'(1) Section 46 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c.32) is amended as follows.
(2) For subsection (1) substitute—
''(1) In making appointments under section 39 on any occasion, the Chief Constable shall appoint from the pool of qualified candidates formed for that purpose by virtue of section 44(5) persons of whom—
(a) 43 per cent. shall be persons who are treated as Roman Catholic;
(b) 43 per cent. shall be persons who are treated as Protestants; and
(c) 14 per cent. shall be persons who are not so treated.''.'.—[Mr. Carmichael.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 2—Removal of discrimination from recruitment—
'(1) In Part 6 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c.32) for section 46 substitute—
(1) In making appointments under section 39 the Chief Constable may take such steps as he determines appropriate to encourage applications by persons currently underrepresented in the Police Service.
(2) In making appointments to the police support staff under section 4(3) the Chief Constable (acting by virtue of subsection (5) of that section) may take such steps as he determines appropriate to encourage applications by persons currently underrepresented in the police support staff.
(3) For the purposes of this section ''persons currently underrepresented'' means 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 underrepresented''.
(2) In Part 6 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, leave out section 47.'.
New clause 3—Appointments to the Police Service of Northern Ireland—
'In the event that—
(a) the Chief Constable is unable to appoint his required number of police trainees or police support staff, or
(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 for a period of six months.'.
New clause 1, which stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), and the two new clauses tabled by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann, take us back to what is now fairly familiar territory. Tempting though it is, I do not want to run round the whole argument of 50:50 recruitment, but I again place on the record my party's extreme unease and unhappiness about its operation.
Section 46 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 currently reads:
''an even number of persons of whom-
(a) one half shall be persons who are treated as Roman Catholic; and
(b) one half shall be persons who are not so treated.''
We want to replace that with:
''43 per cent. shall be persons who are treated as Roman Catholic;
43 per cent. shall be persons who are treated as Protestants; and
14 per cent. shall be persons who are not so treated.''
I should first like to explain why it is 43 per cent., rather than 42, 44 or any other percentage. The genesis of the figure is the latest census figures, which show that within Northern Ireland Catholics represent just over 40 per cent. of the population, Protestants represent 45 per cent. and just over 14 per cent are people of other religions or with no religious affiliation. The new clause takes that 14 per cent. and splits the remainder into half which gives us the figure of 43 per cent. I would be the first to admit that that is rather a messy compromise. It is far from ideal. In an ideal situation we would not be dealing with this set-up at all. However, it has some benefits in that it introduces into the equation an element of flexibility that is not currently present. It also gets away from the idea that people who might belong to other religious groupings but are not Protestant Christians should all be treated as one. I find that a curious.
We know the reasons why we ended up with 50:50 in recruitment, and some of those reasons had nothing to do with the recruitment of police officers. The constitution of the Policing Board may have been lurking in the background. However, there is no doubt that that policy has left many in the Protestant community with a continuing sense of grievance. There was also the recent case of Mark Parsons, a qualified candidate who was not recruited into the police because of the 50:50 requirement. When the Bill was on the Floor of the House, assurances were given that there would be no discrimination against Protestants. However, experience has indicated that the contrary is the case, and that the issue should be considered again. My hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire and I have brought to the Committee a means by which that reconsideration could be effected.
It must be recognised that there has been some improvement in the number of Catholics who have
been applying for employment with the PSNI. About 36 per cent. of applications are now made by Catholics, as opposed to 22 per cent. previously. However, that may not be the result of the 50:50 requirement. I suggest to the Minister that that might be a sign that we are moving towards what, in the rest of the country, is considered to be normality, and that the intimidation that we have seen among paramilitary sections in the Catholic community has started, at long last, to lose its bite.
In terms of the practical application of the amendment, I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman is driving at. If he wishes to make a further contribution, I will deal with that when I sum up.
