Jti Gallaher

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:32 pm on 27th October 2014.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Northern Ireland Office) 10:32 pm, 27th October 2014

It is clearly not an illegal activity, and I hope it never will be. For as long as people wish to smoke, they are entitled to do so. HMRC has the control of tobacco smuggling in Northern Ireland as its joint No. 1 priority. In my view, people are entitled to smoke if they want to, but if we are interested in improving public health, there are measures we can take to reduce consumption. Tobacco consumption is in long-term decline, as I described, and we need to try to work out what that means for the industry in this country, particularly in Northern Ireland, and how we can diversify it to create new jobs to replace those that are being lost. In the very few minutes that I have available, I will try to describe how the Government propose to do that.

No decision has yet been made on standardised packaging of tobacco products. Ministers at the Department of Health will review the results of the recent consultation before taking a position. My hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim has read Sir Cyril Chantler’s report and it does not give him much comfort, but I am sure that my colleagues at the Department of Health will note the contents of this debate very carefully and that they will be mindful, as all Ministers are, of the particular impact this issue is likely to have in Northern Ireland, for the reasons my hon. Friend has elegantly laid out.

It is important that we find new and sustainable work for JTI employees. Obviously, the Executive are in the lead, notwithstanding what my hon. Friend Sammy Wilson has said about the Westminster Government in his typically robust terms. I know that Arlene Foster, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, and Dr Stephen Farry, the Minister for Employment and Learning, have conducted a skills audit at the factory.

I have spoken to Arlene myself and she is very much on the case. Stephen Farry is on record as saying that his priority is to re-skill the work force and to ensure access to training courses, particularly in further education and especially at the Northern regional college. My own constituency experience very much suggests that the focus and priority in situations such as these has to be re-skilling and up-skilling the work force, and I am very pleased that that work is under way. The Government will, of course, support that wherever they can, but I must emphasise that, under the devolved settlement, it is first and foremost a matter for the Executive, which I suspect my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim knows full well.

The auguries are good—my hon. Friend knows that. Northern Ireland continues to do well in respect of inward investment. Indeed, under devolution it has attracted more than twice its share of UK incoming jobs and investment. Since the start of 2014, Invest Northern Ireland has announced more than 1,250 new jobs from 11 new inward investors. That is an incredible achievement of which Northern Ireland should be very proud indeed. The future looks bright and maintaining that momentum has to be the priority of both the Executive and the Government. My hon. Friend can be absolutely certain that we will do whatever we can to support the prosperity agenda in Northern Ireland and make sure that his constituents benefit fully from that, given what has happened recently in relation to JTI Gallaher.

The economic pact published last year represents a different approach to delivering the Government and the Executive’s shared aims of rebalancing the economy and building a shared future. It recognises that working together can deliver better results for the people of Northern Ireland. “Building a Prosperous and United Community: One Year On”, published in the summer, makes for good reading. It is a backdrop against which I hope the work force in my hon. Friend’s constituency will emerge well from the setback that he has so ably brought to the attention of the House.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.