Business without Debate

Mr Speaker: With the leave of the House we will take together the motions relating to social security.

Delegated legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Social Security

That the Employment Allowance (Increase of Maximum Amount) Regulations 2016 (S.I., 2016, No. 63), dated 25 January 2016, a copy of which was laid before this House on 25 January, be approved.

That the Employment Allowance (Excluded Companies) Regulations 2016, which were laid before this House on 25 January, be approved.

That the draft Social Security (Contributions) (Limits and Thresholds Amendments and National Insurance Fund Payments) Regulations 2016, which were laid before this House on 25 January, be approved.—(Stephen Barclay.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Ecclesiastical Law

That the draft Grants to the Churches Conservation Trust Order 2016, which was laid before this House on 13 January, be approved.—(Stephen Barclay.)

Question agreed to.

1 Mar 2016 : Column 921

Bombardier: Job Losses (East Belfast)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Stephen Barclay.)

6.47 pm

Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP): May I first express my gratitude for the selection of this Adjournment debate, and the opportunity to raise what for me and my constituency has been a devastating blow not just for us in east Belfast. but for the Northern Ireland economy and for constituents in Derby affected by cuts in the transport division and internationally across Bombardier’s operation? Given the nature of Adjournment debates, I trust that hon. Members will have no objection to the parochial title I chose for this debate. My desire is to do the best for my constituents in east Belfast, while recognising that this story is much larger.

Bombardier employs 74,000 people in 28 countries across the world, with 7% or roughly 5,500 employees in Belfast working directly in the aerospace industry. On 17 February, it announced 1,080 job losses in east Belfast.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): My hon. Friend talks about the figure of 1,080 jobs lost. Some 1,000 people work for Bombardier in my constituency. With great respect, our concern is not just east Belfast but Strangford. I commend him for bringing this issue to the House for consideration and for his hard work with the Minister. Help will have to reach beyond east Belfast, as there will be job losses for my constituents as well.

Gavin Robinson: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. He is right. Some 5,500 people are employed in the east Belfast site and around the city in five other locations. People work for Bombardier in Northern Ireland throughout our Province—in East Antrim, Larne, Carrickfergus, Lisburn, Lagan Valley, Bangor in North Down, and Ards in Strangford. This news story affects not only the 1,080 affected most directly, but their families, the local communities and the shops that they support, and so forth. The decision announced on 17 February was seismic.

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind): I am grateful for the opportunity to intervene in this very important debate. The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that his party leader, the now First Minister Arlene Foster, will make her first visit in that capacity to America shortly, accompanied by the Deputy First Minister, to mark St Patrick’s day. Has the hon. Gentleman asked the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to encourage the American Government, which have done so much to support the peace process and other events in Northern Ireland, to intervene on this particular occasion?

Gavin Robinson: I am grateful to the hon. Lady who raises a fair point. When I was the special adviser to the then First Minister, I had the opportunity alongside him and the Deputy First Minister of visiting Montreal and the Bombardier facility there in 2012. There are important strategic links that have grown with the United States of America, so I think it is an important avenue to pursue.

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With Bombardier being the largest private employer in Northern Ireland, providing high-skilled, well-paid jobs in a technically advanced industry, the impact is of great significance. The aerospace industry in Northern Ireland contributes £1.1 billion to our local economy, and to put that into perspective, that is 10% of our overall operating budget of the Northern Ireland Executive. Bombardier is also responsible for 10% of Northern Ireland’s total export manufacturing figures. Our region’s Enterprise Minister, Jonathan Bell, MLA, my colleague on the Northern Ireland Executive has the realistic and positive ambition of growing the impact that the aerospace industry in Northern Ireland has from £1.1 billion to £2 billion by 2024.

Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman talks about being parochial, but of course with the launch of the C Series by Bombardier, the factory has a huge contribution to make to the UK aerospace sector as a whole. I understand his concern for his own constituency and region, but does he recognise that this is a national problem, as well as a local one?

Gavin Robinson: I completely agree. In fact, I was seeking hon Members’ forgiveness for the parochial nature of the title of the debate, recognising that the issue is much larger than East Belfast and Northern Ireland. In view of the nature of aviation, this is a UK and a global story.

