'(1) Section 46 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c.32) is amended as follows.
(2) For subsection (1) substitute—
''(1) In making appointments under section 39 on any occasion, the Chief Constable shall appoint from the pool of qualified candidates formed for that purpose by virtue of section 44(5) persons of whom—
(a) 43 per cent. shall be persons who are treated as Roman Catholic;
(b) 43 per cent. shall be persons who are treated as Protestants; and
(c) 14 per cent. shall be persons who are not so treated.''.'.—[Mr. Carmichael.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Question proposed [this day], That the clause be read a Second time.
Question again proposed.
I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following:
New clause 2—Removal of discrimination from recruitment—
'(1) In Part 6 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c.32) for section 46 substitute—
(1) In making appointments under section 39 the Chief Constable may take such steps as he determines appropriate to encourage applications by persons currently under-represented in the Police Service.
(2) In making appointments to the police support staff under section 4(3) the Chief Constable (acting by virtue of subsection (5) of that section) may take such steps as he determines appropriate to encourage applications by persons currently under-represented in the police support staff.
(3) For the purposes of this section ''persons currently under-represented'' means persons forming part of a social group by virtue of their sex, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation who at the time of consideration by the Chief Constable are under-represented''.
(2) In Part 6 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, leave out section 47.'.
New clause 3—Appointments to the Police Service of Northern Ireland—
'In the event that—
(a) the Chief Constable is unable to appoint his required number of police trainees or police support staff, or
(b) the number of serving officers is below that intended at the time of consideration,
the Secretary of State shall, at the request of a majority of the Police Board and acting on the recommendation of the Chief Constable, make an order to suspend the provisions of section 46 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 for a period of six months.'.
If we were not
quite ready, Mr. Amess, we are now. I welcome you to the Chair. You missed some riveting discussions this morning.
When we adjourned for lunch, we were considering new clauses 1, 2 and 3. A number of Members had spoken, and we had covered a lot of ground. I had spoken for only a couple of minutes, so I had not said a great deal. I will summarise the point that I was making, as it is crucial to the debate.
It may be simplistic, but I believe that it is reasonable to say that the origins of many of the problems of Northern Ireland and much of the cause of the violence in recent years lies in discrimination, both imagined and real. I do not say that the discrimination was not real. There was discrimination against one of the two communities in Northern Ireland. Much action taken with the aim of solving the problems of Northern Ireland has sought to eliminate that discrimination. Many arguments advanced by the Patten report and much of the reasoning for a complete review of the old Royal Ulster Constabulary were based on the fact that there was considered to be discrimination in how the RUC was set up and how it operated and recruited. Against the background of ending perceived and real discrimination, these changes have come about.
I understand that the hon. Gentleman is summarising and seeking to portray the background to the current situation, but when he talks about discrimination in relation to the RUC, it is important that the historical context of that is put on record. When the RUC evolved from the old Royal Irish Constabulary in the 1920s, a significant proportion of places—approximately a third—were reserved specifically for members of the Catholic community. As the IRA shot and killed many of those who applied, the number applying from the Catholic community declined from those early days. It was not discrimination, but intimidation.
I understand entirely what the hon. Gentleman says, and I hope to address that point in a moment. I deliberately used the phrase ''alleged and real discrimination'' because, for the purposes of this discussion, it is unnecessary to go into which discrimination was real and which alleged. Rightly or wrongly, it was considered that there had been discrimination, and that has been addressed. In that context, I deeply regret that the Government's solution to end discrimination is to discriminate. We are in the business of discussing discrimination to end discrimination. I do not understand—
On a point of order, Mr. Amess. I was led to believe in another Committee that Members who are not members of the Committee are allowed to contribute, but not to vote. Will you give guidance on that matter?
I shall try to deal with the issue of discrimination as briefly as I can. It makes no sense to say that the way to solve discrimination is to discriminate—there must be other ways. Before lunch, it was argued that affirmative action could achieve the same results, but replacing discrimination against Catholics with discrimination against Protestants serves only to replace one disfranchised, disillusioned and angry community with another. If the history of Northern Ireland teaches us anything, it is that violence soon follows when there are disillusioned, disgruntled communities.
If more people apply from the Protestant community than from the Catholic, the service must say no to people whom it would otherwise admit. To me, that is blindingly obvious. If there are quotas and more people from one side than the other apply, the service, to meet those quotas, must discriminate against people whom it would otherwise let in, especially if vacancies in the other quota are not being filled as there are not enough applicants.
