|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
2. Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone): What discussions he has had with the Prime Minister on the complement of his Department's Ministers since the suspension of the Northern Ireland Executive. 
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Mandelson): No discussions have taken place with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the complement of Northern Ireland Office Ministers since suspension took place on 12 February.
The decision of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister not to reappoint additional Ministers reflects our desire to make the renewed period of direct rule as short as possible. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that no local departmental matters will be neglected in the meantime. I hope that we can restart the institutions as soon as possible. They are certainly needed if we are to be successful in implementing the Good Friday agreement as a whole, and that is in the urgent interests of all the people of Northern Ireland.
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): Does my right hon. Friend agree that while the parties are continuing to talk round the table and the ceasefire remains intact, the two Governments are absolutely right in their determination to keep all possible avenues open so that parties can take the important extra step?
Mr. Mandelson: Yes, that is very important, and it is particularly important that the two Governments continue to work closely together. We are working with them and in co-operation with the parties. The consultations that both Governments started and had with the parties last week will continue in Washington, as I have said, over St. Patrick's day. Next week, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach will meet to review what progress has been made, and I think that that is to be followed by an intensive period of activity prior to the Easter break.
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram): Latest estimates derived from the labour force survey show that there were approximately 691,000 persons employed in Northern Ireland in the period November 1999 to January 2000.
Mr. Colman: I thank the Minister for that information and congratulate him on his work in ensuring that unemployment has fallen steadily in Northern Ireland over the past three years. I commend the work of the Industrial Development Board, so ably chaired by Alan Gillespie. Does my hon. Friend share my amazement that the £400 million loan guarantee and the £38 million of intervention fund grants were described by Harland and Wolff management, in its tender for the Cunard liner, as too little, too late, and contrast that with the general
Mr. Ingram: I thank my hon. Friend for making a good point. The scale of the offer to Harland and Wolff was unprecedented. It involved two Departments: the Department of Trade and Industry and the Northern Ireland Office. It is a matter of regret that the yard did not obtain the contract; if it had, future employment could have been guaranteed to some extent.
I share my hon. Friend's amazement that the official Conservative spokesman on Northern Ireland has criticised the Government's actions. He represents a party that, in the 1980s, went out of its way to destroy the manufacturing sector throughout the United Kingdom and argued against any form of state intervention to support companies. We have shown our determination to save the yard and we shall continue to work to do so.
Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): In spite of the Minister's heavy load, he will be aware of the fears of Harland and Wolff's 1,700 employees and the many hundreds of others whose livelihood depends on continuous employment in the shipyard. Although the recent lack of success is disappointing, will he continue to work with management and trade unions to secure a future for Harland and Wolff and to save the shipyard from closure?
Mr. Ingram: I met senior management of Harland and Wolff last Friday, after the announcement was made. I have offered to meet them again to discuss what assistance we can offer the company in bidding for future contracts, because we value the yard and the type and quality of work it brings to Northern Ireland's economy. I am due to meet unions to discuss their concerns. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments.
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East): Has the Minister had an opportunity to speak to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence about the possibility of the Ministry of Defence revising its timetable for placing orders and seeking quotes from various yards within the United Kingdom in respect of MOD contracts?
Mr. Ingram: It is more appropriate that I first discuss in detail with the company the contracts for which it intends to bid. If it wants additional support from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and me in terms of making representations to other Departments, we stand ready to hear its requests and to make such representations.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. George Howarth): As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, under the Good Friday agreement all parties are committed to working to achieve complete decommissioning by May 2000. In the context of the implementation of the overall settlement,
Mr. Waterson: Can the Minister confirm the parliamentary answers given to my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson), to the effect that since the Good Friday agreement more than 2,400 injuries and 49 deaths have been inflicted by terrorists in Northern Ireland? Does not that underline the importance of making no more significant concessions to Sinn Fein until there is meaningful and verifiable decommissioning?
Mr. Howarth: Of course any violence is to be deplored and no member of the Government would apologise on behalf of any party involved in violence. We will behave toward such parties in the appropriate way. However, the hon. Gentleman should be aware that our actions should not be regarded as concessions; they are all part of the Good Friday agreement. It is not true to say that we are making concessions. What we are doing is delivering on the obligations that we and all the other parties made when we signed up to the Good Friday agreement.
Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone): Will the Minister join me in deploring the fact that not one of his colleagues on the Government side of the House seems interested in decommissioning, or has asked a question on that issue? Will he confirm that he and the Secretary of State still consider decommissioning an essential part of the Belfast agreement, and that they will not be beguiled by the unilateral dissent from the 22 May date demonstrated by the junior Minister at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin? Can the Minister--[Interruption.] I know that Labour Members do not want to hear about decommissioning. Has the Secretary of State obtained an answer to the question put by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon)? Does the IRA intend to disarm, and if so, when?
Mr. Howarth: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was in the House at the time, but if he was, he would have heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State dealing earlier with questions from both sides of the House on the subject of decommissioning. And a few moments ago, I dealt directly with a question on decommissioning from an Opposition Member. With all the respect that I can summon for the hon. Gentleman, I conclude that he was not listening, or he chose to ignore what took place earlier.
My right hon. Friend, Ministers from the Republic of Ireland and I are working hard to ensure that all the important aspects of the Good Friday agreement, including decommissioning, are met in a way that is acceptable within the terms of the agreement. That is what my right hon. Friend said, and I repeat it. I do not know what more I can say to satisfy the hon. Gentleman, except that I know that he agrees with us on that point.
Mr. Robert McCartney (North Down): Is the Minister aware that the Secretary of State said earlier that decommissioning could take place only in the context of the overall implementation of the agreement? Are they
Mr. Howarth: The hon. and learned Gentleman is trying to work into his question and our answer some sort of collusion that does not exist. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has given a proper assessment of the situation as regards decommissioning, in the context of the Good Friday agreement. To seek to misinterpret or reinterpret that is nothing short of mischievous. If the hon. and learned Gentleman wants to be mischievous, that is his prerogative. We are seeking to bring about peace, and I am sure the entire House would agree that that is the right thing to do.
Mr. Howarth: The hon. Gentleman ought to be aware of the fact that we are seriously engaged with our colleagues from Ireland and all the other parties that signed up to the agreement in trying to get the process back on track. I shall not second-guess where those discussions will lead. However, we are seeking to deliver every part of the Good Friday agreement, which includes obligations on decommissioning.
Mr. Howarth: At the moment, there is no evidence that decommissioning will be completed--or even started--by 22 May. That is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be involved in discussions with the Taoiseach next week, and why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I met our Irish colleagues and representatives of the political parties last week. We are trying to deliver the Good Friday agreement in full. We shall continue to pursue that objective.