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Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that answer. Will he ensure that his officials make it clear to the Chief Constable and others that the section in the Police Act 1996 is available for their use? On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Glentoran moved Amendment No. 14A:

In the event that—
(a) the Chief Constable is unable to appoint his required number of police trainees or police support staff, or
(b) the number of serving officers is below that intended at the time of consideration,
the Secretary of State shall, at the request of a majority of the Policing Board and acting on the recommendation of the Chief Constable, make an order to suspend the provisions of section 46 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c. 32) for a maximum period of six months."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 14A brings us back to a similar problem. I am still concerned that, for all the wrong reasons, the 50:50 provision is not working. I have no regrets about making it clear that my party still supports Patten and the 50:50 provision, but what we cannot support is a situation where recruitment into the PSNI, in line with Patten and the Government's legislation, is hijacked by none other than the IRA.

My officials told me yesterday, and the noble and learned Lord made it clear at Report stage, that recruitment of Catholics and Protestants on the 50:50 basis was going quite well in the early stages. But it is early days. The force is seriously short of able bodied men and women and, more importantly, the philosophy of bringing the force up to somewhere approaching the 50:50 requirement—which is good—has been hijacked by Sinn Fein/IRA.

I have tried, through a number of amendments—this is the last one—to persuade the Government to take on board in their legislation an amendment which

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could be used as a tool. Ultimately, all noble Lords in the Chamber know very clearly that this is more about politics, negotiations and deals than about producing a necessary set of amendments to the 2000 Act.

If the Government feel inclined to accept the amendment, it may never become necessary to use it, but it would be another tool in the armoury of Her Majesty's Government. It is my feeling that Her Majesty's Government have so far been fairly short of tools, or ploys. They played most of their cards rather early in the day and are significantly short of them. On that basis, I beg to move.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, I support the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. I do not believe that Patten is infallible and that every last word of the report is beyond reproach or question. In relation to other noble Lords, I have been in Parliament a comparatively short time, but during those 20 years I have never come across an instance of any report—even one by a Royal Commission—being accepted in its entirety. Indeed, if we arrived at the stage where we felt obliged to accept a report in its entirety, however commissioned, that would be damaging to the democratic process. The need for objective debate on the effects of the Patten report is important.

In introducing the amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, has highlighted the fact that, whatever its intention, it has not worked out in terms of numbers in the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Far more people than intended—people of huge experience—have left the police service: some, sadly, disillusioned, others recognising that they were at a stage of life when they could not turn their backs on the opportunity to avail themselves of a compensation package. Whatever the cause, we have arrived at a situation where Northern Ireland is seriously under-policed—to the extent, as I pointed out on Report, that we no longer demand that applicants must meet a certain physical standard. It is the first time that I have ever been aware of applicants to any security force, police or military, not being required to meet such a standard prior to acceptance.

When I raised this matter on Report, the noble and learned Lord pointed out that there was a physical aspect to the training once a recruit arrived at a depot. The noble and learned Lord must worry, as I do, that if applicants are recruited to the Police Service of Northern Ireland on the understanding that the physical requirements are not defined and that they do not have to meet a certain standard, if a greater standard is then expected during training, they may well have genuine cause for complaint and may question the system in court.

We should continue to maintain the standards, and not be handicapped by the 50:50 provision. Although I cannot say on this occasion that I speak for every Unionist in Northern Ireland, recognising the need for as much equality in the police service as can be achieved, certainly equality of opportunity, I have not been very vocal in my opposition to the 50:50 provision. However, I believe that it should have been

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implemented in an entirely different way; that there should have been certain parameters within which that proviso should have been brought to bear. That said, if we are reaching a stage where to all intents and purposes we are making a laughing-stock of recruitment to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, it is not unreasonable that for short periods—in this case the implication is a period of six months at any one time—we should be able to set aside the provision in the Patten report in order to maintain the level of recruitment that will lead to the level of policing that the people of Northern Ireland expect. I commend the amendment to the House.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, in the context of the reference to "police support staff" in my noble friend's amendment, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal will recall an exchange about support staff on Report (at col. 874). The noble and learned Lord's reply is set out in col. 877. My noble kinsman Lord Brookeborough intervened to say that there was a difference of opinion as to when the Chief Constable had made his remarks about support staff. In the absence of my noble kinsman, I merely want to know whether the difference of opinion regarding the facts has been resolved in the interim in a bilateral discussion about which I know nothing. The point is germane to the issue of police support staff recruitment.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I have declared my support twice already during debates on the Bill for the principle of 50:50 recruitment. However, today, I ask the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House whether he would consider a slight modification of the principle—possibly to produce a 42:42:16 ratio. The 16 is intended to cover people who are atheists, agnostics or adherents of various minority religions outside the broad Catholic and Protestant traditions of the country. Some slight modification of that kind would be much better than suspending the operation of the main principle, as is suggested in the amendment.

