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Hague: Common sense for business

In a speech launching the Conservative Party's Business Manifesto, the Rt Hon William Hague, Leader of the Party:

"So far in this General Election campaign Conservatives have successfully focused attention on the real issues facing this country. We have asked the key questions - on tax, on crime, on asylum, on the Government's obvious failure to deliver on the promises it made last time.

"Two weeks into this election campaign Labour have still failed to give an answer to the question of what taxes they would increase to pay for the £10 billion they need to meet their spending plans.

"Today we launch our Manifesto for Business, and I make no apology for returning to these questions, and again pressing Labour for a straight answer.

"These are questions on which Britain's businesses are demanding answers, as today's letter to the Daily Telegraph by nearly 150 leading businessmen and women makes clear.

"Would Labour raise fuel tax, as they have done before, to make up the gap between what they plan to spend and what they will receive in tax revenue? If they do, that will mean petrol and diesel will cost £6 a gallon, or £1.30 a litre. It would mean massive increases in cost for British businesses - about £18,000 a year more for each vehicle Britain's hauliers operate, for example.

"Would they, despite a manifesto commitment not to increase the rate of tax on income, do precisely this by stealth - by steadily raising the national insurance ceiling? That is what they have done during the last two years, despite explicitly ruling it out in 1997. If they do abolish the national insurance ceiling, it will cost people earning over £29,900 on average an extra £800 a year in tax. It means higher taxes for our senior nurses, doctors, police officers and teachers. If Gordon Brown does not intend to raise the national insurance ceiling and tax the income of middle earners more, I challenge him to rule it out now.

"Of all the deceptions practised by Labour since it decided to become 'New Labour' one of the most outrageous is the notion that they have come the friend of business.

"Never has business had such a false friend.

"Reputations are hard to create and easy to lose. Britain's reputation for low taxes, for a flexible labour market, and for an pro-enterprise environment was not acquired by accident, but as a result of innovative policies, tenaciously applied, over 18 years.

"With typical complacency, this Government assumed that it could coast on our good reputation.

"That it could increase taxes on business by £5 billion a year, and no-one would notice.

"That it could ratchet up the burden of regulation, costing companies £10 billion and investors would not care.

"That it could expand the Government at the expense of the private sector, and still expect our economy to stay competitive.

"But reality bites: the world has not stood still during the last four years. We are losing our reputation day by day as countries we once surged ahead of are catching up and overtaking us.

"To recover our reputation requires a new approach.

"If we are to match the competition in the global market, we must stop raising taxes and start to bring them down.

"The next Conservative Government will cut taxes on business, starting with some of the most damaging stealth taxes Labour have imposed, as Michael Portillo will show in a moment.

"CBI members placed excessive regulation at the top of their list concerns. It is high on the list of mine, too.

"The problem is particularly acute for small firms. A recent survey by the Institute of Directors showed that small business owners are spending, on average, over half a day a week simply dealing with Government red tape.

"It's got to stop.

"The next Conservative Government will be a liberalising government.

"We will set regulatory budgets that limit the burden of red tape that Government departments can impose on business, and make sure they come down, year after year.

"All new regulations will have to be scrutinised by an independent commission and will only be implemented if they impose the least possible costs on business.

"And as far as EU regulations go, I will see that we do not enforce them any sooner or more zealously than our competitors.

"As we make Britain more competitive again, I want British companies to compete on an ever bigger stage.

"A Conservative Government will look beyond the frontiers of Europe to truly global free trade. We will lead a campaign for the creation of the biggest Free Trade Area in the world comprising the EU and NAFTA - the North American Free Trade Area.

"Britain's businesses have been badly let down by Labour.

"But at this election, Britain can begin to rebuild our reputation as one of the best places in world from which to do business.

"We have the chance once again to be an example, not a warning, to the rest of the world.

"It's time to take it."

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