HC Deb 13 June 1996 vol 279 cc406-7
2. Mr. Ian Bruce

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what are the latest figures on inward investment to Northern Ireland. [30923]

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

During the year ended 31 March 1996, Northern Ireland secured 35 inward investment projects, offering 4,869 jobs and representing a total investment of £432 million. It was our best ever year for inward investment.

Mr. Bruce

I thank my right hon. Friend for that excellent reply and for the good news about inward investment in Northern Ireland. Does he agree that one of the hidden bonuses of an IRA ceasefire would be the creation of even more inward investment and more jobs, which would help the people whom the IRA keeps saying it is trying to help—those in Republican areas who are currently out of work? That would be an extra boost to the economy of the area and the future of Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland.

Mr. Ancram

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The best incentive to inward investment would be political stability and a firm and lasting peace. Certainly, everybody who is involved in politics in Northern Ireland must take every opportunity to remind those who pursue violence as a means of pursuing their political purposes that they do a disservice to their community, as my hon. Friend has set out. Peace can bring jobs, jobs can bring prosperity, and prosperity is what the people of Northern Ireland want.

Sir James Molyneaux

Given the excellent record of the Industrial Development Board in attracting investment from many parts of the world, would not those efforts be greatly enhanced by the establishment of an all-party economic committee based in both Houses of Parliament?

Mr. Ancram

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I know that the matter has been of interest to him for some time. I also know that my noble Friend Lady Denton regards the assistance of Members of both Houses in promoting the economy and economic development in Northern Ireland as very valuable. I am sure that she will look for further support in that direction.

On the subject of using committees to promote the values of investing in Northern Ireland, the right hon. Gentleman should not overlook the Northern Ireland Grand Committee, which can be used for that purpose.

Mr. McGrady

I join the Minister in welcoming the good news which he has articulated this afternoon, especially that of the past week, with the announcement of 1,800 jobs in west Belfast, Cookstown, Newtownabbey and Larne out of the total of 4,800 that he mentioned. Great praise is due to the Industrial Development Board and the Department for that achievement.

In no way detracting from that praise and credibility, may I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that, yet again, the statistics for 1995–96, which I received in a written answer, show that there is no new inward investment in the entire area of the districts of Newry and Mourn, Down and Banbridge? Of the total number of visits either by potential investors or by industrialists, less than 5 per cent. and 0 per cent. respectively were made to those areas. Will the Minister make an effort to ensure that would-be investment is directed to areas where there is high, consistent and endemic unemployment, as well as areas that are benefiting from worthwhile endeavours?

Mr. Ancram

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments and his congratulations on the performance of the Northern Ireland economy over the past year. It is interesting to note that the London-Belfast air route is now the second busiest in Europe, which says something for Northern Ireland's prospects. Industry and investment cannot be directed to places; they can be encouraged. Obviously, my noble Friend Lady Denton does what she can to ensure that businesses that go to Northern Ireland are spread as effectively as possible.

I have noticed that, in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, Stewarts Supermarkets Ltd. has been granted planning approval to develop a supermarket on the site of the old Albion clothing factory in Newcastle and Cottage Catering at Donaghcloney was recently awarded a FEOGA grant towards its expansion; so there is also development in his constituency.