House of Commons
|Session 2006 - 07|
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Public Bill Committee Debates
Draft Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (Renewal of Temporary Provisions) Order 2007
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Mark Etherton, Committee Clerk
attended the Committee
Seventh Delegated Legislation Committee
Tuesday 13 March 2007
[Sir John Butterfill in the Chair]
Draft Police (Northern Ireland) Act2000 (Renewal of Temporary Provisions) Order 2007
That the Committee has considered the draft (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (Renewal of Temporary Provisions) Order 2007.
It is good to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Sir John. The purpose of the renewal order is to continue the temporary provisions for the appointment of police officers and police support staff for a further three years, with the aim of increasing Catholic composition in the Police Service of Northern Ireland to a level considered representative of that community.
Committee members will be familiar with the temporary provisions, which have been debated in both Houses of Parliament on numerous occasionsincluding during our recent debate on the draft Policing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2007, when the hon. Member for North Down spoke with considerable conviction, authority and passion, as did other hon. Members. The fact that we disagreed does not detract from the fact that views on all sides of the argument are strongly and sincerely held. I warmly welcome the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes, who will shortly address us from the Front Bench for his party for the first time. We warmly welcome him in that role.
The Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 gives effect to the report of the independent commission on policing for Northern Ireland, commonly known as the Patten report. It made a number of recommendations on policing in Northern Ireland, including on the need to address the religious imbalance within the service so that it is representative of the society that it serves.
The commission recommended that all candidates who wished to join the PSNI as police officers, and who reached a specified standard of merit in the selection procedure, should be placed in a pool from which one half of those appointed would be Catholic and one half non-Catholic. That arrangement became known as 50-50 recruitment and is in place today for all trainee police officer recruitment campaigns and directly recruited support staff when six or more similar posts are vacant.
The report also recommended that Catholic police officers from Northern Ireland serving in police services elsewhere, particularly at more senior ranks, should be identified and encouraged to apply for positions in the Northern Ireland police. That arrangement is commonly known as lateral entry.
The Government are committed to this legislation. We welcome the positive impact that it has already had in addressing the religious imbalance experienced by Northern Irelands police service. However, we are equally committed to removing it once the imbalance is addressed.
Lady Hermon (North Down) (UUP): I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Sir John.
Will the Minister explain whether there is any tangible evidence whatever that, since late January when the Sinn Fein ard fheis ostensibly supported policing, the Sinn Fein leadership has actively encouraged young republicans in west Belfast, west Tyrone and south Armagh to join the PSNI?
Paul Goggins: Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, has been on the record very publicly encouraging people from his community to come forward and offer themselves to the PSNI. Although it is probably too early to tell whether the ard fheis decision, taken only a short time ago, is impacting on the number of applications, we should all take some encouragement from the fact that, although the general level of Catholic applications since 2001 has been at about 35 per cent., in the latest, 12th, round of applications, the rate was 41 per cent. We are beginning to see an increase in the application rate from that community. I am sure that all hon. Members on the Committee will welcome that.
As we clearly set out in the St. Andrews agreement, the Governments target is to increase Catholic composition in the PSNI to 30 per cent., and we are on target to meet that commitment by March 2011. The temporary provisions may be renewed by the Secretary of State for up to, and not exceeding, three years, following consultation with the Northern Ireland Policing Board. The provisions were first renewed for a three-year period in March 2004, and I am here to seek a renewal of those provisions for a further three years, which would keep them in force until March 2010.
I recognise that some hon. Members have principled objections to the provisions. I understand the frustration of individuals whose prospects have been affected by the policy. I do not hide from the fact that a number of candidates have indeed not been appointed as a result of the temporary provisions. However, the vast majority of unsuccessful applicants have failed to be appointed simply because the demand to join the PSNI is so high.
It is worth reflecting on the fact that since the temporary provisions were put in place, no fewer than 73,000 applications have been made to join the PSNI. The only justification for the policy that we have been pursuing is the need to increase the Catholic composition in the PSNI, and in so doing increase community confidence in policing in general. That policy is succeeding.
Lady Hermon: Will the Minister put on record the main reason for the low representation of the Catholic community in what was the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which was in fact the intimidation of Catholics joining that force and in no way discrimination within what was the RUC?
Paul Goggins: I am happy to repeat what I have said to the hon. Lady before, which is that threats, intimidation and fear were certainly crucial elements in deterring people from the Catholic community from coming forward. I make no comment about the selection procedure, which would certainly have operated in the normal way. The reluctance of people from the Catholic community to come forward was certainly a clear element. That is why the temporary provisions that we seek to renew today are important. Equally important is the encouragement that we all offer to the Catholic community to come forward and apply to join the PSNI.
When the Patten reports recommendations were made and the temporary provisions first implemented in November 2001, the Catholic composition of police officers was 8.23 per cent. When the first renewal order was debated and approved in March 2004, the composition had increased to just over 14 per cent. Since then it has increased still further, to the current figure of 21.43 per cent. Throughout that period, the application rate from the Catholic community has remained consistent, at about 35 per cent. We should be encouraged by the fact that the level reached 41 per cent. in the latest recruitment campaign. That is exceptional progress. That, coupled with the fact that the number of applications from across the whole community since the temporary provisions were introduced now exceeds 73,000, means that we can be optimistic about both the quality of new recruits and the level of community confidence. We should be further encouraged by the fact that the majority of applications are from a new generation of young people who are committed to policing as their chosen career and are building on the loyal, courageous and dedicated examples set by the many men and women who have served the community as police officers over many years, including in the service of the RUC.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): The Minister says that the quality of the recruits has been exceptional. However, does he accept that, despite the scores that both Protestants and Catholics have to obtain in order to secure the 50-50, in some cases Catholic recruits have scored 20 per cent. less than those who gain entry from the Protestant community? In the light of that, how can the Minister say that the quality has been maintained?
