HL Deb 11 March 2004 vol 658 cc1368-86

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 12 February be approved [9th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the order before the House would renew the temporary provisions of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 which give effect to what is known as 50:50 recruitment and lateral entry for a further three years, keeping them in force until March 2007. I know that some of your Lordships harbour principled misgivings about a measure which is, as the Act itself makes clear, discriminatory.

When the Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland, led by Chris Patten, made its report, it reflected the agreed. principle of the Belfast agreement that the Police Service should be representative of the society that it polices. The Patten report itself pointed out in paragraph 14.2 that: real community policing is impossible if the composition of the police service bears little relationship to the composition of the community as a whole". It continued: If all communities see the police as their police, there will be … more effective policing". That issue of representation is crucial to furthering that effectiveness, not just the police reforms.

The RUC was a tine police service and it had many strengths to which I am glad to pay tribute. However, despite much effort, it was not representative—only just 8 per cent of its regular officers were Catholic. Many will say that the fact that there were so few Catholics in the RUC was due to intimidation from the IRA and others, and the Government acknowledge that that played a part. However, since the Government's implementation of the Patten recommendations, and with support for the police from the SDLP in particular, there has been an unprecedented response. In six competitions there have been nearly 33,000 applications. The level of applications from the Catholic community has consistently averaged around 35 per cent.

I accept that many qualified Protestant candidates who might otherwise have joined the service have been turned down in part because of 50:50. However—and this is an important point—the number of applications means that, across the board, 96 per cent of all applicants are unsuccessful compared with the one in eight who gets into the police in Great Britain. Indeed, the Chief Constable has had to turn away qualified Catholics as well as qualified Protestants. That is a consequence not of 50:50 but of the quantity and calibre of applicants. As a direct result of the 50:50 policy, Catholics are making up an increasing proportion of regular officers: the proportion has increased from just over 8 per cent at the beginning of the process to over 14 per cent now.

Although some suggest otherwise, that progress simply could not have been achieved without the 50:50 recruitment policy; that policy is producing real results. As the noble Lord, Lord Smith, said during the passage of the principal legislation in 2000: Quotas may not succeed, but I have been persuaded … that targets certainly have not".—[Official Report, 23/10/00; col. 122] I hope that he can now be assured, after more than two years of recruitment, that quotas are succeeding.

Let me make another point clear: no one is appointed unless they pass the qualifying tests—all recruits are there on merit. All the recruits deserve our support. As the Chief Constable wrote in a newsletter on 10 October, They are professionals of the highest calibre and I am proud to have them under my command". He went on to say: The aim is to make the police service reflective of the whole community of Northern Ireland. This is what I want to see. It is what my organisation wants to see. And, above all, it is what the vast majority of people living here want to see".

To those who are against the 50:50 provisions, I would say that to remove this key plank of the Patten recommendations would be to undermine the confidence of the nationalist community in the police. For we are now reaching a point when those who might try to say that the police are not "our" police, look, more than ever, like what they are—stuck in a past which bears little resemblance to the reality of today.

Many noble Lords will want to know when the Government plan to bring 50:50 to an end. There is no doubt that, should 50:50 go now, applications to the police from Catholics would drop substantially, As set out in the Patten model, our target has always been to reach a proportion of 30 per cent Catholics in the regular service by the year 2010–11. We are on course to achieve that. I would not want to prejudge when the 50:50 provisions should end, but I can say that the Government do not want to continue the practice any longer than necessary. As the then Lord Chancellor said: Fifty-fifty recruitment is an exceptional means of addressing an exceptional problem. Because it is exceptional, it will remain subject to regular review".—[Official Report, 15/11/00; col. 296.]

I urge noble Lords to support this order, which is required to deliver better policing in Northern Ireland. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 12 February be approved [9th Report, from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Amos.)

2 p.m.

Lord Laird rose to move, as an amendment to the above Motion, to leave out all the words after "That" and insert "this House declines to approve the draft order laid before the House on 12 February".