I will comment briefly on new clauses 2 and 3, proposed by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann. New clause 2 addresses the issue in a slightly different way. In my view, it is something of a curate's egg. I have some reservations about subsection (1), which reads:
''In making appointments under section 39 the Chief Constable may take such steps as he determines appropriate to encourage applications by persons currently under-represented in the Police Service.''
I can see some merit in the flexibility that that would introduce into the situation. I presume—the right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong—that he envisages that a 50:50 scheme or similar could still be introduced, but that that would be done by the Chief Constable. I have some difficulty with that, because the people responsible for any scheme of that sort—any such engineering—should be politicians. The amendment would move us one step away from political accountability.
However, I find subsection (3) useful. It relates to
''persons forming part of a social group by virtue of their sex, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation''
who are considered by the Chief Constable to be under-represented. We on the Opposition Benches have addressed that point both in the House of Commons and in the other place. We should recognise that achieving balance in the police service is not simply a question of achieving balance on religious grounds. The under-representation of women in the PSNI remains a problem.
Briefly, I question whether new clause 3 is necessary. As I understand it, the 2000 Act gives the Secretary of State the power to vary the quota if that is appropriate.
I thank the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) for his comments on new clause 1 and the other new clauses.
On new clause 1, I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, which is that we should resist the temptation to force every person in Northern Ireland into one of two categories. Compelling people into one of two categories would be deeply offensive and would infringe their sense of their own identity, especially
against the background of society in Northern Ireland. I appreciate the hurt that the Government's policies and legal provisions caused to a significant number of people. That should be addressed.
There is another evil in the existing legislation that the Government have promoted and that the hon. Gentleman's new clause fails to tackle. Not only does the current recruitment scheme force on people identities from which many are trying to move away, but it discriminates. I confess my ignorance on this point, but I am amazed that any assurance was ever given about hoping that the provisions would not discriminate. There is no doubt that they are intended to discriminate. The Government sought derogations from directives introduced in the European Union, because they knew that if they did not get those derogations, the European Court of Justice would strike down the legislation, because it clearly discriminates.
The hon. Gentleman should understand that there is a clear distinction between quotas, which are unlawful under international and human rights law, and what we now refer to as affirmative action, which can be designed in ways that are not discriminatory. We must understand that qualification. There is no guarantee that affirmative action will not involve discrimination, but if it is carefully drafted and properly supervised, it can be used to address areas of under-representation without involving discrimination.
We have endeavoured to do that in drafting the new clauses.
We have to deal with a situation in which there is under-representation in certain important ways. The matter is worthy of attention and it would be worth while to address under-representation where possible, but one should want to do that in a way that avoids discrimination. Unfortunately, the Government have decided not to tackle the problem in such a way. Instead, they are going down the path of attempting to legalise discrimination.
The hon. Gentleman is, I am sure unintentionally, going down the same path, as quotas of 43, 43 and 14 per cent. would provide for discrimination. He conceded that the relevant affiliations in respect of religion are 45, 40 and 14 per cent. respectively, according to the census, so he should have used those to avoid any obvious discrimination. However, using percentages means that he will arrive at discrimination. Even if he had used the figures that I mentioned, he would still be in danger of having a legal framework that resulted in discrimination, because the appointment should be made purely on merit.
It seems that, because of particular circumstances, a disproportionate number of persons from category A apply. If all those who applied were of equal merit, a disproportionate number from category A would be appointed. If that is the consequence of the merit principle being applied in a recruitment drive, that is what should happen. Any form of quota is wrong, as it will result in discrimination.
It may be said that it is undesirable for a disproportionate number of people from category A to apply, and that is a fair point. We should therefore develop appropriate affirmative action to ensure that under-represented groups apply in appropriate numbers. We should consider such measures rather than having quotas, which are always wrong. That is analogous to the debate raging in higher education and among those involved in university recruitment over whether people from working-class backgrounds get a fair share of places and opportunities.
