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Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the Lord President for bringing the order before the House today. I take as my reference that which I said in the debate on 15 November 2000, when the Bill was under scrutiny in your Lordships' House. In principle we disagree, as we did then, with the 50:50 policy. One does not need to cast the memory or the thinking process back too far to understand that under-representation of Catholics in the police force was 100 per cent a consequence of insufficient Catholic and republican applicants and nothing whatever to do with the recruitment process. There has been legislation in Northern Ireland concerning fair employment, which related to those matters, for many years. It was strictly adhered to and policed. In fact, all recruits to my company and most others had to declare at the time, in a totally confidential envelope, whether they were perceived to be Roman Catholics or perceived to be Protestants. I say that because one has to be a Protestant or Roman Catholic Jew or, in my case, a Roman Catholic or Protestant atheist. That is the way it is and was—I do not believe that it has changed very much.

We on these Benches do not argue with the fact that the republican, nationalist and Roman Catholic population is still under-represented on the police force. What is required is for the leaders of the larger part of that community to join the police force and police board and take a full and active part in the administration and policing of our Province. I know that the SDLP is a very courageous example here and I give it full credit. It is suffering in its own communities on a regular basis. But we need the full weight of the republican movement and Sinn Fein to help to correct this anomaly.

At Third Reading of the legislation on 15 November 2000, the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, moved a very reasonable and sensible amendment to this part of the Bill. It placed responsibility on the chief constable to bring in measures to ensure that the composition of the

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police service is representative of the population of Northern Ireland. There was a long debate on that amendment. It will suffice for me to restate what I said on that day:

    "I support the amendment".

That was the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux.

    "The business of 50:50 recruitment and of reaching the right balance in reflecting the population is necessary, but there is a better way of doing it than the way proposed in the Bill. I hope that the Government will be able to find a way and not be stuck with something that is rather meaningless. As I have said, once we get open season for the nationalist population to join the RUC, we are home and dry".—[Official Report, 15/11/00; col. 286.]

I still believe all that I said four years ago.

I am sad that the Government have found themselves stuck with a heavy and cumbersome tool to solve a delicate confidence-building problem. In her remarks, the Lord President said that to remove the plank of 50:50 would remove the confidence of republicans in the police force. With all due respect to her and the Government, I think, hope and believe that we are well past that day. But I believe that the continual aggravation, the speeches that can be written—some of them instanced by the noble Lord, Lord Laird, just now—and the accusations that can still be made in this political process are wrong. I am getting frustrated with the Government's lack of progress in Northern Ireland. It is high time that some progress was made to rethink this cumbersome and now somewhat old-fashioned and outdated tool. On that basis, I shall support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Laird.

I have spoken with a number of people at some length outside the Chamber. A debate has been going on about the "snakes and ladders" process. Recruits find their way up the ladders, get into the pond for selection and fail to be selected, in the manner read out by the noble Lord, Lord Laird, because of the 50:50 rule. They crash to the bottom and have to pick themselves up and start all over again or go to London, or some other place, if they wish to join a police force.

The Lord President was good enough to write to me about this. I read her letter several times and I have forwarded it to my honourable friend in another place, David Lidington. We are not convinced by what she wrote or by her reasons for not looking at this process or changing it. From what she wrote to me, I understand that she is saying that people are basically satisfied with the system and that those who fall to the bottom of the ladders—go back to "Start", so to speak—have a better opportunity to get in if they climb the ladders a second time and score better points on the way up. I am not sure that that addresses the point. I can see the argument, but I do not give it a great deal of credit.

It is sad that four years on we are still stuck with this 50:50 business and that we are still arguing about it. It is even sadder—this may be criticism of myself—that I have not changed my mind nor seen reasons to do so. If the Lord President was going to remind me that at some stage in the past year or so my honourable friend in another place took a somewhat different view over

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50:50, I shall put on record that I never really agreed with him and that the party has looked at the matter again and has returned to its original stance, which I think is fair. I support this amendment.

2.15 p.m.

Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, I too thank the Lord President for introducing this order. As she said, the 50:50 recruitment formula was proposed in the Patten report as a technique for redressing the considerable under-representation of Catholics in the police service. The overwhelming preponderance of Protestants in the RUC had been one of the main areas of contention between the two communities. In the view of these Benches, it would be premature to change the formula at this stage.

I welcome the modifications that have been made to render the process more efficient and less irksome for applicants. I also accept the arguments about not providing for a so-called "rollover", which is the kind of thing that the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, would like to see, that is a rollover for candidates who meet the selection criteria but who are not appointed. All the candidates in each cohort have to be assessed. It would not be proper to introduce an element of assessment that compared between cohorts. That would make for an unacceptable degree of inequality. Happily, there is no shortage of applicants for the PSNI at present. When I visited the police training college at Castlereagh, I was very impressed by the quality of recruits coming from both communities and, indeed, from outside Northern Ireland.

The politics of Northern Ireland are currently in a very fragile state. The peace process is all but stalled. At this juncture, an attempt to unravel these relatively recently introduced developments, including the 50:50 formula for police recruitment, is not needed. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, that it would be particularly helpful if Sinn Fein would join the policing board. That is one of the biggest problem hurdles in the peace process at the moment. Sinn Fein's intransigence in this regard is extremely unhelpful and counterproductive to its own interests. Having said that, I nevertheless repeat that we shall support the passage of this order and we shall not vote for the amendment.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, in an ideal world there would be no need for 50:50 recruitment for the police. But, sadly, Northern Ireland is not an ideal world. That is why we must have a way to make sure that policing is more representative of all the local communities in Northern Ireland. Whatever the reasons for only 8 per cent of the members of the RUC, as it then was, being Catholics, the fact is that this did not represent policing by consent, policing with the support and approval of local communities. The great tribute to the Patten report is that 50:50 is working. It is increasing the number of Catholics in the police. It is increasing the confidence that local communities have in the police force. It will be judged as one of the success stories of the present time that we are moving towards having a police service that will represent its local communities.

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The noble Lord, Lord Laird, made a number of comments to which I take exception. I shall come on to those in a few moments. But the fact is there is no evidence that the best people are being lost unless there are that many good people. There has to be a limit to the number that the police can recruit in Northern Ireland. Provided they meet the required standard, we are right to recruit people in a balanced way from both communities. That is what 50:50 seeks to do. There will be a day in the future when that will no longer be necessary, but for the moment it is. It is desirable and proper that that should happen. If, indeed, good people are being turned down by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, that is because there are more than enough good recruits on both sides of the community to fill the places. That is surely a tribute to the attractiveness of policing as a career in Northern Ireland. Despite the difficult history and the difficult circumstances at the present time, we are moving towards having the sort of police force that the people of Northern Ireland deserve.

The noble Lord, Lord Laird, talked about human rights but it is surely an abuse of human rights if people are being policed by members of the other community with very few of their own community around. Surely that is a greater abuse of human rights than the arithmetic argument that the noble Lord, Lord Laird, used, although he did not produce any evidence to back it.

I join in paying tribute to the SDLP. Its presence on the police board and the other bodies across Northern Ireland is a step it has taken to ensure that the nationalist community has the kind of policing which it ought to have. It is a positive stand in favour of good policing and I pay tribute to that body. I hope that it will not be long before Sinn Fein sees that that is the way that it should go as well and that it should take on board its full responsibilities to ensure that all the communities of Northern Ireland are policed in the right and proper way.

I refer to what the noble Lord, Lord Laird, said. He used expressions that I consider unfortunate and he attacked the Liberal Democrats. He referred to Hitler's Germany and Nazism. I hope that, on reflection, he will withdraw those comments both as a general proposition and in relation to the Liberal Democrats. Anyone who knows anything about the history of Europe, Hitler's Germany and Nazism, will realise that the noble Lord's words are so far removed from an accurate description that they are rather offensive. I hope that the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw those comments.

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