I beg to move amendment No. 67, in
schedule 4, page 19, line 22, at end insert—
'Police (Northern Ireland Act 2000 (c.32) Section 47.'.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
'After section 45 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 insert—
''45A Lateral Entry to Police Service for Northern Ireland for Serving Full-Time Reserve Officers
(1) Those serving in the full-time reserve of the Police Service of Northern Ireland having completed one year's service may apply for a transfer to be police trainees.
(2) Such transfers will be automatically accepted by the Chief Constable unless:
(a) the applicant is subject to disciplinary action; or
(b) the applicant is subject to an investigation by the Police Ombudsman.
(3) A person making an application under this section will not be subject to the provisions of section 46.''.'.
New clause 5—Discrimination in appointments—
'For section 46 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 substitute—
''46 Discrimination in appointments
In making appointments under section 39 the Chief Constable shall appoint candidates on merit alone.''.'.
Amendment No. 66, in
title, line 12, after 'services', insert
'to amend Part VI of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000;'.
I tabled these amendments on behalf of the Democratic Unionist party, as I did the previous group, but I am conscious that they have wider support.
The amendments and new clauses have a common theme: they would extend the remit of the Bill to the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, and amend that Act. New clause 4 addresses the issue of a natural entry to the police service for full-time reserves, and new clause 5 deals with one of the more contentious areas of Northern Ireland legislation—the so-called 50:50 requirement for the admission of police recruits. Amendments No. 66 and 67 are technical amendments that facilitate the inclusion of the new clauses in the Bill. New clause 4 is self-explanatory: it proposes a new section 45A to be inserted after section 45 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, and proposed section 45A(3) in particular also relates to the 50:50 requirement.
Since the inception of the Patten reforms, the position of reserve members of the police in Northern Ireland has been ambiguous, and that has been acutely felt by those officers who serve as full-time reserve members of the police service. Full-time reserve officers have vast experience and many of them have long and distinguished records. Their service has been invaluable in combating loyalist and republican
terrorism and defending all citizens of Northern Ireland from attack.
Since 1971, some 49 members of the full-time reserve have been murdered and several thousand have been injured, several hundred of them permanently so. The full-time reserve has served with distinction, sharing the risks and the demanding challenges of protecting the public. Their expertise also extends to dealing with non-terrorist criminal activities: they have extensive experience of interfacing with the public and dealing with everyday policing matters. That wealth of experience was threatened by the Patten reforms.
If the full-time reserve is abolished, some 1,600 experienced, fully trained officers who are already working on the ground will be forced out of the service. Despite their exemplary record, they have been treated with contempt and indifference. Patten recommended that they should be phased out—airbrushed from history. Despite a temporary reprieve, their future is uncertain.
That state of affairs is particularly scandalous given the crisis in the number of serving officers because of the Patten reforms, the loss of morale in the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the level of early retirements from the force. It is an irrefutable fact that the Police Service of Northern Ireland suffers from the highest levels of sick leave of any force in the United Kingdom. Those rates have increased since the implementation of the Patten reforms began. Numbers plunged last year to 6,900 serving officers, which is below the peacetime operational level recommended by Patten. If the full-time reserve is disbanded there will be 1,600 fewer officers in Northern Ireland.
My new section 45A has a simple objective. It is to secure the position of those officers. People who have sacrificed so much over the years deserve no less. They continue to police Northern Ireland with distinction, but they have no security in respect of their future. The new clause would secure the future for dedicated officers who continue to serve with distinction. As policing numbers decline and the discriminatory recruitment practices of section 46 of the 2000 Act prevent recruitment of adequate numbers of officers, it is paramount that those officers are not lost. Quite simply, we cannot afford to lose them.
Currently, if a full-time reservist wants to transfer to the officer ranks, he is treated like any other member of the community. He simply applies as anyone would. His experience and dedication over the years are not taken into account. New clause 4 would allow full-time reserve officers to apply for a lateral transfer. It would give the full-time reserves security of tenure, retain desperately needed expertise and increase the number of officers.