A few days ago, a Minister who advocated quotas was rapidly slapped down by senior Ministers. This morning on the ''Today'' programme, that same Minister, having learnt the basic approach to the matter, went out of her way to say that of course she had no intention of proposing quotas. The penny has dropped with the lady in question that quotas are automatically wrong because they will result in discrimination. Affirmative action, which that Minister is now talking about, is permissible, but going beyond it and having quotas is wrong.
Many people in Northern Ireland feel very strongly indeed about the matter. We constantly hear about the need for equality and human rights. The Prime Minister, in the peroration of his speech in Belfast last October, said that any form of discrimination is totally abhorrent, and that the days of making excuses and justifying discrimination are gone, but they are not gone for the Government, who continue to discriminate and try to provide justification for discrimination. That is simply wrong.
It is a disgrace to the House that, in this day and age, it should be enacting legislation to legalise discrimination. Furthermore, that is unnecessary. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland gave the figure for the significant increase in Catholic recruitment to the police service, which is good, but it does not show that the barriers to recruitment have gone.
I make a general point, which, like all generalisations, is an over-simplification: it is possible to gain a rough idea of the persons who apply from their post codes, which show that there is not a significant number of Catholic recruits from what would be regarded as hard-core republican or nationalist areas. The recruits come from more mixed and middle-class areas, which is good as it will increase the percentage of Catholic recruits, which will feed through in time. However, there are not the numbers that we hoped for, and there will not be until the obstacles to recruitment are removed. That was a key recommendation of the Patten report, but the Government have not addressed it, as it would be embarrassing to have to tell people in republican and nationalist communities that it is time that they removed the barriers to recruitment.
The Government hope that there will be a significant change in the near future and that republicans will cease to discourage recruitment and, instead, encourage it. That is fine if it is done in the right way and in the right circumstances, but it would be better for the Government, rather than continuing
to legalise discrimination, to focus on real obstacles and concentrate their efforts on affirmative action.
All these measures are unnecessary. We have only to consider the target group for recruits—primarily 20 to 25-year-old males, but also females in that age range, as the appropriate number must be recruited. I believe that I am right in saying that there is a Catholic majority in that age range, so if there was equal participation there would also be a significant Roman Catholic rate of recruitment of at least 50 per cent., if not more. Therefore, there would be no need for the quota system if the obstacles were removed and the appropriate affirmative action taken. I repeat that quotas are wrong in principle. They lead to discrimination, which is why the Government have had to seek derogations from Community directives.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that even more annoying is the fact that Ministers' assurances that Protestants who qualified would not be rejected on the basis that insufficient Catholics were applying seem to have been misleading? Certain individuals rightly feel aggrieved because, through no fault of their own, they have been prevented from having a career in the police force in a way that the Government explicitly assured me and others would not happen.
Once again, I express my amazement that such assurances were ever given. The Government knew from the outset that that would happen. Indeed, they intended it to happen. Under the current recruiting system, hundreds of people were informed that they met the standard for appointment, but that they cannot be appointed as they have a Protestant background.
I would be interested to know whether there is a Hansard reference that the right hon. Gentleman can show us. The Government's intention is plain, even from the heading of section 46 of the 2000 Act—''Discrimination in appointments''.
The Minister reinforces the amazement that I mentioned to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire. She is entirely shameless about the matter. She acknowledges that the intention is to discriminate—[Interruption.] I shall not make any more pejorative comments about her conduct, but I would have expected her at least to be sufficiently concerned about the matter not to point so blatantly to the Government's intention, which she confirms is to discriminate. She has baldly said so. Will she point that out to the Prime Minister, who does not seem to have noticed that he is discriminating? Will she tell him that his policy involves discrimination? That might restore a little credibility to his comments.
It did nothing for the Prime Minister's credibility to visit Belfast last October and declare his total abhorrence of discrimination when everyone in Northern Ireland knows that he discriminates against Protestants in this matter, and against everyone else in Northern Ireland in other matters. His comments produced only a collective expression of disgust in the community and helped to undermine the other
objectives of his visit. His continuing adherence to a policy of discrimination also undermines his policies in other matters.