Given that the Chief Constable has met the full quota for recruitment year on year since the Police Service of Northern Ireland was set up, how can the hon. Gentleman suggest that people are losing out? There is a certain number of spaces, which are all being filled. In almost any situation, people apply for but do not get jobs because there are not enough spaces.
I understand that less than 40 per cent. of current applicants are Catholic, but even if the hon. Gentleman is correct and the quotas can be filled on both sides, the proper test—the non-discriminatory test—of who should be in an organisation, given a choice, is employing those who are best for the job. If a large number of people from one community are better able to do the job, but are turned down in favour of people who are less able, that is discrimination. In any other situation, it would be contrary to law.
There is a requirement to discriminate because of a historical pattern of discrimination. Sometimes we need to take unusual measures to address a problem that has existed for many years. Will the hon. Gentleman accept that we are required in this case to take an unusual measure to deal with discrimination that has existed over the years?
I said that there has been discrimination and we have to do something about it. Of course I agree that there is a problem. I have no difficulty whatever in saying that we must find a way to make the PSNI more representative of all communities. I accept that, but I do not accept that we have to do it in ways that are anti-human rights. That is all that I am suggesting.
On police recruitment, I do not know whether my hon. Friend would regard a report on BBC Online of 8 December 2002 as persuasive, but according to that source and the Chief Constable, 250 applicants then before him were Protestant, while only 26 were Roman Catholic. As a result of the 50:50 rule, he was able to make only 52 appointments. That thoroughly underlines my hon. Friend's case.
That is my understanding of some difficulties that have cropped up. I can only return to the point that we are being asked to include a measure that in any other circumstance would be illegal.
Section 46 of the 2000 Act states plainly that
''the Chief Constable shall appoint from the pool of qualified applicants . . . an even number of persons of whom . . . one half shall be persons who are treated as Roman Catholic; and . . . one half shall be persons who are not so treated.''
Does my hon. Friend agree that that is clearly discriminatory against Protestants and members of other religions? Labour Members may argue that it is justified, but it is still discrimination.
I thank my hon. Friend for that, because it is true. This is a clear case of discrimination, which happened in the past and which we have tried to prevent from happening again. I do not buy the argument that we should do something that we have said is wrong just because the ends justify the means. There is a problem, but that is not the way to solve it.
We would make more progress in finding a solution if we understood the point about how the situation came about in the first place. I am well aware of the arguments about the RUC being biased and I can accept that there was some substance to them in the past. Due to that, the argument follows, people from the other tradition in Northern Ireland were unwilling to join an organisation that they saw as oppressive and discriminatory.
I understand that argument and there may be some truth in it, but, without any shred of doubt, it is also true that intimidation stopped people joining the RUC. Instead of addressing that problem, the Government have introduced a scheme that ducks the issue of intimidation. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann has pointed out that the situation is getting better in many places in the Province, but not in hard-line republican areas. That should suggest to the Government that they are only papering over the cracks rather than addressing the problem.
I want to add a snippet of purely anecdotal information. I cannot comment on the prevalence of this, but an Assembly colleague has told me that in one hard-line republican area, people who are thinking of applying to the police have first to report to the local IRA leadership to get
permission to do so. Occasionally, they are granted it, which is an interesting sidelight on the character of their applications.
That invites some of us to draw conclusions about the people who are being given permission to apply. In reality, introducing the discriminatory scheme to address the problem will not solve it—we must address the intimidation. The right hon. Gentleman's comment may be anecdotal, but it is sufficiently serious to be checked out.
Time and again in policing debates, I have heard the reasonable nationalist argument, which the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) would make if he were here, about inclusiveness being essential. I know the argument and I accept that it is real, but there is the alternative argument that Sinn Fein-IRA have no interest in seeing the new PSNI functioning properly. They will continue to use every means at their disposal, including intimidation and torture, to ensure that even this concession and discretion in favour of the nationalist community will not work. The Government should address that, as I have no doubt that the problem would not exist if it were made acceptable and easy for members of the nationalist community in Northern Ireland to apply and be accepted.
The hon. Gentleman explained at length what is wrong with the legislation, but he has yet to propose an alternative mechanism to that proposed by the Patten report. Other than wanting to get rid of intimidation, what mechanism does his party propose to replace the existing one?
I shall explain why new clause 2, despite some of its imperfections, is the right way to go. We could refine the definitions, which I shall talk about in a moment. However, some mechanisms will encourage, assist and enable, and the results will be what we all want. The mechanisms will not include something that, under any other circumstances, would be declared illegal and the legislation struck down.
