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House of Commons

Thursday 12 December 1991

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


London Docklands Railway Bill

Lords amendments agreed to.

King's Cross Railways Bill

Order for consideration read.

To be considered on Thursday 19 December.

Oral Answers to Questions


Administration of Justice

1. Mr. McAvoy : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on his plans to heighten confidence in the administration of justice.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Brooke) : The Government's strategy is to provide a criminal justice system which maintains the rule of law and creates in Northern Ireland the conditions for a fair and just administration.

Mr. McAvoy : That answer smacks of nothing less than smug complacency. If everything is for the best in Castlereagh, why are there so many out-of-court settlements in actions for damages brought by former detainees?

Mr. Brooke : Many factors enter into account when the police authority needs to respond to complaints of that sort. The decisions taken are taken on legal advice.

Mr. Peter Robinson : Did the Secretary of State read in the memoirs of Dr. Garrett FitzGerald that during the negotiations on the Anglo-Irish Agreement the Government had been prepared to allow judges from the courts in the Irish Republic to sit on the Bench in Northern Ireland as part of what are described as mixed courts, but that that was stopped because of the resistance of then then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lowry? Is the view expressed then to Dr. FitzGerald--that this was a matter which could be considered as soon as Lord Lowry passed on--being considered by the Government now?

Mr. Brooke : The nature of my duties both in the Province and in this House means that I have not yet had the pleasure and privilege of reading Dr. FitzGerald's book, but I shall take on hearsay what the hon. Gentleman says about this entry. The issue has not been discussed with me during my time as Secretary of State at any

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conference under the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and I am perfectly clear about what response I would give if it were raised.

Mr. Trimble : The primary function of the administration of justice is to apprehend and punish the guilty. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that, contrary to statements made from time to time by Northern Ireland Ministers, the administration of justice in Northern Ireland is signally failing to do that? In 1985 there were 24 convictions for murder, but there were only eight in 1990. Moreover, the people being convicted are very much from the second and third XI. Does the Secretary of State not realise that that conspicuous failure, which is clear to the people of Northern Ireland, is undermining the confidence of the great majority, and that that is pregnant with considerable consequences?

Mr. Brooke : I understand what the hon. Gentleman says about the nature of the charge laid against certain people and the roles that they may have played in particular crimes. That is, I fear, testimony to the experience of terrorists in making certain that the people who commit the crimes are protected by their colleagues. But I am delighted to tell the hon. Gentleman and the House that 112 people have been charged with murder or attempted murder in the course of this year. That is an advance on the previous year and a testimony to the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Mr. Stanbrook : Would it not be helpful if we used existing machinery more effectively? For example, the reciprocal legislation providing for extraterritorial jurisdiction does not seem much used. In the 16 years in which we have had our part of the legislation, we have applied for only 31 people to be tried in the Republic, of whom only 16 were convicted and the Irish Republic has not applied for any such cases at all. Surely there is a lot of ground here to make up if we are to make the machinery of justice as between the two countries more effective.

Mr. Brooke : The particular question that my hon. Friend raises is for my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, but I am grateful to him for reminding me of the precise statistics with which it is always sensible to be armed in any conference on the agreement.

Mr. McNamara : Will the Secretary of State explain why the Government are still being so stubborn about the video recording of interrogation procedures at Castlereagh and elsewhere? Is he aware of the concern expressed by Amnesty International and the United Nations committee on torture, and that it was recommended by Lord Colville, the Government's own adviser, and by the independent police complaints body and the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights? It is important that the Royal Ulster Constabulary should be seen to be in the forefront of the fight against terrorism with the support and confidence of the whole community. This is one important way in which that could be achieved. Will the Government now reconsider their decision not to introduce video recording of interrogation procedures?

Mr. Brooke : No matter what arrangements were to be made, the Government believe that the introduction of video recording of interviews with terrorists suspects could seriously jeopardise the process of investigating crime. However, that was a matter which SACHR raised with me

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only this week and made it clear that it was a subject to which it would return. It is therefore a subject on which I expect to be in continuing dialogue.

Mr. Kilfedder : Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that an essential element of the administration of justice is police primacy? If so, will he ensure that a police officer accompanies every military patrol whenever humanly possible? Will he also consider, as a provisional measure, initiating steps which would enable a magistrate or judge to supervise the interrogation of a defendant charged with a terrorist offence?

Mr. Brooke : The Government, police and military authorities are committed to ensure that, where feasible and sensible--the hon. Gentleman will know what those words mean in the context of the Province--Army patrols likely to come into contact with the public are accompanied by an RUC officer. That reflects the policy that the RUC is in the lead in the fight against terrorism. However, it must be recognised that at the current level of terrorist threat, full accompaniment of all patrols could be achieved only at the expense of aborting necessary anti-terrorist operations with a consequent increase in terrorist activity.

