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Lorely Burt: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention and to the other hon. Gentlemen for the various statistics that are going to and fro. I still do not think that they detract from my basic argument that, for a short time, the wider community in Northern Ireland must be put before the interests of a certain number of the community. Perhaps some Unionist Members would agree that, if Sinn Fein were to join the Policing Board and actively engage with and support policing structures in Northern Ireland, the need for the policy would soon be ended, because people in the Catholic community would feel much more relaxed about making their applications.

In conclusion, we recognise that the policy is far from ideal. A lot of work needs to be done. However, we must put up with it for a little longer and retain the hope that within a short period—

Mr. Peter Robinson: The hon. Lady says that we must put up with the policy for a little longer. Will she tell us how long? What is the determining factor for her? What is the percentage?

Lorely Burt: As for the time that it will take, regrettably, I have not brought my crystal ball into the Chamber with me this afternoon. As for the percentage, it should be for people who have more knowledge and skill than I have to put a figure on that. Certainly, if we reach 30 per cent. by 2010, we will have achieved a great deal of what the Patten recommendations set out to achieve.

5.15 pm

Lady Hermon: It has been a long and, at times, rather fractious debate, but, at the outset, I want to say that I endorse the remarks made by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) at the beginning of this long discussion. New clauses 6 and 7 are almost identical. New clause 7 stands in my name. I am not going to go over why we should press that to a vote this afternoon, but I would like to pick up on some of the remarks that have been made, particularly those made by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), to which I must admit I took grave exception.

I declare a particular interest in that I am married to a former Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Sir Jack Hermon. He was the Chief Constable from 1980 until 1989. During that time, we had no ceasefires at all. His deputy Chief Constable and many of his senior officers were of the Roman Catholic faith. They were enormously courageous men, and they were exclusively men, to have taken the risk that their decision to join the police service—the RUC, as it was proudly known—brought not only to them personally, but to their families. It was an onerous responsibility that they undertook with great enthusiasm and dedication.

I must say that I find it utterly reprehensible that the hon. Member for Foyle—perhaps Hansard will show that I misheard the latter part of his speech—hinted and suggested, most unfairly and grossly inaccurately, that
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it may perhaps have been the unrepresentative nature of the RUC that somehow contributed to paramilitary activity by loyalists targeting Catholics.

Mark Durkan rose—

Lady Hermon: The hon. Gentleman wishes to correct me; I am most pleased.

Mark Durkan: What I actually said was that in the eyes of many nationalists Sir John Stevens's observation that the RUC was not warning nationalists of threats to them was not unrelated to the unrepresentative nature of the RUC.

Lady Hermon: I thank the hon. Gentleman. I am most grateful. That is on the record for the second time this afternoon.

Mark Durkan: That is not what the hon. Lady said I said.

Lady Hermon: I appreciate the correction, then. Hansard will, of course, shed light on all the versions by tomorrow morning.

On 50:50 recruitment, I am staggered that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in the Social Democratic and Labour party can come to the House and defend that morally repugnant recruitment procedure for the police. I say that with some exasperation. I have brought a copy of the agreement with me—an agreement that was endorsed and repeatedly quoted by the SDLP, and an agreement for which I was proud to vote in 1998.

One of the reasons why I was proud to vote for the agreement was the assurance that it contains, in black and white—I have not invented this. That agreement was endorsed by thousands of people in referendums both in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. On page 16, under the heading "Rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity", the agreement states: "The parties"—I understand that the SDLP was a party to the agreement, as was the British Government; we have a Minister present this afternoon—

The agreement does not say in brackets, "except recruitment to the Police Service". On the contrary, it continues, again on page 16:

That is what I voted for in 1998, as did thousands of people, and the party of the hon. Member for Foyle. I was disgusted, to put it politely, when the British Government—my own Government—legislated to legalise religious discrimination in the recruitment of police officers no later than two years afterwards in the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000. The hon. Member for Belfast, East and his colleagues rightly want to abolish section 46 of that Act through new clause 6, and, likewise, I, the hon. Member for North Down, wish to see it abolished.

The Government have pledged to respect human rights and repeatedly tell the country, and say internationally, how much they do so. They say how
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much it means to them that the 1997 Labour manifesto included a pledge to make the European convention on human rights part and parcel of our domestic law—I am most grateful that they did so.

The obnoxious 50:50 recruitment procedure, which was legislated for by a British Government after the negotiation of the Belfast agreement and its commitments, was, indeed, tested in the High Court in Belfast some years ago. A young constituent of mine, Mark Parsons, was courageous enough to challenge the legislation. It was not the case that an exemption from the European convention on human rights was negotiated. The court acknowledged that the recruitment procedure was discriminatory and cut right across article 9 of the European convention on human rights, and upheld it only because of its temporary basis. If I remember correctly, that happened three years ago.

The hon. Member for Foyle suggested that if anyone wished to challenge the procedure in Strasbourg, it would be upheld, but that is not the case. The procedure has been in place far too long for it to be temporary. It undermines the Belfast agreement enormously. The Government stand and wring their hands repeatedly and worry about why the Unionist electorate in Northern Ireland has turned against the agreement. It is because of the salami-slicing of everything that was promised to them and, especially, 50:50 recruitment.

Mark Durkan: The hon. Lady has effectively confirmed that the courts in Northern Ireland decided that the 50:50 policy as per Patten was permissible under the European convention on human rights. The policy is not there in perpetuity and its nature is clear. I thank the hon. Lady for clarifying that I was misled on the derogation from the European convention on human rights. The derogation is actually from European employment law, and I mentioned that there is a European Union employment equality directive that covers 50:50.

Lady Hermon: I am reluctant to say that it is absolutely correct that while negotiations on the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000—and, perhaps, on the agreement itself—were being undertaken, things were happening behind the back of the then leader of the Ulster Unionist party, the then right hon. Member for Upper Bann. Unbeknown to him, the British Government negotiated in Brussels an exemption from the European Community directives that would have made such discrimination absolutely untenable.

Stephen Pound: The hon. Lady will have heard the wise and humane words of the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt). Does she accept that a police service should look like the community it serves? There are occasions—in Chicago in the 1920s, in New York in the 1940s and in the Metropolitan police service today—when a quota system must be used, distasteful though it might be, because otherwise the police force will not look like the community it serves. If a force does not look like that community, it cannot—and seldom does—command the respect of the community.

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