Lord Heseltine makes first Lords speech after 11 years

Lord Heseltine: "Everyone knows we face huge challenges in this country in enhancing our competitiveness"

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Lord Heseltine has made his maiden speech in the House of Lords, 11 years after becoming a peer.

The former Conservative deputy prime minister used his debut to give details of an audit of the UK's industrial performance he has been asked to lead.

He said he wanted to update peers at the "earliest opportunity" on the role after it was announced by George Osborne in Wednesday's Budget.

Despite voting in the Lords, he has not spoken since getting a peerage in 2001.

Although his appearances in the Lords have been infrequent, the Conservative peer and businessman has remained active politically, advising David Cameron since he became Conservative leader.

Since the coalition came to power, he has worked with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg on determining which businesses should qualify for support through the government's Regional Growth Fund.

Former colleagues

Lord Heseltine, who stood for the Conservative leadership in 1990, was surrounded by former colleagues from the Major and Thatcher governments as he spoke - including former chancellor Lord Howe and ex-defence secretary Lord King.

He told peers that he wanted to "expand on the remit" of the role he had been given, explaining that he would look at how government and the private sector could work together more effectively to boost growth.

Making clear he would provide a personal view rather than an official report, he said he would examine how the UK's approach compared with competing economies and how other countries implemented their policies.

Lord Heseltine, who famously pledged to "intervene before breakfast, lunch and dinner" to promote business when a minister, said government played a "crucial role" in the success or failure of the economy.

"We have some of the best companies in the world - they are out there winning every day," he said. "But is our average performance good enough and how can the underperforming tail be encouraged or persuaded to catch up?"

He questioned whether captains of industry and business leaders were willing to tell "the slowest ships in their industrial convoys that their failure may actually be their fault and not the fault of government".

Announcing the role on Wednesday, Mr Osborne said that "from Liverpool to Canary Wharf, Michael knows how it's done".

Lord Heseltine is chairman of the board of Haymarket Group, the magazine publisher he established in the 1950s.

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