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Mr. McGrady: I understand what the hon. Lady is saying, but she must accept that I have never heard anyone in my community being discouraged from joining the RUC, the Army or anything else.

Mrs. Robinson: I have.

Mr. McGrady: It might happen, but not where I live in my community. The fact is that, whether hon. Members like it or not, the RUC was seen to be a police force that was almost in opposition to the Catholic community. I do not want to quote history or statistics, but for goodness' sake, let us remember what happened in Bombay street and Hooker street at the start of the troubles in Belfast—[Interruption.] They wiped out Catholic streets one after the other—[Interruption.]

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sylvia Heal): Order. If hon. Members wish to make comments, perhaps they could do so by making interventions rather than by calling across the Chamber.

Mr. McGrady: We can use statistics whenever we like, but we want to achieve a balanced, supported police service in Northern Ireland and take a new, vigorous step forward. We are achieving an enormous amount of change. One of the alternative proposals at the time was the total abolition of the RUC, followed by recruitment into a new police force. That was seen—correctly, in my
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opinion—to be unacceptable, but it was totally understandable. Instead of choosing total abolition, we decided to let the RUC continue, and to apply the 50:50 rule on the basis that it would result in an acceleration of recruitment from the Catholic community to the police service. I believe that that arrangement has served the community very well. We can make political points about it and quote statistics, but the reality is that both communities are now providing good, well-qualified young men and women who will serve our communities for years to come. When they have gone up through the ranks and achieved greater qualifications and experience, we will have a police service that is second to none, as we have now.

I would ask hon. Members not to support the proposals from the DUP and the UUP for the total abolition of the 50:50 arrangement. If we want a new police service of the kind that I have tried to articulate, we should not support the new clause; it would represent a totally retrograde step.

Mr. Gregory Campbell: I rise to support the new clause. It is difficult to overestimate the degree of anger and outright antagonism that exists within my community towards the 50:50 arrangement. The term "50:50" is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) has suggested, a misnomer, because we are actually seeing a minority of Protestants being recruited. More Catholics than Protestants are now being recruited to the police in Northern Ireland, but people use the term "50:50" as a kind of shorthand for that.

It is difficult to overestimate the degree of anguish that exists in my community as a result of this arrangement. It is not, as the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) suggested, a minor aberration. Several thousand people have now received a letter thanking them for applying to join the police, and telling them that, although they are suitably qualified to be a police officer, the bottom line is that, because of the 50:50 scenario, they have been unsuccessful in this tranche of applications because they are of the wrong religion.

Mark Durkan: The hon. Gentleman has just told the House that thousands of applicants have received letters saying that they were unsuccessful because of the 50:50 policy. The fact is that out of 3,879 candidates who were not recruited, only 541—not thousands—failed because of the 50:50 policy.

Mr. Campbell: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that inaccurate information. The figures that he mentions are for one tranche. Thousands of people have applied and have got a letter indicating that they have been unsuccessful due to the 50:50 policy.

Mr. Donaldson: We can trade statistics back and forth across the House, but we are dealing with human beings. I, like other right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House, have had young Protestant men and women in my office, some in tears, because they have been denied the opportunity of a career simply because of the church that they go to on a Sunday. That should not be
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acceptable in any society. Surely, eight years on from the Belfast agreement, we should be moving to appointment and recruitment on the basis of merit alone.

Mr. Campbell: I thank my hon. Friend for that point. In all the history of Northern Ireland, in which many difficulties have been and are still being encountered today, many Roman Catholics experienced difficulties from their community in relation to being recruited to the police or, having been recruited to the police, experienced difficulties in their family or social life. There was never a time, however, when a person from the nationalist community was told, in the police or in any other branch of public service, that they would not be successful in applying on the grounds of their religion. In the history of Northern Ireland, that never happened to Roman Catholics, but it is happening currently—[Laughter.] It never happened, under any circumstances, and I defy anyone—

Dr. McCrea: The sneers and laughs of the hon. Members for Belfast, South (Dr. McDonnell) and for Foyle (Mark Durkan) belie the fact that they have the opportunity to give us the evidence rather than pretending to the House that any Roman Catholic received a letter saying that they were denied a position in the RUC because of their religion.

Mr. Campbell: Indeed, that is the case.

Rev. Ian Paisley : We have listened to arguments from the other side, and we must be frank: the Roman Catholic population never supported young men joining the RUC. I represent a wide Roman Catholic community in North Antrim. When a young man joined the police, he was visited, and his parents were told that he was never again to be allowed to stand in his own home. I have accompanied fathers and mothers who had to travel from one end of North Antrim to the other to be allowed to meet their son in peace. What was the crime of their son? He had become a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I could name scores of other such incidents. The statement that the Roman Catholic population did not object to people joining the RUC is wrong—

The Chairman: Order. The right hon. Gentleman knows that interventions must be brief. He has made his point.

Rev. Ian Paisley: All I would say is—

The Chairman: Order.

Mr. Campbell: I concur fully with the remarks of my right hon. Friend.

At the moment, in 2006, several hundred additional applications for places in the police from both communities are required. Therefore, there is no need for the systematic exclusion of some people on the grounds of religion.

If I wanted to, I could refer to the Grand Committee in which, two weeks ago, the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) praised other parts of the public
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sector in Northern Ireland, such as the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, where the Protestant community is    under-represented. But I do not demand a 50:50 recruitment policy to redress the problems in that organisation. Whatever the problems of recent years in the public sector—in the Child Support Agency, the Housing Executive or the civil service—we do not demand a 50:50 recruitment policy to deal with them.

Dr. McCrea: If my hon. Friend did demand that a proper proportion of the Protestant population be represented in the Housing Executive, would he expect the backing of the hon. Members for Foyle (Mark Durkan), for South Down (Mr. McGrady) and for Belfast, South (Dr. McDonnell)?

Mr. Campbell: I would imagine, consistency being the keynote, that members of the SDLP would rush to the ramparts to demand 50:50 recruitment—but I think that the silence would be deafening.

I implore Members to view this issue in terms of human rights and the equity of the present position. As I have said, in 2006 there are hundreds more applications to the Police Service of Northern Ireland than are required. There are hundreds more sufficiently qualified personnel from both communities than are required. There is no need and no requirement to discriminate systematically against people on grounds of their religion, because we have suitably qualified people from both communities. We should abandon this preposterous, unacceptable, inequitable, iniquitous 50:50 regime.

Mark Durkan: A number of false claims and arguments about 50:50 recruitment have been presented on a number of occasions. One claim that has frequently been made is that it is not working, but it is. The application rate for Catholics is 35 per cent., and, contrary to another claim that is often made, there have always been enough suitably qualified candidates to fill the quota.

As my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr.    McGrady) has pointed out, the number of Catholics in the police service has already increased from 8.3 per cent. to more than 19 per cent., and later this year it will exceed 20 per cent. By 2010, according to Patten's projection, it will have reached 30 per cent. I hope that that success story encourages others to join the police service, not just Catholics but Protestants, in the knowledge that they are entering the service free from the perception that they are Protestants in a Protestant police service. The change in complexion and concept created by the 50:50 policy is there for all serving officers, not just the new Catholic officers but Protestants as well. People from all sections of the community can respect them as having been appointed on the basis of their vocational commitment to provide a policing service for the whole of that community.

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