The noble Lord said: My Lords. I rise to propose an amendment to this Motion. In doing so, I say that nobody wants to see a fully representative police force in Northern Ireland more than I do. Nobody has worked harder, in my opinion, than a number of us to return the society in which we live, our children live, our parents live—in which we all live and wish to continue living—to some sort of normality.

We opposed the concept of 50:50 recruitment in 2000, when the Bill came before your Lordships' House. It is no pleasure for me to stand here now and say that everything that we thought about 50:50 recruitment has been proved correct. Despite what the noble Baroness has said, it is our distinct view that 50:50 recruitment is in clear contravention of the Belfast agreement, command paper 4705, dated 10 April. Under "Rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity", it refers to, the right to equal opportunity in all social and economic activity, regardless of class, creed, disability, gender or ethnicity".

The concept of 50:50 recruitment, or recruiting people on the basis of their religion, is totally different. What it has done is to produce a lot of hurt, initially in the Unionist community. I have a large file, which I am quite prepared to let anybody see on a confidential basis, of some of the best people in society in Northern Ireland, who spent a lot of time trying to get into the police force but have been turned down in the initial stages because they were members of' the Protestant community. They were kept out for that reason. However, I have a letter here—it is only one of a number—dated last week, in which a Roman Catholic member of our community was refused entry into the PSNI on the grounds of his religion. The letter said: You have passed all aspects of the selection process. I regret to inform you that the Chief Constable cannot offer an appointment to those candidates from your community background". There is an increasing number of people in that situation. The last campaign has got to the stage where it discriminates against my Roman Catholic fellow countrymen.

So it all depends on where you are and what lottery you are in—what pool you are in—as to whether you are in or not. Do you know whether you are there on merit or whether somebody from the other community who did not get in might be better qualified than you? It is a tragic state of affairs. In the Belfast News Letter of 18 February, a widely respected politician in Northern Ireland said: Quotas lead to resentment when those who are qualified or passed over because of their religion or race. We are risking a morale-sapping backlash". That was written by David Ford, leader of the Alliance Party.

The whole objective of the building of the Northern Ireland that we want to see and have put a lot of effort into is to build a Northern Ireland in which somebody's religion is of no importance. But what message is a 50:50 recruitment into the police force giving us? It is a tragedy. The interesting thing is that those people who for 30 years have made an industry out of human rights are strangely silent. All those people, including the so-called Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, who have argued about human rights for 30 years, are missing today. I might conclude that it is something to do with the fact that what we are talking about here are the human rights of people who wish to join the police force. It is therefore for others to decide their motives.

If we boil it all down, we are really talking about individual rights versus community rights. I am very hesitant to go down the community rights line. Society is built on the rights of the individual; that is why we have courts to decide whether somebody has been dealt with fairly or unfairly on an individual basis. If we ever proceed on the basis of community as opposed to individual rights—and this is the only piece of legislation that I have ever come across in the western world that talks about religious discrimination—we are opening a Pandora's box that could be very dangerous for us all. To take the most awful example of the past 100 years, looking at the rights of the greater good is what the Nazis did in Germany. What I am saying is that we protect the good of us all by going down the individual route.

It is also interesting to put on the record that since the inception of the Northern Ireland state in 1921, not one piece of legislation on the statute book has discriminated against anyone on the basis of their religion. That has been confirmed by Written Answers in this House in the previous parliamentary Session. The first time that any legislation went on to the Northern Ireland statute book that discriminated against anyone on the grounds of their religion was in 2000 with this wretched Bill.

We must be very cautious. This is having an untold effect. The hurt is bad, as is the draining off of some of our best young people, who say they want to be a policeman or policewoman, and who go off to the Met or some other police force. We cannot afford to lose the best people from Northern Ireland because of religious discrimination. We cannot afford to build up the hurt that has been built up on both sides of the community because of religious discrimination. Have we learnt nothing?

The process is now a lottery. I am highly upset that the Government should think so little of those of us who are rebuilding the Province that they should burden us with this sort of religious nonsense once again, which is exactly the sort of thing that we wish to get away from. Producing a lottery is not the answer. Perhaps the solution would be to hand the whole recruitment to the PSNI over to Camelot and let it run it as a lottery alongside the National Lottery. I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the above Motion, to leave out all the words after "That" and insert "this House declines to approve the draft order laid before the House on 12 February".—(Lord Laird.)

