Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:36 am on 22nd November 2018.

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Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 11:36 am, 22nd November 2018

I have a lot of time for the hon. Gentleman, and I have many private conversations with him. I know that he is generally a positive person, so I feel disappointed at the way in which he has talked down Northern Ireland and its economy in his response to the statement. There is a lot of good news coming from Northern Ireland. For example, the recent significant investment by Artemis Technologies has shown that the economy of Northern Ireland is expanding. A lot of the expansion is technology-based around aerospace, and Bombardier—we usually call it Shorts, as that is what it was originally—is very much part of that. We have also had the announcement of the Belfast city deal, which is worth about £350 million, so I do not write off what is happening in Northern Ireland at all.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned tariffs. I have broad shoulders—just as you said you had, Mr Speaker—but I disagree with his implication that the Government did not do a huge amount in dealing with the United States authorities. This was not just a trip to Washington with a press release; we had continual meetings with the State Department, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met the Commerce Secretary several times. The outcome was the result of all of us—Bombardier, the Government, the Northern Ireland Office and the unions, as the hon. Gentleman correctly said—pulling together. That was an example of the trust between all of us.

I have jotted down the hon. Gentleman’s questions and I shall try to answer some of them. This is not a Brexit issue. That was confirmed to me this morning in my discussions with Mr Michael Ryan. The hon. Gentleman asked about my discussions with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I have many such discussions, including from a sedentary position today as I am pleased to say that she is sitting beside me on the Front Bench. We discuss Bombardier a lot. He also asked what dealings the Government had had with the company, and I can tell him that they are regular and ongoing. Only this week, a team of officials from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy visited the company. On the question of whether they discussed what was announced yesterday, I can tell him that that was not the case. Clearly, the company has to deal commercially, and it discussed this matter with us—and, I presume, with the trade unions—when it put out its statutory notice yesterday. As soon as I heard about it, I contacted the company, as did my officials. I spoke to Michael Ryan on the phone this morning and I have arranged to meet him in London this afternoon. This is not something that we take lightly, because we know that—as the hon. Gentleman fairly pointed out—the impact in Belfast of anything that happens to Shorts can be very serious.

I am always delighted to see the unions. In fact, I met them on my first visit, when I had just taken over this job, to Bombardier in Belfast. Although they might not agree with me on some things, I hope they would agree that my door is always open to them—not just in respect of Bombardier, but for aerospace generally and for the automotive sector and all the other sectors that I deal with. I have benefited from the knowledge I have got from speaking directly to unions, not only nationally but at plants when I visit them.

I am not in any way implying or insinuating that this is good news—it is not very good news at all—but I accept the fact, and hope the hon. Gentleman does, that Bombardier’s main concern is that it is dealing in a very competitive international market. It has competition coming up in Russia, China and elsewhere and is fighting hard for every contract it gets, so it has to make sure that the company is efficient.

I am pleased that the technology that I saw is absolutely first class and that the Government are part of that work. We have support from the local MPs, and I was delighted to deal regularly with Gavin Robinson, who I see in his place. I commend him on his work to help with everything that we have done on Bombardier. [Interruption.] Mr Speaker is getting impatient, so I shall sit down.