New clause 1 - Discrimination in appointments

Part of Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 11th March 2003.

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Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne 2:45 pm, 11th March 2003

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.