On the the hon. Gentleman's second question, he will know that work is proceeding on a statutory code under the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1991.


2. Mr. Loyden : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what information he has on the number of orders, and for what types of vessels, held by shipbuilders in Northern Ireland.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham) : Harland and Wolff Shipbuilding and Heavy Industries Limited currently has orders for 12 vessels--an auxiliary oiler replenishment vessel for the Ministry of Defence, five Suezmax type tankers and six Capesize bulk carriers, for which three contracts have already been signed, with a further three to be completed shortly.

Mr. Loyden : The Minister will be aware that, with the exception of the MOD vessel, only three of the 11 ships now on order at Harland and Wolff are United Kingdom registered and owned. We welcome the security that the present orders offer to 1994-95, but would not Harland and Wolff's future, as well as that of other British shipyards, be better secured if we were to adopt the policy of new build for Britain's merchant fleet and thus ensure that shipyards throughout the United Kingdom employ our people and that our seamen have jobs to go to?

Mr. Needham : I am delighted that the recently privatised Harland and Wolff now has the longest order book in its history, with £565 million worth of orders, that it is competing successfully with the Koreans and the Japanese, that the future of 2,500 of its people is assured and that it is the premier shipyard in the United Kingdom.

Rev. Ian Paisley : In view of the long list of orders that Harland and Wolff has procured--I welcome that, and wholly endorse what the Minister has said--the recent large pay-offs in the island are alarming. Could not

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something be done to obtain some repair jobs to hold those workers so that they will not have to be laid off for a considerable time?

Mr. Needham : I fully understand the hon. Gentleman's concern. It was always apparent that as the AOR was completed many jobs and skills would not be required in the new orders that have come through. However, the hon. Gentleman rightly refers to the other businesses which Harland and Wolff is now expanding and building up, and I am sure that its success, which I believe is assured under privatisation, offers the best hope for those men in the future.

Dr. Godman : May I say how thrilled I am that that United Kingdom shipyard has such a healthy order book? However, I regret that there is no expansion in the recruitment of workers to that shipyard. How much money has been received by way of those orders from the seventh directive of the European Community's shipbuilding intervention fund, and how much of that money will be used to purchase from United Kingdom manufacturers the goods and services required for the vessels?

Mr. Needham : Clearly, it is for United Kingdom manufacturers to compete as subcontractors for the work that will be placed out by Harland and Wolff. I am sure that a large proportion will be placed with subcontractors. The percentage of aid given under the EC assistance programme was 13 per cent. last year, and it is being renegotiated this year. However, Harland and Wolff is continuing to compete and to be profitable, even though that intervention assistance is being reduced.

Schools (Integration)

3. Mr. Cyril D. Townsend : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the integration of schools in Northern Ireland.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Dr. Brian Mawhinney) : The Department of Education has, so far, approved 15 proposals for integrated status made under the integrated schools provisions of the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989.

Mr. Townsend : I welcome the work that the Government have done in that important respect. Is my hon. Friend the Minister aware of a recent report suggesting that pupils from such schools are most likely to take a particularly dim view of all paramilitary organisations? Is he further aware that a problem exists in finding suitable financial resources for nursery education? Will he see what can be done about that?

Dr. Mawhinney : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. It is certainly encouraging that parents, not government, are choosing to expand the number of integrated schools in the Province. I am sure that my hon. Friend is right, in that it makes sense to believe that if young people from both sides of the community are taught together in the same classrooms, they will value equally both traditions and will be more likely than some others to find common ground in later life. I will bring my hon. Friend's point about nursery education to the attention of my right hon. and noble Friend the Paymaster General.

Mr. John D. Taylor : Will the Minister commend Lagan college in my constituency for the progress that it has made

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in the past 10 years? Can he confirm that there will be no discrimination against state schools, for which the majority of parents still exercise a preference, or in favour of the segregated education system that the Roman Catholic Church and most Catholic parents want to maintain? Will the Minister assure the House that there will be no barrier to those who oppose integrated schools serving on the boards of governors of integrated schools?

Dr. Mawhinney : I am happy to join the right hon. Gentleman in commending Lagan college's achievements. He and I were present at the recent opening of its new school building, for which I had the pleasure of being the Minister responsible for making available the necessary resources. I certainly assure the right hon. Gentleman that there is no sense in which the Government want positively to discriminate in favour of one type of schooling over others, because parents have a right to choose. The Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 put integrated schools alongside two other alternatives from which parents could choose. As to the right hon. Gentleman's last point, there will be no bar to any governor being appointed to the board of an integrated school, provided that the appointment complies with the provisions laid down in the Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio

4. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is the current pupil-teacher ratio ; what the comparable figures were in May 1979 ; and if he will make a statement.

