HL Deb 23 October 2000 vol 618 cc124-32

(" .—(1) In exercising its functions in relation to the appointment of senior officers, the Board shall take such steps as it considers necessary to encourage applications for appointment from suitably qualified external candidates.

(2) In exercising his functions in relation to the appointment of police officers (other than senior officers), the Chief Constable shall take such steps as he considers necessary to encourage applications for appointment from suitably qualified external candidates.

(3) In complying with subsections (1) and (2), the Board and the Chief Constable shall have regard to the progress which has been made towards securing that membership of the police is representative of the community in Northern Ireland.

(4) "Suitably qualified external candidates" means candidates who—

  1. (a) are not currently serving in the police; and
  2. (b) satisfy the qualifications for appointment which—
    1. (i) are prescribed in regulations made under section 25 or 26 of the 1998 Act; or
    2. (ii) are otherwise determined for the rank in question.").

The noble and learned Lord said: Patten recommended that, the recruitment agency should seek to identify such officers (ie. Catholic police officers from Northern Ireland serving in police services elsewhere), contact them and encourage them—particularly those in more senior ranks—to apply for positions in the Northern Ireland police".

He also went on to say that secondments or recruitment from non-police organisations should be encouraged. This proposed new clause is designed to encourage what has become known as lateral entry.

I should explain that lateral entry already happens between UK police forces although in the RUC only a few posts are filled each year in this way. This provision provides the basis for a wider degree of lateral entry including from the Garda.

As Patten highlighted, the proportion of Catholics in the senior ranks of the RUC—that is superintendent and above—stands at around 16 per cent and is therefore significantly higher than in the service as a whole. Nevertheless, it is still not reflective of community composition.

Our aim is to provide for lateral entry at all levels within the police service. But selection will be based on open competition and merit as Patten recommended. The provision does not provide for a sudden influx of, say, Garda officers by some preferential route. The Government hope that the provision will assist in bringing about compositional change; but, I repeat, all such recruitment must be on merit.

The provision will be defined at Clause 46 as a temporary one. It will, therefore, be subject to review and renewal every three years by the Secretary of State, as with the 50:50 recruitment arrangements. In deciding whether to renew, the Secretary of State must take account of the extent to which the police service is representative of the Northern Ireland community. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

The amendment refers to the qualifications for appointment prescribed in regulations made under Section 25 or 26 of the 1998 Act. Will the Minister remind me of the nationality requirements in that regard? The noble and learned Lord referred to members of the Garda, who presumably hold substantially the nationality of the Irish Republic rather than British or British Commonwealth. I shall be grateful to know.

I do not suggest that no officers from the republic who are not British or British Commonwealth citizens should be recruited but I should like to know the position.

Viscount Brookeborough

Perhaps the Minister will clarify one point in subsection (4)(a) of the amendment. It refers to those who, are not currently serving in the police". Does that refer to those who are not service in any police force or simply the police force of Northern Ireland?

Baroness Harris of Richmond

This is a sensible amendment. It reflects the realities of the 21st century. I am a member of the Home Office working group on leadership in the police. I am convinced that we must have a more open and accessible approach to identifying and selecting those appointed to senior positions. This is a provision which the remainder of the UK will envy.

Lord Hylton

I have in the past corresponded with various Ministers on the question of widening the pool of possible applicants for the Police Service in Northern Ireland. It would be helpful if one did not exclude applicants from any police force in the English speaking world.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

I should be grateful if the Minister could comment—it may not be under this amendment although this seems the right place—on the balance of experience in the police. I think, for example, of the current situation in our Army, which is losing a great many experienced people. It is true that we are also recruiting, but those recruits have to be trained. They have to learn and gain a considerable amount of experience to be valuable.

There is a parallel if a great many current senior officers leave the police service. Even if, by a miracle, we gain a number of Catholic and nationalist recruits, they will be wholly inexperienced. It will be at least five years, maybe more, before they gain sufficient experience even to be useful police officers. I should like to know whether there is some arrangement to leave the RUC over-strength for a while to retain sufficient experienced people to train the inexperienced intake.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

The nationality requirements are set out in draft regulations, which have been made available. Schedule 1 to Regulation 10 says that to be eligible for appointment as a constable, a candidate must be a British citizen or a Commonwealth citizen, or other than a British citizen, or a citizen of the Irish Republic, in which case he must satisfy one of the following conditions: at least one of his parents is, or was at death, a Commonwealth citizen or a citizen of the Irish Republic; or he has resided in a country or territory within the Commonwealth or the Irish Republic; or he has been employed elsewhere in the service of the Crown. The regulations go into further detail that I shall not read. If such a person is not qualified under those provisions, he must satisfy the Chief Constable that he is so closely connected with a country or territory within the Commonwealth by ancestry, upbringing or residence or by reason of national service that an exception may properly be made in his favour.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monrnouth, asked about the balance of experience. We are dealing with people who enter laterally. They will have experience in another police force. I do not know what the noble Baroness was getting at when she suggested that someone who had not been in Northern Ireland would still need more experience. As I have already said, and as the Patten report recommended, recruitment must be on open competition and merit. Standards will be maintained. We are talking about encouragement, not about standards being dropped in any way.

