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Northern Ireland Economy

Volume 616: debated on Wednesday 26 October 2016

Before I answer the questions, I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in condemning the murder of Joe Reilly last Thursday in Belfast. My sympathy is with his family and with the local community. It is a stark reminder of why we must all continue to work together to ensure that this sort of violence has no place in Northern Ireland.

The UK and Northern Ireland economies are fundamentally strong. In Northern Ireland, economic activity increased by 1.6% over the year and 64,000 more people are in work compared with 2010. That means that we are well placed to build a stronger economy that works for everyone.

I welcome the growth of the Northern Ireland economy, and particularly the fact that unemployment has fallen to its lowest levels since Labour’s great recession. I also welcome last week’s excellent news of the investment from Thales. Will my right hon. Friend continue to prioritise making the case for Northern Ireland as a great place to live, work and do business?

I entirely endorse my hon. Friend’s comments. I will not tire in talking up the Northern Ireland economy and underlining what a great place it is to do business. He highlights investment; outside London, Northern Ireland is the leading UK region for attracting inward investment across a range of sectors. He is right to highlight the new and innovative investment from Thales, with its space propulsion facilities in Belfast, which underlines what a great place Northern Ireland is to do business.

The Northern Ireland economy is doing well, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the devolution of corporation tax offers further opportunities to boost the private sector and to build a stronger economy for everyone?

I certainly underline to my hon. Friend that we stand by our commitment to the devolution of corporation tax powers, subject to the conditions around fiscal discipline and financial stability agreed in the Stormont House and “Fresh Start” agreements. The Northern Ireland Executive have indicated that they would like corporation tax to be set at around 12.5% from April 2018, and they estimate that that could create 30,000 more jobs.

I join the Secretary of State in his comments about the recent murder. It is important that we all redouble our efforts to ensure that such events are a thing of the past.

Does the Secretary of State agree that, to build and strengthen the economy of Northern Ireland, investment in infrastructure is absolutely vital? The announcement by the Minister for Infrastructure in the Northern Ireland Executive that he was delaying the major York Street interchange project—for access to ports, an airport and a major road thoroughfare through Belfast to the rest of Northern Ireland—is a bit of a blow to that strategy. Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to reiterate to the Minister for Infrastructure that all EU projects that are signed off before we leave the EU will be funded even if they continue after we leave the EU?

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the continuance of EU funding. He will have noted the statement, which he has referred to, from the Chancellor of the Exchequer underlining that the Government will guarantee funding for structural and investment fund projects that are signed off until the point at which the UK leaves the EU, even where projects continue after we leave. It is important to underline that message. There should, therefore, be more projects coming forward, and we should continue to benefit from EU funding up until the point at which we depart.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for underlining that important commitment, which should allow investment in that much-needed project to go ahead.

On the question of exporters, who have received a boost as a result of the revaluation of the pound, Northern Ireland was the only area last year that grew its exports, by 9.5%. Will the Secretary of State make a commitment that the new Department for International Trade will work closely with Invest NI to continue that really positive news for Northern Ireland, along with many other very positive economic indicators for the Province?

The right hon. Gentleman is right to underline the fact that the value of goods exported from Northern Ireland increased to £6.6 billion, which emphasises the strength of the Northern Ireland economy. The Secretary of State for International Trade has underlined his all-UK approach to his work, and he will want to work with Invest NI and the Executive to ensure that there is that clear message of seeing further investment and further exports coming from Northern Ireland.

11. Manufacturing is very important to the Northern Ireland economy. Given the recent job losses at JTI Gallaher and Michelin, what is the Secretary of State doing to safeguard current manufacturing jobs and to help to create more manufacturing jobs in Northern Ireland? (906767)

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the role that manufacturing plays in the Northern Ireland economy. It directly contributes more than 85,000 jobs—some 10% of employment—and, clearly, it provides high-skilled jobs. As a Government, we will continue to work with the Executive on the issues of skills and pathways into employment. It is notable that we have seen record employment levels. We want to work with the Executive to ensure that that very positive picture continues, underlining the fact that we want to see further investment in the economy.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the financial and related professional services industry provides jobs for some 31,000 people in Northern Ireland and generates more than 6% of economic output. What are the Government doing to ensure that Northern Ireland will have the benefits of passporting for financial services after the UK leaves the EU so that that industry is not damaged?

I underline the work I have done as Secretary of State to reach out to the business community. Indeed, I have established a new advisory group, and one of the sectors we have met is the financial services sector. We are listening keenly to the information that it is providing us with as we frame our all-UK approach to the negotiations that lie ahead with the EU.

On the back of the Chancellor’s comment to Nissan that it will be compensated for losses due to Brexit, the Secretary of State for Scotland said at the Dispatch Box two weeks ago:

“whatever support is put in place for businesses in the north of England will apply to businesses in Scotland.”—[Official Report, 12 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 287.]

Given that the manufacturing sector plays such a pivotal role in Northern Ireland, will the Secretary of State confirm to the House that his Government’s policy will apply to Northern Ireland in the same way as it appears to apply to Scotland and the north of England?

We take an all-UK approach. That is the way in which the Chancellor has been approaching his announcements about support post the departure from the EU, ensuring that we do have such a UK-wide approach, and indeed his preparations for his autumn statement. The approach will be to support the UK, with Northern Ireland being a core part of that.