Law-and-order hawk seizes his chance: As new Minister of State for Northern Ireland is named, Asil Nadir says he feels no guilt over the downfall of previous incumbent

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SIR JOHN WHEELER, who was yesterday appointed to replace Mr Mates as Minister of State for Northern Ireland, had been waiting for the call from Downing Street ever since the Tories came to power under Margaret Thatcher, writes Colin Brown.

Sir John, 53, a former assistant governor at Wandsworth and Brixton prisons in London, had remained on the backbenches since 1979, when he entered the Commons, until the call came from John Major to fill the vacancy at the Northern Ireland Office.

A loyal and trusted supporter of the Prime Minister, the MP for Westminster North is an astute choice as minister for security in Ulster to replace Mr Mates, a former Guards officer who served in Northern Ireland and had links with the security services. Sir John has had close ties with the Home Office and the security services, and has been a influential backbench campaigner for more effective measures against terrorism, which has also affected his constituency.

A former researcher at the Home Office, Sir John was tipped at Westminster to chair the new committee of Privy Councillors on the security and intelligence services, to be set up by the Prime Minister next year with the Bill to put MI6 on a statutory footing.

He chaired the Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs from 1987 until after the election last year, when parliamentary rules meant he had to stand down.

Married with a son and daughter, Sir John led calls in the Independent for Kenneth Clarke, when he was Home Secretary, to take a more radical stance over the reform of the structure of police forces.

Sir John wanted larger forces, a more professional Special Branch operation established to combat terrorism, and advocated the use of more national computerised information to help catch criminals.

In spite of taking a tough stance on law and order, which gave the impression of being a right- winger, Sir John is a liberal on some issues. He voted against the reintroduction of the death penalty and last May supported a campaign to lower the age of consent for homosexuals from 21 to 16. 'It is tokenism which exists only because of bigotry and renders great injustice,' he said at the time.

(Photograph omitted)