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Mr. McNamara: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, under the Fair Employment Act, it was his Government who introduced the concepts of perceived Protestant and perceived Roman Catholic?

Mr. Grieve: Neither this Government, the previous Government nor--I believe--any Government have passed a measure involving positive discrimination. The measures proposed by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire, which are certainly affirmative in their help to the Catholic community, command support and are a tried and tested method that goes to the very limit of what in our view is possible and allowable under both international law and our European convention obligations. No previous Government have departed from that; I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman again if he thinks that some previous Government have done so. I do not believe that to be so.

Mr. McNamara: Will the hon. Gentleman answer my question? Did not his Government, under the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act, introduce the concept of individuals as perceived Protestants and perceived Roman Catholics?

Mr. Trimble: That was in 1976.

Mr. Grieve: I do not know who introduced that legislation; the right hon. Gentleman says that it was in 1976. None the less, no measure involving positive discrimination has been passed by the House.

In the light of the Patten report, it is a little surprising that the Government should have so glibly passed over the seriousness of the issue, simply saying, "Oh, we think that it's perfectly all right." We do not believe that it is. The Minister wants to provide great reassurance and would like to give chapter and verse on the matter, which I must say he did not in Committee. I will listen with interest, but in our view, the principle is completely flawed and wrong.

Mr. Corbyn: Given that the hon. Gentleman accepts that there is a huge imbalance between Protestants and Roman Catholics in the current police service of Northern Ireland, will he please explain what he would do to ensure some fairness in future? There has been systematic discrimination throughout many decades against Roman Catholic recruits. This legislation is designed to try to correct that imbalance. Does he have any solution to the problem?

Mr. Grieve: I do indeed. To begin with, I recollect that on Second Reading, as has been pointed out, hon. Members representing the SDLP stood up one by one to say that if the Bill were passed and acceptable to them, they would go to the marketplace, even in west Belfast, and encourage--and succeed in encouraging--Catholics to join the police service. That is very close to the words of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon); I remember them well because they were eloquent. Such action in itself would make a major contribution to

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breaking the ice, and the logjam. There is also affirmative action that could be carried out that would be proper, and would not offend against human rights legislation.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh): Will the hon. Gentleman inform us who he thinks might speak best and most accurately for Catholics--a political party known as the SDLP or the Catholic Church?

Mr. Grieve: That is a question that I do not propose to answer. I raised the hon. Gentleman's position because I regard him as a man of complete integrity, and I listened very carefully to what he said on Second Reading. I took it that if he was satisfied with the Bill and said on behalf of the Catholic community that Catholics should join the police service, many who had previously been deterred would do so. Whether it is he who takes such action, or whether it is priests of the Roman Catholic Church or other members of the community at large, seems to matter very little.

Mr. Mallon: I thank the hon. Gentleman again for giving way. I note the points that he has made, and if I am lucky enough to catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will deal with that matter. In the interests of whatever harmony is left, may I refer the hon. Gentleman, without being specific, to an article written on behalf of the Catholic hierarchy some weeks ago in the name of Father Tim Bartlett? I ask him to study it carefully. I will answer, as will my colleagues, for our political party and our political stance. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman read the article before he goes much further.

10.15 pm

Mr. Grieve: I will read the article. If it suggests that positive discrimination is the solution, I do not mind who it comes from--I will reject it.

We can leave aside the European Court of Justice and the European convention on human rights. It has not been a principle or practice in this country to engage in positive discrimination. That will bring in its wake every kind of resentment, which is the very thing that we want to break down. I cannot think of a worse way of starting a new police service on its course with the good wishes of the House, than to saddle it with such an incubus at the outset.

Mr. Ingram: In Committee, I paid many tributes to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). Not tonight. Many assertions have been made and points of view strongly expressed by the hon. Gentleman which seem to ignore the fact that, through the Bill, we seek to establish the principles that Patten identified and which the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) tried to make the hon. Gentleman understand.

I could ask a simple question of those who oppose what we seek to do. Which EU directive do they have in mind? None. There is no EU directive that prohibits what we seek to do through the Bill--not one.

Mr. Grieve: The Minister is correct that, as matters stand at present, there is no EU directive, and I did not suggest that there was. The Amsterdam treaty sets the framework, and there is a directive in contemplation from which the Government will have to seek a derogation or some form of accommodation, as I understand it, in order

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to allow the matter to proceed. As I pointed out to the Minister, the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act--

Mr. Ingram: I know that the hon. Gentleman is used to being paid by the minute, but he answered the question in the first few words of his response. There is no EU directive that the Bill contravenes. He is right to say that the matter is being examined. We said in Committee, and I repeat, that with our European partners, we will look at the ways in which we can deal with the issue.

That seems to be a sensible way forward. The EU has been a tremendous supporter of the peace process in Northern Ireland. In our dealings with our European partners, we have found time and again that they are prepared to accept the ways in which the issue must be addressed to move the peace process forward. They live in world of reality, not bombast and rhetoric such as we have heard in the debate.

Let us deal with reality. I have heard it said that the Bill is not ECHR-compliant. It is ECHR-compliant, otherwise that statement would not appear in the Bill. I have said before from the Dispatch Box that no Minister can knowingly act illegally. That is the case. If there were any doubt, we would not make that attestation, nor would we stand here and defend that position. In dealing with the subject of our discussion, we have heard much rhetoric and many strong views, but let us tackle reality.

The purpose of amendments Nos. 301, 52, 53 and 54 is to remove from the Bill the provisions that allow for the so-called 50:50 recruitment arrangements. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) has tabled alternative new clauses 1 and 2, which would provide for a programme of affirmative action to encourage a higher rate of Catholic application.

We debated the issue at considerable length in Committee. Perhaps the hon. Member for Beaconsfield was not happy with the result, but he cannot deny that we had a heavyweight debate in Committee. We trawled over the same ground that we are now discussing. Let me reiterate the Government's position. The parties to the Belfast agreement considered it imperative that the police service, if it is to be fully effective, should be representative of the community it polices. As matters stand, only 8 per cent. of the RUC is from the Catholic community.

The Government recognise that victimisation and intimidation have unquestionably played a significant role in depressing the rate of Catholic application to the RUC. As Patten said, we must address that. In paragraph 15.2, the Patten report stated:

That acknowledges that not only the Governments, but all parties and all parts of the community in Northern Ireland must address the problem.

Neither Patten nor the Government intend 50:50 recruitment to represent an alternative to affirmative action. Paragraph 15.8 states clearly that the recruitment agency, for which clause 42 provides, should

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Paragraph 15.6 of the report recommends cadet schemes; paragraph 15.11 recommends flexible working and child care schemes.

The Police Federation, in its response to the Patten report, said that it would take 30 years to achieve a balance through affirmative action alone. I am therefore surprised, especially as the matter was debated in Committee, that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire has tabled the amendment. I recounted the Government's firm determination to take forward affirmative action programmes. We also needed to move the whole process forward and introduce the 50:50 recruitment policy.

The policy is exceptional and deals with an unusual set of circumstances. We are not discussing Dudley, Bracknell or Montgomeryshire, but Northern Ireland, where there are tremendously deep divisions. Patten realised that that needed to be addressed. The signatories to the Belfast agreement gave that an impetus. The Government are delivering the policy. I therefore hope that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire and the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) will not press their amendments.

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