I was saying that our Executive have a positive target of reaching £2 billion by 2024, but to achieve that aim, after the announcements over the last two weeks, it is important for us to take stock at this stage and to establish how best to grow to reach that target.

Bombardier’s present difficulties are directly associated with their noble development of the C Series aircraft. I say “noble”, because it is exactly the sort of manufacturing that we as a country should support. The C Series aircraft is novel; it is highly innovative; it utilises the best advances in lightweight composite technology; and in its class, it represents the next generation of light, noise-reducing, fuel-efficient aircraft that will travel further for less, with the wings that are fabricated and assembled in my constituency of East Belfast.

Such innovation has brought with it significant pressure from competitors in both Boeing and Airbus. The project has taken three years longer than anticipated and at $5.4 billion, it is $2 billion over budget. Cash flow has become a problem, but if I may, I wish to nail a number of myths that should not go unchallenged.

First, Bombardier is not a busted flush. It has taken a bold but significant step to refocus its operation and to enhance its competitiveness, and the rise in company value is just one indication that, while deeply painful, the recalibration of its international operation was an important step.

Secondly, the Government could not have done more to stave off the job losses. Bombardier has said as much, with half the job losses announced being in Canada, just four months after the Quebec Government invested over 1 billion Canadian dollars in the company. There was nothing that the regional government or national Government could have done in the last few weeks to stave off the difficult announcement that was made.

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Indeed, far from viewing our Government as being inactive, I have been hugely encouraged by the support offered by both regional and national Government, so it may be appropriate to place on record at this stage my sincere appreciation for the commitment given by the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise. She recognises the importance of Bombardier to the Northern Ireland economy. Within hours of the announcement during recess week, she was available to discuss the issue with me by phone and she stood ready to assist. Just yesterday morning, she flew to Belfast, toured the facility and met management to extend her support, alongside the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. As you know, Mr Speaker, the Minister was here until late last night, and it was an early start for her yesterday, but she was committed, and she responded most ably.

Dr Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast South) (SDLP): I echo and endorse much of what my colleague from the neighbouring constituency has been saying. Many of the job losses are not in any one constituency; they are widely scattered. Is there not a need for all of us here, and the Northern Ireland Executive and the United Kingdom Government, to work together? Northern Ireland needs a comprehensive strategy, and that is not down to the Northern Ireland Executive alone.

Gavin Robinson: I am grateful for the intervention from my parliamentary neighbour, some of whose constituents work at the Bombardier plant.

To date, the support of regional and national Government for Bombardier has reaped real rewards. Since the privatisation of Short Brothers in 1989, £2.6 billion has been invested in its facilities. Most recently, £114 million from regional and national Government secured an additional £850 million investment from Bombardier itself, including £520 million for the wing facility in my constituency, which was opened by the Prime Minister and was visited by the Minister yesterday.

But here’s the ask. In view of the Minister’s support, I ask her to leave no stone unturned in considering how we can best support Bombardier, especially given the investment that has been present for the C Series. I am also keen for UK Trade & Investment to take a more imaginative approach when considering how it can best support various aircraft manufacturers when they seek to secure orders internationally. Competition is rife in this market, but with three competing firms seeking Government support, I would recommend a considered and tactical deployment of support, relating to both need and the likelihood of success.

Inflating the order book for the C Series must be a key goal for us all. The opportunities for small airports located in city centres are very significant. Encouraging the inclusion of the C Series in their fleet mix and support for a markedly innovative industry must form part of the Government’s action plan, and I trust that the Minister will address that in her response. I am aware of the planning challenges posed by London’s City airport. A discussion with colleagues about ending the current impasse on planning restrictions would prove fruitful for the C series and Bombardier.

Following a personal request, the Minister committed herself to hosting a round-table discussion with representatives of the Ministry of Defence and the

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aerospace, defence and security industries in Northern Ireland, to share national procurement opportunities with the aim of enabling those industries to increase their output and their contribution to this country’s export capabilities. There are 70 such companies in Northern Ireland, 27 of which are in my constituency, and I know that the renewed importance of that request will not be lost on the Minister.

