Economic Affairs and Work and Pensions

Part of Speaker's Statement – in the House of Commons at 6:01 pm on 8 June 2010.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport) 6:01, 8 June 2010

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech. I thank hon. Members for their speeches beforehand-including Andrew Bingham. We look forward to visiting High Peak as a holiday destination. If we go to all the places that hon. Members have spoken about in the House, we will not have to go abroad this year to get the sun. I thank Mr Meacher for his comments on the social politics. There are many bread and butter issues there to interest us. I thank Nicky Morgan. We have something in common. I am a Leicester City football supporter and have been for umpteen years. I do not know whether that is a good or a bad thing, but it shows how loyal I am anyway.

One of the things that I wished to speak about in the Chamber was my Ulster Scots. I did get permission to do this, so I hope hon. Members will bear with me.

Thaur is monies a guid thang at A cud sae aboot tha fowk o mi Baille-Wick bot yince an firmaist A coont it a muckle oaner tae spake oot oan thair ahauf in tha Hoose O Commons. Tha Strengfird fowk ir tha satt o tha grun, an in thenkin thaim fer thair support A wud promis thaim at A'll wrocht an dae fer thaim aa at A caun.

For those who did not understand me, and there may be some here who did not, I will translate that for them. There are many good things that I could say about the people of my constituency, and first of all is that it is a great honour to speak on their behalf in the House of Commons. The Strangford people are the salt of the earth and in thanking them for their support, I also assure them that I shall work and do for them the best I can.

A hard-working MP is nothing new to the people of Strangford. My predecessor, Iris Robinson, was known for years as a conscientious worker. John Taylor was the MP for many years before that, and I had my first meeting with him and his wife Mary in the House of Commons some 20-odd years ago. Before that we had Jim Kilfedder, who represented the area of Strangford within North Down. We have been blessed over the years to have a number of good MPs. I can remember placing my X for the first time ever next to Jim Kilfedder's name many years ago.

Those former MPs all had one thing in common-a love for Strangford and its people. I represent a new constituency of Strangford as the boundaries have changed. Whether it be from Portaferry to Carrowdoor, from Comber to Crossgar, Ballynahinch to Ballywalter, Newtonards to Grey Abbey, I would urge any of those in the Chamber to see the unparalleled beauties of my constituency and I defy them not to fall in love with it, as I have.

Today's debate focuses on the economy and on work and pensions, and I wish to outline a number of opportunities to build the economy of Strangford and the whole of the United Kingdom in areas such as tourism, manufacturing and agriculture. Since 2008, unemployment in Northern Ireland has risen by 18,000 and too many able-bodied people are out of work. I urge the Government to do something about that. The solution requires a cross-sectoral and cross-Government approach.

Tourism offers a first clear opportunity. It is my belief that Northern Ireland will be able to carve out a niche in the global scene in tourism. The Lonely Planet tour guide praised Northern Ireland as

"abuzz with life: the cities are pulsating . . . and the people"- the people are very important-

"the lifeblood that courses through the country, are in good spirits".

Ulster, and Strangford in particular, has the unique combination of a beautiful landscape and coastline, a land steeped in history and a welcoming and diverse people who cannot help but draw others to our shores. Yet it seems that the only people who are fully aware of all that Strangford has to offer are those who are blessed enough to have been born there or passed through it. This is a loss not only to the people of my constituency, but to the people of the United Kingdom. I am in the business of changing that impression.

If Strangford was marketed to its full potential it could deliver significant benefit to local and visitor alike. For the cyclist, the walker and the nature lover, there is abundant bird and wildlife along the coast and lough shores. Short-break visitors can shop, be pampered and enjoy our excellent restaurants and entertainment. Strangford is the perfect base for those who wish to explore towns, the countryside, the coast or all of them together.

One sector which clearly demonstrates this is country sports. The game fair at Ballywalter attracts a record number of people, and this is an area in which Strangford has the potential to excel. For example, five American shooters came to the constituency on a five-day trip to Northern Ireland. They spent some £50,000 in the local economy-high-value tourism. I understand that country sports in Northern Ireland employ some 3,000 people. Again, there is opportunity. When I was elected, the people of my constituency were glad to have me in the House of Commons to work for them. It is also rumoured that the pheasants and the ducks of Strangford were looking forward to at least two free days a week when I would not be about. That is probably good news as well.

Northern Ireland's private sector is underdeveloped but at its core is the manufacturing sector. It contributes around 25% of the gross value added to the Northern Ireland economy. Therefore, the Government's recent commitments to bolster regional economies and manufacturing are of deep interest. However, the lack of detail is concerning, especially in comparison with their clearer plans to cut public expenditure. I want to put my concern about that on record.

The urban and rural mix of my constituency also means that the farming and agri-food sectors are a key component, possibly more so than in other parts of the United Kingdom. I am well aware of the push that there has been to encourage local Northern Ireland businesses to compete on the global stage. We have various international exporters in the constituency. I want to plug the humble Comber potato and the Portavogie prawn, because they are world leaders. Many people enjoy them as delicacies.

The family farm is important to us in the constituency. There are those who have diversified into the ice cream business or adapted unused barns and land for quad bikes and crazy golf, all of which are advertised in our local paper, the Newtownards Chronicle. Commercial fishing is also important, a once proud industry. Fishing boat numbers have been halved, due to EU regulation and scientific information. The common fisheries policy needs to be right for the people of my area. It needs to restore confidence and give people viability and jobs. I hope the Government will work towards that.

In conclusion, Winston Churchill is one of my heroes and always has been. He had a good grasp of the English language, and he was a good historian and also a good soldier. He said:

"This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

I stand in this place humbled and honoured at the fact that the voters of Strangford have elevated me from the Northern Ireland Assembly to the House of Commons. The Assembly was my beginning, but my election to the House is certainly not the end of the matter. That quote from Winston Churchill reminds me of another of his. I have made it to the end of my maiden speech with no heckling from Irish Nationalists or anyone else, something that I am exceedingly grateful for. I hope this will be the first of many speeches in the House.