Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (Renewal of Temporary Provisions) Order 2007

– in the House of Lords at 3:09 pm on 27th March 2007.

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Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 29 January be approved. 8th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee, Considered in Grand Committee on 20 March.—(Lord Rooker.)

Photo of Lord Trimble Lord Trimble Crossbench

rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion, to leave out all the words after "that" and insert "this House, having regard to the changed circumstances which render reverse discrimination counter-productive, declines to approve the draft order".

Photo of Lord Trimble Lord Trimble Crossbench

My Lords, the order renews for a further three years the temporary provisions on recruitment to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. These provisions are commonly known as the 50:50 recruitment arrangements and seek to ensure that recruitment to the police service comprises 50 per cent persons from the Catholic community and 50 per cent non-Catholics. Because applications to the police service in recent years have predominantly been from persons of a Protestant background, the legislation has discriminated against persons from that background. This is sometimes referred to as positive discrimination, for the object of the legislation is to increase the Catholic percentage in the police service. This is a desirable objective and I make it absolutely clear that I, and others who may speak to the measure, are entirely in favour of it. That has always been the position, right from 1922 when the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Sir James Craig, arranged to reserve one-third of places in the police service for Catholics. Unfortunately, that was never achieved due to circumstances beyond his control or that of any Administration in the intervening period, but the objective is generally supported.

However, what is not supported is the method that has been used, because it involves discrimination against people. As I said, the term "positive" is used. Discrimination is always positive for those who benefit from it and always negative for those who suffer from it. Therefore, so far as I am concerned, there is no distinction between one form of discrimination and another. But the amendment does not focus on that issue. I should like your Lordships to focus on the "changed circumstances" mentioned in it. I shall explain what those are. I am not referring to the events of yesterday or the decision, which I expected, by the Democratic Unionist Party to enter into an Administration with Sinn Fein. I refer to the decision by the republican movement, formally taken in January although signalled long in advance, whereby it dropped its objections to the police service and formally committed itself to support the present police service and policing and the legal system generally. That is a very significant step. Some folk expressed reservations about whether republicans had moved far and fast enough. In that sense yesterday's events are significant, because I am quite sure that they will reinforce the decision of republicans to support the police and help further to change the atmosphere.

In the Northern Ireland target population from which the police are recruited—young persons from 18 to 25—there is broad equality in numbers of Catholics and Protestants. It varies slightly from one year to another but we need not go into that. If there were equal participation from both communities, you would get rough equality in appointments. Up until now there has not been equal participation, but that is changing. In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, brought to our attention the fact that in the previous competition for applicants to the police service, which I believe took place in September last year, 41 per cent of applicants were from a Catholic background. That was the highest figure achieved so far and, as he said, the figure is rising.

Given the decision of the republican movement to support policing, it is expected that that figure will rise further. Indeed, there is reason to believe that because a significant number of young people with a Catholic background have been dissuaded from applying because of republican hostility to policing, there is a strong probability that there will be a surge in recruits from a Catholic background.

If that happens—and that strong probability should be taken into account—we could have within a short period, perhaps in a matter of months or a bit longer, a situation in which more than 50 per cent of applicants to join the police were from a Catholic background. If that happens, then the 50:50 provisions specified in the order, which hitherto have penalised those from a Protestant background, will start to penalise those from a Catholic background and will slow down the achievement of the Government's objective, which is to achieve 30 per cent Catholic membership of the police service. I would have thought that it was in the interests of the Government to reach that target sooner rather than later and to do that in a way that minimised any upset, disappointment and hurt that people might feel as a result of discrimination. One can only imagine what the reaction will be within the nationalist community in Northern Ireland when it discovers that provisions that it thought were to its advantage work to its disadvantage.

