§ 2.43 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY of STATE, NORTHERN IRELAND OFFICE (Lord Elton)
My Lords, the Northern Ireland Department of Commerce already maintains in London an office, closely allied to other Northern Ireland departments, for the purpose of actively promoting trade, industry and commerce. This is known as the Ulster Office. My right honourable friend the 99 Secretary of State for Northern Ireland intends to continue this arrangement. Plans for future services will be formulated in the light both of the needs of industry and commerce, and of the need for cost-effectiveness.
§ Lord BLEASE
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for that very helpful reply. Is he aware that in the Ulster Year Book annual statistics, which are most useful to commercial and industrial interests throughout the world, no reference has been made recently to the functions and the role of the Ulster Office, and will he seek to repair this particular misrepresentation of the position? Will he not also agree that this is disconcerting to those who have been using the excellent facilities of this office, and also that it is demoralising to the staff?
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for drawing this lacuna to my attention, and I will certainly see that attention is drawn to it elsewhere. I am sure the noble Lord is aware that the activities at present carried out by the office are primarily directed towards promoting Northern Ireland trade and industry. The office acts as a display centre for Northern Ireland products, is a point of contact between Northern Ireland firms and buyers in Great Britain, organises the attendance of Northern Ireland firms at trade exhibitions in Great Britain and provides accommodation and services for Northern Ireland firms. It also provides accommodation and staff support for those Northern Ireland public agencies which need to maintain representation in London.
§ Lord O'NEILL of the MAINE
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there has been some alarm and despondency in the Ulster Office in the last few weeks because nobody knew who the new director was going to be, and that is what led to rumours that the Government were considering the possibility of closing down the office? The Northern Ireland Office does a marvellous job in New York and I hope we shall continue to have a thriving office in London, as indicated in the noble Lord's reply.
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, I am again 100 grateful for this support for the admirable activities of the Ulster Office, which will continue albeit, as my noble friend is doubtless aware, it is necessary to see that this is done in the most cost-effective manner possible.
§ Lord KILBRACKEN
My Lords, would the noble Lord consider re-naming the Ulster Office the "Northern Ireland Office" in view of the fact that three counties of Ulster are in the Republic of Ireland?
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, that is an interesting proposal, but as I already work in the Northern Ireland Office I feel that I might be receiving some misdirected mail if this were done.