New clause 1 - Discrimination in appointments

Part of Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 11th March 2003.

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Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office 3:00 pm, 11th March 2003

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.