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Mr. Blunt: My point--it was made to the Defence Committee this morning and I was passing on the information to the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle)--was that the headquarters was being moved 25 miles for the sole purpose of crossing a border. I am not sure that that has an enormous amount to do with a national footprint.

Mr. Spellar: I noted down at the time that the hon. Gentleman used the term footprint; he said that the move was being made to maintain a footprint and that the

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decision was political. I believe that it is important to maintain the footprint. If that has been deemed to be one of the considerations, we will acknowledge it.

It was no surprise that my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley observed that he had believed that his constituency was not among those affected in the initial proposals. We stressed to the large numbers of those who made representations about the effects of TA restructuring in their areas that the consultation was genuine; its purpose was to ensure that a proper balance could be reflected in the proposals that were finally put to Ministers.

Of course I am personally sorry that my hon. Friend and his constituency should have had, as he sees it, the rough end of the deal, but I hope that he will accept that the objectives of the exercise have required us to have regard not only to the particular circumstances of the headquarters but to the region as a whole.

Lancashire has not done badly in the restructuring exercise. It currently contains six Territorial Army centres; there are centres in Blackpool, Lancaster, Preston and Chorley, with two centres in Blackburn. After the reform, there will be five TA centres in Lancashire. The TA centre in my hon. Friend's constituency will be the only one to close.

The remaining centres will be base to the best part of three infantry companies and an infantry battalion headquarters, a signal squadron, three Army medical service squadrons and the Lancaster University officer training corps. That is not much less than there is now--Lancashire has lost an infantry company, an engineer troop, and the 22-man headquarters of 101 Battalion REME. The county remains well represented by the TA. Moreover, it could be argued that the review has been kinder to Lancashire than to some other counties.

The intention is that the headquarters of 101 Battalion REME will move to Queensferry in north Wales. As we expect the company of infantry that is currently based in the TA centre in Queensferry to be reduced to a detachment, it makes sense to use the available space to accommodate other units. In addition to the infantry detachment, there will be a surgical squadron and 101 Battalion REME headquarters. There is ample space for those units.

The changes will give north Wales a share in the expansion of the TA element of the Army medical service from which Lancashire has benefited. They will place the REME battalion headquarters closer to the REME unit at Prestatyn, which is some 15 miles away on the A548.

Mr. Hoyle: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Spellar: Yes, but I remind my hon. Friend of the time.

Mr. Hoyle: Chorley is right next door to Clifton, where most of the Army presence is; if the REME battalion moves, it will be even further away.

Mr. Spellar: The battalion will move closer to one centre and further from another--that is always the difficulty in making those judgments. I am describing the process by which we tried to ensure a balance across the country. Furthermore, there is no question that we will not be able to recruit the 22 individual volunteers that we need for the headquarters.

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North Wales has not done badly in the review, but it has not done as well as Lancashire. Like Lancashire, north Wales contains six TA centres, but two of them are to close. Like Lancashire, north Wales contains four infantry companies; after the reforms, there will be the best part of three. Wales currently has only one battalion headquarters whereas Lancashire has three. If the REME battalion headquarters was not moving, Wales would have none after the changes.

The judgment has been that it makes sense to move the headquarters of 101 Battalion REME to Wales. That makes operational sense because of the presence of the REME unit in Prestatyn. It makes practical sense because of the need to make best use of the facilities in Queensferry after the reduction of the infantry presence there. It makes regional sense because it accords with our attempts to ensure reasonable equity in the distribution of the future TA.

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There will be opportunities for those in Chorley to continue to serve in the TA if they want, although I accept that, for some, it will not be as convenient as it is now. The centre at Kimberley barracks, Preston, however, is not more than seven or eight miles from Chorley and there are other centres in Lancashire and Greater Manchester. Arrangements will be made where possible to enable those who want to transfer to do so.

I understand the position of my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley. It is hard that Chorley should be almost alone in being able to supply what was needed to ensure fair play regionally. The decision involved a matter of judgment; we had to take into account the wider interests of the TA in the region as a whole--

It being Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--


1. Mr. Shaun Woodward (Witney): If she will make a statement on the decommissioning of weapons from terrorist organisations. [61198]

2. Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): What progress has been made on the decommissioning of illegally held arms; and if she will make a statement. [61199]

3. Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge): What progress has been made on the decommissioning of illegally held arms and explosives. [61200]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Marjorie Mowlam): The independent International Commission on Decommissioning has been holding discussions about the means of decommissioning with representatives from a number of parties associated with paramilitary organisations.

Although actual decommissioning has yet to start, the Government are determined to see the Good Friday agreement implemented in full. It is time for all paramilitary groups to play their part in the implementation of the agreement and start decommissioning now.

