The fundamentals of the Northern Ireland economy remain strong, with growth last year at 1.6%. Economic activity is up, exports have risen, unemployment has fallen to levels not seen since before Labour’s recession of 2008, and 42,000 more people are in work compared with 2010.
Will the Minister confirm that the unemployment rate in Northern Ireland today is 4.7%—down from 7% under the Labour party—and that any return to the high-tax, out-of-control spending and record deficit of the Labour years would have a disastrous impact on Northern Ireland’s economy?
I certainly can. Under this Conservative Government, unemployment is at its lowest level in four decades. Labour would put all that at risk. We want to continue seeing the creation of more than 1,000 jobs a day. [Interruption.]
Order. There is excessive noise in the Chamber. We are discussing matters of very great importance to the people of Northern Ireland, and they should be treated with respect, as should the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford), who is about to ask her question.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Does the Minister agree that although the recent performance of the Northern Ireland economy is strong—thanks, in large part, to the policies of this Conservative Government—the sparkling gem of our country that is Northern Ireland still has the potential to do better? Does he agree that that would be boosted by the restoration of an Executive with local Ministers taking local decisions?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She knows the region well and she will be aware that tourism numbers for the first six months of 2017 hit a record high, and that Belfast and the causeway coast is rated by Lonely Planet as the best region in the world to visit in the coming year. To continue that progress, we need to add political stability to the mix so that economic development can continue to be supported.
The Minister will know that some good results for the Northern Ireland economy have come out this morning. Does she agree that the Democratic Unionist party has negotiated a fantastic deal with the Tory party that will help to create jobs in Northern Ireland and strengthen the economy in the future?
Everybody in this House ought to celebrate the further economic progress in Northern Ireland and there being a strong Government who can deliver that and support economic progress for the whole United Kingdom.
Extraordinary behaviour! The right hon. Gentleman is a distinguished former Northern Ireland Minister; he is entitled to be heard with courtesy, at the very least by Members on his own Benches.
The right hon. Gentleman raises important points that were debated at length in the Chamber on Monday night. The point is that we wish for political progress to be seen through the formation of an Executive, in which case accountability would be extremely clear. In the interim period, the House put in place measures on Monday to allow the Northern Ireland civil service to continue to spend as is required by the population of Northern Ireland, and it is under a duty to do so fairly and equally between communities.