Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Spellar: I understand the points that are being made, but I wish to pose another hypothetical scenario. A prisoner with the separated status of a paramilitary member who believed that we had become aware of their activities to disrupt the prison, despite not being guilty of any misdemeanour that would have rendered them liable to disciplinary action, might seek to revert to integrated status in order to avoid the provisions that hon. Members are suggesting would apply only to those subject to separated status. We recognise many of the difficulties that have been outlined, which is why we envisage that the power will be used sparingly. At the same time, however, we need to keep a range of options for people who will try to exploit every possible loophole and difficulty.

The relocation of a prisoner outside Northern Ireland may be the most appropriate action to take in circumstances in which an individual cannot be accommodated in integrated or separated accommodation. The basic aim is to recognise the difficulties of having separated groups, although there are reasons for having them. We need new powers, including this proposed compulsory transfer power, if we are to prevent slippage towards full Maze-style segregation.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 12, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 13 to 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Clauses 16 and 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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Schedule 4


2.45 pm

Mr. Hunter: I beg to move amendment No. 67, in

    schedule 4, page 19, line 22, at end insert—

    'Police (Northern Ireland Act 2000 (c.32) Section 47.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 4—Lateral entry to Police Service of Northern Ireland for serving full-time reserve officers—

    'After section 45 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 insert—

    ''45A Lateral Entry to Police Service for Northern Ireland for Serving Full-Time Reserve Officers

    (1) Those serving in the full-time reserve of the Police Service of Northern Ireland having completed one year's service may apply for a transfer to be police trainees.

    (2) Such transfers will be automatically accepted by the Chief Constable unless:

    (a) the applicant is subject to disciplinary action; or

    (b) the applicant is subject to an investigation by the Police Ombudsman.

    (3) A person making an application under this section will not be subject to the provisions of section 46.''.'.

New clause 5—Discrimination in appointments—

    'For section 46 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 substitute—

    ''46 Discrimination in appointments

    In making appointments under section 39 the Chief Constable shall appoint candidates on merit alone.''.'.

Amendment No. 66, in

    title, line 12, after 'services', insert

    'to amend Part VI of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000;'.

Mr. Hunter: I tabled these amendments on behalf of the Democratic Unionist party, as I did the previous group, but I am conscious that they have wider support.

The amendments and new clauses have a common theme: they would extend the remit of the Bill to the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, and amend that Act. New clause 4 addresses the issue of a natural entry to the police service for full-time reserves, and new clause 5 deals with one of the more contentious areas of Northern Ireland legislation—the so-called 50:50 requirement for the admission of police recruits. Amendments No. 66 and 67 are technical amendments that facilitate the inclusion of the new clauses in the Bill. New clause 4 is self-explanatory: it proposes a new section 45A to be inserted after section 45 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, and proposed section 45A(3) in particular also relates to the 50:50 requirement.

Since the inception of the Patten reforms, the position of reserve members of the police in Northern Ireland has been ambiguous, and that has been acutely felt by those officers who serve as full-time reserve members of the police service. Full-time reserve officers have vast experience and many of them have long and distinguished records. Their service has been invaluable in combating loyalist and republican

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terrorism and defending all citizens of Northern Ireland from attack.

Since 1971, some 49 members of the full-time reserve have been murdered and several thousand have been injured, several hundred of them permanently so. The full-time reserve has served with distinction, sharing the risks and the demanding challenges of protecting the public. Their expertise also extends to dealing with non-terrorist criminal activities: they have extensive experience of interfacing with the public and dealing with everyday policing matters. That wealth of experience was threatened by the Patten reforms.

If the full-time reserve is abolished, some 1,600 experienced, fully trained officers who are already working on the ground will be forced out of the service. Despite their exemplary record, they have been treated with contempt and indifference. Patten recommended that they should be phased out—airbrushed from history. Despite a temporary reprieve, their future is uncertain.

That state of affairs is particularly scandalous given the crisis in the number of serving officers because of the Patten reforms, the loss of morale in the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the level of early retirements from the force. It is an irrefutable fact that the Police Service of Northern Ireland suffers from the highest levels of sick leave of any force in the United Kingdom. Those rates have increased since the implementation of the Patten reforms began. Numbers plunged last year to 6,900 serving officers, which is below the peacetime operational level recommended by Patten. If the full-time reserve is disbanded there will be 1,600 fewer officers in Northern Ireland.

