HC Deb 25 February 2004 vol 418 cc283-4
Q10. Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Marks and Spencer opened its first-ever Lifestyle store in Gateshead yesterday, creating 210 jobs? We welcome that further demonstration of confidence in the north-east by Marks and Spencer, but, as my right hon. Friend knows, what the region desperately needs is more investment in research and development, and the kind of skilled jobs that often result from Government procurement programmes. We also eagerly await the promised redistribution of 20,000 civil service jobs away from the south-east and into the regions. I acknowledge the tremendous progress that has been made in the creation of employment and reduction of unemployment in my region under my right hon. Friend's Government, but what further progress can we hope to see in the coming months and years?

The Prime Minister

I think that it is essential, first, to back the regional development agency, One NorthEast, which, as my hon. Friend knows, is making precisely that sort of effort to bring manufacturing and other industry into the area, and also ensuring that we have the right skills base there. That is immensely important. The second essential thing, as my hon. Friend implied, is to go on running the economy in an effective and stable way so that we have high levels of employment and low levels of unemployment. He will know, as I do, that in the north-east any political debate of 15 or 20 years ago would have centred on the huge levels of unemployment. It is a tribute, surely, to the management of the economy under this Chancellor, and to this Government's record, that we have seen in the past seven years dramatic reductions in unemployment, dramatic rises in employment and the best-run economy of any major industrialised country.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) (UUP)

The Prime Minister will know of last Friday's kidnap from a Belfast city centre bar, which, but for the police, would have resulted in a murder. That kidnap was the work of mainstream republicans, who are led by the persons who have been returned here to serve as Members for Mid-Ulster and for Belfast, West. The Prime Minister will also know of the Iris' Justice Minister's description of their "vomit-making hypocrisy". Against that, the response of the Prime Minister's Government yesterday is seen by people in Northern Ireland as being rank moral cowardice. It is utterly unreasonable to expect us to remain in discussions with these people in these circumstances, and I have to tell the Prime Minister that unless he can summon up the courage to act on this matter within the next few days, I and my colleagues will take steps next Monday to bring that process to an end.

The Prime Minister

For obvious reasons, as the right hon. Gentleman will surely understand, there is a limit to what I can say about any individual case that is being investigated by the police at the present time, and in respect of which charges will be laid, so I have to start with that qualification.

Secondly, let me say very clearly, not just to Sinn Fein but to the IRA, that we have for a significant period of time said through the Good Friday agreement that these people are entitled to participate in the democratic process, but that they are able to do so only if they are fully part of the democratic club. One cannot talk about human rights for people one day and beat human rights out of them the next—that is not acceptable.

We will have to consider, in the light of what the police find, what we then do. But I have said to the right hon. Gentleman before and I say again—indeed, this is the reason why we have had suspension of the institutions for the past year or more—that there will not be any compromise on this point. People cannot be part of a democratic process unless they abide by the rules of democracy. I am not going to comment on the individual case, but I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that if it is shown to be the mainstream IRA that has done this thing, action will obviously have to follow.