When people find themselves without hope, with lost opportunity and with no idea of what will come next, we must stand with them both morally and politically, and offer light during the darkest of times. On behalf of the 1,080 who have been directly affected, their families and our aerospace industry, I trust that we will begin that process tonight.

6.58 pm

The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise (Anna Soubry): I congratulate the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson)—my new friend—on securing the debate. I hope that my other friend, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), will forgive me: I have a new friend in Northern Ireland now.

This is a very important matter, and I do not seek to make light of it. Let me now take the opportunity to express my deep regret that Bombardier recently announced plans to reduce its workforce by—as we have heard—more than 1,000 jobs in Northern Ireland, and by 270 at its works in Derby. This is obviously a very worrying time for all the workers and, of course, for their families. The impact of the decision will be felt not just in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, but in other communities in other constituencies.

Yesterday I visited Bombardier Aerostructures and Engineering Services in Northern Ireland to discuss the recent announcement and how we can do even more to support them.

7 pm

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Stephen Barclay.)

Anna Soubry: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Now I can really get stuck into what I want to say. I was waiting for that moment.

I visited Bombardier yesterday with my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East and the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace). I make no apologies for singing the praises not only of Bombardier but of the huge, fabulous building in which it makes the wings and of the highly skilled, dedicated workforce.

It was an absolute joy and pleasure to meet not just the management but the workforce and to see how they work with what I was about to describe as pieces of fabric. I do not want anyone to think that the wings are made out of fabric. Those composites are laid, piece upon piece, and the shape emerges. The wings are beautifully constructed. Resin is applied and they are baked and worked on. It really was the most wonderful experience to see an aeroplane wing being constructed. Those huge pieces of equipment are so important to every aeroplane. It was wonderful to see them grow

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from strips of carbon fibre into the finished product, which is then put on a ship, after which there is nothing more to be done except join them to the fuselage. The entire construction is created in Belfast, and it was a wonderful experience that I will not forget. It was a great day, but in very difficult and concerning times.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East has made clear, Bombardier does not ask any more of us. It has made it clear that we have done everything we can, and that includes the Northern Ireland Government. The workforce need support. For employees in Northern Ireland, where economic development, education, employment and training are devolved matters, the UK Government have supported the Northern Ireland aerospace sector and will of course continue to do so. The Department for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland and Invest Northern Ireland will offer support to those affected by this announcement with a redundancy support package and possible retraining. As we know, there are potentially two tranches of people who are going to be made redundant, and that support will in some ways at least ease the burden on them and on Belfast and its surrounding areas.

In the immediate term, to assist those workers affected by Bombardier’s decision, the industry-led talent retention solution is available across the UK, including in Northern Ireland. The programme is designed to help any skilled Bombardier employees who lose their jobs to secure re-employment quickly within the advanced manufacturing and engineering sectors. As we know, these are highly skilled workers.

Bombardier has said that there is nothing the Government can do to reverse its restructuring decision, because that decision unfortunately reflects the firm’s order book, but we will of course continue to work closely with it. Bombardier is a major contributor to the UK economy. That is why we will continue to explore ways to support its drive for greater competitiveness, building on the success of the supply chains for the 21st century programme.

Bombardier plays a leading role in the work of the aerospace growth partnership—the AGP—which brings industry together with the Government to tackle barriers to growth, to boost exports and to secure high-value jobs for the long term. This spans work on technology, supply-chain productivity, competitiveness and skills. The AGP published a UK-wide strategy in March 2013 which is being implemented in Northern Ireland through a strategy launched in 2014 by the Northern Ireland Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment. We will continue to work closely together on this.

In March 2013, the Government and industry committed £2.1 billion for new aerospace research and development to help to ensure that the UK could develop the product and manufacturing processes needed to position the sector for long-term growth. The 2015 spending review protected and extended this funding by an additional £900 million over six years to 2025-26, which the industry has committed to match. Therefore, the total joint commitment is now £3.9 billion for aerospace research from 2013 to 2026. Bombardier has already been contracted to receive £9.5 million for six projects looking into engine nacelle—engine housing—and wing technology, which of course it does so brilliantly.

