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

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.