Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, I beg to disagree with the noble and learned Lord on the latter point. Our fears are not overblown. The reality is that at the moment we live in a non-stable society. That lack of stability is brought about by the role of paramilitaries. I know that some have suggested that I am politicising what is a police matter. I am not politicising it; it is politicised by the nature of the Bill. It is politicised by this change that suggests that eight out of 19 is somehow a magical figure that can be attractive to the SDLP and to Sinn Fein.

For the past 20 years in public life I have worked with the SDLP. At times I find that it assumes certain attitudes because it is fighting in the community for the same votes as Sinn Fein. Matters are not always as they appear. If noble Lords had had experiences, as I have, in local government in Northern Ireland, they would find that in that context that is true.

In this unstable society of ours, Sinn Fein, for electoral reasons or for much more dubious and dangerous reasons, has the ability to intimidate. Anything that brings us down to that marginal area where intimidation, not just of politicians who are associated with the board but also of independent members who are on the board, may occur is dangerous in the extreme. For the reasons I have already enunciated and because there has never been any difficulty in regard to the previous figure of 10, I cannot understand why, without proven justification, the figure is now to be reduced to eight. I had intended to divide the House on this issue.

Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps he would say whether he agrees with the reason given: that the Government feel there is simply no chance of such low numbers occurring. Just in case such a situation happened, does he agree that the reason for changing the figure is absolutely wrong and unfounded?

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, I hope that that is the point I made. I am grateful to the noble Viscount for endorsing the matter. I had intended to seek the opinion of the House at this stage, but I shall

23 Jan 2003 : Column 869

see whether the Government can bring forward a reasonable compromise. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 13 to 17 not moved.]

1.15 p.m.

Clause 11 (Investigations into current police practices and policies):

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass moved Amendment No. 18:

    Page 7, line 30, at end insert—

"(2A) No investigation under this section shall extend to events or incidents that occurred before the coming into force of this section."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a probing amendment. I hope that I can have an unequivocal reassurance from the Government. Previously, we dealt with the issue of whether an investigation could be retrospective; whether it could relate to matters that had occurred before the Bill became law. On that previous occasion the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, gave what I assumed was an unequivocal assurance. At a later stage he said something that suggested that that may not be the case. I apologise for not having the reference. My reason for moving this amendment is to try to understand the position on retrospection. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I hope that I can give a satisfactory assurance. At Second Reading I hoped I had made plain that it is not the Government's intention that the power to investigate police policies and practices will be retrospective. The amendment that I brought forward in Grand Committee made it clear that the ombudsman's power is limited to current policies and practices.

In investigating current police practices, it would be natural for the ombudsman to inform herself of the way in which officers conducted themselves in applying those policies and practices that are current. In other words, if we accepted this amendment—I understand that it is intended to be probing—the ombudsman, in applying current practices, would not be able to look at conduct if that conduct had occurred perhaps two weeks before Royal Assent. I hope that I have made the distinction clear. This power is not to be retrospective in respect of past policies and practices. If the policy is current, the ombudsman will have to use her discretion as to what practices she considers. I hope that that is satisfactory.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. That is clear. He has endeavoured to be helpful. Before Third Reading perhaps I can ask him to consider this matter to discover whether it could be interpreted in a way that differs from his present intention. I believe that if there were enough pressure to consider a matter that was retrospective, it might be possible to say that

23 Jan 2003 : Column 870

something that applied to that retrospective issue is applicable today and so by using that as a starting point there would be justification for being retrospective.

I hope I have made myself clear and that the noble and learned Lord understands the point I have made. I shall be grateful if, at a later stage, he can make a statement that would secure matters in the terms I have enunciated. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Glentoran had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 19:

    Page 7, line 36, at end insert ", and

( ) the reasons for his decision to conduct the investigation."

The noble Lord said: My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, moves Amendment No. 19, I want to indicate support for the principle. The advice that I have received is that the amendment should be better drafted. I undertake to reflect further to see whether we can assist in drafting something that is acceptable.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord. I look forward to helping with the drafting, if that is required:

[Amendment No. 19 not moved.]

Clause 13 [Disqualification]:

[Amendments Nos. 20 to 22 not moved.]

Clause 15 [Core policing principles]:

[Amendment No. 23 not moved.]

Clause 16 [Chief Constable's functions]:

[Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 not moved.]

