Police

Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28 March 2001.

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Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Conservative, Bury St Edmunds 12:00, 28 March 2001

What recent representations he has received regarding recruitment to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. [154342]

Photo of John Reid John Reid Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Recruiting to the Police Service of Northern Ireland began on 23 February. The level of interest has greatly exceeded expectations. About 20,000 inquiries have now been made, and by 26 March nearly 3,800 applications had been received. The closing date for applications is this Friday.

Photo of David Ruffley David Ruffley Conservative, Bury St Edmunds

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. He will be aware that, in the past three years, the RUC's reserve and regular strength has decreased from 12,700 to 11,500. Will he detail the active steps that he will be taking to reverse that depressing trend?

Photo of John Reid John Reid Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The hon. Gentleman did not mention the target of about 7,500 that was outlined in the Patten commission report and that has some relevance to his question. We are taking various measures to remedy the situation, not the least of which is our current recruitment. Not only have we had an overwhelming response to that, but it has been targeted on a 50–50 basis, so that both sides of the community and both traditions will be involved. We hope to have a police service that is more acceptable to the whole community. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am in constant touch with the Chief Constable to ensure that the operational capability of the RUC and of the future police service will not be diminished beneath the necessary levels.

Photo of Mrs Maria Fyfe Mrs Maria Fyfe Labour, Glasgow Maryhill

Does my right hon. Friend know how many of those applications have come from women applicants, and does he have any idea of whether the number of women recruited into the police service is going up or reversing? Does he agree that the more women there are in senior positions, the more it will help to recruit women into the police service?

Photo of John Reid John Reid Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I am afraid that I cannot as yet tell my hon. Friend the breakdown of the figures on grounds either of sex or of religion. That will come at a later stage. However, not only do we of course welcome equality of opportunity in Northern Ireland, but we have incorporated—probably to a greater degree than anywhere else in the United Kingdom or, indeed, in Europe—the principle of equality of opportunity.

Mr. Lembit Öpik:

Has the Social Democratic and Labour Party provided the Minister with an explanation of its apparent continuing unwillingness to give wholehearted support to the initiative to encourage more Catholics to apply to the police service? Does the Minister know why it has not yet nominated its representatives to the Policing Board?

Photo of John Reid John Reid Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

There have been many constructive discussions with the SDLP over many months. [Interruption.] When possible, the Government have moved to meet the SDLP's concerns, and I believe that the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 is better for that— [Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber.

Photo of John Reid John Reid Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We hope very much that the SDLP will support recruitment—especially because of the figures that I have cited of no fewer than 20,000 inquiries and, so far, of about 3,800 applications to the new Police Service of Northern Ireland. I very much hope that, following the talks at Hillsborough led by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the SDLP will see that the gap between us has narrowed and find its way to joining the new Policing Board.

Photo of Mr Ken Maginnis Mr Ken Maginnis UUP, Fermanagh and South Tyrone

Does the Secretary of State agree that we owe a tremendous debt to the RUC reserves? Does he also agree that, in giving that service, they have had the least security of tenure and least regard, but have made a huge sacrifice for society in Northern Ireland? Will he assure me that members of the RUC reserves who wish to join the new Police Service of Northern Ireland will be given every opportunity and encouragement to apply so that we can make use of their experience and dedication?

Photo of John Reid John Reid Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

I can assure my hon. Friend that they, with everyone else, will be welcome to join the new police service. I also have no hesitation in according to the RUC the accolade of the whole House for the sacrifices that it has made over very many years in fighting terrorism. Indeed, that was recognised by the award that was given to the RUC. I hope that the widows of RUC officers who died fighting terrorism before 1982 will feel that their sacrifice has been recognised in some small way by the grant that we made recently. That grant was made available after representations from, among others, the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), the leader of the Ulster Unionist party.

Photo of Mr John Taylor Mr John Taylor Conservative, Solihull

Does the Secretary of State share our dismay that, despite the Patten reforms—some of which have caused great pain to the RUC—nationalist parties in Northern Ireland, the Irish Government and the Catholic Church still refuse to recommend that young Roman Catholic men and women join the police?

Photo of John Reid John Reid Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office, The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

The police service that we are creating in Northern Ireland is not merely a negotiating concession to the nationalist side. We are creating a service that will be accountable to, and respected by, the whole community, all of whom will participate in it. That will be of enormous benefit to the whole of Northern Ireland.

Given the number of applications and inquiries that have been made with regard to the new police service, I hope that parties on the nationalist side will take the opportunity to join the Policing Board. I believe that the gap is narrowing among members of the SDLP, and I welcome the positive statements recently made by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon).