The continuing attraction of inward investment to Northern Ireland is vital to the growth of the Northern Ireland economy, and the responsibility for this rests with the Industrial Development Board. As an example of recent initiatives, last October, I, along with the Secretary of State, supported by the First Minister (Designate) and Deputy First Minister (Designate), undertook an intensive 11-city inward investment tour of north America. The IDB is actively building on the benefits of that investment drive.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I take this opportunity to congratulate the Northern Ireland team on its understanding and tenacity in encouraging the Belfast agreement along.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that inward investment is extremely important in creating the jobs, opportunities and prosperity that will help to bridge the sectarian divide. He will be aware also that new industry has a priority to ensure the health and safety of its work force. Will he ensure that the new Health and Safety Executive, which was set up and launched at Stormont earlier this year, is equipped to provide the best of standards for all workers in all occupations? As many of the new industries will be moving into established premises, will my right hon. Friend ensure that some of the inspectors are trained in the health and safety aspects of asbestos removal?
I thank my hon. Friend for his warm words with reference to what we have been able to achieve to date. I hope that his view is shared on both sides of the House because much has been achieved. My hon. Friend is right in that the more progress that is made in establishing peace, the greater will be the economic development. My hon. Friend referred to the establishment of the new Health and Safety Executive, which took up its mantle of responsibilities from 1 April. I take note of what he says about the training of inspectors. It is right that inspectors should be trained to deal with everything that they are likely to face in carrying out their duties. I shall ensure that that message is taken on board by the executive. Of course, if we have implementation of the Good Friday agreement, it will become a devolved issue for the new Assembly.
I do not know whether we have undertaken any specific research. I shall certainly engage in some research to ascertain whether we have done any research and to see whether there is anything to be gained from such research. I think that it is well known that one of the specific areas of potential inward investment is the English-speaking world, primarily north America. That is why we targeted that market. I am not so sure that research would prove that we need to do more in that context because we have expended a great deal of effort in seeking to encourage inward investment.
As for the flexibility of the labour market, we market Northern Ireland on the basis of its human resources and its commitment, in all sections of the community, to the work ethic. The people of Northern Ireland want peace but they also want jobs.
I thank the Minister for his earlier encouraging remarks on inward investment and draw his attention to the completion of a new business park in Downpatrick, in the north of the South Down constituency. According to the strategic plan for the next 10 years, the population of the area, which already has high unemployment, is destined to double. What specific and special action does he anticipate the Government taking to attract inward investment to the area, and to publicise and market the new business park? The area's visitation ratio over the past 10 years has been low.
We seek to encourage among companies coming into Northern Ireland maximum interest in considering areas such as Downpatrick, which undoubtedly has major potential in a variety of ways—not only for industrial growth, but for tourism. I compliment my hon. Friend on all his efforts on behalf of his constituency and to ensure that people are aware of the importance of inward investment for that area. We do our best in marketing and encourage as many companies as possible to consider coming to Northern Ireland, but it is for them to make their investment decisions, although we may put attractive packages in front of them to attract them to areas such as Downpatrick.
The Minister will be aware that spiralling fuel costs in Northern Ireland are a major deterrent to inward investment. We welcome the announcement that I understand the Government have made about considering compensation to petrol retailers who are suffering as a result of smuggling. Will he meet the Northern Ireland regional representatives of the Road Haulage Association and the Freight Transport Association to discuss the impact of increasing fuel costs on the industry's ability to provide an effective transport service to businesses in Northern Ireland and to potential inward investors?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the Government's announcement; it is always nice to hear such a welcome from him. The Government's approach has been to listen and to try to find the best way forward. I have agreed to meet the Petrol Retailers Association, and I would not be averse to meeting other interested lobby groups so that I can articulate their views to the appropriate Department. However, these matters do not rest with the Northern Ireland Office, but with the Treasury.