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Guardsmen Fisher and Wright

5. Mr. Gallie: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations he has received in regard to Guardsmen Fisher and Wright, currently imprisoned in Northern Ireland. [11971]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Sir John Wheeler): A number of representations have been received from various public figures. These include representations received recently in support of comments made in a letter circulated by former Scots Guards officers.

Mr. Gallie: I thank my right hon. Friend. Is he aware of the exemplary service given by those two young men, who were prepared to lay down their lives to protect all the citizens of Northern Ireland? Is he further aware that, in the past, two soldiers who were convicted for similar crimes were released within three and a half years? Those young men have now been in prison for four and a half years. Does my right hon. Friend not feel that enough is enough? They offer no threat to society, and it is time they came out.

Sir John Wheeler: Of course I am aware of the character of the service that those two guardsmen may have given during their duties in Northern Ireland, but questions of guilt and innocence are matters for the courts to determine, and they have determined that Fisher and Wright had no lawful justification for firing at their victim. The cases of those guardsmen will now be considered in accordance with the terms of Mr. Justice Girvan's judgment, and the cases will be referred to the

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Secretary of State, who will satisfy himself about any decision that is taken. I cannot, of course, prejudge the outcome of that exercise.

Mr. Dalyell: Would the Minister be prepared to meet Sir David Scott-Barrett and others who have pleaded the guardsmen's case?

Sir John Wheeler: Of course Ministers are always glad to meet distinguished persons to hear what they have to say, but I emphasise that Ministers cannot prejudge the outcome of proper inquiries.

Witnesses (Intimidation)

7. Mr. Jacques Arnold: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what representations he has received regarding intimidation of witnesses. [11973]

Sir John Wheeler: The Government have not received any recent representations regarding intimidation of witnesses.

Mr. Arnold: Is not the intimidation of witnesses a scandal and a perversion of the course of justice? What steps has my right hon. Friend taken to tighten up on that scandal?

Sir John Wheeler: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the concern that he has exhibited about the matter. It is a serious concern in Northern Ireland, and the Government have taken steps to strengthen the law. In 1996, a new statutory offence of intimidation of witnesses and jurors was created in the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order, which also covers pre-trial intimidation and revenge attacks after the trial. I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of strengthening and maintaining the law to deal with that problem.

Mr. Maginnis: Does the Minister agree that the problem is not exclusively the intimidation of witnesses but the intimidation of entire local communities, whose members have been beaten, crucified upside down or shot? The whole issue must be examined in that light. Can he give us an idea of the number of brutal beatings and other punishments that have occurred in the past year? Has the retribution against people intimidating those communities been equal to the magnitude of the crime?

Sir John Wheeler: The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the fact that there are other forms of intimidation, especially of the nationalist population of Northern Ireland, by terrorist thugs. Since last year, there have been many hundred brutal attacks of great savagery. They are all investigated by the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which is of course dependent on information from the complainant; if that is forthcoming, people may be arrested, charged and placed before the courts. It is a most serious matter that engages the attention of the Government and of the Royal Ulster Constabulary every day.

Miss Hoey: Does the Minister agree that intimidation of witnesses can occur in cases of stalking? Why is the Protection from Harassment Bill not to apply to Northern

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Ireland except under the undemocratic procedures? Why is Northern Ireland not treated as part of the United Kingdom in that legislation?

Sir John Wheeler: I agree with the hon. Lady: it is important that protection is provided in such circumstances. As she knows, Northern Ireland has its own criminal justice system and body of law, and it will be the Government's intention to follow the line of England and Wales in a separate order, replicating what is done for England and Wales, as soon as possible.


8. Mr. William Ross: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps he has taken since 1 January to eradicate BSE from the beef herd in Northern Ireland and to have the ban on beef exports lifted. [11974]

Sir Patrick Mayhew: The Government continue to take all steps recommended by the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee to eradicate BSE. That includes the recent implementation of the selective cull. The United Kingdom will shortly submit formal proposals for a certified herds scheme to the European Commission.

