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Economic Development

Volume 602: debated on Wednesday 25 November 2015

2. What recent discussions she has had with the Northern Ireland Executive on economic development. (902243)

The Secretary of State and I hold regular discussions with the Northern Ireland Executive on economic development issues. Indeed, I met Jonathan Bell, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment last Thursday on such issues. The fresh start agreement, signed only last week, reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to devolving corporation tax powers to Northern Ireland, if sustainable Executive finances are secured. This measure has the potential to have a truly transformative impact on the Northern Irish economy.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Will he join me in welcoming the rise in visitor numbers to Northern Ireland and the economic benefits that it brings, and will he support stronger economic links between Hampshire and Northern Ireland?

The one thing that Hampshire and Belfast have in common is the cruise ships in Southampton. I am delighted to say that there has been an increase in cruise ships using Belfast as a gateway to Ireland, where people can visit the fantastic Giant’s Causeway, the golf clubs and enjoy the Titanic Experience.

There has been no movement in Northern Ireland on an enterprise zone. Will the Secretary of State consider helping Belfast international airport to achieve an enterprise zone in my constituency?

During the original Stormont House agreement, the Government committed themselves to supporting an enterprise zone and indeed a city deal, should one come forward. It is for the Northern Ireland Executive to bring forward that city deal. My right hon. Friend and I are here to support that and make sure it happens.

What benefits does the Minister think the hosting of the 2019 open championship at Royal Portrush will have on the Northern Ireland economy?

It will showcase the fantastic golf courses outside Belfast and around the rest of Northern Ireland. It is important to get tourists not just into Belfast but further afield. Golf is one of Northern Ireland’s great offerings.

Will the Secretary of State and the Minister have immediate discussions with the Northern Ireland Executive and the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to reinstate the renewables obligation so that the contacts that people already have can be facilitated and so that we can underpin the local rural economy in Northern Ireland?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change is sitting here and will have heard her question. I will certainly be happy to discuss it with my right hon. Friend.

Wherever I go in Northern Ireland, one of the major concerns that business raises with me is the need for improved access to broadband. According to a House of Commons Library research paper, as part of the Government’s £530 million investment over the past five years in the UK’s broadband network, English counties have received £294.8 million, Scotland has received £100.8 million, and Wales has received £56.9 million, whereas Northern Ireland received just £4.4 million. Will the Minister explain why that figure is so low?

I cannot answer exactly why the figure is so low other than to say that some of the responsibility lies with the Northern Ireland Executive and some obviously with the Government. I am happy to take up the low amount for broadband with the relevant Minister. It is important for Northern Ireland that that is improved.

My constituency has taken a real kicking from the loss of manufacturing jobs in recent days, and, indeed, in the past 12 months. In a recent statement, the business Minister promised that the Government would go the extra mile. Can the Minister give me any hope or encouragement this morning at Question Time for manufacturing jobs in North Antrim?

As I have always said to the hon. Gentleman, who is a doughty champion of his constituents and always campaigns to increase manufacturing in his constituency, I will try to help him. This morning and last week, I spoke to the Mayor of London, and I hope that there will be some good news very soon about Wrightbus and more orders to come.