I disagree with new clause 1 in theory, but if the Government are determined do something illegal because they believe that the ends justify the means, I shall make my comments in that spirit. If we must go down that road, I welcome an attempt to be more realistic. We could argue ad nauseam about the percentage, but we do not need to get hung up about whether it is 43, 42 or 45 per cent. I shall not become locked in that argument. If we were trying to be fair, it would be interesting to note that 43–43, or another equal figure, would still be discrimination that we would have to address.
However we consider the quota system, the difficulty is that by debating these figures we are constantly forcing the people of Northern Ireland to decide which of the two camps they are in, just as they are trying to rid themselves of that mindset. The system should allow for another group, but a 50:50 system does not. It was suggested that the argument was religious—one had to decide whether one was Catholic or Protestant. However, that would appear to discriminate against the Orthodox religions, because if
one were to ask members of an Orthodox religion whether they considered themselves to be Protestants, the answer would be a very firm no. If one asked them whether they considered themselves to be Roman Catholics, however, they would also say no. At the moment, we have excluded members of Orthodox religions from serving in the PSNI.
If the hon. Gentleman is searching for an alternative model to 50:50, will he consider the one proposed by the Conservative party chairman for her own party, in which there is a mixture of people of different genders, disabilities, ethnic minorities, indeed anything to get away from its current horrid face? Might that be an acceptable alternative?
I would be delighted to rebut the absolute rubbish that I have just heard, but I have little doubt you will rule me out of order, Mr. Benton, the moment that I try to say that the hon. Gentleman is wrong and does not begin to understand. I shall therefore not say how silly the hon. Gentleman's intervention was.
With respect, the hon. Gentleman's point about the Government's approach discriminating against members of Orthodox religions by preventing them from applying to join the PSNI is misconceived. The scheme proposed by the legislation is designed to guarantee 50 per cent. of places to Roman Catholic applicants, and 50 per cent. to all others. I am not sure how many members of Orthodox religions there are, but they would fall within the category of all others, as would Muslims, Jews and Hindus. The Government's approach has something to commend it because Jews, and probably most Muslims, Hindus and Chinese too, are Unionists rather than nationalists.
That puts me in my place. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman as what he said reinforces my sense of the injustice of the Government's approach. We said that there should be a balance within the Northern Ireland Police Service; there was discrimination against the Catholic community so it was decided that it should have equality with the Protestant tradition.
We then discover that although the Catholic community is to be given half the places, the Protestant community is to be given not the other half but the other half minus whoever else may come along. That makes the discrimination worse. It is not discrimination to be equal, but to force Protestants into an artificial minority within the Province. If that does not store up trouble for the future, I do not know what will. It shows the futility of using an illegal way of solving a problem, which arose in the first place from the same illegality.
How wonderful! The great Human Rights Act, much vaunted by the Labour party, applies only when it suits their convenience. They are not universal human rights; they are only for the people to whom the Government are prepared to give them and the rest of us can go hang if it does not suit their purpose. That is a wonderful admission and I am pleased that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman.
Exactly. I refrained from making that comment. There will be no such thing as morals or ethics, only what the Government say by diktat will be illegal because it suits their purpose. That is the sort of world that some members of their party want to create and I am appalled by it.
New clause 1 would be an improvement but it does not go as far as I would want. New clause 2 raises important issues and it starts by providing that the Chief Constable will decide what is to happen. If there is to be an independent Police Service with the objective of taking positive action to achieve something and a Chief Constable is appointed on that basis, he will achieve that objective quicker if we let him get on with it rather than writing reams of measures saying what he will and will not do.
The Chief Constable has no alternative but to uphold the law, which states what he will and will not do. If it states that he will recruit 50 per cent. of this or that group and do it in a certain way, he has no choice but to do it, as that is the nature of the job. But it would be far more sensible for an Act of Parliament to lay down the ultimate objective and leave the Chief Constable with the discretion to achieve it in the most practical way, which causes the least difficulty and upset the fewest people. It would be sensible, not only in respect of new clause 2, to say that the Chief Constable must decide these matters.