Mr. Ross: That is all very well as far as it goes, but will the Secretary of State give an assurance that there will be no delay by the Government in introducing a workable certified herds scheme in Northern Ireland, and that, when the cull takes place, there will be immediate EC verification, and Northern Ireland will not have to wait until the rest of the United Kingdom carries out its cull?

Sir Patrick Mayhew: I can give the assurance that the selective cull will proceed quickly and will not take long, because it will not apply to a large number of animals. The certified herds scheme which will shortly be introduced by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on behalf of all the Agriculture Departments in the United Kingdom will be the result of a consultation exercise that has recently been completed.

Rev. William McCrea: Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the farmers of Northern Ireland on their courage and determination during the BSE crisis? Does he agree that Northern Ireland should be given special status in Europe as a priority, because of its excellent beef, and that that could be the way in which the United Kingdom as a whole could get out of the present mess concerning BSE in Europe?

Sir Patrick Mayhew: I very much agree with what the hon. Gentleman says about the quality of Northern Ireland's beef. I am glad to say that that is evidenced by special contracts made by major importers and suppliers in Great Britain, in full recognition of the special quality of our beef, which in part derives from our electronic tracing scheme, which has been in place for the past eight years. Any scheme proposed on behalf of the United Kingdom will be a United Kingdom scheme, but it will undoubtedly be one from which Northern Ireland producers will be the first to benefit, for that reason.

Mr. Soley: Does the second part of the first answer to the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) mean

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that, if the Government are unable to get certified agreement for the whole of the United Kingdom, they will go ahead with a separate application for Northern Ireland, which meets the requirements laid down by the European Union?

Sir Patrick Mayhew: We do not anticipate failing in our application for a United Kingdom certified herds scheme, because the case for it will be overwhelming. It will be put forward on behalf of the UK as a necessary step to give effect to the Florence agreement.

Inward Investment

9. Mr. John Marshall: To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about inward investment into Northern Ireland. [11975]

Mr. Ancram: The year ending 31 March 1996 was the best ever for inward investment in Northern Ireland. Thirty-five projects were secured, offering 4,869 new jobs and representing total investment of £432 million. So far this year, 15 investments by externally owned companies have been secured for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Marshall: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. A company told me today that, by relocating from Belgium to Britain, it had cut total costs by 40 per cent. Does that not demonstrate the job-creating policies of this Government and the job-destructive characteristics of the social chapter and a national minimum wage?

Mr. Ancram: I agree totally with my hon. Friend. Again, that goes to show that the Government's policy in that area is totally right and in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland.



Q1. Mr. Sutcliffe: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 30 January. [11997]

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major): This morning, I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Sutcliffe: Is the Prime Minister aware of reports today that the national health service is in near-collapse in the north-west of England, with bed shortages and people waiting on trolleys? It is in crisis in Bradford as well, with 289 operations cancelled in the past quarter. A much-needed accident and emergency unit, which we were promised, has not been delivered after many years and we have the outrage of two new mixed-sex wards, which the Prime Minister said would not happen. Is not the truth that there are two health services, just as there are two Tory parties--a real health service which is near collapse and a fantasy health service which the Prime Minister talks about in the press?

Mr. Skinner: Tell us about fantasy land.

The Prime Minister: If the hon. Gentleman waits, he will hear what I have to say.

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The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) referred to the north-west. He might have begun by acknowledging the brand new £2.9 million extension to the accident and emergency department at the Royal Liverpool hospital, which opened a year or so ago and makes it one of the finest accident and emergency hospitals in the country. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bradford, South shakes his head. He does not think that it is one of the finest; I do.

The demand for the national health service is rising and so is the capacity to meet that demand, which is why more patients are being treated. Every health authority has made its plans for dealing with the growth in demand this year, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already made additional sums available to deal with that demand.

