HL Deb 23 October 2000 vol 618 cc132-4

(" .—(1) The Board shall make, and from time to time revise, a plan (its "action plan") for monitoring the number of women in—

  1. (a) the police,
  2. (b) the police support staff, and
  3. (c) the Board's staff,
and, if they are under-represented, for increasing that number.

(2) The Chief Constable shall, if requested to do so by the Board, prepare and submit to the Board a draft plan for monitoring the number of women in the police and, if they are under-represented, for increasing that number.

(3) The Board may adopt the draft submitted to it under subsection (2) as part of its action plan, either—

  1. (a) as submitted; or
  2. (b) with such amendments as the Board may determine, after consultation with the Chief Constable.

(4) Before making or revising its action plan, the Board shall consult—

  1. (a) the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland:
  2. (b) the Chief Constable; and
  3. (c) the Secretary of State.

(5) The Board may publish its action plan in such manner as it thinks appropriate.").

The noble Baroness said: The Government gave an undertaking during Committee in another place to look at the question of female representation in the police. As has been pointed out, the RUC suffers not only from a marked imbalance in terms of community background, but also in terms of gender. Only 12.6 per cent of police officers are women, one third of whom are in the part-time Reserve. Of course, the problem is not peculiar to the RUC but is a feature of police forces everywhere. While recent recruitment figures suggest that the situation may be improving, nevertheless we consider the imbalance to be of sufficient concern to justify special measures.

Amendment No. 167 enables the policing board to monitor the representation of women in the police, the police support staff and the board itself, and to take measures to increase their representation if necessary. The board may invite the Chief Constable to draft the plan, which may then be accepted or amended by the board. Consultation is required with the Equality Commission, the Chief Constable and the Secretary of State before the plan is made or revised. Publication of the plan will be a matter for the board.

The noble Lord, Lord Smith, tabled Amendments Nos. 168 to 171 to this clause, and I shall respond to those after he has spoken to them. I beg to move.

Baroness Harris of Richmond moved Amendment No. 168 as an amendment to Amendment No. 167: Line 3, after ("women") insert ("and members of minority ethnic groups").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 168, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 169 to 171.

I congratulate the Government once again on their far-sighted amendment. It needs only a slight extension to cover minority ethnic communities to be absolutely perfect. In England and Wales we have 10-year targets for improving our performance. As a result, most of us devised action plans to achieve those targets and progress is being made. But at this time it is nice to see the Government putting the horse before the cart. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, moved Amendment No. 168 and spoke to Amendments Nos. 169 to 171, which seek to amend Amendment No. 167. The suggestion is that the aim should be not only to increase the representation of women in the service, but also that of ethnic minority groups, and that it should also contain targets and timetables.

As Patten pointed out, ethnic minorities comprise less than 1 per cent of the Northern Ireland population. The report concluded—and we agree—that such groups should at the present time be targeted through an imaginative advertising strategy. However, we do not consider it would be realistic to set specific targets for ethnic minority recruitment given the small numbers involved.

As to the requirement for the gender action plan to contain targets and timetables, we do not feel that that needs to be stipulated in the legislation. The formulation of the action plan will ultimately be a matter for the combined judgment of the Chief Constable, the board, the Secretary of State and the Equality Commission. The Government anticipate that it is likely to include targets and timetables but we must be careful not to overly constrain the board in this area.

Accordingly, I ask the noble Baroness not to press her amendments and invite the Committee to accept Amendment No. 167.

12.15 a.m.

Baroness O'Cathain

Trying to encourage people and setting targets is all very worthy and wonderful. However, Amendment No. 167 proposes the monitoring of the number of women in the police and, if they are under-represented, increasing that number. I do not want to take up the time of the Committee, particularly at this hour of the night, in order to discover how on earth it is planned to increase the number but I should be grateful if someone could write to me and let me know. It would be useful for people in industry to adopt the same kind of attitudes.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

It is my understanding that the policy is in place in a variety of industries and services. Different strategies are adopted, some of which involve processes referred to earlier; for instance, people applying to move from one police service to another where representation may be lower, recruitment and profiling, and examining the ages of the people who are targeted in advertising to see whether it affects the gender balance.

If there are further points of information I shall write to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Harris of Richmond

I listened with great interest to the Minister but I still believe that the provision could usefully apply to some areas. I hope to return to the matter at a later stage but in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 168, as an amendment to Amendment No. 167, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 169 to 171, as amendments to Amendment No. 167, not moved.]

On Question, Amendment No. 167 agreed to.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

House adjourned at twenty minutes past midnight.