Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (Renewal of Temporary Provisions) Order 2007
27 March 2007


In a debate on the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (Renewal of Temporary Provisions) Order 2007 in the House of Lords on 27 March 2007 Lord Trimble rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion, to leave out all the words after “that” and insert “this House, having regard to the changed circumstances which render reverse discrimination counter-productive, declines to approve the draft order”.

Lord Trimble said,

'My Lords, the order renews for a further three years the temporary provisions on recruitment to the Police Service of Northern Ireland. These provisions are commonly known as the 50:50 recruitment arrangements and seek to ensure that recruitment to the police service comprises 50 per cent persons from the Catholic community and 50 per cent non-Catholics. Because applications to the police service in recent years have predominantly been from persons of a Protestant background, the legislation has discriminated against persons from that background. This is sometimes referred to as positive discrimination, for the object of the legislation is to increase the Catholic percentage in the police service. This is a desirable objective and I make it absolutely clear that I, and others who may speak to the measure, are entirely in favour of it. That has always been the position, right from 1922 when the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Sir James Craig, arranged to reserve one-third of places in the police service for Catholics. Unfortunately, that was never achieved due to circumstances beyond his control or that of any Administration in the intervening period, but the objective is generally supported.

However, what is not supported is the method that has been used, because it involves discrimination against people. As I said, the term “positive” is used. Discrimination is always positive for those who benefit from it and always negative for those who suffer from it. Therefore, so far as I am concerned, there is no distinction between one form of discrimination and another. But the amendment does not focus on that issue. I should like your Lordships to focus on the “changed circumstances” mentioned in it. I shall explain what those are. I am not referring to the events of yesterday or the decision, which I expected, by the Democratic Unionist Party to enter into an Administration with Sinn Fein. I refer to the decision by the republican movement, formally taken in January although signalled long in advance, whereby it dropped its objections to the police service and formally committed itself to support the present police service and policing and the legal system generally. That is a very significant step. Some folk expressed reservations about whether republicans had moved far and fast enough. In that sense yesterday’s events are significant, because I am quite sure that they will reinforce the decision of republicans to support the police and help further to change the atmosphere.

In the Northern Ireland target population from which the police are recruited—young persons from 18 to 25—there is broad equality in numbers of Catholics and Protestants. It varies slightly from one year to another but we need not go into that. If there were equal participation from both communities, you would get rough equality in appointments. Up until now there has not been equal participation, but that is changing. In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, brought to our attention the fact that in the previous competition for applicants to the police service, which I believe took place in September last year, 41 per cent of applicants were from a Catholic background. That was the highest figure achieved so far and, as he said, the figure is rising.

Given the decision of the republican movement to support policing, it is expected that that figure will rise further. Indeed, there is reason to believe that because a significant number of young people with a Catholic background have been dissuaded from applying because of republican hostility to policing, there is a strong probability that there will be a surge in recruits from a Catholic background. If that happens—and that strong probability should be taken into account—we could have within a short period, perhaps in a matter of months or a bit longer, a situation in which more than 50 per cent of applicants to join the police were from a Catholic background. If that happens, then the 50:50 provisions specified in the order, which hitherto have penalised those from a Protestant background, will start to penalise those from a Catholic background and will slow down the achievement of the Government’s objective, which is to achieve 30 per cent Catholic membership of the police service. I would have thought that it was in the interests of the Government to reach that target sooner rather than later and to do that in a way that minimised any upset, disappointment and hurt that people might feel as a result of discrimination. One can only imagine what the reaction will be within the nationalist community in Northern Ireland when it discovers that provisions that it thought were to its advantage work to its disadvantage.

During the debate in Grand Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, did not dissent from the basic analysis that I have presented. He said that he expected that the majority of applicants would soon be from a Catholic background. At one stage he said in reply to me:

“The noble Lord, Lord Trimble, is absolutely right—two seconds before he raised the point, I satisfied myself on the answer—that if the proportion of applicants is 41 per cent, the highest it has been, and rising, it will not be long before it is more than 50 per cent. I will then make the same speech to members of the other community supporting the 50:50 in order to achieve the policy objective as I must make today. The same situation will apply; there cannot be any difference”.—[Official Report, 20/3/07; col. GC 176.]

