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Mr. Peter Robinson: The hon. Gentleman's father served proudly in the RUC, and made a great contribution to the community.

Mark Durkan: That is true: my father served in the RUC as a district inspector. He died before I was a year old, so I have no memory of him, but many people have told me that he was a very good officer. However, I also know that he was that very rare thing in the 1950s and early 1960s—a Catholic police officer at a senior level. Indeed, it was because he was a Catholic, like his predecessor, that he became the district inspector in Armagh. Even then, a person's religion affected their suitability to hold that post. I am not sure whether that helps the hon. Gentleman to make his point, or not.

The RUC's unrepresentative nature meant that it was badly perceived in the Catholic community and that, as a result, it was badly equipped because it was not as accepted and accessible as an effective police service needs to be. Nor was it in any way as considerate or sensitive to the needs and interests of the Catholic community as it should have been.

5 pm

If we want evidence, we need only look to the report of Sir John Stevens, who investigated allegations of a shoot-to-kill policy, poor use of intelligence and refusal to pass on intelligence to enable proper police intervention. His report says that this grossly unrepresentative police force failed to warn nationalists of threats to their lives. He wrote:

The report also refers to collusion with loyalist paramilitaries, including the involvement of state agents in murder. Nationalists bore the brunt of that unequal, awful policy. To create confidence in the new beginning to policing, we have to take steps to ensure that nationalists have no cause to say, "Nothing has changed: this is still the same nefarious, one-sided police service that it always was." One dimension of that—

Lady Hermon: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has made a slip of the tongue—at least, I hope that he has—in suggesting that the Stevens inquiry investigated allegations of a shoot-to-kill policy. In fact, the Stalker and Sampson inquiries did so, and both found absolutely no substance for such allegations. I would like the hon. Gentleman to correct that point for the record.
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Mark Durkan: I take the hon. Lady's point, in terms of my paying proper attention to my notes, but that should in no way detract from Sir John's findings on the RUC's failure to do its job and warn nationalists of threats to their lives. In the eyes of many nationalists, the RUC's unrepresentative nature is not entirely unrelated to such unresponsiveness. There are certain perceptions of, and feelings about, this issue in the Catholic community, and if we are to achieve the new beginning in policing, we must get beyond those prejudices and confine them to history. The 50:50 recruitment policy, which is only one dimension of the Patten plan, is part of that process. It is helping to change the face of policing, which is for the good of the whole community. Ever increasing numbers are relying on the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

As I have said, we need to view this policy in the context in which it came about. We need to understand that it is working and that, although some aspects of it may be proving painful, many more people are unsuccessful in their candidacy for the police service for reasons other than the 50:50 policy. No one seems to be getting too worried about the other reasons why people are not proving successful.

Members have referred to other forms of employment, and let us be clear about the representation of the two communities in the public service work force. When I was a Minister, we identified an under-representation of Protestant workers in some lower grades of the civil service, and I took action. I acted properly to have that matter addressed, just as I acted properly to try to deal with the under-representation of Catholics in the senior civil service.

We are taking the proper approach, which is why we need strong fair employment measures, but 50:50 has a particular purpose; it is serving that purpose and should not be messed about with, because a much bigger prize could be compromised.

Lorely Burt: I greatly appreciate how sensitive and controversial this issue is. As with many parapets, I put my head above this one with great trepidation, but it is right that I state our point of view.

In his report on policing, Patten planned that the 50:50 recruitment process would take place over 10 years, so we expect the policy to end in 2010. We hope that the devolution of policing functions to the Assembly will have occurred by then and that it will be able to end the 50:50 process of its own volition.

There are some important issues, however, and one group suffering from the policy has not been mentioned this afternoon—people from ethnic minorities.

Lady Hermon: The hon. Lady refers to the Patten report in support of her argument. Will she reflect on the fact that although Patten put human rights at the core of policing, the report nevertheless recommended religious discrimination in police service recruitment? How would she and her Liberal Democrat colleagues reconcile those two irreconcilable factors of the report?

Lorely Burt: Human rights are important and Patten was correct to put them at the core of the report. We have to consider the human rights not only of recruits denied a job due, as the hon. Lady pointed out, to the
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policy of taking an equal number of people from two religious groups, but of people on the street. The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) said that people on the streets do not mind about the background of the policeman standing in front of them, but I have to take issue with that claim, especially in respect of people from ethnic minorities, about whom I am particularly concerned.

The fact that ethnic minorities come within the Protestant 50 per cent. of the recruitment process has taken its toll and affected their chances of being recruited as police officers on the streets of Northern Ireland. Members of the Indian community have told my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) that they have been discouraged not only from applying to the police but from reporting hate crimes, because they do not see members of their community in the service taking on board the discrimination they feel and dealing with the crimes that are perpetrated against them. So there are lots of rights to consider, and no one is pretending that the 50:50 policy is fair. I am sure that we all look forward to the end of that policy.

The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) referred to some of the statistics. I understand that the Catholic community represents about 44 per cent. of the Northern Ireland community—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) suggests that the figure might be higher, but that is the figure that I have and we have been trading figures all afternoon. The point that I am trying to make is that, even if we achieve 30 per cent. by 2010, the Catholic community will still be under-represented, but there will be some sort of critical mass with which people on the streets of Northern Ireland will be a lot more comfortable.

Mr. Gregory Campbell: The hon. Lady referred a moment ago to the human rights of many people in Northern Ireland. Last October, I tabled a parliamentary question about applicants who had been refused jobs in the police. The reply showed that 4,500 Protestants had applied and were regarded as suitably qualified, but that only 970 were successful. Does she therefore accept that the human rights of the 3,500 Protestants who were denied jobs in the police must be considered, as well as those of the wider community?

Lorely Burt: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I feel as though I am in the crossfire; I do not want to get caught in it, because the wider issue relates to many tens of thousands of people in Northern Ireland. [Interruption.] I beg your pardon, Mrs. Heal. I am trying to address everyone, so I apologise for turning around.

Mark Durkan: There is no statistical complexity. I have figures showing that 541 people were rejected because of the 50:50 policy and that 3,338 people were rejected regardless of the 50:50 policy. We all know that there was a very high number of applications and that far more people applied than there were places, but Unionist Members are trying to imply that all the candidates whose applications failed were rejected because of the 50:50 policy. That is nonsense.
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