'The following provisions of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c. 32) are repealed—
(a) subsections (5), (6) and (7) of subsection 44 (pools of applicants);
(b) section 46 (discrimination in appointments); and
(c) subsection (1)(a), (b), (c) and (e) of section 47 (temporary provisions).'.—[Mr. Peter Robinson.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
The Second Deputy Chairman:
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 7—Repeal of temporary provisions about quotas, etc—
'(1) The following provisions of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c. 32) are repealed—
(a) section 44(5), (6) and (7) (pools of applicants);
(b) section 46 (discrimination in appointments); and
(c) section 47(1)(a), (b), (c) and (e) (temporary provisions).
(2) For section 2 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (Renewal of Temporary Provisions) Order 2004 (2004 No. 114) substitute—
"(2) Section 45 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, which is in force on 29th March 2004 shall continue in force for the period beginning 30th March 2004 and ending 28th March 2007.".'.
New clause 8—Equality of Opportunity—
'(1) Section 48 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (action plans) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1) for "women" substitute "Roman Catholics, women, ethnic minorities and other social groups".
(3) In subsection (2) for "women" substitute "Roman Catholics, women, ethnic minorities and other social groups".'.
New clause 6 relates to the recruitment policy of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and, especially, its discriminatory 50:50 recruitment policy. I state on behalf of all my colleagues on these Benches that we want the best of our citizens in Northern Ireland in the ranks of the PSNI, irrespective of their religious or community background. We want the composition of the PSNI to reflect our whole community, and to represent both its religious groups and the smaller ethnic groups. It adopted its present policy because of the low numbers of Roman Catholic recruits in the past years and decades to the PSNI and, before that, the Royal Ulster Constabulary. That was a direct result of the activities of the Irish Republican Army, which targeted Roman Catholics, who were less likely to apply to, and join, the RUC. Happily, many of them defied the terrorists and became members of the RUC, many of them serving in high-ranking posts with considerable bravery and distinction.
Discrimination is wrong. It is offensive, and it is against European human rights legislation, but it is authorised in recruitment to the PSNI. Some people may describe it as positive or benign discrimination, but it is still discrimination. Hundreds of fully qualified Protestants have been denied employment on the basis of their religion simply because there has not been a corresponding uptake from the Catholic community. The 50:50 recruitment policy requires a 50 per cent. intake from the Roman Catholic community and a 50 per cent. intake not just from the Protestant community—the largest community in Northern Ireland—but from all other non-Christian and ethnic groups. On
As Roman Catholic recruits do not need to score as highly as their non-Roman Catholic counterparts, there is a valid charge that less qualified Roman Catholic recruits have been successful while than their non-Roman Catholic counterparts have not, even though they achieved a much higher score. That creates the impression in the community that police officers working in the area are not there because of their ability to do the job but simply because of their religious background. That does not help increase the community's confidence in the effectiveness of the PSNI. The Government are prepared to introduce legislation to increase the number of recruits from the Roman Catholic community, but as non-Christians and ethnic minorities are classed alongside Protestant applicants, there is clear discrimination against both Protestant applicants and individuals from ethnic minority backgrounds. At a time when race hate crimes are increasing in Northern Ireland, the Government should be doing more to encourage members of ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland to join the PSNI.
The imbalance in the RUC was mainly the result of intimidation of Roman Catholic recruits by the IRA. Applications from the Roman Catholic community were shown to rise from 11 per cent. to 22 per cent.—double—after the first IRA ceasefire, without any anti-discriminatory legislation being put in place. It is therefore clear that it was the removal of the threat against those applicants, rather than any unfair recruitment policies, that brought about a significant increase in applications.
The Patten commission took no heed of that fact in its report. It is inconceivable that anyone who was taking a serious look at the reasons behind the community imbalance in the RUC could have ignored the No. 1 reason why Roman Catholics were not joining. That meant that Patten was taking no account of the effect that the removal of that threat would have upon applications to the police.
Catholics had shown that they had the opportunity to rise through the ranks of the RUC—16 per cent. at very senior officer level were Roman Catholic. People simply want more officers on the street. They do not care what religion they come from or what their background may be. They simply want the best qualified officers who are best able to do the job of tackling crime.
Although the scheme is designed to encourage Catholic participation in the police, the operation of the scheme is alienating many young Protestants, who are told that they are of the wrong community background to get a job in policing. There is a danger that in trying to solve one problem, 50:50 recruiting will end up creating another. Every Member from Northern Ireland has had experience of this with the young people in their constituency.
The money being used to administer such official discrimination could be better spent on front-line policing services in Northern Ireland. While direct rule Ministers constantly lecture the people of Northern Ireland about paying their own way, the Government are spending huge amounts of money on a discriminatory scheme. In recent weeks there was much publicity about the problems surrounding the provision of a new police training college in Northern Ireland. We are told that there is a lack of funding available to help build that college, and that it may be necessary to look for foreign investment to build it. At the same time we are spending millions of pounds enforcing the 50:50 recruitment scheme. The Government could help deliver world- class police training facilities, rather than enforcing discrimination in Northern Ireland.
The former vice-chairman of the Policing Board admitted that 50:50 recruitment to the PSNI is an "aberration" and said that
"it should be got rid of as soon as possible".
Those comments by the Roman Catholic former vice-chairman of the Policing Board were supported not just by members of the Unionist community, but by the Alliance party, which does not support mechanisms that run contrary to human rights norms. It has recognised that the imposition of 50:50 recruitment has promoted division and led to more distrust in the police among various communities.
It is somewhat ironic that the Police Service of Northern Ireland is supposed to be one of the police forces most trained in human rights. We are told that the PSNI is a world leader in this area. However, it would seem that human rights become important within the PSNI only when people have been successful in joining the service. The human rights of those who are unfortunate enough to be rejected on the grounds of their religion are ignored. Recruitment levels in the PSNI have ensured that the membership of the force from the Roman Catholic community is around 30 per cent. It is expected that by the time the review takes place, it will be around 40 per cent., in line with the percentage of the population that is from the Roman Catholic community.
When he responds to the debate, will the Minister give a clear commitment that at the time of the review, if not immediately, the 50:50 recruitment policy will cease, and that the Government will recognise that they cannot continue with a policy that sets quotas for those who will get jobs in Northern Ireland, which is contrary to any human rights norm anywhere in the civilised world?
The subject of 50:50 recruitment is very emotive, but it must be put into a particular context. Mr. Robinson has said that the recruitment of members of the Catholic community to the then RUC was prohibited by the IRA, but that ignores the fact that before the campaign of violence by the IRA, the number of Catholics in the RUC was very small and totally disproportionate to the community structure.