I confess that I find that response perverse if the objective is to increase the Catholic percentage to 30 per cent—and the sooner that that happens the better. I would have thought that the Government should take this matter into account.

If my analysis is correct, the proper course might be not to approve this order. If the Government want to be more cautious in their approach, it has been suggested to them that they drop this order, which provides for arrangements to last for three years, and bring forward an order that would continue the current recruitment arrangements for a further year—and during that year they could examine circumstances and developments to see what happens. There is an argument for proceeding in that way.

Obviously, in Grand Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, was not in a position to change these matters, because that would require a policy decision by the Secretary of State. I know that the Secretary of State has had a few other matters on his plate in the past few days, but I hope that he has had the opportunity to consider this matter and that he is in a position to respond to this situation. As I said, I am not arguing against the scheme as a whole; it is a question of what is likely to happen in the near future and how best to achieve the Government’s objective. It would be best if that objective were achieved with as little discrimination as possible. I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion, to leave out all the words after “that” and insert “this House, having regard to the changed circumstances which render reverse discrimination counter-productive, declines to approve the draft order”.—(Lord Trimble.)

.......

Lord Trimble: My Lords, I will not try to respond to everything that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has said, because some of what he said is not relevant to the issue before us. The total number of applicants and the total number of disappointed persons are not relevant. What might be relevant peripherally is the number of people who have been discriminated against, which the noble Lord concedes is 708. That figure of 708 matters, no matter what the context; any number would matter, no matter what the context.

However, there is one thing in the background on which I have to take issue with the noble Lord. He said that the Patten recommendations reflected what was in the Belfast agreement in 1998. I am sorry, but that is not the case. Nowhere in the report was there a recommendation that discrimination be adopted. There was, however—this was in Patten as well—clearly an obligation placed on all sections of society to encourage people to join the police and to remove obstacles to people joining the police. Had that duty being implemented across the board in Northern Ireland, we would have had equal participation, in the number of applicants, and equal appointments, in broad terms. The Patten recommendations that involved discrimination were put forward only because certain community and political leaders failed to discharge their obligations to remove obstacles and to encourage people to join. I hope that that has now changed—that is the changed situation to which I am referring.

The noble Lord referred to the order ending tomorrow and said that that was a problem, but of course it is not. Recruitment is not continuous; a number of discrete competitions happen from time to time. I do not know when the next competition is coming, but I am sure that, if the Government had the will, they could drop the order and bring forward an amended order for one year only. They could do that in a very short time. It would require only a small amendment to the order to change the wording and I am sure that it would go through this House quickly. We would do everything to facilitate it going through. That could be done before the next competition. So the business about the order ending tomorrow is not relevant. What is relevant is the noble Lord’s statement—I think that I am quoting him accurately—that,
“the provisions will not stay in place a day longer than necessary”.
My point is that we are rapidly reaching a position where we will get, through the normal course of operation—through equal participation by both sections of the community in applications for the police and through the process operating on merit—the numbers that the Minister wants. The numbers will be at least as good as, if not better than, the numbers currently being achieved. But the order puts the present arrangements in place for another three years. Three years is clearly more than a day longer than necessary. I am sure that it will prove to be so.

It is all very well for the Minister to offer an annual report, but how long after this measure starts to become counterproductive will we get that report, and how long after that will we see action? It would have been much better had the Minister taken up the suggestion that, as he knows, was made to him before today’s proceedings: that the order be dropped and an order brought forward to operate on an annual basis. That would be a much better way of proceeding.

In order to emphasise that point and to encourage the noble Lord to go that way, I would like to test the opinion of the House.
On Question, Whether the said amendment shall be agreed to? Their Lordships divided: Contents, 97; Not-Contents, 141.

To read the debate in full click here

27March 2007


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