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Economic Development

Volume 547: debated on Wednesday 4 July 2012

5. What recent discussions he has had with Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive on economic development. (114374)

11. What recent discussions he has had with Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive on economic development. (114380)

My right hon. Friend the Minister of State and I meet regularly with Northern Ireland Ministers in support of their efforts to promote economic development and to help rebuild and rebalance the economy.

What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Northern Ireland Executive to encourage them to set up enterprise zones?

I have regular discussions with the First Minister, Deputy First Minister and Minister of Finance. Last year’s Budget, which became the Finance Act 2011, made that facility available. There are 24 enterprise zones in England, four in Scotland and seven in Wales. They have the capacity also to have enhanced capital allowances. I am in favour of them as a benefit for Northern Ireland, but this is a devolved issue and a devolved decision.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that economic development in Northern Ireland would be much assisted by greater competition on the ferry routes in the Irish sea? A good start would be the restoration of the ferry link between Fleetwood and Larne.

I wholeheartedly endorse what my hon. Friend is doing in trying to improve ferry links across the Irish sea. I cannot think of a better place to expand to than Fleetwood.

Does the Secretary of State accept that economic development is being hampered in Northern Ireland by the lack of willingness among the banks to assist businesses through these difficult economic times? Surely the Government can do more to force the banks to assist our economy, bearing in mind that taxpayers are the ones who helped them in their hour of crisis.

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. No one could have worked harder than my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and the First Secretary, who have been working with the banks ensuring that credit is freed up. Above all, let us not forget the complete mess that we inherited—the biggest deficit in western Europe. Through the robust measures that we have taken, we have kept the confidence of the international markets and have the lowest interest rates since the middle ages.