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Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords]

Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords]

Column Number: 209

Standing Committee E

Tuesday 11 March 2003

(Afternoon)

[Mr. David Amess in the Chair]

Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords]

New clause 1

Discrimination in appointments

    '(1) Section 46 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c.32) is amended as follows.

    (2) For subsection (1) substitute—

    ''(1) In making appointments under section 39 on any occasion, the Chief Constable shall appoint from the pool of qualified candidates formed for that purpose by virtue of section 44(5) persons of whom—

    (a) 43 per cent. shall be persons who are treated as Roman Catholic;

    (b) 43 per cent. shall be persons who are treated as Protestants; and

    (c) 14 per cent. shall be persons who are not so treated.''.'.—[Mr. Carmichael.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Question proposed [this day], That the clause be read a Second time.

2.30 pm

Question again proposed.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following:

New clause 2—Removal of discrimination from recruitment—

    '(1) In Part 6 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c.32) for section 46 substitute—

    ''Under-representation

    (1) In making appointments under section 39 the Chief Constable may take such steps as he determines appropriate to encourage applications by persons currently under-represented in the Police Service.

    (2) In making appointments to the police support staff under section 4(3) the Chief Constable (acting by virtue of subsection (5) of that section) may take such steps as he determines appropriate to encourage applications by persons currently under-represented in the police support staff.

    (3) For the purposes of this section ''persons currently under-represented'' means persons forming part of a social group by virtue of their sex, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation who at the time of consideration by the Chief Constable are under-represented''.

    (2) In Part 6 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, leave out section 47.'.

New clause 3—Appointments to the Police Service of Northern Ireland—

    'In the event that—

    (a) the Chief Constable is unable to appoint his required number of police trainees or police support staff, or

    (b) the number of serving officers is below that intended at the time of consideration,

    the Secretary of State shall, at the request of a majority of the Police Board and acting on the recommendation of the Chief Constable, make an order to suspend the provisions of section 46 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 for a period of six months.'.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): If we were not

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quite ready, Mr. Amess, we are now. I welcome you to the Chair. You missed some riveting discussions this morning.

When we adjourned for lunch, we were considering new clauses 1, 2 and 3. A number of Members had spoken, and we had covered a lot of ground. I had spoken for only a couple of minutes, so I had not said a great deal. I will summarise the point that I was making, as it is crucial to the debate.

It may be simplistic, but I believe that it is reasonable to say that the origins of many of the problems of Northern Ireland and much of the cause of the violence in recent years lies in discrimination, both imagined and real. I do not say that the discrimination was not real. There was discrimination against one of the two communities in Northern Ireland. Much action taken with the aim of solving the problems of Northern Ireland has sought to eliminate that discrimination. Many arguments advanced by the Patten report and much of the reasoning for a complete review of the old Royal Ulster Constabulary were based on the fact that there was considered to be discrimination in how the RUC was set up and how it operated and recruited. Against the background of ending perceived and real discrimination, these changes have come about.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry): I understand that the hon. Gentleman is summarising and seeking to portray the background to the current situation, but when he talks about discrimination in relation to the RUC, it is important that the historical context of that is put on record. When the RUC evolved from the old Royal Irish Constabulary in the 1920s, a significant proportion of places—approximately a third—were reserved specifically for members of the Catholic community. As the IRA shot and killed many of those who applied, the number applying from the Catholic community declined from those early days. It was not discrimination, but intimidation.

Mr. Wilshire: I understand entirely what the hon. Gentleman says, and I hope to address that point in a moment. I deliberately used the phrase ''alleged and real discrimination'' because, for the purposes of this discussion, it is unnecessary to go into which discrimination was real and which alleged. Rightly or wrongly, it was considered that there had been discrimination, and that has been addressed. In that context, I deeply regret that the Government's solution to end discrimination is to discriminate. We are in the business of discussing discrimination to end discrimination. I do not understand—

The Chairman: Order. I do not wish to embarrass the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon), but I do not recognise her as a member of the Committee.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): On a point of order, Mr. Amess. I was led to believe in another Committee that Members who are not members of the Committee are allowed to contribute, but not to vote. Will you give guidance on that matter?

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The Chairman: The advice that I have is clear. That matter is appropriate to delegated legislation Committees. In a Standing Committee such as this, I am afraid that the hon. Member for North Down must retire to the Bar if she wishes to converse with the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble).

Mr. John Taylor (Solihull): On a point of order, Mr. Amess. Would your ruling have been different if we were considering a statutory instrument rather than a Bill?

The Chairman: The answer to that is yes.

Mr. Wilshire: I shall try to deal with the issue of discrimination as briefly as I can. It makes no sense to say that the way to solve discrimination is to discriminate—there must be other ways. Before lunch, it was argued that affirmative action could achieve the same results, but replacing discrimination against Catholics with discrimination against Protestants serves only to replace one disfranchised, disillusioned and angry community with another. If the history of Northern Ireland teaches us anything, it is that violence soon follows when there are disillusioned, disgruntled communities.

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart): Will the hon. Gentleman clarify his last statement and explain exactly why 50:50 recruitment discriminates against Protestants?

Mr. Wilshire: If more people apply from the Protestant community than from the Catholic, the service must say no to people whom it would otherwise admit. To me, that is blindingly obvious. If there are quotas and more people from one side than the other apply, the service, to meet those quotas, must discriminate against people whom it would otherwise let in, especially if vacancies in the other quota are not being filled as there are not enough applicants.

Mr. Harris: Given that the Chief Constable has met the full quota for recruitment year on year since the Police Service of Northern Ireland was set up, how can the hon. Gentleman suggest that people are losing out? There is a certain number of spaces, which are all being filled. In almost any situation, people apply for but do not get jobs because there are not enough spaces.

Mr. Wilshire: I understand that less than 40 per cent. of current applicants are Catholic, but even if the hon. Gentleman is correct and the quotas can be filled on both sides, the proper test—the non-discriminatory test—of who should be in an organisation, given a choice, is employing those who are best for the job. If a large number of people from one community are better able to do the job, but are turned down in favour of people who are less able, that is discrimination. In any other situation, it would be contrary to law.

Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk, West): There is a requirement to discriminate because of a historical pattern of discrimination. Sometimes we need to take unusual measures to address a problem that has existed for many years. Will the hon. Gentleman accept that we are required in this case to take an unusual measure to deal with discrimination that has existed over the years?

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Mr. Wilshire: I said that there has been discrimination and we have to do something about it. Of course I agree that there is a problem. I have no difficulty whatever in saying that we must find a way to make the PSNI more representative of all communities. I accept that, but I do not accept that we have to do it in ways that are anti-human rights. That is all that I am suggesting.

Mr. Taylor: On police recruitment, I do not know whether my hon. Friend would regard a report on BBC Online of 8 December 2002 as persuasive, but according to that source and the Chief Constable, 250 applicants then before him were Protestant, while only 26 were Roman Catholic. As a result of the 50:50 rule, he was able to make only 52 appointments. That thoroughly underlines my hon. Friend's case.

Mr. Wilshire: That is my understanding of some difficulties that have cropped up. I can only return to the point that we are being asked to include a measure that in any other circumstance would be illegal.

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe): Section 46 of the 2000 Act states plainly that

    ''the Chief Constable shall appoint from the pool of qualified applicants . . . an even number of persons of whom . . . one half shall be persons who are treated as Roman Catholic; and . . . one half shall be persons who are not so treated.''

Does my hon. Friend agree that that is clearly discriminatory against Protestants and members of other religions? Labour Members may argue that it is justified, but it is still discrimination.

 
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