§ 3. Mr. Patrick Thompson
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on his plans to attract inward investment.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham)
I look forward to an increasing trend in inward investment in the early 1990s.
§ Mr. Thompson
Will my hon. Friend confirm that private sector involvement in the economy of Northern Ireland is on the increase? Will he give details of new jobs created as a result of inward investment and give us an idea of the countries from which that investment is likely to come in the future?
§ Mr. Needham
Everyone in Northern Ireland will agree that there has been an immense upsurge in confidence in the private sector in Northern Ireland. Over the past eight years, the economy of Northern Ireland—probably for the first time this century—has been growing faster than that of the rest of the United Kingdom. In 1989, for example, 4,017 jobs were created through investment of £263 million. There is every reason to expect that that trend will continue in the early 1990s. To give my hon. Friend an example, we believe that the numbers employed in computer software will increase from 900 now to 4,500 by 1995. If the policies of this Government remain, I am sure that the private sector will continue to improve.
§ Mr. Beggs
We welcome the Minister's enthusiasm in his efforts to attract inward investment to Northern Ireland. Will he assure potential investors that the thousands in my constituency who are unemployed as a result of the closure of the synthetic fibre industry and of Carreras Rothman, and who face the pending redundancies at GEC-Alsthom would be happy to welcome any overseas company, whether British, European, Japanese, American or any other? Will he assure the House that the Industrial Development Board and the Northern Ireland Office will not unduly influence the choice of location by those investors?
§ Mr. Needham
The Government will always try to encourage companies to go where there are major problems of unemployment. The hon. Gentleman's constituency has had considerable encouragement and it will not be long before it will receive even more. The real question is whether we can continue to attract large inward investment into the Province. Looking at the potential over the next few months, I am sure that investment will be better than it has ever been.
§ Mr. Jim Marshall
Perhaps that was a demonstration of job creation in the House as well as in the Province.
Does the Minister accept that we all want increased private investment in the north of Ireland to provide more jobs? But has he had time to read the recent report of the Northern Ireland Economic Council, which paints a damning picture of the record of the Industrial Development Board, especially on inward American investment? The Minister will know that the report says that it costs £30,000 to create one job in an American firm in the north of Ireland, which is an appalling figure.
Does the Minister accept the conclusion of the council's report that what is required is a thorough examination of the Industrial Development Board's policy towards 373 inward American investment and an appraisal of the performance of American firms in the Province which, in the main, is well below average?
§ Mr. Needham
I refute the hon. Gentleman's comments in the latter part of his question. It is not true that the 9,500 people employed in American-owned companies in Northern Ireland work at a lower level of productivity or quality than people in other companies——
§ Mr. Needham
I have read the report carefully, and the hon. Gentleman should do the same. The work done by United States companies in Northern Ireland is of a high quality and level of productivity.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the amount of inward investment from the United States is disappointing, but it is starting to increase and in the not too distant future we hope to be able to make major announcements of further increases.
§ Mr. John Marshall
Does my hon. Friend agree that inward investment in Northern Ireland will take place only so long as internationally mobile companies wish to locate in the United Kingdom? Does he agree that the adoption of the social charter, with the return of high inflation, would make that a much less likely prospect?