HC Deb 27 April 1995 vol 258 cc972-3
9. Dr. Goodson-Wickes

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what recent assessment has been made of trends in investment inquiries in Northern Ireland since the ceasefire brokered by the Government. [19616]

Mr. Ancram

There has been a significant increase in the number of inward investment inquiries received at the Industrial Development Board's headquarters in Belfast and by its eight overseas offices, especially those in London and in the United States, since the cessation of violence last autumn.

Dr. Goodson-Wickes

Does my hon. Friend agree that the transformation in Northern Ireland since the ceasefire has been remarkable, especially to those of us who served there in the early 1970s? Is that not an enormous tribute to the Prime Minister and his ministerial colleagues? But does my hon. Friend accept that peace can be built upon only if there are even further incentives to investment in Northern Ireland to reassure those who, rightly, still have strong doubts about the future?

Mr. Ancram

I thank my hon. Friend for those comments and for the way in which he has used his question. It is indeed evident that the coming of peace has had a substantial effect on inward investment in Northern Ireland. It is interesting that, in the six-month period from 1 September 1994 to 31 March this year, the IDB received 743 investment inquiries, whereas in the corresponding period for the previous year it received 189. Of course we shall always look for ways in which to attract inward investment to Northern Ireland, but I repeat what I said earlier—that the best incentive is peace underpinned by political stability.

Mr. Clifford Forsythe

The Minister will be aware that inward investment requires development, and that development helps the construction industry. Is he aware of the allegations of increased interference from racketeers on certain construction sites in Northern Ireland, which in some cases is serious enough for the sites to be closed? Will he consult his colleagues with a view to giving extra powers to C1(3) to help to stamp out the grave extortion that is taking place?

Mr. Ancram

Such allegations are matters for great concern, and if there is evidence of any such thing I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members will make it available to the Government. Certainly, my colleagues with more ministerial responsibility in that area than I have will have heard what the hon. Gentleman said. However, when we consider inward investment and attracting industry it is important to show the best side of Northern Ireland and not to allow the worst side to gain the upper hand.

Mr. Bellingham

Does the Minister agree that, although inward investment is clearly valuable, the small firms sector is also crucial? What is he doing to encourage small businesses and entrepreneurial activity in the Province?

Mr. Ancram

Several agencies, including the Local Enterprise Development Unit, are trying to give encouragement to such businesses. Certainly, they are of great importance to Baroness Denton, who is responsible for that aspect of the Northern Ireland Office. When we talk about rather dry facts concerning inward investment, it is worth recalling that over the past two days there has been significant inward investment. First, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross), Seagate announced yesterday a £60 million expansion that will bring 300 new jobs to a company that already employs many people in that area. Secondly, Dae Ryung industries announced an £18 million investment in Craigavon that will bring 500 jobs by the end of 1997. Those are two significant announcements of inward investment, and I suspect that they have much to do with the new situation in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Spellar

We welcome the new inward investment, especially yesterday's announcement on Seagate. I urge the Minister to consider the Government's role in providing infrastructure, as there is a worrying decline in the fortunes of the construction industry. Is he aware that recent surveys by the chartered surveyors, and by the construction employers only yesterday, demonstrate a quite substantial decline in the fortunes of the industry? Is he aware of the substantial need of schools, of housing and of roads for infrastructure and new investment in Northern Ireland? Will he ensure that the peace dividend does not turn into a peace deficit for the extremely important construction industry?

Mr. Ancram

This question would have been dealt with more successfully had the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers), who had tabled the previous question, on the construction industry, been present to ask it. Obviously, the matter does not fall within my ministerial responsibility, but I understand that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has asked all his sections of the Department to report back to him on how the construction industry may best be assisted over the coming year and whether expenditure on construction remains the same as previously.