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

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.