Paul Goggins: In order to qualify for the pool from which all new police officers are appointed, it is necessary to reach a certain standard and to be suitably qualified in the first place. As I have said, I do not draw back from the fact that some non-Catholic applicants have scored more highly than their Catholic colleagues who have actually been appointed to the PSNI, yet have not been appointed themselves. That amounts to 1.7 per cent. of all non-Catholic applications that are made. However, I emphasise that everyone who is appointed as a newly recruited police officer in Northern Ireland has reached that suitably qualified threshold that allows them to join the pool in the first place.
I should like to take this opportunity to address the importance of gender and ethnicity in the police service. A number of hon. Members have voiced their concerns about the effect that the temporary provisions might be
Lady Hermon: The Minister will be well aware of recent statistics showing that 700 people have chosen to come to Northern Ireland from New Zealand, the Philippines and throughout the world. They have undergone the British citizenship examination and ceremony, and they are now new British citizens. If they come from the Philippines and are of the Catholic faith, are they discriminated against when joining the PSNI under the crooked procedure that we are approving this afternoon?
Paul Goggins: No. Anybody who is entitled to live and work in Northern Ireland is entitled to apply to join the PSNI, and they will follow the same route as anybody else. If they are from another country, come to live and work in Northern Ireland and they are Catholic, they qualify as Catholic under the 50-50 provision. If they come from another country and they are non-Catholic, they qualify as non-Catholic under that provision. There is no discrimination; they just come under the 50-50 temporary procedures that we are debating this afternoon.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): I made an aside from a sedentary position because the Minister seemed concerned that he could hear a little voice in his head. Indeed, it was the voice of conscience, because what he has said is not quite right. Does he not accept that ethnic minorities who are not Catholics come under the legislation? He must accept also that the legislation represents positive discrimination towards Catholics, so how can he say that those ethnic minorities, including Lutherans and Bahais, are not victims of the same negative discrimination that the Protestant population now experiences, and which the hon. Member for North Down described?
Paul Goggins: That is a fair question, but it is not the same as the hon. Ladys. She asked me whether Catholics from the Philippines would be discriminated against, and my answer was that they would not. Of course, people from other countries and of other faiths who qualify to live and work in Northern Ireland come under the same discriminationif we likein the temporary provisions as any other non-Catholic person who is indigenous to Northern Ireland. I have not
Lady Hermon: If the Minister were to phone the recruitment branch of the PSNI to check his assurance to the Committee, it would be helpful. I phoned about people from other countries who have gone through a British citizenship test, and the reply last week was that if they tick the box for Roman Catholic or other faith, they can go on to a second question about which school they attended. Their Catholic faith does not necessarily mean that they will benefit from being treated the same as indigenous Catholics in Northern Ireland. It is absolutely despicable, but that was the reply from the recruitment branch.
Paul Goggins: As always, advised by the hon. Lady, I shall check up as she has asked me to. There have been many applications from Polish people during the 12th round of applications. Some live in Poland and some now live in Northern Ireland, but many of them will be Catholic. If they are successful, they will count in the 50 per cent. of Catholicsit is as simple and straightforward as that. However, I am sure that the Committee is looking forward to hearing the hon. Ladys comments, so I shall try to conclude my remarks and leave hon. Members ample opportunity to debate the issue and, indeed, to hear from the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes, who is speaking in his new role for the first time.
When the provisions were previously reviewed, the relationship of some elements of the community in Northern Ireland to their police officers remained uncommitted, unsupportive and unco-operative. As a result, crimes remained unsolved, local communities remained a target for offenders, and murderers avoided justice. That was all because of the lack of assistance given to the local police, whose job it is to protect all citizens. Today, with all parties committed to policing and the rule of law, the climate is notably different and it continues to change for the better.
In just over five years, the proportion of Catholic officers in the Police Service of Northern Ireland has nearly trebled and it continues to grow. If we renew the temporary provisions, I am confident that that trend will continue and that the Catholic proportion of the PSNI will reach the Governments target of 30 per cent. by March 2011. Once we have reached that point, the temporary provisions will have achieved their aim and will no longer be necessary. I commend the order to the Committee.
Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): May I say how reassuring it is to undertake my first venture from the Front Bench under your supervision, Sir John? It is equally reassuring to be debating the issue with the Minister, given his reputation and the contribution that he has made to progress in Northern Ireland since his appointment in May 2006.
If you will indulge me, Sir John, I should first like to make a few remarks about the slight unease that many people feel about the fact that we are currently considering so many Orders in Council. This is the second or third such order of the five that we shall consider this week, and I quite understand the urgency for it, but there seems to be a mad rush to get these things through before the historic date of 26 March. That may lead to mistakes; indeed, drafting errors in the draft Policing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2007this is certainly not intended as a criticism of the hard-working staff involvedhave meant that we shall be considering it for a second time on Thursday. There is therefore a slight concern over the speed with which some of these provisions are being pushed through.
The renewal of temporary provisions order is short but contentious, and I intend to be brief, partly because that is probably the most sensible thing to do on my first outing from the Front Bench, and partly because I do not want to steal the thunder of the hon. Member for North Down, who feels passionately about the issue.
As the Minister highlighted, the main point of contention is the 50-50 recruitment of Catholic and non-Catholic officers into the Police Service of Northern Ireland. As I understand it, the process means that if there are 100 vacancies, and applications are received from 50 Catholics and 75 non-Catholicsbe they of the Jewish faith, the Muslim faith or whateverwe would have 50 Catholics and 50 non-Catholics, subject to their being approved as suitable to be police officers. That means that 25 non-Catholics would be unable to join the police force, even though they would normally be qualified to do so.
Will the Minister confirm, however, that the position could be even worse? If the same 100 vacancies were available, for example, but only 30 Catholic applicants were deemed to be suitable for training, that would restrict the number of non-Catholics who could go through at that point to 30. Despite the fact that there were vacancies and that the remaining non-Catholic applicants were deemed suitable for training, they would, through no fault of their own, be unable to join the police force. If that is the case, it seems grossly unfair and discriminatory.
