HC Deb 24 March 1999 vol 328 cc375-6
1. Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)

What measures she is taking to support enterprise in Northern Ireland. [76679]

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

Government support for promoting enterprise in Northern Ireland was enhanced by the innovative measures worth £100 million announced in my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's initiative of last May. The Budget provided a further boost for enterprise, with a reduction in corporation tax for small businesses, tax credit for research and development, and new corporate venturing measures. All that is good news for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Quinn

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the opportunities provided for business in Northern Ireland by the Chancellor's Budget can be built upon so that we build not only peace in Northern Ireland but lasting prosperity for that community, and so that we get the correct frameworks across the community in which everyone can prosper?

Mr. Ingram

I agree wholeheartedly with those sentiments. Yesterday, I launched a major economic strategy review document entitled "Strategy 2010", which was part of the Good Friday agreement requirements placed on the Government. It is a comprehensive study on how we can ensure that peace and prosperity can go hand in hand into the new millennium.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

Why have no Northern Ireland Ministers or any relevant Treasury Ministers been prepared to see the Petrol Retailers Association to discuss the widely acknowledged fuel smuggling across the border with the Republic?

Mr. Ingram

I cannot answer for Treasury Ministers. I do not know what applications have been made to them. The matter falls within my remit in one sense, but excise duties are a matter for the Treasury, not for the Northern Ireland Office. My understanding is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has met representatives on the issue, and we continue to meet at official level. It is not that we are unconcerned about what has happened, but we want to ensure that any measures that we take to stop the illegal activity have maximum impact. We also want to examine the disparities between the pricing structures north and south of the border.

Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan)

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his efforts to promote business and employment opportunities in Northern Ireland? Can he give any figures on the number of young people in Northern Ireland who are taking advantage of Labour's new deal?

Mr. Ingram

That responsibility does not rest directly with me. It rests with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. I understand that about 10,000 young people have taken advantage of the new deal initiative. It is an important initiative in Northern Ireland, as it is for the rest of the country. It has given an opportunity to young people, and it has now been extended into other age groups. It ensures that everyone can make a valuable contribution to the economic health and wealth of their community.

Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley)

The Minister will be aware of the problems facing the road haulage industry in Northern Ireland, and of the importance of that industry to our economy. Is he aware that a number of Northern Ireland road haulage companies have relocated their headquarters in the Republic of Ireland? One company calculates that it could save more than £250,000 a year by doing so. What measures does the Minister intend to take to assist the Northern Ireland road haulage industry which faces very high costs indeed?

Mr. Ingram

I have not received any direct representations on the issue, although I have asked my officials to keep a watching brief over the direct impact in view of recent comments made by road hauliers. I ask the hon. Gentleman to suggest to those with whom he is in contact to write to me. I will pass on their concerns to the Minister responsible, who has already taken initiatives to deal with some of the concerns that have been raised.