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Volume 518: debated on Wednesday 10 November 2010

1. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on the contribution of Northern Ireland to the Government’s programmes to increase the level of exports for the purposes of international trade. (22147)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have had regular discussions with ministerial colleagues in Northern Ireland on economic development issues. We will continue to work with the Executive to rebalance the Northern Ireland economy and grow the private sector.

Does the Minister agree that the inspirational visit to China by the Prime Minister shows that we should redouble our efforts on exporting?

Yes, I certainly do. Invest Northern Ireland has recently led trade missions to Brazil, South Africa and Vietnam, and 35 Northern Ireland companies from across the sector went with it. What is going on in China should work as an incentive to others to export. Let me pay tribute to a company that I visited the other day in Ballymena—and I see that the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) is present. Wrightbus has just supplied 450 double-decker buses to Singapore and has won the design project for the replacement of the iconic Routemaster bus here in London. The answer to rebalancing part of the Northern Irish economy is to get—

Order. That answer is too long. The Minister will resume his seat, and he must not repeat that.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Given the need to provide growth in the Northern Ireland economy and ensure jobs and investment, can he provide assurances to the House that the Prime Minister, on his current trade mission to China, is aware not only of the need to rebalance the economy in Northern Ireland but of the products that could be exported as part of international trade—and also of the fact that the Government are about to publish a paper on the Northern Ireland economy and corporation tax?

Of course the Prime Minister continues to take an interest in Northern Ireland. The food, drink and tobacco sectors account for 45% of total sales and 46% of external sales. These figures could and should increase, and the Secretary of State and I will work with the devolved Administration, in whatever way we are asked, to support any incentive of that kind.

Will the Secretary of State commit to making representations to the Treasury regarding alterations to how tobacco tax is lifted, so that the Treasury can receive a bigger taxation take while allowing the industry to invest in securing jobs in Northern Ireland?

The hon. Gentleman has in his constituency the Gallaher Group, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visited recently. The loss to the United Kingdom economy from contraband cigarettes and forfeited duty is in the region of £2 billion to £3 billion a year. We should consider that closely, and continue to make representations in that regard.

Is the Minister as concerned as those of us who come from Northern Ireland that recent reports show a third quarter fall in growth in the private sector in Northern Ireland, and will he therefore redouble his efforts to rebalance the Northern Ireland economy more effectively?

Clearly, Northern Ireland is not immune to what is going on in the rest of the world—one has only to look over the border at what is going on in Ireland to see that. We work very closely with Northern Ireland on rebalancing the economy and we have the support of the Finance Minister, who, along with the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Industry, is meeting the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs this afternoon to discuss corporation tax. We must leave no stone unturned in our attempts to rebalance Northern Ireland’s economy and, critically, to provide well-paid and sustainable jobs.

Unless I am mistaken, the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) did not put a supplementary question to the substantive question. If he did he can nod his head, but if he did not, he should do so.