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Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill): I am surprised that that particular event in 1998 should be remembered tonight. At that time, I was talking about having equal numbers of men and women elected to the Scottish Parliament. We received strong advice that the equal treatment directive had nothing to do with elected Members of Parliament, but that it had everything to do with people being appointed to jobs, which is what we are debating tonight. Since that time, however, a few studies have been carried out that show that my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor was wrong and that we would have been within our rights to amend the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.

I certainly agree with one point that the right hon. Gentleman has made--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady has made her point that the right hon. Gentleman might be wrong.

Mr. Trimble: I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, which I pretty well invited by referring to her. Her proposal was about equal numbers of men and women and we are debating an analogous proposal relating to an equal number of Catholics and non-Catholics. She conceded that this issue deals with employment and that the provisions for elected Members do not apply in this case.

I would be interested to see the other reports that suggest that the Lord Chancellor got it wrong. The report that I quoted is dated June 2000, so it has been published

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within the last month. I am entitled to regard it as up to date and it does not refer to the other reports. The quotes from the Lord Chancellor are clear and authoritative and comply with the independent advice that we have received about the European directive.

The likelihood is that, within a short time, the Government will find that their proposal is struck down by the European courts. The question we must ask the Government is why they are proceeding with a proposal that they know will probably be struck down. They cannot assure the House that it is, in the words of Lord Irvine, "ECJ proof". In any event, the Government must know, without reference to the equal treatment directive, that it is wrong to discriminate in the way that they propose.

By all means, let us do what we can to encourage people to come forward and to ensure that we have a balanced and representative police force. The most significant action that can be taken to achieve that aim requires not legislation, but positive action by some hon. Members sitting on the opposite side of the House. I am thinking of those Members who represent the Social Democratic and Labour party who by their actions--what they say and what they do--in the days and weeks to come can do more to encourage and produce a representative police service than all the legislation put together. Rather than pursue something that is morally wrong and illegal under European law, let them use their voices and get out into the community to persuade people to come forward and join the police service as provided for by this Bill.

Rev. Ian Paisley: When the Democratic Unionist party had a meeting with the Minister of State the legality of the provision for having a police force made up of 50 per cent. Protestants or non-Catholics and 50 per cent. Roman Catholics was one of the issues that we raised. I pointed out, from some little knowledge of Europe, that there was a problem with that provision.

Will the Secretary of State come to the Dispatch Box and tell the House that the provision is legal under European law? Can he say unequivocally that what he is asking for is in complete agreement with European law--or is it not? If he were to refer to a derogation, that would be a different matter. That would mean that he accepted that the provision is not legal under European law and that he must go for a derogation.

10 pm

The debate on this issue cannot proceed until the Secretary of State tells the House exactly what the position in European law is, and it is incumbent on him to know what that legal standing is. I hope that when he, or another Minister, responds to the debate, he will be able to state that clearly. He should not put us off by saying that the Government are looking into it or negotiating it. I will be interested to hear that reply because as the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) said, this is an important matter, and the House needs to know how European law affects what it is deciding tonight.

Under the terms of the legislation that we are being asked to support, it will be difficult to achieve the target of 50 per cent. of recruits being Roman Catholics and to ensure that the section of the community that is bracketed

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as non-Catholic gets the justice that it, too, deserves. How are we to do that? The Government must not duck these issues; they must tell us exactly what they intend to do.

Who will tell the House authoritatively that non-Catholics will join the police force envisaged in the Bill? I have not heard from SDLP Members that they will call on the people who support them to join as the Bill becomes law. Will it reach the standards that they have set? If the Bill is passed tonight, will they tell us that they will be able to stand up to their constituency and say, "Yes, you should join this police force"?

We know exactly where Sinn Fein-IRA stands: it says that it will not make any call to its constituency until everything else is completed. When will the process be completed? How far away is that date? It seems a very long way away, because when something is done, something else is asked for, and when that is done, something else is asked for. When will we have recruitment to the new force? If the Roman Catholic people are not urged by their leaders to join, they will not do so. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann is right to say that there must be a call from the leaders of that community, because people will decide to join the police not after reading the Bill, but when their leadership says that they may join.

The House could have a long debate about why Roman Catholic people have not joined the police force. I have constituents who are members of the RUC; they cannot go to their own homes, and their parents have to visit them in England. People who face such intimidation will not join the police force, no matter what it is called. The House needs to address those issues.

Mrs. Fyfe: When I said that the Lord Chancellor was wrong, I was referring to the question of selecting and electing Members of Parliament, not to taking on employees. The equal treatment directive is pretty straightforward and simply says that an employer is entitled to take positive action to bring into employment people who have been under-represented. I would be surprised if my colleagues on the Front Bench had not checked that out before presenting their Bill.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): The official Opposition share all the anxieties expressed by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) about the way the Bill stands. The amendments tabled by the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) add to the categories that we believe fall foul of European law and of the European convention on human rights as incorporated into our law.

We considered this issue in great detail in Committee. When we considered whether these measures were compliant, it was noteworthy that the Minister was remarkably opaque on the subject. He said:

On checking the entirety of Hansard for that occasion, I found no explanations as to how this part of the Bill satisfies the Amsterdam treaty and the directives that are likely to arise. There is no evidence that it does. The maximum that the right hon. Gentleman was able to say was that "our European partners"--I think that that was the expression--would be sympathetic and would

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therefore find a way out for the Government from their dilemma. It was odd that the European Court of Human Rights and how it might interpret such a flagrant breach of directives, and the Amsterdam treaty, were never really mentioned.

My anxiety has always centred on the European convention on human rights. Article 9 is clear. It states:

How do the Government's current proposals match up to that?

The Government are proposing to create a pool. Into it will go those who are qualified to join the police service. However, they will not be allowed to join having passed on qualification. They will be obliged to wait until the Government consider that they are in the right place on the religious quota to be admitted. In this world there is discrimination both direct and indirect. There is no point in saying, "We are not interfering with the way that you exercise your religious belief", if by virtue of the way in which people exercise their beliefs they will be discriminated against in the workplace when applying to join the police service.

All the entrants who come forward to join the Royal Ulster Constabulary--or the police service, or whatever it may be called--will each receive an assessment. It beggars belief that a lawyer will not trawl through the assessments to point out the inconsistencies of one person being favoured as against another on the ground of his religion. As I said to the Minister in Committee, I hope not entirely flippantly, what happens if somebody having been admitted to the pool decides to change his religious faith? The Minister suggested that he thought the person might drown, out of uncertainty. However, that is a question that he will have to answer, because at some stage precisely that problem is likely to arise. When it does, how will that person be treated thereafter?

There are many other inconsistencies in the way in which the Bill is drafted. The most obvious and notable is that it divides the community into two equal camps of 50 per cent., which neither reflects society at large nor makes any allowance for any other minority group, or anyone not defined as Protestant or Catholic. It is difficult to imagine a criterion which would act as more of a red rag to a bull in a polarised community. It takes no account of other religious or ethnic minorities.

The Minister has the Opposition's support in the desire to see the number of Catholics in the RUC greatly increased. He knows that if there were to come a day when Catholics accounted for more than 50 per cent. of its numbers, that would not bother us one iota. We would not be concerned if they took advantage of the job opportunities and performed the service to the community that those allowed. However, the Government have chosen to introduce a measure that is discriminatory. The Minister admitted in Committee that it means positive

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discrimination, and rather gloried in it. As a principle on which this House should conduct its business and pass legislation, I find that extraordinary.

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