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Lady Hermon: Given that the Chancellor was keen to praise the deal the British Government achieved with the Chinese Government—this new trading arrangement we are going to have with China—can the Minister reassure workers employed by Bombardier that the Government will make this issue a priority during trade missions to China, India and elsewhere? Will she say something not only about the investment made in the past, but about where exactly this Government’s priority will lie as they take forward their new arrangements with China and with India?

Anna Soubry: The hon. Lady snuck India in there as well, so she gives me a number of points to answer. I can tell her that this Government absolutely recognise the huge importance of the aerospace sector, which is why we have put in as much money as we have, matched of course by the sector itself. It is important that we understand how vital it is that we continue to trade with China, but we are also hugely alert to the fact that China is slowly beginning to develop its own aerospace industry. In the past, it has bought its aeroplanes from other countries, but it is no great surprise that the Chinese are looking to the great success of our aerospace industry. The fear is that they will seek to replicate it—I shall put it in that way. The hon. Lady can be assured that we will always make it clear that United Kingdom industry, especially manufacturing, is incredibly important to the success of this Government, because it is so important to the success of our economy. If we do not have a good economy, we cannot have the sort of taxes we need to make sure we have the sort of services we need. Let us be in no doubt that aerospace is incredibly important to us, which, as I say, is why we have done the work and made the investment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East made a good point about UKTI, and we will continue to promote Northern Ireland in all the work we do in promoting the United Kingdom. We will work to support the company’s export campaigns, and UK Export Finance also stands ready to support C Series aircraft sales. He will remember that we specifically talked about whether or not we could do some more work in making the point that the wings had been made in the United Kingdom, in Belfast. We should seize upon that, use that great technology and the huge respect those wings rightly have, and do—I was going to say a much better job, but I would rightly be reprimanded for that—some real work on making the point that they are made in Belfast. There is some more work we can do there with UKTI, and I am committed to taking that up.

While we are on the C Series passenger jet programme, let me say that it is a beautiful aircraft. I was given a model of one, although I almost did not need one because we can see that it is such a lovely aircraft. The company has reaffirmed its commitment to the C Series passenger jet programme and Belfast’s critical role in its delivery. As we know, on 17 February Air Canada signed a letter of intent for up to 75 C Series aircraft, which is a positive development for the programme. Along with the Northern Ireland Executive, we are fully committed to Bombardier’s C Series aircraft programme. We have jointly supported the wing development by committing £113.37 million of repayable launch investment, and we stand ready to provide export promotion and finance to support it. We will continue to work with

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Bombardier to support its sales campaigns, and, as I say, there is an awful lot more we can do by way of UKTI to take full advantage of this.

Jim Shannon: This is a very difficult subject to consider. One of the unfortunate casualties of the lay-offs is the apprenticeship scheme. I understand that the scheme will probably be cancelled because of the job losses. With that in mind, has the Minister had any discussions with the Minister for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland to look at other opportunities? Perhaps there could be help for those apprentices who have done some time already and would like to do more. I accept that it is not the Minister’s responsibility, but will she consider taking a look at that matter?

Anna Soubry: I am really very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I do not think I knew that, and it concerns me hugely, as I am sure it will concern everybody on the Opposition Benches. There is something particularly cruel about an apprentice losing their job, especially as we know that these are highly skilled jobs. I am more than happy to take that matter away. As the hon. Gentleman will see, I have three people sitting in the Box taking notes, so we will definitely take that away, and if there is anything I can do to help, I absolutely will do it.

Lady Hermon: There is something that the Minister can do. The Enterprise Bill comes back to the House next week. There is a clause in that Bill on apprenticeships, which was wrongly designated as exclusively English. When the Minister of State was winding up on Second Reading, he said that there would be a national advertising campaign for the apprenticeships that were mentioned in the Bill, but Northern Ireland was excluded. The Minister should look at that clause and ensure that it is altered before it goes through its final stages next week.