Dr. Mawhinney : The pupil-teacher ratio at January 1991, the latest date for which figures are available, was 18.2. The figure for January 1979 was 19.1.

Mr. Greenway : Will my hon. Friend pass on my congratulations to all who were involved in that improvement? Pupils will benefit, and that must be the object of the exercise. Has not the time come, however, to evaluate the optimum pupil-teacher ratio for pupils at any given age, with a view to establishing it? As I have said before, there are those who cannot teach one pupil, and others who can teach a hundred with great facility.

Dr. Mawhinney : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind comments, and for the continuing interest that he takes in this subject. I am sure that he is right in saying that the reduced pupil-teacher ratio provides children with an advantage, and also in pointing out that the quality of teaching and the ability of teachers is at least as important.

The idea of trying to work out an optimum ratio is interesting, and we should like to think about it further.

Mr. McGrady : I hope that the Minister is more successful with his new portfolio than his predecessors were and I wish him all the best in the difficult task that lies ahead of him.

Now that the education and library boards independently assess the formula according to which they delegate budgets to schools, does not the Minister fear that a great disparity in provision will result--not only in regard to pupil-teacher ratios, but in regard to every other aspect of provision across the different area boards?

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Dr. Mawhinney : I am grateful to the hon. Member for his kind personal remarks, although I enter a caveat in regard to what he said about my predecessors.

Part of the purpose of education reform was to delegate downwards from the Department of Education, closer to the chalk face, tasks such as determining the necessary budgets, teacher numbers, and so forth. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman may have in mind some initial teething troubles that were experienced this year in connection with local management of primary schools. The Department is examining that issue closely, in conjunction with the boards.

Mr. Beggs : Was the significant increase in the number of temporary and part-time teachers included in the calculation of pupil-teacher ratios? Many parents feel that the speed of education reform and curriculum change has caused their children to suffer because their usual classroom or subject teachers are often taken out of the classroom to undergo courses related specifically to those changes.

Dr. Mawhinney : As the Minister responsible at the time, let me tell the hon. Gentleman that we went to great lengths to minimise the disruption caused in classrooms by the provision of necessary training related to the introduction of education reforms. The hon. Gentleman will recall that, on some exceptional days, schools were closed so that teachers could be trained.

Year in, year out, there is always an element of disruption, which is unconnected with education reform, as teachers undergo various courses to upgrade their skills. That is an essential part of the education process, and I do not believe that it was greatly exacerbated by the introduction of reforms.


5. Mr. Molyneaux : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Brooke : Since I answered a similar question on 14 November, seven people have been killed as a result of the security situation, of whom six were civilians and one was a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment.

The Government remain entirely committed to bringing terrorism to an end through the vigorous and impartial actions of the police and the Army. They have succeeded in bringing suspected terrorists to justice. Up to the end of November this year, 367 people had been charged with terrorist offences, including 37 with murder and 75 with attempted murder.

Mr. Molyneaux : The Secretary of State will be aware from his own sources of the vast array of weapons being assembled and stored as far south as Limerick for transport to Northern Ireland. Is there not now a good case for strengthening the frontier wire, as a matter of urgency?

Mr. Brooke : The right hon. Gentleman knows, as does the House, the scale of the shipments from Libya before the Eksund was apprehended by the French customs. It is known that a substantial part of that weaponry is in the Republic of Ireland. Of course, I am delighted that from time to time the Garda find some of it.

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Rev. William McCrea : I am sure that the Secretary of State will join me in expressing in the House sympathy for my constituent's family on the murder of Mr. Newell, a member of the Ulster Defence Regiment. Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate the tremendous fear felt throughout the Province as we face the Christmas period, bearing in mind both the warning given by the security forces of an impending IRA outrage near Christmas and the signal given by the nationalist community in the result of a by-election at Magherafelt today, where there was a 43 per cent. increase in the Sinn Fein vote and a 34 per cent. decrease in the SDLP vote?

Mr. Brooke : Of course I share the hon. Gentleman's sympathy in the case of Mr. Newell. All terrorist crimes are horrible, but I find those which follow the pattern of Mr. Newell's death especially horrible. The hon. Gentleman is right, too, to tell the House of the warning that the Chief Constable of the RUC gave at the end of last week about the potential level of terrorist violence in the run-up to Christmas.

