Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Wilshire: I thank my hon. Friend for that, because it is true. This is a clear case of discrimination, which happened in the past and which we have tried to prevent from happening again. I do not buy the argument that we should do something that we have said is wrong just because the ends justify the means. There is a problem, but that is not the way to solve it.

We would make more progress in finding a solution if we understood the point about how the situation came about in the first place. I am well aware of the arguments about the RUC being biased and I can accept that there was some substance to them in the past. Due to that, the argument follows, people from the other tradition in Northern Ireland were unwilling to join an organisation that they saw as oppressive and discriminatory.

I understand that argument and there may be some truth in it, but, without any shred of doubt, it is also true that intimidation stopped people joining the RUC. Instead of addressing that problem, the Government have introduced a scheme that ducks the issue of intimidation. The right hon. Member for Upper Bann has pointed out that the situation is getting better in many places in the Province, but not in hard-line republican areas. That should suggest to the Government that they are only papering over the cracks rather than addressing the problem.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): I want to add a snippet of purely anecdotal information. I cannot comment on the prevalence of this, but an Assembly colleague has told me that in one hard-line republican area, people who are thinking of applying to the police have first to report to the local IRA leadership to get

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permission to do so. Occasionally, they are granted it, which is an interesting sidelight on the character of their applications.

Mr. Wilshire: That invites some of us to draw conclusions about the people who are being given permission to apply. In reality, introducing the discriminatory scheme to address the problem will not solve it—we must address the intimidation. The right hon. Gentleman's comment may be anecdotal, but it is sufficiently serious to be checked out.

Time and again in policing debates, I have heard the reasonable nationalist argument, which the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) would make if he were here, about inclusiveness being essential. I know the argument and I accept that it is real, but there is the alternative argument that Sinn Fein-IRA have no interest in seeing the new PSNI functioning properly. They will continue to use every means at their disposal, including intimidation and torture, to ensure that even this concession and discretion in favour of the nationalist community will not work. The Government should address that, as I have no doubt that the problem would not exist if it were made acceptable and easy for members of the nationalist community in Northern Ireland to apply and be accepted.

Mr. Harris: The hon. Gentleman explained at length what is wrong with the legislation, but he has yet to propose an alternative mechanism to that proposed by the Patten report. Other than wanting to get rid of intimidation, what mechanism does his party propose to replace the existing one?

2.45 pm

Mr. Wilshire: I shall explain why new clause 2, despite some of its imperfections, is the right way to go. We could refine the definitions, which I shall talk about in a moment. However, some mechanisms will encourage, assist and enable, and the results will be what we all want. The mechanisms will not include something that, under any other circumstances, would be declared illegal and the legislation struck down.

I disagree with new clause 1 in theory, but if the Government are determined do something illegal because they believe that the ends justify the means, I shall make my comments in that spirit. If we must go down that road, I welcome an attempt to be more realistic. We could argue ad nauseam about the percentage, but we do not need to get hung up about whether it is 43, 42 or 45 per cent. I shall not become locked in that argument. If we were trying to be fair, it would be interesting to note that 43–43, or another equal figure, would still be discrimination that we would have to address.

However we consider the quota system, the difficulty is that by debating these figures we are constantly forcing the people of Northern Ireland to decide which of the two camps they are in, just as they are trying to rid themselves of that mindset. The system should allow for another group, but a 50:50 system does not. It was suggested that the argument was religious—one had to decide whether one was Catholic or Protestant. However, that would appear to discriminate against the Orthodox religions, because if

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one were to ask members of an Orthodox religion whether they considered themselves to be Protestants, the answer would be a very firm no. If one asked them whether they considered themselves to be Roman Catholics, however, they would also say no. At the moment, we have excluded members of Orthodox religions from serving in the PSNI.

Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): If the hon. Gentleman is searching for an alternative model to 50:50, will he consider the one proposed by the Conservative party chairman for her own party, in which there is a mixture of people of different genders, disabilities, ethnic minorities, indeed anything to get away from its current horrid face? Might that be an acceptable alternative?

Mr. Wilshire: I would be delighted to rebut the absolute rubbish that I have just heard, but I have little doubt you will rule me out of order, Mr. Benton, the moment that I try to say that the hon. Gentleman is wrong and does not begin to understand. I shall therefore not say how silly the hon. Gentleman's intervention was.

Mr. Goodman: I do not want to enter fully into the debate on new clause 2, which the right hon. Member for Upper Bann tabled and which we will support, but will my hon. Friend confirm that it contains references to sex, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation?

Mr. Wilshire: I shall come to that, but shall leave hon. Members to anticipate what I might say after yesterday's debate.

Mr. Trimble: With respect, the hon. Gentleman's point about the Government's approach discriminating against members of Orthodox religions by preventing them from applying to join the PSNI is misconceived. The scheme proposed by the legislation is designed to guarantee 50 per cent. of places to Roman Catholic applicants, and 50 per cent. to all others. I am not sure how many members of Orthodox religions there are, but they would fall within the category of all others, as would Muslims, Jews and Hindus. The Government's approach has something to commend it because Jews, and probably most Muslims, Hindus and Chinese too, are Unionists rather than nationalists.