Sammy Wilson: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that what he describes is exactly the case? Indeed, in some cases no appointments have been made, because only Protestants have applied. That is particularly true for support staff, who are much more difficult to recruit. As a result, vital support staff have not been appointed in areas such as forensics.
Mr. Lancaster: The hon. Gentleman, with his experience, makes the point far better than I can, and it will be interesting to see whether the Minister can confirm the hon. Gentlemans point when he sums up.
Let me turn to the examples of South Africa and Rwanda. In order to overcome their problems, they ended the requirement for people to define their nationality or their ethnic or tribal group. It could be argued that the Government have institutionalised sectarianism and hence discrimination in Northern Ireland, and I feel very uncomfortable about that.
Neverthelesscredit where credit is due to the Ministerprogress has been made. As he rightly pointed out, since September 2001 the percentage of the police force that is of the Catholic faith has increased from 8.28 per cent. to 21.19 per cent. However, the Minister clearly stated that the Government target is 30 per cent. Will he explain that figure? My understanding is that approximately 40 per cent. of the population of Northern Ireland is Catholic, so where did the 30 per cent. figure come from? Is it arbitrary, or is there some logical explanation for it? If the target can be 30 per cent, why could it not in theory now be 21.19 per cent.? We want to make progress, but where did the figure come from?
The hon. Member for North Down made an intervention to the effect that one of the reasons why so few Catholics originally joined the police service was not that they did not want to, but fear of, and intimidation by, the IRA. Given that Sinn Fein has now welcomed the Police Service of Northern Ireland, why should the problem remain? Surely that welcome in itself should solve the problem and enable us to dispense with the order. There is no need to perpetuate it for another three years.
I feel slightly uneasy about whether the order needs to be continued, and in summing up I shall highlight some questions for the MinisterI already mentioned a couple of them. In short, what is the need for the order if Catholics are now genuinely free to join the police? Why is there a Government target of 30 per cent. for police officers? How many non-Catholics have passed the selection procedurefor lack of a better phrasebut are currently unable to join the police force because of the quota? Why, if Sinn Fein is being true to its word, is the policy still necessary? And why do the Government not trust Sinn Fein on the matter, given that they are asking the Democratic Unionist party to trust Sinn Fein on power sharingwhich hopefully will come about from 26 March?
Lembit Öpik: I welcome the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes to the latest proceedings in what I am sure he regards as the many scintillating and enjoyable yearsif one adds it all upthat have been spent on Northern Ireland Statutory Instrument Committees. I echo his concern that once again we find ourselves discussing a matter of great importance that is presented in the highly unsatisfactory format of a statutory instrument.
I recall that when the legislation was first passed, the Government gave all kinds of assurances that they would monitor the situation and be willing to modify it if circumstances suggested that that was appropriate.
Let me turn to the specific order before us. My party recognises that the provisions were introduced in 2001 and that since then there has been a significant increase in the number of Catholics who have applied to the police. In fairness, and as the Minister implied, the Chief Constables last annual report states that on average 36 per cent. of applications come from Catholics. That compares favourably to the pre-existing scenario. However, it is worth noting that, even in the pre-existing scenario, 22 per cent. of applicants were Catholic, which was a laudably high figure when one considers the courage that those individuals must have shown when applying to the police as Catholics in the face of quite a lot of intimidation and dissuasion.
The Minister was also right to express encouragement about the percentage of women who are applying, which is 37 per cent. However, the Minister should really inform the Committee of the percentage of applicants from ethnic minorities. I do not think that he did, although he said that the recruitment figure was 0.3 per cent.
Paul Goggins: I was about to give the hon. Gentleman some information on that. The proportion of ethnic minority working age applicants is 0.48 per cent. We are talking about small numbers23 officersbut there is a broad parallel that should offer us some comfort.
Lembit Öpik: That is a useful figure, but one could argue that it is 50 per cent. out. It provides an indication that the numbers are necessarily small, so one should not read too much into the variation.
Nevertheless, the principle discussed in earlier interventions stands. We heard anecdotal evidence that ethnic minority groups feel that the 50-50 quota system is a discouragement from applying to the police. Indeed, it seems that the way in which the legislation is worded means that Catholic candidates from ethnic minorities are considered in the non-Catholic pool of applicants, which is larger in number than the Catholic pool. The hon. Member for North Down made that point quite lucidly. As far as I can tell, her criticism of the system is in line with an objective analysis of the guidance.
On balance, when an applicant is Catholic and from a discernible ethnic minority, the latter status is taken above the former. If that is the case, a great disserviceis being done by the working of the positive discrimination system. I am sure that the Minister would agree that, even if the percentages are relatively small, it is highly desirable to have a population of officers who reflect the diverse population of ethnic minorities.
I shall declare an interest. On account of my presence in Parliament, the Estonian community in the United Kingdom is over-represented by something like 5,000 per cent. Such over-representation probably happens with some ethnic groups in the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I am not sure, but I would be willing to bet, that the Bahais are not represented at all in the policeI could be wrong. The point is that once we go down the track of positive discrimination, groups that we might wish to encourage are discouraged because they end up in a negative discrimination category. That is certainly the case for the ethnic communities in Northern Ireland.
Lady Hermon: Can I get a clear line from the Liberal Democrats? It is not so long ago that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire voted in favour of 50-50 recruitment for police community support officers. Has the Liberal Democrats argument changed? Have they done a U-turn?
Lembit Öpik: As the hon. Lady will recallI made this point in the earlier debate, which she needs to re-readI voted in favour of 50-50 recruitment for community support officers because I thought that that legislation was sufficiently important for the structure of policing in Northern Ireland as a whole. It was better to pass that legislation, notwithstanding my fierce and continuing opposition to the 50-50 element. Since we are now talking primarily about the 50-50 recruitment policy, I do not have such a conflict of interest. That is why I am able to focus on the concern that both she and I have rightly highlighted, as I suspect the Democratic Unionist party spokesman will.
