New clause 1 - Discrimination in appointments

Part of Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 11th March 2003.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 3:15 pm, 11th March 2003

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.