I say to those who favour the abolition of 50:50 recruitment that before the IRA's campaign of violence, there was a chill factor in the Catholic community, which believed that the RUC was a Protestant police force for a Protestant Parliament for a Protestant people. The Patten investigation into how the police in Northern Ireland could be fully supported by both communities and proportionately represented by both communities led to 50:50 recruitment, but it was not the only body to make that suggestion. In its third report on
"As the RUC's figures show, without some radical change in the force it will take a generation to redress the religious imbalance."
That was GAA rule 21, which was ignored in practice. The GAA did not and does not reflect the Catholic population—it is a sector of it.
Irrespective of that issue, I have described the attitude of the Catholic communities in Northern Ireland. In March 2001, Catholic representation in the regular officer corps was 8.3 per cent. The current figure is more than 19 per cent. That is a good increase following the application of the 50:50 rule.
I can understand the problem that that appears to create for the Protestant community, but I hope that they would agree that the relatively huge, if not yet proportionate, increase in the Catholic population within the new PSNI is giving a new dimension to policing right across the communities. That support from the Catholic community is increasing daily as its members gain confidence in enlisting for the new police service.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the changes in the composition of the police that he is describing would be occurring anyway because of the greater influx of applicants from the Roman Catholic community? We do not need this false 50:50 rule to bring about a change that is occurring naturally in the absence of an IRA campaign of intimidation against those who join.
Between 2001 and 2003, the percentage increased from just over 8 per cent. to about 20 per cent. That was brought about primarily by the application of Patten, including the 50:50 recruitment policy, and people wishing to leave the service. How could the huge imbalance of the Catholic population in the police service have been addressed without radical action? It would take generations of natural wastage, and as a community we could not afford to wait for that to happen
There is an insinuation that inferior candidates have qualified for the PSNI and are now on the streets as police officers. That is completely incorrect. Every new recruit who becomes a police officer in the PSNI is fully qualified in every respect. The PSNI has the highest standards in terms of the quality of recruits, whether Catholic, Protestant or neither, and that is reflected in the high success rate of its officers.
There is a small element of that, but it is a price worth paying for getting a first-class service that is representative of all communities.
The figures show that 3,879 suitably qualified candidates were rejected, but only 440 to 540 were rejected because of 50:50, depending on which tranche it was. It was nothing to do with whether the applicants were Catholic or Protestant. Following over-subscription by highly qualified young people from our community, those numbers of suitably qualified candidates did not get positions because there simply were not the positions for them. A small element of that may have been discriminatory against Protestants.
If the hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that the best persons are getting the posts because they are the best persons, what is the need for 50:50?
The 50:50 rule is there for the obvious reason that we must ensure that the Catholic population, which the hon. Gentleman must admit was grossly under-represented, is represented within a reasonable time frame. The figure has reached about 20 per cent. According to Patten, the 50:50 rule was to continue until about 30 per cent. of regular officers were from the Catholic community. At the current rate, it will take approximately four or five years—perhaps to the end of the fiscal year 2010–11—to achieve that 30 per cent. The Catholic population is much more than 30 per cent. but the 50:50 rule will be re-examined at that point.
Ulster Unionist and Democratic Unionist Members have made much of the apparently huge discrimination against young Protestant men and women who apply to the PSNI. That is not happening. There is some disadvantage but it is much less than hon. Members make out. Surely even UUP and DUP Members want a police service in Northern Ireland that reflects both communities and is endorsed and fully supported by them. If we want to achieve that in a reasonable time frame, there appears to be no other way of doing so.
There had to be a derogation from the European convention on human rights because of the marginal element of discrimination. However, I emphasise that it is a small element in the total rejections, and that can be proved. In accepting the slight element, we achieve the much greater benefit, even though some have made a sacrifice, of a police service that is fully representative of and fully supported by the communities so that, for the first time, young police officers can reside in some Catholic communities, just as they are returning to reside in some Protestant communities.
Does the hon. Gentleman understand what he is saying? He says that there is discrimination against those who should have, as a right, the ability to join the forces of law and order. He underestimates the hurt that that causes. Their religious persuasion is the only reason why they are being refused. If that was happening to his friends, he would not be happy about it.
The point is that they are not being discriminated against because they are Protestants but because of the application of the 50:50 rule, which is trying to achieve an overall balance and equality between the communities. If we went for the hon. Gentleman's suggestion, the inequality between the communities would be perpetuated. [Interruption.] I know that I am repeating myself, but if hon. Members genuinely want a police service for Northern Ireland that reflects the best of our young men and women from both communities, they should not pursue the amendments. Accepting them would mean that the whole matter would stop dead in its tracks. That is not the way forward. I ask them sincerely to accept the marginal disadvantage to a small number of people, difficult as it may be, as the price for the greater prize of a totally acceptable police force.
I can say nothing more. Statistics can prove anything—they are everywhere—but the application of the 50:50 rule is achieving, on target, what was accepted from the Patten recommendations. It will be successful if it is allowed to continue and is supported by the DUP and the UUP. I should like to believe that that will happen. Otherwise, the position will become entrenched again and we will make no progress.
I think that the hon. Gentleman is a little guilty of rewriting history. Does he accept that in the past, Roman Catholics have not been encouraged to participate in anything to do with Crown forces? Does he also accept that if Roman Catholics did apply to join the RUC, they immediately became a target for terrorist groups and even had to forgo visiting their families if they joined? This is not about deliberate discrimination against the Roman Catholic community. That community excluded itself from joining the RUC for many years.
It might happen, but not where I live in my community. The fact is that, whether hon. Members like it or not, the RUC was seen to be a police force that was almost in opposition to the Catholic community. I do not want to quote history or statistics, but for goodness' sake, let us remember what happened in Bombay street and Hooker street at the start of the troubles in Belfast—[Interruption.] They wiped out Catholic streets one after the other—[Interruption.]
We can use statistics whenever we like, but we want to achieve a balanced, supported police service in Northern Ireland and take a new, vigorous step forward. We are achieving an enormous amount of change. One of the alternative proposals at the time was the total abolition of the RUC, followed by recruitment into a new police force. That was seen—correctly, in my opinion—to be unacceptable, but it was totally understandable. Instead of choosing total abolition, we decided to let the RUC continue, and to apply the 50:50 rule on the basis that it would result in an acceleration of recruitment from the Catholic community to the police service. I believe that that arrangement has served the community very well. We can make political points about it and quote statistics, but the reality is that both communities are now providing good, well-qualified young men and women who will serve our communities for years to come. When they have gone up through the ranks and achieved greater qualifications and experience, we will have a police service that is second to none, as we have now.
