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For the Liberal Democrat Conference
To deliver a speech on the Liberal Democrat offer for business, Canterbury PPC Martin Vye.

The Liberal Democrats are the natural party of business. For those who believe in social justice but support enterprise and entrepreneurialism, we are the natural choice.

In the 21st century, success in business will likely mean far different things, and require far different skills, than it does today. The Liberal Democrats understand that, and we offer flexible evidence-based policy for that, to create a truly dynamic economy.

We are the party of businesses of every size. From businesses with no employees to businesses with thousands. And we are also the party of workers.

We will work to promote more sources of private and public sector finance are available for small and medium businesses, including by promoting new guidelines to encourage banks to lend more to small and start-up firms.

The Liberal Democrats are unequivocally a party that supports free trade, and we will do more to build on the successes of the single market, forge new trade deals and trade liberalisation with the world outside Europe, and create an open and welcoming atmosphere for talent and intelligence from abroad too.

We will increase shareholder control over executive pay and director appointments, and require more transparency about pay inequities at work, long-term investment objectives, and corporate social responsibility.

We will create living allowances for those entrepreneurs from less advantaged backgrounds starting new businesses, or where their businesses are expanding, in order to allow people to take risks and focus on business development, without having to fret about poverty.

Our country’s creative sector is increasingly vital, and we will support that, by investing more in the arts, embracing new forms of media and culture, standing firm against censorship, and continuously reviewing our intellectual property laws to make sure they are encouraging innovation and creativity.

Information technologies such as the internet look set to play a defining role in the new millennium. We want to promote the education of these new technological skills, giving kids adaptability and resilience for the workplaces of tomorrow, and to ensure, through home or public access, that by 2000 we have a nationwide interactive communications network in place, from Land’s End to John o’Groats.

The 21st century will depend on start-ups and scale-ups. We will help those businesses get access to the data, networking and collaboration opportunities, and public and private sector support that they need to thrive.

We will embark upon root-and-branch reform of the legal infrastructure, if necessary, to support a wide variety of businesses - including mutuals, cooperatives, social enterprises, and community interest companies. This will include reforming fiduciary and company purpose rules to allow such businesses to thrive and to take proper notice of their social role.

We will replace business rates with a land value tax, removing disincentives for development and investment, shifting the burden of taxation from tenants to landowners, and put vacant lots into productive use. This will reduce the burden of taxation for most small businesses and help revitalise high streets across the nation.

Preserving the City of London as a centre for global finance is a priority for the Liberal Democrats and we will do that by supporting innovation, encouraging new entrants into the market, and supporting the development of new products and business models.

The Liberal Democrats believe regulation is essential, but we also believe that it must be good regulation.

We will end the unnecessary ‘gold-plating’ of European regulations that put our businesses at unnecessary disadvantages compared to other European nations.

We will create a regulatory oversight committee, independent of government, to ensure that regulatory measures are effective and not unduly onerous, that they take into account the needs of different sectors and businesses, and that best practices are adhered to across government.

We will reject regulatory rigidity and one-size-fits-all approaches, allowing flexibility in reaching regulatory goals in cases where regulations do not serve coordinating or standard-setting functions, and building “one stop shops”, with priority regulations clearly highlighted, for regulatory engagement to take some of the risk and hassle out of regulatory compliance.

It is worth discussing privatisation. That is a big question for any party’s economic policy in this day and age. The Liberal Democrats, as always, favour an evidence-based approach.

The Tote, for example, is a great British institution - but I do not think horserace betting is a business that the government should be in any longer. The publishing arm of the government’s Stationery Office is another service that can be privatised. The privatisation of certain government labs can continue - if commercially viable research can be done without attributing the cost to the taxpayer, that seems to me a sound move, and the independence from political pressures that comes from privatisation can be a virtue. Some quangos and commissions, too, can be better placed to grow and thrive if made independent, either as businesses or grant-funded charities. And while there are some services such as education and healthcare where private involvement is not appropriate, there are others, such as the Royal Mail and air traffic control, where while we believe public ownership should be maintained, a greater role for the private sector should be allowed.