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 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 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.

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.

Lord Laird

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I do not recognise those remarks but they sound like comments that I may have made yesterday. I do not know that I referred to the Liberal Democrats. I did not refer to the Liberal Democrats as Nazis. I was making the very simple point that if you start looking at community human rights as opposed to individual human rights, you are starting down the road that Hitler went down. What Hitler did was get rid of the flotsam and jetsam of society. That was deeply regrettable. I refer to the old business about the liberals in Germany. They did not complain; they were pragmatic at the start. Towards the end of the process of infringing human rights, they could not complain because they were either dead or in concentration camps. I do not make any comparison; I am just saying that that is the most extreme example. If you start down a road, it is always very useful to know where you are going. If I have offended anyone, I shall certainly and gladly withdraw those remarks.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for withdrawing those remarks. He certainly offended me by using them. I accept that he has withdrawn them. It is not my mission to argue on behalf of the Liberal Democrats—they can argue very well on their own behalf. However, we ought to engage in this debate in a sensible and balanced way. Of course there are arguments against 50:50; I understand that. No one—noble Lords or anyone else—has the right to argue that that is not the case. However, the language that we use is important because it could lead to misunderstanding.

I draw my remarks to a close. On two occasions I have seen police training in Belfast. I have chatted with police recruits from both communities. I have been enormously impressed by the high calibre of the individuals, Catholic, Protestant or whatever, who have joined the police. I have been impressed by their dedication and commitment to a task that is still more difficult in Northern Ireland than it is in Britain. I hope that that will not be the case for much longer but it is at the present time. I have been impressed by their dedication, the skill shown in the training and the fact that there are such excellent people committed to serving their communities. If there are so many excellent people in Northern Ireland that some good people are not selected for the police force, that is a good thing in terms of the police service; namely, that more good people want to join than there are places for. I am sorry that some people cannot fulfil their ambitions to serve in the police force, if that is what they want, but in any walk of life where there is competition, some people do not succeed. We have probably all failed at some point in our lives in achieving what we want.

I repeat the tribute that I consider should be paid to the quality of the people in the police force. It augurs well for the future of policing in Northern Ireland. I am sure that the result will be better policing and greater consent by ordinary people for that.

Finally, I am still totally enthusiastic about the Patten report. It marked an important change for Northern Ireland. I believe that when the history of these difficult times comes to be written the Patten report will be seen as a landmark on the way to a peaceful and just Northern Ireland.

2.30 p.m.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass

My Lords, I wish to preface my remarks on this order by referring to something that happened yesterday evening when the noble Lord. Lord Joffe—I have mentioned this to him and I make my comments now without any rancour whatever—said: I should mention that, at the same time, a decision was taken that the Bill as it stands specifically excludes reference to Northern Ireland. I am sure that that would interest the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis".—[Official Report, 10/3/04; col. 1324]. I raise that point as I think that it illustrates an attitude of mind that somehow seems to fail to recognise that those of us who have associations with the Ulster Unionist Party are British. We are British to the backbone and our objective is to try to sustain a form of true Britishness in terms of ethos, principle and practice throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. That is something that of late I think our Government have failed to do.

It is not so much what is enshrined in legislation—although that again and again discriminates against the people of Northern Ireland as compared with what the people in the rest of the United Kingdom have come to expect—but rather the knock-on effect of legislation. I shall illustrate that at a later stage. The knock-on effect of legislation that is flawed in so far as it disregards certain principles and practices is serious and significant.

Before I go any further I should indicate that I have been associated with policing in Northern Ireland since 1958—I think that is 46 years ago—when I joined the Ulster Special Constabulary. Later I was associated with policing as a parliamentarian and as an adviser to the RUC Federation. I am associated with the police right up to the present day. As an officer in Her Majesty's Armed Forces, I worked hand-in-glove with the police for 12 years during the recent terrorist activities in Northern Ireland.

