HC Deb 22 April 1993 vol 223 cc502-3
7. Mr. Clifton-Brown

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will give an estimate of the amount of inward investment to Northern Ireland in the last five years and the number of extra jobs this has created.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Sir Patrick Mayhew)

During the past five years, 52 inward investment projects have been attracted to Northern Ireland, holding out on completion the prospect of 7,500 new jobs. Nearly 3,000 of those jobs have been created so far. Of those 39 projects that have received financial assistance from the Industrial Development Board, the total amount of inward investment to Northern Ireland is £400 million.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

While I welcome that excellent news for the people of Northern Ireland, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that inward investment would be greatly increased if political talks were to start?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

That must be so, as my hon. Friend says. I am grateful to him for his welcome of the figures that I have given. To the extent that there is dissension and, of course, paramilitary activity, that is a disincentive to inward investment. It is yet another illustration, if one were needed, of how absurd it is for those who take part in violence for political ends to claim that they act on behalf of the ordinary people of Northern Ireland, or any section of them.

Mr. Mallon

The Secretary of State will be aware that groupings in many towns throughout Northern Ireland are attempting to interest people in America and other places in inward investment and job creation in Northern Ireland. He will also be aware from his visits there that it is a difficult and arduous task. What plans does the Department of Economic Development have to assist in practical and financial ways those groupings, which are doing a good job against all the odds?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The parts of Northern Ireland of which the hon. Gentleman speaks, and the one that he represents, always have access to the Industrial Development Board in particular for assistance in that matter. We recognise the need to spread investment widely throughout the Province. But, of course, one cannot dictate to inward investors in what part of the Province they shall place their investment. That has to be left to them. To them, Northern Ireland is a small place. However, I give an undertaking to the hon. Gentleman that I will encourage the IDB and any other suitable agency to give whatever assistance it can. I notice that Her Majesty's Customs and Excise relocated to the hon. Gentleman's constituency with 100 jobs. But I have to recognise that that was in 1990–91. I know that the hon. Gentleman would like something more recent.

Dame Peggy Fenner

It is unusual for me to ask a question in Northern Ireland time, but, while I understand the great need to attract inward investment to Northern Ireland and the difficulties that Northern Ireland has, does my right hon. and learned Friend believe that it should be done at the expense of British firms? In my constituency, the unemployment level is 12.2 per cent. Northern Ireland has offered to Montupet, a French firm, a product line in Northern Ireland. It is undercutting my constituency's product line on the ground that it has Government support. There must surely be free competition.

Sir Patrick Mayhew

One of the IDB's considerations is the likely or potential impact that inward investment of a particular character might have on businesses already established in the United Kingdom. However, my hon. Friend will recognise that in Northern Ireland the unemployment rate is much greater than that of the rest of the United Kingdom. I do not think that the people of the United Kingdom as a whole would grudge the people of Northern Ireland, with the special problems that they face, the assistance they get through the IDB and other agencies.

Mr. Trimble

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that the figures he mentioned in his original reply are minuscule compared with the need and that they compare unfavourably with the success of neighbouring regions? Will he confirm that it is the objective of the Industrial Development Board to attract investment to Northern Ireland? Will he then repudiate the recent sentiments expressed by the chairman of the IDB that all of Ireland should be treated as a single unit—a not surprising view because of the way in which the Irish Government effectively secured his appointment?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

The hon. Gentleman pursued a number of hares. Anything that the extremely distinguished new chairman of the IDB has said is capable of speaking for itself. I do not regard the figures as minuscule or anything like it; nor would any of those who have benefited through jobs created welcome that description. The total jobs promoted, 7,500, is substantial and we look forward to more. In the past year, a substantial investment—£167 million—has been attracted. All of that is very much to the good right across the board in Northern Ireland.

Sir Giles Shaw

Can my right hon. and learned Friend say how much of the new investment over that five-year period has come from the United States of America?

Sir Patrick Mayhew

Not precisely. I will correct the figure if I am wrong, but something like 30 companies that are established in Northern Ireland are domiciled in the United States. The United States contributes substantially to the International Fund for Ireland and is an important investor in the Province. That was one reason why I was glad to welcomed the southern legislative conference of United States politicians a few months ago and, incidentally, to read what they said when they left—that they were determined to correct the image of Northern Ireland because they did not recognise the place that they visited against what the media showed in the United States.

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