There is a real demand for these services, but I do not believe there to be a compelling case to keep them in public ownership. I believe these can all provide brilliant investment opportunities for the public, once released from the bounds of government ownership. We should allow for the dynamism, price signals, independence, and flexibility of the private sector where appropriate, where supported by the evidence, where there is no compelling reason for public ownership.

But we are liberals at the end of the day. The Thatcherite programme is to privatise almost everything it can due to a simple ideological obsession - the Liberal Democrat solution is to be guided by the evidence and by what is in the interest of the British public. The Liberal Democrats will oppose ideologically motivated privatisations, and keep the profit motive far away from our schools and hospitals. However, we will also oppose ideologically motivated nationalisations.

Throughout this all, we must ensure that the rules surrounding privatisation are not rigged to help maximise corporate profits - conflicts of interest must be contractually prohibited; new research capabilities must be developed and nurtured in-house to ensure the overall research landscape is a diverse one; public interest must be central.

We cannot turn back the clock, no matter how much some would wish, on the privatisation of our utilities. We would write public interest into the constitution of each essential utility, as an objective alongside just profit, creating public interest companies that still deliver dividends for shareholders and all the fiscal and economic benefits of privatisation. We will create a single office for utility regulation, and encourage customer part-ownership of privatised utilities.

Additionally, we will reform how we approach the budget. It is vital that we increase accountability and transparency in the budgeting process.

We will publish a draft Budget - as a new convention in British governance - four months before the final version, to promote open discussion of economic and taxation and policy. This will facilitate the integration of spending and revenue-raising, a measure we have long advocated.

This will also make it easier to measure the impact of economic policy on the environment.

And we will establish an independent National Statistics Commission to collect and publish statistics and ensure their quality and accuracy.

The broader Liberal Democrat approach to the economy is one that will deliver stable and secure growth. We will invest in the workforce, in science and research, in infrastructure, while keeping to the golden rule of finance that total investment does not exceed total borrowing, and that we set this country on a path of having a sustainable surplus on day-to-day current spending.

A Liberal Democrat government would ensure an independent Bank of England, freeing monetary policy from political whims, charged with a mandate, but accountable to Parliament, to keep inflation low.

Once the UK has met the five Maastricht criteria, we will hold a referendum on joining the Euro. We believe that a single currency offers great potential in terms of lowering inflation and stabilising exchange rates, but such a decision MUST be approved by the British people.

In summary, as we enter a new millennium, the challenges and opportunities for British business are immense. The Liberal Democrats have the ideas and the vision to guide us into this new century.

To deliver a speech on personal opportunity and fighting poverty, MP for Argyll and Bute, Ray Michie.

Poverty is a scourge within this country. A Liberal Democrat government would be committed to ending poverty, with ending rough sleeping and child poverty particular priorities.

Poverty is being unable to afford basic needs. Poverty is being unable to give your children the best start in life. Poverty is being unable to live a free and fair life. As liberals, we must fight poverty wherever and whenever we can.

But one aspect of poverty often neglected is that it is expensive. That is one of the great injustices of the world today, that it is expensive to be poor.

To give an example, I want to talk about a book I have read recently, it is a relatively new book just came out in 1993 written by marvellous Terry Pratchett and it nails it right on the head.

I want to read a part of it. “The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money. Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars.”

“Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles. But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet. This was the Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”

I couldn’t have explained it better. The problem with poverty is not just that people are deprived of basic needs, it is also about that it is a cycle that is very hard and most times impossible to escape. It is not, as the Tories will tell us, just a case of getting on your bike.

In the last 16 years in our country under the Tory rule we have had massive increase in wealth, that is true but that wealth has gone only to some. Millions of people in this country have not benefited from what, on the surface, looks like economic growth.

We have had massive increases in productivity, not matched to increases in take home pay.

We have had growing inequality in wealth and unfairness in distribution of wealth.

Capitalism only works when you have fairness and hard work pays off. The people of this country are working harder, producing more but we haven’t seen that reflect properly to their salaries and wealth. This perversion of capitalism is reflecting on every part of the society, what we need in our country is a free market economy that is fair.