My new section 45A has a simple objective. It is to secure the position of those officers. People who have sacrificed so much over the years deserve no less. They continue to police Northern Ireland with distinction, but they have no security in respect of their future. The new clause would secure the future for dedicated officers who continue to serve with distinction. As policing numbers decline and the discriminatory recruitment practices of section 46 of the 2000 Act prevent recruitment of adequate numbers of officers, it is paramount that those officers are not lost. Quite simply, we cannot afford to lose them.

Currently, if a full-time reservist wants to transfer to the officer ranks, he is treated like any other member of the community. He simply applies as anyone would. His experience and dedication over the years are not taken into account. New clause 4 would allow full-time reserve officers to apply for a lateral transfer. It would give the full-time reserves security of tenure, retain desperately needed expertise and increase the number of officers.

New clause 5 rests on the simple proposition that the overriding principle governing appointments, whether to the Judicial Appointments Commission, the judiciary or the police service, should be based on merit alone. One is encouraged to put forward that point of view because the Government accept and assert it in the Bill with regard to the judiciary and

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members of the Commission. Such appointments must be made

    ''solely on the basis of merit''.

The concept of being ''reflective of the community'', according the to the Bill and the Government's justification for it, is highly desirable, but it is nevertheless a secondary consideration. It applies only

    ''so far as is practicable''.

Merit is the sole determining factor.

Reduced to simplicity, new clause 5 applies precisely the same principle to the selection of police recruits. What the Government legislate for judges, they should also legislate for police officers. The essence of the argument is that the 50:50 provision in the 2000 Act is unparalleled in legislation in the United Kingdom or in the Commonwealth, and that it is iniquitous. In passing it, the Government required derogation from European anti-discrimination law, which is an unwelcome and uneasy position to adopt.

The consequences of the 50:50 requirement have been disturbing to put it mildly. To date, 777 young men and women with all the necessary qualifications and personal qualities to become police officers have been denied the career of their choice for the simple reason that they happen to be Protestants. They are the victims of state-orchestrated, state-legislated discrimination. This is an ugly and intolerable state of affairs that cannot be justified.

Another consequence is that police numbers are plunging. Given that the police must recruit 50 per cent. Catholics and 50 per cent. non-Catholics, the numbers of police recruits are not determined by the applicants' merits, but by the number of suitably qualified Catholics who apply. In the extreme, if no Catholic were to apply, no policeman could be recruited in Northern Ireland. It is clear that such legalised sectarian discrimination has not worked and is not working. It is not attracting young Catholic men and women into the police force, and it has succeeded in leaving Northern Ireland with an undermanned police force with falling morale.

It is not surprising that Catholic recruits are not forthcoming. To illustrate, I can say that someone with his ear close to the ground tells me that in south Armagh about this time last year, nine young Catholic men from respectable, hard-working families were thinking of applying to become recruits, but the provisional republican movement got to know about that, called on each of the families late at night and gave parents some ''friendly'' advice about what could happen if their sons joined the police. Not surprisingly, not one of those young men went forward. I do not blame them, but the fact is that they were intimidated, and the men of violence won again.

A fully functional, fully operational police force recruited solely on merit is urgently needed in the Province. A policeman's religion is irrelevant to his ability to perform his duties. The creation and maintenance of a stable society demands that that is acknowledged. Legalised and institutionalised

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sectarianism is not the way forward. A police force recruited solely on the basis of merit is urgently needed, given several factors: the increased incidence of violence and terrorism since the Belfast agreement; the IRA's refusal to renounce violence irrevocably, decommission totally and disband completely; the increase in crime; the decline in police numbers; and the fact that the SDLP at grass-roots level is, rightly, not the only party demanding more visible policemen.

Discrimination is wrong in any facet of life in Northern Ireland or anywhere in the United Kingdom, whether on grounds of sex, race or religion. It cannot be defended, but section 46 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 legalises it. To argue against the amendment is to argue for the indefensible and a practice that is morally wrong. A few weeks ago, the Government carried forward their intention to retain 50:50 recruitment for a further three years, despite overwhelming evidence that the policy is flawed and incapable of delivering the desired results. It is nothing short of scandalous that we allow it to continue.

New clause 4 would place a duty on the Chief Constable to recruit the best people for the job, on the basis of merit. That is only right and proper. It would return policing in Northern Ireland to the position enjoyed by all police forces in the democratic world. I urge the Committee to accept the two new clauses and the facilitating amendments that accompany them.

3 pm

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