My Lords, I welcome the proposal in the Queen’s Speech to build a strong economy, and therefore cannot agree with the bleak analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport. I am pleased to see the commitment to continue to develop a modern industrial strategy, because I believe that the industrial strategy Green Paper is a good starting point. However, I believe that two key components are missing from that strategy.
First, there is no reference in the document to the importance of maintaining and enhancing the United Kingdom’s well-deserved reputation for quality. This reputation has been achieved through the support of successive Governments for a national framework of standards, measurement and accreditation, which together are referred to as the United Kingdom Quality Infrastructure, or the UKQI. The UKQI is delivered by four key bodies: the British Standards Institution, the National Physical Laboratory, the National Measurement Regulation Office and the United Kingdom Accreditation Service. Here I should declare an interest as chairman of the United Kingdom Accreditation Service. I should briefly highlight the important role played by the UK quality infrastructure in respect to trade.
The assurance and confidence provided by UKAS accreditation and the other UKQI partners have been instrumental in facilitating international commerce by reducing cross-border technical barriers and increasing cross-border confidence in goods, services and their suppliers. This illustrates the increased relevance of the UKQI as we develop future trade agreements with our European partners and others across the globe. Indeed, the unrivalled international reputation and trust established by the UKQI partners have already enabled the development of many successful cross-border agreements—and will be crucially important ingredients in post-Brexit trading relationships.
It is worth bearing in mind that the German Government are energetic in promoting the German national quality infrastructure to support their export drive, and we know how successful that is. I think we should do the same in this country. The UKQI partners also have a crucial contribution to make in respect of the industrial strategy’s focus on policies and institutions that underpin productivity and prosperity in the UK. The UKQI’s integrated quality framework is capable of driving and reinforcing work across the strategy’s 10 pillars by helping businesses to innovate, to develop new processes, goods and services, and to break into new markets. The UKQI likewise has an important role to play in supporting the national productivity investment fund and the new industrial strategy challenge fund. In developing the industrial strategy, I therefore urge my noble friend and the Government to ensure that the key role of the UKQI is properly recognised and that the UKQI partners are supported in the work that they do to underpin trade within the economy.
My second point in respect of the industrial strategy relates to the continuing need to fine-tune regulation to ensure that it is intelligent, proportionate and fit for purpose. There is just one paragraph in the Green Paper on the subject yet, in my view, modernising the stock of existing regulations and applying intelligent scrutiny to all new regulatory proposals should be one of the key pillars of the strategy.
Our withdrawal from the EU provides a significant opportunity to take a fresh look at the regulatory and enforcement landscapes. It is an opportunity to see if it could be made more fit for purpose in terms of both reducing unnecessary, poorly focused or disproportionate burdens currently placed on businesses, organisations, public services and individuals, and at the same time enhancing the effectiveness with which regulations and their enforcement are able to deliver their intended protections and other purposes.
There are other opportunities that are also worth exploring further, some of them already well tried and tested and many involving the UKQI partners. UKAS accreditation, for instance, has been successfully used by regulators to support and complement existing regulatory regimes, enabling regulators to adopt a more risk-based and outcomes-focused approach. This in turn has enabled them to target their resources where they will have greater impact, focusing on where the risk of non-compliance is highest.
UKAS accreditation of voluntary standards has also been used effectively to underpin the credibility of self-regulation, so that it can deliver greater confidence to government, regulators, consumers and users. I note in passing that the Government will be considering placing a duty on regulators to consider the needs of vulnerable customers. This is welcome, as their needs are important. However, I encourage the Government to include in their consideration the option of using standards underpinned by robust certification and accreditation. For example, the Government could look at the BSI standard for inclusive service provision, which includes requirements for identifying and responding to consumer vulnerability.
Encouraging or requiring businesses that want to use this standard to be audited by a certification body that is UKAS accredited would provide assurance and public confidence. Such an approach would also chime with the Government’s ongoing Regulatory Futures Review with its focus on regulatory self-assurance and earned recognition. In summary, I urge the Government, as part of their commitment to a strong economy and a modern industrial strategy, to ensure that the role of the United Kingdom Quality Infrastructure and its partner organisations is properly recognised, given the contribution that they can make to trade, investment, innovation, business growth and productivity. Likewise, I urge the Government to see a regulatory and enforcement landscape that is intelligent and fit for purpose as a key objective and to recognise the contribution that the UKQI partners, particularly those involved in standards accreditation, can make towards this end.