Clause 17 [Provisions of information to Board]:

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 26:

    Page 10, line 14, leave out "reasonably"

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this is to leave out the word "reasonably". It is the Shutt amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord. We are delighted with the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 27:

    Leave out Clause 17.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment seeks to leave out Clause 17. It is another matter that has already been fully debated. The issue is the provision of information to the board, which I understand we shall be discussing in relation to Clause 19.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, for the benefit of the noble Lord, I think that he has

23 Jan 2003 : Column 871

misunderstood. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, indicated, I believe, that he accepted that the debate on Clause 19 should be taken with the earlier amendment on which we divided.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, that is correct. I did not intend to move that Clause 19 should not stand part today.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, I apologise. My point was that Amendment No. 27 is relevant to the debate on Clause 19. I hope that we shall return to the issue on Third Reading.

[Amendment No. 27 not moved.]

Lord Rogan moved Amendment No. 28:

    After Clause 17, insert the following new clause—

(1) In Part 6 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c. 32) for section 46 substitute—
(1) In making appointments under section 39 the Chief Constable may take such steps as he determines appropriate to encourage applications by persons currently under-represented in the police service.
(2) In making appointments to the police support staff under section 4(3) the Chief Constable (acting by virtue of subsection (5) of that section) may take such steps as he determines appropriate to encourage applications by persons currently under-represented in the police support staff.
(3) For the purposes of this section "persons currently under-represented" means persons forming part of a social group by virtue of their sex, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation who at the time of consideration by the Chief Constable are under-represented."
(2) In Part 6 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c. 32) leave out section 47."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment seeks to insert a new clause, on the removal of discrimination from recruitment, in Part 6 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000. This is not a new issue. Many noble Lords will no doubt remember the highly contentious debate in this House on 15th November 2000 on the 50:50 recruitment arrangement. Noble Lords may also remember the result of the vote held on that day when 50:50 was narrowly carried by 185 to 175 votes.

The principle of equality of opportunity is central to the Belfast agreement. Policing, however, is apparently regarded as an exception. The fact is that 50:50 denies equality of opportunity. It is nothing short of discrimination. We have always been opposed to 50:50 on that basis. The new clause proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, and myself clearly states our position.

The 50:50 principle requires that 50 per cent of those appointed from a pool of qualified applicants to the PSNI must be "persons who are treated as Roman Catholic" and 50 per cent must be "persons who are not so treated"—the "other" category. That clearly discriminates against the Protestant community, not to mention the substantial population in Northern Ireland who practise "other" or, indeed, no religion.

23 Jan 2003 : Column 872

During passage of the Bill which became the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, many in this place agreed with this position. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said:

    "I am sorry to see a Bill being passed which flies in the face of human rights legislation and which inevitably at some stage must cause problems".—[Official Report, 15/10/00; col. 286.]

In another place, Mr Lembit Opik, on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, vigorously opposed the measure on the same grounds. He said that we should not "monkey around" with human rights.

Given that human rights are so central to liberal philosophy, we were rather surprised when the Liberal Democrats in this place acquiesced in relation to such discriminatory provisions. They may even have warranted the accusation made by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, that they were "in bed with Blair". As the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, put it in 2000, the Liberal Democrats,

    "will be aware of the consequences of permitting the discrimination genie to escape from the bottle".—[Official Report, 15/11/00; col. 282.]

I hope that, today, they and others will join us in putting the cap back on the bottle.

I do not intend to retread old ground and repeat old arguments. However, the situation in Northern Ireland has evidently changed since 2000. Two years down the line, we are in a position to reflect on the decisions of that year, to learn from experience and indeed to correct any mistakes. I do not wish to adopt the churlish attitude of, "We told you so", but it is clear that the predictions made in 2000 by many opponents of 50:50 have been realised.

Since passage of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, and as a response to the Patten recommendations, the number of police officers has been dramatically reduced. The service has been virtually cut in half, to less than 6,902 officers—well below the figure recommended by Patten as the minimum level needed to police Northern Ireland. While 1,874 full-time reservists currently complement the police service, they, too, will be phased out after 2005.

Many in this House and in another place voiced concerns in 2000 about the effects that such a reduction in numbers would have on expertise, experience and effectiveness in the police service. Reports in the Observer newspaper, in March 2002, pointed to a severe shortage in the top echelons of the service—a shortage of chief superintendents, superintendents, chief inspectors and sergeants, not to mention a serious shortage of constables. It was also revealed that many policemen and women who lost their jobs in the RUC's fingerprint bureau under Patten's reforms were re-employed in the PSNI as civilian technicians due to critical shortages of manpower and expertise in this area.

Rather than increasing the applications and helping to build a first-rate police service, the 50:50 arrangements are clearly impeding recruitment and have resulted in a severe shortage of manpower. Last month, the chairman of the Police Federation, Mr Irwin Montgomery, said that the rigid enforcement of a policy requiring Catholics

23 Jan 2003 : Column 873

and Protestants to be recruited in equal numbers was starving Northern Ireland's already overstretched police service of officer and civilian staff.