I would ask hon. Members not to support the proposals from the DUP and the UUP for the total abolition of the 50:50 arrangement. If we want a new police service of the kind that I have tried to articulate, we should not support the new clause; it would represent a totally retrograde step.
I rise to support the new clause. It is difficult to overestimate the degree of anger and outright antagonism that exists within my community towards the 50:50 arrangement. The term "50:50" is, as my hon. Friend Mr. Robinson has suggested, a misnomer, because we are actually seeing a minority of Protestants being recruited. More Catholics than Protestants are now being recruited to the police in Northern Ireland, but people use the term "50:50" as a kind of shorthand for that.
It is difficult to overestimate the degree of anguish that exists in my community as a result of this arrangement. It is not, as Mr. McGrady suggested, a minor aberration. Several thousand people have now received a letter thanking them for applying to join the police, and telling them that, although they are suitably qualified to be a police officer, the bottom line is that, because of the 50:50 scenario, they have been unsuccessful in this tranche of applications because they are of the wrong religion.
The hon. Gentleman has just told the House that thousands of applicants have received letters saying that they were unsuccessful because of the 50:50 policy. The fact is that out of 3,879 candidates who were not recruited, only 541—not thousands—failed because of the 50:50 policy.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that inaccurate information. The figures that he mentions are for one tranche. Thousands of people have applied and have got a letter indicating that they have been unsuccessful due to the 50:50 policy.
We can trade statistics back and forth across the House, but we are dealing with human beings. I, like other right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House, have had young Protestant men and women in my office, some in tears, because they have been denied the opportunity of a career simply because of the church that they go to on a Sunday. That should not be acceptable in any society. Surely, eight years on from the Belfast agreement, we should be moving to appointment and recruitment on the basis of merit alone.
I thank my hon. Friend for that point. In all the history of Northern Ireland, in which many difficulties have been and are still being encountered today, many Roman Catholics experienced difficulties from their community in relation to being recruited to the police or, having been recruited to the police, experienced difficulties in their family or social life. There was never a time, however, when a person from the nationalist community was told, in the police or in any other branch of public service, that they would not be successful in applying on the grounds of their religion. In the history of Northern Ireland, that never happened to Roman Catholics, but it is happening currently—[Laughter.] It never happened, under any circumstances, and I defy anyone—
The sneers and laughs of the hon. Members for Belfast, South (Dr. McDonnell) and for Foyle (Mark Durkan) belie the fact that they have the opportunity to give us the evidence rather than pretending to the House that any Roman Catholic received a letter saying that they were denied a position in the RUC because of their religion.
We have listened to arguments from the other side, and we must be frank: the Roman Catholic population never supported young men joining the RUC. I represent a wide Roman Catholic community in North Antrim. When a young man joined the police, he was visited, and his parents were told that he was never again to be allowed to stand in his own home. I have accompanied fathers and mothers who had to travel from one end of North Antrim to the other to be allowed to meet their son in peace. What was the crime of their son? He had become a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I could name scores of other such incidents. The statement that the Roman Catholic population did not object to people joining the RUC is wrong—
I concur fully with the remarks of my right hon. Friend.
At the moment, in 2006, several hundred additional applications for places in the police from both communities are required. Therefore, there is no need for the systematic exclusion of some people on the grounds of religion.
If I wanted to, I could refer to the Grand Committee in which, two weeks ago, Mr. McGrady praised other parts of the public sector in Northern Ireland, such as the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, where the Protestant community is under-represented. But I do not demand a 50:50 recruitment policy to redress the problems in that organisation. Whatever the problems of recent years in the public sector—in the Child Support Agency, the Housing Executive or the civil service—we do not demand a 50:50 recruitment policy to deal with them.
I would imagine, consistency being the keynote, that members of the SDLP would rush to the ramparts to demand 50:50 recruitment—but I think that the silence would be deafening.
I implore Members to view this issue in terms of human rights and the equity of the present position. As I have said, in 2006 there are hundreds more applications to the Police Service of Northern Ireland than are required. There are hundreds more sufficiently qualified personnel from both communities than are required. There is no need and no requirement to discriminate systematically against people on grounds of their religion, because we have suitably qualified people from both communities. We should abandon this preposterous, unacceptable, inequitable, iniquitous 50:50 regime.
A number of false claims and arguments about 50:50 recruitment have been presented on a number of occasions. One claim that has frequently been made is that it is not working, but it is. The application rate for Catholics is 35 per cent., and, contrary to another claim that is often made, there have always been enough suitably qualified candidates to fill the quota.
As my hon. Friend Mr. McGrady has pointed out, the number of Catholics in the police service has already increased from 8.3 per cent. to more than 19 per cent., and later this year it will exceed 20 per cent. By 2010, according to Patten's projection, it will have reached 30 per cent. I hope that that success story encourages others to join the police service, not just Catholics but Protestants, in the knowledge that they are entering the service free from the perception that they are Protestants in a Protestant police service. The change in complexion and concept created by the 50:50 policy is there for all serving officers, not just the new Catholic officers but Protestants as well. People from all sections of the community can respect them as having been appointed on the basis of their vocational commitment to provide a policing service for the whole of that community.
Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on the impression created by the discriminatory 50:50 procedure? It can always be cast at Catholic recruits that they are only there because of their religion. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that that is enormously demeaning for good Catholic recruits?
The fact is that everyone who is recruited to the Police Service of Northern Ireland is suitably qualified, because all candidates have to be suitably qualified.
Hon. Members need to remember that the 50:50 recruitment policy was introduced in the context of the Patten report and a commission that looked into the question of how to create a new beginning for policing in Northern Ireland. Among other things, the commission might have had to consider the total disbandment of the Royal Ulster Constabulary as a way of creating the new beginning so that we started recruiting with a blank page.
The decision was made that it would be wrong to move to the point of disbandment and to appoint and recruit afresh, even though some people argued for that. A decision was made to retain a large number of officers in an unrepresentative force. That is the first decision that we need to remember. If we were going to argue for open recruitment and fairness and that everything should be done on merit, we could have said, "Everyone out, it is now open recruitment; it is now open sky." For a variety of reasons, clearly that was not favoured. So 50:50 recruitment and the creation of turnover by offering severance packages to serving officers alongside the retention of thousands of serving officers who were overwhelmingly Protestant was a compromise package.
Hon. Members should remember that under Patten, after 10 years, we do not have Catholics over-represented in the Police Service of Northern Ireland; we will still have Catholics under-represented at 30 per cent. So people need to get some sense of perspective on the real import of 50:50 recruitment.
I can take the hon. Gentleman's passion for fairness, equality and non-discrimination, but I have not heard too much noise from his party when discrimination has continued to be practised in quangos across Northern Ireland. I have not heard calls for proper representation of Protestants on those quangos.
