HC Deb 22 February 1996 vol 272 cc479-80
2. Mr. Nigel Evans

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what estimate he has made of the level of inward investment into Northern Ireland in 1995–96. [15019]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Michael Ancram)

Since April 1995, Northern Ireland has secured eight inward investment projects promoting 2,306 jobs, representing a total investment of £179 million.

Mr. Evans

One dividend of the ceasefire has been the ability of Northern Ireland to attract increasing levels of inward investment. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a number of potential investors will be looking carefully at any progress towards not only a ceasefire but a permanent ceasefire in Northern Ireland before making any decisions about investing there? Would it not be in the best interests of all people in Northern Ireland to work together to secure the resumption of the ceasefire as quickly as possible?

Mr. Ancram

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. I have made it clear from the Dispatch Box before that the best incentive for inward investment is a lasting peace in Northern Ireland. The Province has experienced troubles before but still managed during them to secure investment. The examples of Shorts, Ford and Du Pont during the troubles show that if the economic indicators in Northern Ireland are right, inward investment can be attracted. That is the case at the moment, and we look forward to continuing to promote inward investment in Northern Ireland.

Sir James Molyneaux

Will the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister in the other place consider convening a meeting of bankers, now that three more banks are coming to Northern Ireland, for the purpose of studying how they might best assist small industries in the Province? That is not to be confused with any proximity exercise.

Mr. Ancram

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that distinction. I will certainly put his idea to my noble Friend, Lady Denton, who I am sure will want to discuss the matter further with the right hon. Gentleman. We are all agreed that we must work to promote the economic prosperity of all parts of Northern Ireland. Whatever the men of violence may wish towards their communities, we want those communities to prosper, and we shall continue to work for that.

Rev. William McCrea

I welcome the number of inward investment jobs to which the Minister referred, but is he aware that there is disappointment west of the Province at the number of jobs that have gone in that direction? The Minister will be aware of the tragic announcement of the loss of 144 jobs at Unipork. What special measures can the Government take to ensure that jobs are directed to areas such as Cookstown?

Mr. Ancram

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that we have tried to attract inward investment to all parts of the Province, not just particular parts of it. We appreciate that there are difficulties in certain areas. He will be aware that there has been considerable inward investment in his constituency—for example, the new factory in Strabane that will result from the EU peace initiative. The investment of £800,000 in the factory is a good example of what we are trying to do. I heard what the hon. Gentleman said, and I shall pass it on to my noble Friend.

Mr. Illsley

Does the Minister agree that inward investment and the creation of jobs can play a part in defeating terrorism? Will the Government continue to encourage the business community, as we have done? Will the Government pledge to do all that they can to assist Bombardier in its discussions with Fokker—discussions that could not only protect existing jobs at Shorts but create extra jobs?

Mr. Ancram

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that inward investment, prosperity and the creation of jobs have a role to play in underpinning peace, which is why economic prosperity and the encouragement of it has always been a major part of the Government's economic and overall strategy in Northern Ireland.

As to Shorts, my noble Friend Lady Denton was recently in Holland and met the Dutch Government. The problems facing Fokker are commercial and need to be resolved on that basis. The Industrial Development Board is maintaining close contact with Shorts and Bombardier on development.

Mr. Atkins

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that one of the most important sources of inward investment is tourism, and that part of the essential reason why the peace process must work is that tourists can be attracted into the Province in even greater numbers than before? Will he take note of the fact that the unceasing work that is done by him and by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State in trying to resolve the problems of the troubled Province goes down extremely well with all those who love that part of the United Kingdom, with an affection that is not confined just to Opposition and Conservative Members?

Mr. Ancram

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for those remarks. I am sure that that gratitude is shared by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State.

I understand what my right hon. Friend is saying about the importance of tourism, but tourists are, by and large, adventurous. I was encouraged to hear that the staff on the stands of the Northern Ireland tourist board at Perth and Glasgow in recent days were inundated with support from people who came to talk to them.