HC Deb 26 November 1992 vol 214 cc978-9
6. Mr. McGrady

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps will be taken to promote inward investment in Northern Ireland following the report from the Northern Ireland Economic Council on job creation; and if he will make a statement.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The Industrial Development Board's inward investment activity is reviewed regularly. I am pleased to be able to inform the hon. Member that action has already been taken to address a number of the recommendations contained in the economic council's report and that the others are being carefully considered.

Mr. McGrady

Does the Secretary of State agree that the report of the Northern Ireland Economic Council is depressing reading for the people of Northern Ireland? It shows that the number of firms inwardly investing was reduced by 41 per cent. between 1973 and 1990, with a consequent loss of employment in those sectors of 52 per cent. We can no longer hide behind the question of a terrorist image because, at the same time, the Republic of Ireland increased its inward investment by 27 per cent. Does the Secretary of State agree that the change in policy by the IDB some two years ago, to concentrate on product design and marketing rather than targeting the creation of jobs, needs to be examined by the Department? Will he give an undertaking to insist that the IDB honours its commitment to spread visits to Northern Ireland to South Down? Only 4 per cent. of visits in the past four years were to my constituency.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The report to which the hon. Gentleman refers speaks for itself. It acknowledges the difficulty of attracting internationally mobile investment to Northern Ireland at a time when competition for investment is increasing. Nevertheless, the report makes specific recommendations. It calls for a more focused approach. Accordingly, the IDB is concentrating increasingly on the industrial sectors and sub-sectors which hold the greatest potential for Northern Ireland.

Of course, that report has been taken closely on board and the hon. Gentleman will see some changes in consequence. He mentioned South Down and I pay tribute to Down/Chicago Link Ltd, which has established structures in Down and Chicago, thanks to several visits by and the unstinted efforts of the hon. Gentleman.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the spate of violence in Northern Ireland is spiralling—the heart of Coleraine has been bombed and the heart of Belfast has almost been bombed again? Will he take it from me that the best thing that he could do would be to get on top of that violence and deal with it? Then people would have the confidence to invest in Northern Ireland.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

Of course I agree that the security situation in Northern Ireland is very disadvantageous to investment. I hear a great many commentators referring to the need to get on top of the IRA, implying that more should be done that is not being done by the security forces, but I find them exceedingly short when it comes to giving particulars of what should be done that is different in character, quality or scale from what is being done.

Mr. John D. Taylor

While there is criticism within the business community about the performance of the IDB, does the Secretary of State agree that several negative factors are working against it, such as the IRA terrorist campaign and the worldwide recession? In view of factors of that nature, would it not be better advised to concentrate on giving greater assistance to Ulster business men and industrialists who are creating jobs in Northern Ireland?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

It is a question of balance. I agree that one does not want a single-minded concentration on the attraction of inward investment. I am glad that the IDB has about 460 companies on its books and that it looks for ways to help established companies, which I agree is just as important.

Mr. Viggers

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that occasionally the people of Northern Ireland do not seem to appreciate the enormous effort and vast resources which have gone into improving the infrastructure there? If the menace of terrorism were lifted there is no reason why it should not be as prosperous, and have as low a level of unemployment, as any part of the United Kingdom.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

My hon. Friend had a distinguished career as a Minister in Northern Ireland and knows a great deal about that sort of thing. An enormous amount of work has been done. Coming as I do from the underprivileged south-east of England, I envy the people of Northern Ireland for many of their roads, although I realise that much more needs to be done. All people who speak about terrorism should remember that the ordinary people of Northern Ireland suffer from the crimes committed by the terrorists, who will not succeed and have no prospect of achieving the political aim of the IRA or of any other terrorist organisation. One and all, they take it out on the people of Northern Ireland.

Mr. McNamara

The Secretary of State will recall that the Northern Ireland Economic Council recommended that an extensive and independent review be undertaken to evaluate the overall impact of inward investment. He has said that he has taken on board some of the points made by the council. Can he say whether he will have such an independent review?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

Several months ago my hon. Friend who has responsibility for the economy instituted a review by the IDB's chairman and the permanent secretary of the Department of Economic Development on IDB's promotion activity. The review has been completed and the recommended changes are being discussed. We want to get on and we do not want too many reviews. We want to consider the changes recommended and see what we can do to get on with it.

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