§ 10. Mr. Thurnham
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps he is taking to promote the economy of Northern Ireland.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Robert Atkins)
The Government are helping to strengthen the Northern Ireland economy through measures intended to make business more competitive. We are helping companies to identify and remove obstacles to growth; encouraging inward investment; building up management and work force skills; developing an enterprise culture; and supporting innovation, research and development.
§ Mr. Thurnham
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is in the interests of all concerned fully to support the Government's policies in Northern Ireland and that the prosperity of Northern Ireland is of vital imporance, not only to everyone in the British Isles, but to investors overseas?
§ Mr. Atkins
It is important to support not only Government policies in Northern Ireland, but Government policies generally.
My hon. Friend is right. The inward investment programme of activity has been carried out by the Industrial Development Board, supported by a variety of Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies. I am grateful to them, as they constituents should be, for that effort, which does so much to provide new jobs in the Province.
§ Mr. Clifford Forsythe
Although I congratulate the Minister on the foreign investment and the extra jobs that have been brought into Northern Ireland recently by him and his Department, may I ask him to set up representatives from his own Department, the IDB and the Local Enterprise Development Unit, to discuss ways of better helping local inventors and entrepreneurs? If those products were properly developed, more local jobs would be created in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Atkins
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning the subject, which he and his hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) have already drawn to my attention. It is worth recording that about 90 per cent. of IDB funds are spent on existing companies in Northern Ireland—small ones through LEDU, progressing to IDB, growing into successful companies, which have become extremely important in United Kingdom terms. 381 However, if there are cases that he would like me to consider, affecting his constituents or anyone else, I should be more than happy to consider them.
§ Mr. Bellingham
Is the Minister aware that the privatisations of Harland and Wolff, of Short Brothers and, more recently, of Northern Ireland Electricity—which were all bitterly resisted by Opposition Members—have been extremely successful? Surely that shows that what Northern Ireland needs is not less privatisation but more.
§ Mr. Atkins
The first time that I visited Northern Ireland the cranes of Harland and Wolff were absolutely static and I saw nothing happening, Shorts were struggling to find investment and other companies were in a similar position. Since privatisation, the two companies to which my hon. Friend referred have become enormously successful. Shorts recently celebrated its 85th anniversary with a massive order worth about £70 million and Harland and Wolff is going from strength to strength and is making some fine ships again—so, my hon. Friend is entirely right. The more that we can do to encourage private sector involvement in what were public sector companies, the better it will be for the economy of Northern Ireland.