New clause 3, which I would link with this part of new clause 2, deals with what happens if the current way of doing things does not work. If we reach a position where the threat of being burned out of one's house or having one's kneecap shot off is applied and the number of Roman Catholics seeking to join the police nosedives again through intimidation, only another handful of applicants—after all, only a
handful applied under current legislation—will apply and we will end up with a shortage of police officers. If something like that were to happen, new clause 3 would provide a sensible safety mechanism. I would be willing to place the responsibility with the Chief Constable, who has the operational challenge of providing practical policing in part of the United Kingdom, irrespective of whether we have solved earlier problems. That part of new clause 2 is eminently sensible and new clause 3 ties in with it by providing an escape clause if the practicalities become unmanageable.
New clause 2 may provide an opportunity to explore an alternative way of achieving the Government's objectives. We should flag up under-representation and introduce procedures that will help to recruit people to redress the balance. One of the problems is that the 50:50 rule is viewed as simplistic with 50 per cent. here and 50 per cent. there. The second 50 per cent. gathers the others, but no attempt is made to view it in other than sectarian terms.
Reflecting on the wording of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann, I wonder whether he has transposed social groups with ethnic groups. Are not the ethnic groupings the ones where a balance must be sought and the social groupings simply part of it? I have never viewed Northern Ireland's problems in terms of social groupings: focusing on different ethnic groups is important and referring to their religion is often only shorthand. Considerably more than religion is at stake, as religion is just one part of the different history, traditions and ways of life of two communities. I support the principle of the new clause, but not necessarily the wording.
As to the items listed in the new clause, I assume that it is reasonably straightforward to work out which ethnic group and perhaps social group people belong to. It may not be difficult to work out which sex people belong to, but I stop short of endorsing ''sexual orientation'', because I have not the slightest idea what would establish the sexual orientation of every police officer in the NIPS and I would not encourage the Chief Constable to ask.
Some practical problems remain with the wording, but I have no difficulty in supporting new clauses 2 and 3. At a push, I would support new clause 1 as well, but I would prefer to settle for new clause 2.
On a point of order, Mr. Amess. I should like to thank the Minister, who undertook this morning to provide the Committee with a schedule of the ranks of the PSNI in comparison with those of the Garda Siochana. She has done so and the papers are available under your good chairmanship, Mr. Amess. I thought that it was appropriate to thank her for acting so promptly.
The liveliness of your calling us to order, Mr. Amess, has inspired liveliness all around the Committee. This has been one of the most energetic debates in our consideration of the Bill so far.
I thank the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) for his comments; the notes are available on the Table in front of me.
Let me draw the attention of hon. Members to section 46 of the 2000 Act, the title of which makes it clear that it deals with temporary provisions concerning the composition of the police. As I pointed out in an intervention, it is about discrimination in appointments. The 50:50 arrangements will, by their temporary nature, be subject to review by the Secretary of State next March. Renewal of the provisions would require the affirmative resolution of both Houses. There will be an opportunity for a further full and equally heated debate on this matter. Members of the Committee may wish to make a note of that in their diaries.
That is not a matter for me. I would expect that it would take place through the normal affirmative procedure channels, which would be in Committee. However, I cannot predict that now.
I should like to deal with one or two of the comments that have been made today. I was surprised by the assertion that the Government had said that this would not discriminate. As I have said already, the Act is clear about this. I believe that there is a misunderstanding of the process by which appointments to the PSNI are made. Applicants for the PSNI are considered on their merits. They are considered according to the skills, experience and qualifications that they will bring to the post. They are then tested on their merits. All who achieve the appropriate standard enter a merit pool. It is only from that point onwards that the 50:50 procedure applies. Once a candidate has been appointed as a trainee to the PSNI, their appointment stands irrespective of what happens to other candidates for the PSNI regulars within that trainee pool. Once trainees are appointed, they are employees of the PSNI.
It was three months, one week and four days ago that I asked the hon. Lady whether there was any pressure for a reciprocal withdrawal to maintain the 50:50. It sounds to me, notwithstanding what she said about existing trainees, that there is indeed a recipricocity that would cause eligible candidates to withdraw. Have I misunderstood her?
Yes, absolutely. I hope that I have just made that plain. Once candidates are appointed as trainees, there is no pressure on them to withdraw should a trainee of the other community drop out of the process. The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood. It is at the merit pool stage that the Chief Constable is required to draw the candidates on a one-for-one basis when appointing them as trainees.
The Minister is right to say that there is no question of discrimination at the point of application; I do not think that that has been
suggested either in Committee, the House or elsewhere. But it is precisely at the merit pool stage where problems have arisen in the past. In each competition, there have been two or three times more Protestants than Catholics in the merit pool. To tell those additional Protestants that it is because they are Protestant that they are not being employed is discrimination. Surely the Minister must accept that?