The order deals with the recruitment of Catholic officers. It is pleasing to see, from reading the Chief Constables report, that the PSNI is on target to achieve the increase in representation that the Government set as a goal. Given the recent republican declaration of support for the police in Northern Ireland, one must return to a question that the Minister has already been asked. Given that the biggest restriction on, and discouragement of, Catholics applying to the police force is, as everybody knows, intimidation by the republican movement, why is it that we need to enshrine a policy of positive discrimination in legislation?
There are two possible conclusions. The first is that the fear continues; in other words, there is an underlying practice of intimidation to discourage Catholics from applying. The second conclusion is that people are concerned that there is a prejudice within the recruitment system itself. However, we do not have to revisit too many recent Northern Ireland debates to know that the Government adamantly dismiss any accusation that the police recruitment service is prejudiced against Catholics. We can only draw the conclusion that Catholics are still in some way disincentivised from applying to the police. I am at a loss to see what motivation there could be for Catholics not to want to apply to the police. The Minister cannot have it both ways. The Committee has a right to expect a logical response to the question about what the positive discrimination seeks to address.
Sammy Wilson: Given that recruitment to the police is now in the hands of an independent company, Consensia, and the police have nothing to do with it, does the hon.
Lembit Öpik: I have reached the same conclusion as the hon. Member for East Antrim. The Government cannot genuinely think that there is prejudice in the recruitment service, although we might legitimately have had that discussion in the past. I see that the Minister is shaking his head, so we all agree that no one in the Committee suggests that there is any kind of systemic prejudice towards applicants once they have applied to the police. That leads to the inescapable conclusion that there must be some other motivating or demotivating factor that the positive discrimination policy seeks to address. The only one that I can think of is intimidation, and a sense of being discouraged by the republican movement from applying, as we have seen in the past. The Government have made it clear that they take in good faith Sinn Feins claimed support of the police and the inference that the IRA will no longer stand in the way of Catholics who seek a career in the police. That being the case, the Minister needs to explain why we are debating a 50-50 policy that seems to have no ill to fix.
I ask the Minister to try to do something that none of his predecessors have succeeded in doing in the recent past, which is to give a single logical reason why the Government think that we still need 50-50 when the prejudice has gone and when we have been told that the intimidation has gone too.
I put down a clear marker for the Government. If, in three years time, the Government propose to renew the provisions for another three years, they will have acted in bad faith with regard to the promises that they made when they forced the legislation through in the past. Every single one of us wants to see adequate representation of the Catholic community in the police, but the principle that it embodies, which necessarily discriminates against ethnic minorities in the non-Catholic population, is an unnecessary evil. Through the logic of my argument, I cannot see the good that comes from the 50-50 process.
If the Government do renew the provisions again, they will have reneged on their promise. Unfortunately, I predict that that is exactly what will happen in three years time. One gets the feeling that the Government are abysmal at generating a mindset of abandoning temporary orders. The 50-50 policy is set to become yet another permanent feature of the temporary legal framework that we find ourselves discussing so often in the House. I hope that the Minister can give some sort of reassurance, but frankly I am sceptical. For that reason, I do not find myself in a position to change my stance from the annoyance that I have felt all the way through debates about the 50-50 process, and I do not feel that I can support the order.
Sammy Wilson: At the outset, I want to say that, although on the face of it this might seem to be an innocuous piece of legislation, the wording disguises how pernicious it is. Its result is that in Northern
The Minister has argued that the purpose of the proposed legislation is to change the climate of policing to make the police more acceptable to the community. I have to say that in many cases and in many places the police found it difficult to do their job not because, when the policeman appeared at the door someone said, I do not want you near here because youre a Protestant, or because youre not a Catholic. Policing was difficult in some areas, because even to call the police or be associated with them meant that peoples families, including their children, would be intimidated and their houses put under attack. That was nothing to do with the religion of the police officers.
I work closely with the community association in Seacourt in my constituency, which is a predominantly Catholic estate. In fact, until recently it was the one part of East Antrim that had the Irish tricolour flying over it. The people in Seacourt community centre are not interested in the background of the police who come out to see them. I do not think that they are even aware of what the percentage of Catholics in the police force is. All that they want to know is whether the police will do the job that they have brought them out to do and ensure that their community is secure and safe.
The Minister and the Secretary of State have told us that we are now in a different era and that intimidation of people who wish to call the police should no longer be an issue. Therefore, the composition of the police forcewhether there is a certain percentage of Catholicsshould not affect the ability of the police to do their job. I have never heard anyone, whether in Glenville estate in Newtownabbey at one end of my constituency, which is predominantly nationalist, or Seacourt estate at the other end, or in Carnlough at the very top of my constituency which is predominantly nationalist, saying, Dont bring the police down here because too many of them are Protestants. That is not the issue. Confidence in the police will depend on how well they do their job and how those who associate with them are treated by their own community.
As the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire has mentioned, we are being told that republicans have now met the conditions of supporting the police and that we are now in a terrorist-free environment in Northern Ireland, so if the Secretary of State and the Minister really believe what they are telling people in Northern Ireland, there is no need for this legislation other than that the Government are determined to
The first of the many results of this legislation is the resentment that it causes. The figures can be interpreted in many ways, but at the last count more than 1,700 people in Northern Ireland had received letters through their post box saying that they were not acceptable as police officers because of their religion. The Minister may come up with a different figure because some people have received multiple refusals because of their religion. Constituents of mine have gone through the process seven or eight times. They have finished the recruitment exercise only to be turned down not because they were not good enough to serve in the police but because they were not of the right religion. Whatever way the Minister wishes to present the figures, the fact is that more than 1,700 letters of that nature have gone out, and that has caused great resentment.
The second problem is suspicion. There is a perception that it does not matter how good or suitable people are for the job; that all that matters is their background or religion. I served on the Northern Ireland Policing Board for a number of years and one of the functions that I carried out with real enthusiasm was speaking to recruits about the role of the Policing Board. I could understand one of the things that came through time and again especially from young Catholic recruits. They did not want to be seen as officers who got into the police because of their religion. They wanted to be seen as people who got there because they deserved to be there and merited the position.
