HC Deb 25 January 1996 vol 270 cc473-4
6. Mr. Charles Kennedy

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what account he takes, in encouraging companies to locate in Northern Ireland, of the extent to which such location affects companies in other parts of the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement. [9631]

Mr. Ancram

The rules applied in Northern Ireland for assessing the displacement effect of selective financial assistance support are exactly the same as those applied in all other parts of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Kennedy

As the Minister is aware—through the information that I have provided to his office and, by way of courtesy, also made available to the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross), in whose constituency the Benelux Manufacturing (NI) Ltd. production plant is located—a company in my constituency, Zonal Audio Plastics, is concerned about a contravention of the assurances that Benelux gave to the Industrial Development Board when the plant received support to locate in Northern Ireland. Instead of concentrating on exporting to the north American market, Benelux has severely undercut mainland competitors—not least the company in Invergordon, which employs between 40 and 60 people—in the United Kingdom and the European markets. Will the Minister comment further on that existing genuine business dilemma?

Mr. Ancram

The Industrial Development Board, when appraising the project, analysed the existing markets in the United States and in Europe for CD jewel boxes, the forecast for growth in those markets, and the impact that the project would have on existing United Kingdom manufacturers. In deciding to assist the project, the IDB ensured that it properly addressed the relevant criteria for the provision of selective financial assistance.

Sir James Molyneaux

Does the Minister agree that companies in all parts of the United Kingdom could benefit greatly from the promotion of the enterprise investment scheme, which has the potential to bring together companies who have money to invest and companies—particularly small companies—which are desperately in need of funding? In that regard and in the light of the problems affecting the Fokker aircraft company, will the Minister do all that he can to ensure that sympathetic consideration is given to Ministry of Defence tenders from Shorts of Belfast?

Mr. Ancram

I agree with the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, and I am grateful to him for reminding the House and United Kingdom businesses of it. In relation to the second part of his question, we share his concerns about the situation that Shorts faces. I know that my colleagues in the MOD are sympathetic to Shorts' concerns, and I will ensure that what the right hon. Gentleman has to say is passed on to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

Mr. Spring

First, I offer my warmest congratulations to my right hon. Friend. Does he agree that one of the spin-offs of the location of so many companies in Northern Ireland and of inward investment is that manufacturing output is rising at twice the level of the United Kingdom overall, that exports have risen by more than 25 per cent. in the past three years, and that, as a consequence, unemployment is now down to the lowest level for more than fourteen and a half years?

Mr. Ancram

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his initial remarks and for the points that he raised. It is important to appreciate and to welcome the fact that, since the ceasefires last year, 6,000 jobs have been promoted by the IDB, of which more than 4,000 were generated by inward investment. In the financial year 1994–95, Northern Ireland attracted three times its per capita share of new inward investment jobs into the United Kingdom.