Anna Soubry: I certainly undertake to take a look at it, but I am not promising to be able to alter it. None the less, I will take away this apprenticeship query. I am sure that the Northern Ireland Executive and Bombardier will be well onto this matter, but if there is anything more that we can do, we will try to do it. The thought of youngsters finding their apprenticeships cut short concerns us all, so I absolutely give that undertaking.

As I come to a close, may I address some of the specific points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast East? As we have a little time, let me say that I was very sad that I had to shorten my visit to Northern Ireland yesterday. Obviously, I had to come back for the steel debate. One day, I will go to the constituency of the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley). I keep promising to go, but I never end up there. I was very sorry that I had to cancel that side of the visit yesterday, but we will do it another time. I really wanted to go to Bombardier, because that visit is incredibly important to me.

My hon. Friend talked about London City airport. Apparently, as it is a planning decision, I cannot comment on it, which is a pity. However, I do know that the C Series is particularly suited to that type of airport: it is a quiet aircraft; it is the right size; it carries the right number of passengers, 100 to 150; and it is perfectly suited to those international city-to-city journeys. We had a conversation as to whether the C Series would be involved

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in a new route from City airport to John F Kennedy international airport. Of course I have no opinion on that whatsoever, but I know that my hon. Friend does.

Gavin Robinson indicated assent.

Anna Soubry: It seems that the C Series is the sort of aircraft that is perfectly placed to provide that service to passengers. It may be that that is a very good set of arguments to be advanced, but, as I have said, I cannot possibly comment on it.

In relation to the meeting with the Minister for Defence Procurement, we will absolutely get that together. We are in the process of bringing everybody into the Ministry of Defence. We will not come to Northern Ireland, much as we want to, as we think we stand a better chance of getting everybody around the table if we hold the meeting in the MOD. We are definitely working on that. It will take a bit of time to get all the big players, and the right players, around that table, but that is an absolute promise that I have made. My hon. Friend the Minister for Defence Procurement is also keen to have that meeting; we are looking forward to it and we think we can do some good work there.

Dr Alasdair McDonnell Will the Minister accept the point I made earlier to my colleague the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson)? Bombardier is the subject of this evening’s debate, and it is very important that we focus on it and do not detract from its importance, but the Northern Ireland economy is frail and fragile. Ministers in the Executive have done a wonderful job trying to promote the economy in every way possible, but we need a comprehensive plan including having her good self and her Department, as well as the broader UK Government, give us that bit of extra help. To put it quite simply, the likes of the apprenticeship provision are very important because we are not in a position to give our young people jobs. If the Minister is coming to visit, we will find places other than North Antrim to take her. I am a native of North Antrim, but there are 17 other constituencies and we would love to involve the Minister in helping us to build a more prosperous society.

Anna Soubry: I am more than happy to work with anyone, but I get the invitations and either say yes or no, so the hon. Gentleman will have to invite me. When people ask me to go to places, I am happy to go. There are places I am particularly keen to go, and it just so happens that Northern Ireland is one. I went over to meet the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and had a very pleasant day with him. I have to say, Mr Deputy Speaker, that he said he would only take up my time for a couple of hours—four hours later I had nearly missed the plane.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Don’t worry, it happens to us all.

Anna Soubry: It is a great place. As for plans, I do not think that that is for me to say, but I am always happy to work with anybody and assist in any way I can. I know how important it is that we get the employment rate to where it should be in Northern Ireland, especially for the young people. When I went over there last year, one thing that everybody spoke to me about was the need to

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ensure that there was a real and genuine future for young people. That is why we get so worried about Bombardier: we know that it offers high-quality jobs involving real money and real skills, so it is imperative that we keep those high-value, highly skilled jobs in Northern Ireland.

In conclusion, I am sure that the House will join me in regretting the announcement of the job losses, but we

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are committed and determined to do all we can to support Bombardier in its future, to make it even more competitive and to support the C Series as much as we can for all the reasons I have explained, which are, if I may say so, obvious.

Question put and agreed to.

7.18 pm

House adjourned.