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Wednesday, September 29, 1999 Published at 16:07 GMT 17:07 UK


UK Politics

Stephen Byers' speech in full


Political parties in a democracy can deliver nothing without power. But for our movement politics is about much more than winning elections. It's about our ideas and principles.

The values that our party has held for 100 years.

Conference99
And they are as valid now as they were a century ago.

To deliver social justice, provide opportunities, a sense of community and society, of partnership. People working together for the common good, to build a future with fairness and prosperity.

Yes for the many and not just the few.

In our modern world, the only way to achieve this is to create a progressive, forward looking and successful Britain.

A Britain in which business can prosper.

Where there are decent standards for people in work. A Britain in which entrepreneurs with an idea can get on.

A country where consumers no longer feel they are being ripped off.

That's what Britain needs and what Britain deserves.

That's why we've introduced the National Minimum Wage and cut corporation tax to its lowest level ever.

Established a family friendly employment policy and provided more support for small business.

Ensured a fair deal for the consumer and helped industry boost productivity.

Invested at Longbridge and set out plans to modernise the Post Office.

It is this principled reforming approach which people voted for in 1997.

It is a strategy that is winning for Britain.

One of the reasons why being in government is so precious is that it allows us to honour debts - many of them long overdue.

Let me give you one example.

Sixty years ago the Trading with the Enemy Act came into force. This meant that any property transferred from countries occupied by Nazi Germany to the United Kingdom was confiscated.

As a result, Jewish families facing the holocaust and sending property to loved ones in the UK had it seized.

For half a century nothing was done about this scandal.

It's taken generations but at long last a government, our government, has acted to right this terrible injustice.

There are also debts which affect the poorest in the world.

My department is owed hundreds of millions of dollars through export credits.

The cost of servicing debt means that developing countries cannot invest in the things that really matter - schools, hospitals, food for their people.

Writing off debts is essential on grounds of social justice. But it also makes business sense allowing countries to revive their economies and to trade.

At an international level Gordon Brown and Clare Short have been instrumental in ensuring that debt relief is now a top priority. Co-ordinated international action is clearly vital.

But the countries we are talking about can't wait any longer.

I believe our government should give a lead to the rest of the world. Debts need to be cancelled now.

That's what our party wants. That's what you want. That's what I want.

So Conference I give you this pledge:

By the end of this year our government will have written off debts owed to us of over $200m. We can and must do more, so I have set a target of a further $500m by the end of this Parliament.

$700m of debt written off. Our government working internationally for the many and not the few.

I know that there are broader concerns about the role of export credits and the contracts they support.

That's why I have established a review of this whole area to ensure that the support export credits can give for British jobs and industry is in full accord with wider government objectives.

At a time of globalisation, world trade is of paramount importance.

We have a particular responsibility as a great trading nation. In Seattle at the end of November, there will be a new round of world trade negotiations, and our agenda is clear.

It's time we stopped farming subsidies in the rich nations destroying the agriculture sector of the poorer ones.

It's time we reduced tariffs deliberately designed to block exports from developing countries.

And it's time - at long last - to recognise the need to consider labour conditions alongside trade liberalisation.

Let everyone be clear. Protectionism anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere.

That's why we argue for open commerce and free trade as the only way forward in the 21st Century.

In this time of globalisation, the world of work changes too.

The Labour government of 1945 faced a world of full time jobs for life for men, and unpaid work for millions of women. Now we have a different world which our policies must respond to.

A world where flexibility is necessary but must be underpinned by minimum standards.

The changes we propose are balanced. But they are radical too.

A National Minimum Wage benefiting poorly paid workers - opposed by the Tories

Part timers no longer to be treated as second class citizens but entitled to the same rights as full timers - opposed by the Tories.

People in work entitled for the first time to three weeks paid holiday - opposed by the Tories

The Tories against every single change. The Tories as always for the few and not the many.

In the vast majority of cases, business is taking these changes in their stride. But as ever, there is a hard-core who resist.

For them I have a message: The national minimum wage will be fully and effectively enforced. I issue this warning to employers: those who fail to pay the minimum wage will be identified as the Scrooge employers they are.

Parents today have to juggle the responsibility of bringing up a family with holding down a job.

But why should a woman have to choose between her love for her family and her ambitions at work? Why should a man have to decide between spending time with his growing children and his desire for promotion?

We need to introduce family friendly policies into the workplace and we are beginning the process of doing exactly that: maternity leave extended, thirteen weeks parental leave for both mothers and fathers, a right to time off work to deal with a family emergency

We should take pride as a Party that thanks to our government, a working parent will no longer have to worry about losing their job if they are called away to care for a sick son or daughter or an ailing parent.

We are tackling the culture of excessively long hours with the implementation of the Working Time Directive. And as I said at the TUC two weeks ago, we shall provide statutory guidance in this important area, involving the Health and Safety Executive and consulting the TUC and CBI.

Conference, all of us are consumers.

It is simply unacceptable to have benefits or hard earned wages pick pocketed at the cash register, at the bank or by the cowboy builder.