At the time of the Patten commission, I discussed with Chris Patten, who I know well, the imbalance in the RUC. About 88 per cent of its membership comes from the Protestant tradition with only about 8 per cent from the Roman Catholic tradition. That had to be addressed. My party and those with whom I would work most closely had no objection to the issue being addressed. But what they said again and again was that if they conceded the suggested 50:50 proposal, it would become a continuous process. At the same time there was a proposal from a Dublin source suggesting that there should be an initial one, or perhaps two, exclusively Roman Catholic intakes of 800, to achieve an immediate boost in order to overcome the confidence problem and the imbalance in the religious make-up of the RUC.

At that time I argued that creating such a stratum—or two—from that single tradition would only succeed in creating a different legacy of imbalance for the following 30 years and would have an undue impact at every level of promotion down the years. I said that it would institutionalise a divided force. I argued publicly, both with my own colleagues, and in evidence to the Patten commission, that the one-off process would be disastrous and that we would be better off with a strict three-year 50:50 policy—although my party, the Ulster Unionists, did not approve. I argued further that it presented difficulties and could not be extended ad infinitum. It would require an immediate response from the Roman Catholic tradition and should be seen only as an initial confidence booster to that tradition and nothing more. I argued that it might just be tolerated as an acceptable gesture of good will, but that we could not, and should not, do anything that would institutionalise sectarianism in the RUC.

For the past four years I have lived to regret my generosity in trying to resolve a problem that faced us, because not only do we now find an institutionalised sectarianism, but that the sectarianism is extending to other areas of the administration—pertaining to the RUC and beyond. Institutionalised sectarianism in the RUC is now a day-to-day rule of thumb. Why does it take utter, total and complete precedence over issues of gender, age, meritocracy and, indeed, geographical considerations?

I shall give the Minister an example that strikes close to home for me. All my public life, and before that, I have sought to reconcile the two traditions in Northern Ireland. I believe that there are those of us who, if we have the courage to put our heads above the parapet, are able to carry the community forward on a fair and equal basis. In my public life I have found those people in the SDLP and among independent members of the nationalist community. I found that to be the case particularly during my time as a councillor in Dungannon and South Tyrone Borough Council, where we had an agreeable arrangement of responsibility sharing before there was ever any imposition of the d'Hondt system.

We have been overtaken by d'Hondt. When it came to appointing a district police partnership, we sought to follow instructions and tried to implement d'Hondt but found that Sinn Fein was not prepared to play its part. The outcome is having to re-run d'Hondt—I hope that the Minister will listen to the terms in which I state my case—and one then achieves a political imbalance. Our borough council does not look at whether it is a Protestant or a Catholic who sits on the council; we have abandoned and eschewed sectarian approaches to the problems that we face as councillors.

As a result of our political imbalance, when we came to select the eight independent members we found ourselves—although I contradict myself by using sectarian terms—with 38 applicants, three of whom were from the Roman Catholic tradition. They were good people and we sought a shortlist down to about 25—one more than required—and interviewed them. Before the interviews we received an instruction from the Police Board and its agents, PricewaterhouseCoopers, that we should inject another name, a late applicant. I refused. I was told that the instruction came from the Police Board. I have taken legal advice on that issue and I shall read it to noble Lords. It says: The injection of an additional name into the selection process on the 18th December 2002. This would not normally be considered appropriate in fair employment terms but it does not seem to be contrary to the particular process set out herein under the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2003 and the Code of Practice". I have used that illustration to show the insidious nature of imposing something that is narrow and wrong and which highlights the differences within our society, rather than resolving them.

My problem with the DPP has reached a dreadful stage because I have refused to proceed with an extended process that is being imposed upon me. One of my nationalist friends on the council has written to the chairman of the policing board and said, "Look, we are very sorry. We didn't get 4:4"—four nationalists and four unionists—"but we have not done badly because we have the potential for 3:5". He received a condescending letter in reply from Professor Ray, who said, "Dear Councillor, you misunderstand. We require you to appoint seven Roman Catholics out of the eight in order to create balance within your DPP".