There is no need for the quota system. It is shameful, and sooner or later the Government will have to abandon it. It would be better to try to restore a little credibility to the Government and to lend them a little more integrity. I am sorry that it is necessary to use such terms, but they are acting disgracefully in the matter and the sooner they have a good, hard think about it, the better it will be for everyone.
I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland on an ingenious new clause and a clever way of reconciling a series of points of view. He started from the premise of addressing the grievance that, as the right hon. Member for Upper Bann said, is felt by all those who think that Roman Catholics—I use the term that is in the legislation—are unfairly given advantage by the provisions on the statute book.
Secondly, if the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland included in his new clause the figures representing the make-up of the population, I understand that they would be 45, 41 and 14 per cent., but here the ingenuity of the new clause comes through again. He feels that he must make some concession to the words that are already on the statute book, and address the problems raised by the issues that lie behind the measures on the statute book.
Consequently, the hon. Gentleman tries ingeniously to reconcile addressing the grievance with addressing the problem of the under-representation of Roman Catholics over the years in first the RUC and now the PSNI. Unfortunately, the new clause does not quite work, for two reasons. One is the series of arguments already advanced by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann about quotas. He made a powerful point. Secondly, the new clause would instruct the Chief Constable to appoint 14 per cent. who were neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant. What would he do if he could not find 14 per cent. from, I presume, Jews, Hindus, Muslims and, if necessary, Jedi? I understand that 400,000 people declared themselves to be Jedi in the census.
I am sorry to introduce what might seem to be a frivolous note, but in view of the comment that has just been made, I have to refer to employment monitoring, whereby employees are required to fill in a form indicating a community affiliation. I remember a famous case from the town where I grew up in Bangor in which hundreds of employees of a particular firm decided to classify themselves as Shi'ite Muslims.
I am interested in the right hon. Gentleman's observation. There is a serious point behind it, which is that one must never underestimate
the amount of religious and other forms of diversity in all places, including Northern Ireland.
To return to the main point—you would not want me to stray, Mr. Benton—the real weakness in the new clause seems to be that the Chief Constable might have genuine difficulty, as I am sure that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland would acknowledge, in finding that 14 per cent. However, I warn the Minister against using such an argument in replying to the debate because, as the right hon. Member for Upper Bann has pointed out, the Chief Constable already has great difficulty in recruiting the number and proportion of Roman Catholics that he and the police service would like to recruit. Under the legislation as it stands, there are great difficulties in recruiting others who would fill those places were they not specified as Roman Catholics, so the Minister cannot use the line of argument that I have advanced.
In addressing new clause 1, I join other hon. Members in commending the Liberal Democrats' reasoning and rationale, and the ingenuity with which they have pressed their proposal. I support the thinking behind the new clause, but, unfortunately, it does not go to the heart of the matter.
Section 46 of the 2000 Act caused deep and grievous insult to the hundreds of Protestants who applied for positions within the police service who were given out to the merit pool and then discriminated against—that is exactly what occurred—on the ground of their religion. Discontent is not restricted only to those affected personally by that discriminatory legislation. I share some of the misgivings of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann, but further hurt stems from the origins of section 46, which was unfortunately first alluded to in public by a member of the right hon. Member's party and former Member of this House, now Lord Maginnis of Drumglass. To his shame, he was the first to advocate a 50:50 recruitment policy.
The hon. Member should be aware, first, that the comments to which he referred were not made on my watch as leader of the party and, secondly, were made many years before Patten and in a wholly different context. It is uncharitable of the hon. Member to continue to smear a former hon. Member of this House by insinuating that he is somehow responsible for the Patten proposals.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for confirming that a member of his party advocated the 50:50 rule long before Patten and, on his watch, was someone who endorsed that rule. It is a bit rich to complain about that now, when a senior member of his party introduced the proposal.
