HL Deb 23 October 2000 vol 618 cc120-34

11.31 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Clause 44 [Recruitment arrangements]:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 149: Page 21, line 27, at end insert— ("( ) In making regulations under this section, the Secretary of State shall have regard, in particular, to the need to secure that information is not disclosed contrary to the public interest.").

The noble and learned Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 154 and 248. This amendment is designed to ensure that the various lay representatives who are to participate in the recruitment process—both the assessment and vetting of candidates—are bound by the regulations not to disclose information that could be potentially damaging for the public interest.

I am sure that the Committee will agree that, while increased transparency can only be a good thing, the integrity of the system and the interests of the candidates must be protected. It is entirely appropriate that such safeguards should be built into the regulations. Amendment No. 154 is complex and may be worth a brief explanation. Patten said (in paragraph 15.10): In the event that the level of Catholic application does not initially produce enough qualified candidates … it may be necessary to aggregate the figures over two or three years".

As it stands, the Bill allows for the 50:50 recruitment quota to be adjusted for the purposes of recruiting police trainees, not police support staff, in two sets of circumstances: first, where there is an insufficient number of candidates of either community background to fill the number of required posts, the Secretary of State may make an order to set aside 50:50 (this is known as a set aside order). Secondly, where at least one such set aside order has been made in the previous three years, the Secretary of State may make an order to aggregate the quota for the purposes of redressing, or partly redressing, any imbalance that has arisen as a result. This is known as an "aggregation order". It is the latter that will be affected by this amendment.

It has been suggested that, as the provision stands, the Secretary of State could, in theory, adjust the quota to permit 100 per cent recruitment from members of either community background group—Catholic or non-Catholic. In effect, this would exclude members of the other group from being recruited in that particular competition. Accordingly, this amendment sets a ceiling on the Secretary of State's power to aggregate the quota at 75 per cent. That ensures that any aggregation order must require a minimum of 25 per cent of either community background group to be appointed.

Members of the Ulster Unionist and Liberal Democrat parties have brought this issue to the Government's attention and we are grateful for that fact. We trust that this amendment will allay concerns that there could be extreme and undesirable consequences to the 50:50 recruitment policy. Amendment No. 154 will prevent that happening.

Amendment No. 248 will enable references to "the Board" in the provisions dealing with recruitment to be construed as references to "Police Authority", in advance of the board being established. In effect, this will enable subordinate legislation, in respect of which the Secretary of State is obliged to consult the board, to be progressed. Given the tight timescale involved—the aim is to have a recruitment agent in place by January 2001, with the next recruitment competition beginning in April—progress simply cannot be delayed pending the board's appointment. I ask the Committee to accept Amendment No. 149. I shall not deal with the other amendments in this group until Members of the Committee have spoken to their own amendments. I beg to move.

Lord Smith of Clifton

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his elucidation of his proposed amendment which I welcome. The Committee will remember at Second Reading these Benches were much exercised on the issue of the merits of targets versus quotas. Amendment No. 159 which stands in my name, as does Amendment No. 166, concern this matter.

Amendment No. 154 has done much to modify the bald impact of quotas as they originally appeared in Clause 45. Roman Catholic under representation is considerable and has proved resistant to change. The proportion of Roman Catholic officers has increased by just 1 per cent over the past 10 years. In 1990 it was 7.3 per cent and this year, only 8.4 per cent. In the past the RUC has had targets set for it and has failed to meet them. Quotas may not succeed, but I have been persuaded since Second Reading that targets certainly have not.

Moreover, since Second Reading the Government have achieved a derogation from the European Union's protocols on employment discrimination so the quotas are now legal. Therefore this reservation has also been removed. In supporting Amendment No. 154, I propose not moving Amendment No. 159 standing in my name although I shall still want to see Amendment No. 166 considered as I believe the necessary affirmative action is now vitally necessary.

