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Mr. Cook: Martin McGuinness is, at present, the Minister of Education in the Northern Ireland Assembly. He plays a full part in the government of Northern Ireland and in the administration of the education system there. I think that it is wrong for us to say that that is all right for the people of Northern Ireland but that we will not allow him anywhere within the precincts of Westminster. As to what may or may not have been his past or the past of any of the others, we shall not get peace or make progress on the peace process if we constantly start from the very beginning and do not accept that some of these people have played a part in achieving a period of peace and stability in Northern Ireland.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): The House will recall the tragic murder of a special constable on the A64 in north Yorkshire. What does the Leader of the House propose that I say to the constable's family and my constituents in the Vale of York who are deeply distressed to hear of the despicable motion that the Leader of the House has put before the House.
In relation to the Second Reading of the Northern Ireland Arms Decommissioning (Amendment) Bill, does the Leader of the House agree with the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) that only a token gesture towards decommissioning has been made?
On the hon. Lady's point about what she should say to her constituents, she might tell them whatever her predecessor said before 1997 when the four people involved were admitted to the precincts and had access to the facilities to which we shall propose on Tuesday they have access. Our proposal will be made in circumstances that are very different from those of 1997 when they had such access to the precincts. However, it is precisely to prevent murders and violence and the grief of relatives in the future that we signed the Good Friday agreement and entered into the peace process.
I make no apology for having a peace process that provides a relative peace and stability that Northern Ireland did not know beforehand. If we want that peace process to continue and we want to avoid murders in the future, we have to show our willingness to enter into that process.
Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): Although I associate myself with the comments made by my right hon. and hon. FriendsI include my hon. Friends on the Unionist BenchesI wish to raise a matter that concerns my constituents in east Cowes. I refer to the loss of 650 jobsone third of the work forceat GKN Westland that has been announced today as result of the downturn in the British aerospace industry. Would it not be a better use of time on Tuesday next week to debate the downturn in the British aerospace industry and what the Government propose to do to help those who are suffering because of it?
Mr. Cook: I fully sympathise with the position of all those, including the hon. Gentleman's constituents, who suffer as a result of the recession in the aerospace industry. That reflects the reality in aviation at present.
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware from previous exchanges, Ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry have sought to do whatever they can to make sure that we enable the aviation industry to come out of this difficult period. I am particularly concerned that we act to ensure that the skilled and experienced teams of people who will be needed in the future are available when the industry returns to normal.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): Will the Leader of the House ensure that the Prime Minister opens the debate next Tuesday so that he can explain to the House and to the nation the extraordinary contrast between his laudable pursuit of the al-Qaeda network, which attacked the two tallest buildings in New York, and his craven behaviour towards the network of the IRA-Sinn Feinthey are inextricably linked in his own wordswhich attacked the two tallest buildings in London, namely the NatWest tower and Canary Wharf in 1996? These people whom he is inviting into the House should, as my right hon. Friend
Mr. Cook: The logic of the hon. Gentleman's positionI suspect that he may be prepared to follow it throughis that we would never have signed the Good Friday agreement. [Interruption.] He agrees with me on that. We would still have the IRA as an armed organisation at war with the British state. We would still have the IRA murdering people in Britain and letting off bombs in London. That is what the hon. Gentleman would embrace rather than the peace process.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): The Leader of the House mentioned the progress that has been made in the peace process, but that came about only at the last moment, at the eleventh hour and three quarters. Is he aware that there is every possibility that IRA-Sinn Fein will revert to their campaign of violence and terrorism against the British state? If their Members had taken their allowances and moved into their offices, what would happen if they did revert to that campaign?
Mr. Cook: Plainly, in the event of a breach of the Good Friday agreement and a reversion to the war with the bullet and the gun, many policies and attitudes will change, but it is precisely so that we do not have that reversion to violence that it is important that we maintain momentum in the peace process. We must be willing to show that we ourselves, and not only the other side, are committed to maintaining that momentum.
Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West): I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 24, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
It is now estimated that as well as the hundreds who have died or who are dying from mesothelioma simply because they lived in the neighbourhood of the J. W. Roberts factory in Leeds before it closed in 1956, there may be as many as 1,500 mesothelioma victims in Britain every year, and that number is rising rapidly. Five years ago, and after seven years of campaigning, we won a court case and, in a landmark judgment, proved that Turner and Newall, which had taken over J. W. Roberts, was responsible for polluting people in Armley in my constituency. A handful of compensation claims have been paid.
In September, however, Turner and Newall was taken over by an American company, Federal Mogul. On 1 October, it applied in the UK courts to put its UK subsidiaries into administration. That decision immediately blocked compensation payments to Turner and Newall's asbestos victims. The administrators now refuse to deal with any compensation claims, despite the original court judgment supporting the victims. Cheques to victims have bounced. One victim received a letter offering compensation, and in the very next post, a notice saying that the offer was worthless because the company was in administration. That victim has since died.
As we know, administration proceedings can take years, but the administrator had three monthswhich are up at the end of this monthto produce a financial statement and hold a creditors meeting. However, the parent company in America has already ring-fenced its liabilities, and it can continue trading and making a profit. This is not only about a few cases in Armley or about Turner and Newall; it could affect all asbestos claims in Britain.
This has been an annus horribilis for asbestos victims in Britain. Judgments seem to protect the companies rather than the victims, as we saw in the Chester Street case in January, the Fairchild case in February and the Turner and Newall case in October. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) earlier, there has been another such judgment in the Fairchild case this week.
Asbestos victims are vulnerable and totally innocent, and they die of the worst forms of cancer imaginable. They did not bring it on themselves, and they deserve compensation. We urgently need a full debate so that we can have a co-ordinated Government response to ensure that victims get compensation and polluting companies pay. Tragically, these victims do not have years to live, and they cannot afford to wait. They need to be given hope by a debate in the House.
Mr. Graham Allen presented a Bill to permit the use of the euro as well as the pound sterling as legal tender in the performance of financial obligations at or above a certain value; to provide for dual pricing of goods and services at or above that value; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on 11 January, and to be printed [Bill 70].