In other words, because Sinn Fein refused to participate, members of our community who attend the Roman Catholic church on a Sunday morning are equated with Sinn Fein. I do not believe that they appreciate that and we certainly do not. Therein is the problem. I do not want to detain the House for ever, but I could give examples of existing inequities that would take us through until tomorrow.

I shall move on. Recruitment to date has been encouraging in the RUC. I have the statistics and notice that in Competition 5, there were 62 per cent Protestant and 36 per cent Catholic. In Competition 6, there were 63 per cent Protestant and 35 per cent Catholic. No one has mentioned gender balance or geographical recruitment across Northern Ireland, urban and rural, east and west. If after three years there has been the morale booster which we all sought, the Government should suggest to this House a one-year extension—certainly not a three-year extension which institutionalises sectarianism.

The outcome of events does not resolve any of the problems in Northern Ireland. Statistics may suggest otherwise and the Minister will rely on them. We all know the old saying, "There are lies, damned lies and statistics", and we are suffering from that in Northern Ireland. Does anyone believe that if we transfer the grievances, perceived and real, of one tradition in Northern Ireland to the other tradition, we are resolving anything?

In conclusion, I shall illustrate that by drawing attention to what is happening to the electoral process. For years, the two major parties in Northern Ireland were the centre parties, the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP. They brought us to a point where we had, warts and all, the Belfast agreement of 1998, which I supported unequivocally. It gave us an opportunity to extend what society was willing to tolerate, accommodate and implement. That was replaced by governmental machinations which were less than worthy of what we had then sought to achieve.

The outcome is that my party is not a popular party in Northern Ireland. It is seen as having been unable to deliver its objectives. The same applies to the SDLP. We are now driving society to the two extremes where there is no compromise and only tragedy and a slowing down of the coming together that some of us have spent a life-time achieving.

If the Minister and the Government want to move us forward in Northern Ireland, they must stop seeking the easy way forward; the numerical and statistical way forward. They must look at what is honest, principled and will appeal across our traditional divides to all sections of the community. Only that can be a way forward.

I apologise: I have indulged myself in something I feel very strongly about. Your Lordships have been patient and I am grateful. I hope that the Government will understand the sincerity with which I tried to put the case not for one religious or another religious community; not for one political or another political community, but for the people—the 1.7 million people—who live, work and try progressively to get on in Northern Ireland.

2.45 p.m.

Lord Kilclooney

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, said, we have been patient as we have listened to his words. But, as he also said, he wanted to emphasise his sincerity on the subject of policing. He has given many years of his life to that in order to help to bring into Northern Ireland a balanced police service for all the people of the Province. That is what those of us who are level-headed want to see. We want to see not only people who are Protestant and Roman Catholic but those who represent the ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland.

When I entered the Chamber, I was disturbed to hear the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, support discrimination on religious grounds. That is a sectarian approach and I resent it. He said that in job applications it was normal that some well qualified people would not be appointed. But they are appointed or not on grounds of merit. We are talking about discrimination on the grounds of religion and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, should not support sectarianism or discrimination on grounds of religion.

I hope that the Government never again try to renew this order, which perpetuates discrimination on religious grounds. A Labour Government, of all governments, should be ashamed and hold their head low when they support such a policy.

As regards South Tyrone borough council, I declare myself a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board. It has created 25 district policing partnerships. Only one council has failed to come up with the requirement under the legislation and that was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis. I hope that the problem between Dungannon and the Northern Ireland Policing Board can be corrected, because, if not, we know what the legislation states—that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland can go over the head of the local district council and appoint a district partnership himself.

I want to raise a question relating to ethnic groups. It appears to me that discrimination in the police service takes place not only against Protestants in favour of Roman Catholics but also against ethnic members. Apparently, ethnic applicants to the Police Service of Northern Ireland are treated as being non-Roman Catholic and are therefore lumped in with Protestants to be discriminated against. Can the Minister explain to the House the position of black Protestants when they apply to join the police service? Are they discriminated against because they are Protestants or because they are black?

