HC Deb 20 January 1999 vol 323 cc899-900
6. Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood)

If she will make a statement on the peace process in Northern Ireland. [64860]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Marjorie Mowlam)

I welcome the agreement reached before Christmas, which was supported this week in the Assembly, on the number and functions of ministerial offices and on areas for north-south co-operation. It is hoped that it will be approved by the Assembly on 15 February, but, before that happens, a lot of detailed work has to be done in consultation with the parties in the Assembly. However, I believe that it should be possible to complete that legislative programme in preparation for devolution in the middle of March.

Mr. Murphy

I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. Will she tell the House what impact the Assembly's decision on departmental issues will have on the establishment of shadow institutions, in particular, the introduction of the shadow Executive? Hon. Members on both sides of the House know that the shadow Executive are needed if the people of Northern Ireland are to be able to get to work building the hospitals and schools that are essential to their communities.

Marjorie Mowlam

The First Minister and the Deputy First Minister are due to make their final report to the Assembly on 15 February. The party leaders will then have to decide whom to appoint for their parties, and to which posts on the shadow Executive they should be appointed. The appointments will be made at a subsequent meeting of the Assembly, which I would expect to take place early in March, if we are to be ready to transfer powers by mid-March.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell)

Does the Secretary of State accept that, in recent weeks, there has been a nauseating increase in punishment beatings, mutilations, intimidation and the number of ordinary decent people being driven from their homes? Is that not in total breach of the Good Friday agreement? She and I know full well that the paramilitaries involved in those beatings also signed up to the Good Friday agreement and were supposed to have renounced violence in all its forms.

Marjorie Mowlam

I join the right hon. Gentleman in condemning outright punishment beatings across the board. They are barbaric acts. However, we must act on the evidence not rumours. If we do not, there is a chance that the courts will not be able to deliver the kind of detail that the prosecution cases will need. Of course we condemn the punishment beatings, but I warn Opposition Members to be careful in saying that they will name people, because that could be contrary to what the families and the Royal Ulster Constabulary want.