While inward investment is of course a matter for the devolved Administration, both current and future levels of investment from outside the UK depend on maintaining political momentum and demonstrating the strength of political stability in Northern Ireland.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. He is right that the political situation in Northern Ireland is a lot better, but would it not also help if investment on Government projects was directed into areas such as Northern Ireland, so that people could concentrate more on work than on political unrest?
My hon. Friend is right to point to the effects of Government investment, and I am very pleased that the Executive and Assembly in Northern Ireland are making extremely good use of it. I congratulate the First Minister, the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), who is here today, on the work that he is leading in that regard. It may be worth remarking that, this year alone, nearly 43 inward investment projects—in excess of around £800 million, I believe—are being conducted in Northern Ireland.
While the Secretary of State rightly draws attention to the fact that the Northern Ireland Executive met their own targets for the last financial year, ending on 31 March, the economic downturn will make things much more difficult in the year ahead. Northern Ireland has a first-class package for inward investment, with a young and well-educated work force and a very good record in innovation, research and development. However, does he agree that the bottom line when he or anyone else has visited America or elsewhere in the world is that people want to know that violence has ended and that there is political stability? The twin evils in respect of getting investment back into Northern Ireland and getting our economy going are those who use the bomb and the bullet to kill and cause bloodshed there, and those wreckers who are attempting to bring down the political institutions.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the work that he has been doing to inspire leadership in Northern Ireland, and also on what he has done with the Deputy First Minister in the United States to attract inward investment. They have been extremely successful, especially in the current climate. The right hon. Gentleman is also right to point to the impact of the activities of those criminals who call themselves dissident republicans. Again, I congratulate the First Minister and his colleagues on their achievements, which mean that, despite those criminal activities, Northern Ireland continues to be a place that attracts that investment.
What discussions, if any, have there been between the national Government here and the devolved Government in Stormont about the spectrum of investment in renewable energies and sustainability? Has there been any dialogue across the border with the Government in the Irish Republic on those issues?
The hon. Gentleman will know that that is a matter for the devolved Administration, but I assure him that the British Government will provide every encouragement to the talks taking place. Anything that I can do in a capacity appropriate to the Secretary of State, I of course stand ready to do.
Does the Secretary of State agree with New York’s Mayor Bloomberg, who said that to attract the level of inward development that he thinks is possible a lot of the physical barriers—the peace walls, the murals, the painted kerb stones and the rest of it—will have to be removed? Will the Secretary of State give his support to those politicians in Northern Ireland who are taking a very brave stand on some of those issues?
I absolutely support all those politicians, and again I commend the leadership jointly offered by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister on these issues. However, it would be remiss of the House not to record the historic progress that has been made on decommissioning by loyalism in the past few weeks. Again, that achievement is very much the result of a team effort, across the House and outside it. I should like to put on record my thanks to this House for keeping faith with the decommissioning process, which has taken many weapons off the streets for ever.
The Secretary of State and other right hon. and hon. Members, are right to point out that Northern Ireland does stand to benefit from the decommissioning and the peace dividend. However, one problem is that the public sector in Northern Ireland remains disproportionately large, compared with that sector in the rest of the UK. What can the right hon. Gentleman do to change that, bring about greater investment in Northern Ireland and increase the size of the wealth-creating private sector?
This is an interesting moment. The hon. Gentleman is right to point to the concern about the size of the public sector in Northern Ireland, and in normal economic circumstances we would wish to press that issue. However, as he will know, a recession is taking place, and this Government believe that it is right to continue with the investment in Northern Ireland; to do its best for the people there; and to not pursue the Opposition policy of 10 per cent. cuts.