Better still, what is the position of a black Catholic who applies? Does discrimination then take place in favour of that person because his religion is Catholic or does it still go against him because he happens to be a member of a black ethnic group in Northern Ireland? Those issues need to be clarified because the number of ethnic members in the new Police Service of Northern Ireland is very small indeed and, likewise, they feel that discrimination is occurring against them.

I turn to the overall position in Northern Ireland. As one of the three Ulster Unionist negotiators of the Belfast agreement, I am rapidly reaching the conclusion that that agreement is now over. It is finished. First, I fail to see how it can survive in a situation where Sinn Fein/IRA refuse to decommission. That has brought about a complete collapse of support for the Belfast agreement among unionist people.

Secondly, I fail to see how the agreement can survive because, time and again over the years, the Government have rubbed salt into the wounds of the unionist majority. Measures have been taken such as the removal of the Union flag from government buildings. The Belfast agreement stated that Northern Ireland was British and part of the United Kingdom and that that could not be changed without the principle of consent. What did the Labour Government do? Within a year, they removed the Union flag from most government buildings in Northern Ireland. They continued to insult the majority community in Northern Ireland.

However, one of the greatest sores—even now, the Government do not seem to appreciate this—has been the obvious discrimination against Protestant applicants to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Nothing has done more to undermine unionist consent for the Belfast agreement. I implore the Government to recognise the mistakes that they have made and to recognise that religious discrimination should not be part of government policy because it undermines the future prospects of success of the Belfast agreement.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. This has been a difficult discussion because we are dealing with difficult and sensitive issues. I shall try to deal with the points as they arose. First, in moving the amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Laird, said that he considered the measure to be in clear contravention of the Belfast agreement. I say to the noble Lord that it is clear, and stated, in the Belfast agreement that the police service should be representative of the society that it polices. That is at the core of what the 50:50 rule tries to achieve.

I understand the point made by the noble Lords, Lord Laird and Lord Kilclooney, and others with respect to the hurt felt by those who are turned down. But I want to emphasise that those who are accepted are accepted on merit. Those who are rejected are rejected because sufficient qualified applicants from their community background in the merit pool have scored better. It is very important that noble Lords understand and recognise that point.

Lord Kilclooney

My Lords, that is a lovely way of presenting the case. The reality is that some who are rejected are rejected not on grounds of merit but on grounds of sectarian discrimination.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, as I said in my opening remarks, it is most important that we recognise that 96 per cent of those who apply are rejected. That position can occur in any job application. In referring to the 50:50 rule, we are talking about a Protestant pool and a Catholic pool, but those in the pool must pass the test. They must be qualified before they enter the pool and before they can be accepted. Indeed, some people pass the test but are then not accepted because others in the pool have a higher score. That is the reality of recruitment.

Lord Laird

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. Can she confirm that, in any one campaign, it is possible for a person from one community to score a higher mark and not get in and for someone in the other community who obtains a lower mark to be accepted?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am sure that that is possible. It will depend on the number of applicants who pass the test and it will depend on the pool. However—I must emphasise this point—the reality is that everyone who is appointed has passed the test and is there on merit. It would be very wrong of us to undermine the quality of the applicants and those who have been accepted into the Police Service of Northern Ireland because the fact is that they are there on merit.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, I thank the Lord President for giving way. As I understand what she is telling us and as I understand the situation, the merit principle stops once the pool of applicants who have passed the test is filled. There is a ladder up to the pool from which people are appointed. Once in the pool, the 50:50 rule is then followed and merit ceases.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I am not sure that I understand the noble Lord. My understanding is that there are more people in the pool than there are jobs. Therefore, a person can enter the pool but still not be appointed. That applies to both communities. Some people, both Catholics and Protestants, pass the test and get into the pool but are then not appointed because there are not enough jobs. Is that clear to the noble Lord?

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness. Yes, it is absolutely clear. Those who get the jobs do so on the 50:50 basis rather than on a 1:20 merit basis.

Baroness Amos

My Lords, that is absolutely right. The noble Lord, Lord Laird, also said that he wanted us to reach the point where religion was of no importance. I cannot agree with that more heartily. Of course, that is what we all want to see, but I hope we all agree that we want to see a police service in Northern Ireland where the people see the police as their police.

