§ Barbara Follett
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what assessment she has made of the performance of small and medium-sized enterprises in Northern Ireland. 
§ Mr. Ingram
The Small Business Agency for Northern Ireland, LEDU, has just published its results for 1996–97, recording its best year to date in terms of the performance of its client companies.
The 1996 survey of LEDU client companies revealed a net increase in employment of 3,710 jobs; an increase of 11 per cent. over the previous year well ahead of overall national and regional trends for the fifth consecutive year. In addition LEDU assisted 1,543 new businesses to start-up during 1996–97, 136 of which represented 497W businesses with potential to engage in future export led growth; an increase of 72 per cent. over the past two years.