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Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, the 50:50 issue is a problem which affects the number of police on the

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ground. We must do everything we can to increase those numbers. Except for one particular training course, we are just managing to fill the quotas. I believe that we are marginally ahead in total on what was estimated at the beginning. There is still a problem.

The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, referred to a recent "trawl". I would not like that to be taken the wrong way. The noble Lord was referring to civilian support staff. It is not a trawl such as someone going out to find people, it is a straightforward public competition, as they are now called. It is a recruiting competition in exactly the same way as it is for policemen. It is not a trawl.

As regards the competition and the figures of 26 or 28 Roman Catholics being available, there were 238 Protestants available. The effect is that every job which could be civilianised and thereby release a policemen is extremely important under the present circumstances. I ask the noble and learned Lord one question. Whereas one cannot have a short contract policeman who joins policing for a few months, in administrative work with secretaries and administrative jobs in offices, surely it might be possible in the interim, while continuing to recruit, to have people on short-term contracts, medium-term temps, which would immediately release the police officers holding such posts. Because they would be on temporary contracts, when and if the 50:50 quota from those recruited into the police support staff as whole comes about, those people could be released from the contracts. That would at least release policemen to go out on the streets today.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, for reminding me of prophecies I uttered in your Lordships' House some three years ago. I remember on that occasion a vast number of noble Lords, mainly on my left, saying that I was sending out the wrong signals. I ask them to think about the validity of that allegation.

I do not want to rehearse what has been put forward effectively by colleagues. However, I should like some reassurance from the Government. It is clear that the situation in Northern Ireland is getting out of hand, whether through terrorism, so-called Real IRA activities or the activities of various other types of IRA. There can be no distinction. They must all be contained and, if possible, obliterated. That must be our objective.

On behalf of those who will be butchered in the months and years ahead, I seek assurance that, without any undue publicity, Her Majesty's Government are turning their mind to what will be done in practical terms to remedy a horrific situation. I know enough, having served in the forces in times of war and on other occasions, to be aware that no government ever contemplate the future without a contingency plan. I hope it is not too much to ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal, not necessarily to reveal to us what that plan is, but to assure us that a plan does indeed exist, not only to contain terrorism, but also to arrest its development in Northern Ireland. We shall all sleep easier in our beds—some have good personal reasons for

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including that qualification—if we know that Her Majesty's Government have a contingency plan and intend to implement it as soon as possible.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, I intervene briefly on Amendment No. 28 to remind the House that, initially, I would have been deemed to be out of step with my party colleagues on the issue of 50:50 recruiting. But some noble Lords will have seen the recent census of Northern Ireland. There is not a huge imbalance between the two major traditions.

In conversations with Patten, I suggested that we could be in a situation where, if there was an avalanche of applicants and ultimately of recruits from both traditions, a short window of opportunity might be created when there could be an endeavour to recruit on a 50:50 basis. In that situation, confidence would be created which would draw both traditions into active and practical support of the police.

Unfortunately, a number of mistakes were made. One was that the window of opportunity was left open far too wide. There became no urgency for young men and women within the Roman Catholic tradition to make a decision. With the ongoing pressure that comes from paramilitaries like the Real and Continuity IRA, and still comes from the Provisional IRA, it is only natural that young Catholic men and women should hold back. The window of opportunity will still be open further down the road, but in the interim the process fails to work.

My noble friend Lord Brookebrough said that we were marginally holding on. "Marginally holding on" means that standards requirements in terms of recruitment are falling. For instance, at the initial stage recruits are not asked to demonstrate their academic attainment. That has gone almost unnoticed. But something noble Lords will find unbelievable is that physical fitness standards are no longer set or required for recruits to the PSNI. They have been wiped out. When before, in the western world, did there ever exist a police service when physical fitness standards were totally ignored? What sort of policemen and police women is that likely to put on our streets over the next months and years? It is a nonsense.

That shows the extent to which the bottom of the pot has been scraped in order to enable a process to survive which simply is not working. While no one wishes more than I to see a large element of Roman Catholic members within the police—that is my party's policy—I do not believe that to achieve it we should denigrate every applicant by scraping the bottom of the barrel. I shall be grateful if the noble and learned Lord addresses that specific point when he responds.

1.45 p.m.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I shall not detain the House; it is long past lunch time. I cannot support Amendment No. 28.

Since Patten, and since my right honourable friend Andrew Mackay was shadow Secretary of State, until today, the Conservative Party has consistently supported the 50:50 principle. We now know, as a result of the

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census, that we are talking about a population in the ratio of 45:55. On that principle I cannot support the amendment.

However, I accept that there is a problem to which the Government must attend. I attempted, rather hurriedly and not very satisfactorily, to table some thoughts in the form of a probing amendment, Amendment No. 29A, which I hope we shall have a chance to debate later today. I may well wish to test the opinion of the House at Third Reading on that point, having had a chance to refine and tune the amendment. However, I am not, in principle, able to support the amendment of my friends in the Ulster Unionist Party.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, we are debating Amendments Nos. 28 and 29. The two main criticisms appear to be, first, that there are not enough recruits, and, secondly, that civilianisation is being impeded. In fact 530 recruits were appointed in the first year of the policy. That is substantially in excess of the Patten model figure of 370. In any event, as your Lordships know, the Act of 2000 allows for the quota to be adjusted on any occasion if there is a shortage of recruits. But that has not been necessary.

I accept the point made that there was an exodus of experienced officers from the police service. But a variation of 50:50 for new recruits would not have affected that. I understand that the board agreed a revised timetable with the Chief Constable for the severance programme.

On civilianisation, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, asked a specific question about the disparity in figures. The short answer is that because the arrangements for the recruitment of civilians on a 50:50 basis were set up around 12 months after those for police officers, there has been a lag. And the contractor appointed to oversee civilian recruitment—Grafton—was only appointed last September. The Chief Constable's observations about the difficulties with respect to civilianisation preceded the appointment of Grafton. I understand that the police plan to launch a further campaign for administrative staff shortly.

Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, the Chief Constable's comments were made shortly before Christmas in the newspaper. That seems well after the appointment of Grafton.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the advice that I have is different, and I will check that. I would not want to have misled the House inadvertently on wrong advice.

On civilianisation, the competitions run so far by Grafton have been successful. Sufficient numbers of candidates from both community backgrounds have come forward to allow vacancies to be filled on a 50:50 basis where appropriate.

The noble Viscount asked a number of questions about short-term contracts. In some posts, there is scope for such contracts. Where the police service thinks it appropriate, it can follow that option. However, as he

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would accept, in many posts there is a need for expertise and training, and long-term recruitment is the way forward for that.

Grafton is already running eight different competitions for the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Amendment No. 29, of which not a lot was said, would place a requirement on the Secretary of State to make an order adjusting the ratio. As I pointed out a moment or two ago, the Secretary of State's power under the 2000 Act has never been used. It may be helpful to say that if the Policing Board wanted to agree to a limited change to get round a lack of experienced officers, obviously we would look at it very carefully. Noble Lords may agree, however, that that is essentially an issue for the board to consider in the first instance with the Chief Constable.

The Chief Constable's comments around and about Christmas referred to a competition that took place before Grafton's appointment, so I think that I was right to say that he was referring to the pre-Grafton situation.

The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, asked about the Government's plans and proposals. As I have told noble Lords more than once, the Government's hope is that the Assembly elections will be held in May. That is what the Secretary of State has said on a number of occasions. Plainly, any prudent government will have alternatives in mind depending on what develops.

The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, referred to physical competence. The test for that will not be applied to applicants in the current recruitment programme, but all trainees will be required to pass the test before they are attested.

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