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Industrial Strategy

Volume 776: debated on Wednesday 26 October 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have prepared their industrial strategy; and, if so, what it is.

My Lords, we are in the process of developing an industrial strategy that will embrace the opportunities of our new global role and upgrade our economy so it works for everyone. We are working with the breadth of British industry, local leaders, innovators, employees and consumers to deliver a successful strategy and create the conditions for future success.

The Prime Minister, too, has called for an economy that works for everybody and for business to be more responsible. Does the Minister agree that Section 172 of the Companies Act 2006, which requires directors and managers to have regard to the interests of employees, customers and suppliers, as well as shareholders, does just that? However, this section has never been enforced, so will the Government include enforcement of Section 172 in their industrial strategy and so carry out the policies of the Prime Minister?

I assure the noble Lord that the Prime Minister has made it clear that this new industrial strategy will work for everyone. We are looking at exactly those kinds of issues, such as increasing the scrutiny of our large public and private companies and enabling more informed corporate decision-making. We need to give employees and stakeholders a stronger voice in company boardrooms and we will consult fully with business investors, employee representatives and other stakeholders on the best way to do this. We will welcome your Lordships’ input.

My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend on her appearance on the Front Bench. It is the second time she has taken a Question and nobody was able to thank or congratulate her last time. Will she discuss with her ministerial colleagues the substance of this Question and say that, while we appreciate the general statements, we look for some detail soon?

I say to my noble friend that something like this cannot be done overnight. The Prime Minister is absolutely determined to get this right. She wants to lay out a proper industrial strategy, engaging with stakeholders across the country and making sure that we deliver a strategy that makes a difference, and that takes time. We have already started the process and we will develop it over the coming weeks and months. We plan to publish a Green Paper alongside the Autumn Statement which will consult widely with business, local leaders, investors and so on. As I said before, I encourage noble Lords to engage with this Green Paper.

My Lords, I declare an interest in GKN and Smiths Group. At this week’s Science and Technology Select Committee, the Science Minister from the other place was unable to describe to us what the intention of an industrial strategy would be. Given that the last Parliament put in place a long-term industrial strategy, what role will that play in this long-term industrial strategy, and can the Minister explain to us what it is?

As I said, we are consulting on it just now, and it will not happen overnight. However, I can say that we will focus on our strengths. That does not mean to say that we are just picking out winners. We are tailoring our approach to the needs of different sectors and looking at our proven strengths—a cornerstone of good strategy—and this country has no shortage of those, such as our world-beating aerospace and automotive industries. We recognise that we must continue to support our successful industries and build upon the significant progress that has been made through the existing sector strategies. However, we need to create an economy where new entrants can come in, new businesses can be created, and new companies can challenge incumbents.

My Lords, in a recent statement, the Prime Minister specifically mentioned worker representation on company boards of directors, and she is receiving support from some surprising quarters—not just the TUC but Legal & General, Aberdeen Asset Management and others in the investment community. Perhaps I may press the Minister a little further to say exactly how and when this particular exercise will be carried out, with the Government giving effect to the Prime Minister’s wishes.

This will be part of the Green Paper. However, I do not want to pre-empt public debate on the discussion document that we will be publishing later this year inviting views on a range of options for strengthening corporate governance, including strengthening shareholder powers on executive pay and giving a stronger voice to employees and other stakeholders on company boards.

My Lords, does my noble friend realise how welcome it is to many of us to find that we are reverting to the well-proven means of producing good policy, which is to have a Green Paper and a White Paper and then to do it?

My Lords, I draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that, following the more than 250 job losses in Yeovil, I recently wrote to the Secretary of State asking whether the preservation of Britain’s only stand-alone production capacity for helicopters in Yeovil would be part of a national strategy. He has not yet replied. Can she tell me whether it will be or not?

I cannot give any specifics on that, other than to repeat that we are looking at all our sectors and at the whole industrial strategy. We are looking at various methods of improving how we do things to build an economy that works for everyone the length and breadth of the country.