Business Community

Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons on 6th March 2019.

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Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Conservative, Corby

What recent steps she has taken to support Northern Ireland’s business community.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The Secretary of State and I have frequent discussions and meetings with Northern Ireland businesses; in the last few weeks I have met Newry chamber of commerce and trade, Thales, and Willowbrook Foods, and tomorrow I will meet Bombardier. The Government have provided £3.5 million for Queen’s Belfast precision medicine centre, £700,000 for Randox diagnostics, and £1 million for Northern Ireland SME research and development. This afternoon, we will legislate to hold business rates at a 0% real-terms rise as well.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Conservative, Corby

I very much welcome that work, but what specific steps has the Minister taken to promote Northern Ireland internationally as a successful business hub and first-class place to invest?

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

The numbers speak for themselves: over 900 international companies have already invested in Northern Ireland, supported by Government investments such as the ones I have mentioned in global sectors such as biomedicine and defence. Political stability has been a key foundation of this success, which is why restoring devolved government at Stormont is critical.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down

How is the Minister going to reassure the business community today, after the very serious warning by the head of the Northern Ireland civil service, David Sterling, that there will be grave consequences if we have a no-deal Brexit?

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I think a number of people will have raised their eyebrows at such politically charged comments from a civil servant. The point I would make is simply this: we have a meaningful vote coming up in this place next week where the Attorney General and the Prime Minister will be able to come back and tell us the fruits of their discussions in Brussels. The simple answer to avoiding any of the scenarios that people may or may not agree with which were being painted by David Sterling is to find a deal that will work and which therefore means we will not be in no-deal territory. That will, I hope, solve the problem for everybody.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

Is the Minister concerned about the possible impact on small businesses of the changes proposed to non-domestic renewable heat incentives in the legislation that we are about to consider, and is he particularly cautious about advice he may be receiving from the energy Department, because it was that that Department that got us into this fix in the first place?

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Without wanting to prejudge this afternoon’s debate—as my hon. Friend the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee Chairman has said, we will be going through this in a lot more detail—he is absolutely right that the renewable heat incentive scheme has been the subject of a great deal of concerned commentary, because it has dramatically broken its budgets and is not a sustainable solution. I think everybody is treating any proposals with a great degree of concern and scrutiny because of that history, and I am sure we will have a chance to go through it in more detail, and we will try to ensure that any proposals that are legislated on do not suffer from the faults that existed in the previous version.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Armed Forces), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

I have been married to a lady from County Armagh for quite some time. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Through my marriage I have come to know the image of Northern Irish food products, such as Black Bush, Tayto crisps and Flanagan’s most excellent sausage from the city of Armagh. Do the Government agree that marketing Northern Ireland’s special food could be one way to boost business in Northern Ireland, not just within the UK but to a world market?

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Something that Britain and the UK have cottoned on to later than many other parts of the world is the notion of local food and its marketability of local food, along with our ability to forge a local brand not just for food but for tourism more broadly as well. In congratulating the hon. Gentleman on his marital status, and his success in that regard, I am sure he is on to something important as well.