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4.11 pm

Lady Hermon (North Down): I apologise to Members, and particularly to the Minister, for not being present when the debate began. That was because the Police Federation for Northern Ireland has been in touch with me about the order, especially the pensions regulations. I shall mention those to the Minister later.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this order, which amends the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000. As that Act implemented many of what we regard as the deeply flawed recommendations of the Patten report, it comes as no surprise to see it amended so soon. I remind the House that the Patten commission was given terms of reference under the Belfast agreement. The very first paragraph of those terms of reference urged the commissioners to come up with

However, and most regrettably, instead of encouraging such essential widespread community support, the Patten commission has managed to discourage it. The order,

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albeit a short one, serves to highlight two aspects of the Patten report that have greatly alienated Unionist support for police reform in Northern Ireland.

Mr. John Taylor: Does the hon. Lady agree that the Patten report was an attempt at a vision of policing in Northern Ireland on the far side of the total fulfilment of the Belfast agreement?

Lady Hermon: It would have been greatly appreciated had the Patten commission endeavoured to encourage widespread community support. Elements of the report have had completely the opposite effect.

The first aspect of the order to which I shall turn my attention is that concerning new police trainees. When I first read the Patten report, I was most impressed by its emphasis on human rights. However, that initial favourable impression quickly vanished. The Patten commission stated that a human rights based approach should be at the very core of the report. That was a welcome initiative. Despite that aim, new police recruits will be selected on the basis of their religion.

Since religious liberty and freedom from all forms of discrimination are basic essential human rights, it is totally repugnant that trainees will be selected on the basis of their religion. It will be enormously damaging to good Catholic recruits undergoing the procedure. They will be chosen on merit, but unfortunately, it will be implied that they have been selected on the ground of religion. That is very sad and will be damaging to them in the long run. I dislike reverse discrimination and religious discrimination enormously, and I am deeply concerned for the new trainees.

I also remind the House that in its third report of 1997-98, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee noted that

I therefore urge the Minister and her colleagues to ensure that effective measures are quickly implemented to bring an end to the vicious intimidation of young Catholics.

It is also essential that the Government ensure that the Gaelic Athletic Association repeals its offensive and discriminatory rule 21. That was recommended in the Patten report. The Government want full implementation of the Patten report, so will the Minister assure us that they will ensure that that discriminatory rule is abolished?

The Patten report also recommended a new purpose-built training college. The police recruits whom we are talking about have been given an extension for firearms training. All recruits need good, new training facilities and I would like the Government to commit themselves to such provision. There are rumours that the former Maze prison would be a good site for a college. I suggest that that recommendation be completely ignored. It would not be good for morale or anything else to put new police recruits on such a site.

The order makes provision for the Police Authority to carry on in the absence of the new Policing Board. The Patten commission recommended that politics be taken out of policing. Chris Patten said that he wanted "the depoliticisation of policing" in Northern Ireland, but the

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recipe that he suggested is not a sensible way of achieving that. He recommended a new Policing Board of 19 members, 10 of whom would be politicians—Assembly Members chosen on the same basis as their representation on the Assembly Executive. Consequently, we have given—I hope inadvertently, but it looks deliberate—a huge lever to Sinn Fein and the SDLP to extract even more concessions on police reform. No more concessions can be made on police reform without discouraging the essential widespread support that we need for it to occur.

The matters brought to my attention this afternoon by the Police Federation are serious, and I should like the Minister to address them in her winding-up speech if she can. During the 26 weeks of their training, the trainees will be a new breed of police officer in the United Kingdom. They will not be covered by the pension regulations that apply to other police recruits. So if officers who currently serve in the Metropolitan police or other English or Scottish police forces, for example, transfer to the new policing service, there will be no continuity of pension rights or any other benefits. That is a huge loophole. The trainees' pay has not been negotiated, either.

I am sorry to mention this, but when the training centre was in Enniskillen, it was bombed; if any trainees are injured, or worse still, murdered during their 26-week training, according to present arrangements, their families and relatives will not benefit under pension regulations. That issue was raised specifically by the Police Federation and needs urgent attention; I should be grateful if the Minister would comment at the end of our debate, if she can do so at such short notice.

4.20 pm

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry): The proposed Policing Board will experience the same problems that the Police Authority for Northern Ireland has experienced for many years. Many people in Northern Ireland did not give their full undiluted support to the authority. In fact, members of the republican community campaigned against those who would serve on the authority; they picketed their homes and subjected them to attack, both physical and verbal.

Unfortunately, the political representatives of many people in the republican community were associated with the criminal gangs who attacked members of the authority. People in the nationalist community, including members of the SDLP, would not support the authority, and there were many attempts by previous Governments to get members of the SDLP to give their support to the authority, and, indeed, to join it. There were consistent and prolonged campaigns to try to encourage greater nationalist involvement in the authority.

Unfortunately, the same effort was not expended in trying to get members of my community—those in the Democratic Unionist party—to join the authority. In fact, our many entreaties to previous Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland seem to have fallen on deaf ears. We were promised that if a position were to become available, a member of the DUP would be looked on favourably, given that other political parties seemed to have several nominees on the authority. In fact, some minute political parties, with no more than 2 per cent. support in Northern Ireland, seemed to have nominees serving on the authority.

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Moving on to the problems that will be encountered now and in future, it appears that the greater the efforts of the Royal Ulster Constabulary to combat crime, the greater the support given by the community to assist, and the more successful that that all is, the greater the intensity of opposition to the RUC in sections of the republican community. Of course, like the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor), I do not want to go back to the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 and its provisions on insignia and symbols; that created many difficulties in the Unionist community and continues to do so.

The Policing Board will face problems, particularly in relation to 50:50 recruitment. Any recruitment in Northern Ireland that operates according to a quota will be attacked and criticised because the community will infer that people are being selected for service in the police according to their religious denomination rather than on merit and their ability to do the job. That will always create a problem. It should be remembered that in 1920, when the RUC was formed, 20 per cent. of its members were Roman Catholic. That figure diminished in the following decades because of a campaign of intimidation and, latterly in the 1970s and 1980s, a campaign of murder.

We are now faced with an unsatisfactory 50:50 quota arrangement to try to redress the unacceptably low number of Roman Catholics in the RUC. However, we must accept the rationale behind our present position: it is because of intimidation that only 8 per cent. of RUC police officers are Roman Catholic. It is not because Catholics are not acceptable in the RUC; they are. Last week, on television and in our newspapers, there were pictures of a fine woman police constable who faced up to a mob in Belfast and helped to save the life of a male colleague. She was a Roman Catholic.

Many constables, both male and female, Protestant and Catholic, have been attacked, and have been subject to attack, for many years in Northern Ireland. The Government and every Member of Parliament ought to give the police force total support. We want an excellent police service to be made even better. My community has problems with the proposed Policing Board because we do not believe that the essential elements for improving a good police service are present.

There will be other problems with the district policing partnerships. We see grave difficulties concerning possible participation by former terrorists in those partnerships, which will pose exceptionally grave difficulties for members of my community, and will only make the task of the police service in the wider community more difficult, rather than easier.

I shall close with an appeal to the Minister and the Government for greater resources for the RUC, an excellent police service which we should all strive to make better, more independent and more accountable to the people of Northern Ireland. Rather than attack and criticise the RUC or make life more difficult for them, we should try to improve what is already an exceptionally fine police service in Northern Ireland.

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