A free market economy can not function without a social contract, without honesty and without everyone upholding their end of the bargain. As we are moving to the new millennium, we can do better, get better and leave the old millenium’s mistakes, of both left and right, in the old millennium.

We have a great opportunity to fix the mistakes of the past, fix our economy and ensure everyone gets what earned and worked for.

As Liberal Democrats we will ensure that with a living wage that ensures everyone who works full time can earn a living and not stay in poverty.

We will create a minimum wage, informed by independent experts.

We will allow those who have been on the dole for far too long the option to decide what route is right for them for getting back into work, converting some of their benefits into investments in their future: incentives for employers to hire them, new training and skills opportunities, support in establishing a new business venture or moving to a new place when they get a job offer.

We will give employers incentives to hire, and create training opportunities for, unemployed young people who are struggling to get a start in life.

We will raise tax thresholds, taking those on the lowest incomes out of income tax completely, giving an effective tax cut for millions of workers.

We will invest in childcare, with new means-tested childcare subsidies, expanded maternal leave rights, and more support for parents who want to get back into work.

We will expand opportunities for helping those with disabilities, or those with caring responsibilities, gain access to gainful competitive employment, and expand support for alternative working arrangements such as flexible hours and working from home.

We will stamp down on fraud and waste and abuse in our social security system, and reinvest that money in helping people get back into work and off the dole. And we will routinely review the system to make sure that work always pays.

The Tories seem content with allowing the growth of a Dickensian-style underclass. Not the Liberal Democrats.

Eradicating poverty is not and will not be easy and we need steady hands that believe in fairness, in a genuine free market economy and making sure everyone gets to uphold their end of the bargain.

The problem in our country is not with the economic system.

It is with those who break the rules, perverts the free market economy and turns it into exploitation.

Tories can’t and won’t punish those who exploit the system, the rules and most importantly the people, I think the last 16 years is proof of that. Listen to the Tories, they are talking about fixing the economy, rebuilding our public services and enforcing the rules, those are great lines but this also begs an important question: they have had sixteen years to do this. Sixteen. Years. For the past sixteen years, they have destroyed our public services, allowed rulebreakers go unpunished and allowed exploitation and ruination.

As Liberal Democrats, we will address wrongs of this Tory government. We have repeatedly asked Tories what they are going to do with British Coal’s privatisation, how are they going to handle the housing owned by the British Coal, the land and more.

This could have been a big opportunity for our country, whatever you may have thought about the initial privatisation, but since it's done, it could have been done in a much better manner that alleviates the worst side effects that come along side with it.

The Tories could have allowed a right of first refusal for the housing to the tenants, to allow them to own the house they are currently living. They could have repurposed the land for commercial resources, they could have repurposed the land for more housing and many more things could have been done, we are talking about 150000 acres of land that is owned by the British Coal which includes housing and agricultural land and about 13,000 acres of land and buildings for commercial, office or investment use.

Tory mismanagement is harming this country in so many ways, we could have been much wealthier as a society altogether if Tories didn’t choose to go ideologically zealous with this privatisation and chose to do the smart thing. Frankly, the most dangerous part of this approach by Tories is not the short term challenges, the most dangerous part of it is that it is eroding trust in the system, the social contract and the belief that if you work hard, you will be compensated for your work properly.

Liberal Democrats will fix excesses of Tories and restore trust in the system, restore the social contract we have and punish the rule breakers.

We will invest in our country, we are offering one billion pounds into small business loans, this will create and foster an environment of entrepreneurship.

We will introduce a Restrictive Practices Act to penalise anti-competitive behaviour and end price-fixing by cartels.

We will give consumer watchdogs, including the regulators and trading standards departments, greater powers, and improve redress for inadequate goods and services.

We will invest over 500 million into research and development and ensure this funding is spread around the country in an effective and efficient way that ensures it is neither collected in one place nor it is spread too thin to make an effect.

We will not pit pensions and benefits against each other, pensions and benefits work hand in hand and we will ensure stability in them, no wild spikes and losses, stable inflation adjustments after increasing them in the first two budgets.

As we are moving to a new millennium, we need to leave ideologies and ideas of the old millennium in the old millennium. Excesses of socialism and Thatcherism have set this country decades back from where we could have been. We need to focus on evidence based policy making and do what is working instead of what fits ideological and party political interests.