The whole purpose of this is to provide arrangements that discriminate, on a temporary basis, in order to address a serious problem that I will come to in a moment. The point that the hon. Gentleman makes bears directly upon the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris) made. The Chief Constable has been able to recruit to the PSNI well in excess of the levels of recruitment that even the Patten commission had expected he could achieve. That being the case, individuals are not being turned away from vacant posts within the PSNI.
With respect, the Minister's point is specious. Yes, there were high levels of recruitment last year. If we had proceeded at the lower levels of recruitment that would otherwise have obtained, no more Protestants would have been appointed to the Police Service. However, the fact is that, presently, hundreds of people are being told that they have passed the merit stage, but that they cannot proceed further because they are of the wrong religion. That is discrimination. Indeed, as the Minister pointed out earlier, the legislation is quite bold about that; it admits that it is provision to discriminate.
The same has happened on an even worse scale with regard to civilian employees. That was not recommended by Patten. In a recent recruitment round for civilian employees, only 30-odd Catholics applied, as opposed to hundreds of Protestants. I do not have the exact figures to hand, but I believe that more than 300 were turned down because of their religion.
I am not in a position to dispute those figures—I have not seen them—but they seem extraordinarily high. However, it is important to focus for a moment on the objective. Why are we proceeding with the recruitment arrangements? In a nutshell, their purpose is to address ''the most striking problem'' in the composition of the police service, according to the Patten commission, which is the under-representation of Catholics.
We are not endeavouring to recruit precisely according to the make-up of the population, which is the objective of new clause 1. Our goal is to rectify a particularly acute compositional imbalance that the Patten commission saw as being so significant as to have a real impact on the effectiveness of the police service. We must keep that as our focal point. What are we doing in moving the police service forward to make it as effective as it can be? The quicker we can achieve a proper balance in the PSNI in terms of community representation, and revert to conventional recruitment procedures, the better. I will certainly be among those who rejoice when that day arrives.
We also need to bear in mind that the independent commission chose the 50:50 profile because it reflected the demographic breakdown of people expected to be in the age bracket for recruitment during the operation of the policy. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann is right. That is not to say that other under-represented groups, such as those that we have debated—women, ethnic minorities and others—are to be ignored. However, for a range of reasons, the commission did not see discriminatory methods of recruitment or specific compositional targets, which one might call quotas, as the solution to that problem.
My hon. Friend is right. The police recruitment agencies are required by the recruitment regulations to advertise ''imaginatively and persistently'', particularly in places likely to reach under-represented groups, and there has been a degree of success, as my hon. Friend points out.
The legal basis for the 50:50 provisions is also worth considering. Comments have been made about that. As has been said, the Government were able to negotiate an exemption from the 2000 EU directive on employment equality, on the basis that the 50:50 provisions would
''tackle the under-representation of one of the major religious communities in the police service''.
That firm legal foundation was further underpinned in the High Court last year, when the compatability of the provisions with the European convention on human rights was challenged in the Parsons judicial review case. However, the Court was satisfied that there was no violation of article 9, on freedom of thought, conscience and religion. On the article 14 challenge, which related to prohibition of discrimination, the Court considered whether the 50:50 provisions pursued a legitimate aim—in other words, did they meet a pressing social need?—and whether they were proportionate to that aim. The court found that both those requirements were fully satisfied. In its judgment, it stated that
''the circumstances provide formidable support for a method of recruitment that would strike at the heart of the problem''
that we face in Northern Ireland.
Can we really say that the circumstances also justify positive discrimination in favour of those classed as non-determined, as the amendment would have it? Can we identify a pressing social need of sufficient strength to withstand legal challenge to increase the proposition of non-determined officers and civilians in the police service? I do not believe that we can yes to either of those questions, but let us set that aside for a moment and consider whether the quota that the amendment proposes would be workable. Quite simply, it would not. In the three competitions completed to date, the highest proportion of non-determined candidates to reach the pool of qualified
applicants was 0.64 per cent. Most recently, in competition three, no such candidates reached the pool. Of all the trainees recruited to the PSNI to date, only 0.62 per cent. have been classed as non-determined. All those figures clearly show that even if a quota of 14 per cent. of non-determined recruits could be justified, it is simply not achievable.
