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Heathcoat-Amory: Party Conference Speech 2000

It is a great privilege to take over the Trade and Industry job from Angela Browning who has done so much to expose the myth that New Labour helps business, or even understands it.

And I'm very lucky to have a team like Alan Duncan, Nick Gibb and Richard Page, as well as Doreen Miller, Peta Buscombe and John Mackay in the Lords. Each of them on their own knows more about Trade and Industry than the entire Labour front bench put together.

One of the puzzles about the DTI is this: How is it that after all the privatisations, all the industries freed from state controls, all the competition we brought in, the DTI has gone on growing? After 3 years of a Labour government its running costs have increased by £114 million. This year alone it will take on an extra 500 civil servants.

So as the DTI's responsibilities get smaller, the department gets bigger.

So don't tell me that there aren't savings to be made in public expenditure without hitting front line services like health and education.

Pledge number one: The drive for a smaller state starts here. The DTI will be reorganised to make it leaner, fitter, and smaller.

And instead of policies from New Labour we get gimmicks. Last year Stephen Byers announced that he had discovered 'Rip off Britain'. The consumer he said was being 'treated unfairly'. What he didn't say was that it's his government that's doing the ripping off.

Who made our road fuel the most expensive in Europe? A body blow to the haulage industry and every manufacturing company in Britain. The Labour government did that. Petrol is now taxed more heavily than champagne. The champagne socialists are now the ones with a full tank of petrol.

And it's not over yet. From next April every business in the country, from the smallest corner shop to the biggest multinational, will pay a new energy tax, the so-called Climate Change Levy, on all their gas and electricity bills.

So yes, Britain is being ripped off, by the Treasury with its stealth taxes. And you Stephen Byers have done absolutely nothing to stand up for either the consumer or British business. For that failure, Mr Byers, amongst so many others - it is time you went.

You've done nothing for small business either. Look at sub-post offices - small business which are being chopped off by this government and are now closing in record numbers. The only reaction from this government is to talk of setting up some Universal Bank, which is so universal it's invisible. This destruction of the post office network will not be forgotten at election time.

It's not just taxes. As any businessman will tell you, there's the endless regulations, red tape, and government interference. And the inexhaustible stream of European Union directives.

The government deliberately added to this torrent of regulation by giving away, unilaterally, our hard-won opt out from the European Social Chapter. That was an act of political vandalism that's costing British business an extra £10 billion in this Parliament.

Labour Ministers and MPs have no idea what it's like to be on the receiving end of hostile taxes and regulations. I do, and I'm going to do something about it.

But let's admit that we didn't do enough when we were in government. We checked the regulatory juggernaut but we failed to reverse it. But now we've listened to businesses, particularly smaller ones who haven't the time to serve on consultation committees in London but who end up bearing the costs.

We've listened and we're going to act. We will independently calculate the total cost of regulations issued by each government department. And that total will have to come down year by year. William Hague has made clear that ministerial careers will depend on it. So we've all been warned.

The message is, we're serious. It adds up to pledge number two: I will de-regulate before breakfast, before lunch and before tea. The DTI under us will be a department for deregulation.

One more point before we start our debate.

There are huge opportunities for this country from the electronic revolution, the internet and e-commerce. These technologies are outward looking, tariff-busting, distance-conquering, and they all use the English language. They are not just liberating technologies themselves; they also reinforce Britain's position and history as a global trader.

Sometimes I'm accused of being a Little Englander because I'm against joining the euro. The truth is the exact opposite.

It's the Labour party who are the Little Englanders, they are so defeatist about our nation that they will try and lock us into a continental system of high tariffs, high taxes, high regulations, and the euro.

We have a bolder vision: yes to free trade, no to the euro. British industry needs world markets, and a country which is confident, self-governing and free. That is our policy. That is exactly what we will deliver.

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