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Volume 571: debated on Wednesday 27 November 2013

Northern Ireland has a higher population of young people than any other region in the UK. Nearly one in four of them is without a job. Does the Secretary of State have a plan to get them back to work?

Specific measures on this issue are for the Northern Ireland Executive. However, the economic pact we concluded with them in June will help to rebalance the economy and improve employment prospects. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the number of those who are unemployed in Northern Ireland has fallen dramatically over the past year, and the number of employee jobs has increased by more than 5,000.

Worklessness contributes to one in four children in Northern Ireland being in severe poverty, which is double the UK average. What are the Government doing about that?

Worklessness, as the hon. Gentleman will understand, is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive, but we support them in their stand to increase employment and reduce the number of people on unemployment benefit. The best route out of poverty is through work. As he will know, we are turning the corner on the economy, which is increasing employment both in the United Kingdom as a whole and in Northern Ireland specifically.

Does the Minister of State agree that it is difficult to tackle unemployment when the major bank in Northern Ireland is implicated in a report that shows that the Royal Bank of Scotland was responsible for making viable businesses go to the wall in order to plunder their assets? Will he ensure that any investigation arising from the Tomlinson report includes the activities of Ulster bank and how it dealt with businesses in Northern Ireland?

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue, and I agree with him, of course. That is not the specific responsibility of the Northern Ireland Office; it is more for the Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. However, I absolutely support what he says. Everyone in the Chamber should deprecate the actions of any bank that has been pushing small businesses out of business.

9. As part of the need to address worklessness in Northern Ireland, will the Minister have immediate discussions with his ministerial colleagues in the Treasury to address the issue of the closure, in March 2015, of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs centre in Newry, which makes a major contribution to the local economy in the southern part of my constituency? Will the Minister meet my colleagues and me to discuss that important issue? (901232)

I am happy to meet the hon. Lady and her colleagues. We should be clear that any redundancies in HMRC in Newry are voluntary. Nobody likes to see people lose their jobs be it voluntarily or otherwise. However, I say gently to her that the way in which people do business with HMRC and other Government agencies is changing, with much more being done online. I think she would agree that the most important thing is that customers of HMRC—the taxpayers—get a decent service. It might be the case that by doing business online there is less need for the current number of employees.