New clause 5 rests on the simple proposition that the overriding principle governing appointments, whether to the Judicial Appointments Commission, the judiciary or the police service, should be based on merit alone. One is encouraged to put forward that point of view because the Government accept and assert it in the Bill with regard to the judiciary and
members of the Commission. Such appointments must be made
''solely on the basis of merit''.
The concept of being ''reflective of the community'', according the to the Bill and the Government's justification for it, is highly desirable, but it is nevertheless a secondary consideration. It applies only
''so far as is practicable''.
Merit is the sole determining factor.
Reduced to simplicity, new clause 5 applies precisely the same principle to the selection of police recruits. What the Government legislate for judges, they should also legislate for police officers. The essence of the argument is that the 50:50 provision in the 2000 Act is unparalleled in legislation in the United Kingdom or in the Commonwealth, and that it is iniquitous. In passing it, the Government required derogation from European anti-discrimination law, which is an unwelcome and uneasy position to adopt.
The consequences of the 50:50 requirement have been disturbing to put it mildly. To date, 777 young men and women with all the necessary qualifications and personal qualities to become police officers have been denied the career of their choice for the simple reason that they happen to be Protestants. They are the victims of state-orchestrated, state-legislated discrimination. This is an ugly and intolerable state of affairs that cannot be justified.
Another consequence is that police numbers are plunging. Given that the police must recruit 50 per cent. Catholics and 50 per cent. non-Catholics, the numbers of police recruits are not determined by the applicants' merits, but by the number of suitably qualified Catholics who apply. In the extreme, if no Catholic were to apply, no policeman could be recruited in Northern Ireland. It is clear that such legalised sectarian discrimination has not worked and is not working. It is not attracting young Catholic men and women into the police force, and it has succeeded in leaving Northern Ireland with an undermanned police force with falling morale.
It is not surprising that Catholic recruits are not forthcoming. To illustrate, I can say that someone with his ear close to the ground tells me that in south Armagh about this time last year, nine young Catholic men from respectable, hard-working families were thinking of applying to become recruits, but the provisional republican movement got to know about that, called on each of the families late at night and gave parents some ''friendly'' advice about what could happen if their sons joined the police. Not surprisingly, not one of those young men went forward. I do not blame them, but the fact is that they were intimidated, and the men of violence won again.
A fully functional, fully operational police force recruited solely on merit is urgently needed in the Province. A policeman's religion is irrelevant to his ability to perform his duties. The creation and maintenance of a stable society demands that that is acknowledged. Legalised and institutionalised
sectarianism is not the way forward. A police force recruited solely on the basis of merit is urgently needed, given several factors: the increased incidence of violence and terrorism since the Belfast agreement; the IRA's refusal to renounce violence irrevocably, decommission totally and disband completely; the increase in crime; the decline in police numbers; and the fact that the SDLP at grass-roots level is, rightly, not the only party demanding more visible policemen.
Discrimination is wrong in any facet of life in Northern Ireland or anywhere in the United Kingdom, whether on grounds of sex, race or religion. It cannot be defended, but section 46 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 legalises it. To argue against the amendment is to argue for the indefensible and a practice that is morally wrong. A few weeks ago, the Government carried forward their intention to retain 50:50 recruitment for a further three years, despite overwhelming evidence that the policy is flawed and incapable of delivering the desired results. It is nothing short of scandalous that we allow it to continue.
New clause 4 would place a duty on the Chief Constable to recruit the best people for the job, on the basis of merit. That is only right and proper. It would return policing in Northern Ireland to the position enjoyed by all police forces in the democratic world. I urge the Committee to accept the two new clauses and the facilitating amendments that accompany them.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) on tabling these proposals, which he says he has introduced on behalf of the Democratic Unionist party. I must say that sometimes I am not entirely sure of the exact nature of the relationship between the hon. Gentleman, who was elected as a Conservative, and the Democratic Unionist party.