The hon. Lady suggests that we are not concerned about under-representation of the Protestant community, but my party has always stood for strong anti-discrimination legislation, and we supported the creation of the Equality Commission and the Fair Employment Commission. The fair employment laws have acted to assist Protestants when they have been discriminated against and encouraged and assisted a variety of employers to improve the representation of Protestants in their work force. They have helped to improve the representation of Catholics in a series of work forces as well. For that reason, the Fair Employment Commission, the fair employment laws and the Equality Commission have always been opposed by the Democratic Unionist party. The party has opposed every measure aimed at fair employment and every counter-discrimination measure.
Thank you, Mrs. Heal. I began by saying that a number of false claims had been made. One of those false claims was made by the hon. Member for East Derry earlier. He said that thousands of people were rejected—
The hon. Gentleman said in his earlier remarks that thousands of people were rejected as a result of 50:50, but the figures from eight tranches of recruitment show that only 541 people were rejected as a result of 50:50 out of a total of 3,879 who were rejected. The great thing is that we had 3,879 people applying alongside the other people who were accepted. That in itself shows the change that we have achieved in the concept of policing.
It also needs to be remembered that, as a result of the opportunities created by the Patten reforms, we have more young Protestants being recruited to the police service year on year than happened in the years before Patten and the 50:50 policy. The Minister may be able to give us the relevant figures later when he contributes to the debate, but the numbers of young Protestants recruited to the police service in the years preceding Patten and the 50:50 policy were far lower than the numbers of young Protestants now being recruited to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. People need to get that into perspective and context. The DUP opposed the Patten changes because it wanted to retain the old RUC and personnel as it was. If it had had its way the number of young Protestants who are now applying to and succeeding in joining the police would not be what it is.
The hon. Gentleman attempts to defend the indefensible. His hon. Friend Mr. McGrady admitted that there was discrimination, describing it as marginal. Is the hon. Gentleman effectively saying that there is an acceptable level of discrimination when it comes to the Police Service of Northern Ireland?
The hon. Gentleman is arguing that there is discrimination. We have also been told that the policy breaches human rights. Let us remember that a legal challenge was brought against the 50:50 policy on human rights grounds and it failed in the High Court.
The Government succeeded in getting that derogation and it is not the only derogation that there has been. If people want to take the challenge to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, they can. We believe that it would not succeed, just as it did not succeed in the High Court in Northern Ireland. It would be to the benefit of Members to know that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has also declared that 50:50 does not breach human rights legislation. [Interruption.] I am quoting the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.
In relation to the derogation, it needs to be remembered too that the European Union in an employment directive has accepted that 50:50 is an acceptable and proper policy. It understands the context in which the policy is being applied and recognises the other choices that might have been made to achieve a more equal and representative police service. It knows what the aim and purpose are, what the context is and what the compromise choice was.
My hon. Friend justified 50:50, as I do, knowing that it creates some painful instances. A young Protestant would-be recruit in my constituency spoke to me with great emotion and to great effect on the issue. I know that it is difficult and hard. When choosing between a 50:50 policy on top of retaining the thousands of people who were retained from the old RUC, and total disbandment followed by total recruitment on merit, it is not so perverse or cruel to opt for 50:50 as people are suggesting.
It is certainly not leading to one-sided recruitment, or to a police service in which the Catholic community is over-represented. Under the Patten recommendations, the 50:50 approach was expected to mean that, even by 2010 or 2011, only 30 per cent. of the PSNI would be made up by members of the Catholic community. They accept that, which shows a degree of fairness, openness and realism on their part. Moreover, the fact that the Catholic community, in the context of the new beginning to policing, is able to extend acceptance and accessibility to all members of the PSNI, regardless of their community background, is a source of hope and encouragement for us all.
We must also remember that, thanks to the work of the Policing Board, recruitment rates are even higher than recommended by Patten. More Catholics are joining the PSNI than Patten envisaged, but more Protestants are doing so too. We need to look at overall recruitment levels again, and not focus only on what can be achieved under the 50:50 policy.
The Patten recommendations suggested that 340 new recruits, from both the Catholic and Protestant communities, would join the police every year, but the actual recruitment level is higher, having reached as many as 540 in one year. That shows that the chances of joining the police have improved for everyone, including young Protestants. Of course, the critics of 50:50 never admit that there has been a real step change in the numbers of young Protestants being recruited into the police every year.
The quota is vital to achieving a sense of equal access and acceptability in policing. Reference has been made to what were called the historic or residual factors contributing to the long-standing Catholic under-representation in the old RUC. Whether one puts the so-called "chill factor" down to the perception in the Catholic community that the old RUC was the arm of Unionist state, or to the effects of the GAA's rule 21, it is not surprising that Catholics had little motivation to join the force. The fear factor must also be taken into consideration.
That is true: my father served in the RUC as a district inspector. He died before I was a year old, so I have no memory of him, but many people have told me that he was a very good officer. However, I also know that he was that very rare thing in the 1950s and early 1960s—a Catholic police officer at a senior level. Indeed, it was because he was a Catholic, like his predecessor, that he became the district inspector in Armagh. Even then, a person's religion affected their suitability to hold that post. I am not sure whether that helps the hon. Gentleman to make his point, or not.
The RUC's unrepresentative nature meant that it was badly perceived in the Catholic community and that, as a result, it was badly equipped because it was not as accepted and accessible as an effective police service needs to be. Nor was it in any way as considerate or sensitive to the needs and interests of the Catholic community as it should have been.
If we want evidence, we need only look to the report of Sir John Stevens, who investigated allegations of a shoot-to-kill policy, poor use of intelligence and refusal to pass on intelligence to enable proper police intervention. His report says that this grossly unrepresentative police force failed to warn nationalists of threats to their lives. He wrote:
"A further aspect of my enquiry was how the RUC dealt with threat intelligence. This included examination and analysis of RUC records to determine whether both sides of the community were dealt with in equal measure. They were not . . . Nationalists were known to be targeted but were not properly warned or protected."
The report also refers to collusion with loyalist paramilitaries, including the involvement of state agents in murder. Nationalists bore the brunt of that unequal, awful policy. To create confidence in the new beginning to policing, we have to take steps to ensure that nationalists have no cause to say, "Nothing has changed: this is still the same nefarious, one-sided police service that it always was." One dimension of that—
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has made a slip of the tongue—at least, I hope that he has—in suggesting that the Stevens inquiry investigated allegations of a shoot-to-kill policy. In fact, the Stalker and Sampson inquiries did so, and both found absolutely no substance for such allegations. I would like the hon. Gentleman to correct that point for the record.
