Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Howarth: My hon. Friend quotes at length from Patten, but I can tell him that we are trying to move forward as quickly as possible on all those areas. I do not seek to have an argument with my hon. Friend--

Mr. McNamara: No, I am seeking information.

Mr. Howarth: I am seeking to explain to my hon. Friend that, until such a time as a viable and effective alternative arises from research, that is what will happen. Of course, firearms training of any kind and training in all the equipment is a standard part of the way in which any police force, including the police force in Northern Ireland, operates. I know that the Chief Constable is mindful of those concerns and I also know that police officers in Northern Ireland have had much training in such areas in previous months.

Dr. Godman: My hon. Friend the Minister may recall that I was present in Committee when we had an almost identical debate, and I have much sympathy for what he says about baton rounds. Police officers must have comprehensive protection. On the issue of research, which institute is carrying it out? Given the comprehensive nature of the research, I presume that the programme of research is extensive.

Mr. Howarth: Yes, it is extensive. If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I am anxious to make some progress--[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) should not keep interrupting the proceedings.

Mr. Howarth: As for the detail that my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) seeks, I will get in touch with him on that point.

Amendment No. 23 was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell). Before addressing the amendment, and in response to arguments in Committee, I want to record that the Government have accepted that there will be a shift in emphasis in the best value area of the Bill. That will be

11 Jul 2000 : Column 793

addressed in the other place and will give the board the lead role in best value, with the Secretary of State simply having a default power.

The provisions in clause 27 are about securing continuous improvement in the way in which the board exercises its functions. It is not Patten. It is an issue to be addressed by the Secretary of State, the board and the Chief Constable. The commissioner's role is clear under his terms of reference and we do not believe it necessary or appropriate to include the functions provided for in that clause. I commend Government new clause 4 to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 5

Reports by the Commissioner

'.--(1) The Commissioner shall make periodic reports to the Secretary of State on the implementation of the changes described in his terms of reference.

(2) There shall be at least three periodic reports in each year.
(3) The Commissioner may at any time make a report to the Secretary of State on matters arising in the course of his performance of his general function.
(4) The Secretary of State--
(a) shall lay each report made to him under this section before each House of Parliament; and
(b) arrange for the report to be published in such manner as appears to him to be appropriate.'.--[Mr. Ingram.]

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 1

Targets for recruitment

'.--(1) The Board shall establish targets for applications and recruitment to the police of Roman Catholics, women and ethnic minorities and other persons from underrepresented sections of society.

(2) The Board shall monitor applications and recruitment to the police to ensure equality of access.'.--[Mr. Öpik.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

9.30 pm

Mr. Öpik: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 2--Affirmative action--

'.--The Chief Constable or any person appointed under the terms of section 42(1) shall pursue an active programme of affirmative action to increase applications from, and recruitment of, persons from underrepresented sections of society to the police.'.

Government amendments Nos. 127 and 130.

Amendment No. 301, in clause 43, page 21, leave out lines 1 to 14.

Amendment No. 52, in page 21, line 1, leave out subsection (3).

Government amendment No. 133.

Amendment No. 323, in page 21, line 11, leave out "10" and insert "2".

11 Jul 2000 : Column 794

Amendment No. 53, in page 21, line 18, leave out clause 44.

Amendment No. 324, in clause 44, page 21, line 39, after "(4)", insert--

'Save where subsection (4D) applies,'.

Government amendment No. 135.

Amendment No. 325, in page 21, line 45, at end insert--

'(4C) Where subsection (4D) applies, the Chief Constable shall make appointments in accordance with subsection (4) as far as it is practicable to do so.
(4D) This subsection applies where the number of vacant posts in the police support staff which are at the same level and to be filled at or about the same time is not less than two and not more than five.
(4E) The Chief Constable shall each year publish information concerning appointments made by the Chief Constable where subsection (4D) applies.
(4F) Information published under subsection (4E) shall be in such form as the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland may require.'.

Amendment No. 54, in page 22, line 37, leave out clause 45.

Mr. Öpik: The Government took the benefit of our advice on a number of previous amendments, so we are rewarding them with more such advice.

The recruitment process proposed in the Bill involves quotas. I feel duty bound to raise this issue again because the Bill as it stands will not resolve the problem of differential recruitment of Catholics as opposed to non-Catholics. Moreover, it might introduce an additional injustice which is entirely out of keeping with what we are trying to do in the Bill.

First, I stress that the Liberal Democrats adamantly support the intent of ensuring that ethnically fair proportions are recruited to the police service--proportions that genuinely reflect those to be found in the Northern Ireland community. Incidently, that means that we also want a higher proportion of women in the police force, as well as of ethnic minorities such as the Chinese.

The solution of mandatory quotas that is laid down in the Bill would not, however, achieve what the Government want, for several reasons. First, quotas at the stage envisaged in the Bill tackle the symptoms rather than the cause of the problem. Traditionally, there has not been discrimination in the police at the point of selection. In fact, the internal recruitment process seems to have been fair to Catholics who have applied for a job. There has been so little Catholic representation in the police force because Catholics have not had the confidence in the police to apply, or they have been put off by local pressures and, occasionally, even by paramilitary pressure.

That being the case, we need to solve the problem of an under-representative police force in the application phase. Tackling the percentage recruited does nothing to tackle the percentage applying. In fact, it could lead to a serious distortion of the recruitment process.

What happens, for example, if 100 vacancies have to be filled and 200 non-Catholics and 50 Catholics apply? The rules state that recruitment should be 50:50. In this example, that would mean that one in four of the non-Catholics would be recruited, but every Catholic applicant would have to be offered a job. Basic recruiting

11 Jul 2000 : Column 795

practice will confirm to anyone that, in such a large group, it is unlikely that 100 per cent. of the people who apply for the job will fill the criteria. That has nothing to do with Catholics; it is to do with real-life, large-scale recruiting.