Clearly, the hon. Gentleman cannot clarify this further. However, it is interesting that we have the first amendments connected with policing in Northern Ireland tabled by—or on behalf of—the DUP since the Patten report.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Patten report was published in 1999 and followed by legislation. My party tabled some 200 amendments to that Bill in Committee and we have been active in Parliament in opposing 50:50 and associated matters ever since. Unfortunately, until now, the DUP has not been active in any way in Committee.
I am probably right in saying that the DUP could have had one of its own Members on the Committee. I see the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) nodding. At least the DUP has sent along the hon. Member for Basingstoke. That is a good thing, because he understands the procedures of the House well enough to have tabled these proposals, although I am not sure that the party on whose behalf he tabled them would have displayed the same skill. I welcome the fact that the DUP is beginning to do something on this issue, albeit indirectly through the hon. Gentleman. Would that it had done so beforehand.
I shall not talk about the merits of the matter. However, I endorse what the hon. Gentleman said and refer him and other members of the Committee to what I said a few weeks ago during consideration in the House of the extension of the 50:50 practice. I shall not reflect on the details or comment on that practice, because if I do so I will only make myself angry again—I have enough to be upset about this afternoon without reflecting on that matter.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman and, through him, the DUP to the fray. I wish that the DUP had got involved earlier and that it would not, from a purely partisan point of view, try to discourage people from pursuing other ways of challenging 50:50, as some of my friends are doing.
I have great sympathy with the new clauses tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke, for which he made a powerful case. In relation to new clause 4, the Minister is duty bound to give us an insight on how he proposes to deal with the question of numbers, to which my hon. Friend drew attention, if we are to dispense with the services of the full-time reserve, as is planned. I pressed Ministers on that at the last Northern Ireland Question Time.
I have before me a parliamentary answer to a question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), which was answered on 9 February at column 162 by the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the right hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy). It gives, in tabular form, a list of the numbers for the regular police and the full-term reserve—sorted by district command unit—and presents a stark picture. The number of regular officers is 4,504 and the number of officers in the full-time reserve is 1,446. By my reckoning, that means that a quarter of the police force is made up of full-time reservists. However, one can see that in certain district command units that proportion is even higher. In Belfast, East, for example, there are 216 regular and 114 reserve officers. By my reckoning, reservists make up a third of the force.
Yesterday, I had the privilege of meeting three representatives of the Police Federation for Northern Ireland. They made the point that those officers are involved in front-line policing duties; they are not a reserve in the sense that we might ordinarily conceive of one. The Minister is therefore duty bound to give us an insight on how we will do without the services of those officers if the plan proceeds, although I would much prefer him to accept new clause 4.
On new clause 5, I agree that quotas are objectionable in principle, and it would be vastly better if we had selection purely on merit. The Government's objective is admirable and desirable, but the means by which they have chosen to pursue it are unjust and a blunt instrument. Having said that, I welcome unreservedly the increase in the number of Catholic police officers in Northern Ireland. As the Minister can probably confirm, the proportion has increased from 14 per cent.—
I stand corrected. That increase is very welcome, and it deserves a tribute from us all to the courage and professionalism of those Catholic officers and the members of that community who serve on the police boards in the face of threats and intimidation. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke has already given us a flavour of what they are up against, and they deserve huge appreciation from us.
There has been a considerable increase in the recruitment of Catholic officers, but did it happen because of the quota? I am sure Ministers will say that it did and that we are seeing the policy bear fruit. I doubt that, however, and I would say that the changed situation and the support and endorsement of the SDLP were much more important. That is the breakthrough.
If the Minister believes that the increase in recruitment is purely the effect of the quota, surely it follows that to increase the proportion of Catholic officers more quickly to 50 per cent. we should reduce the size of the non-Catholic quota. Why do we not move to a 60, 70 or 100 per cent. quota for Catholic officers to accelerate the process? No one believes that that is feasible because, as the hon. Gentleman said, there is a shortage and the policy will not work in reality. The quota is temporary and designed to achieve a particular objective, but my reasoning is that the objective is being achieved by other means.
