It is true that an industrial strategy wants to help all parts of the United Kingdom, and I look forward to engagement with colleagues from all parts of the House who wish to represent the views of their constituents. I am relieved that the hon. Gentleman has given his grudging support for this statement, given that the last time he appeared at the Dispatch Box, he said:
“Is it simply a case of ‘public good, private bad’? That is what we think on the Opposition Benches”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 619, c. 319.]
That would send a disastrous signal to investors in this country, and I am pleased to be on the other side of that argument.
The hon. Gentleman asked a number of questions. Our commitment to transforming technical education has been widely welcomed by the business community up and down the country today. Also, it is highly unusual for a Green Paper to commit any funds. This is about the consultation on the direction, and the fact that the Chancellor has announced £170 million for new institutes of technology is a great step forward. The hon. Gentleman asked about increasing the level of research and development. He might have missed what I said about the Chancellor having committed to the biggest increase in research and development since 1979. I recall that the period since then has included several years of a Labour Government, so by implication this is a bigger increase than any that took place during Labour’s 13 years in office. He also asked about business rates. We are legislating this very afternoon to introduce 100% retention of business rates by local councils so that the interests of local businesses and councils can be aligned.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the workforce. I was clear in my statement that the consultation would involve employees as well, and I am looking forward to a roundtable with the TUC and its member organisations. On steel, he will see in the Green Paper an approach to sector deals. I have already met the chief executives of the steel companies and I am about to meet representatives of the trade unions again. I look forward to that being one of the deals that is being put forward.
The hon. Gentleman asked about involving small businesses. The chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses has said today:
“FSB has appreciated being part of the discussions with the business secretary…to help shape the Industrial Strategy.”
He said that the proposals
“fit well with the UK small business community.”
As far as the hon. Gentleman’s position on the fiscal arithmetic goes, he should reflect on the fact that the first foundation of any credible industrial strategy is confidence in the public finances, which were left in such a disastrous state during the time that Labour was in government. The hon. Gentleman made a point about unanimity of purpose. We are having a consultation on the industrial strategy, but I understand from reports in recent days that he is having a consultation with himself about whether he can support his own party’s position on triggering article 50. We will be looking forward to the responses to our consultation from all parts of the House as we form a strategy for the years ahead.