So today we give notice - rip off Britain must come to an end. The consumer must get a fair deal.

We've already started. Investigations have begun into the cost of cars and prices in supermarkets.

We're bringing in tough penalties for those that exploit the customer, penalties opposed by the Tories.

Let's be clear. Manipulated markets and cosy cartels do not build world class companies.

Contempt for the consumer is bad for business.

But to use their power effectively, consumers must not be deceived.

We have all experienced the use of small print to confuse and mislead.

This must come to an end; under our government it will. Starting on Friday of this week, we will give the Consumer Association, as well as the regulators, the power to bring legal action to stop unfair terms appearing in contracts.

So I say to those peddling contracts with dodgy small print, your time is up. The consumer must come first. For millions of people, the most important financial transaction of their life is the mortgage they take out to buy a home.

Borrowers deserve a fair deal. The information they are given must be clear. The real options and penalties must be spelt out.

So next month I will be holding a mortgage summit with the major banks and building societies to identify the steps they need to take to discharge their responsibilities.

The Tories turned their back on the scandal of pensions misselling. Our government will act to stop mortgage misselling.

To be successful workers and effective consumers, we all need thriving businesses.

Today, Labour is delivering what business needs: low inflation, competitive tax rates, support for our science base, cutting the bureaucratic burden on businesses, the unlocking of access to finance.

Getting ready to succeed in the new knowledge economy.

One of the key challenges of the 21st century for business is to embrace and win in the world of e-commerce and information technology.

And government will help.

We have started working with Sun Microsystems, Oracle, Cisco and Exodus to establish an environment in which companies can test their e-commerce ideas.

Called Business-incubator.com, this is exactly the sort of initiative that business needs.

The information revolution raises wider issues. A new class divide must not emerge between the information "haves" and "have nots".

New technology can be a source of liberation. Allowing access to shops for the housebound. Letting the unemployed search more effectively for jobs.

Using digital TV to give access to those who find a PC confusing as well as too expensive.

A knowledge source in every home through the television. What a prize that would be. We must make sure it happens.

Our objectives are clear.

Competition and social cohesion.

Innovation and universal access.

New web companies and computers in our libraries.

New Labour combining the dynamic benefits of the market with our mission to create a just society.

A government for the many not the few.

In this new economy, small businesses will play an increasingly important role.

From April, we will have a Small Business Service- for the first time a government organisation dedicated to the needs of small businesses.

Giving help with the payroll administration, reducing red tape, making advice and guidance to small business far more professional.

In this fast changing world of globalisation, competition and increased consumer choice, we need to look long and hard at some of our major public corporations to ensure that they are in a position to meet the Challenges that lie ahead.

We need a modernised Post Office for the 21st century and our plans will achieve precisely that.

Greater commercial freedom will mean that the Post Office will have the potential to invest at least an extra 600 million over the next three years.

For the first time ever, we will enshrine in law the obligation to provide a universal service- same price to deliver a letter anywhere in the country- whether it's the Isle of Dogs, Isle of Wight or Isle of Arran.

I know there have been some concerns about reducing the monopoly to 50p. Last week the Trade and Industry Select Committee recommended that the level of the monopoly be determined by the new regulator. I agree with them and that's what we'll do.

As a government committed to social justice and economic efficiency we welcome the price cuts in gas and electricity.

But those on low incomes are failing to gain the full benefits.

Lower prices for those who can afford to pay by direct debit.

Higher costs for those who can only use pre-payment meters.

In the final months of the 20th century, it's unacceptable that so many families cannot afford to live in properly heated homes.

As we heard this morning, fuel poverty isn't just a price issue, it is also about energy efficiency.

This morning John Prescott announced help for one million homes.

I'm pleased to announce that at lunchtime today I reached an Affordable Warmth agreement with BG Transco.

Under this scheme modern gas fired central heating will be installed into homes coupled with energy efficiency measures.

Our target is one million homes, and in the process 10 thousand employed and an extra 3,000 previously unemployed taken on under the New Deal.

Warm, secure homes for millions of our fellow citizens.

13,000 people employed in the process.

Our government in action. For the many and not the few

In government the questions we face on a daily basis are difficult, complex and technical. But we must never lose sight of the fact that they are human questions: they are about people and their lives.

It's not just a question of the value of the pound, the dollar or the euro but the values that lie at the very heart of our society.

In government we have the opportunity to reflect those values of care, concern and compassion for all members of society.

To create a Britain that is successful and dynamic. Built on power, wealth and opportunity being in the hands of the many not the few.

A rejection of those basic Tory instincts, envy, self interest, greed.

And so the next time someone asks you what difference the Labour government has made tell them:

Two million people benefiting from the national minimum wage

Consumers at last getting a fair deal

Two and a half million getting paid holidays for the first time

One million extra warm and comfortable homes.

Two and a half million parents benefiting from parental leave.

Six million part timers getting equal treatment.

Seven hundred million dollars of debt written off for the poorest countries

That's our party in power. Our government in action. A government for the many not the few.



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