I rise in defence of the amendment and to point out to the Minister that she is getting confused between the census figures arrived at by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) for those persons who do not want to declare a religious affiliation, and the figures that the Minister derived from the fair employment monitoring procedures, which attribute community origin to people whether they like it or not. The census figures for those who want to have a religious affiliation are 45 per cent. Protestant, 40 per cent. Catholic, and 14 per cent. other—those persons who do not declare. Once community backgrounds are attributed in accordance with fair employment legislation, the figures are 53 per cent. Protestant, 44 per cent. Catholic, and 3 per cent. other. The Minister's figures should therefore be compared with the 3 per cent. figure, not the 14 per cent. figure. She is getting confused, and I do wish that she would get around to dealing with my point that the target age group is roughly balanced, so the 50-50 requirement is not needed if participation rates are equal. That is the problem.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. The numbers of applicants do not reflect the breakdown in the age groups but, for the reasons already given, intimidation continues against young men and women from the Catholic community applying to join the PSNI. I should not let that point be made without stating what might be perceived as the obvious, which is that intimidation from any quarter, which prevents young people from applying to serve in the PSNI, is unacceptable. I shall talk about our efforts to tackle that intimidation when concluding my remarks. I have not confused the figures. The point made by the right hon. Gentleman does not deflect me from my conclusion that the Liberal Democrat new clause is unworkable. It would not assist the current situation in any way.
New clause 2 would replace the 50-50 recruitment arrangements with a provision that would make statutory provision for affirmative action measures to encourage applications from groups currently under-represented in the PSNI. Similar amendments to those discussed today have been debated during the passage of this Bill and that of the 2000 Act, and I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman is unfamiliar with the Government's arguments.
The Patten commission and report fully recognised the importance of affirmative action measures in bringing about compositional change in the police service. Indeed, the commission made a range of specific recommendations to that effect on, for example, the role of community leaders, establishing links between schools and universities and the police service, and developing advertising strategies. However, Patten's clear view was that the imbalance
between Catholic or nationalist and Protestant or Unionist was so extreme that exceptional measures were justified for a temporary period to lend some impetus to the process of compositional change.
The right hon. Member for Upper Bann says that the scheme is not working and is unnecessary, but the impact of 50:50 recruitment can already be seen. The proportion of Catholics in the regular police service has risen from 8 per cent. at the time of the Patten report in 1999 to 12.2 per cent. as of 1 March this year. That compares with an increase of slightly more than 1 per cent. in the 10 years prior to the Patten reforms. The impact on the overall composition of the police service will be taken into account as part of the review of the 50:50 recruitment arrangements, to which I referred earlier, provided for under section 47 of the 2000 Act. That will take place early next year. The 50:50 arrangements also apply to police support staff, and although the independent recruitment agency has only recently been appointed, the recruitment measures are already having some effect, with an increase from 12 per cent. to 13.5 per cent. in the proportion of Catholics working among police support staff.
As I have said, under-representation of women and ethnic minorities is also a live issue for the PSNI. Section 48 of the 2000 Act provides for the board to make an action plan to address the under-representation of women in the service, and the Act also provides for the application to the police of section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which places a duty on them to have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity. That provides an appropriate vehicle under which the matters raised in the new clauses can be taken forward. However, the under-representation of Catholics remains our current priority.
I want to take the Minister back a moment. She said that the arrangements apply not only to the police, but to civilian support services. What is the situation for contracted-out services? If something is put out to contract—catering, for example—will the contractors be required to follow the rules too? If so, how could the contractor plead when hauled before a court under human rights legislation for providing catering in a discriminatory way?
Contracted-out services are not subject to the 50:50 recruitment requirements.
As the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland has stated, goals, timetables and affirmative action measures are unlikely to produce the necessary change in the composition of the police for a considerable period. It is not that the measures would not change the composition, but that they would not affect it for some time. We need to see a more balanced and representative police service in the shorter term, and the 50:50 recruitment rules will enable us to achieve that.
either if the required number of police trainees or support staff could not otherwise be appointed or if the number of serving officers or police support staff were below complement at the time of consideration. A similar proposal has already been discussed at some length in another place. It is worth reiterating that the Secretary of State's existing discretionary power under the 2000 Act to amend the 50:50 quota provisions has not been used. He has the power to amend the provisions when sufficient numbers of police trainees or support staff cannot otherwise be appointed, but he has never been invited to use it.
The Minister has been scrupulous in her dealings with the Committee, but she is now being somewhat complacent. I will put to her the point that I made earlier, regarding the severe difficulties and under-manning of the PSNI.
