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Volume 525: debated on Wednesday 23 March 2011

The Government are committed to working with the Northern Ireland Executive to help boost private sector growth and investment in Northern Ireland. The consultation proposals for rebalancing the economy that the Government will publish tomorrow will send a powerful message to overseas investors. They have the potential to make Northern Ireland a beacon for foreign investment.

Does the Secretary of State recognise that one of the most competitive parts of the Northern Ireland economy is the renewable energy sector? Will he convey to the Chancellor the message that the establishment of a strong green investment bank with its own borrowing powers during the current Parliament is essential to drive the green economy in Northern Ireland?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that constructive question. He will have been pleased to note the significant investment in Harland and Wolff’s wind apparatus by DONG Energy the other day—that is very much a theme of the coalition Government—but if he wants to hear further announcements, he will have to restrain himself and wait for the Budget statement which will be delivered in a few minutes’ time.

Northern Ireland, like North Yorkshire, is powered by small business. What message does the Secretary of State think today’s sizzling Budget for growth will send to risk-takers in Northern Ireland and beyond?

We have the Ulster fry, with which we can celebrate in numerous splendid establishments in Northern Ireland. I think the message is that we have stabilised the economy. We have moved out of the danger zone that we used to inhabit after inheriting the mess from the last Government, and today we can celebrate moving forward with a constructive Budget and specific measures to help small businesses in Northern Ireland.

I hope that the Budget sizzles but does not burn the economy.

Does the Secretary of State believe that a corporation tax change for Northern Ireland which also imposes a huge financial burden on public expenditure is likely to promote the competitiveness to which he has referred? Will he ensure that if corporation tax is devolved, it is devolved at a fair rate and in a way that does not make it—

The hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) and I discussed this matter at length at Hillsborough the other night. We talked until after midnight. He knows that we are proposing a consultation. If the power is then devolved, it will be up to him and his colleagues to decide the manner in which that is done. [Interruption.] He also knows—if he looks south of the border—that the reduction in corporation tax there was recently described as a “cornerstone” of the success of the rebuilding of manufacturing in the Republic of Ireland.

Can the Secretary of State give us any advice on steps that the Northern Ireland economy might take to become more productive and efficient? [Interruption.] I am thinking especially of research and development, and in particular of European framework programme 7 for R and D funding.

Order. I appeal to the House to come to order. It is very difficult for Ministers even to hear the questions that they are being asked.

The hon. Gentleman will have to wait until tomorrow to see the details in the consultation paper, but I can tell him that we have taken up a range of measures proposed by the Executive. Let me also draw his attention to the national policy that we have imposed, which involves a huge range of measures to revive science and research in this country.