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Stevens Inquiry

2. Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the Stevens inquiry. [113802]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy): Sir John Stevens's report is to the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Sir John has indicated that specific criminal investigations continue and that files will continue to be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland. It is important that the criminal justice process takes its course.

Kevin Brennan : I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. What will the Government do to get to the bottom of allegations of collusion and murder by members of the security forces? What assurances can my hon. Friend give the House that the Government are pressing for total co-operation in the supply of information by members of the security forces? Will she confirm that it will never be this Government's policy that murder can be justified, even to protect valuable intelligence sources?

Jane Kennedy: The Government take allegations of collusion very seriously. We will study the recommendations that Sir John Stevens makes in his report. The recommendations are a matter for the Chief Constable to take forward, but it is precisely because we take allegations of collusion so seriously that the British and Irish Governments appointed the Canadian judge, Peter Cory, in May 2002 to examine allegations in relation to six high profile cases, with a view to advising what further action, if any, is needed.

We have always required public authorities to act within established guidelines when using covert human intelligence sources. The Regulation of Investigatory

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Powers Act 2000 has improved structures for the management of informants and ensured greater accountability.

Patrick Mercer (Newark): I am sure that the Minister will join me in admiring the work of the policemen, policewomen, soldiers and women soldiers who have worked in the various intelligence agencies in Northern Ireland. Will she confirm that the allegations about the identity of the so-called agent Stakeknife will not imperil continuing intelligence operations in the Province?

Jane Kennedy: In their fight against terrorism, the security forces use a variety of techniques, including covert human intelligence sources. It is difficult and dangerous work, and we owe a great debt to those who engage in it. However, it is important that wrongdoers be brought to justice. As I said in my earlier answer, the Government are open to scrutiny. It is important that we take seriously allegations such as those investigated by Sir John Stevens.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Have the Government yet identified where, and at what level, the obstructions encountered by Sir John Stevens during his inquiries originate?

Jane Kennedy: We will study the findings of Sir John's report carefully. His recommendations, particularly those to which the hon. Gentleman refers, are for the Chief Constable, and there are issues for us to study closely and take forward. It is important that Sir John Stevens receives the fullest co-operation that it is possible to give, and that is our aim.

Lady Hermon (North Down): Given that the credibility of the Stevens inquiry continues to be seriously undermined by the non-co-operation of the family of the late Pat Finucane, what steps have been taken to encourage the family to co-operate with the ongoing Stevens inquiry?

Jane Kennedy: That is a police investigation, and the investigations continue. It is important that the criminal justice process is upheld. It is, however, a matter for the Finucane family. In the normal course of events, I would encourage the fullest possible co-operation with the police.

Mr. John Taylor (Solihull): Does the Minister agree that it would be repugnant to prosecute members of the police and armed forces when more than 440 convicted terrorists have been released early from prison?

Jane Kennedy: No. There is no moral equivalence with terrorists. Wrongdoers in any of the security forces—the armed forces or the police—ought to be brought to justice. That is the Government's objective.

International Year for People with Disabilities

3. Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy): To ask the Secretary

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of State for Northern Ireland what provision he is making in Northern Ireland to mark the international year for people with disabilities. [113803]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Desmond Browne): The Government are committed to supporting the European year for people with disabilities in Northern Ireland, and committed to bringing forward a programme of initiatives, events and activities, in line with the commitments given by the previous Northern Ireland Executive. I have launched a Northern Ireland grants scheme to augment the UK-wide scheme. Thirty-four disability organisations in Northern Ireland have received more than £300,000 in grants for specific projects.

Mrs. Williams : Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that children are involved in all events marking the international year for people with disabilities? What steps are likely to be taken to involve children in this year's world Special Olympics?

Mr. Browne: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her work on behalf of children, especially those with special needs. She recently had cause to be even more interested in children—I understand that she became a grandmother for the first time last week. I congratulate her on that.