I take the hon. Lady's point, in terms of my paying proper attention to my notes, but that should in no way detract from Sir John's findings on the RUC's failure to do its job and warn nationalists of threats to their lives. In the eyes of many nationalists, the RUC's unrepresentative nature is not entirely unrelated to such unresponsiveness. There are certain perceptions of, and feelings about, this issue in the Catholic community, and if we are to achieve the new beginning in policing, we must get beyond those prejudices and confine them to history. The 50:50 recruitment policy, which is only one dimension of the Patten plan, is part of that process. It is helping to change the face of policing, which is for the good of the whole community. Ever increasing numbers are relying on the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
As I have said, we need to view this policy in the context in which it came about. We need to understand that it is working and that, although some aspects of it may be proving painful, many more people are unsuccessful in their candidacy for the police service for reasons other than the 50:50 policy. No one seems to be getting too worried about the other reasons why people are not proving successful.
Members have referred to other forms of employment, and let us be clear about the representation of the two communities in the public service work force. When I was a Minister, we identified an under-representation of Protestant workers in some lower grades of the civil service, and I took action. I acted properly to have that matter addressed, just as I acted properly to try to deal with the under-representation of Catholics in the senior civil service.
We are taking the proper approach, which is why we need strong fair employment measures, but 50:50 has a particular purpose; it is serving that purpose and should not be messed about with, because a much bigger prize could be compromised.
I greatly appreciate how sensitive and controversial this issue is. As with many parapets, I put my head above this one with great trepidation, but it is right that I state our point of view.
In his report on policing, Patten planned that the 50:50 recruitment process would take place over 10 years, so we expect the policy to end in 2010. We hope that the devolution of policing functions to the Assembly will have occurred by then and that it will be able to end the 50:50 process of its own volition.
There are some important issues, however, and one group suffering from the policy has not been mentioned this afternoon—people from ethnic minorities.
The hon. Lady refers to the Patten report in support of her argument. Will she reflect on the fact that although Patten put human rights at the core of policing, the report nevertheless recommended religious discrimination in police service recruitment? How would she and her Liberal Democrat colleagues reconcile those two irreconcilable factors of the report?
Human rights are important and Patten was correct to put them at the core of the report. We have to consider the human rights not only of recruits denied a job due, as the hon. Lady pointed out, to the policy of taking an equal number of people from two religious groups, but of people on the street. Mr. Robinson said that people on the streets do not mind about the background of the policeman standing in front of them, but I have to take issue with that claim, especially in respect of people from ethnic minorities, about whom I am particularly concerned.
The fact that ethnic minorities come within the Protestant 50 per cent. of the recruitment process has taken its toll and affected their chances of being recruited as police officers on the streets of Northern Ireland. Members of the Indian community have told my hon. Friend Lembit Öpik that they have been discouraged not only from applying to the police but from reporting hate crimes, because they do not see members of their community in the service taking on board the discrimination they feel and dealing with the crimes that are perpetrated against them. So there are lots of rights to consider, and no one is pretending that the 50:50 policy is fair. I am sure that we all look forward to the end of that policy.
Mark Durkan referred to some of the statistics. I understand that the Catholic community represents about 44 per cent. of the Northern Ireland community—[Interruption.] Stephen Pound suggests that the figure might be higher, but that is the figure that I have and we have been trading figures all afternoon. The point that I am trying to make is that, even if we achieve 30 per cent. by 2010, the Catholic community will still be under-represented, but there will be some sort of critical mass with which people on the streets of Northern Ireland will be a lot more comfortable.
The hon. Lady referred a moment ago to the human rights of many people in Northern Ireland. Last October, I tabled a parliamentary question about applicants who had been refused jobs in the police. The reply showed that 4,500 Protestants had applied and were regarded as suitably qualified, but that only 970 were successful. Does she therefore accept that the human rights of the 3,500 Protestants who were denied jobs in the police must be considered, as well as those of the wider community?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I feel as though I am in the crossfire; I do not want to get caught in it, because the wider issue relates to many tens of thousands of people in Northern Ireland. [Interruption.] I beg your pardon, Mrs. Heal. I am trying to address everyone, so I apologise for turning around.
There is no statistical complexity. I have figures showing that 541 people were rejected because of the 50:50 policy and that 3,338 people were rejected regardless of the 50:50 policy. We all know that there was a very high number of applications and that far more people applied than there were places, but Unionist Members are trying to imply that all the candidates whose applications failed were rejected because of the 50:50 policy. That is nonsense.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention and to the other hon. Gentlemen for the various statistics that are going to and fro. I still do not think that they detract from my basic argument that, for a short time, the wider community in Northern Ireland must be put before the interests of a certain number of the community. Perhaps some Unionist Members would agree that, if Sinn Fein were to join the Policing Board and actively engage with and support policing structures in Northern Ireland, the need for the policy would soon be ended, because people in the Catholic community would feel much more relaxed about making their applications.
In conclusion, we recognise that the policy is far from ideal. A lot of work needs to be done. However, we must put up with it for a little longer and retain the hope that within a short period—
As for the time that it will take, regrettably, I have not brought my crystal ball into the Chamber with me this afternoon. As for the percentage, it should be for people who have more knowledge and skill than I have to put a figure on that. Certainly, if we reach 30 per cent. by 2010, we will have achieved a great deal of what the Patten recommendations set out to achieve.
It has been a long and, at times, rather fractious debate, but, at the outset, I want to say that I endorse the remarks made by Mr. Robinson at the beginning of this long discussion. New clauses 6 and 7 are almost identical. New clause 7 stands in my name. I am not going to go over why we should press that to a vote this afternoon, but I would like to pick up on some of the remarks that have been made, particularly those made by Mark Durkan, to which I must admit I took grave exception.
I declare a particular interest in that I am married to a former Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Sir Jack Hermon. He was the Chief Constable from 1980 until 1989. During that time, we had no ceasefires at all. His deputy Chief Constable and many of his senior officers were of the Roman Catholic faith. They were enormously courageous men, and they were exclusively men, to have taken the risk that their decision to join the police service—the RUC, as it was proudly known—brought not only to them personally, but to their families. It was an onerous responsibility that they undertook with great enthusiasm and dedication.
I must say that I find it utterly reprehensible that the hon. Member for Foyle—perhaps Hansard will show that I misheard the latter part of his speech—hinted and suggested, most unfairly and grossly inaccurately, that it may perhaps have been the unrepresentative nature of the RUC that somehow contributed to paramilitary activity by loyalists targeting Catholics.
I appreciate the correction, then. Hansard will, of course, shed light on all the versions by tomorrow morning.