The right hon. Gentleman's digging, as recorded by Hansard, will be scrutinised by many people in Northern Ireland.
To grasp the depth of intensity with which section 46 is viewed in Northern Ireland, it is necessary to allude to the competitions held for the PSNI. Several competitions have been held under that section: I shall not go into every one, but suffice it to say, as the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland mentioned, the number of Roman Catholic applicants has increased. Across the board in Northern Ireland, that is welcome. However, one wonders what the increase would have been without section 46. We simply do not know.
The first competition attracted almost 3,000 applicants—0.2 per cent. of the entire population of Northern Ireland. Although fewer people were attracted to subsequent competitions, that was a considerable response to the advertising campaign undertaken by the police in Northern Ireland. Of those 3,000, about 550 qualified for the merit pool. Of those 550, 400 were from the Protestant community and 150 from the Roman Catholic community. Those applicants were subject to a severe vetting procedure, and each of the 550 was found to be suitably qualified to be police officers.
The problem, which neither section 46 or new clause 1 deals with, was that of the 550 suitably qualified applicants, 250 members of the Protestant community were discriminated against. They were told, ''Yes, you are suitably qualified, but you are Protestant. Under the 50:50 rule, we cannot and will not offer you employment.'' Not only is that unacceptable, but it is shameful. One can only imagine what it would have been like had the reverse been the case and Roman Catholics had been told, ''Yes, you are suitably qualified but you are not being recruited purely on the ground that you are Catholic.'' However, that happened in the first and subsequent competitions. In other words, in the first competition every Catholic applicant who was suitably qualified was offered employment, but 250 Protestant applicants were told that they were of the wrong religion. There is no justification for that. It is abhorrent and shameful, and the provision should be repealed.
Will the Government take the 50:50 concept to its logical conclusion and apply it to other aspects of employment? For example, of the three hon. Members who serve on the Committee from Northern Ireland, two of us—the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh and myself—live in areas in which local government uses a recruitment practice that is heavily weighted against the Protestant community. Will the Government introduce legislation to implement a 50:50 recruitment strategy to redress that? My community would benefit from that, but I would be strenuously opposed to it. Will they apply the rule to the civil service, for which the general service grades also show a discriminatory outcome against the Protestant community? Will they apply the rule to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, with which my community also has problems? Again, I hope not, and I would oppose them if they did.
At the heart of the matter is the reintroduction of the merit principle. The Government and PSNI must do all that they can to attract applicants from the Catholic community. They must advertise and try to combat the disgraceful acts of intimidation that are experienced by some applicants from that community by republicans of both the dissident and provisional variety. However, having done that, people must be recruited purely on the basis of their suitability to be police officers, regardless of the number of applicants from each community, once they have passed the vetting procedure and reached the merit pool.
There cannot be, and there must not be, any other criteria on which we recruit police officers. Unfortunately, there is under section 46 and new clause 1. I respect the integrity of the Liberal Democrats' attempt to address the issue. They at least recognise that there is a huge problem, but I cannot agree with their new clause.
There has to be a reintroduction of the merit-only principle. What would that be, and where would it lead? It would lead to the most suitably qualified people from both sections of the community being recruited purely on the basis that they are the best to police a divided society in Northern Ireland. If that method of recruitment leads to an under-representation in the Protestant or the Catholic community, we will work to redress it. However, we should not discriminate, which is what the section does and what is at its heart. The Government must desist; they must move away from this policy before European legislation compels them to do so.
I rise somewhat wistfully in recollection of a time when my party was in government. This is therefore something of an exercise in nostalgia. I remember when I was a member of the then Government Whips' Office and my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) was a junior Minister in the Northern Ireland Office. He introduced a measure that became the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1989, which I thought, and still think, was brave. It was a serious attempt to regulate employment in the workplace. I know that we are talking about policing, but there are instructive parallels, which I hope you will allow me to draw, Mr. Benton. I shall not delay the Committee for long.
