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Business Promotion

Volume 651: debated on Wednesday 12 December 2018

Britain is a global trading nation and is about to become more global, so we want to promote the strengths of Northern Ireland’s business community to a global audience. So far, I have visited CM Precision Components in Downpatrick, the Causeway Chamber of Commerce, Randox in Antrim, Coca-Cola in Lisburn, Queen’s University Centre of Excellence in Precision Medicine in Belfast and many Northern Ireland representatives of the Federation of Small Businesses, Chamber of Commerce, Confederation of British Industry and Institute of Directors.

On every visit I make to embassies in my role as Chair of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, it has been made very clear to me that Northern Ireland has an amazing economy that is growing and has a rightful place around the world. Does my right hon. Friend—forgive me, I meant my hon. Friend; the day is young—agree that Northern Ireland’s economic achievements would only be greater if the Northern Ireland Assembly were out there assisting and promoting it through the Northern Ireland Executive?

I completely agree that things would be hugely improved by a functioning Assembly and Executive. I have been in this role for only a couple of weeks, but, as a former businessman, I have been hugely impressed by the economic progress since the Belfast agreement. Northern Ireland is open for business and we want the whole world to know.

In his first few weeks of meeting businesses, what is my hon. Friend’s assessment of the unique strengths of Northern Ireland for global companies looking to grow and invest their businesses, and what support will he provide as Minister?

In the meetings that I have held so far, I have been hugely impressed by the skilled and stable workforce in Northern Ireland. I have also been impressed by its world-leading research—for example, in the precision medicine centre that I visited at Queen’s in Belfast—and by the strong sectoral abilities in cyber-security, life sciences and aerospace. We are doing a great deal and we need to continue to do so to promote that economic growth.

The Minister will be aware in recent times of the success that companies have had across the globe in the agri-food sector in Northern Ireland from China to Taiwan, Australia and Dubai. There is perhaps a chance of hosting a conference in Northern Ireland to promote the agri-food business and business as a whole. Is that something in which he would be interested?

The short answer is yes. If the hon. Gentleman brings me the details, I will be delighted to discuss them.

In relation to the Belfast region city deal announced in the recent Budget, will the Secretary of State justify or explain why the percentage of match funding guaranteed for Belfast is not being replicated elsewhere in the UK, most notably in my city of Dundee under the Tay cities deal?

As I understand it, city deals vary from place to place. They are situation and location specific almost by definition, so there is not a particular standardised approach to any one of them. They are tailored and deliberately so. I am afraid that that is what inevitably happens. With any luck, some other city deals, perhaps in other parts of Scotland, may conform more closely to what the hon. Gentleman is after.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one way to boost business in Northern Ireland will be to deal with air passenger duty and corporation tax, which are, unfortunately, devolved matters? Will he therefore encourage the institutions in Northern Ireland to get up and going again? If not, will the Government take some action?

My hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, is absolutely right to point out that these are devolved matters and that they need to be taken forward by a devolved Assembly and Administration—the Executive. We want to encourage all sides to get going again, because, clearly, these issues are important to the people of Northern Ireland and need to be addressed.