HC Deb 13 July 1978 vol 953 cc1706-8
3. Mr. James Lamond

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he is satisfied with the level of industrial investment in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Concannon

I cannot he satisfied with the level of investment while unemployment in the Province remains so high. None the less, there has been a good response to the greatly enhanced incentives which my right hon. Friend announced last August, and the recent decision by General Motors to set up a £16 million seat-belt factory in Northern Ireland is particularly encouraging. The provisional figure for jobs promoted in the first half of 1978 in companies new to the Province is 1,200, compared with a half-yearly average of 225 between 1972 and 1977, and vigorous efforts will continue to be made to publicise Northern Ireland's considerable advantages as a location for new investment.

Mr. Lamond

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that Government expenditure in Northern Ireland is now running at a level of over £1,000 a year for every man, woman and child in the Province? That makes a total of nearly £1,000 million a year. Has he any intention of studying the impact on health, housing, jobs and education in Northern Ireland should the policies of the Leader of the Opposition be carried out and public expenditure be cut throughout the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland?

Mr. Concannon

I can confirm that the capital expenditure per head of population in Northern Ireland is just over £1,000. In fact, last year it was £1,122 per head. Expenditure for the other regions was £754 per head in England in 1976–77, £875 per head in Wales and £948 per head in Scotland. I sometimes wish that this Government would get some credit for this.

Mr. Neave

The whole House will applaud what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the efforts of the Government to increase investment in Northern Ireland. Is he aware that investors need a clearer picture of the overall industrial policy of the Government for Northern Ireland? Is there a general economic plan? I refer here to the Secretary of State's words about the Quigley report, which was mentioned recently by Sir Charles Carter, chairman of the Economic Council. Will the Minister say what the plan is, and will he say whether the Government intend to continue with several job creation agencies or whether they intend to co-ordinate them?

Mr. Concannon

The whole time that I have been in this Department I have been acting upon the Quigley report. It would be very strange if I did not, because the head of my Department is Dr. Quigley himself. The special agencies in Northern Ireland are tailored to fit the situation in the Province, and I see no reason why we should change them. These agencies are doing a good job in their relative fields, and I do not want to disturb them.

Sir G. de Freitas

In our discussions about Northern Ireland, is it not very important to remember that there are enormous economic possibilities for development there? Apart from the present investment, is not the forecast investment per capita higher than in England, Scotland or Wales?

Mr. Concannon

Yes, that is correct. I am expecting investment to be even higher this year. The subvention from the rest of Great Britain to Northern Ireland was £314 million in 1973–74. In 1977–78, if one includes the one-off payment to the electricity service of £250 million, that subvention will have reached £950 million.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Is there not a case to be made for a single corporation to co-ordinate industrial development and ensure that that development goes into areas of particularly high unemployment?

Mr. Concannon

There is a single agency, and that is my Department, with the Secretary of State and myself as Minister working on this. We have agencies working for us. We give high incentives to industry to locate in the areas of high unemployment. However, I stress that in my travels around the world I have found that there are certain areas which, no matter how much I talk or how much money I offer for them, are their own worst enemies. Until they improve their image, there is very little that one can do.