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Sunday, 17 June, 2001, 15:48 GMT 16:48 UK
Business high on legislative agenda
The new ministers at the DTI face a busy legislative session
The new ministers at the DTI face a busy legislative session
The new trade secretary Patricia Hewitt will face a busy legislative session when the Queen's Speech is unveiled on Wednesday.

Top of her agenda are expected to be two major bills on communications and competition.

The DTI will take the lead on a enterprise bill, which will remove merger decisions from the political process and make bankruptcy easier.

It will also have a key role in a new communications bill, which will create one regulator for both telecommunications and the media, and loosen cross-media ownership rules - possibly to the benefit of Rupert Murdoch, whose newspapers backed Tony Blair in the recent election.

Mr Murdoch recently visited Downing Street, and the decision on whether to allow newspaper owners to also own terrestrial television stations is one which is likely to be taken at the highest level.

The main commercial network ITV is also waiting to see whether the bill will clear the way for further consolidation in the sector - including a possible takeover of ITN by its main owners Granada and Carlton.

And the DTI will also have to steer family-friendly legislation through Parliament, increasing paid maternity leave to six months and consulting on proposals to give parents of young children the right to return to work part-time.

Sprawling department

Ms Hewitt has moved quickly to take charge of her sprawling department.

In her first major speech, she told the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union last week that her department's 1bn a year business support scheme could be better targeted to help firms "get to the future first".

"It's not about protecting business or employees from the enormous changes that are taking part in the world. It's about helping them not only survive these changes but also succeed through change," she said.

Increasing productivity is a key objective of the Chancellor who argues that it is the only way to boost the UK's long rate of economic growth.

And Ms Hewitt will face some difficult decisions in the months ahead, ranging from whether to allow the proposed merger of Lloyds TSB and Abbey National to go through, to calls to raise the minimum wage for young people.

Euro issue

Ms Hewitt also appears to be adopting a more cautious stance on the sensitive issue of UK membership of the euro, the single currency for 12 European countries.

Her predecessor, Stephen Byers, was a strong advocate of early UK entry into the euro, but Ms Hewitt seems determined to stick to the government line.

"There is one government, there is one policy on the euro. The commitment is real, but the five economic tests are real as well. The first thing we have to do, led by Gordon and the Treasury, is to test the position on the five tests," she said.

But looking ahead, Ms Hewitt made it clear that if there was a referendum on the euro, she would be using her other role as Minister for Women to look at how the government could persuade more women to back euro membership.

"Talking to the voters about Europe and the euro, what I find is there is a great thirst for information," she said. "There has been a gender gap in several European referendums and we need to address that."

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See also:

08 Jun 01 | Business
UK's new trade and industry minister
12 Jun 01 | Business
Business guide to the new government
10 Jun 01 | Business
Labour's business prospects
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