The Act set out goals and timetables, and I remember my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport wrestling with the parliamentary draftsmen, who said that goals and timetables were not idiomatic to their arts of draftsmanship and could not be introduced as part of the text of a Bill that was to become an Act. My hon. Friend prevailed, however, and the parliamentary draftsmen eventually yielded to his will that the concepts of goals and timetables should be introduced into the workplace in Northern Ireland to achieve greater fairness.
I speak as an Englishman, but it would not be too dangerous or reckless—a word that we have seen recently on the front pages of newspapers—to say that
there was a time in Northern Ireland when certain employers tended almost exclusively to recruit Protestants. I believe that the Belfast dockyards of Harland and Wolff were notorious for that. Other employers tended almost exclusively to recruit Roman Catholics. The Protestant workers in the dockyards of Harland and Wolff posted a message to the Pope on one of those great gantries known as Samson or Goliath. Incidentally, that message was anatomically impossible, which may have been born out of a particular disposition or even ignorance.
An attempt developed to try to ensure that there were goals and timetables. Interestingly, the right hon. Member for Upper Bann told us today that quotas are out of order under human rights legislation. I am not sure what has become of that employment legislation with its goals and timetables. My disposition, and that of my hon. Friends, is to support the broad sweep of the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland and the two new clauses tabled by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann. They are all bona fide improvements. We will support them if the Committee divides this morning, or we will return to them with a will if our next rendezvous with them is on Report.
I want to respond to the Minister's challenge about why I may have naively inferred that the 50:50 regulations did not require the withdrawal on a reciprocal basis of individuals from one side or another. In Northern Ireland questions last November, I asked the hon. Lady:
''Given the evident need for good, well-qualified police officers in Northern Ireland, of whatever religion, will the Minister please explain the consequences if a police recruit from one religious denomination or another pulls out during the qualification process? Is there any pressure for a reciprocal withdrawal to maintain the 50:50 ratio?''
The question was quite clear and specific. She replied:
''The hon. Gentleman knows the detail of the arrangements that bring into effect the 50:50 recruitment of Catholics and Protestants to the Northern Ireland police service. He also understands that our efforts are directed towards achieving a more accountable, representative and effective police force.''—[Official Report, 27 November 2002; Vol. 395, c. 297–8.]
At the time I naïvely thought that she was trying to give me some reassurance that that did not imply that there would necessarily be a reciprocal withdrawal on account of the regulations.
I recognise that it was my wishful thinking to believe that. I did not want to accept that the Minister really was conceding the point about discrimination that my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland and the right hon. Member for Upper Bann had made. Indeed, had I been a little more on the ball and realistic about this, I would have kicked up a much bigger fuss at the time. With the benefit of what I have heard from her today, together with an analysis from Opposition Members, I realise that her response was simply to admit that reciprocal withdrawals are a necessary consequence of the legislation. Is it any wonder that applicants to the PSNI are so irritated and feel that the current legislation is resulting in an injustice?
It is helpful to go right back and ask why these problems have come about in Northern
Ireland in recent years? If my understanding as an Englishman is correct, we can trace the origins of much of the trouble back to what the Catholic community perceived as discrimination against them.
Absolutely so. I do not for one moment suggest that it is unreasonable. There was discrimination. However, the whole of the process and much of the violence that flowed from it started with a sense of grievance driven by real discrimination.
No, no. I am not saying that it was in police recruitment. I am going right back to the problems of Northern Ireland and its troubles. Clearly discrimination happened and generated trouble. Much
of the effort that has been made recently is to overcome that discrimination. For that reason alone—there are many other reasons—trying to solve the problem of discrimination by discriminating proves that we have not learned much from all that we have done and said about Northern Ireland. If discrimination drove the Province into terrorism, why should it now drive it to peace and harmony? We seem simply to be replacing one angry and resentful community with another angry and resentful community.
As far as I am concerned, it beggars belief—
It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.