Lord Glentoran

I support Amendment No. 149. Amendment No. 154 is undoubtedly helpful. However, there is the whole question of quotas versus targets and of realism versus hope and—I do not mean this in a derogatory way—hopeful imagination. As we discussed much earlier today in relation to recruitment to the RUC, if we are not to get the support and the backing of the nationalists, the republicans and the Roman Catholic Church, we can legislate as much as we like but we shall not meet the quotas. My only fear with Amendment No. 154 is that if the nationalist/ republican community continue to dig in their toes and refuse to join the RUC, the police force—whatever its name may be—will start to operate under strength. That is a matter of concern.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

Patten said that real community policing is impossible if the cornposition of the police bears little relationship to the composition of the community as a whole. As the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, pointed out, the present composition of the RUC is 8 per cent Catholic, as against 88 per cent Protestant, some 3.9 per cent being classified as non-determined.

Affirmative action measures, referred to in Amendment No. 166 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Smith, target setting, and so on, have been attempted for many years but their impact has not been sufficient to bring about the representational balance that is needed. Fifty-fifty recruitment—as it has come to be called—has been accepted by the Government as an exceptional remedy to an exceptional problem. The aim is to bring about a sharp upturn in the level of Catholic representation in the shorter term.

Selection will continue to be based on merit and the system will remain under regular governmental scrutiny, as provided for by Clause 46. We accept the exceptional nature of the problem and we also accept, as I indicated earlier, that we would strongly welcome the Patten suggestion of the SDLP and Church members calling for members of all communities to join the police service. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Smith, for having indicated that he will not be moving some of his amendments. I would also ask him to do the same in respect of Amendment No. 166.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 150 and 151 not moved.]

Lord Desai moved Amendment No. 152: Page 21, line 37, leave out ("6") and insert ("2").

The noble Lord said: This amendment runs along with Amendments Nos. 155 and 156. They are all in the same spirit that the noble and learned Lord has spoken about. We all want to encourage 50:50 recruitment. Amendment No. 152 allows for a change in the minimum number of vacancies to be declared before the quota applies. Currently it says that there have to be six vacancies in civilian support staff before this quota kicks in, and my amendment reduces this to two. That makes it easy.

It may be that this is a difficult thing to do. If there are only two vacancies arising in a particular area, it may be difficult to apply a quota. My amendment is in line with the stated position of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. What I propose in the other two amendments is that for any vacancies between two to five the 50:50 principle should be applied by the Chief Constable as far as is practicable. If it is not practicable to apply the quota then it simply does not apply and a chief constable will have discretion to balance the need to apply the quota against any other competing needs. He has to account publicly each year and report on how he has exercised his discretion.

This group of amendments will allow for the quota requirement to kick in at a much lower level of vacancies. They also allow flexibility for a chief constable to balance the needs of quota fulfilment with other needs. I think it is quite sensible and recommend it to my noble and learned friend. I beg to move.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

The noble Lord, Lord Desai, has tabled Amendments Nos. 152, 155 and 156 relating to the recruitment of police support staff. These amendments would reduce the threshold for the application of 50:50 recruitment from six to two, with the proviso that where the number of vacancies is five or less the quota will be applied when it is practicable to do so. The Government do not accept that the 50:50 mechanism could properly or effectively be used where such small numbers are involved. For instance, in practical terms, how could 50:50 be applied where there are three or five places to be filled? To apply a quota to such tiny numbers would, to all intents and purposes, negate the merit principle completely, even with the proviso referred to. The impact on overall composition at such levels would clearly be negligible. I therefore invite my noble friend to withdraw Amendment No. 152.

Lord Desai

I thank my noble and learned friend for those remarks. I was worried that six vacancies may not arise at one particular time, but I shall read his remarks in Hansard with care. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11.45 p.m.

Clause 44, as amended, agreed to.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 153: After Clause 44, insert the following new clause—

  2. cc132-4
  3. ACTION PLANS 1,036 words