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Lady Hermon: Let me respond to the hon. Gentleman with two facts. The Home Secretary appeared as a witness earlier this year before a Select Committee that
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was examining anti-Semitism. When I asked him whether he supported positive discrimination in England and Wales to make the police service more representative—I am sure that the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) would wish the police service in London and his constituency to reflect the community he represents, although I do not think that it does at present—he said no. After the House adjourns this evening, the hon. Member for Ealing, North may wish to speak to the Home Secretary about making the police service in London, England and Wales more reflective of the community.

The RUC came through a horrible campaign of violence and intimidation. I repeat that there were 302 dead officers—not just one here or there—in a population of 1.7 million, so there is scarcely a family that is untouched. It is not surprising that the Irish Republican Army and other republican paramilitaries targeted Catholics who chose courageously to join the police service when the Gaelic Athletic Association perpetuated rule 21. The hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt) referred to the Patten report, which recommended that all obstacles to young Catholics, including the GAA rules, should be withdrawn post-haste. The report was issued in 1999 but, if memory serves, the GAA did not withdraw rule 21 until 2005. It did not act speedily, so it is no wonder that the RUC ended up with a particular composition, which was the result, not of discrimination in the ranks, but of the undisguised intimidation and murder of Catholics who joined its forces.

Mr. Donaldson : Will the hon. Lady add to the list of obstacles confronting young Roman Catholics wishing to join the RUC the fact that the then main nationalist party in Northern Ireland refused to support the RUC or to take seats on the police authority? At best, it was ambivalent on the issue of policing.

Lady Hermon: I thank the hon. Gentleman, but I pay tribute to the Social Democratic and Labour party, which at least had the strength of conviction to serve on the Policing Board, albeit belatedly, where it made a valuable contribution. I am grateful that it did so.

I urge the Minister to withdraw an obnoxious recruitment procedure. I have outlined why the hon. Member for Belfast, East, his colleagues and I—the lone ranger for the Ulster Unionist party—oppose the 50:50 recruitment procedure.

Mr. Devine : The Scottish Parliament introduced a 50:50 policy on women MSPs. It was much criticised and regarded as regressive by some, but it has been an amazing success that has made a great contribution to Scottish society. Is it not worth having a 50:50 policy in Northern Ireland?

Lady Hermon: I sigh with exasperation but, personally, I find any form of discrimination morally reprehensible. I shall not endorse the policy. My party, of all parties, needs to recruit more women to its ranks so that they can be elected, but discrimination in any shape or form is abhorrent and repugnant.

Finally, if we reach the new clauses tabled by the hon. Member for Foyle they will appear rather hollow, given his mention of the support given—disgracefully, in my
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view—by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to 50:50 recruitment. If any human rights    organisation can sustain legalised religious discrimination, that undermines the confidence, particularly of the Unionist and Protestant community, in anything that it undertakes. It ill becomes the hon. Gentleman to move a new clause later to increase the powers of the Human Rights Commission, when he has just endorsed religious discrimination. I cannot countenance that.

5.30 pm

Rev. Ian Paisley: This has been an important debate, because it has raised issues that needed to be raised and discussed, and still need to be discussed. My party will press the motion.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary, of all people, has been maligned in the debate. I rise because someone must stand up and make it clear that we salute the gallantry, the heroism and the sacrifice of the noble men of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. We also salute their wives and families, because when their husbands went out in the morning, they did not know whether they would return. Sometimes they returned crucified, with part of their limbs cut off by evil men. The time has come for the House to salute the gallantry of members of the RUC and tell the country that we pay them the tribute that needs to be paid to them.

I have listened to the SDLP Members and to their defence of certain things that have been said, but I do not think the people of Northern Ireland will take as infallible what a police officer who was sent over from the Metropolitan police had to say about matters. One has only to look at what happened at that time in Northern Ireland and at some of the exposures that came afterwards to know that he was not a reliable witness.

Today, as we look back, we need to realise that there is no justification for religious discrimination by anyone. It is all very well for SDLP Members to say in the House, "It's only a little thing, and you can forget about it." If that attitude had been taken when they raised matters that were sometimes little things, they would not have had the support of Protestant people who believed that there should not be religious discrimination of any kind.

Ulster stands at a crossroads. The time has come when the people of Ulster should have the opportunity to have full civil and religious liberty for all men—all men equal under the law, all men equally subject to the law. The sooner we achieve that, the better for us all. We surely should be able to unite on that subject. I trust that tonight, when the debate is finished and we push ahead with other matters, we will keep in mind the gallantry and the heroism of those who fought and died to give us the freedom to stand here and say what we can say in a free House and a free Parliament.

Sammy Wilson: This has been a bizarre afternoon. On the previous set of amendments, SDLP Members defended the notion of a Minister for policing and justice who would not give a pledge to support the police. Now the same party is defending overt
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discrimination against those who apply to join the police. Once again, we have heard the same threadbare arguments. We have been told that 50:50 recruitment is necessary because of the discrimination of the past, despite the fact that there was never a religious bar on people joining the RUC. Indeed, a percentage of places was held over for members of the Catholic community to join the RUC.

I understand why many people did not join the RUC. In the 1970s, I served as a part-time RUC member, and I used to walk the streets with two Catholic RUC members. The family of one of them totally supported his position and his wish to be a policeman, while the other had not seen his family since joining the police—he could not go back, and he told me that he would not go back.

Mr. Devine: The hon. Gentleman said that places were set aside for the Catholic community. Was that not positive discrimination?

Sammy Wilson: No, it was not positive discrimination, because it was not a requirement that a certain number of recruits should come from one section of the community or the other. There was no system to discriminate against recruits, and the arrangement was voluntary.

Mr. Devine: At that time, what percentage of RUC members came from the Catholic community?

Sammy Wilson: That was the start of the troubles, when the percentage of RUC members who were Roman Catholics was in the upper teens. A systematic programme was conducted against those members, many of whom could not go home to their families—many of their families did not want them to go home—which led to a gradual reduction in the number of Catholics in the service. The percentage of Catholics decreased because of the actions of the IRA, which is not a reason to discriminate against Protestants or anyone else who wants to join the police now, but it is one of the justifications used by SDLP Members.

Mr. Devine: As SDLP Members have said, it is a historical problem that needs to be sorted.

Sammy Wilson: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was here for the speeches by SDLP Members who said that something within the RUC put people off joining, which was not the case. Now we have instituted an arrangement that discriminates against people from the Protestant community.

Dr. McCrea: Will my hon. Friend confirm that, before 1973, the percentage of Roman Catholics in the Royal Ulster Constabulary was in the high teens? When the IRA campaign took hold, that percentage decreased not because of anything within the RUC, but because of intimidation, murder and threats within the Roman Catholic community.

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