HC Deb 12 December 1991 vol 200 cc981-3
6. Mrs. Gorman

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the amount of new investment in commercial buildings and shopping facilities in Belfast.

Mr. Needham

I am pleased to report that in recent years commercial and retail development in Belfast have reached unprecedented levels. In total, some £290 million of private investment is being spent or is programmed. In order to undermine the enormous resurgence of confidence, the IRA has planted 400 incendiary devices, of which approximately 100 have exploded, and five car bombs, of which three have exploded. The damage has been and is being made good. All the stores and the vast majority of commercial buildings are back at work. Business performance in the city centre is very little different from last year.

Mrs. Gorman

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, and I commend him and his colleagues on their splendid work in restoring the centre of Belfast, especially the excellent shopping facilities. I am sure that my hon. Friend wishes to condemn the outrage last week when not only stores but the opera house were bombed, making the children's pantomime and all the other treats that normal families in the rest of Britain have at Christmas, such as shopping, Father Christmas and the Christmas lights, inaccessible to many families. The IRA is again undermining normal decent family life in the Province.

Mr. Needham

I am sure that all the people of Belfast would like to thank my hon. Friend for her comments. As the IRA's Libyan bombs explode, Sinn Fein and the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams) remain strongly and strangely silent. The fact is that 1991 has been an unprecedented year of success for Belfast. Anyone who went to the tall ships race in Belfast and saw 500,000 people thronging through the city centre day after day could see the determination of the people of Belfast to lead their lives normally. It will take more than Mr. Gaddafi's guns and the IRA to undermine the spirit of the people of Belfast.

Mr. Clifford Forsythe

I congratulate the Minister on the urban renewal and commercial development in the centre of Belfast. We utterly condemn all the IRA's cynical attempts to bomb the heart out of Belfast. However, is the Minister aware that the main concern of business people in Belfast is that they should have adequate security so that they can run their businesses properly? Great efforts should be made to bring tenants into the new office and shop premises that are still empty. Does the Minister agree that instead of freezing the outlay of public money, the Government should hurry on public development to enable those shops to be let?

Mr. Needham

Over 90 per cent. of the two biggest shopping developments in Belfast are let, which is an extraordinary figure in comparison with other new developments in the rest of the country. Of 720,000 sq ft of office space that has been completed this year, 350,000 sq ft has been let. Some 95 per cent. of prime retail space in Belfast is let.

The hon. Gentleman is right to refer to security, although he will not expect me to spell out what is happening in the city at present. Belfast is a city of 500,000 people and for its business and commerce to thrive, it must be an open city and people must be able to get into and out of it. Finding that balance is absolutely crucial. There can be no question but that the people of Belfast are showing, by returning day after day to work, to shop and to enjoy themselves in Belfast, that they are the people who are succeeding.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Does the Minister agree that the confidence of the people has been even more shaken by the tragedy in the prison at which a bomb went off, killing two remand prisoners? Is not that comment on security even more staggering than the bombs that go off in the city, although all such bombings are to be condemned and deplored?

Will the Minister comment on the question that was sidestepped by the Secretary of State? Does he agree that the nationalists in Mid-Ulster have given a warning to the House by the way in which they voted, with a colossal rise in the Sinn Fein vote and a colossal drop in the SDLP vote?

Mr. Needham

As the hon. Gentleman is well aware, his first question is a matter for my hon. Friend the Minister of State and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State who have, no doubt, listened to him carefully.

On the second question, I am a great believer in the common sense and balance of all the people of Ulster. I will not comment on a particular by-election. I will comment, as I repeatedly do, on the determination of everyone in Ulster to end violence and to ensure that they can get back to living normal lives. That is exactly what most of them are showing in Belfast at present.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Marshall.

Mr. John Marshall

Question No. 7, Sir.

Mr. Speaker

Sorry, the hon. Gentleman is the wrong Mr. Marshall.

Mr. Jim Marshall

Perhaps I should ask the question of the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) instead of my own.

With regard to the commercial activity in Belfast, I join the Minister in condemning the terrorist attacks in commercial Belfast. Those attacks are clearly designed to undermine business confidence and the economic well-being of both communities. I join the Minister in saying that we are all resolved to ensure that that does not succeed. While I pay tribute to the Government's success in attracting commercial business to Belfast, I remind the Minister that Belfast is only one part of the Province. What plans do the Government have to introduce a more balanced development throughout the Province?

Mr. Needham

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's opening comments, but not very grateful for his latter comments. He has been on the Opposition Front Bench for long enough to have seen and understood the redevelopment work that is currently being undertaken in Londonderry and which is being carried out in the county towns throughout the length and breadth of Northern Ireland. There is a feeling of partnership and a commitment to partnership that I have not seen before. I have undertaken missions with the hon. Members for Foyle (Mr. Hume), for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) and for South Down (Mr. McGrady) in an attempt to get more business and development in their areas. If the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) would like to accompany me in the new year, I should be only too happy to take him on a tour and show him just how much is happening outside Belfast as well as in it.

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