Unfortunately, this measure and exercise in 50-50 leads to the perception that people are in the police not because they merited it or were the best qualified candidates but because they were Catholics. They might even well have been recorded as second-class police officers. Some may have even scored as high as their Protestant counterparts; some may have scored lower. The second result can lead to the perception that there is almost two-tier recruitment.
The third result has already been mentioned. It has been especially so not in the recruitment of police officers, for which there have always been plenty of applicants, but more in the recruitment of support staff. That has happened for a variety of reasons, such as that there is not an abundance of skills within the Catholic community or that the pay is quite low. The vacancies may occur in areas where mostly Protestants live; people would have to travel some distance and do not consider it worth their while to do so for a job that pays £11,000.
Recruitment exercises have resulted in no people being appointed or, in some cases, only half the desired number being appointed because there were not enough Catholic applicants or no Catholic people came forward. During my time at the Policing Board, when people were needed in the forensic labsa vital jobthe recruitment exercise produced no one, because only eight Protestants applied. Each district command unit had to appoint a personnel officer. That recruitment exercise stretched over a long time because there had to be several exercises for sufficient Catholics to apply. There have been other instances like that.
The wastefulness of the exercise must also be considered. The irony is that the 50-50 rule is meant to apply at police constable level in Northern Ireland, whether constables are coming from another force or are raw recruits. After the Patten proposals, there was a great dearth of detectives in Northern Ireland. At one stage, so many detectives and people who were qualified as detectives had left that a recruitment exercise had to be carried out to recruit detective constables from mainland forces.
We see how pernicious the legislation is when we consider that the only time at which the 50-50 recruitment requirement was dropped was when it came to inviting applications from serving police officers in forces here on the mainland. That is because what is tolerated in Northern Ireland would never be tolerated in mainland forces. No one would understand why they had to declare their religion to get a place in the PSNI, yet the standard that applies to people who come into the PSNI is totally different to that for the recruitment of constables in this part of the UK.
Lembit Öpik: This creates a preposterous situation in which an applicant who is rejected in Northern Ireland could, in theory, apply successfully for a place in a police force in England and then reapply in Northern Ireland and get in, because this discrimination would not then apply. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?
Sammy Wilson: That is exactly what some people plan to do. They have applied to police services here in England, such as the Met, with the sole purpose of getting back home after they have been recruited, although, they would have to be in an area with a skills shortage, and the police service would have to be recruiting constables. That is the nonsense of this legislation and why it is resented in Northern Ireland. I doubt whether any member of the Committee would accept that as a standard for the police service in their area. It was foisted on the people of Northern Ireland, and will be renewed if the order is agreed.
The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire made my next point very eloquently, but I want to emphasise it. If republicans have accepted policing, the only explanation for this legislation is not that we need to find a way to encourage Catholics because they are being intimidated, but must be that there is some innate discrimination within the process. Those are the only two possible explanations. Do we have to make things easier for Catholics to join because they face intense intimidation from their community? The Government have told us that that no longer happens and that Sinn Fein has accepted and signed up to policing, so there should be no issue with someone from the Catholic community joining.
The second possible explanation is that there is some kind of institutional barrier within the recruitment exercise. If that is the case, perhaps the Minister will tell us where he has identified that barrier and whether Consensia has been challenged about it. Are there plans to stop its contract and appoint someone else? If there is no such institutional barrier within the process, is this legislation required because outside factors such as intimidation still affect people within the Catholic
As they consider this piece of legislation, can hon. Members justify voting for something that institutionalises discrimination? As the hon. Member for North Down pointed out, the measure will affect not just Protestants but ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland as well. I happen to be the political representative on the Chinese chamber of commerce, and it has raised the issue with me because it believes that by being lumped together with Protestants and other non-Catholics, people from the Chinese community are being discriminated against as well. If hon. Members come to the conclusion that discrimination is not acceptable in this part of the United Kingdom, then I challenge them not to vote for discrimination in the part of the United Kingdom that I represent.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): Thank you, Sir John. Mine is a very narrow point, which follows from what other Opposition Members have said. I am grateful for the explanatory notes, paragraph 4.5 of which makes it clear that the order conforms, as one would expect, with the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997, because it has been tailored to do so, and with the Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998. It states that that ensures
that the application of the 50:50 selection procedures doesnot conflict with these elements of anti-discrimination legislation...Separately, the Government obtained an exemption from European Directive 2000/78/EC on employment equality, to allow for these exceptional recruitment arrangements.
I would expect the Government to do so. However, I note the word exceptionalthe Government clearly accept that these are exceptional circumstances.
Paragraph 6.1 states that
It is the view of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain, that the provisions of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (Renewal of Temporary Provisions) Order 2007 are compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.
That is where I have a difficulty. I am surprised that more has not been made of that, because on the face of it they are incompatible. There can be exceptional or pressing social reasons for a temporary derogation, but they do not seem to apply here. The order does not redress discrimination, because it seems to be accepted that there is no social discrimination. Recruitment is fair and open and is not conducted by the policeit has been given to one of the Governments beloved arms-length recruitment agencies, paid for out of the public purse.
It seems that the order has been introduced to redress an employment problem that might have arisen because of intimidation. I am not sure why a recruitment drive of these proportionsor any proportions, for that matterin itself redresses intimidation. If there is intimidation, then clearly people are frightened from applying for employment.If I have listened carefully enough, going by the
I feel for the Opposition Members who have spoken. There is no explanation and no detail, as so often happens in relation to the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European convention on human rights. There is just a bland assurance and no argument is put forward. I look forward to seeing somebody in Northern Ireland testing the proposition, which would be very interesting, because the case that has been made by the most amiable of Ministers does not stand up.
Lady Hermon: In 2002, I actively encouraged a courageous young constituent to do exactly what the hon. Gentleman has suggested by challenging the 50-50 recruitment procedure. The hon. Gentleman is entirely correct. The judge accepted that the provision was proportionate to address the low level of Catholic recruitment, but only because it was of a temporary nature. That was in 2002; we are now in 2007.
