The Government’s priority is to return the UK economy to sustainable, balanced growth. To achieve that we are tackling the deficit and creating the conditions for private sector investment and growth. Such investment and growth is critically needed to rebalance the Northern Ireland economy, and we shall work in close partnership with the Northern Ireland Executive to achieve it.
I welcome the Secretary of State to her position. Will she reassure the people of Northern Ireland that none of the £40 million that the Government have admitted they wasted on the west coast main line franchise fiasco will come out of the budget of her new Department?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are determined to rebalance the economy in Northern Ireland. I noticed that, under Labour, the Northern Ireland economy became more dependent on public spending. The west coast incident has no impact on Northern Ireland—I am happy to assure him of that.
I welcome the right hon. Lady to her new position as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and thank her for her contribution to the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, which she visited on Monday.
Less consensually, the chief economist of the Northern Bank last week said:
“Ed Balls and Vernon Coaker were correct this week in asserting that Northern Ireland requires strong growth initiatives now, not later. As well as government investment on infrastructure, Northern Ireland needs demand stimulating policies such a VAT reduction and tax breaks for local companies taking on more workers. These are the initiatives that are needed to create jobs”.
Does the Secretary of State agree?
When the shadow Chancellor finally got round to visiting Northern Ireland, all he came up with was more tax, more borrowing and more spending. The reality is that that is all Labour has to offer in its economic policy. All hon. Members know that we cannot borrow our way out of a debt crisis. The problems in Northern Ireland and across the UK are to a large extent caused by the significant deficit left to this country by the Labour party.
Last year, Facebook paid £280,000 on tax on UK earnings of £20.4 million, because most of the moneys were transferred and paid through its base in Dublin. Does the Secretary of State agree that Facebook would have paid a substantial amount to the Treasury if it had paid corporation tax in Northern Ireland, and, more importantly, that that would have boosted the Northern Ireland economy?
It is important that all companies pay their fair share of tax. HMRC has devoted very significant resources to cracking down on tax evasion and artificial tax avoidance. The Government are devoting more effort and energy to that task than any previous Government, and we will continue to do so.
Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the great drawbacks in Northern Ireland, as elsewhere, on job-producing economic initiatives is the dead hand of the planning system? What steps will she take to seek to encourage the Northern Ireland Executive to hasten the planning system, particularly with regard to large-scale projects?
I agree with my hon. Friend that reforming the planning system is vital to ensuring that a country is a good place in which to do business. He will appreciate that planning is a devolved matter for the Northern Ireland Executive. I very much welcome the Executive’s work on seeing whether the planning system can be reformed to make it more effective and efficient.
May I join the compliments of the occasion to the ministerial team and add to the tributes to Sir Stuart Bell?
The Secretary of State seized on concerns about current banking and business in Northern Ireland, but is she focusing on the future business of banking in Northern Ireland and the implications that arise from UK legislation, such as financial services and banking reform measures, and the shake-up in the Irish banks and moves towards banking union, which has severe implications for our economy?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Clearly, Northern Ireland was perhaps more impacted by the property crash and banking crash than many other parts of the UK because of its links with the Republic of Ireland economy. The hangover of negative equity is a serious problem, which is why it is essential that we work to ensure that Northern Ireland gets the most it can out of the recently announced funding for lending scheme to get much-needed business credit flowing back to business.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on assuming her post. May I probe her on the link between security and her economic policies? It was no coincidence that Labour achieved the 2007 settlement with record jobs and record levels of growth. Now we have the very reverse, with young loyalists and republicans involved in all sorts of civil disturbances. There is a link.
One reason we need to boost the Northern Ireland economy is that we must do all we can to choke off potential support for terrorism. It is also important that the UK Government, the community across Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Executive work on generating a genuinely shared future and on bringing down sectarian barriers. That, too, is an important part of our strategy to choke off support for terrorism.
Belfast’s glorious maritime history is an essential component of economic growth. In welcoming the Minister of State to his position, may I thank him for the work he has undertaken to ensure that HMS Caroline will for ever nestle within the slightly chilly bosom of Belfast lough? When he draws up the guest list for the re-launch, will he not forget Chief Petty Officer Yeoman William Perkiss, the last instructor on HMS Caroline and now a Doorkeeper in this very House?
I happily praise the efforts of my hon. Friend the Minister and, indeed, the shadow Minister, who I know has had a long-standing interest in HMS Caroline. I also thank the National Heritage Memorial Fund for providing £1 million to secure the future of HMS Caroline in Belfast. [Interruption.] I hope that that will be welcomed by Chief Petty Officer Yeoman William Perkiss, who is part of our House of Commons.