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Industrial Strategy

Volume 783: debated on Wednesday 19 July 2017

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what conclusions they have drawn from their consultation on the introduction of a new industrial strategy.

My Lords, the responses to the consultation are broadly supportive of the proposals in the Green Paper and endorse the challenge of developing an ambitious and enduring industrial strategy that sets a clear long-term vision and works for all parts of the country. The responses will inform the development of the White Paper to be published later this year.

I thank the noble Lord for his response and for the fact that the consultation is being heeded. I understand that sector discussions are under way and that the metaphor has moved from referring to 10 pillars down to four. Quite apart from that giving the department more time to spend on Brexit chaos, what is the rationale behind this change and which of the pillars have been jettisoned?

I think that the noble Lord is confusing two things. This is a question about how the White Paper is to be structured. It is clear from the feedback received during the consultation period that technical skills is probably the most important area we need to focus on, along with universities and science and innovation, infrastructure, and what we all call “place”. We cannot have an industrial strategy that does not reach out to other parts of the country beyond London.

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will agree that a key plank of any industrial strategy is the shipbuilding strategy which we were promised in the spring of this year. It is now past the summer solstice and by the time we sit again the September equinox will have come and gone, so which spring are the Government talking about, bearing in mind that the recent order for three frigates does not really solve the terrible problem of having too few escorts for our great nation? It is a national disgrace. So when will the shipbuilding strategy actually be on the streets?

I thank the noble Lord. The shipbuilding strategy will be an important part of our overall industrial strategy, and of course it is not just about naval shipbuilding, it is about civil shipbuilding as well.

My Lords, when do the Government intend to publish the life sciences industrial strategy? When it is published, will it be a definitive document with timelines over the next two, four, six and 10 years, or will it just be a wish list?

A strategy for life sciences is a critical part of our industrial strategy. It will be published imminently and certainly well before the industrial strategy is published in the autumn. It will not only set out a strategy for one year but look forward for at least 10 years.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is competition that brings out the best not just in politicians but in businesses, whether they are small, medium or large? Can my noble friend assure us that the industrial strategy will not ditch this but instead strengthen our competition authorities?

I agree with my noble friend that competition is essential to drive improvement and progress. It is also important that government, industry and academia/universities work together very closely.

My Lords, does the Minister recall that at the time of the publication of the Green Paper on industrial strategy there was considerable disappointment, which was entirely justified, at the scant mention of steel—indeed, it appeared once, on page 96? Can he give us an undertaking now that in the forthcoming White Paper there will be a cogent and effective strategy for steel to uphold the interests and competitiveness of this crucial foundation industry?

Steel is clearly a very important part of any industrial strategy, but I should make it absolutely clear to the noble Lord that this strategy is about the future and not just about incumbents. While there is an important future for steel, there is also the whole new world of digital technologies, which are also very important.

My Lords, when your Lordships’ House first debated the Green Paper on industrial strategy, I asked the Minister what were its magic ingredients that had eluded the framers of the previous nine industrial strategies since the Second World War. I wonder whether the consultation has shed any light so that he can give me a considered answer beyond the one that he gave me that day.

I fear that I may be giving the noble Lord almost the same answer, but there are two critical elements of the industrial strategy. One is technical skills, an area where, if we are honest, we admit that we have been struggling since the 1950s, and the second is to build on the extraordinary comparative advantage that we have in our universities.

My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware of the independent Industrial Strategy Commission, which reported recently. It said that a key component of a successful and sustainable industrial strategy would be enhancing a state’s purchasing and regulating power. Does the Minister agree? Will he give some examples of where that might happen, including in such areas as diversity and apprenticeship training, which have been so lacking in recent years?

There is no doubt that government procurement is critical; for example, in the construction industry. For example, Crossrail has built into a number of its contracts requirements for apprenticeship training and for using new technologies and small businesses. There is no doubt that procurement can be extremely important.

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on their commitment in the Green Paper to an early deal for the creative industries sector, but how are they planning to support skills in that sector, which are so important, particularly given the prospect of Brexit, when they are not covered by the innovation and research budget? Is the DfE involved in discussion and happy to allow creative companies flexibility in their use of the apprenticeship levy?

The noble Baroness probably knows that Sir Peter Bazalgette will produce a paper for us on the creative industries. I am sure that he will make a number of recommendations about how we develop skills to support the creative industries. We should hear from him within a couple of months.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the industrial strategy should have a rural slant to it? Will he use his good offices to ensure that rural areas will have access to technologies such as broadband and mobile phone coverage, which is woeful at present?

My noble friend will be pleased to know that there is a commitment in our strategy to spend £740 million on improving our broadband and ensuring that 5G is made much more available around the country.