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2 Dec 2002 : Column 649—continued

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that when I asked that very question during Northern Ireland questions last week, the Minister did not give the answer that I was looking for: specifically how she and the Government would address the very injustice that the hon. Gentleman describes?

Mr. Campbell: I fully accept the hon. Gentleman's point, and it is not before time that the Government should address that specific point. The rule cannot be defended or justified. Every aspect of common law and any approach to the merit principle would suggest that the 50:50 rule must be abandoned.

Rev. Ian Paisley: Is it not a fact that the chief constable is having difficulty in getting recruits from the United Kingdom because of the 50:50 rule? He told me that personally when I met him with my party.

Mr. Campbell: Yes, the lack of recruits is precisely part of the problem in Northern Ireland. Part of the reason that criminal activity has increased is that fewer police officers are available on the ground, because hundreds of suitable applicants are being told that they are not acceptable purely on the ground of their religion. That is utterly reprehensible.

Mr. McCabe: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Campbell: I will give way once more.

Mr. McCabe: I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I shall be very brief. I follow

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his objections to the recruitment policy, but what would be his answer to the third report from the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, which pointed out the problems of religious imbalance and said:

it was 1997–98, so the reference was to the RUC—

How would the hon. Gentleman tackle the issue if not by this approach?

Mr. Campbell: The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is simple: by the full implementation of the merit principle, so that every member of the Roman Catholic community in Northern Ireland and every member of the Protestant community in Northern Ireland who wants a career in policing can understand, when they complete their application forms, that their religious persuasion will play no part in their rejection or acceptance as police recruits, but that that will depend only on their ability to do the job.

Lady Hermon: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Campbell: No, I am afraid that I will not give way any more.

My answer would be the full implementation of the merit principle and that principle only. That might involve taking longer to redress the balance, but at least the entire community could be confident that people were being selected entirely on the grounds of their ability and merit.

I now want to move on to some other matters that the Government appear to be prepared to contemplate today. We have included the integrity of policing in our motion. Her Majesty's Government's ongoing discussions with those who represent fully armed terror give no grounds for confidence in the Unionist community that the integrity of policing will be re-established having been undermined as a result of low morale, low numbers, 50:50 recruitment and increasing violence. We are hearing continuous rumours about the on-the-runs and the propositions being hinted at there. The lives of hundreds of prison officers are in jeopardy. They have been visited by the police and told that their names were found on computer files located in the spy ring at Stormont affair. Those people are in fear of their lives as a result of this entire scenario.

In concluding my remarks, I have to refer to the issue of Weston Park, which has been raised several times. The Minister was approached and was asked several times to give her view regarding agreements entered into as a result of the negotiations at Weston Park. It would appear that, at the second time of asking, she was unable to confirm or deny which parties were party to the agreements that have flown from it. I remind the House that it was as a result of agreements at Weston Park that the institutions were re-established after they had been suspended on a previous occasion. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) was not only party to but benefited from that reinstatement. At the time of Weston Park, when the discussions about policing and on-the-runs were ongoing, not only were we told by the right hon. Member for Upper Bann that issues in relation to other substantive points would not

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be brought to a conclusion, but that one issue, and one issue only, was on the table at Weston Park—decommissioning.

Unfortunately, we now see the reality of what has happened as a result of Weston Park and the current scenario in which Unionist communities across Northern Ireland are completely opposed to the implementation of the Belfast agreement because of what they see happening to the police. The police are supposed to represent all of the community, and they can do so if and when the Government restore the integrity that the Royal Ulster Constabulary once had, which has been lost as a result of the many decisions that have been taken by the Government, both inside and outside the House.

6.11 pm

Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): When I heard the opening remarks of the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), I wondered whether he was rehearsing a broadcast as we move towards election time. It reminded me of the many times that I saw him on television when I was a youngster growing up in Port Glasgow. He always displayed the same characteristics—leaping from rally to rally with his bowler hat and his flowing sash, always threatening to bring down an institution and always claiming no surrender.

Listening to him today, although I do not intend my comments to be rude, I was saddened that, after all this time, and after all the loss that has occurred, his position has not changed at all. I find it distressing that he recognises no difference between the hideous killings that occurred throughout the 1970s and 1980s and the current position. I recognise that there is a problem with crime in Northern Ireland, and it strikes me that some of the problems that we witness currently have surfaced since the agreement, as the level of real, organised crime, which has posed as something else in the past, is now being exposed. We should have common cause in wanting to tackle that. The hon. Gentleman has done us no favours, however, in his lack of movement today.

I wonder, when I listen to the hon. Gentleman, whether he would recognise an Xact of completion" if it fell before him. I was brought up in the Presbyterian tradition, too, but I was brought up to believe that forgiveness is part of the system and that human beings can change. I wonder whether he recognises that.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North): The hon. Gentleman talks about recognising an Xact of completion". Will he define Xact of completion"? The Prime Minister will not define it, and the Minister refused to define it at Question Time last week.

Mr. McCabe: I am referring to Xacts of completion", and my assumption is that they take more than a single step. I realise that the hon. Gentleman and I may not share that viewpoint, but if we want to move forward, we may have to be prepared to accept that. That seems a basic point.

In terms of the changes about which we heard in policing partnerships and the board, I thought that the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) perhaps did the Social Democratic and Labour party a

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disservice, as it strikes me that the Government may have changed their position. I would be the first to concede that there has been a change in the position enunciated previously by the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson). The SDLP now seems to be playing an active role in the policing board. If, through its active and genuine participation, it has been able to suggest changes that will improve the situation, we should welcome that. I would not regard that not as an outrageous 180o U-turn, but as the kind of process for which we should aim, in which people involve and include themselves. If they can suggest changes on the basis of that behaviour, I would welcome it.

Mr. Quentin Davies: I do not think that that is outrageous, and I did not use that term or imply that. I merely think two things. First, it is a U-turn, and I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman has recognised that. Secondly, for the reason that I mentioned, it is tactically inept and pragmatically undesirable.

Mr. McCabe: We will have to disagree on both counts. I do not think that a change automatically signals a U-turn, and I do not agree that it is inept to accommodate change when people are playing a useful participative role. The kind of politics in which I believe suggests that when people are prepared to participate and play a useful and constructive role, we should listen to them and take them on board. I do not see anything inept about that. Indeed, were more people in the hon. Gentleman's party prepared to behave in that way, there might not be so few of them present in the Chamber, and so few of them in Parliament generally.

The lesson that Sinn Fein should take from the behaviour of the SDLP is that a road exists, if it is prepared to recognise it. It should follow a similar route. It should be prepared to make it clear that it is totally committed to the democratic process and wants to make the policing arrangements work—I am speaking of Sinn Fein as a party. At that point, if Sinn Fein was prepared to participate in the policing arrangements in Northern Ireland, I would welcome that, as I would see it as a significant step forward.

In terms of the wider question of the arrangements with regard to other groups and paramilitary groups, the position is straightforward. It has been made clear that those groups will not be able to participate in any shape or form until we have had the essential Xacts of completion". I would certainly include in those a complete declaration that the war is over—

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