The real brake on the recruitment of more Catholic officers is the intimidation of recruits and potential recruits, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke drew attention, and Sinn Fein's refusal to endorse the force and give public support. In that context, Sinn Fein's recent spending of £25,000 to take out newspaper advertisements in the United States to decry the Police Service of Northern Ireland is a disgrace. We look to the Government to bring enormous pressure to bear on that organisation to secure a change in that policy.
There are other ways to pursue the objective. In this country, we place a duty on public authorities in respect of race relations and being reflective of the community. An enormous injustice rankles with those who pass the recruitment test on merit but find themselves excluded purely on quota grounds. If they want to reapply, they are back to square one, as if they had never applied in the first place. That creates a huge sense of grievance, so I support the proposals tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke.
I am glad that the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) has raised the question of intimidation of local policing partnership bodies, the police and potential police recruits. Let us be under no illusion that that is driven primarily by some obscure political theory—it is often driven by a desire and a need to protect criminal enterprise. We all recognise that, and I am sure that the House is united in condemning such behaviour.
We are getting recruits, however, and more than 530 entered training in the first year, which is well in excess of Patten's figure of 370. More than 1,100 have joined the service. That is well above the number joining pre-Patten. There has been a reduction in
numbers because a considerable quantity of police have taken advantage of severance arrangements. Quite a number have gone to work in other countries, using their considerable skills there, but the recruitment is providing redress.
I am saying that the number of recruits is above that anticipated and that the deficit is being addressed. I shall come to how the policy is working in other ways. The obverse side of an argument that says, ''We wish to discourage severance,'' is to provide less generous severance terms to those who have served over a number of years. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want to advance that argument.
I acknowledge the firmly held views, as expressed again today, on 50:50 recruitment. However, this is not the proper context for debating that policy as it was debated fully during the passage of the 2000 Act and, much more recently, during last month's discussions on the order providing for the temporary provisions to continue in force for three years. I know that certain hon. Members do not agree with the temporary provisions, but they should recognise that, under the 50:50 recruitment policy, the percentage of Roman Catholics in the PSNI has increased from 8 per cent. in 2000 to more than 14 per cent. in March 2004, and continues to increase.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to the full-time reserve. Patten recommended a police strength of 7,500 regulars and a part-time reserve of 2,500, with the full-time reserve to be phased out. The Chief Constable and the Policing Board have agreed that the phasing out will begin in April 2005, subject to a review of the prevailing security situation to be carried out later this year by the Chief Constable. Obviously, we await that.
New clause 4 would allow members of the full-time reserve to transfer automatically to become police trainees after a year's service, subject to certain exceptions. At the moment, they can apply to join the police service. As the hon. Gentleman said, they have to go through the same process, but 158 members of the full-time reserve have already succeeded in that. A limited number of places are available each year, and allowing members of the full-time reserve to transfer automatically would disadvantage others who wish to become police officers. These proposals, although introduced honestly, represent an attempt to try to go over old ground, so I ask the hon. Gentleman not to press them.
I do not remotely apologise for going over old ground—these debates are fundamental. The Minister's comments horrify me. He says that this is not the ''proper context'' in which to debate these proposals. Well, they are totally in order and you, Mr. Benton, selected them. It is most appropriate,
therefore, that we debate them. It is not for a Minister to decree that this is not the proper context. This is the proper context, but he dealt with the proposals in a cavalier, over-hasty fashion.
We know the Government's position, but the issues are so important that the arguments must be presented at every available opportunity. Those who share my view believe that the Government's position is fundamentally wrong. ''Cavalier'' is the appropriate word, because the Minister's galloped response did not address the seriousness of the issues. His comments will be read outside the Committee and judged accordingly. He should at least have devoted more time and detail to the serious points that I tried, to the best of my ability, to raise, but he chose not to. Therefore, I will not withdraw the amendment. The Committee's composition makes the result predictable, but we must make a stand on principle.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 3, Noes 8.