Mr. Shepherd: I am grateful to the hon. Lady, in both senses. She is, of course, right, and that judgment was consistent with earlier judgments. It was based on the temporary nature of a provision to redress an exceptional situation. It is challengeable, and it is difficult for the Government to sustain the argument that the provision is necessary on a continuing basis.
I did not intend to take up much of the Committees time, but we should all be cautious about mandated proportions and so on, particularly if freedom of expression or freedom of religious belief is involved. I believe in blindness as to race, creed and colour when it comes to the selection of citizens for such an important role as that of policing their fellow citizens.
Lady Hermon: It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Sir John. I believe that this is the first occasion when I have been able to do so. I thank you for undertaking the Chairmans role this afternoon for this controversial and utterly repugnant piece of legislation.
Like hon. Members who spoke in opposition to the order, I believe that religious discrimination is utterly contemptible. I find myself offended to the very core of my being that a British Governmenta Labour Government at thatare legalising religious discrimination in the United Kingdom specifically in Northern Ireland, which is, of course, an integral part of the UK. I want to pick up on remarks that have been made by speakers of all parties.
The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills is absolutely correct to highlight the orders inconsistency and incompatibility with the European convention on human rights. The relevant case is in fact the one that I described in my intervention on him. It was taken in
The issue has been examined by the oversight commissioner, who, as the hon. Member for East Antrim has rightly said, criticised the provision because of its negative impact not only on the applicant but on their siblings and those with whom they socialise. In fact, several young people have left Northern Ireland. They were committed to serving in a police service and would have preferred to serve in Northern Ireland, but they were driven out courtesy of the appalling 50-50 recruitment procedure. They have joined police services elsewhere not only in the United Kingdom but in Canada.
In the instance of my constituent, Mark Parsons, and the 2002 judicial review, Mr. Justice Kerr was careful to identify that in fact the provision discriminated and breached the European convention on human rights. However, in considering the proportionality argument some five years ago, he upheld the procedure on the basis of its temporary nature. I agree with the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills.
Mr. Shepherd: This is a simple question: was the case heard by a Northern Ireland justice or in the Court in Strasbourg?
Lady Hermon: The case was heard in the High Court in Belfast and did not go all the way to Strasbourg. Since this Labour Government made the convention part and parcel of our domestic legislation, one does not have to go to Strasbourg. The beauty of that is that one can go to the High Court in Belfast to enforce ones rights.
Mr. Shepherd: The beauty of that is that if one gets leave, one can have a case referred, if it is an important area of law, to the court in Strasbourg. It is not the end of the process.
Lady Hermon: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will intervene once more to clarify whether the article 177 reference is to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg or to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Mr. Shepherd: I am talking about the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which is the final determining court on these matters.
Lady Hermon: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. That reference could have been to either of the courts, because they have both taken an interest in human rights.
The young gentleman to whom I have referred decided that his time would be better spent doing something else, and he did not challenge the decision further. However, I suggest that if a challenge were mounted now, five years later, it would be successful. Mr. Parsons persevered and did not leave Northern Ireland. Eventually, after a lot of perseverance, repeated applications, and encouragement from his
Part of my bitterness about the legislation is that the Minister knows full well that in 1988 every household in Northern Ireland received a copy of the Belfast agreement. It is a collectors item and, whether or not it is valuable, I would not be tempted to give it to anyone[Interruption.] The hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) is indicating that he would like a copy. DUP Members have moved into the space occupied by the Belfast agreement, as we shall see.
Every household received a copy of the agreement, and 71 per cent. of eligible voters in Northern Ireland voted in their thousands to support it. I was one of them, which makes me an endangered speciesa pro-agreement Unionist. I voted for the agreement, and I read it from cover to cover, from the front to the back rather than the reverse, which is important. Page 16 is headed, Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity. Under the subheading, Human Rights, it guaranteed to everyone in Northern Ireland a key factor for which thousands of people voted:
The parties affirm their commitment to the mutual respect
the right to equal opportunity in all social and economic activity, regardless of class, creed, disability, gender or ethnicity.
The British Government, as one of the parties, also indicated on page 16 that it was
a particular priority to create a statutory obligation on public authorities in Northern Ireland to carry out all their functions with due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity in relation to religion and political opinion.
On that one page, it gave a commitment twice under the heading, Human Rights, that the people of Northern Ireland would be guaranteed equality of opportunity. That is what thousands of people voted for.
The Minister has prayed in aid the Patten report, A New Beginning: Policing in Northern Ireland. I have always found it an interesting document. Paragraph 4.6 is pertinent to our discussion:
We recommend a comprehensive programme of action to focus policing in Northern Ireland on a human rights-based approach...It is more a matter of the philosophy of policing, and should inspire everything that a police service does. It should be seen as the core of this report.
Respect for human rights, which includes the right to ones religion and the freedom of religion without discrimination, is a core value and a fundamental human right. The Patten report ostensibly puts human rights at the core of policing. However, it also recommended that there should be religious discrimination and that the Government should obtain an exemption from European directives. The British Government did that, and the gentleman who is highlighted on the front page of the reporta former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for whom I have enormous regardwas the Secretary of State at the time in Northern Ireland. He specifically negotiated an exemption from the EU directive on the basis of religion. The commitments given by the British Government to the population were voted on not only in Northern Ireland but by thousands of
What makes it doubly ludicrous is that having recruited young people on a blatantly discriminatory grounds to join the Police Service of Northern Ireland, every officer is obliged to swear an oath or to affirm an oath. I shall read what every police officer who has come through a discriminatory procedure is then obliged to swear:
I hereby do solemnly and sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of constable, with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, upholding fundamental human rights and according equal respect to all individuals and their traditions and beliefs.
Having put recruits through a discriminatory recruitment procedure to join the force, those recruits are then obliged to swear an oath upholding equality and fundamental human rights. It is idiotic in the extreme.