During the debate in Grand Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, did not dissent from the basic analysis that I have presented. He said that he expected that the majority of applicants would soon be from a Catholic background. At one stage he said in reply to me:

"The noble Lord, Lord Trimble, is absolutely right—two seconds before he raised the point, I satisfied myself on the answer—that if the proportion of applicants is 41 per cent, the highest it has been, and rising, it will not be long before it is more than 50 per cent. I will then make the same speech to members of the other community supporting the 50:50 in order to achieve the policy objective as I must make today. The same situation will apply; there cannot be any difference".—[Official Report, 20/3/07; col. GC 176.]

I confess that I find that response perverse if the objective is to increase the Catholic percentage to 30 per cent—and the sooner that that happens the better. I would have thought that the Government should take this matter into account.

If my analysis is correct, the proper course might be not to approve this order. If the Government want to be more cautious in their approach, it has been suggested to them that they drop this order, which provides for arrangements to last for three years, and bring forward an order that would continue the current recruitment arrangements for a further year—and during that year they could examine circumstances and developments to see what happens. There is an argument for proceeding in that way.

Obviously, in Grand Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, was not in a position to change these matters, because that would require a policy decision by the Secretary of State. I know that the Secretary of State has had a few other matters on his plate in the past few days, but I hope that he has had the opportunity to consider this matter and that he is in a position to respond to this situation. As I said, I am not arguing against the scheme as a whole; it is a question of what is likely to happen in the near future and how best to achieve the Government's objective. It would be best if that objective were achieved with as little discrimination as possible. I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion, to leave out all the words after "that" and insert "this House, having regard to the changed circumstances which render reverse discrimination counter-productive, declines to approve the draft order".—(Lord Trimble.)

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Shadow Minister, Northern Ireland

My Lords, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, and thank the Minister for his patience. We had a long debate in Grand Committee. He understood clearly where the arguments were coming from and why they were being put. As the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, indicated, we have had discussions today between the parties and the Minister outside this Chamber.

There are three pertinent issues. The first is that we are at the mercy of this appalling method of trying to manage Northern Ireland affairs, given that it has to be done by statutory instrument. The Minister does not have the power today to amend a statutory instrument—for example, from three years to one year—nor was he able to give a commitment in Grand Committee to do that. I understand that the Secretary of State, as the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, said, might have had a couple of jobs to do since Monday or even since Thursday last week, but it is most unfortunate that the rules of this House do not allow for the amendment of statutory instruments at any time.

Later we shall talk more of this historic day or the historic day that we are approaching, but I make one final point. Noble Lords will know that I, like others, live in Northern Ireland, and at the moment the community there is unsure and hesitant about where the future will take it. The noble Lord, Lord Trimble, made the argument well. As leaders of the community, in whatever shape or form, we have to try to create a feeling of, "It's going to be okay; we are there, and we are going to go forward".

One thing that really burns holes in people is government legislation, such as this, that continues to set in stone such a division. To continue to operate a law such as this 50:50 recruitment is a complete anathema. It is against human relations, against professionalism, and against everything that is just and right in a free society. Ultimately, when it comes to the point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, it becomes totally ridiculous. In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Blood, said that she already had numbers of Catholic families complaining to her that it is working against the Roman Catholic and the nationalist community as much as it is against anyone else. In our opinion, this legislation, which the Government wish to enshrine for yet another three years, is totally unnecessarily and is already working against both the Protestant community and the nationalist community. I beg the Government to find a better way.

Photo of Lord Smith of Clifton Lord Smith of Clifton Spokesperson in the Lords, Northern Ireland Affairs

My Lords, I, too, echo what the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, has said and some of what the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, has said, although I do not go all the way with him. The Patten proposal for 50:50 recruitment was important as a means of inducing a necessary balance in police recruitment. There is no doubt about that and we supported it every time it came before the House. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, has pointed out, quite considerable progress has been made, which is all to the good, and a further three-year extension of the 50:50 provision now seems excessive. As the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, implied, it would have been useful to have discussions on this had the Government decided to investigate it before the order was drafted. It is a great pity that that did not happen. As the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said, we are where we are. We too would have preferred a one-year extension, renewable if necessary on an annual basis, but three years seems altogether excessive. We shall support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, if he presses it.