I am pleased to advise hon. Members that there is a strong focus on children in the arrangements for the international year. For example, some of the successful Northern Ireland grant applications were from groups with projects that are specifically geared towards children with disabilities. The world Special Olympic games are being held in the island of Ireland for the first time in their 25-year history. The events are targeted mainly, but not exclusively, at children.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): Does the Under-Secretary accept that Mencap's campaign for more respite care, especially for those in the older age group, must be considered and enforced? Does he also agree that it would greatly benefit Northern Ireland and the people of Iraq if the Iraqi Special Olympic team could come to Larne? Will he facilitate that, unless there is adequate reason to prevent it?

Mr. Browne: I agree that there needs to be a continuing focus on respite care. I am taking that forward in my current capacity as Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety.

I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and for Culture, Media and Sport have been working together to try to resolve the problem of the Iraqi team for the Special Olympics, whose members were due to be hosted in Larne. I am also pleased to say that the necessary resources to secure the Iraqi Special Olympians' attendance have been identified through the games organising committee and the Foreign and

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Commonwealth Office. We are trying to establish contact with the team to confirm that it still wishes to participate in the games.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North): I thank the Under-Secretary for what he has said so far, but in recognising the valuable contribution that people with disabilities can make to life and society in general, may I press him to outline the progress in implementing the recommendations of the Disability Rights Taskforce, which reported in 1999 in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Browne: The hon. Gentleman is right to identify the need to take forward the recommendations of the Disability Rights Taskforce and I pay tribute to him for his contribution to that. The relevant departments in the Northern Ireland Office intend to implement all the recommendations as quickly as possible.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): In addition to the excellent initiatives that my hon. Friend outlined, does he agree that, in recognition of the tremendous work of the reverend and hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), we should implement fully the Disabled Persons (Northern Ireland) Act 1989, which he pioneered, especially its advocacy and representation provisions?

Mr. Browne: I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his consistent advocacy of such issues. He has an enviable reputation. One cannot underestimate the importance of advocacy in relation to matters that people with disabilities have to tackle. My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that.

Commercial/Industrial Development (Banbridge)

4. Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on commercial and industrial development in the Banbridge area. [113804]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Ian Pearson): There is a significant amount of positive economic activity in the Banbridge area, including a major new development at Gilford Mill and one proposed at Bridgewater Park, which together could create around 3,600 jobs. At 1.6 per cent., the claimant unemployment rate is the joint lowest of all the 26 district council areas.

Mr. Trimble : May I refer the Under-Secretary to the problems that are being experienced not only in Banbridge but in Northern Ireland generally as a result of slowness in decision making in the planning service? He rightly referred to two major developments in the area. I am especially worried about the business park at Cascum road, Banbridge. It is in competition to attract major developments with sites in the Republic of Ireland, which has a much more effective and quick decision-making process. Will the Under-Secretary consider that and ensure that the recent application for

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the extension of the business park is decided quickly so that a development that could be significant not only for Banbridge but a wider area goes ahead?

Mr. Pearson: I acknowledge the work that the right hon. Gentleman has done in successfully promoting the development of the site at Cascum road, Bridgewater Park in his constituency. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela Smith), who has responsibility for planning, will have heard what he said about the urgency of processing the planning application. She is committed to modernising the planning system, and we want to ensure that there is no undue delay in this case.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry): The Minister will be aware that in recent months several thousand job losses have been announced in the manufacturing sector across rural towns in Northern Ireland. What plans does he have to meet representatives of Invest Northern Ireland to address that ongoing crisis in the manufacturing sector?

Mr. Pearson: The hon. Gentleman is probably aware that I have regular meetings with staff at Invest Northern Ireland, which is totally committed to supporting manufacturing in the region. A range of programmes are available to support manufacturing companies, and they will continue to be made available over the coming years. As a Government, we are committed to ensuring that we have a growing manufacturing sector and a growing service sector in Northern Ireland. As the process of Northern Ireland's returning to be a normal region continues apace, I am sure that the manufacturing sector will continue to survive and thrive. It has already grown by 15 per cent. over the past five years. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber.

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