Mr. Woodward: Although nobody in the House would in any way wish to undermine the achievements of the peace process--and I am sure that everybody in the House would continue to support fully the Secretary of State in the work that she is doing--we must bear it in mind that a great deal of understanding is required by those who have seen more than 200 paramilitary prisoners released since 11 September without a single weapon having been decommissioned. The understanding that is required by the families of the victims of the most brutal killings by some of those who have now been released is perhaps being tested to breaking point. Does the Secretary of State believe that the process of releasing paramilitary prisoners should continue while not a single weapon is collected? When does she believe the first of those weapons should be handed in?

Marjorie Mowlam: I share the hon. Gentleman's concern at the pain felt by victims' families. I have talked to many of those families in the past weeks and months, and I understand that completely. However, even though their pain is difficult, many say that if it means that other families do not have to go through what they have gone through, the Good Friday agreement is worth having and worth trying to implement. It is difficult and it takes a great deal of understanding, but the people voted for the agreement. We are implementing it--that is our role. The agreement must be implemented in all its dimensions, and that is what we are working to achieve.

Mr. Luff: I certainly wish to associate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Witney

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(Mr. Woodward) about the Secretary of State's achievements. However, does she understand that there is a real risk of her losing the support of mainstream English opinion for the peace process unless decommissioning begins almost immediately? Had she come with me to my constituency at the weekend, she would have heard many people express to me their anger and puzzlement at the fact that terrorists can walk free from prison while the organisations that support them are not giving up a single ounce of Semtex or a single bullet. Does she understand the urgency of the feeling that decommissioning should begin immediately?

Marjorie Mowlam: The agreement was put in place for all the people of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic and elsewhere. It was put in place not by us, but by the party leaders. We will do all that we can following the votes of the people to make sure that the agreement is implemented. Of course understanding is needed, but moving from violence to peace is not easy. We are implementing the Good Friday agreement. Some dimensions are moving more quickly than others, but we must implement the agreement for it to work. The best way to get decommissioning and to find peace is to implement the agreement--as we are trying to do.

Mr. Hammond: In a letter to the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), the Prime Minister made a commitment which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition quoted on 22 April. My right hon. Friend quoted that letter as follows:

Will the Secretary of State reaffirm that pledge in precisely those terms today?

Marjorie Mowlam: Those are roughly the words that the Prime Minister used on 10 April. We will make the decision when we have people in the Executive. We are a long way off that yet.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): Is there not a road to decommissioning? At least 14 bodies of the disappeared have not been returned; masses of mutilations still take place; and a host of people are in exile. I understand that 458 terrorist incidents this year have been attributed to paramilitary groups involved in the Assembly. If those groups could deliver progress on the bodies and on the mutilations, would not that open the road to full decommissioning?

Marjorie Mowlam: I thank my hon. Friend and agree whole-heartedly.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): When the odd job lot opposite were in power, many prisoners were released early. How many weapons were decommissioned then? Everyone knew that decommissioning would be the most difficult element in the agreement and, as my right hon. Friend says, we have to consider it as a whole.

Marjorie Mowlam: My hon. Friend will be well aware that the Good Friday agreement contains clear

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commitments on the decommissioning of all paramilitary weapons within two years. We want the process to start straight away. I agree that the previous Government did not achieve a single piece of decommissioning but released 240 prisoners as a result of the Northern Ireland (Remission of Sentences) Act 1995.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): That was to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the country.

Marjorie Mowlam: I do not want to dwell on the past, because we are building for the future, but--[Interruption.] I do not want to get into a slanging match about the past. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. I do not welcome comments from a sedentary position, and certainly not on such an important issue.

Marjorie Mowlam: It is sometimes a little difficult when hon. Members say that they support me in my position, but do not support the detail that comes out of my mouth. I wish that they would decide which way their support stands.

Ms Margaret Moran (Luton, South): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the preconditions that Conservative Members want to write into the agreement do not exist in it at the moment, and that it is incumbent on all of us who have the welfare of Northern Ireland at heart to ensure that our constituents understand the real terms of the agreement and not those that others would seek to insert? Is it not wrong to attempt to rewrite an agreement to which all parties signed up?

Marjorie Mowlam: I thank my hon. Friend. Let me make our position absolutely clear: decommissioning is an integral part of the agreement; it is not a precondition but an obligation. I would like it to happen as soon as possible, but I agree completely that it would be wrong to rewrite the agreement, as those who want movement on the accelerated release of prisoners, and not the other dimensions, are trying to do.

Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley): The Secretary of State will be aware of the obligations placed on her by the House under section 3(9)(d) of the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 to review the conduct of terrorist organisations whose prisoners are being released. At the moment, many of those organisations continue to engage in violence and regularly breach their ceasefires; some of them have not even set up a liaison with the International Commission on Decommissioning. Does the Secretary of State believe that all the organisations benefiting from prisoner releases are committed to exclusively peaceful means, when violence continues daily?

Marjorie Mowlam: I take constant cognisance of the piece of the Act to which the hon. Gentleman refers--section 3--and, as I have said in the House before, I review on a continuous basis the question whether the groups that are part of the accelerated scheme for releases are maintaining an unequivocal ceasefire. I have to say that they are, on the firm evidence with which I am

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provided. I make the commitment again to the House that if that changes, I will of course make a judgment and act, but up to now that firm evidence is not there.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Should we not put it on record that no Member of Parliament does not want to see decommissioning happen as quickly as possible, and that that is not the monopoly of some Conservative Members? Is it not a fact that what has happened since the Good Friday agreement has been what was agreed at the time, and that no action has been taken by the British Government that was not in the agreement, which was endorsed by a huge majority in this House? Some people did not want the agreement and are doing their best to destabilise it.

Marjorie Mowlam: No Government want to see decommissioning of all paramilitary weapons more than this Government. We have worked hard to do everything that we can to get paramilitary weapons decommissioned. It is an essential part of the agreement. Progress with the Good Friday agreement is crucial to making progress on all the dimensions necessary. It is about confidence, and the bipartisanship in the House has been crucial in helping that confidence along. I hope that that is reinforced today.

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): The Secretary of State will no doubt agree that decommissioning must extend to the weapons used in the mutilation incidents that take place. Does she agree that the official statistics hide higher levels of intimidation occurring at the moment in Northern Ireland? What words of encouragement can she give to those involved in the organisations Families Against Intimidation and Terror and Families Acting for Innocent Relatives, who courageously work hard to reduce the levels of violence with which many people in Northern Ireland sadly still have to live?

Marjorie Mowlam: I share the hon. Gentleman's hatred of those events and I use this opportunity to call again on the individuals who commit those barbaric acts to stop. Groups and individuals who campaign on the matter should rightly be commended. They work very hard to bring it into the public domain, sometimes at great personal risk to themselves. I say to the hon. Gentleman and others that I cannot act on the basis of speculation and allegations: I have to act on firm evidence. A number of allegations have appeared in the press recently, including one a couple of days ago that claimed that ex-prisoners were involved. I saw the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary yesterday and asked whether any firm evidence existed on which I should act. I was reassured that it did not. If there is firm evidence, I will act, as the agreement requires me to do.

Mr. Phil Hope (Corby): I congratulate my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister on their personal commitment and the work that they are doing to ensure that all the provisions of the Good Friday agreement are implemented. Like every other right hon. and hon. Member, I condemn gangsterism on the streets of Belfast, or anywhere else in the United Kingdom. What effect does my right hon. Friend think the apparent breakdown in the bipartisan approach is having on the

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confidence that people in Northern Ireland have in the Good Friday agreement, because it is that confidence that will secure longer lasting peace in the future?

Marjorie Mowlam: I thank my hon. Friend. I hope that the breakdown is apparent and not real, and I look for reassurance from my opposite number, the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay). The bipartisan approach has been a plus. I have been assured that the support we gave the previous Government was a help and I hope that the understanding continues. It helps confidence in Northern Ireland and worldwide, which feeds back into Northern Ireland.

Progress is being made on many other dimensions, despite many of the questions that pick on the negative parts. It is slow, but we have only been at it for six months. The momentum is still there on the Human Rights Commission, the Equality Commission, the Assembly and the cross-border bodies. My deputy, my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), sends his apologies to the House, because he is at present in talks with parties on aspects of the agreement. That momentum must not be forgotten.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): In attempting to support a bipartisan approach to Northern Ireland, may I strongly endorse what the Secretary of State said at the Dispatch Box at her last Question Time, which was that decommissioning and the early release of terrorist prisoners must go in parallel as part of the agreement that we both support? Does she agree that any reasonable person would say that the early release of many more than 200 terrorist prisoners, without a single ounce of Semtex or one gun having been handed in by the paramilitaries, does not in any shape or form match up to the agreement or the promises that have been made?

Marjorie Mowlam: If the right hon. Gentleman is attempting to support us, he ought to read the agreement, which is clear on the point that he has just made. Yes, there must be parallel movement, and on all dimensions. That is how the difficult issue of decommissioning will be addressed. If the agreement is implemented, decommissioning will happen as part of the process. If, as I said earlier, I receive evidence that one or more groups are not maintaining a completely unequivocal ceasefire, I shall use my powers, under the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998, to prevent further releases.

