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10 Feb 2003 : Column 662—continued

Mr. Donaldson: As he now supports the 50:50 recruitment policy, the hon. Gentleman ought to be aware of what it is based on. It is not based on 50 per cent. Protestant and 50 per cent. Roman Catholic; it is based on 50 per cent. "others" and 50 per cent. Roman Catholic. In the recent census, almost 10 per cent. of the population came under the category of "others"—that is, non-Protestant. The hon. Gentleman can therefore see that we are not talking about a 50:50 ratio for Protestants and Roman Catholics; we are talking about a rather lower level of Protestants.

Mr. Davies: The hon. Gentleman suggests that I have changed my policy. I have not. I have always said the same thing on this subject. It is important to be clear about that.

However, the hon. Gentleman makes a good and interesting point. I have heard it before and I accept it. In Northern Ireland politics and history, there is a sort of convention that people from a Jewish background, for example, were counted as being Unionists or Protestants rather than Catholics. That is the kind of absurdity of life that one gets into when one starts to categorise people. I must emphasise again that I do not like categorising people. I do not like such distinctions. I think that they are anomalous, unpleasant and undesirable. The trouble is that the consequences of getting rid of the mechanism are worse. Sometimes in life, there is a conflict between two principles to which one is attached. One has to decide which principle will carry the day, and I have made my decision.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): I am astonished at the suggestion that the consequences of getting rid of this mechanism would be worse. As everyone knows and as the recent census shows, the target population from which the police would recruit—namely young men in their late teens and early 20s—is fairly evenly balanced. Indeed, in some age cohorts, there are Catholic majorities. If we have equal participation, we will have equal recruitment. Therefore, we should not focus on this artificial device but on equal participation. Crucial to that is the attitude adopted by the civic and political representatives of the nationalist community who have yet to implement Patten's recommendation on that point. We should focus on that rather than on something that is a denial of the human and civil rights of the people concerned.

Mr. Davies: I am grateful for that intervention, but there is no trade-off. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman is right. An extremely serious problem is continuing intimidation and implied intimidation by republican paramilitaries of would-be Catholic recruits to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I hope that he has not forgotten the fuss that I made at the Dispatch Box when an attempt was made on the life of a young Catholic recruit in Ballymena and what I said at that time about the refusal of the president of Sinn Fein to condemn that.

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However, to try to solve the problem in as short a time scale as we can, we self-evidently need not only the end of intimidation—the right hon. Gentleman knows that I feel every bit as strongly about that as he does—but this mechanism as well. I understand that it is a rather unpalatable concept to the political tradition that he represents so ably, and I have great respect for the opposition of principle that he has to it. As I have said, it is a matter of conflict between principles.

The only thing that I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman about is the suggestion that recruits should principally be young men. I do not think that that there should, in principle, be more men than women. Perhaps it was a slip of the tongue on his part. Furthermore, I do not want to exclude the idea that we should recruit people into the PSNI from older age categories. Perhaps we do not share the same strong views on those matters as we do on intimidation of any kind.

In such a debate, it is reasonable to take a number of interventions, but I have been successfully sidelined from my main theme. I know that the Government would like me to be sidetracked from that theme, because the Bill does not deal with it or with any of the real problems of policing.

Something else is very curious about the Bill. It follows just over two years after the introduction of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000. I see the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), who was responsible for that Act, in his place, and it is known in many quarters in Northern Ireland as the "Mandelson Act". However, in none of the documents that I have read, in none of the explanations that the Government have given this afternoon or over the past few weeks in the other place, in none of the explanatory notes, which I have read, and in none of the myriad reports on the PSNI that have been carried out over the past few years—the latest is the Constantine report—has it ever been argued that the provisions of the 2000 Act have been proven to be defective and need to be revised. If I am wrong and have missed something, I hope that the Secretary of State will intervene to put me right.

There is therefore more than the suspicion—in fact, it is quite clear—that there is no pragmatic justification for the Bill. Parliament is being asked to legislate on policing in Northern Ireland, but it is not being asked to do so for the sake of policing in Northern Ireland. The motive lies elsewhere. When the Government are pressed, as they have been by my noble Friends in another place, they always say that the changes proposed in the Bill are required by the Patten report and that the Bill is designed to implement Patten. However, the 2000 Act was designed to implement Patten. So did the 2000 Act implement Patten, or not?

Mr. Mallon: No.

Mr. Davies: The hon. Gentleman helpfully says that it did not. Well, now we know.

If the 2000 Act did implement Patten, clearly Patten cannot be used again as a justification for this new and different Bill. If it did not implement Patten, the Government clearly misled—I use that term advisedly— the House and the public in saying at the time that it did. Indeed, that was the whole announced purpose of the 2000 Act. The Secretary of State remains remarkably

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and uncharacteristically quiet while I say all this. It clearly must be one thing or the other, and I hope that he will tell us which.

Lady Hermon: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davies: Perhaps the hon. Lady is going to reply as the Government's proxy.

Lady Hermon: I thank the hon. Gentleman for having permitted me with such courtesy to intervene.

If I heard the Secretary of State correctly, he intimated that a number of provisions towards the end of the Bill were requested by the Chief Constable in order to facilitate the civilianisation and the release of policing resources in relation to detention and investigation officers. Again, if I heard the Secretary of State correctly, the Bill's earlier provisions were included at the request of, and initiated by, the Policing Board. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, however, to ask who initiated the increased powers for the ombudsman and the change in the composition of the DPPs.

Mr. Davies: My expectation was justified—the hon. Lady did act as a proxy for the Government. She came up with the answer to my question that I was expecting the Government to come up with, but they did not—perhaps they did not think of it quickly enough. It will not wash, of course. I am well aware that the Bill contains the provisions that the hon. Lady mentions regarding the use of contractors and protection for contractors who come in to work for the police, but that is no reason to include in the Queen's Speech a major Bill that requires Second Reading, days in Committee, and so forth. It is certainly no reason for the revisions to the Mandelson Act—the 2000 Act—which is being substantially changed, indeed, in many respects emasculated, by the Bill.

Mr. Mallon: I have no intention of acting as proxy for anyone, but I refer the hon. Gentleman to the explanatory notes on this part of the Bill, which state:

that is, the Patten report. That is the Government's position in this respect, and, for a change, I accept it.

Mr. Davies: Of course the hon. Gentleman accepts the position of the Government—these are the changes that the SDLP has been pushing for, and the Bill is part of the bargain that has been done between the Government and the SDLP, so it is hardly news that the SDLP is happy with the situation. It would have been an extraordinary state of affairs, which would have opened up questions about the rationality of all concerned, if the SDLP, having pressed the Government to introduce the Bill, were to stand up and criticise the changes that it proposes. It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman has revealed that the Bill was not designed to address objective problems of policing and to strengthen policing and the administration of justice. We have been through all that and we have seen that it is not the case at all.

Mr. Paul Murphy rose—

Mr. Davies: I shall of course give way to the right hon. Gentleman in a moment to see whether he denies this.

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The Bill was designed explicitly to fulfil the promises that the Government gave to the SDLP at the Weston Park meeting. It is a political Bill with a political origin that emerges directly from a political negotiation and agreement between the Government and the SDLP.

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