Last autumn, the Chief Constable sought to undertake civilian recruitment to free up officers and put them on the beat. According to the Chief Constable, 250 applicants were Protestant, and only 26 were Roman Catholic. As a result of the 50:50 rule, he was able to make only 52 appointments. The arithmetic is straightforward: 26 from one group and 26 from the other, which meant that approximately 224 Protestants who were willing to be recruited were not recruited. These are serious numbers. Will the Minister stay with the 50:50 rule even in the face of the fact that it is leading to severe under-establishment in the PSNI?
The hon. Gentleman refers me to a text that I do not have in front of me. I am not aware of the recruitment effort that was made to which the Chief Constable referred. I am aware of problems in one particular area that have now been addressed by the appointment of recruitment agencies to take recruitment matters forward. Since their appointment, all recruitment drives run by the two agencies have been so good that it has always been possible to appoint the required numbers of recruits under the 50:50 arrangements.
We are not complacent. If a problem has been caused by the 50:50 arrangements, we are prepared to listen to a clear case when it is made to us. Undeniably, there are shortages of skills and experience in certain areas. The PSNI and the Policing Board have together developed a human resources strategy to address the current manpower difficulties.
The Government have made it clear on several occasions during the debates that we are aware that Policing Board members are considering seeking a limited exception to the 50:50 recruitment arrangements, to allow the Chief Constable to address the current shortage of experienced officers at the rank of constable with specific specialist skills.
On that point, may I make it clear to the Committee that as recently as 11 October 2002, the total number of regular officers in the PSNI was 6,905, against an establishment figure of 8,488. The police service was therefore light by 1,500 regular officers. That is a serious situation. It is not the time to be lecturing the Committee about the fairness of the 50:50 system and the need to recruit more Catholics into the
police force. Of course there is a need to recruit more Catholics into the police force, but there is also a need for the police force to be up to strength. It has 1,500 officers too few.
I recognise the 6,900 figure, but not the 1,500 discrepancy to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I will look into the matter.
Given that we received representations that the Chief Constable wished to recruit constables with a particular skill, and the Policing Board unanimously agreed that an exception should be made, the chairman of the board wrote to the Secretary of State yesterday to ask the Government to make an appropriate amendment to the 2000 Act to facilitate that. I am aware that from time to time difficulties are created.
In response to the comment made by the hon. Member for Solihull, would the Minister agree that, unfortunately, a number of police forces throughout the UK regularly fail to reach their full complement of officers? It is therefore unfair of the hon. Gentleman to say that because that has happened in Northern Ireland, it is due to the 50:50 recruitment policy. It regularly happens to other police forces that do not have such a policy. Would the Minister agree that the hon. Gentleman may be using the matter as a red herring, when there are many other reasons why police officers—
We have carefully examined the board's proposals and we intend to table an amendment on Report to give effect to the board's decision and enable the appointment of constables, particularly detective constables, other than through the customary 50:50 route. I shall not go into further detail here, because we shall do so on Report. However, I want to flag up the fact that, where necessary, we are prepared to assess the impact of the 50:50 rule on the ability of the Chief Constable to recruit, particularly where adverse effects are discernible and the Policing Board unanimously reaches a decision.
It is important to place on the record our welcome for the Government new clause, which will mean a departure from 50:50 recruitment provisions. I am pleased that the Government have been prepared to reflect on the Policing Board's proposals. At the same time, I deprecate the fact that
the Government were prepared to act only on the basis of a unanimous decision by the Policing Board, which is a bad precedent. The composition of the board might change and the Government could place obstacles in the way of other good ideas coming from it.
Rather than attaching themselves to the unanimity of the board, the Government would have done better to attach themselves to the good sense of the proposal. I am pleased at the departure from 50:50 at the board's request, but I remain concerned that the Government act only on utilitarian grounds rather than in response to the injustice committed against hundreds of people. Should that not also be remedied?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a valid point about unanimity. I referred to that point because in previous debates we noted the Policing Board's ability to deal with extremely sensitive and difficult issues on the basis of unanimity. However, it is important to understand that we are not placing that requirement on the board. I am mindful of the need for properly skilled officers to deliver services that the community rightfully demands. I am sympathetic to the Chief Constable's difficulties in respect of detective constables.
I wonder whether I might go into semi-constructive mode for a moment. As I understand it—the Minister will confirm it or otherwise—the 50:50 rule applies only to the recruitment of constables. Is there no scope for the Chief Constable to recruit police officers above the rank of constable from other parts of the United Kingdom, thereby obviating the rule and securing good, experienced officers to meet the deficiency? Should not such a constructive route be exploited as far as possible?
