The British government on Sunday announced plans to force foreign companies investing in Britain to make binding commitments on issues that are in the UK’s “national interest”.
Business Secretary Vince Cable said companies would have to provide certain assurances, including investment in Research and Development and British jobs.
Mr Cable was responding to a question on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show about US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s attempted takeover of Britain’s AstraZeneca, which had prompted fears of widespread job cuts and the moving of the British company’s research base to America.
“What the government did then was to engage in negotiations to seek assurances. Where we now have to strengthen that is to make sure that where commitments are made, there is no wiggle room,” Mr Cable said.
“We may well get into the area of having financial penalties in order to make sure those commitments are binding.”
Mr Cable said it was likely the law would need to be changed to enforce such commitments, but new legislation could be introduced quickly as there was agreement across government about the need for such measures.
Cable said the Liberal Democrats believed that a second measure also needed to be introduced to deal with cases where companies are not willing to make such assurances.
“You then need some fall back powers, you need a last resort where the government can intervene, can invoke the public interest,” he said.
Currently, a formal public interest test which gives politicians the power to intervene in corporate deals only applies to areas such as media plurality and financial stability.