Mr. Wilshire: That puts me in my place. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman as what he said reinforces my sense of the injustice of the Government's approach. We said that there should be a balance within the Northern Ireland Police Service; there was discrimination against the Catholic community so it was decided that it should have equality with the Protestant tradition.

We then discover that although the Catholic community is to be given half the places, the Protestant community is to be given not the other half but the other half minus whoever else may come along. That makes the discrimination worse. It is not discrimination to be equal, but to force Protestants into an artificial minority within the Province. If that does not store up trouble for the future, I do not know what will. It shows the futility of using an illegal way of solving a problem, which arose in the first place from the same illegality.

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Mr. Harris: It is not illegal.

Mr. Wilshire: The hon. Gentleman says that it is not illegal. If there is not a derogation for the proposals under the Human Rights Act 1998, why on earth seek one to say that human rights legislation will not apply? I will give way to the hon. Gentleman if he wants to contradict himself.

Mr. Harris: I concur with a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Joyce). By definition, if there is a derogation from the human rights legislation, the clause does not fall foul of it.

Mr. Wilshire: How wonderful! The great Human Rights Act, much vaunted by the Labour party, applies only when it suits their convenience. They are not universal human rights; they are only for the people to whom the Government are prepared to give them and the rest of us can go hang if it does not suit their purpose. That is a wonderful admission and I am pleased that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman.

Lembit Öpik: One could argue that we could reintroduce hanging by getting a derogation and it would not be illegal.

Mr. Wilshire: Exactly. I refrained from making that comment. There will be no such thing as morals or ethics, only what the Government say by diktat will be illegal because it suits their purpose. That is the sort of world that some members of their party want to create and I am appalled by it.

New clause 1 would be an improvement but it does not go as far as I would want. New clause 2 raises important issues and it starts by providing that the Chief Constable will decide what is to happen. If there is to be an independent Police Service with the objective of taking positive action to achieve something and a Chief Constable is appointed on that basis, he will achieve that objective quicker if we let him get on with it rather than writing reams of measures saying what he will and will not do.

Mr. Harris: Would the hon. Gentleman welcome an initiative by the Chief Constable under the new clause to introduce a system of 50:50 recruitment of Catholics and Protestants?

Mr. Wilshire: The Chief Constable has no alternative but to uphold the law, which states what he will and will not do. If it states that he will recruit 50 per cent. of this or that group and do it in a certain way, he has no choice but to do it, as that is the nature of the job. But it would be far more sensible for an Act of Parliament to lay down the ultimate objective and leave the Chief Constable with the discretion to achieve it in the most practical way, which causes the least difficulty and upset the fewest people. It would be sensible, not only in respect of new clause 2, to say that the Chief Constable must decide these matters.

New clause 3, which I would link with this part of new clause 2, deals with what happens if the current way of doing things does not work. If we reach a position where the threat of being burned out of one's house or having one's kneecap shot off is applied and the number of Roman Catholics seeking to join the police nosedives again through intimidation, only another handful of applicants—after all, only a

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handful applied under current legislation—will apply and we will end up with a shortage of police officers. If something like that were to happen, new clause 3 would provide a sensible safety mechanism. I would be willing to place the responsibility with the Chief Constable, who has the operational challenge of providing practical policing in part of the United Kingdom, irrespective of whether we have solved earlier problems. That part of new clause 2 is eminently sensible and new clause 3 ties in with it by providing an escape clause if the practicalities become unmanageable.

New clause 2 may provide an opportunity to explore an alternative way of achieving the Government's objectives. We should flag up under-representation and introduce procedures that will help to recruit people to redress the balance. One of the problems is that the 50:50 rule is viewed as simplistic with 50 per cent. here and 50 per cent. there. The second 50 per cent. gathers the others, but no attempt is made to view it in other than sectarian terms.

Reflecting on the wording of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann, I wonder whether he has transposed social groups with ethnic groups. Are not the ethnic groupings the ones where a balance must be sought and the social groupings simply part of it? I have never viewed Northern Ireland's problems in terms of social groupings: focusing on different ethnic groups is important and referring to their religion is often only shorthand. Considerably more than religion is at stake, as religion is just one part of the different history, traditions and ways of life of two communities. I support the principle of the new clause, but not necessarily the wording.

As to the items listed in the new clause, I assume that it is reasonably straightforward to work out which ethnic group and perhaps social group people belong to. It may not be difficult to work out which sex people belong to, but I stop short of endorsing ''sexual orientation'', because I have not the slightest idea what would establish the sexual orientation of every police officer in the NIPS and I would not encourage the Chief Constable to ask.

Some practical problems remain with the wording, but I have no difficulty in supporting new clauses 2 and 3. At a push, I would support new clause 1 as well, but I would prefer to settle for new clause 2.

 
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