9. What assessment he has made of the effect on economic growth in Northern Ireland of reductions in public expenditure. (63176)
As I said earlier to the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans), tackling the deficit has to be the Government’s biggest priority, and Northern Ireland must play its part. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are working with Northern Ireland Ministers to attract growth and investment and to help rebalance the economy.
Northern Bank’s quarterly economic forecast states that Northern Ireland’s construction sector has hit a new low and is facing its fourth year of decline. It has already suffered some of the worst job losses anywhere in the country. Do the 10,000 people who could now lose their jobs, on top of those who have already done so, have any cause for optimism, given the complacency that the Minister showed in his earlier answer?
I do not think that I showed complacency in my earlier answer. We are fully aware of the effect of the recession on the construction industry not only in Northern Ireland but in the whole of the United Kingdom. It has had a real effect in many of the border areas where people used to go down to the building sites of Dublin and earn their money that way. That is a serious issue for all kinds of reasons. The fact that we came to the aid of the Republic of Ireland has allowed us to have far greater involvement in its investment decisions affecting Northern Ireland, not least those of the banks, as well as in other issues of mutual interest.
Does the Minister agree that air passenger duty is helping to strangle economic recovery in Northern Ireland? Does he have any plans to persuade the Treasury to make changes to it?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, there has been a consultation process on air passenger duty, which is continuing, and we have discussed the issue with the Finance Minister at Stormont. These are issues that we take very seriously, not least in respect of what I describe as the economic umbilical cord—the link to New York by Continental airlines. We are keen to see that continue. A number of companies, including the New York stock exchange, came to invest in Northern Ireland because of that air route. As I say, we are taking this extremely seriously and we are batting for Northern Ireland.