In 1997-98, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee produced a very interesting report entitled Composition, Recruitment and Training of the RUC. The membership of that Committee included Mr. Ken Livingstone, Mr. Tony McWalter, Mr. Harry Barnes, now retired from the House, and the current Secretary of State for Defence. The report said that a community attitude survey had shown that
the major reason preventing young Roman Catholics coming forward to join the RUC is the fear of violence which would be offered towards them and members of their family.
When I intervened in the Ministers speech, I wanted him to confirm on the record for both the public and the Committee that the main reason for low Catholic representation within the RUC was in no way and no manner to do with discrimination within the police force. On the contrary, the main reason was to do with intimidation and violence perpetrated mainly by the IRA.
Let me deal with the remarks of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire and the new Conservative spokesman, the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes, who is now ungagged. In previous Committees, the hon. Member for East Antrim was not able to speak. On this occasion, however, he is allowed to speak and has been completely ungagged, which is very welcome indeed.
All hon. Members have highlighted the intriguing position in which the Government now find themselves. Ostensibly, Sinn Fein voted overwhelmingly in support of policing at its ard fheis at the end of January. Given, as the Secretary of State keeps reminding us, that we all live under a new dispensation in which Sinn Fein has signed up to policing, there is no earthly justification why we are again being asked to legalise religious discrimination in the recruitment of police officers. I cannot in any way agree to vote for such legislation, and I hope that Government Members who have listened to the debate will think twice before rubber-stamping the order.
Paul Goggins: As predicted, views on this issue are strongly held and passionately argued, and I welcome all hon. Members contributions.
I begin with the comments of the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes. He and the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire mentioned the issue of orders and the number of orders at the moment. I apologise to those hon. Members who will have to come back on Thursday to debate again an order that we have debated before because of a technical problem, but whether or not we had reached this point in devolution, we would have debated the order before us in any event, to bring back temporary provisions to help us get to the 30 per cent. target.
Lembit Öpik: I will stay in order. I make this observation rhetorically, because the Minister knows that it is true, but does he not accept that if we had an amendability process, we would never have ended up in the mess of running the same Committee twice?
Paul Goggins: There will be opportunities to debate that later in the week, but it is a genuine and technical issue that has caused us to have to come back on Thursday. The hon. Gentleman knows and has welcomed the fact that, post-devolution, the Government have made a commitment to examine the Order in Council process. We will do so, because it is important that we take democracy seriously.
The hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes posed the theoretical example that there might be 100 posts to be filled but only 30 suitably qualified Catholics, with the potential therefore to recruit only 60, leaving 40 vacancies. That example is certainly theoretical in relation to those applying to become police officers, because we have never faced that situation. I shall give him the figures for the eleventh round of recruitment under the arrangements. Altogether, 7,861 applications were received, with 600 suitably qualified candidates in the pool and 220 appointments made. It was not a problem. An abundance of Catholic and non-Catholic applications were made.
Since 2001 when the temporary measures were first introduced, there have been 170 civilian recruitment campaigns, 22 of which fell within the 50-50 provisions. On only two occasionsthey may be the occasions to which the hon. Member for East Antrim was referringwas it not possible to fill the vacancies because of a deficit in Catholic applications. On both occasions, the posts were filled after a readvertisement. By and large, we have not suffered from what I agree would be a difficulty if it were to happen in practice. In fact, we have had an abundance of applications, thankfully, so we have not been caught out.
The hon. Gentleman asked why the proposed level was 30 per cent. Clearly, that goes back to the recommendations of the Patten report. The 30 per cent. is not intended in any way to parallel directly the proportion of Catholics in the population. The purpose is to reach a level at which all communities can be confident that the police service is their police service and can identify with it. Patten took evidence from a range of experts. Having listened to the experts, he recommended 30 per cent., which the Government accepted.
Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): My hon. Friend has given us some figures for recruitment and spoken about the 30 per cent. target. Can he give us an idea of the current composition of the Northern Ireland police force? Presumably he has statistics on how many are Catholic and how many are of other religions, presumably mostly Protestant.
Paul Goggins: I am happy to do so. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, Catholic representation in the PSNI is now 21.23 per cent., which is 1,604 police officers. Officers from the perceived Protestant community now number 5,757some 76 per cent. of the PSNIand there is a small group of somewhat less than 3 per cent. whose faith is not determined. Broadly speaking, 21 per cent. are Catholic, and slightly more than three quarters are from the Protestant community.
Virtually every hon. Member who spoke asked why the Government are putting forward temporary provisions once again. I simply put it to the Committee that we started at 8 per cent., went to 14 per cent. and have now reached 21 per cent. We are determined to reach the 30 per cent. level that was recommended by Patten, and which we accepted, in a timely fashion. It is welcome that Sinn Fein now supports the police and rule of law, and that its leadership is encouraging people from its community to apply to the police. Nevertheless, we have to get to the target in a timely fashion, and we would not do so if we did not make these temporary provisions.
The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire asked for details of the application numbers for ethnic minority communities. If he will forgive me, I shall write to him with the precise numbers, because I do not wish to detain the Committee with a string of figures, and I think that he will accept that. It is important that we encourage people from ethnic minority communities to come forward, and indeed the PSNI has engaged in a range of initiatives to try to encourage applications from those communities. However, the overriding priority is to ensure adequate Catholic representation in the PSNI.
I have not dressed things up at any stage in my commentsthe provisions are concerned with positive discrimination. We want to get to 30 per cent. in a reasonable time and we believe that we can do so by March 2011 if the temporary provisions are extended for the length of time proposed. I am encouraged that the normal rate of Catholic applications has now increased from 35 per cent. to 41 per cent. in the last round, and I hope that the proportion will increase further. However, I am not prepared to accept a situation where the proportion might or might not creep up over time. I want there to be a mechanism in place to ensure that the 30 per cent. figure is reached.
Lady Hermon: Will the Minister clarify whether pressure was brought to bear on the British Government by the Irish Government at the time of the St. Andrews agreement to ensure that 50-50 recruitment would last longer than three years? Will he confirm that that was the case, and that it was not just Sinn Fein that applied pressure?