If one does not get 100 per cent. success from 50 applicants, there will be a shortfall, leaving open various options. Option A would be to drop the standard: give all 50 the job, whether or not they meet the normal qualifications that one expects from applicants. The Minister has made it clear that the Government will not pursue that path. They will not drop the standard that they expect from anyone, be they Catholics, Protestants or whatever. Option A is therefore not a runner.

Option B is to screen out from the 50 Catholic applicants those who make the grade, and give them the job. In my example, there would, by necessity, be a shortfall and one would not be able to fill the quota. What can one do? The Bill provides for dropping the quota. The system is inconsistent. It means that one is fitting the quota around what one can get. Surely the quota is not simply there to reflect reality; it is there to try to influence reality and to re-balance the police force. Obviously, therefore, one must increase the number of applicants to make up the shortfall. What is the point of having quotas for recruitment if, at the end of the day, the Government or the police force have to tackle applicant numbers?

If my logic is correct, the only way to maintain the standard is to ensure that Catholics have the confidence to apply in the first place. That is the crux of the new clauses and amendments that we have tabled. Recruitment quotas will not make people apply to the police force if they do not see police work as a legitimate and worthwhile career. The details must be right so that the reforms create a police service to which Catholics and others who do not have a tradition of joining the police have the confidence to apply.

If the measure is successful, leading figures and members of under-represented communities will endorse the police as a good career. That will encourage younger members of such communities to apply. It will be possible for the cross-community membership of the Policing Board to scrutinise the proposed targets and modify them if they are not working. More important, the barriers that stop people applying to the police can be tackled directly.

The demographics of Northern Ireland will help us to deal with applications. Among 18 to 30-year-olds--the most likely source of new recruits--there is already a balance; 45 per cent. are Catholic and 44 per cent. are Protestant. Others account for 11 per cent. If reform works, the natural rate of recruitment would act as a balance, so quotas would not be needed at that point. If I have lost a few percentage points in my calculations, I put it down to rounding errors.

It is more sensible to use targets than rigid quotas. They would allow the employer--the police service--to have flexibility so that we do not get hung up about injustice by trying to fill targets. Under the Bill, the quota is inflexible; it demands the recruitment from the community of 50 per cent. Catholics and 50 per cent. non-Catholics. That does not even represent the current cross-section of the Northern Ireland community; as I have pointed out, a certain proportion of people do not class themselves as belonging to either religion. The Bill

11 Jul 2000 : Column 796

acknowledges that weakness, because it allows the Secretary of State to vary the percentage; the patch-up job has begun before we have even implemented the measure.

Quotas could inadvertently cause more division in the police service. We do not want officers to be seen as members of one or other sectarian grouping rather than as individuals. Like people in any job, the police have to be judged as individuals. Under the current provisions for the implementation of quotas, there is a danger that that will not occur. We certainly should not introduce measures that create more division in the service.

The operation of the distinction between Catholics and non-Catholics may not help to achieve a balance with other members of the community who have always been under-represented. In Committee, when I pressed the Minister on the fact that everyone would be shoe-horned into those two categories, he replied:

That is a dangerous path to take; it would cause other under-represented groups to be ignored. However, that would be the result of the measure.

The legality of quotas is questionable. The Bill proposes amending fair employment legislation to make room for quotas. That would set a dangerous precedent. It underlines the fact that, in any other circumstances, the measure would not be regarded as fair legislation. I suspect that the Government would have something to say if such practice were extensive on the mainland.

That the proposals constitute positive discrimination is not in dispute. On 15 June, in The Irish News, the Secretary of State was quoted as saying that he was implementing Patten's 50:50 recruitment scheme, despite the fact that it would mean changing the law and persuading our European partners that it was a special case for reverse discrimination. Other hon. Members may offer further examples of that point. Apart from not delivering what we want, the quota could be illegal. Furthermore, it is not morally right to remove a present injustice by introducing a future one.

We must create a police service that will attract people from all sections of the community. New clauses 1 and 2 would allow the Policing Board to establish advisory targets for the application and recruitment of Catholics, women and others from under-represented sections of the community. They would impose a duty on the Chief Constable to pursue an active programme of affirmative action to encourage such groups to apply. I emphasise "affirmative action" because that is a world away from positive discrimination. Affirmative action means tackling the underlying reasons why people from certain communities and certain ethnic groups are not applying to the police. That is vastly different from simply setting a quota and expecting it to be filled; in our judgment, although it is harder, it will also tackle the problem at its root.

I wish to cite one last quotation on the matter. It dates from 12 November 1997, when Ronnie Flanagan gave evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. A member of that committee told him:

11 Jul 2000 : Column 797

Combining all that with the sage advice--at which I see the Minister nodding--from the hon. Member for Brent, East, my judgment is that we are proceeding down the wrong path to achieve what I am sure we all agree is a laudable aim. However, if we do see this through--if we recognise that there is an issue here--the Government can still reconsider. They can still take on board the amendments and new clauses that we have tabled, and recognise that we are trying to do the same thing in a fairer way.

We tackle all the issues as we proceed through these debates, but this issue has real consequences for real people. It could actually cause new grievances instead of addressing the old ones. Positive discrimination also makes everyone either a Catholic or a non-Catholic when, from my own personal history, I can testify that there are individuals who do not categorise themselves in either of those groups.

I am asking the Minister to take these concerns very seriously. I am not alone on this issue, but even if I were, this is a matter of practice and a matter of principle--a principle that the Government should take very seriously, because at the moment they are trying to cure the symptoms rather than the cause, and so often when they do that, they cure nothing at all.

Next Section

IndexHome Page