HC Deb 20 January 1999 vol 323 cc891-2
1. Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North)

What steps she is taking to promote trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. [64854]

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

The Industrial Development Board and the Local Enterprise Development Unit organise and support company participation in trade exhibitions in Great Britain, meet-the-buyer events and other trade initiatives. The IDB, LEDU and the Northern Ireland growth challenge have been developing links between Northern Ireland suppliers and major Great Britain purchasers.

Mr. Watts

Does the Minister agree with me that such trading links help the peace process in Northern Ireland? Is he aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) is leading a campaign to improve trade links between the north-west and Northern Ireland? Will his Department provide all possible help to ensure that those initiatives are successful?

Mr. Ingram

Obviously, I agree that any improvement in the economic landscape of Northern Ireland helps the peace process. My hon. Friend is also right about the development of links. As the new regional development agencies evolve in England, they will seek new trading partnerships, and Northern Ireland is an area in which they could enhance those relationships. Many opportunities exist, and undoubtedly Northern Ireland will look for increased trade with the north-west of England, and the north-west will seek increased trade with Northern Ireland.

Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley)

The Minister will, I am sure, agree that the trading links between Northern Ireland and Great Britain are essential to the prosperity of our economy. Does he agree with me that the new British-Irish Council provides an ideal forum within which those trading links can be explored and developed, and that, for the future of Northern Ireland, the natural framework for trade is the British Isles as a whole? The British-Irish Council provides an opportunity to develop those links.

Mr. Ingram

The answer is yes. There will also be many other opportunities, as hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Watts) highlighted. We must look for every opportunity to improve trading links. I imagine that the new Assembly and the new Minister who will be appointed to deal with the development of the economy will take a progressive approach to this matter.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Will my right hon. Friend report on the progress of the electricity interconnector between Scotland and Northern Ireland, which will enable people throughout the island of Ireland to take advantage of competitively priced electricity generated in my constituency? Does he agree that the best possible way of promoting trade and prosperity in and around Northern Ireland must be the continuing success of the peace process?

Mr. Ingram

My hon. Friend refers to the energy network, which is one of the important links between Great Britain and Northern Ireland—indeed, the whole island of Ireland. We were pleased that the two private companies, Northern Ireland Electricity and Scottish Power, came to an agreement on the interconnector. I am sure that, in the years ahead, it will improve the overall energy base in Northern Ireland. We are also trying to attract gas companies into the economy. More competition will eventually drive down prices.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

Does the Minister agree that the extremely valuable trade links would be improved if the wholly unacceptable policy of releasing terrorists—

Madam Speaker

Order. There are questions on that issue further down the Order Paper. This question is about trade links. Many Members want to put a question on this issue, so will the hon. Member confine his remarks to trade and wait until later to refer to decommissioning? I know what he is on about.

Mr. Soames

I will, indeed.

Does the Minister agree that the restoration of peace under proper circumstances is extremely important to the trading position and the links between Northern Ireland and the mainland? Will he assure me that he will bear in mind the fact that it is necessary to have a proper, orderly security situation in Ulster?

Mr. Ingram

The answer is yes. We need both: peace and prosperity are inextricably linked. That is why the Good Friday agreement provides a framework for the creation of a peaceful environment in which new economic development can take place. That requires the two Governments and all parties to the agreement to honour the commitments in the agreement.