Paul Goggins: There was considerable discussion at St. Andrews about this issue and many others. What emerged in the agreement was a commitment that, when 30 per cent. was reached, the temporary provisions would lapse. Of course, various parties had all kinds of opinions at St. Andrews on the present issue and on many others. However, that was what the agreement said. I emphasise that the measures are not a permanent feature, as I shall no doubt repeat one or twice before I conclude. If they were, it would not be acceptable, but by the end of March 2011 they should get us to the point of having 30 per cent. Catholic representation.
I acknowledge the tremendous work of the hon. Member for East Antrim as a member of the Policing Board, and I congratulate him on his re-election to the Northern Ireland Assembly. I wish him and his colleagues well, as we movehopefullyto devolved government in 13 days time. I am sure that he will play an important part in the Assembly.
The hon. Gentleman said that we are dealing with organised discrimination. I have not hidden away from that, and if the measures were permanent they would not be acceptable. We have heard about court challenges, and no doubt if the measures were permanent those challenges would be acceptable.
The hon. Gentleman invited me to clarify one figure that is important. Some 708 non-Catholic applicants reached the pool of suitably qualified candidates and were not appointed, although they scored more highly than Catholics who were appointed. I acknowledge that from the start. The figure corresponds to 1.7 per cent. of non-Catholic appointments. There was some confusion in Northern Ireland, because some non-Catholics received letters explaining that they had not been appointed because of the temporary 50-50 provisions, when in fact they had not come high enough up the merit order and would not have been appointed in any event, even without the arrangements. There was some confusion, but thankfully that has been sorted out, so it is now clear whether people have failed to be appointed because of the 50-50 arrangements or whether they have not reached a sufficiently high point in the merit pool.
Just to give one or two more figures, more than 8,000 applicants have reached the merit pool. They are suitably qualified people who could have been appointed to the PSNI. More than 5,000 of them have not been appointed, such is the number of applications that have been made. Again, we should be encouraged by that. We are in a new era. I am happy to reaffirm the comments of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about that. A characteristic of that new era must be a police service that more adequately reflects the composition of the community and enjoys its full confidence.
The hon. Member for East Antrim talked about wastefulness. There is some wastefulness in the system, but we are seeking to remove some of it through the policing order that we will debate later this week. Until now, everybody in the pool has been vetted and has received a medical examination, which is of course wasteful if people are subsequently not appointed. We are removing that requirement, so that in future only
Sammy Wilson: Since it currently costs about £12,500 to recruit each successful applicant, will the Minister indicate by how much those changes will affect the recruitment costs per applicant?
Paul Goggins: I will have to write to the hon. Gentleman with a precise figure, but I can tell him that the move will save around £540,000 a year in global terms. Those savings will in no way reduce the level of vetting that takes place or the scrutiny of the medical condition of applicants, and that money can then be spent on front-line policing. However, I will happily write to him to say by how much the change will reduce individual costs per recruit.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the other provisions that we are introducing to address the shortage of detective constables in Northern Ireland. They are not a back-door route round the 50-50 arrangements; rather, the Chief Constable genuinely needs to recruit about 100 detective constables to fill a gap in the system. In time, as the new recruits become more experienced, they will come into those positions. The measure is temporary and can be actioned only with the unanimous support of the Policing Board, as the hon. Gentleman will know. I hope that that offers him some reassurance. It is important that we give the Chief Constable the powers to make those appointments if he needs to.
I say again plainly that the fact that we are again bringing such temporary provisions forward is not a comment about any bias in the recruitment procedures, which are scrupulous. Indeed, I acknowledge that levels of intimidation have reduced dramatically. That should encourage people from the Catholic community to come forward in greater numbers. The issue is simply that we will not get to the 30 per cent. Catholic representation in anything like the time scale that we need unless the temporary measures are in place.
The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills asked about compatibility with the European convention on human rights. The answer emerged in his exchange with the hon. Member for North Down. The reason why the order is compatible is that it is a proportionate measure, and proportionate only because it is temporary. The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland shares that view. It has supported the arrangements as an acceptable temporary measure, but it would not have done so if they were permanent.
Sammy Wilson: Given what the Minister has said about not meeting the required level of Catholic police officers if we simply allowed natural events to take their course and the fact that 41 per cent. of those who are now applying are from the Catholic community, is he saying that the quality of Catholic recruits is less than that of Protestant recruits and that we therefore can bring in Catholics only by such discriminatory measures? If that is what he is saying, there are severe implications. If there is no shortage of Catholic applicants, there should surely be no difficulty if they are all of equal quality.
Paul Goggins: All recruits have to reach a suitable standard in order to be in the pool in the first place. The rate of applications from Catholics has been around 35 per cent. On the latest occasion it has gone up to 41 per cent., and it might fall back next time. It certainly is not at 50 per cent., and that is why the temporary measures are necessary. It is not a comment about the ability of one community or another. Everyone who is recruited has to reach a certain standard, but in order to maintain the level and the rate of progress towards 30 per cent., we need these temporary measures.
Finally, the hon. Member for North Down raised the case of her constituent, and through that example she argued forcefully for her point of view, as she always does in this Committee. I do not hide from the fact that I have enormous sympathy for those 708 people who might otherwise have had a job in the PSNI, but I also have enormous ambition to get the 30 per cent. representation in place. I am delighted that the young man in her example persisted and eventually was recruited to the PSNI. That is welcome.
The hon. Lady quoted from page 16 of the Belfast agreement, and referred to the commitment to equality of opportunity. I do not see any discrepancy between that commitment and the measures that we have in place today for a commitment to ensure that we have a Police Service of Northern Ireland that more adequately reflects the community that it serves and should therefore have the confidence of that community.
I have tried to answer as succinctly and briefly as possible the comments made by hon. Members. I urge the Committee to support the order.
The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 5.
Division No. 1 ]
Question accordingly agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Police(Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (Renewal of Temporary Provisions) Order 2007.
Committee rose at two minutes to Six oclock.
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