|Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords]
Mr. Taylor: Certainly not. Outrageous. How dare you say that?
The Chairman: Order.
Jane Kennedy: My hon. Friend makes a good point.
Mr. Taylor: He does not. What I said was that—
The Chairman: Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman to desist from making comments from a sedentary position.
Mr. Taylor: On a point of order, Mr. Amess. I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to you and the Committee.
The Chairman: Entirely accepted.
Jane Kennedy: We have carefully examined the board's proposals and we intend to table an amendment on Report to give effect to the board's decision and enable the appointment of constables, particularly detective constables, other than through the customary 50:50 route. I shall not go into further detail here, because we shall do so on Report. However, I want to flag up the fact that, where necessary, we are prepared to assess the impact of the 50:50 rule on the ability of the Chief Constable to recruit, particularly where adverse effects are discernible and the Policing Board unanimously reaches a decision.
Mr. Trimble: It is important to place on the record our welcome for the Government new clause, which will mean a departure from 50:50 recruitment provisions. I am pleased that the Government have been prepared to reflect on the Policing Board's proposals. At the same time, I deprecate the fact that
Column Number: 224the Government were prepared to act only on the basis of a unanimous decision by the Policing Board, which is a bad precedent. The composition of the board might change and the Government could place obstacles in the way of other good ideas coming from it.
Rather than attaching themselves to the unanimity of the board, the Government would have done better to attach themselves to the good sense of the proposal. I am pleased at the departure from 50:50 at the board's request, but I remain concerned that the Government act only on utilitarian grounds rather than in response to the injustice committed against hundreds of people. Should that not also be remedied?
Jane Kennedy: The right hon. Gentleman makes a valid point about unanimity. I referred to that point because in previous debates we noted the Policing Board's ability to deal with extremely sensitive and difficult issues on the basis of unanimity. However, it is important to understand that we are not placing that requirement on the board. I am mindful of the need for properly skilled officers to deliver services that the community rightfully demands. I am sympathetic to the Chief Constable's difficulties in respect of detective constables.
Mr. Taylor: I wonder whether I might go into semi-constructive mode for a moment. As I understand it—the Minister will confirm it or otherwise—the 50:50 rule applies only to the recruitment of constables. Is there no scope for the Chief Constable to recruit police officers above the rank of constable from other parts of the United Kingdom, thereby obviating the rule and securing good, experienced officers to meet the deficiency? Should not such a constructive route be exploited as far as possible?
Jane Kennedy: Indeed. For officers of sergeant rank and above, that facility is available, if the Chief Constable wants to use it.
The problem with the new clauses is that they go too far and could significantly undermine the 50:50 recruitment policy, to which we remain firmly committed. Why are we so committed to it? [Interruption.] I sometimes wonder why it should need stating. Yesterday, I had the privilege to meet three people who were making representations to me on a different point. Their fathers had been serving officers with the Royal Ulster Constabulary who were murdered in the 1970s. Our focus is to bring about circumstances in which those murderous attacks no longer happen.
The 50:50 recruitment arrangements, which change the composition of the PSNI, will bring us to the point where the PSNI is not only representative of but wholly supported by all of the communities represented throughout Northern Ireland. They will do so more quickly and more effectively than any of the other arrangements proposed today. It is on that basis that we continue to support 50:50, notwithstanding the representations that have been made about the grief that it causes to those who fail in the recruitment process. I hope that the Committee will reject the new clauses. Indeed, I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the motion.
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Mr. Carmichael: The Minister is right when she says that we have had one of our best and liveliest debates so far. The two proposals, although different in their effect, both proceed upon the same basic premise: the 50:50 recruitment procedure is fundamentally wrong and obnoxious. The Minister talked of the progress that has been made. I fear that she over-eggs the pudding ever so slightly. Yes, a great deal of progress has been made in relation to the recruitment of Roman Catholics into the PSNI, but that is a reflection of the increasing normality of life in Northern Ireland. A full range of people are now prepared to take on board serving their community in the police service in a way that is considered normal on this side of the Irish sea.
By continuing to insist on this highly artificial and, to a large part of the community, obnoxious device, the Government undermine and diminish their achievement and the achievement of others, such as the right hon. Member for Upper Bann, in bringing a degree of normality to the community and to the policing of the community in Northern Ireland. I do not believe for one second that any member of the Roman Catholic community will join the police simply because the device is available to them through the overall engineering of targets. They will join the PSNI if they feel that they have some stake in it, and if they can do so without intimidation from the IRA and other paramilitary organisations. That is the achievement. The Minister should be proud of that, and she should have rather more confidence than she appears to have by continuing to cling to a highly artificial device.
We have had two parallel debates. When I moved the new clause that stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) I said that it was a messy compromise. Others have pointed out various flaws in it. I do not seek to run away from them. I think that arguably there might be a degree of flexibility that is not present in the current system. The Minister referred to the fact that only 0.64 per cent. of current applicants were from this non-determined category. That is a fairly meaningless statistic when the system as it is set up forces everyone to be in one of two camps.
I lived for several years in Glasgow, where the issue of whether one is a Protestant or a Catholic is still very much alive. I worked for several years in the licensed trade and in hotels and I overheard many conversations that always came back to the question, ''Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?'' Any attempt to avoid the question by answering, ''I am an atheist'' would be met with, ''Are you a Protestant atheist or a Catholic atheist?'' There has been some fudging of such distinctions in the present system.
Mr. Taylor: Perhaps I may make the inquiry in code: in the years that the hon. Gentleman lived in Glasgow, did he support Rangers or Celtic?
Mr. Carmichael: I am a member of the Liberal Democrats, and so I supported Partick Thistle. It is the third way and is rising in splendour and improving every year. However, to be less coded, the hon. Gentleman may be aware that I am an elder in the Church of Scotland.
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The approach of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann made me slightly uncomfortable, and my discomfort grew as I listened to the exchange between the hon. Members for Spelthorne and for Glasgow, Cathcart. That was because what is being suggested puts inordinate policy-making power into the hands of the Chief Constable. That makes me uneasy. When we talk about big policy issues, we should remember that the job of the Chief Constable is to implement the policy that politicians give him, not to be its author.
The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) made several points about the number of competitions there have been since section 46 was introduced. He said that that was unacceptable and shameful, and that is the point to which I return time and time again. There is no getting away from it. The Minister drew our attention to the fact that they are temporary provisions and reminded us that the matter will be visited again in Committee in March of next year. I can hardly wait.
However, Patten envisaged that competitions would last for 10 years. For a young person who wishes to join the police service, 10 years is a generation. People in that generation will feel aggrieved at having being denied the opportunities that they feel they have the merit to meet. That is why the Liberal Democrats feel that the 50:50 approach is wrong. I am mindful that time is marching on, and I do not wish to delay the Committee further in long Divisions. Accordingly, after discussions with the right hon. Member for Upper Bann, I shall withdraw my new clause on the understanding that his will be moved formally and that there will be a Division after all the points have been aired. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.
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