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Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: I am relieved to have that assurance from my noble friend Lord Brookeborough. The information coming to me from the police division was that the board had reluctantly accepted the Chief Constable's decision .

There was a tradition, particularly in Northern Ireland at a time when it is important to interface with society right across the board, of the police band making itself available to play at charity concerts and church services. It was a wonderful asset. I see the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, nodding in agreement .

I am straying from the amendment, but it is an appropriate time to make this point. The disbandment of the band, which may save 1 million in a year, is almost a punishment on the police. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, indicated yesterday that the Northern Ireland Office is dishing out money to that rogue, Kevin Fulton, in order to keep his mouth closed. There appears to be discrimination at every level. The disbandment of the RUC band will not put one extra policeman on the beat. I may exaggerate, but it will not put 31 nor 21; it may put half a dozen. That is to do with the age and the length of service of these people and so on. They will not now volunteer to go out on the beat and relearn the policing skills that they require. That is an aside but it is an important one. I would have hoped that someone could reassure me that the money will be found to sustain the band and to have it reformed.

I return to Amendment No. 47. The other point that I want to make is that something must be done to ensure that recruitment can be carried out in a way that puts policemen on the ground. The responsibility should rest with the Chief Constable, and that is the purpose of the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am grateful to the noble Lord because he has made it plain that he wants to replace the 50:50 recruitment arrangements. It is fair to say that similar amendments were introduced and debated quite frequently during the passage of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 and we have not shifted our position on that.

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The important point that might strike Members of the Committee is that Section 47 of the 2000 Act provides for a triennial review by Parliament of the 50:50 recruitment arrangements. That is not an unreasonable time if, for example, one takes a management view to see how things are working. The first review will take place early next year.

Perhaps I may offer a few facts and figures. The level of response from the Roman Catholic community since the implementation of the recruitment notice has been unprecedented at 36 per cent. That is a remarkable achievement. Prior to Patten, the most achieved was 22 per cent. The proportion of Roman Catholics in the PSNI has already risen from 8 to 11.69 per cent—another remarkable achievement. I compare that with an increase of just over 1 per cent in the 10 years prior to Patten. The 50:50 arrangements apply to police support staff, and the measures are having some effect. The figure of 12 per cent has increased to 13.3 per cent.

It seems that, when we have a triennial review in the 2000 Act, we should let things work in order to see how they develop. The 2000 Act also provided that Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 applies to the police. That places a duty on the police to have regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity. Under-representation of Roman Catholics remains the current priority.

Perhaps I may give one last figure. In the first year post-Patten, 530 recruits entered training. That is well in excess of the Patten figure of 370. I do not believe that the picture is as gloomy as the noble Lord suggests. If it turns out that I am wrong and he is right, which, other things being equal, is always possible, then we shall have the answer at the triennial review.

Viscount Brookeborough: Although I do not support the amendment, I ask the noble and learned Lord to give us a precise figure for the police support staff. I believe there is a big problem with that in that we require X number of civilians and the number is way below it. If the Minister has the figure, I should be interested to know it.

Lord Smith of Clifton: Although we do not support the amendment in its entirety, we believe that proposed subsection (3) has much merit. If it were accepted, it would at least put the issues of gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity on the same footing as religion. Although I should like to be assured that this is not the case, I believe that there has not been the same effort to increase the proportion of women entering the police force and that there is—understandably in some ways—a concentration on religious imbalance, but we should not lose sight of those other under-represented groups.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I agree with what the noble Lord said. We must not lose sight of them but I repeat that in our present circumstances, given the historic background, our priority must remain the 50:50.

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The noble Viscount asked for figures. I have already given the percentage. If the figures that I have before me are correct, combined direct recruit civil servant figures for the PSNI at the end of December 2002 were: Protestant, 2,893, or 82.7 per cent; Roman Catholic, the percentage that I gave of 13.3, which is 466; and other 4 per cent, which is 139. I think that those are the figures for which the noble Viscount asked.

Viscount Brookeborough: I thank the noble and learned Lord. I intended to highlight the fact that I understand the Chief Constable made a statement to the press fairly recently, before Christmas, in which he said that he was unable to civilianise jobs—that is, to enable police support staff to take up jobs to release policemen for other duty—purely because he could not recruit sufficient Catholics into that side of the service. That situation may obtain at present.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, for highlighting that point about the inability of the Chief Constable to release members of the PSNI because civilian staff cannot, as yet, be recruited. The noble and learned Lord has been helpful and has presented us with some figures that give me heart and will be welcomed in the movement towards balancing the makeup of the PSNI. Therefore, when I use the cliche "lies, damned lies and statistics", I do not in any way reflect on his helpful reply, but I believe that inadvertently he has missed the point that I sought to make.

Whatever Patten sought to achieve, Patten got a number of things wrong. Whatever the Government were trying to achieve, they got a number of things wrong. One was the exodus of experienced policemen from the force under the scheme that was put in place. Far more senior and experienced officers left the force than was originally envisaged. That resulted in Patten's ceiling for the number of policemen not being achieved. Whatever statistics do, they do not illustrate that.

Perhaps I may I pick up on the helpful point made by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, and mention the recruitment of women to the PSNI. I know of one case—involving someone whose family is fairly close to mine—of a serving full-time reserve officer, who has already passed the level of requirements for entry into the regular police. She is now going through the process for the third time—it is a constant process. You can hit the standard, but on both previous occasions she has not been accepted because insufficient Catholics were entering the depot. The noble Lord mentioned the level of applications, but that does not necessarily reflect the level of recruitment. There is a sifting process—a rather strange one, but a sifting process none the less. There is then a period during which people who are accepted may decide that they would like to join the police, but not yet.

On the "others" side, there are those who are already—perhaps as in the case of this young lady—in the full-time reserve, who want to continue a career but

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who are being rejected. The Chief Constable, despite the fact that he has a deficit, is unable to make a considered judgment because that falls outwith the strict guidelines.

The same applies to civilian staff. I think that I am right in saying that we have about 60 policemen currently sitting and watching closed-circuit television pictures—a job that could adequately be done by civilian staff, but that cannot be because the recruiting criteria are such that they inhibit what the Chief Constable needs. If the noble and learned Lord wants to respond to those specific points, I shall give him the opportunity to do so, but I accept what he said and am content to withdraw the amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Smith of Clifton moved Amendment No. 48:

    After Clause 18, insert the following new clause—

In section 47(3) of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c. 32), for "three years" substitute "one year"."

The noble Lord said: The purpose of Amendment No. 48 is to provide for Parliament, once every 12 months, to discuss and debate how successful or otherwise the provisions have been in terms of recruitment and the balance between the two traditions. It would be useful for Parliament to consider that more regularly than once every three years. When speaking to the previous amendment, the Minister said he thought that three years was a sensible period from a management point of view, but we are not just concerned with management in the issue of Northern Ireland. A more regular review would be more appropriate at this stage.

That said, our second amendment, Amendment No. 49, states that there should be a finite end to this 50:50 thing. Patten suggested that it should come to an end after 10 years; we are simply trying to reinforce that element in Patten by stating that we should now provide for the 50:50 thing—which we support at present—to be brought to an end. Otherwise, knowing Northern Ireland, it will drag on. It is just as well that we now say: "Concentrate your minds. This will run for a decade and that is long enough. If you then have to extend it for some reason, fair enough, that can be considered". However, at present, we think that there is merit in indicating to those responsible that the provisions should have a sunset clause. I beg to move.

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