Lord Fitt: My Lords, I feel compelled to support the amendment. It is honest and realistic, and takes into account all the circumstances in Northern Ireland. I do not believe that it represents an attack on the Patten report or an attempt to undermine its recommendations.

I have had many reservations about the 50:50 provision. I do not believe it to be realistic. It seems to generate the belief that there are many Catholics in Northern Ireland who want to join the new police service. I do not believe that to be the case. Not every individual wants to become a policeman. Given the history of Northern Ireland and the dangers under which policemen have to live, it is highly unlikely that there will be a great influx of Catholics into the PSNI.

The amendment suggests that if there is not a sufficient number of Catholics wanting to join the police force in Northern Ireland to make it possible to meet the 50:50 requirement, the Chief Constable could say that the force could take other people who are not

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of the Catholic faith. By the way, I have said repeatedly that this is not about Catholics and Protestants; it is about nationalists and unionists. People are not going to join or be rejected from the police force on account of their religion; it is because of what their political allegiance is likely to be.

If there is not a great influx of nationalists wanting to join the PSNI, the police force will be undermanned. We do not have sufficient numbers in the police force at the moment. Looking to the future, it will be necessary to have a police force that is able to deal adequately with all the circumstances in Northern Ireland. We need a higher level of policing than any other part of the United Kingdom.

The amendment is not a Tory or Unionist attack on Patten. I am neither, but I have lived all my life in Northern Ireland. I foresee great difficulties in restricting recruitment in Northern Ireland until there are a sufficient number of Catholics—or nationalists—wanting to join the police force. If the necessary figure is not arrived at and we do not have the numbers that we expect, when the Chief Constable determines what he believes to be the necessary complement of his force to engage with all the possibilities of what may happen in Northern Ireland he should have the right to depart from the principles laid down in Patten.

12.30 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I shall deal with one or two misconceptions. We dealt with fitness on Report. I made it plain that the physical competence test will not be applied to applicants in the current recruitment competition, but I hope that I also made it plain that all trainees will be required to pass the test before they are attested. In other words, there is no reduction in the standard of physical competence required of police officers. Trainees are simply given more time to reach the required standard.

Of course there is intimidation. Gerry Kelly has already been referred to. On 26th September 2002, he said:

    "I am making it directly clear now that there should be no intimidation or threats against new recruits".

On 25th September, on the Radio Ulster 3 p.m. news, he said,

    "we have made it clear in the past and we make it directly clearer now, there should be no intimidation or threats against any recruits involved here".

I do not think he could have put that plainer.

The issue of support staff was resolved. The Chief Constable's remarks were made after his first 100 days in service, but the campaign to which he referred had been in the spring and summer of 2002, before Grafton started work. The noble Viscount was good enough to say that I was right and that he had misunderstood the situation.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, spoke of Roman Catholics and Protestants. I remind your Lordships, as I think I said on Report, that Section 46 of the 2000 Act says:

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    "one half shall be persons who are treated as Roman Catholic; and

    one half shall be persons who are not so treated".

The Act does not speak of Roman Catholics and Protestants.

Is 50:50 working? If it were not to work, do we need a change in the law? The answer to the first question is yes and the answer to the second question is no. We have had a very good response to the police recruitment campaigns. The appointment of sufficient qualified candidates to fill the police training college is at a level around 50 per cent above that envisaged by Patten. Grafton Recruitment was appointed only in September 2002. It deals with civilians and has produced enough candidates to meet the requirements.

On the second question, Section 46(3) of the 2000 Act already gives the Secretary of State the power to make a set-aside order. Section 46(2) says:

    "The Secretary of State may, after consultation with the Board and the Chief Constable, by order amend subsection (1)"—

that is the 50:50 provision—

    "in its application to the making of appointments under section 39".

Before making such an order, he has to consult the Policing Board and the Chief Constable. The discretionary power is already there, so the amendment is not needed. In any event, we are doing well. Something optimistic is happening. We ought to rejoice.

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