Mr. Hayes: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the people of Gibraltar are fiercely proud of being British and do not want to be a province of Spain? Will my right hon. Friend continue vigorously to support the people of Gibraltar to ensure that they have the same freedom of movement and voting that is taken for granted in the rest of Europe?

The Prime Minister: Britain stands by its commitment to the people of Gibraltar, which was enshrined in the 1969 constitution. We will not be entering into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their freely and democratically expressed wishes. The Spanish Foreign Minister raised that matter informally with my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, as indeed he had done on a previous occasion. My right hon. and learned Friend rejected the idea, because such a proposal did not and would not have the consent of the people of Gibraltar.

Mr. Blair: A few weeks ago, the Prime Minister said that it was essential in the national interest that our options remained open on a single currency and that he expected Conservative candidates to stand on that national manifesto. Is that still his expectation of Conservative candidates?

The Prime Minister: I think that, before taking me to task on this, the right hon. Gentleman should perhaps talk to the scores of his own Members of Parliament that the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) said would oppose his stance. As the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney said:

But the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) would not understand that. He entered the House on an election address that demanded Britain's withdrawal from the Community, even though he said later:

    "I wasn't actually opposed to membership of the E.C. . . . I said within the closed doors of the Labour party that I disagreed with that policy."

Behind closed doors he says one thing, in public another: not the politics of conviction, but convenience, saying anything to get a vote--and that is what he advocates to his candidates.

Mr. Blair: The Labour party put its manifesto to its membership and got 95 per cent. support--I doubt that

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the Prime Minister could put his manifesto to his Cabinet and get 95 per cent. support. After all, I was only asking him to agree with what he himself said a few weeks ago. If he cannot say that he now expects Conservative candidates to do that, has he still the vestige of authority and courage left to stand at that Dispatch Box and say now that at least he strongly urges and seeks to persuade Conservative candidates to stand on his and the Government's position?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is just being plain silly. Is he telling the House that the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) are actually going to support his policy on Europe at the general election? He raises it on this day of all days--the first two Labour questioners on the Order Paper are among the 50 who say that we should not join a single currency. The right hon. Gentleman may ask his candidates to fib to the electorate--our candidates will set out their views, we will follow the policy that the Government have set out and people know our policy. What he is trying to do is to censor and smother what his party stands for.

Mr. Blair: I asked the Prime Minister two questions. I said, as he himself said a few weeks ago, "Does he expect them to stand on the same manifesto?" I answer, "Yes." I then asked him, "Will he at least seek to persuade people to stand on the same manifesto?" I answer, "Yes." He is so weak and powerless, he cannot even say. He cannot even get to that--[Interruption.] Is it not extraordinary--[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. The House must come to order.

Mr. Blair: Is it not extraordinary that the Prime Minister of our country cannot even urge his party to support his own position? Weak, weak, weak, weak. I tell him that his weakness and his failure of leadership are the reason his Government are the incompetent mess they are.

The Prime Minister: Whenever the right hon. Gentleman gets abusive, we know that he is losing. If he is concerned about strength, will he today sack the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), who yesterday contradicted what he said about tax? Will he today sack the Deputy Chief Whip of the Labour party, who yesterday contradicted what was said about tax? All the right hon. Gentleman does is heckle and waft his arms around in a hopeless gesture. Yes or no--will he sack them or not? It is his policy, they are members of his shadow Cabinet, and they have denied his policy.

We have set out consistently what our policy is. I have said that it is important to keep the options--all the options--open. The right hon. Gentleman sniggers--I am quoting his words, not mine. He has followed in grandmother's footsteps in following policy after policy of ours. He says that we should keep the options open. We

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keep the options open, but his policy apparently means something quite different, because he dare not admit what his policy is.

Hon. Members: Withdraw.

Mr. Ashby: Has my right hon. Friend seen the statement--[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. [An hon. Member: "He was shouting abuse at the Prime Minister."] Order. If anyone has been abusive, they will indicate it to me. [Interruption.] Order. I think that a lot of hon. Members are suffering from pre-election tension. Let us get on with Question Time. There are hon. Members I want to call.

