Mo Mowlam will quit the Commons at next election

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Labour crowd-pleaser Mo Mowlam, who helped oversee the negotiations that led to Northern Ireland's peace agreement, will leave the Commons after the next election.

Labour crowd-pleaser Mo Mowlam, who helped oversee the negotiations that led to Northern Ireland's peace agreement, will leave the Commons after the next election.

"I have decided not to stand because I have several years of my working life left and want to do something different before I finally retire," she said.

In a stament released through the Press Association she said: "I have been looking at a number of different options to continue to pursue my many interests, including in international affairs, conflict resolution and poverty.

"My commitment to the Government and the Labour Party is as strong as ever. Between now and the General Election I will continue to fight for the election of a Labour government.

"I have worked for the Labour Party all my life and I'm very proud to be part of all that this Government stands for and has achieved for the people of this country."

A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "This is a career decision by Mo, pure and simple."

He said Mr Blair believed she would be "a great loss to the Government and a great loss to parliament".

Miss Mowlam, 50, met briefly with Mr Blair this morning and plans to release a statement later today, the spokesman said. He said she had told the Prime Minister months ago that she planned to step down.

Downing Street said her decision was unrelated to the brain tumor she battled during her tenure as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

She was moved to the job of Cabinet Office minister last October, overseeing implementation of key aspects of government policy.

Miss Mowlam has been one of the popular ministers in Tony Blair's government since the Labour Party came to power in May 1997. Reports of a whispering campaign by jealous Cabinet rivals have led to numerous speculative stories recently that she would step down.

She represents the north east England seat of Redcar in Parliament and said she will not seek re-election to that seat.

Reacting to the news for the Conservatives, Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Andrew Lansley said: "Politics will be the poorer for Mo's departure. We may have disagreed in many things, but I have never doubted her honesty, candour and ability to respond to people."

Reaction in Northern Ireland to the news was mixed.

SDLP leader John Hume said she had been an outstanding Northern Ireland Secretary whose tenure had been characterised by courage and vision, while Women's Coalition Assembly member Monica McWilliams said people would be "disappointed that such a talented and pre-eminent female Politician" would be leaving politics in this way.

But Progressive Unionist Assemblyman David Ervine said: "I suspect the response in Northern Ireland will be a bit of curate's egg. There will be some who will miss her but there will also be those who detested her because she was a capable and clever woman who was a breath of fresh air for this society.

And Democratic Unionist Assemblyman Iain Paisley Junior said there would be "celebrations" at the decision among his community: "It's a case of goodbye and good riddance."

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