On 50:50 recruitment, I am staggered that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in the Social Democratic and Labour party can come to the House and defend that morally repugnant recruitment procedure for the police. I say that with some exasperation. I have brought a copy of the agreement with me—an agreement that was endorsed and repeatedly quoted by the SDLP, and an agreement for which I was proud to vote in 1998.
One of the reasons why I was proud to vote for the agreement was the assurance that it contains, in black and white—I have not invented this. That agreement was endorsed by thousands of people in referendums both in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. On page 16, under the heading "Rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity", the agreement states: "The parties"—I understand that the SDLP was a party to the agreement, as was the British Government; we have a Minister present this afternoon—
"affirm . . . the right to equal opportunity in all social and economic activity, regardless of class, creed, disability, gender or ethnicity".
The agreement does not say in brackets, "except recruitment to the Police Service". On the contrary, it continues, again on page 16:
"the British Government intends, as a particular priority . . . to promote equality of opportunity in relation to religion and political opinion".
That is what I voted for in 1998, as did thousands of people, and the party of the hon. Member for Foyle. I was disgusted, to put it politely, when the British Government—my own Government—legislated to legalise religious discrimination in the recruitment of police officers no later than two years afterwards in the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000. The hon. Member for Belfast, East and his colleagues rightly want to abolish section 46 of that Act through new clause 6, and, likewise, I, the hon. Member for North Down, wish to see it abolished.
The Government have pledged to respect human rights and repeatedly tell the country, and say internationally, how much they do so. They say how much it means to them that the 1997 Labour manifesto included a pledge to make the European convention on human rights part and parcel of our domestic law—I am most grateful that they did so.
The obnoxious 50:50 recruitment procedure, which was legislated for by a British Government after the negotiation of the Belfast agreement and its commitments, was, indeed, tested in the High Court in Belfast some years ago. A young constituent of mine, Mark Parsons, was courageous enough to challenge the legislation. It was not the case that an exemption from the European convention on human rights was negotiated. The court acknowledged that the recruitment procedure was discriminatory and cut right across article 9 of the European convention on human rights, and upheld it only because of its temporary basis. If I remember correctly, that happened three years ago.
The hon. Member for Foyle suggested that if anyone wished to challenge the procedure in Strasbourg, it would be upheld, but that is not the case. The procedure has been in place far too long for it to be temporary. It undermines the Belfast agreement enormously. The Government stand and wring their hands repeatedly and worry about why the Unionist electorate in Northern Ireland has turned against the agreement. It is because of the salami-slicing of everything that was promised to them and, especially, 50:50 recruitment.
The hon. Lady has effectively confirmed that the courts in Northern Ireland decided that the 50:50 policy as per Patten was permissible under the European convention on human rights. The policy is not there in perpetuity and its nature is clear. I thank the hon. Lady for clarifying that I was misled on the derogation from the European convention on human rights. The derogation is actually from European employment law, and I mentioned that there is a European Union employment equality directive that covers 50:50.
I am reluctant to say that it is absolutely correct that while negotiations on the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000—and, perhaps, on the agreement itself—were being undertaken, things were happening behind the back of the then leader of the Ulster Unionist party, the then right hon. Member for Upper Bann. Unbeknown to him, the British Government negotiated in Brussels an exemption from the European Community directives that would have made such discrimination absolutely untenable.
The hon. Lady will have heard the wise and humane words of Lorely Burt. Does she accept that a police service should look like the community it serves? There are occasions—in Chicago in the 1920s, in New York in the 1940s and in the Metropolitan police service today—when a quota system must be used, distasteful though it might be, because otherwise the police force will not look like the community it serves. If a force does not look like that community, it cannot—and seldom does—command the respect of the community.
Let me respond to the hon. Gentleman with two facts. The Home Secretary appeared as a witness earlier this year before a Select Committee that was examining anti-Semitism. When I asked him whether he supported positive discrimination in England and Wales to make the police service more representative—I am sure that Stephen Pound would wish the police service in London and his constituency to reflect the community he represents, although I do not think that it does at present—he said no. After the House adjourns this evening, the hon. Member for Ealing, North may wish to speak to the Home Secretary about making the police service in London, England and Wales more reflective of the community.
The RUC came through a horrible campaign of violence and intimidation. I repeat that there were 302 dead officers—not just one here or there—in a population of 1.7 million, so there is scarcely a family that is untouched. It is not surprising that the Irish Republican Army and other republican paramilitaries targeted Catholics who chose courageously to join the police service when the Gaelic Athletic Association perpetuated rule 21. Lorely Burt referred to the Patten report, which recommended that all obstacles to young Catholics, including the GAA rules, should be withdrawn post-haste. The report was issued in 1999 but, if memory serves, the GAA did not withdraw rule 21 until 2005. It did not act speedily, so it is no wonder that the RUC ended up with a particular composition, which was the result, not of discrimination in the ranks, but of the undisguised intimidation and murder of Catholics who joined its forces.
I thank the hon. Gentleman, but I pay tribute to the Social Democratic and Labour party, which at least had the strength of conviction to serve on the Policing Board, albeit belatedly, where it made a valuable contribution. I am grateful that it did so.
I urge the Minister to withdraw an obnoxious recruitment procedure. I have outlined why the hon. Member for Belfast, East, his colleagues and I—the lone ranger for the Ulster Unionist party—oppose the 50:50 recruitment procedure.
I sigh with exasperation but, personally, I find any form of discrimination morally reprehensible. I shall not endorse the policy. My party, of all parties, needs to recruit more women to its ranks so that they can be elected, but discrimination in any shape or form is abhorrent and repugnant.
Finally, if we reach the new clauses tabled by the hon. Member for Foyle they will appear rather hollow, given his mention of the support given—disgracefully, in my view—by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to 50:50 recruitment. If any human rights organisation can sustain legalised religious discrimination, that undermines the confidence, particularly of the Unionist and Protestant community, in anything that it undertakes. It ill becomes the hon. Gentleman to move a new clause later to increase the powers of the Human Rights Commission, when he has just endorsed religious discrimination. I cannot countenance that.
This has been an important debate, because it has raised issues that needed to be raised and discussed, and still need to be discussed. My party will press the motion.
The Royal Ulster Constabulary, of all people, has been maligned in the debate. I rise because someone must stand up and make it clear that we salute the gallantry, the heroism and the sacrifice of the noble men of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. We also salute their wives and families, because when their husbands went out in the morning, they did not know whether they would return. Sometimes they returned crucified, with part of their limbs cut off by evil men. The time has come for the House to salute the gallantry of members of the RUC and tell the country that we pay them the tribute that needs to be paid to them.