Photo of Baroness Blood Baroness Blood Labour

My Lords, yesterday, 11 young potential leaders, Protestant and Catholic, from Northern Ireland, came to look round Westminster. When I had them on my own, they said that this kind of discrimination did not work. On one side, young Catholics were saying that they had friends who would like to apply to join the police but could not because it was oversubscribed, and on the other side were the Protestants. Like many in the House, I believe that people should get jobs on merit. As I said in Committee, I do not understand why the two derogations in European law are for the police and education—the two pillars on which we would hope to build.

I support the noble Lord, Lord Trimble. If the Government have to think, a year is sufficient. There is already a big interest in both communities in joining the police force, which can only be for the good. It sort of tinges it a bit when you read that positive discrimination got you your job.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Sustainable Farming and Food), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Farming and Food), The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity of this short debate, if only to put some of the figures on the record and, I hope, dispel one or two myths surrounding the policy, although I understand why the speeches we have just heard have been made. I know—if I did not know before from both the recent debate in Grand Committee and the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Laird, about a year ago—of the principled misgivings about the measure.

However, when the Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland, led by the noble Lord, Lord Patten, made its report, it reflected the principles of the Belfast agreement that the Police Service of Northern Ireland should be representative of the society that it polices. The report pointed out in paragraph 14.2 that,

"real community policing is impossible if the composition of the police service bears little relationship to the composition of the community as a whole".

In paragraph 14.3, it went on:

"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".

The report highlighted the imbalance between the number of Catholics and Protestants as "the most striking problem" in the composition of the police, above issues of gender and ethnic minority representation, which the commission acknowledged were important. The report recommended the recruitment of Protestants and Catholics—or, more correctly, Catholics and non-Catholics—on an equal basis as an exceptional measure to try to provide a more representative police service within a reasonable timeframe.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary was, by any stretch of the imagination, a fine police service with many attributes to which I am glad to pay tribute. Despite much effort, however, it was not representative of the community: only 8.3 per cent of regular officers were from the Roman Catholic community. I recognise that the temporary provisions remain an anathema, but I want to be clear on the extent to which positive discrimination has prevented some young non-Catholics from joining the police service. While a number of young candidates have indeed not been appointed due to the temporary 50:50 provisions, the vast majority of unsuccessful applicants are failing to be appointed simply because the demand to join the Police Service of Northern Ireland is so high.

In the first 12 competitions, which stretched over six years, there were over 46,000 applications from non-Catholics, of which only 708 will have been rejected as a direct result of the temporary provisions. I emphasise that: less than 2 per cent of all non-Catholic applications have been rejected as a direct result of the 50:50 provisions. The total figures are that, since the provisions were brought in, 73,000 applications have been received to join a police service that has around 7,500 officers. I have chosen the eighth campaign, in September 2004, to illustrate the point, although I could give all the figures separately. Of the 5,695 applicants, 35 per cent of whom were Catholic, over 1,100 got through all stages of the process. Obviously, not all applications have the merit to get through to the final stage, where they qualify to be appointed a UK police officer under UK rules. There were only 220 jobs available because there are 440 jobs a year in two groups of 220. With 1,100 out of 5,600 applicants getting through and only 220 jobs available, the real reason why the vast majority of qualified applicants from both communities did not get a job was the scale of the numbers applying, not the policy implementation of the 50:50 provisions.

That is a reason we can be proud of, even if it is temporary. It shows that confidence in the policing structures is rising and that there is a new generation of young men and women who are committed to entering a career in the service. Over this period, some 2,500 officers have been appointed, which is more or less a third of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. If noble Lords are in Northern Ireland and the opportunity arises, they should visit the police college and see at first hand the calibre of these people. The Oversight Commissioner, who was appointed to oversee the implementation of the Patten report, has acknowledged that the recruitment campaign has been a success and has provided the police service with the opportunity to select only the most highly qualified recruits, which is an enviable position for any police organisation in today's competitive labour market.

