent over six competitions. As a direct result, the proportion of Catholic officers in the 52WS regulars has increased from around 8 per cent to almost 14 per cent. Increase in Catholic representation among civilian staff has been slower, in part because 50:50 does not apply to all civilian recruitment competitions, only to those where six or more are sought in the same field at the same time.
A number of issues were raised during the review about the efficiency of the 50:50 recruitment process and its fairness to candidates. I am looking seriously at those issues and my officials are liaising with the police to assess the scope for potential improvements. The Government are keen to move forward with increasing the representativeness of the police service. The more progress we can make now, the sooner it may be possible to put an end to a procedure that is difficult for many people to accept, but justified in our view for the greater good.
For these reasons, and after considering carefully all the views expressed during the consultation period, the Secretary of State has now decided that those temporary provisions should be renewed for a further three years. That is why I am today laying before Parliament the draft Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (Renewal of Temporary Provisions) Order 2004. There will be an opportunity to debate the order in both Houses of Parliament.