I have listened to the SDLP Members and to their defence of certain things that have been said, but I do not think the people of Northern Ireland will take as infallible what a police officer who was sent over from the Metropolitan police had to say about matters. One has only to look at what happened at that time in Northern Ireland and at some of the exposures that came afterwards to know that he was not a reliable witness.
Today, as we look back, we need to realise that there is no justification for religious discrimination by anyone. It is all very well for SDLP Members to say in the House, "It's only a little thing, and you can forget about it." If that attitude had been taken when they raised matters that were sometimes little things, they would not have had the support of Protestant people who believed that there should not be religious discrimination of any kind.
Ulster stands at a crossroads. The time has come when the people of Ulster should have the opportunity to have full civil and religious liberty for all men—all men equal under the law, all men equally subject to the law. The sooner we achieve that, the better for us all. We surely should be able to unite on that subject. I trust that tonight, when the debate is finished and we push ahead with other matters, we will keep in mind the gallantry and the heroism of those who fought and died to give us the freedom to stand here and say what we can say in a free House and a free Parliament.
This has been a bizarre afternoon. On the previous set of amendments, SDLP Members defended the notion of a Minister for policing and justice who would not give a pledge to support the police. Now the same party is defending overt discrimination against those who apply to join the police. Once again, we have heard the same threadbare arguments. We have been told that 50:50 recruitment is necessary because of the discrimination of the past, despite the fact that there was never a religious bar on people joining the RUC. Indeed, a percentage of places was held over for members of the Catholic community to join the RUC.
I understand why many people did not join the RUC. In the 1970s, I served as a part-time RUC member, and I used to walk the streets with two Catholic RUC members. The family of one of them totally supported his position and his wish to be a policeman, while the other had not seen his family since joining the police—he could not go back, and he told me that he would not go back.
No, it was not positive discrimination, because it was not a requirement that a certain number of recruits should come from one section of the community or the other. There was no system to discriminate against recruits, and the arrangement was voluntary.
That was the start of the troubles, when the percentage of RUC members who were Roman Catholics was in the upper teens. A systematic programme was conducted against those members, many of whom could not go home to their families—many of their families did not want them to go home—which led to a gradual reduction in the number of Catholics in the service. The percentage of Catholics decreased because of the actions of the IRA, which is not a reason to discriminate against Protestants or anyone else who wants to join the police now, but it is one of the justifications used by SDLP Members.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that, before 1973, the percentage of Roman Catholics in the Royal Ulster Constabulary was in the high teens? When the IRA campaign took hold, that percentage decreased not because of anything within the RUC, but because of intimidation, murder and threats within the Roman Catholic community.
My hon. Friend's point reflects my experience. The officer I mentioned found that his own family did not want him to return home because of threats and intimidation.
The second argument that has been made concerns the RUC's record. Much has been made of the Stevens inquiry finding on people not being warned that they were on death lists or that terrorist action was going to be taken against them. There are recorded instances of intelligence having been available when someone was under threat and difficult decisions having been made.
That does not apply only to the RUC. All police services that gather intelligence have to make hard decisions at times when a source might be compromised and officers cannot give the warnings that they might have wanted to give. That has placed many officers in difficult positions. However, it is completely wrong to suggest that there was any systematic attempt within the police to withhold information. I often speak to officers who had to make difficult decisions that they have had to live with. That is not a justification for the blackening of the police that has been attempted this afternoon.
The overwhelming majority of Members would endorse what the hon. Gentleman says about the Police Service of Northern Ireland—the Royal Ulster Constabulary. At the time of the Patten commission in 1998, fewer than 6 per cent. of the police—I think that it was 5.3 per cent.—were Roman Catholic. Now, the figure is nearly 17 per cent. Surely that proves that positive discrimination was necessary, unpalatable though it may be.
I have already explained why the percentage went down over the period of the troubles. It would have increased anyhow as the troubles diminished.
Mark Durkan argued that the RUC had to be done away with because, in some cases, warnings were not given. That denigrates officers who did an excellent job over many years of terrorist activity and had to make very difficult decisions that that they will have to live with for a long time. He also suggested that we could have done away with the RUC entirely and started with a clean sheet, and that because we did not do that, 50:50 is justified. Anyone who believes that one day we can have a police service and the next day we can have no police service, and yet still have efficient policing, is living in an Alice in Wonderland world.
The hon. Gentleman is referring to my comments about the choices facing the Patten commission, to which several recommendations, proposals and submissions were made by various parties. We did not advocate disbandment to create a new beginning for policing, but that was one of the options canvassed. Patten decided against that. As part of the compromise, a large number of existing officers were retained for the new police service and new recruits were to be appointed on a 50:50 basis.
That was a nonsensical idea. We are already reaping some of the consequences of getting rid of far too many experienced officers in Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman's party supported a derogation from 50:50 in order to get more detectives recruited from the mainland because of the skills shortage caused by the limited application of the Patten recommendation.
That reinforces what I said earlier—that the DUP opposed the high turnover ratio that the Patten plan created. If the DUP had had its way, fewer Protestants and fewer Catholics would have been recruited to the police service.
The hon. Gentleman's party confirmed our worst fears about the Patten proposals, in that that their desire to please republicans—let us face it; that was their purpose—meant getting rid of experienced officers, thus leading to skills shortages, which had to be made up by recruiting officers from the mainland. No officer from England or Scotland would have been prepared to have their job decided on the basis of their religion, so the SDLP had to accept that 50:50 would not apply to recruiting people from England or Scotland because they would not have taken the insult of having their religion examined before they were found to be qualified for a job. However, paper-thin arguments continue to be made in favour of 50:50 discrimination.
The hon. Gentleman needs to realise the difference between 50:50 recruitment of fresh new police officers for training and seeking existing trained detectives from other forces.
The hon. Gentleman can make such fine distinctions, but constables could not be recruited without applying the 50:50 rule in Northern Ireland yet they could when they came from the mainland.
I want to consider some of the consequences. As my hon. Friend Mr. Campbell pointed out, the 50:50 rule has led to discrimination against more than 3,000 people in the Protestant community. The hon. Member for Foyle can shake his head, but people who receive a letter stating that they have not been appointed on the basis of their religious background have already got into the merit pool. They have reached the required standard and qualified. They could be appointed as police officers but they are not. Those 3,000 people got through the process and received a letter telling them that they were of the wrong religion and that there were already too many Protestants in the pool, although they had qualified and been through the test. That is unfair. I do not care how anybody tries to describe it, whether as a temporary arrangement or something that helps to increase the percentage of Catholics in the police service.
No, we are approaching the end of the debate.
The 50:50 recruitment rule is expensive. Mr. McGrady can confirm that, because we have held many discussions about the matter on the Policing Board. The recruitment cost, not including training costs, of every police officer in Northern Ireland is £12,500 because of the contortions that have to be undergone under the 50:50 rule. It is not only unfair but expensive.
