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Economic Support: Covid-19

Volume 699: debated on Wednesday 21 July 2021

What assessment he has made of trends in the level of economic support for businesses in Northern Ireland during the covid-19 outbreak. (902948)

Levels of support in Northern Ireland are similar to elsewhere in the UK, reflecting the common challenge that public health restrictions have posed to businesses. Government interventions such as the job retention scheme and the enterprise scheme operate UK-wide, and have together protected around one in four jobs. Support is devolved in some areas. The Executive received an additional £5 billion of Barnett funding for covid, funding a range of interventions including business rates holidays and small business grants—all providing crucial support to businesses.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer and for his support for the tourism sector. I am pleased to say that I have been to the Giant’s Causeway—and the most wonderful place it was. Of course, there is another way to support tourism in Northern Ireland. Treasury and Deloitte estimates show that over a 10-year period, VAT at 5% would deliver £4.6 billion in revenue to the Treasury. As my hon. Friend says, tourism is a key sector in Northern Ireland. In that light, does he agree that maintaining the current, very competitive 5% VAT rate for hospitality beyond the pandemic could create new jobs, add tremendous value and prove to be a powerful UK dividend for businesses in Northern Ireland?

My hon. Friend makes a point that I have certainly heard from a number of businesses in Northern Ireland. The Government have taken unprecedented measures to support the UK economy through the pandemic, including a temporary VAT reduction to 5% for the tourism and hospitality sectors, extended until 30 September. To further help businesses to recover and transition back to the standard rate, an interim rate of 12.5% will apply until 31 March 2022. Raising £130 billion in 2019-20, VAT is an important source of revenue and vital for funding public services such as health, education and defence. The reduced rate is expensive, costing over £7 billion so far, so a permanently reduced or zero rate would further increase costs to UK taxpayers.

Before we move on to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to inform the House that it has been just over 60 years since the first ever PMQs, which took place on 18 July 1961. On that day, the Speaker at the time was Sir Harry Hylton-Foster, who was the last Speaker to die in post—I hope not to reintroduce that. He introduced PMQs by informing the House that the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, was

“willing to try this experiment for the remainder of the Session, if that be the wish of the House”.—[Official Report, 18 July 1961; Vol. 644, c. 1052.]

After 60 years and 12 Prime Ministers, PMQs has become one of the most high-profile events of the parliamentary week and is watched by constituents across the country and followers of UK politics all around the world. I think we can say that the experiment has been a success—depending on who was answering.

Today, as we mark its 60th anniversary, the Prime Minister will join the questions via video link, for obvious reasons, demonstrating that Prime Minister’s questions—and the House—can adapt when we need to. I am sure that in this final PMQs before the summer recess we will have robust but orderly exchanges, and hopefully shortish questions and answers.

Finally, before we get under way, I would like to point out that British Sign Language interpretation of Prime Minister’s questions is available to watch on

Please, everyone have a good recess after tomorrow.