The noble Lord raised some questions about equality and human rights. I can say to the noble Lord that the Equality Commission has said that it considers the achievement of a police service which is representative of the whole community it serves to be of prime importance. The Human Rights Commission has said that the provision should be renewed.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, mentioned the fact that fair employment legislation has existed in Northern Ireland for many years. I agree with that. I also agree with the noble Lord when he says that we need community leaders and political leaders to encourage members of their community to apply to join the police service. Again, I endorse that view wholeheartedly. I also agree that if Sinn Fein joined the Policing Board, that would achieve more than anything that the Government or the police could do to encourage applications from republicans.

The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, my noble friend Lord Dubs and others paid tribute to the role of the SDLP. I believe it is very important that we welcome the significant contribution that it has made. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, that this is a sensitive situation. We have seen good results from 50:50. I think that we are at the stage where it is too soon to get rid of it. Here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, who said that it would be premature to change the formula.

My noble friend Lord Dubs said that he saw so many good people not being selected as a good thing. I can only repeat what I said earlier: we should all be pleased to see such good quality in terms of the calibre of candidates, both Protestant and Catholic, who are applying to join the Police Service of Northern Ireland and, indeed, we should be pleased at the quantity of candidates. I recognise the disappointment felt by those who are not recruited; but, at the end of the day, I think that it is a very positive thing to see so many applications.

The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, told us that he felt very passionately about these issues. I entirely understand that. In particular, I welcome the experience and expertise that the noble Lord brings to this House on policing matters in Northern Ireland. He raised in particular the issue of the ethos of principle and practice in terms of Britishness. I say to the noble Lord that the Government are working hard to reflect the diversity—a diversity which I think we should welcome—across the United Kingdom. The noble Lord was concerned that we needed to build confidence in the process. I entirely agree with him. As I said in my opening remarks, we will keep this issue under review.

On the point of the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, about the possibility of creating a divided force, that has not been the experience to date. On listening to the Chief Constable of Northern Ireland that is certainly not the experience. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Dubs gave an example of the training days that he had witnessed. I can only repeat that these are special measures for a special situation.

The noble Lords, Lord Maginnis and Lord Kilclooney, raised the situation regarding other forms of discrimination. The Patten report acknowledged that there were issues of community representation at nearly every level in the Police Service of Northern Ireland, but it stated that the religio-political imbalance was the most vital to be tackled if the police were to gain acceptance in the community.

We need to improve female recruitment. The proportion of women in the regulars has increased from 10.88 per cent in 1998 to 16.47 per cent at the beginning of 2004. On the position of black applicants, the application process requires applicants to declare whether they are Catholic or non-Catholic. So, if an applicant is both black and Catholic he will be counted as Catholic; and if he is black and non-Catholic he will be counted as non-Catholic.

With respect to the position on the Policing Board and the divisions which may sometimes arise on it, perhaps I may say to noble Lords that the Policing Board exists to represent the different facets of political and other opinion within Northern Ireland society, and it would be surprising if its members agreed on all issues.

The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, was concerned that we would institutionalize "sectarianism"—as he called it. I can reassure the noble Lord that although the order deals with continuing the provision for another three years, the legislation is clear that these provisions are temporary. The Government do not want to keep them for any longer than necessary.

Perhaps I may end by saying that the police have made some changes to simplify the process. The process has been rationalised so that non-appointed qualified applicants can omit the initial selection test for the next two competitions. There has also been a change regarding the medical examination to facilitate qualified re-applicants, although it is important to ensure that candidates are and remain fit for appointment.

The Government with the Chief Constable are looking at ways of making the recruitment process less irksome for re-applicants. I know that my right honourable friend the Minister of State is looking to see if there is any further scope to reduce the costs and to facilitate applicants.

I hope that I have addressed the points raised, and I hope that noble Lords now feel able to support the order.

Lord Laird

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part and for the clarification from the Minister.

