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Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that answer. Does he agree that, on further reflection, an inhibition to inward investment in Northern Ireland as in other parts of the United Kingdom is a fair and efficient planning service? Would the noble Lord describe the Northern Ireland planning service in those terms when, in a recent answer to me, the chief executive said that in 1996 it had taken 1,716 days to reach a conclusion on one particular matter?
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I agree that industrial investment is helped by an efficient planning system. I am not aware of the particular planning application to which the noble Lord refers. However, some of the delays have been due to the complexity of the decision, the need for full consultation and an appeal. Some of the delays have also resulted from further information being required from the applicant for the planning permission. Nevertheless, I agree that long delays are unacceptable and it is one of the matters that I am looking into.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, looking back over the many years of the troubles, it is very difficult to answer the question. However, all the evidence that we have suggests that difficulties over the past year or so have not held back an enormous surge in inward investment. For example, for the year ending March 1997, which was the most
Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, is it possible for the Minister to ask his colleagues in the DTI whether they, in turn, could ask companies which invest in Great Britain whether they have the same or different problems when investing in Northern Ireland? The suspicion is abroad that it is much more difficult for companies to obtain planning permission in Northern Ireland than on the mainland. It would help investment in both places if that could be put to rest once and for all.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I shall look into whether obtaining planning permission for industrial projects is harder or takes longer in Northern Ireland than in other parts of the UK. Whether I shall be tempted to do that through the DTI or whether it is better that I investigate for myself, I shall decide when I see what comes back from my own department.
Lord Stallard: My Lords, given the Government's welcome emphasis on the need to improve long-term unemployment and to create jobs, what positive direction is given to potential investors in Northern Ireland to move into areas of high unemployment? What is being done to make training facilities and promotional opportunities available and accessible to both communities?
Lord Dubs: My Lords, of course we want to encourage investment to the benefit of all communities in Northern Ireland. For example, a couple of years or longer ago few companies considered investing in West Belfast, an area which has suffered more than most from the difficulties in recent years. However, since then we have encouraged a number of American, Korean and Japanese investors to set up plants there. Those companies include Fujitsu, and Emerson Caterpillar. They will provide hundreds of jobs in the area. We want inward investment to help all people in Northern Ireland and not just a section of the community.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, will the Minister read out a list of the policies which have led to that enormous and most successful surge of investment in the UK to which he referred earlier? Will he say whether it is proposed to change any of them?
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I have a list of the elements of the investment package offered in Northern Ireland, which is one of the most attractive in Europe. Every assistance package is tailored to meet the needs of specific projects. The level of the grant will vary
Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, perhaps I may modestly claim some ownership of the "we" the Minister mentioned in attracting Fujitsu, Emerson and other investors to West Belfast? We must be grateful to all those who continue to invest in Northern Ireland despite the men of violence. Retailers are some of the most valuable investors. They bring jobs and training to those with a minimum of qualifications, competition for the consumer, and attractions for tourists. Is not the Minister therefore surprised that road services should take 15 months to pronounce on road improvements which would allow a major retailer to expand, to offer more jobs, and to offer more markets for goods produced in Northern Ireland? Is it not important that there should be not just one department focused on inward investment but that every part of government should be focused on bringing more investment to Northern Ireland.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, when I said "we", I meant "we" in the sense of this Government and the previous government. In case there was any doubt about that, let me make it clear that the attractive investment incentives were those for which the noble Baroness had responsibility when she was the Minister in Northern Ireland. Clearly her efforts were successful. We shall want to continue to ensure that inward investment goes on being attractive. With regard to planning delays, a couple of minutes before I came into the Chamber, the noble Baroness mentioned to me that she wanted to ask a question about them. If I am right in interpreting her question as relating to a particular development, my quick answer is that further information is being awaited from the applicant for the planning permission. It is such a large planning application that there will almost certainly have to be a planning inquiry to deal with it. I assure the noble Baroness that I shall look into it further and let her have a full answer by letter.
Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, I accept the general principles of the scheme as stated by my noble friend, but does he agree that with £1.5 billion now in the fund there is room for improvement in the pensions for those thousands of miners who lost their jobs because of the destruction of the mining industry by the previous government, and who are still unemployed? Secondly, does my noble friend remember that the 100 miners who were sacked--it was a case of victimisation--during the dispute in 1984-85 were deprived of their pension rights? Does he agree that it would take just a tiny part of the funds that now exist to restore those rights?
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I am well aware of my noble friend's concern for the welfare of the mining community and those who were deprived of their jobs as a result of events in the past. As regards victimised miners, the case has been considered, and he will be glad to know that it is for the trustees, of course, to consider the possibility of their reinstatement. It remains an open issue. However, it is not a matter for me as a Minister, however sympathetic I might be, to revisit the fund's purposes. It is outside my legal competence so to do.
Lord Ezra: My Lords, as the Minister is probably aware, there are two pension funds relating to the coal industry. One is for mineworkers, and is the one to which the Question relates, and the other is for the staff members, of which I happen to be a beneficiary, so I declare that interest. Is the Minister aware that as a result of the latest valuation of those two schemes the Government will be paid £150 million per annum for 10 years? That is a substantial amount of money. If a further valuation should lead to an even larger amount of money, is there not something to be said for a review of the situation in the light of the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dormand?
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