HC Deb 16 March 1995 vol 256 cc1019-20
8. Mr. Beggs

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what positive responses to date have resulted from the Investment Forum held in Belfast last year.

Mr. Ancram

We are pursuing 17 potential inward investment projects as a direct result of the forum. There are other spin-offs: for example, our overseas sales teams have seen a significant surge of interest in Northern Ireland as an investment location.

Mr. Beggs

I thank the Minister for his reply, and congratulate all who have been involved in the Investment Forum. I also send good wishes to those who will be involved in similar activities in the United States later this year.

Does the Minister consider that Northern Ireland Members of Parliament can reasonably expect opportunities to meet those who visit their constituencies with a view to investment? Will he encourage Industrial Development Board officials to involve Northern Ireland Members of Parliament more in future than has been customary in the past, and allow them to engage in consultation with such groups on the clear understanding that consultation is confidential?

Mr. Ancram

I shall certainly pass on what the hon. Gentleman has said to my noble Friend Lady Denton. He rightly said that any such contact would have to be on a confidential basis. As he will realise, there is considerable competition for the projects that I mentioned in my original answer to go elsewhere, and it would not be clever of us to try to conduct such negotiations in public.

Mr. Alexander

Is my hon. Friend aware of the wide interest created in Northern Ireland by the forum, which was held under the auspices of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister himself? Is he further aware—as I am sure he must be—of the enormous export opportunities that it has generated, and will he assure the House that the momentum will be continued, because of its great importance?

Mr. Ancram

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has made an important point. The Investment Forum was very much the start of the process, not the end. The Industrial Development Board in Northern Ireland is working hard to carry forward the initiatives that were begun in the forum. It is interesting to note that calls to the IDB in London have doubled since 31 August, when the ceasefire was announced.


Does the Minister accepet that, although new investment is welcome, existing businesses must also thrive if the peace dividend is not to be perceived as a peace deficit? In particular, will he assure us that every effort is being made to ensure a steady progress of orders at Harland and Wolff? What is being done to obtain the order for a floating production oil system for that yard?

Mr. Ancram

If I may, I shall pass that last question on to my noble Friend Lady Denton and ask her to provide an answer to the hon. Gentleman. It is absolutely clear to those of us who work within Northern Ireland that peace of itself is not enough to bring the incentives for inward investment and exports of the sort to which the hon. Gentleman refers. Political development is needed to underpin the incentives for investment. That is why we put so much store by the political process. That is the only way in which confidence will be created in a stable future of Northern Ireland which will bring the benefits to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.