The answer that I have written down from the box to the question asked by the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, is "just the police in Northern Ireland". I hope that that is a satisfactory answer.

I think that that answers all the questions.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 45 [Discrimination in appointments]:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 154.

Page 22, line 22, at end insert— ("( ) No order may be made under subsection (2) as a result of subsection (3)(b) which has the effect, as respects an occasion specified in the order, of requiring more than three-quarters of the persons appointed on that occasion to be—

  1. (a) the persons who are treated as Roman Catholic; or
  2. (b) the persons who are not so treated.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead

I should like some clarification. Will the ethnic communities come under paragraph (b)? They may be a small percentage in Northern Ireland, but they are expanding rapidly and are very sensitive, particularly in the aftermath of the Macpherson report.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

I shall certainly bear in mind what the noble Lord has said.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 155 and 156 not moved.]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendments Nos. 157 and 158.

Page 23, line 11, leave out ("police reserve") and insert ("Police Service of Northern Ireland Reserve"). Page 23, line 15, leave out from beginning to end of line 16.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 45, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Rogan

Article 13 of the Amsterdam Treaty, which was signed on 2nd October 1997, came into force on 1st May 1999. That article empowered the Council of Ministers, acting unanimously, to, take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation". The European Commission published two draft directives on 25th November 1999. The directives are directly effective in the member states and are due to be implemented by 31st December 2002. The draft directives were aimed at implementing Article 13 of the Amsterdam Treaty. When in force from 31st December 2002, they could—and, indeed, I believe will—make 50:50 recruitment illegal. Indeed, 50/50 is already illegal for men/women under European law, based on the pool system that the Government are seeking to use. It is not possible to derogate from a directive. They will be directly effective.

The British and Irish Governments have already agreed to the directives in principle. In a joint statement at the Lisbon Special European Council of 23rd and 24th March, the United Kingdom and Irish Governments urged the member states to, make early progress on the Commission's Article 13 antidiscrimination proposals". Therefore, they have endorsed the draft directives before they have been formally approved.

I wish to ask the Minister, an eminent Queen's Counsel who understands the effects of European law in this country, about a legal point that has been raised in another place. The legal issue is the relationship between the 50:50 recruitment proposal in Clause 44 and the EC directive, which establishes a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation approved by the Council last week. The directive must be implemented in the United Kingdom by 31st December 2002.

Will a young Catholic or Protestant man or woman who is admitted to "Patten's pool" on merit but then not subsequently recruited into the police have a remedy, probably in damages, for discrimination on the ground of religious belief in the Northern Ireland courts using that EC directive?

Before the Minister replies, perhaps I may draw his attention to a relevant parliamentary precedent from this Government's first year. The late Donald Dewar favoured reverse discrimination in favour of women for the first Scottish Parliament, contrary to United Kingdom sex discrimination law. That issue was discussed in a Cabinet committee and a minute was sent to the Prime Minister. The source for this internal government debate is the Guardian newspaper of 3rd March 1998. This Labour Government had taken legal advice from another eminent Queen's Counsel, Mr Patrick Elias. The four government law officers concurred with his opinion to the effect that reverse discrimination to increase the number of women in the first Scottish Parliament was contrary to the men and women anti-discrimination directive.

The only difference between the position in 1998 and that of today is that the directive had entered into force. Therefore, will the Minister tell the Committee whether the 50:50 proposal will be contrary to European law from 1st January 2003?

In 1998, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor wrote to the Prime Minister that, any Minister bringing forward or accepting an amendment would not be able to assure the house that it was ECJ proof. This would put him in an impossible position and create handling difficulties". A member of that Cabinet Committee was Peter Mandelson, now Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

By way of conclusion, I ask the Minister whether that 50:50 proposal has been ECJ-proofed? Have the Government taken advice on what the legal position in Northern Ireland will be after 31st December 2002?


Lord Glentoran

I want to make clear a couple of points from this side of the Committee about which I may have muddied the waters earlier.

First, on this side of the Committee, we accept totally the urgent need for recruitment of more Catholics to come forward in proportion with the population. We support almost all that the Government are doing in this Bill and elsewhere to make that recruitment happen. We should love dearly to see at least 50 per cent, 48 per cent, or whatever the proportion may be, of the police force to be members of the Roman Catholic or nationalist communities.

However, we do not believe that the 50:50 quota system is the right way forward. We believe that there should be a form of targeting and that there should be serious recruitment provided that the environment exists for it. We have already discussed why we do not have 50:50 or 48:52 or whatever the numbers need to be.

We seriously support and understand the need for equalising members of the police force. We want that to happen. But we do not support the straight 50:50 proposal.

Viscount Brookeborough

I too support the aims of the 50:50 proposal, as do most other Members of the Committee who come from Northern Ireland. I do not believe that there is any question about that.

