HC Deb 15 March 2000 vol 346 cc284-5
2. Mr. William Thompson (West Tyrone)

What discussions he has had with the Prime Minister on the complement of his Department's Ministers since the suspension of the Northern Ireland Executive. [113216]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Mandelson)

No discussions have taken place with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the complement of Northern Ireland Office Ministers since suspension took place on 12 February.

Mr. Thompson

Given the disarray and acrimony among the pro-agreement parties, surely it is unrealistic to imagine that there will be an early return to an Executive in Northern Ireland. Surely the Secretary of State is burying his head in the sand to think so. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider his view? It is unrealistic to expect two Ministers to cover 10 Departments in Northern Ireland. As it may be some time before an Executive is re-formed, surely we need extra Ministers to ensure that important decisions can be made and implemented and that we have the continuation of good government.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

He is looking for a job.

Mr. Mandelson

I do not know whether that was an offer by the hon. Member for West Tyrone (Mr. Thompson).

The decision of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister not to reappoint additional Ministers reflects our desire to make the renewed period of direct rule as short as possible. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that no local departmental matters will be neglected in the meantime. I hope that we can restart the institutions as soon as possible. They are certainly needed if we are to be successful in implementing the Good Friday agreement as a whole, and that is in the urgent interests of all the people of Northern Ireland.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that while the parties are continuing to talk round the table and the ceasefire remains intact, the two Governments are absolutely right in their determination to keep all possible avenues open so that parties can take the important extra step?

Mr. Mandelson

Yes, that is very important, and it is particularly important that the two Governments continue to work closely together. We are working with them and in co-operation with the parties. The consultations that both Governments started and had with the parties last week will continue in Washington, as I have said, over St. Patrick's day. Next week, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach will meet to review what progress has been made, and I think that that is to be followed by an intensive period of activity prior to the Easter break.

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