HC Deb 17 June 1998 vol 314 cc355-6
8. Mr. Ross Cranston (Dudley, North)

What progress is being made on the economic package for Northern Ireland announced in May. [44747]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Ingram)

An implementation plan has been drawn up and action is being taken on the Chancellor's package. An interdepartmental group has been set up to oversee progress. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I will closely monitor the implementation of the package. The initiative has been widely welcomed in Northern Ireland as making a significant contribution to enterprise and investment.

Mr. Cranston

I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Chancellor will be visiting north America to encourage inward investment, but I believe that small and medium-sized businesses are the bedrock of the community, not only economically, but socially. Does my hon. Friend agree that the provisions in the Finance Bill on capital allowances are especially valuable?

Mr. Ingram

I welcome the Finance Bill, and I also welcome what the Chancellor announced specifically for Northern Ireland—a unique package of 100 per cent. first-year capital allowances for investment by small and medium-sized firms in plant and machinery. That will give a cash flow boost of £100 million over the next four years, which follows the reduction of small companies corporation tax from 23 per cent. to 20 per cent. in the previous Budget. All of that will help to stimulate a key sector of the Northern Ireland economy.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

Given the level of wages in Northern Ireland, in relative terms, what estimate has the Minister made of the number of jobs that would be lost there after the imposition of a minimum wage of £3.60 an hour? Does he support the Chancellor of the Exchequer's wish for a lower rate to be applied to young people in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Ingram

As the Minister responsible for the economy in Northern Ireland, I have made representations to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am sure that he has taken due note of them.

We have a particular set of circumstances in Northern Ireland. We are trying to change the whole shape and structure of the Northern Ireland economy, which for the past 30 years has suffered from the troubles that we all know about. We want to make it a high-wage, highly skilled and high value-added economy. That is what we are driving for, and that is what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will achieve through the measures in his last two Budgets—and, I am sure, in future Budgets as well.

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