The right hon. Gentleman asked why I am allowing releases to go ahead without decommissioning. If he reads the agreement, he will find that it states that if there is a breakdown of the ceasefire, and if I have evidence to that effect, I may--as I have said to the House on numerous occasions--act accordingly. There is no such evidence. If the right hon. Gentleman is asking me to do something else, that is not implementing the agreement.

Mr. MacKay: May I tell the Secretary of State that the text that I have taken is that given by the Prime Minister, both at the Dispatch Box in reply to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition during several exchanges in May, and in his clear pledges to the people of Northern Ireland during the referendum campaign. The Secretary of State and I know that those pledges have not been kept. We are told that the Prime Minister will join the Taoiseach, Mr. Ahern, in Belfast later today. Can the right

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hon. Lady assure us that he will say to all the paramilitaries, "I am drawing a line in the sand. Not a single extra terrorist prisoner will be released until there is substantial and verifiable decommissioning. I am thus keeping my promise to the people of Northern Ireland."?

Marjorie Mowlam: My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has kept his pledges. If the right hon. Gentleman reads the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 and the Northern Ireland Act 1998, he will find that his points are in them.

Security Situation

4. Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): If she will make a statement on the current security situation. [61201]

8. Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): If she will make a statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland. [61205]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram): The security situation at present remains relatively calm and the main ceasefires continue to hold. Unfortunately, there are still groups that have refused to call ceasefires and which continue to use violence, or the threat of violence, to promote their own narrow agendas. The security forces remain alert to counter that threat.

Mr. Paterson: The Belfast human rights group, Families Against Intimidation and Terror, reports that there were 400 violent terrorist incidents in the first 10 months of 1998. That has accelerated, with 157 in November, and 37 families have had to be rehoused. In contradiction of the Secretary of State, Mr. Vincent McKenna, the development officer of FAIT, says that 12 released prisoners have been directly implicated in incidents. Given the deteriorating situation, does it not defy common sense to continue to release violent men?

Mr. Ingram: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has extensively answered most of those points. Let me deal with the allegations made by FAIT, an organisation with which I have had contact, and whose previous office bearers and their work I respect. To anyone who has information and evidence, I can say only this: do not make allegations in the press; give the evidence to the police. A judicial process is required to take people to justice, not the Government.

Mr. Grieve: Again, on the question of security, I am sure that the Minister is aware that there has been a growing number of incidents involving attacks on RUC patrols, particularly in South Armagh. Is he also aware that there is a widespread view in Northern Ireland that those attacks have been carefully orchestrated by Sinn Fein and the IRA and have been designed specifically to influence the way in which the Patten commission considers the reform of the RUC in the future? How does he view the progress of the ceasefire and the security situation in the light of those attacks?

Mr. Ingram: I know that the hon. Gentleman is a respected barrister, but I make the same points as

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I made to his hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson). If he has any evidence for those allegations, he should pass it on to the police and the RUC so that they can investigate it. Clearly, as I said earlier, there are still incidents of unrest throughout Northern Ireland. The RUC has to address that, and all members of society in Northern Ireland--it is to be hoped with the support of Opposition Members--must work together to implement the Good Friday agreement.

Mr. Robert McCartney (North Down): Does the Minister agree that people are being shot and mutilated daily in Northern Ireland and that that is taking place in areas under the complete control of paramilitary organisations represented in the Assembly? Does the Minister agree that those widespread and, in many instances, murderous offences are being committed in areas where the police acknowledge that either the Provisional IRA or the Ulster Volunteer Force have complete control?

Mr. Ingram: I must say again that the hon. and learned Gentleman is making allegations. He is a respected lawyer in Northern Ireland and he should not respond to allegations. He should seek evidence and pass it to the RUC. The RUC is assiduous in trying to track down every wrongdoing, but it needs evidence. It needs people to come forward. It needs those who have been victimised, harassed or intimidated to stand up and say what has happened to them and it needs witnesses to back them up. Anybody who has been involved will then be taken through the judicial process.

Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): Does my hon. Friend agree that we should commend the efforts of former prisoner organisations which are trying to work with the probation service, the police and other authorities in Northern Ireland to create proper community alternatives in areas where there are high levels of crime and problems for communities? Should we not commend those efforts and make it clear that, across the House, we condemn the activities of drug barons and gangsters who are using the political situation for their own ends?