On the other hand, if we have that pool of people who have passed the entry exam to become part of the recruitment pool, how are they rated within that pool? I have a note from the noble and learned Lord which says: The point of the pool system is that all entrants to the police service will have had to achieve a single consistent standard of merit". Does that mean that there is absolutely no order of merit at all and provided that people achieve a certain level, thereafter, their names are taken out of a hat, except that under the 50:50 rule, more Roman Catholics will be taken in order to try to equalise the numbers? I cannot believe that any police force or business has a pool of applicants ready to come in who are not rated in an order of merit in some way.

If they were left on an even plain, how long do the Government realistically think—and remember that there are 4,000 entrants to each competition which may fill up to three recruit cadres—that some people, who may have degrees and feel that they are particularly suited to this will wait for a person to merely pull them out of that pool by sheer luck? I cannot believe that it will be long. There will be an order of merit, because, quite clearly, no chief constable would want to lower the standards or fail to attain the standards within his force which he would wish to see.

If there is a pool by merit, then there is discrimination, let alone on grounds of sex.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

Three separate points arise. First, I deal with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, about the effect of the EU directive. As the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, rightly pointed out, a directive was agreed pursuant to the terms of Article 13 last Tuesday at the Council of Ministers. It includes an explicit exception for the provisions of this Bill, for the 50:50 recruitment. So with that exception, we are satisfied that there is no breach of the provisions of Article 13, nor is there a breach of the provisions of the Amsterdam Treaty. Therefore, it is not contrary in any way to EU law. Reference was made to the comparison with gender. However, the gender comparison is not appropriate. There is no exception for gender. The answer to that is that 50:50 recruitment will not be contrary to EU law now or in the year 2003.

We note the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. However, we had that debate earlier. As far as concerns the point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, the position is that minimum standards will have to be met before somebody gets into the pool. There will be an order of merit but selection will be on the basis of 50:50 in accordance with Clause 45. There will be no lowering of standards.

Viscount Brookeborough

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. We do not have those numbers at present. Surely by virtue of what the Minister said, if out of 2000 people that pass this level there are only 20 Roman Catholics in the top 50 for the first course, once you have chosen the 20 plus 50 Protestants, or ethnic minorities being other than Roman Catholic, you will have to search lower down the order for your remaining 30 Roman Catholics, if they exist. Therefore, you may be taking number 550 in order of merit and number 2100. How does that work?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

The standards are not lowered because there are minimum standards before one can be selected to join the police service.

Viscount Brookeborough

But you will therefore have accepted somebody from lower down the order of merit than others of either an ethnic minority or Protestant, something other than Roman Catholic who are higher. Numbers 51, 52 and 53 could be Muslim, Chinese or whatever. However, you have gone to number 250 in the order of merit to achieve 50:50 by taking a Roman Catholic from further down the list.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

I think that we are going round in circles. The point is that all must pass a particular standard of merit to get in.

Lord Cooke of Islandreagh

One could never always have people of equal merit. Some will pass the minimum standard by a considerable amount. Does that mean that whichever they are, they will be omitted and people from a lower standard from the other side will be appointed?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

That will obviously depend upon the numbers that apply. As I keep stating, there will be a minimum standard above which everybody has to reach before they are admitted.

Clause 45, as amended, agreed to.

[Amendment 159 not moved.]

Clause 46 [Expiry, renewal and repeal of temporary provisions]:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 160: Page 23, line 32, after ("(6);") insert— ("( ) section (Recruitment arrangements: other ranks);").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Desai moved Amendment No. 161: Page 23, line 34, leave out ("subsection (3)") and insert ("subsections (3) and (3A)").

The noble Lord said: This simple group of amendments is designed to extend the time limit for administering the quota. Currently, there is a three-year expiry limit unless the Secretary of State renews it. Experience from other countries shows that it takes much longer for this sort of discrimination to be over and for quotas to be properly fulfilled. I never suggested that quotas should be allowed to continue indefinitely. However, if the Secretary of State concludes that enough progress has been made after three years, he can review the situation and end the quota. The amendment allows flexibility so that if it is achieved within three years, that is fine. However, if it is not achieved, we have the flexibility to extend it. I beg to move.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

Amendments Nos. 161 to 164 would remove the provision requiring the Secretary of State to review and renew the 50:50 recruitment arrangements every three years. They would only require renewal after 10 years unless the Secretary of State chose to intervene to remove the provision by order after three years.

We are not persuaded that these amendments represent an improvement to the existing provisions. They only require the renewal of 50:50 recruitment after 10 years, regardless of how much the composition of the organisation has changed. Patten did say that 50:50 recruitment should endure for "at least … 10 years". But a triennial review appears reasonable for such exceptional measures.

The sensible approach is surely to allow for its ultimate duration to be subject to regular review, based on the level of impact it has produced on the overall composition of the service, which is what the Bill's existing provisions allow. In those circumstances I invite my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Desai

I thank my noble and learned friend for that answer. In view of the lateness of the hour, I shall read it tomorrow. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 162 to 164 not moved.]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 165: Page 23, line 43, leave out ("force").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 46, as amended, agreed to.

[Amendment No. 166 not moved.]

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 167: After Clause 46, insert the following new clause—

Forward to