The rule is also inefficient because it applies not only to police officers but to civilian staff. In some cases, the PSNI advertised and received replies from qualified people who could do the jobs but, because no Catholics applied, no one was appointed. The most recent example was in forensics. Forensic experts were required to help with current investigations. No Catholics applied, although plenty of others—everyone who is not a Catholic counts as "others"—who were qualified did. No one was appointed because we could not get the balance. We end up without the job being done rather than making an appointment that does not reflect the 50:50 requirement.
The rule is unfair, expensive and inefficient. It should not be tolerated and it is disgraceful that any party that claims to stand for human rights and fairness supports it. The final defence of the arrangement presented by the hon. Member for Foyle was that this could not be discrimination because his party was against discrimination. That is what the argument falls back on. Just because his party says it is against discrimination, when discrimination is practised in its name and with its support, it is no longer discrimination.
This has been an important debate that has raised several issues. While I hope to persuade hon. Members not to press the new clause to a vote, I also wish to put on record the fact that I respect the very different views that have been expressed across the House, even though I disagree with some of them.
I also put it on record that I share the emotions, the commitment and the rational argument advanced by Rev. Ian Paisley? Our discussions this afternoon should do nothing to besmirch the courage, the gallantry or the reputation of former members of the RUC, or, for some, the enormous sacrifice that they and their families made. I do not wish to do anything other than echo what the right hon. Gentleman said about that.
Let us be absolutely clear about this. The 50:50 policy is an exceptional policy and a temporary measure to enable the PSNI to be representative of its community and to do that in a reasonable time frame, with the target of increasing its Catholic composition to 30 per cent., we hope by 2010–11. The policy is temporary and exceptional. I remind hon. Members of the comments in the Patten report, whether they agree or disagree with its conclusions. It stated:
"the main problem facing policing in Northern Ireland has been the political divide between the Protestants/Unionists and Catholics/Nationalists and the identification of the police with unionism and the British state in the minds of many nationalists."
The report went on to say:
"This has undoubtedly had some effect on the rate of applications to join the police from the Catholic/Nationalist community, as has the active discouragement, sometimes including intimidation, which many potential recruits from that community have experienced."
Why did that matter? It mattered because, putting aside the conclusions, Patten said:
"community policing is impossible if the composition of the police service bears little relationship to the composition of the community as a whole."
I also agree with the comments made by my hon. Friend Stephen Pound. Patten said:
"The point is that communities as a whole should see themselves as having a stake in the police service as a whole. If all communities see the police as their police, there will be a better, cooperative partnership between community and police, and therefore more effective policing."
It was in that context that Patten said:
"It is the imbalance between the number of Catholics/Nationalists and Protestants/Unionists which is the most striking problem in the composition of the RUC."
He rightly tried to reconcile the issue of human rights with his proposals for 50:50 recruitment.
I am afraid that, as the hon. Gentleman and other members of his party have left me very little time to respond to the debate, I cannot take his intervention.
Patten also said:
"The proposals that are made on composition of the police service are an essential part of meeting the five tests"— that is, the human rights tests. For him, those human rights tests involved doing something to change the fundamental composition of the police force, because only a tiny fraction of the RUC was drawn from the Catholic community. Fewer than 8.3 per cent. were from that community in 1998. Today, that figure stands at nearly 20 per cent., with some 57,000 applications having been received to join the PSNI.
I recognise the arguments that have been put forward today about principle, and that the tools being used to achieve this end might not be the ones that we would use if we were in an ideal position. The fact of the matter remains that we did not start from an ideal position but from one in which only a tiny fraction of a community was represented in the police force. To change that imbalance, we put forward these proposals.
Mr. Robinson referred to a range of statistics. It is important that we are not selective, so I want to put on record the basic statistics. In the first eight competitions, more than 28,000 applications from non-Catholics were received, of which 541 will have been rejected directly as a result of the temporary provisions. In other words, less than 2 per cent. of all non-Catholic applicants will have been rejected as a direct result of the 50:50 provisions. The latest campaign has seen the highest number of applications yet for the PSNI, with 7,691 applicants competing. This is the critical point, and the reason why people are being rejected—nearly 8,000 applicants are chasing fewer than 500 places. That is the real reason why so many qualified candidates from both community backgrounds are unsuccessful.
The Government are keenly aware of how the temporary 50:50 measures also impact on ethnic minority recruitment, and we have noted the Chief Constable's concerns. As the Patten report makes clear, however, the imbalance between the numbers of Catholics and Protestants was the most striking problem in the composition of the police, above issues such as gender, ethnic minority and gay and lesbian representation, which have also been raised, though the commission rightly recognised their importance. Ethnic minorities make up 0.27 per cent. of PSNI officers. Of course, that should be considered in the context of a community in which ethnic minorities, including Travellers, comprise less than 0.5 per cent. of workers.
We firmly believe that these temporary measures are justified to correct an acute historical imbalance in the composition of the PSNI. Let me assure all Members, however, that the measures will not stay in place a day longer than is necessary. We are firmly committed to achieving a progressive increase in the Catholic representation in the police service—for us, the figure should be 30 per cent. by 2010–11. We are on course to achieve that, and it is absolutely right to be able to do so. In less than five years, under 50:50 temporary provisions, Catholic composition has increased from 8.3 per cent. to nearly 20 per cent., and it is rising.
In the same period, female composition has also risen from 13 per cent. to over 20 per cent. We should be cautious about making comparisons between gender and religious background, as the issues are not the same. That was acknowledged by Patten, who recognised the need to increase the number of women in the police service but focused on the more important need of addressing the imbalance of community background in order to have effective policing. Critically, he recognised that the provisions should be temporary, lasting until the target had been reached.
Hon. Members will be aware that these are exceptional measures that are reviewed triennially and will expire unless specifically renewed by an order. The current order allows for their continuation until
Having carefully considered the amendments, and in light of the review this summer, the consultation that will take place with all the parties and the debates that will take place in this and another place later this year and early next year, before March, I ask Members to withdraw them. I respect their arguments, and we might disagree, but ultimately, achieving a balance of 30 per cent. is not only good for members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland but right for the communities of Northern Ireland.
I shall not attempt, in the 30 seconds that remain, to wind up such a wide-ranging debate. I shall simply say that the Minister has been careless with statistics. The figures that he produced were inaccurate. Before the introduction of the 50:50 policy, the numbers had already increased from nearly 9 per cent. to well into double figures. The 50:50 policy therefore cannot take the credit for the increase.
It being Six o'clock, The First Deputy Chairman, put the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to order [