Indeed. For officers of sergeant rank and above, that facility is available, if the Chief Constable wants to use it.
The problem with the new clauses is that they go too far and could significantly undermine the 50:50 recruitment policy, to which we remain firmly committed. Why are we so committed to it? [Interruption.] I sometimes wonder why it should need stating. Yesterday, I had the privilege to meet three people who were making representations to me on a different point. Their fathers had been serving officers with the Royal Ulster Constabulary who were murdered in the 1970s. Our focus is to bring about circumstances in which those murderous attacks no longer happen.
The 50:50 recruitment arrangements, which change the composition of the PSNI, will bring us to the point where the PSNI is not only representative of but wholly supported by all of the communities represented throughout Northern Ireland. They will do so more quickly and more effectively than any of the other arrangements proposed today. It is on that basis that we continue to support 50:50, notwithstanding the representations that have been made about the grief that it causes to those who fail in the recruitment process. I hope that the Committee will reject the new clauses. Indeed, I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the motion.
The Minister is right when she says that we have had one of our best and liveliest debates so far. The two proposals, although different in their effect, both proceed upon the same basic premise: the 50:50 recruitment procedure is fundamentally wrong and obnoxious. The Minister talked of the progress that has been made. I fear that she over-eggs the pudding ever so slightly. Yes, a great deal of progress has been made in relation to the recruitment of Roman Catholics into the PSNI, but that is a reflection of the increasing normality of life in Northern Ireland. A full range of people are now prepared to take on board serving their community in the police service in a way that is considered normal on this side of the Irish sea.
By continuing to insist on this highly artificial and, to a large part of the community, obnoxious device, the Government undermine and diminish their achievement and the achievement of others, such as the right hon. Member for Upper Bann, in bringing a degree of normality to the community and to the policing of the community in Northern Ireland. I do not believe for one second that any member of the Roman Catholic community will join the police simply because the device is available to them through the overall engineering of targets. They will join the PSNI if they feel that they have some stake in it, and if they can do so without intimidation from the IRA and other paramilitary organisations. That is the achievement. The Minister should be proud of that, and she should have rather more confidence than she appears to have by continuing to cling to a highly artificial device.
We have had two parallel debates. When I moved the new clause that stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) I said that it was a messy compromise. Others have pointed out various flaws in it. I do not seek to run away from them. I think that arguably there might be a degree of flexibility that is not present in the current system. The Minister referred to the fact that only 0.64 per cent. of current applicants were from this non-determined category. That is a fairly meaningless statistic when the system as it is set up forces everyone to be in one of two camps.
I lived for several years in Glasgow, where the issue of whether one is a Protestant or a Catholic is still very much alive. I worked for several years in the licensed trade and in hotels and I overheard many conversations that always came back to the question, ''Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?'' Any attempt to avoid the question by answering, ''I am an atheist'' would be met with, ''Are you a Protestant atheist or a Catholic atheist?'' There has been some fudging of such distinctions in the present system.
I am a member of the Liberal Democrats, and so I supported Partick Thistle. It is the third way and is rising in splendour and improving every year. However, to be less coded, the hon. Gentleman may be aware that I am an elder in the Church of Scotland.
The approach of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann made me slightly uncomfortable, and my discomfort grew as I listened to the exchange between the hon. Members for Spelthorne and for Glasgow, Cathcart. That was because what is being suggested puts inordinate policy-making power into the hands of the Chief Constable. That makes me uneasy. When we talk about big policy issues, we should remember that the job of the Chief Constable is to implement the policy that politicians give him, not to be its author.
The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) made several points about the number of competitions there have been since section 46 was introduced. He said that that was unacceptable and shameful, and that is the point to which I return time and time again. There is no getting away from it. The Minister drew our attention to the fact that they are temporary provisions and reminded us that the matter will be visited again in Committee in March of next year. I can hardly wait.
However, Patten envisaged that competitions would last for 10 years. For a young person who wishes to join the police service, 10 years is a generation. People in that generation will feel aggrieved at having being denied the opportunities that they feel they have the merit to meet. That is why the Liberal Democrats feel that the 50:50 approach is wrong. I am mindful that time is marching on, and I do not wish to delay the Committee further in long Divisions. Accordingly, after discussions with the right hon. Member for Upper Bann, I shall withdraw my new clause on the understanding that his will be moved formally and that there will be a Division after all the points have been aired. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.