We believe that the temporary provisions are justified to correct the acute historic imbalance in the composition of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. However, I want to assure noble Lords that the provisions will not stay in place a day longer than necessary and I hope and expect that this will be the last occasion on which we will have to consider the renewal of this policy. The object of the policy is to get Catholic representation in the Police Service of Northern Ireland to 30 per cent by about March 2011. This order renews the provisions for only three years, and we hope and expect it to be the last one.

We are on course to achieve the percentage. In less than six years under the 50:50 temporary provisions, Catholic composition among regular officers has risen from 8.3 per cent to 21.4 per cent. At the same time, female composition, which has not been the subject of positive discrimination as a policy objective, has, as a by-product, risen from 13 per cent to more than 21 per cent.

I have looked at the demographics, as I have been challenged on this. A fixed number of recruits come in each year—440—and there are currently 7,557 officers in the Police Service of Northern Ireland. We know the age structure of the input populations, but we cannot be certain about which applicants will qualify—not all of them will. It is clear from our analysis that, if we abandoned this policy now, we would not achieve our aim of increasing the Catholic proportion to 30 per cent.

There is no doubt that immense political progress has been made and the distance that we have travelled should not be underestimated, although I do not think that anybody here is doing that. Sinn Fein's commitment to policing and its calls for republicans to join the police and the structures associated with it, to report crime and to come forward with information are welcome, but we have some way to go—as can be seen with the 21 per cent figure before we have a police service that is representative of the community that it serves.

I realise that some noble Lords believe that the new political dispensation will lead to a natural rise in the Catholic composition. That is undoubtedly so: 41 per cent is the highest of all the competitions. The proportions have ranged from 34 per cent to 41 per cent over the period, up from 36 per cent previously. But we cannot guarantee that we will achieve 30 per cent in a reasonable timescale as envisaged by the Patten report.

In view of the issue, we have looked at how the situation can be addressed. The current renewal order ends tomorrow, 28 March. We are constrained by that fact and face two choices: we either renew the policy today or it ends forthwith. There is no middle ground for us to consider at present. I understand the annoyance about that.

In terms of transparency and accountability, and given the recent momentous events, which we will discuss in more detail later today, it is important that we continue to monitor applications and appointments and see how the composition is affected by the applicants and how they get through the system. Therefore, I am prepared to give an undertaking—and I have discussed this with ministerial colleagues—that we will return to the House on an annual basis and report on the progress achieved.

If things start to change, we will have to monitor the issue in a transparent and open way and discuss it. The object of the exercise, which is why the temporary policy is there, is to get the Catholic population in the police service to 30 per cent and then stop the policy. That has always been the situation, as was known from the day it started after the Patten report was accepted. We can offer more monitoring—we can offer monitoring on a weekly basis with Parliamentary Questions—but we will come specifically to the House to report on the progress that has been achieved.

I suspect that we will be doing a lot more by 8 May next year, in looking at what has happened in the first year of devolution, because there will be the issue of devolution of the criminal justice system and, indeed, of the Police Service of Northern Ireland to the Government of Northern Ireland. Therefore, this will be an element of that reconsideration. We are more than happy to come to the House and report on what has been achieved one year from now.

That being so, I sincerely ask the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, not to press his amendment. He envisages a hypothetical situation, which I cannot deny may happen—clearly, no one can. But we have a policy that is clearly working, as one can see how the population of the police service has changed in a systematic way. That is happening not by accident but because of the policy. Other issues that arise because the climate in Northern Ireland has changed may in turn cause major changes in the figures. If that happens, we will review and adjust the situation and report back to the House. In the mean time, this temporary policy is delivering on the objective, and we must all support that objective.

