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Northern Ireland Economy and Innovation: Government Support

Part of Endometriosis Workplace Support – in Westminster Hall at 4:27 pm on 29th October 2019.

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Photo of Emma Little Pengelly Emma Little Pengelly Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Trade) 4:27 pm, 29th October 2019

I will try to move on as swiftly as I can. I was coming on to the next section in my speech, which is on Brexit. Your comment is probably a good indication that I should not speak for very long on Brexit, Dame Cheryl; despite the fact that I could do so, I will not do so.

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson. However, before I move on to speak very briefly about Brexit, I will mention business rates, because our smaller retail businesses and other businesses on the high street have been crying out for reform of business rates.

I was chair of the Finance Committee in the Northern Ireland Assembly just before the collapse of the Assembly, so I know that business rates were an issue that we were looking at, because Northern Ireland had led the way in rate support for small businesses. Unfortunately, however, since then, the rest of the United Kingdom caught up with us, and then moved past us, so our businesses are now suffering from business rates that are higher than those for small businesses across the rest of the United Kingdom.

The Democratic Unionist party wants fundamental reform of business rates; we recognise that there needs to be additional support for our small businesses. We are up for that challenge; we want to have that discussion; and we need a Northern Ireland Assembly back in action to do it. However, in the absence of the Assembly, I strongly urge the Minister to do what he can to listen to business, and to work within the regime that we have in Northern Ireland to give that much-needed support to small business.

I will very briefly touch on Brexit. A number of my right hon. and hon. Friends have already made contributions about it, and I will not repeat what they said, especially because I know a number of other Members still want to make a contribution about it. Nevertheless, it is absolutely right that any barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain—east-west or west-east—will create greater bureaucracy and disruption, and will threaten the economy that we rely on.

The fabric of that economy is complex. It encompasses everything from the large manufacturers and large businesses that have come in, to the supermarkets, right down to the business owner who runs a gift shop and brings in 10 or 20 pottery mugs, bowls or whatever it may be from a small supplier in Great Britain. When we work through all the detail of the withdrawal agreement, we can see where there could be significant additional costs and significantly more bureaucracy. These businesses may actually have problems in getting supplies. That is the difficulty for many, many businesses.

We have raised that issue, because the Democratic Unionist party will always stand up for what is good for Northern Ireland. What is bad for business—what puts up barriers—is bad for Northern Ireland. We know that, and we care about the people involved.