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Sammy Wilson: My hon. Friend's point reflects my experience. The officer I mentioned found that his own family did not want him to return home because of threats and intimidation.
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The second argument that has been made concerns the RUC's record. Much has been made of the Stevens inquiry finding on people not being warned that they were on death lists or that terrorist action was going to be taken against them. There are recorded instances of intelligence having been available when someone was under threat and difficult decisions having been made.

That does not apply only to the RUC. All police services that gather intelligence have to make hard decisions at times when a source might be compromised and officers cannot give the warnings that they might have wanted to give. That has placed many officers in difficult positions. However, it is completely wrong to suggest that there was any systematic attempt within the police to withhold information. I often speak to officers who had to make difficult decisions that they have had to live with. That is not a justification for the blackening of the police that has been attempted this afternoon.

Stephen Pound: The overwhelming majority of Members would endorse what the hon. Gentleman says about the Police Service of Northern Ireland—the Royal Ulster Constabulary. At the time of the Patten commission in 1998, fewer than 6 per cent. of the police—I think that it was 5.3 per cent.—were Roman Catholic. Now, the figure is nearly 17 per cent. Surely that proves that positive discrimination was necessary, unpalatable though it may be.

Sammy Wilson: I have already explained why the percentage went down over the period of the troubles. It would have increased anyhow as the troubles diminished.

The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) argued that the RUC had to be done away with because, in some cases, warnings were not given. That denigrates officers who did an excellent job over many years of terrorist activity and had to make very difficult decisions that that they will have to live with for a long time. He also suggested that we could have done away with the RUC entirely and started with a clean sheet, and that because we did not do that, 50:50 is justified. Anyone who believes that one day we can have a police service and the next day we can have no police service, and yet still have efficient policing, is living in an Alice in Wonderland world.

Mark Durkan: The hon. Gentleman is referring to my comments about the choices facing the Patten commission, to which several recommendations, proposals and submissions were made by various parties. We did not advocate disbandment to create a new beginning for policing, but that was one of the options canvassed. Patten decided against that. As part of the compromise, a large number of existing officers were retained for the new police service and new recruits were to be appointed on a 50:50 basis.

Sammy Wilson: That was a nonsensical idea. We are already reaping some of the consequences of getting rid of far too many experienced officers in Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman's party supported a derogation from 50:50 in order to get more detectives
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recruited from the mainland because of the skills shortage caused by the limited application of the Patten recommendation.

Mark Durkan: That reinforces what I said earlier—that the DUP opposed the high turnover ratio that the Patten plan created. If the DUP had had its way, fewer Protestants and fewer Catholics would have been recruited to the police service.

5.45 pm

Sammy Wilson: The hon. Gentleman's party confirmed our worst fears about the Patten proposals, in that that their desire to please republicans—let us face it; that was their purpose—meant getting rid of experienced officers, thus leading to skills shortages, which had to be made up by recruiting officers from the mainland. No officer from England or Scotland would have been prepared to have their job decided on the basis of their religion, so the SDLP had to accept that 50:50 would not apply to recruiting people from England or Scotland because they would not have taken the insult of having their religion examined before they were found to be qualified for a job. However, paper-thin arguments continue to be made in favour of 50:50 discrimination.

Mark Durkan: The hon. Gentleman needs to realise the difference between 50:50 recruitment of fresh new police officers for training and seeking existing trained detectives from other forces.

Sammy Wilson: The hon. Gentleman can make such fine distinctions, but constables could not be recruited without applying the 50:50 rule in Northern Ireland yet they could when they came from the mainland.

I want to consider some of the consequences. As my   hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell) pointed out, the 50:50 rule has led to discrimination against more than 3,000 people in the Protestant community. The hon. Member for Foyle can shake his head, but people who receive a letter stating that they have not been appointed on the basis of their religious background have already got into the merit pool. They have reached the required standard and qualified. They could be appointed as police officers but they are not. Those 3,000 people got through the process and received a letter telling them that they were of the wrong religion and that there were already too many Protestants in the pool, although they had qualified and been through the test. That is unfair. I do not care how anybody tries to describe it, whether as a temporary arrangement or something that helps to increase the percentage of Catholics in the police service.

Mr. Devine: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Sammy Wilson: No, we are approaching the end of the debate.

The 50:50 recruitment rule is expensive. The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) can confirm that, because we have held many discussions about the matter on the Policing Board. The recruitment cost, not including training costs, of every police officer in
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Northern Ireland is £12,500 because of the contortions that have to be undergone under the 50:50 rule. It is not only unfair but expensive.

The rule is also inefficient because it applies not only to police officers but to civilian staff. In some cases, the PSNI advertised and received replies from qualified people who could do the jobs but, because no Catholics applied, no one was appointed. The most recent example was in forensics. Forensic experts were required to help with current investigations. No Catholics applied, although plenty of others—everyone who is not a Catholic counts as "others"—who were qualified did. No one was appointed because we could not get the balance. We end up without the job being done rather than making an appointment that does not reflect the 50:50 requirement.

The rule is unfair, expensive and inefficient. It should not be tolerated and it is disgraceful that any party that claims to stand for human rights and fairness supports it. The final defence of the arrangement presented by the hon. Member for Foyle was that this could not be discrimination because his party was against discrimination. That is what the argument falls back on. Just because his party says it is against discrimination, when discrimination is practised in its name and with its support, it is no longer discrimination.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): This has been an important debate that has raised several issues. While I hope to persuade hon. Members not to press the new clause to a vote, I also wish to put on record the fact that I respect the very different views that have been expressed across the House, even though I disagree with some of them.

I also put it on record that I share the emotions, the commitment and the rational argument advanced by the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley)? Our discussions this afternoon should do nothing to besmirch the courage, the gallantry or the reputation of former members of the RUC, or, for some, the enormous sacrifice that they and their families made. I do not wish to do anything other than echo what the right hon. Gentleman said about that.

Let us be absolutely clear about this. The 50:50 policy is an exceptional policy and a temporary measure to enable the PSNI to be representative of its community and to do that in a reasonable time frame, with the target of increasing its Catholic composition to 30 per cent., we hope by 2010–11. The policy is temporary and exceptional. I remind hon. Members of the comments in the Patten report, whether they agree or disagree with its conclusions. It stated:

The report went on to say:

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Why did that matter? It mattered because, putting aside the conclusions, Patten said:

I also agree with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound). Patten said:

It was in that context that Patten said:

He rightly tried to reconcile the issue of human rights with his proposals for 50:50 recruitment.

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