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Economy

Volume 584: debated on Wednesday 16 July 2014

Figures released this morning show that the claimant count fell by 900 in June, the 18th consecutive month it has fallen in Northern Ireland. Economic commentators have forecast growth of 2.8% this year—more than many major economies around the world. The Government’s long-term economic plan is working in Northern Ireland.

Does the Secretary of State agree that in order to attract further inward investment to Northern Ireland, we need to project an image to the world of peace and stability? In that vein, does she further agree that the recent peaceful passing of the twelfth of July celebrations gives us hope for the future and is something we can build on?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The fact that there was a peaceful twelfth of July is an important step forward for Northern Ireland. It has been rare over recent decades that one can say that the twelfth of July weekend has been entirely peaceful. I commend the efforts made by Unionist leaders from a range of parties and the Orange Order—and, indeed, by nationalists as well—to keep the situation calm, despite the distress and upset caused by the Parades Commission determination.

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating companies in Northern Ireland that have recently announced major investment? The Moy Park organisation, the Almac corporation and Thompson Aero Seating have invested tens of millions of pounds in the economy, creating hundreds of new jobs?

I will join the hon. Gentleman in that. We have had a hugely successful month for inward investment over June and July. I am sure that everyone who watched the World cup saw the Moy Park adverts, demonstrating that Moy Park is a world beater. That company alone announced 628 jobs in Dungannon, Craigavon and Ballymena. We have had further good news, with jobs announcements from Alexander Mann Solutions, HeartSine Technologies, Wrightbus, Thales, First Derivatives and, of course, Thompson Aero Seating.

In balancing the Northern Ireland economy away from its over-reliance on the public sector, what are the prospects for rapid growth in the digital information services sector in the Province?

I think there is great scope for growth in this area. The Digital Derry initiative is one that immediately springs to mind, but I believe that the strength of Northern Ireland’s creative industries also opens up great opportunities for success in the digital media world. A number of software companies have had great success in Northern Ireland, which is now ranked by the Financial Times as one of the best places in the world for financial services technology investment.

11. Some four years into this Government, we had the announcement this year of the first pilot enterprise zone in Northern Ireland. When does the Secretary of State believe that we might be able to have further enterprise zones, and is she open to the idea of working with the Irish Government and the Executive to have a cross-border enterprise zone in the north-west? (904835)

We are certainly open to discussions with the Irish Government about cross-border initiatives to boost the economy, which could well include enterprise zones. Our report back on the Government’s economic pact with the Northern Ireland Executive made it clear that the Treasury is prepared to discuss the possibility, subject to affordability, of additional enterprise zones in Northern Ireland, and I think it would be great if those discussions went forward.

I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) to his new role and thank the right hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr Robathan) for his contribution during his period as a Northern Ireland Minister.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the economic impact that parade-related disorder has had in the past on local shops and businesses in Northern Ireland. Does she therefore agree with me that the leadership shown over the weekend, both by political leaders in all communities and the Orange Order, demonstrates what can be achieved if local leadership is shown at its best in Northern Ireland?

I agree, and I think the hon. Gentleman puts the point very well. Sadly over recent years, we have seen a number of instances of public disorder in Northern Ireland, but the weekend shows that that is not inevitable and that if leadership is demonstrated, people on the streets will hear it. As hon. Members have said, it is crucial for Parades Commission determinations to be respected and that we do not have public disorder because those kinds of incidents cause great damage to Northern Ireland’s reputation abroad and make it harder to attract the inward investment we are discussing.

The Secretary of State is also aware that unresolved issues around parades will continue to have an economic as well as social cost. Will she therefore indicate how she intends to respond to the First Minister’s request for a commission on Ardoyne and wider associated issues, and what she is going to do to strengthen confidence in the downgraded Parades Commission, which she established with undue haste and with fewer resources than its predecessor?

I can assure the shadow Secretary of State that the Parades Commission has not been downgraded. In response to his question about Unionist leaders’ proposal for a commission on the situation relating to the Crumlin road in north Belfast, I will meet those leaders in a few days’ time to discuss those proposals. I will listen carefully to what they have in mind. It is, of course, important for any way forward to take account of the position of the Parades Commission and to do nothing to undermine its responsibilities.