Let me just say that I am determined, as are my colleagues, in the view that human rights cannot be diluted. Some people cannot have more human rights than others. Individual human rights are the most important thing. That is how you build society; that is how you build a future; and that is how we want to build our future in Northern Ireland. You cannot have a situation where there is a different set of human rights for different people. That is the basis on which I moved the amendment.

3.7 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 45; Not-Contents, 134.

Division No. 2
Ampthill, L. Howe of Aberavon, L.
Anelay of St Johns, B. Jenkin of Roding, L.
Astor of Hever, L. Kilclooney, L.
Biffen, L. Kingsland, L.
Blood, B. Laird, L. [Teller]
Bridgeman, V. Lucas, L.
Caithness, E. Lyell, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Carlisle of Bucklow, L. Maginnis of Drumglass, L.
Chalfont, L. [Teller]
Coe, L. Miller of Hendon, B.
Craig of Radley, L. Molyneaux of Killead, L.
Denham, L. Monson, L.
Dixon-Smith, L. Moynihan, L.
Dundee, E. Naseby, L.
Eden of Winton, L. Norton of Louth, L.
Feldman, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Fookes, B. Plumb, L.
Fowler, L. Plummer of St. Marylebone, L
Glentoran, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Greenway, L. Seccombe, B.
Griffiths of Fforestfach, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Hooper, B. Wilcox, B.
Addington, L. David, B.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Davies of Oldham, L.[Teller]
Alton of Liverpool, L. Desai, L.
Amos, B. (Lord Privy Seal) Dholakia, L.
Andrews, B. Dixon, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Dubs, L.
Ashton of Upholland, B. Evans of Temple Guiting, L.
Avebury, L. Ezra, L.
Bach, L. Falconer of Thoroton, L. (Lord
Barker, B. Chancellor)
Bassam of Brighton, L. Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Berkeley, L. Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Bernstein of Craigweil, L. Filkin, L.
Blackstone, B. Gale, B.
Bledisloe, V. Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Boothroyd, B. Golding, B.
Borrie, L. Goldsmith, L.
Bradshaw, L. Gould of Potternewton, B.
Bragg, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L. Grantchester, L.
Brookman, L. Grocott, L. [Teller]
Burlison, L. Hamwee, B.
Campbell-Savours, L. Harris of Haringey, L.
Carter, L. Harris of Richmond, B.
Chorley, L. Harrison, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L. Haskel, L.
Clement-Jones, L. Hayman, B.
Clinton-Davis, L. Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Condon, L. Hooson, L.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L. Howarth of Breckland, B.
Crawley, B. Howells of St. Davids, B.
Dahrendorf, L. Hoyle, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L. Sainsbury of Turville, L
Hylton, L. Scotland of Asthal, B.
Jordan, L. Sewel, L.
Judd, L. Sharp of Guildford, B.
King of West Bromwich, L. Sheldon, L.
Lea of Crondall, L. Shutt of Greetland, L.
Linklater of Butterstone, B. Simon, V.
Lipsey, L. Skidelsky, L.
MacKenzieof Culkein, L. Slim, V.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L. Smith of Clifton, L.
Masham of Ilton, B. Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Massey of Darwen, B. Steel of Aikwood, L.
Merlyn-Rees, L. Stone of Blackheath, L.
Methuen, L. Strabolgi, L.
Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B. Tanlaw, L.
Morgan, L. Taverne, L.
Morris of Manchester, L. Temple-Morris, L.
Newby, L. Tenby, V.
Northover, B. Thomas of Gresford, L.
Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Palmer, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Paul, L. Thornton, B.
Pendry, L. Thornton, B.
Pitkeathley, B. Tomlinson, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. Tope, L.
Puttnam, L. Triesman, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B. Turner of Camden, B.
Rea, L. Walmsley, B.
Redesdale, L. Walpole, L.
Rendell of Babergh, B. Warner, L.
Rennard, L. Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Richard, L. Whitaker, B.
Roll of Ipsden, L. Whitty, L.
Rooker, L. Williams of Crosby, B.
Roper, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Russell, E. Williamson of Horton, L.

Resolved in the negative and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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