One recent training class had just 34 students—17 Roman Catholics and 17 others—when it should have had 48. The Chief Constable, Mr Hugh Orde, also reported recently that one of his priorities, to civilianise as many administrative posts as possible in order to get more officers out on patrol and doing front-line police work, was being frustrated by the policy of 50:50 recruitment.

A recent trawl for 200 administrative assistants produced 250 suitable applicants from the "other" category, but only 28 from the Roman Catholic category, meaning that only 48 people could be taken on. This is the central issue. It is a catch-22 situation: 50:50 has led to a reduction in the number of police officers. The most obvious solution is to free officers from administrative posts, yet administrative posts are also subject to 50:50 and these places, too, cannot be filled.

I do not wish to appear to exaggerate, but the situation is extremely grave. Your Lordships need only consider street violence, so prevalent in Belfast throughout the summer months, or the continuing loyalist feuds in the city. The reality is, as recent events have shown, that terrorism is still a force to be reckoned with in Northern Ireland. Whatever the rhetoric on both sides of the community in Northern Ireland, there is terrorism. Crime levels are rising at an unprecedented rate. It seems absurd that at such a time the police service should be under-staffed and over-stretched. This is clearly a good time to be a criminal in Northern Ireland.

In Committee a few weeks ago the Lord Privy Seal, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, gave some encouraging figures about PSNI recruitment. We very much welcome the fact that the percentage of applicants from the catholic community has risen to 36 per cent. However, that does not address the crux of the matter. Such figures do not reflect the level of recruitment. In the year 2000 we said that solving the problem of Catholic under-representation in the police service lay not in their appointment, but indeed in their willingness to apply. If we can tackle the application process, quotas for recruitment would be entirely unnecessary.

The rise in the number of applications from Roman Catholics reflects the welcome endorsement of the PSNI by the SDLP, the Catholic Church and the decision by the SDLP to join the Police Board. Sinn Fein/IRA, however, still refuse to accept the new police service. Indeed, they continue actively to discourage young Catholics from joining the PSNI. Intimidation and attacks on Catholic recruits by the republican movement still continue. One recent recruit in Ballymena narrowly escaped injury last year from a booby trap placed underneath his car. Another recruit in Newry was forced to flee his home after threats.

The reality is that many of those who would like to join the Police Service of Northern Ireland are either forced to forego their policing ambition for fear of

23 Jan 2003 : Column 874

intimidation or choose to move across the water rather than run the risk of endangering themselves or their families and being subjected to abuse within their own communities.

Nor do the Sinn Fein/IRA representatives encourage their constituents to co-operate with the Police Service of Northern Ireland or report criminal activity to the police. Recently, when a young girl was savagely raped in west Belfast last November, the Sinn Fein Assembly Member for the area was unwilling to advise her concerned constituents to speak to the police service. Rather she preferred that they spoke to

    "those whom they could trust in the constituency and who have been looking after things in the constituency".

I repeat that 50:50 recruitment arrangements do nothing to tackle the problem of intimidation, the root of the problem of Catholic under-representation. As the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, said in November, 2000,

    "Surely, encouraging applicants from under-represented sections of society—all under-represented sections of society—is the only effective means of addressing the problems and to achieve the prize of a police service that reflects the society that it polices".

Discrimination in any form is unacceptable; discrimination in the Police Service of Northern Ireland is especially unacceptable. Introduced for whatever good reasons, 50:50 recruitment arrangements do not solve the problem of Catholic under-representation. The new Police Service of Northern Ireland is entirely frustrated in its attempts to police the community, suffering as it does from a lack of recruits. With the Police (Northern Ireland) Bill before the House today, we have an opportunity to review the decisions of the year 2000. We have an opportunity to make the necessary changes that would allow the PSNI to develop into the effective, first-rate police service Northern Ireland deserves. We have the opportunity to remove discrimination. I beg to move.

1.30 p.m.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I have not played any part at all in the procedures and conduct of this Bill to date for extraneous reasons. Because it is always extremely hazardous to board a moving train, I have not tried to join in the amendments today, but I have one stand-alone question.

My noble kinsman the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, asked a question at col. GC55 of the Official Report on 9th January about the numbers recruited into civil servant jobs, which would enable police to be released for active duty on the streets. At col. GC56, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal gave the answer, which showed Catholic recruitment of 13.3 per cent as against 36 per cent which he had referred to at col. GC55 for Catholics joining the police itself. Given the consequences of this particular imbalance, which is of itself interesting, has any research been done by the PSNI as to why recruitment on the civil servant side has been so much lower than into the police?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page