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Inward Investment

4. Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): What steps he is taking to promote Northern Ireland as a place for foreign direct investment; and if he will discuss with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry a long-term strategic plan to encourage greater foreign direct investment. [29667]

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): The focus of Invest Northern Ireland's international sales and marketing effort is aggressively to promote all areas of Northern Ireland as attractive, viable locations for inward investment opportunities.

Daniel Kawczynski: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. However, I was slightly concerned by his comments in the media, in which he seemed to suggest that Northern Ireland was too small an entity to survive by itself. Will he give us an assurance that that is not the case, and that he will do everything possible to ensure that foreign direct investment comes into Northern Ireland?
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Mr. Hain: I am doing everything possible in that regard; I was doing so last week in New York, and the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela E. Smith), is going on a trade mission to China imminently. We are pressing for increased inward investment in Northern Ireland. Indeed, only yesterday in Belfast, I met the executives of Citigroup, a very exciting project that has already brought 375 jobs into Belfast. Belfast was chosen by Citigroup over other locations in Europe, including Dublin, because it is a much better place in which to invest. These are high-quality jobs, and we are continuing to bring them in. It is not a question of the Northern Ireland economy being too small, but the business community says—it agrees with me on this—that the economy needs to be much more entrepreneurial and enterprising, to build a stronger private sector right across Northern Ireland.

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): The southern Irish Government are one of the best Governments in the world at utilising Irish communities around the world to promote trade and investment in southern Ireland. What steps is my right hon. Friend's Department taking to use the Ulster communities around the world to promote trade and investment in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend has raised an important point. I was talking to exactly that community in New York and Washington last week, including senior figures in the business community who are working with the Government, and with me as Secretary of State, to find new opportunities to market Northern Ireland—now that we have a stable, prosperous Northern Ireland that is going from strength to strength—and to bring in American and other investors, who know that they will find it an excellent location in which to base themselves.

Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that the selling point for investment in Northern Ireland is not subsidy but the excellence of the location and the work force? May I press him further on co-operation with the Republic of Ireland, which has already worked very successfully in tourism? To what extent does he seek to work with the Republic of Ireland in promoting the island of Ireland as an inward investment location?

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We are anxious to take every opportunity to get more investment, including from companies based in the Republic of Ireland. We want them to come to Northern Ireland and to see that there are better opportunities there and a less overheated economy. That was one of the reasons why Citigroup decided to locate in Belfast. It could have chosen the south—indeed, it might have been drawn there in the past—but Northern Ireland, especially with its skills base, is now a very attractive place in which to invest.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): We have many examples of politicians being asked to resign for being economical with the truth. Does the Secretary of State recognise that he is possibly the first to be asked to resign for being truthful about the economy? Does he also recognise that, for many of us, promoting direct foreign
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investment in Northern Ireland would best be done in an all-Ireland context? Does he also acknowledge the lack of confidence in the performance of Invest Northern Ireland, particularly west of the Bann? In the absence of foreign direct investment, does he acknowledge the Government's duty to ensure more balanced employment in the east and west, through Government employment and public procurement?

Mr. Hain: I agree that we must focus all our efforts—as indeed we are doing, and announcements will be made in the relatively near future—on ensuring that extra jobs and investment go to the hon. Gentleman's constituency and the north-west of Northern Ireland in particular. I also agree that at a time when we face global competition from China and India, let alone more immediate competition in eastern Europe, we need to consider all investment opportunities, including co-operation across the border, to maximise opportunities for the whole island of Ireland. As the hon. Gentleman says, Northern Ireland will benefit from that.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I was disappointed by what the Secretary of State said about the Northern Ireland economy when he was in New York. I have been involved in the Northern Ireland business community for 25 years, and I know that it is one of the strongest communities in Northern Ireland. Will the right hon. Gentleman use his influence with Invest Northern Ireland to promote small businesses?

Mr. Hain: I do that already, as does the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela E. Smith). But let me return to what the hon. Gentleman said at the beginning. Members of the business community, both in New York—where the comments were made—and at home in Northern Ireland, prefer honesty. Honesty about the Northern Ireland economy means saying "Yes, the economy is doing better than ever before, but the private sector is too small compared with the public sector, and there is therefore a question of sustainability." The business community wants a Secretary of State and a Government who recognise that and want to expand small businesses and the private sector, as indeed we do. It will invest in Northern Ireland more readily in the knowledge that the Government have that strategy. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The House must come to order.


5. Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): When he next intends to meet representatives of the loyalist community to discuss regeneration. [29668]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. David Hanson): As part of my engagement with the loyalist community, over the next 12 weeks I will be meeting elected political representatives, community activists, churches and faith-based organisations, residents, women, youth, Loyal Orders and business representatives from the loyalist community. I am committed to using the results of that engagement to produce real improvements on the ground.
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Huw Irranca-Davies: I was pleased to hear the long list of representatives of the loyalist community whom the Minister will meet, but will he take the opportunity to discuss the continuing criminality that emanates from some groups of ex-combatants and paramilitaries? It is one of the biggest impediments to regeneration in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Hanson: I certainly will. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, the Government will take strong action against paramilitaries, and will ensure that criminality and paramilitary activity cease as part of the regeneration of the Province.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Does the Minister accept—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The private conversations must cease. The noise is unfair to Members who are interested in Northern Ireland questions.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: Does the Minister accept that if regeneration is to succeed, whether in loyalist areas or in other parts of Northern Ireland, there must be meaningful peace and stability? Does he accept that without a much more transparent decommissioning of arms in all parts of Northern Ireland, there will never be that peace and stability? Will he therefore make the decommissioning process more transparent?

Mr. Hanson: As the hon. Gentleman will know, the decommissioning process is ongoing. We have already received the report from the Independent Monitoring Commission following the IRA's statement in July. We are committed to ensuring that the process is transparent and open, and to building on the strong economy that Northern Ireland can have once the peace process continues. I know that the hon. Gentleman shares my wish to see an end to IRA activity, an end to criminality, and an end to paramilitary activity.

Mr. John McFall (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): During his discussions, will the Minister ensure that the perception that loyalists and paramilitaries are being funded is dispelled? I know from experience of the valiant efforts by church and community groups to make progress in the community. Will the Minister redouble his efforts both to deal with the funding issue and to engage with the law-abiding elements in the loyalist communities?

Mr. Hanson: The Government are particularly keen to engage with elected politicians and community groups. We recognise the need for regeneration not just in loyalist areas but in republican and nationalist areas, but we must also ensure that the Government take on board some of the challenges faced by loyalist areas. That is why a taskforce headed by the civil service is considering what we can do for loyalist and Protestant communities throughout Northern Ireland.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): As we are the elected Democratic Unionist representatives of those areas, the Government will be aware of our commitment to their social and economic betterment. Does the Minister accept that the main issues are better
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housing, sustainable employment and a focus on education from the earliest age right through to adulthood, all of which must be tackled as part of a strategic plan? It must, however, be properly resourced and funded. That is the challenge for the Government.

Mr. Hanson: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and he will know that we are trying hard to consider how best to improve educational opportunity, housing and employment, particularly in loyalist areas. He will recognise the taskforce's work over the past two years, which provided the opportunity to look into those matters. I have appointed the head of the civil service to examine those issues and he will report in January or February next year. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will work with the Government to ensure that we deliver on the ground for those communities.

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