Mr. Ingram: I thank my hon. Friend for those comments, with which I agree whole-heartedly. I met a group yesterday called Proj-ex 2000, which is involved in the reintegration of released prisoners. It made the point that many ex-prisoners return to a normal life. They want to reintegrate into society and it behoves all of us to find the means and provide the resources for them to achieve that. There are many people working to heal Northern Ireland society and we have to work alongside them to remove for good the men of violence.


5. Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): What discussions she has held with leaders of political parties represented in the Northern Ireland Assembly about a linkage between decommissioning of terrorist weapons and eligibility for participation in the Northern Ireland Executive. [61202]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Marjorie Mowlam): Such proposals have been made by

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more than one of the parties. There is no direct linkage in the agreement, and the Government cannot rewrite it. We are there to help implement it.

Mr. Wilkinson: Does the right hon. Lady not recognise that the maintenance of an armoury of weapons at a party's disposal constitutes an implicit threat to the population and a potential source of blackmail to the political and democratic process? In that context, may I remind the right hon. Lady of the personal pledge delivered by the Prime Minister to the University of Ulster, Coleraine, on 20 May? He said:

Does that pledge still hold?

Marjorie Mowlam: The maintenance of an armoury, whether by republicans or loyalists, is clearly counterproductive.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): What are you going to do about it?

Marjorie Mowlam: I shall try to implement the Good Friday agreement because that is the best way to achieve decommissioning. If the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) has an alternative, I look forward to hearing it. On his second point, which questioned the Prime Minister's pledge on 20 May, I say to him, as I said in earlier answers, that the pledge has been honoured. It is in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and the Northern Ireland (Sentences) Act 1998 and we are following it to the word.

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone): I am surprised that the House is so tolerant of the equivocation and evasion that we have heard from the Government today. I wonder why, when the House has found its conscience about General Pinochet and the abuse of human rights, the Secretary of State will not give a clear definition of how people with paramilitary links such as McGuinness, Adams and other members of Sinn Fein can get into government. Will she reassure the House that she is not contemplating contravening the Stormont agreement by saying that we must implement every element of it before there is any decommissioning? That would not be acceptable.

Marjorie Mowlam: As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is not for me to make that final decision. I have said that we are trying to implement all the parts together. No one part must be a precondition for another. The issue is one of confidence, and there must be confidence building on both sides. Implementing the agreement is the best way to achieve that.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire): Does not the Secretary of State agree that the Government have made it abundantly clear through the words of the Prime Minister that Sinn Fein members will not

unless and until they

    "have given up violence for good"?--[Official Report, 6 May 1998; Vol. 311, c. 711.]

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The right hon. Gentleman included progress on decommissioning in that. Is that a matter of principle for the Government, or are they prepared to compromise outside the spirit of the Belfast agreement to cobble together a deal?

Marjorie Mowlam: The hon. Gentleman did not read out the whole quotation, which referred specifically to the Executive and progress on decommissioning. I am not saying, as was suggested earlier, that decommissioning should wait until last. We want it to happen as soon as possible and it is an essential part of the agreement. It is not a precondition but an obligation. In answer to earlier questions, I made it clear that the only way to achieve decommissioning is to implement the agreement. All parts must be implemented and we all have to work very hard to achieve that.


6. Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): If she will make a statement on the latest trends in tourism in Northern Ireland. [61203]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram): In 1997, 1.45 million visitors came to Northern Ireland--a 1 per cent. decline on 1996--and contributed £208 million to the local economy. Estimates for the first half of 1998 suggest a marginal growth of 1 per cent. over the same period last year. Tourism performance measures for 1998 will be available early in 1999.

Mr. Bruce: Will the Minister tell us what is being done in Northern Ireland to develop contacts with the Republic of Ireland to improve tourism, work on matters other than security and, hopefully, build up trust between the two communities?

Mr. Ingram: The hon. Gentleman refers to one of the important areas in which there is good cross-border co-operation. That is being examined by an implementation body of the new Assembly Members and the Republic of Ireland. Tourism has great potential for the local economy and many jobs will flow from it.

Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): Will my hon. Friend please tell the House what work has been done to market in north America the great tourism potential of Northern Ireland and the rest of the island of Ireland? Has not the confidence that tourists have gained from knowledge of the bipartisan approach that we have previously witnessed in the House encouraged them to return to the island of Ireland, bringing prosperity to parts of the Northern Ireland economy?

Mr. Ingram: The Northern Ireland tourist board has put in considerable effort. Against a very difficult backcloth, it has energetically tried to bring more tourists to Northern Ireland. Those who visit Northern Ireland return again and again, and I believe that we may all promote Northern Ireland as a great place to visit. It will be even better when the Good Friday agreement is implemented in full.

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