HC Deb 07 November 2001 vol 374 cc227-9
3. Lady Hermon (North Down)

What assessment he has made of the recruitment procedure for the new Police Service of Northern Ireland. [10850]

5. Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North)

If he will make a statement on police recruitment in Northern Ireland. [10852]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy)

The first recruitment campaign for the Police Service of Northern. Ireland will enable the Chief Constable to appoint some 300 police trainees from Catholic and Protestant traditions on a 50:50 basis. It should be noted that that is many more than Chris Patten envisaged when he wrote his report.

Lady Hermon

I thank the Minister for her reply and the Secretary of State and other hon. Members for their congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). I regret that he cannot be here this afternoon, but he had a long-standing engagement in Washington and he sends his apologies to the House. I wish him and Mark Durkan all the best as First Minister and Deputy First Minister. They form an excellent team and I am delighted that they are back.

Will the Minister confirm that the same standards will apply to all those who enter the recruitment pool and that they will not be lowered for some? There are rumours about the matter and I would appreciate a clear statement on recruitment procedure

Jane Kennedy

I am conscious of the hon. Lady's close interest in the subject and that she has written to me recently about it. She pursues her interest in the Police Service and her concerns in Northern Ireland vigorously. It is important to note that the merit pool is a measure approved by Parliament to tackle the under-representation of Catholics and to enable the Police Service to be more widely accepted. That is the purpose of the 50:50 recruitment trawl.

However, standards have not been lowered. On the contrary, the quality of applicants has been high. All candidates who entered the merit pool were required to fulfil the same fixed qualifying criteria. They have undergone a series of rigorous tests based on United Kingdom-wide competencies. All 300 or more recruits who are joining the Police Service of Northern Ireland deserve our support and compliments on their success so far. We wish them all the best in their training.

Mr. Watts

Does the Minister know that many people in the country are fed up with the negative attitudes of many Northern Ireland politicians? Can she confirm that Sinn Fein appears to be actively discouraging people from joining the Police Service of Northern Ireland?

Jane Kennedy

My hon. Friend is largely right. It is important to note that almost 20,000 people have sought information about the Police Service of Northern Ireland and recruitment to it. We may have as many as 4,000 definite applicants for the second round of appointments. We hope that all political parties in Northern Ireland will sign up as soon as possible and participate in the new policing arrangement.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford)

I am afraid that I cannot take the same tone on policing. Is not it unsatisfactory that the new Police Service of Northern Ireland and the new Police Board are being launched this week with an inherited £20 million deficit? That reduces the possibility of their fulfilling their appointed tasks. Is not it even more unsatisfactory that the new Police Service is not being funded to implement the community policing provisions of the Patten report? They are vital if we are to replace the terror of paramilitary groups in the inner-city areas. Does the Minister agree that there should be no question in the current circumstances of running down the full-time reserve?

Jane Kennedy

The hon. Gentleman may have missed the fact that we have already committed a further £10 million to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Discussions are continuing, and there is a likelihood of further resources later in the year. The Chief Constable assures me that while the voluntary severance programme is being effected, the police's continuing service to the community, including implementing community policing, will remain efficient, effective and accountable.

The Royal Ulster Constabulary has recently been laid to rest and the Police Service of Northern Ireland has come into being. As we approach Remembrance Sunday, I wish to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the bravery and professionalism of the RUC. More than 300 RUC police officers have been killed in the line of duty; hundreds more have been injured.

I look forward to working with the new Police Service of Northern Ireland in future, and I am sure that the RUC's professionalism and dedication will continue to be demonstrated by the officers of the new service.