May I place on record the House's congratulations to my hon. Friend—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box, especially as, while answering his first question, he is wearing another, absent Minister's hat? Is my hon. Friend aware that the lion's share of exports to the United States is by Short Brothers which, since being taken over by Bombadier, has immensely improved its performance, its productivity and its profitability? Does he acknowledge that the strength of the pound against the dollar, especially as aviation products are priced in dollars, is making it increasingly difficult for Short Brothers to bid successfully for new contracts? What can my hon. Friend do about that?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. My hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, is in the United States at the moment trying to increase exports to that country on behalf of Northern Ireland. Shorts makes sales and purchases in dollars. As a privately owned business, its foreign exchange management is a matter for its directors. Shorts has not sought any assistance from the Government for foreign exchange exposures. I take this opportunity to congratulate Shorts on its major contribution to the economy of Northern Ireland. It is a significant exporter; it has achieved well over £600 million in overseas sales in the past five years, which represents 60 per cent. of its total sales turnover.
May I take this opportunity to welcome the Minister to Northern Ireland and to say that nobody could be more welcome than he is? Will he convey to the Secretary of State our congratulations on his engagement? We shall ensure together that we get him to the church on time.
Will the Minister ensure that similar effort and investment is put into attracting inward investment from the United States, as has happened in the recent past? I hope that we shall all recognise the efforts made by the Minister with responsibility for commerce who, at present, is in the United States trying to obtain business for Northern Ireland. His efforts in that regard should be recorded in the House.
I am most grateful for the hon. Gentleman's comments.
I wholly agree that inward investment is extremely important in reducing unemployment and in helping the healthy condition of the Northern Ireland economy. Clearly, activities such as those that I have seen at first hand in the past two weeks can do nothing to help build the Northern Ireland economy or to reduce unemployment.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend on his new post. He has ideal qualifications: he has a great sense of humour and he is also a very good mimic.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the major achievements on the economic front over the past few months has been the growth in self-employment and in small businesses? What percentage of the work force is now employed in that sector? Will my hon. Friend also do everything possible to encourage the excellent work of the Local Enterprise Development Unit over the next few months?
I thank my hon. Friend also for his kind comments. I could not be more willing to serve in Northern Ireland, which is a country full of people of very good humour, contrary to certain opinions. I am enjoying myself there tremendously.
Just over 100,000 people are employed in manufacturing industry at the moment. I shall write to my hon. Friend with the precise figure for which he asked me.