Photo of Lord Glentoran Lord Glentoran Shadow Minister, Northern Ireland 3:30 pm, 27th March 2007

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for what he has said, but before he sits down I want to clear one question out of the way, which could be rather unpleasant—it sounds to me from the statistics and where we are now that it might be. Are we keeping 50:50 because we do not have confidence in the quality of applicant coming from the nationalist community?

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Sustainable Farming and Food), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Sustainable Farming and Food), The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I am not casting aspersions on the noble Lord, but nobody who has been appointed to the Police Service of Northern Ireland in the past six years has failed to be appointed on merit. All have gone through on merit and have qualified as United Kingdom police officers. They have all got through the bar into the pool. I quoted the eighth competition with 5,695 applicants. That was not big. The 11th competition had 7,861 applicants for 220 posts. That is the scale of the applications. Therefore, it can clearly be seen that everyone who has been appointed as a police officer has got through the merit bar.

I am not saying that, once they have got through the bar, some will not be higher than others, but the fact is that they have all got through the bar and been chosen on the 50:50 basis from the highest compartment of Catholics and non-Catholics. I am not denying—no one can—the two bars. The level is the same but, above the bar, there may be more people above a certain level than others on the 50:50. But the fact is that nobody from the Catholic community has been appointed who is not qualified to be a United Kingdom police officer. Neither will they be.

Photo of Lord Trimble Lord Trimble Crossbench

My Lords, I will not try to respond to everything that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has said, because some of what he said is not relevant to the issue before us. The total number of applicants and the total number of disappointed persons are not relevant. What might be relevant peripherally is the number of people who have been discriminated against, which the noble Lord concedes is 708. That figure of 708 matters, no matter what the context; any number would matter, no matter what the context.

However, there is one thing in the background on which I have to take issue with the noble Lord. He said that the Patten recommendations reflected what was in the Belfast agreement in 1998. I am sorry, but that is not the case. Nowhere in the report was there a recommendation that discrimination be adopted. There was, however—this was in Patten as well—clearly an obligation placed on all sections of society to encourage people to join the police and to remove obstacles to people joining the police. Had that duty being implemented across the board in Northern Ireland, we would have had equal participation, in the number of applicants, and equal appointments, in broad terms. The Patten recommendations that involved discrimination were put forward only because certain community and political leaders failed to discharge their obligations to remove obstacles and to encourage people to join. I hope that that has now changed—that is the changed situation to which I am referring.

The noble Lord referred to the order ending tomorrow and said that that was a problem, but of course it is not. Recruitment is not continuous; a number of discrete competitions happen from time to time. I do not know when the next competition is coming, but I am sure that, if the Government had the will, they could drop the order and bring forward an amended order for one year only. They could do that in a very short time. It would require only a small amendment to the order to change the wording and I am sure that it would go through this House quickly. We would do everything to facilitate it going through. That could be done before the next competition. So the business about the order ending tomorrow is not relevant.

What is relevant is the noble Lord's statement—I think that I am quoting him accurately—that,

"the provisions will not stay in place a day longer than necessary".

My point is that we are rapidly reaching a position where we will get, through the normal course of operation—through equal participation by both sections of the community in applications for the police and through the process operating on merit—the numbers that the Minister wants. The numbers will be at least as good as, if not better than, the numbers currently being achieved. But the order puts the present arrangements in place for another three years. Three years is clearly more than a day longer than necessary. I am sure that it will prove to be so.

It is all very well for the Minister to offer an annual report, but how long after this measure starts to become counterproductive will we get that report, and how long after that will we see action? It would have been much better had the Minister taken up the suggestion that, as he knows, was made to him before today's proceedings: that the order be dropped and an order brought forward to operate on an annual basis. That would be a much better way of proceeding.

In order to emphasise that point and to encourage the noble Lord to go that way, I would like to test the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 97; Not-Contents, 141.

Division number 1 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (Renewal of Temporary Provisions) Order 2007

Aye: 95 Members of the House of Lords

No: 139 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Motion agreed to.