Our long-term plan is delivering a stronger economy across Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. We are keeping interest rates low by dealing with the deficit, and we are boosting enterprise and investment by cutting corporation tax.
The Government’s position on this is clear, and we are united in delivering our long-term economic plan to ensure that we deliver economic stability for Northern Ireland. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome confirmation in the Assembly only this week that 80,000 people are working in manufacturing in Northern Ireland—more than at any point since Labour crashed the economy in 2008.
Just this morning the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee began an inquiry into the energy sector, in particular the electricity sector, in Northern Ireland, and high energy costs are a problem for the manufacturing sector. No doubt we will speak to the Secretary of State, or perhaps a Minister, about that issue, but does she have any initial thoughts on that problem?
I gather that my hon. Friend has been having lively discussions in his Committee on these matters, including on issues relating to the super-connector. It is important that those issues are resolved, so that everything possible can be done to keep energy costs low in Northern Ireland. The UK Government have taken action to support high-energy industries, saving them around £400 million over this Parliament, including exemptions from certain EU obligations.
The Secretary of State will be well aware that many companies in Northern Ireland are seriously worried about the impact on them of the new apprenticeship levy. In the light of those concerns, what steps is she taking in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Assembly to soften the blow of that new levy?
I discussed those matters yesterday with the Minister responsible for apprenticeship and skills. The Government are working closely with the Executive to try to resolve concerns about the levy, and we are determined to minimise any administrative difficulties that come as a result of it. In reality, the levy will deliver a significant sum to support apprenticeships in the whole United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland.
It is clearly good news that manufacturing jobs and output are increasing in Northern Ireland. What further steps can my right hon. Friend take to ensure that the Northern Ireland economy is further rebalanced in favour of the private sector?
The implementation of the Stormont House agreement, and the measures on economic reform that it contains, are vital, as it is that the Government continue with their long-term economic plan, which is delivering the stability that manufacturing needs to flourish in Northern Ireland.
The Secretary of State recently joined the chief executive officer of Invest Northern Ireland at the successful launch of the “Exporting is GREAT” roadshow, and I thank her for attending. Northern Ireland is the only region of the United Kingdom in which exports have grown by 9% in the past 12 months. What other initiatives will the Government commit to, to ensure that exporting continues to be boosted for companies in Northern Ireland?
We will continue with our “Exporting is GREAT” programme which, as the hon. Gentleman said, has a strong focus in Northern Ireland, and we will use our network of embassies around the world to promote Northern Ireland. It is positive that there is a commitment to devolving corporation tax setting powers to the Northern Ireland Executive as soon as finances are sustainable enough to make that possible, and the forthcoming reduction in corporation tax will be an even greater support for exports.
The Secretary of State will know that Northern Ireland exports as much to the rest of the EU as it does to the rest of the world combined. Does she therefore appreciate just how important that makes continued membership of the EU to businesses in Northern Ireland, and will she encourage a remain vote to help those businesses?
The Government remain absolutely committed to doing all we can to promote exports from Northern Ireland and inward investment into Northern Ireland. Both sides of the debate are committed to continuing to work together strongly to deliver our manifesto commitments and our long-term economic plan, whatever the outcome of the referendum on
Mr Speaker and fellow Europeans, I have no doubt that the Secretary of State will join me and the House in welcoming the latest official trade figures, which show an increase in manufacturing exports. The value of goods exported in the last period was up by £6.6 billion—a 9% increase—from 2015. Interestingly, they also show that the majority of exports—52%—went to the EU, while the largest value increases were to the United States of America and South Korea. Does this not prove the case for remaining? Do we not have the best of both worlds? Do we not have an ideal opportunity to trade with the world’s biggest trading bloc and the major economies of the rest of the world? I am sure she will agree with that.
I agree with the Prime Minister’s statement that trade will continue after the referendum, whatever the result. He was clear that we would continue to trade with the EU if the British people choose on