Mr. Ashby: My right hon. Friend has undoubtedly seen the statement by the chairman of Toyota. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Toyota came to this country because my right hon. Friend's policies provided the most favourable climate for companies such as Toyota to have a gateway into Europe? Does the chairman's statement not show that it is important that we should maintain that gateway--important that we should maintain our foot in Europe, so that we get increased investment?

The Prime Minister: We intend to maintain our voice in Europe--there should be absolutely no doubt about that--but we do not intend to follow slavishly whatever happens to be the favoured policy of some European Governments at any particular moment. We shall not follow policies that would be damaging to British interests. We shall not sign social chapters. [Interruption.] The deputy leader of the Labour party is scoffing, as usual. I tell him: one signature on the social chapter will mean half a million signatures on the dole.

Mr. Ashdown: The Prime Minister has pursued a conscientious and honourable policy in pursuing a path to peace in Northern Ireland and we have been unwavering in support of that. Does he realise that he will lose that, and much else besides, if he fails to apply rigorously, in full and now, the recommendations of the North report, which he brought into being, and jeopardises peace on the streets of Northern Ireland next summer for continuing Unionist support and a few more days in power?

The Prime Minister: In a few minutes, the right hon. Gentleman will hear a statement by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on the North report. However, in view of what he just said, I invite him to read the North report, and perhaps especially paragraph 1.49, which says:

It goes on to say:

    "No doubt there will be a period of consultation, and there may be some question as to how far new structures and procedures can be put in place in time for the 1997 'marching season'."

Some can be put in place, as my right hon. and learned Friend will tell the House, but the matter is more complex

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than the right hon. Gentleman intimated. I suggest that he wait to listen to the detailed statement by my right hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Peter Bottomley: Does my right hon. Friend agree that one should not unfairly--or even fairly--always go back to what people put in their election addresses in the 1980s, but one might want to look at what they put in their election addresses at the last general election and then wonder how many of those policies they have reversed in the past five years?

The Prime Minister: I think it is possible--[Interruption.] I am prepared to offer a prize to anyone who can find five policies on which the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) has been consistent.

Mr. Hume: Is the Prime Minister aware that today is the 25th anniversary of one of the worst atrocities in the past 25 years in Northern Ireland, when the security forces shot dead 14 people on the streets of my city? Does he agree that the more than 3,000 people who have died in the past 25 years have all suffered atrocity, and that their families have suffered trauma because of such tragedies?

Given that that was the only atrocity that was carried out by the security forces with the ratification of Government, and given that the Prime Minister has told me in writing that those who were killed on Bloody Sunday should be regarded as innocent of any allegation that they were shot while handling firearms or explosives,

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can he please tell me why they were shot? If he does not know, does he not think that the matter requires public investigation?

The Prime Minister: I understand how the hon. Gentleman feels about the matter. Everybody knows his record in Northern Ireland over the years, and I pay due tribute to it.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of ratification by Government. I think that he might wish to reconsider what he said about that. The events of 25 years ago constituted a terrible tragedy. I concede that to the hon. Gentleman. I believe that everyone is determined that the lessons of that day are never forgotten. That, too, I share with the hon. Gentleman.

The actions at the time were fully investigated by the Widgery committee. I know of no reason at present to reopen that inquiry. If anyone has fresh, relevant evidence, of course it should be sent to the proper authorities. The important point is that everyone acknowledges the tragedy of what happened a quarter of a century ago today. The Government, with the hon. Gentleman's help and, I concede, with the help of the leader of the Liberal party, the leader of the Labour party and many others, have been trying to reach a situation in Northern Ireland where there never, ever again need be any prospect of such an event recurring. That is what I passionately want. I do not believe that anyone doubts that. Without fresh evidence, I see no advantage in raking over old problems. If there were fresh evidence, of course we would examine it.

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