In the course of the past few months I have had discussions with STC's chairman, the Monkstown factory work force representatives and the Northern Ireland committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. I have also corresponded with STC's chairman. I have stressed my concern to secure the future of the factory and have promised that the Industrial Development Board of Northern Ireland will do all it can to help the company in its efforts to increase the factory's efficiency and to bring in new products.
I thank the Minister for his efforts so far. Does he accept that the privatisaton of British Telecom and the policy of purchasing from foreign companies contributed to the loss of 345 jobs in 1984 and will contribute to further job losses totalling 550 this year? Will he undertake to press the board of STC further to encourage the company to allocate products for manufacture at the Monkstown plant in Northern Ireland? May we be assured that the centralisation of STC activities in London is not a precursor to its withdrawal from Northern Ireland?
The answer to the first part of that supplementary question is that the Government are committed to a policy of free competition within the telecommunications sector. It is up to the manufacturing companies to exploit the opportunities available to them within that framework. The problem in relation to STC, as raised in the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, is that we have products there which have been sold in the past and are selling now. We need new products which will sell in the future. The whole problem of the Northern Ireland economy, of which the IDB is aware, is the need to encourage the development, by STC and other companies, of products that will sell in Northern Ireland, in Great Britain and throughout the world in the coming 20 to 30 years.