I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement, on this occasion.
Today would be a momentous day if it was indeed the day that the Conservative party finally broke free from the free-market fundamentalism that has dogged it, and the country, for decades. Will the Secretary of State tell us whether the “new, active” role for the state means that the Government are abandoning the approach of the last Prime Minister and Chancellor—and of the Secretary of State’s own predecessor, who even banned the term “industrial strategy” from the previous Department? If so, I will make it clear at the outset that we welcome that, alongside the good intentions set out in today’s Green Paper. The question is whether the details will live up to them.
For example, action on skills will be widely welcomed, given the challenges presented by automation and the pace of technological challenge and change, but this Government have already cut adult education by over £1 billion. Can the Secretary of State explain how £170 million of one-off capital spending can even begin to close the skills gap?
Nor will the Government themselves be equipped to support an industrial strategy if the Secretary of State’s predecessor’s cuts are implemented. Can he confirm that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills 2020 project has now been thrown in the bin, along with the rest of his predecessor’s legacy?
The Secretary of State rightly sets the goal of developing a competitive edge in the industries of the future, but how does he reconcile this with his Government’s plan to privatise the UK Green Investment Bank? If the Secretary of State is serious about tackling our productivity crisis, will he go beyond piecemeal offers and finally bring investment in R and D and infrastructure into line with the OECD average? Will the Secretary of State promise a fundamental rethink of business rates, which many businesses say would help them much more than any other single measure? Does the Secretary of State agree that a successful industrial strategy must include partnership and co-operation with the workforce? Yet the Green Paper does not mention trade unions once; surely now is the time to promise that the toxic Trade Union Act 2016 will be repealed.
Steel is a critical sector for our future economy, but it is mentioned only once in the Green Paper. Will the Secretary of State commit to implementing the recommendations on procurement and supply chains contained in the all-party group on steel and metal related industries report out today?
We cannot limit our focus to high-tech manufacturing. An industrial strategy that narrows its focus to a few chosen sectors will let down the majority of businesses in this country and the people they employ. So can the Secretary of State tell us what this industrial strategy will do for small and medium-sized enterprises, who are huge employers, and for financial services, which are our main exporters, as well as for foundation industries, or for the retail outlets that shape our high streets up and down the country?
Finally, there is a glaring inconsistency between the noble aims of this Green Paper and the threats made by the Prime Minister to turn Britain into an offshore tax haven if she fails in her Brexit negotiations. Until now, the industrial strategy has seemingly consisted of one deal, made in secret, with Nissan. If the Nissan deal did not last six months, how can businesses be confident of the other commitments in this Green Paper?
It is often said, correctly, that an industrial strategy is a long-term project and that, if it is to work, it must outlast particular Governments. With this in mind, I can pledge our support for its broad aims from this side of the Chamber, but I feel compelled to ask whether the Secretary of State can count on the same support from his own side. When we previously debated the industrial strategy here, one of his own hon. Friends said that they had two problems with it: one was “industrial”, the other was “strategy”. I hope that he faces down such attitudes, because now is not the time for half measures. The BBC reported this morning that the Government wished to be in the driving seat but not have two hands on the wheel. I know that Conservative Members do not much like safety legislation, but that is not an approach I would recommend, especially if the Government keep making U-turns. If the Secretary of State finds himself isolated in the coming months, my party will be happy to help. We, too, are ambitious for a proper industrial strategy, but it will only succeed if the means match the ends.