HC Deb 17 May 2000 vol 350 cc321-2
4. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South)

What assessment he has made of the impact of the Budget on small and medium-sized enterprises in Northern Ireland. [121146]

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

There can be no question but that the Budget announcement will help the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises in Northern Ireland, through encouraging competitiveness and innovation and through the use of e-commerce. That, of course, will be on top of the announcement made this morning by LEDU—the Local Economic Development Unit, which is Northern Ireland's small business agency—that more than 3,000 jobs were created and more than 1,200 new businesses were set up last year alone. That is all good news for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Chapman

Does my right hon. Friend agree that while those Budget measures are beneficial and welcome in Northern Ireland, as elsewhere in the United Kingdom, the Northern Ireland economy needs stability, peace and confidence, and that to that extent the measures that he is putting in place are just as important as those put in place by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor? Does he further agree that in Northern Ireland there is a particular issue about research and development expenditure in the small firms sector, which is lower than in any other region of the UK? What steps does he propose to take to remedy that?

Mr. Ingram

I agree with my hon. Friend's earlier comments. He is right to talk about confidence and stability being essential to help businesses to grow. Peace is undoubtedly another important ingredient, which we are striving to achieve.

The R and D tax relief measures outlined in the Budget should encourage innovation by small businesses, helping them to achieve greater competitiveness. That will help not only those businesses but those who are seeking jobs in Northern Ireland, and it will embed the peace process.