As for the pattern of voting in the by-election in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, there may be others besides myself to whom he might address that question.

Sir Patrick Duffy : May I draw the attention of the Secretary of State to the report in The Irish Times yesterday week about the recent meeting of the British-Irish parliamentary group in Dublin, and the contribution of his hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) about the security situation in proximity to the border? Were the reported remarks of his parliamentary private secretary in accordance with an official departmental brief?

Mr. Brooke : Necessarily, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) is my parliamentary private secretary, he will have taken advantage of the opportunity of briefing. With regard to security at the border, I have consistently said in the aftermath of conferences under the Anglo-Irish Agreement that, although we are delighted that good co-operation exists, it can always be better, and I am confident that we can make it so.

Commercial Investment

6. Mrs. Gorman : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the amount of new investment in commercial buildings and shopping facilities in Belfast.

Mr. Needham : I am pleased to report that in recent years commercial and retail development in Belfast have reached unprecedented levels. In total, some £290 million of private investment is being spent or is programmed. In order to undermine the enormous resurgence of confidence, the IRA has planted 400 incendiary devices, of which approximately 100 have exploded, and five car bombs, of which three have exploded. The damage has been and is being made good. All the stores and the vast majority of commercial buildings are back at work. Business performance in the city centre is very little different from last year.

Mrs. Gorman : I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, and I commend him and his colleagues on their splendid work in restoring the centre of Belfast, especially the

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excellent shopping facilities. I am sure that my hon. Friend wishes to condemn the outrage last week when not only stores but the opera house were bombed, making the children's pantomime and all the other treats that normal families in the rest of Britain have at Christmas, such as shopping, Father Christmas and the Christmas lights, inaccessible to many families. The IRA is again undermining normal decent family life in the Province.

Mr. Needham : I am sure that all the people of Belfast would like to thank my hon. Friend for her comments. As the IRA's Libyan bombs explode, Sinn Fein and the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams) remain strongly and strangely silent. The fact is that 1991 has been an unprecedented year of success for Belfast. Anyone who went to the tall ships race in Belfast and saw 500,000 people thronging through the city centre day after day could see the determination of the people of Belfast to lead their lives normally. It will take more than Mr. Gaddafi's guns and the IRA to undermine the spirit of the people of Belfast.

Mr. Clifford Forsythe : I congratulate the Minister on the urban renewal and commercial development in the centre of Belfast. We utterly condemn all the IRA's cynical attempts to bomb the heart out of Belfast. However, is the Minister aware that the main concern of business people in Belfast is that they should have adequate security so that they can run their businesses properly? Great efforts should be made to bring tenants into the new office and shop premises that are still empty. Does the Minister agree that instead of freezing the outlay of public money, the Government should hurry on public development to enable those shops to be let?

Mr. Needham : Over 90 per cent. of the two biggest shopping developments in Belfast are let, which is an extraordinary figure in comparison with other new developments in the rest of the country. Of 720,000 sq ftof office space that has been completed this year, 350, 000 sq ft has been let. Some 95 per cent. of prime retail space in Belfast is let.

The hon. Gentleman is right to refer to security, although he will not expect me to spell out what is happening in the city at present. Belfast is a city of 500,000 people and for its business and commerce to thrive, it must be an open city and people must be able to get into and out of it. Finding that balance is absolutely crucial. There can be no question but that the people of Belfast are showing, by returning day after day to work, to shop and to enjoy themselves in Belfast, that they are the people who are succeeding.

Rev. Ian Paisley : Does the Minister agree that the confidence of the people has been even more shaken by the tragedy in the prison at which a bomb went off, killing two remand prisoners? Is not that comment on security even more staggering than the bombs that go off in the city, although all such bombings are to be condemned and deplored?

Will the Minister comment on the question that was sidestepped by the Secretary of State? Does he agree that the nationalists in Mid-Ulster have given a warning to the House by the way in which they voted, with a colossal rise in the Sinn Fein vote and a colossal drop in the SDLP vote?

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Mr. Needham : As the hon. Gentleman is well aware, his first question is a matter for my hon. Friend the Minister of State and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State who have, no doubt, listened to him carefully.

On the second question, I am a great believer in the common sense and balance of all the people of Ulster. I will not comment on a particular by- election. I will comment, as I repeatedly do, on the determination of everyone in Ulster to end violence and to ensure that they can get back to living normal lives. That is exactly what most of them are showing in Belfast at present.

Mr. Speaker : Mr. Marshall.

Mr. John Marshall : Question No. 7, Sir.

Mr. Speaker : Sorry, the hon. Gentleman is the wrong Mr. Marshall.

Mr. Jim Marshall : Perhaps I should ask the question of the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) instead of my own. With regard to the commercial activity in Belfast, I join the Minister in condemning the terrorist attacks in commercial Belfast. Those attacks are clearly designed to undermine business confidence and the economic well-being of both communities. I join the Minister in saying that we are all resolved to ensure that that does not succeed. While I pay tribute to the Government's success in attracting commercial business to Belfast, I remind the Minister that Belfast is only one part of the Province. What plans do the Government have to introduce a more balanced development throughout the Province?

Mr. Needham : I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's opening comments, but not very grateful for his latter comments. He has been on the Opposition Front Bench for long enough to have seen and understood the redevelopment work that is currently being undertaken in Londonderry and which is being carried out in the county towns throughout the length and breadth of Northern Ireland. There is a feeling of partnership and a commitment to partnership that I have not seen before. I have undertaken missions with the hon. Members for Foyle (Mr. Hume), for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) and for South Down (Mr. McGrady) in an attempt to get more business and development in their areas. If the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) would like to accompany me in the new year, I should be only too happy to take him on a tour and show him just how much is happening outside Belfast as well as in it.

Sunday Trading

7. Mr. John Marshall : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what recent representations he has received about Sunday trading.

Mr. Brooke : The only representation that my ministerial colleagues and I have recently received was a resolution of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

Mr. Marshall : Does my right hon. Friend agree that recent developments have underlined the fact that the Shops Act 1950 is illogical, out of date, rarely enforced and out of touch with the reality of the 1990s? However, does

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he agree that as part of the process of reform, those who have a conscientious objection to working on Sunday should be given the statutory right not to do so?

Mr. Brooke : The most recent relevant development has been the decision by the House of Lords and a lower court to refer the relevant questions of Community law to the European Court. We must now await the European Court's decision.

Mr. Trimble : Will the Secretary of State confirm that the recent statement by the Attorney-General about his reluctance to exercise his discretion applies only to the civil action of injunction ; that the Shops Act 1950 is not suspended ; that the reference to the European Court on the issue does not prevent or place any obstacle in the way of criminal proceedings for breach of that Act ; and that it is perfectly open to the responsible bodies to bring such proceedings?

Mr. Brooke : My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has made it clear that the law is not suspended and therefore it would remain a matter for local authorities if they wished to bring actions.

Mr. Bill Walker : While awaiting the views of the European Court, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that Presbyterians in Scotland enjoy shopping on Sundays and that has not been detrimental to those who wish to attend church?

Mr. Brooke : I have continuously taken the view during the time that I have held my present office that it is a great privilege to be Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. However, to ask me to take responsibility for Scotland as well would be too much.

Hazardous Waste

8. Mr. William Ross : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans he has to deal with hazardous and toxic waste in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Needham : Hazardous and toxic waste not suitable for landfill in existing sites will continue to be transported for disposal at facilities in Great Britain. The hon. Gentleman will be aware, however, that Du Pont Ltd. is to conduct a study into a proposed incinerator facility.

Mr. Ross : My constituents are well informed of moves in that direction. However, does the Minister accept that it is absolutely vital that disposal of such waste should be carried out in the safest possible way? Do the Government accept that disposal of such waste must be overseen constantly by the Government and that all those who oversee should be properly qualified, preferably to degree standard? Does the Minister agree that such waste should be treated or disposed of not by the producers of that waste, but by some other body which may be more independent with regard to financial considerations?

Mr. Needham : The answer to three of the hon. Gentleman's questions is yes. In answer to his last question, I do not believe that it necessarily makes sense for those who may not be fully qualified or experienced to get rid of such waste when those who are involved in a similar business are much better qualified to do so. However, we will certainly look very carefully indeed at

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the qualifications and at the control of any potential incinerator and where it is to go, should one come forward in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Skinner : Will the Minister bear it in mind that if he wants to get rid of toxic waste in Northern Ireland, he had better not employ the services of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? When they tried to get rid of toxic waste in Bolsover, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had it sent to Severn Trent in the west midlands. It was not incinerated properly, and the result was that the west midlands was polluted with dioxine

Mr. Speaker : Order. That is a bit wide of the question. [Interruption.] It is.

Mr. Skinner : I am in order--

Mr. Speaker : Order. It is wide of the question.

Mr. Skinner : I am talking about Northern Ireland.

Mr. Speaker : Sit down, please.

Mr. Skinner : In Northern Ireland--

Mr. Speaker : Order. It is an abuse.

Mr. Skinner : In Northern Ireland--

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