As Liberal Democrats we believe in evidence based policies and there is no better opportunity to start this new millennium with a fresh start, leaving fights of the past in the past and start this millenium in a proper way that it deserves.

To speak on economic prosperity for all parts of the UK, Matthew Taylor, MP for Truro.

In my mind, there is one great indictment of the economic status quo. That is how it clearly works so well for some, but not at all for others. How some areas thrive, others see their backbones ripped out. We know how this has happened. We know that the staid old Conservative government has let this happen, treating it as an unavoidable, perhaps even cathartically beneficial, consequence of their dehumanising pursuit of otherwise understandable economic efficiencies.

Capitalism, the market economy, whatever you want to call it, depends on disruption, on upheaval, on things being changed, new business models developing, old models failing. It is that very disruption that enables innovation, that allows the needs and demands of consumers to be met, that has lifted millions out of poverty both here and throughout the world. We should not fight that. A static, tepid, inflexible economy would truly be the worst outcome. A staid economy means we are all equally impoverished, and that is the eternal flaw of top down central planning.

But that is no reason to just shrug and stand by as some communities are left behind, as regional inequalities soar, as some areas are reduced to an unjust poverty because of factors beyond their control.

Eventually large parts of the economy will change. There is nothing wrong with that, and there is considerable cost in intervening to prevent that ebb and flow. But what was unnecessary - and what I will never forgive the Tories for, and here I stand with millions - is just shrugging our collective shoulders and standing by as people are thrown into poverty and communities are left hollow husks of their former selves.

If the Tories wanted to allow mass restructuring of the economy to maximise profits, that’s one thing. But what they did that was so callous, so cruel, so needlessly and pointlessly and counterproductively damaging, was in not bothering to help those who, by sheer bad luck, were not the beneficiaries of that restructuring. Once thriving towns, now scarred and weakened. Once proud families, now without any conceivable hope of getting back onto the ladder. Once resourceful workers, now with no way to put their years of training and hard work to productive use.

That sort of inequality...that’s wrong. It erodes trust. It destroys hope. It squanders talent and saps opportunity. No government can stand by as people are left behind, on an almost industrial scale, and still claim to be a compassionate or sustainable government.

And neither is it smart. Imagine how much wealthier an economy we would have, how much more vibrant our communities would be, how much more sustainable and less pressured our public services would be, if we were fully leveraging the potential of our economy.

It is one thing to say that the economy needs to change. It is quite another to then say, as the Tories have repeatedly done, that we need not help those who have the rug pulled out from under their feet. The Tories have made their priorities clear: they will not be the party of everyone, just the party of those who are currently doing well. It is easy to say that you’re not for turning when you’re doing well. The “I’m alright, Jack”s of the world, that seems to be the only constituency the modern Conservative Party can be bothered courting.

The 21st century economy the Liberal Democrats envisage will be different.

We are announcing an additional £25 billion programme in capital investment during the first year of a Liberal Democrat government, and £100 billion over the course of parliament.

The Regional Opportunity Fund would be the centrepiece of this programme. The point of this would not be to add a new permanent source of business financing, but to provide decisive and much-needed investment in the regional inequalities currently facing our nation before they reach breaking point. Tackling vast inequities in infrastructure and essential public services. Helping inspiring entrepreneurs gain access to services and opportunities others may take for granted. Helping areas dependent on an environmentally unsustainable sector - perhaps those dependent on dirty fuels or diminishing resources, or industries with immense externalities - diversify. Helping local economies dependent on single sources of employment or the public sector develop the infrastructure and environment needed to cultivate their own areas of comparative advantage. Restoring high streets to life.

To complement this, we will provide seed capital for Regional Development Agencies, public-private partnerships that will serve as complementary agencies to the Enterprise Bank, with a bigger focus on giving ‘one-stop shop’ for regulatory advice, for manufacturing and business advice, supporting the development of strong local banking sectors, and leveraging private capital for investment in local regions’ infrastructure needs.

To top off our regional opportunity agenda, we will be focusing on drawing attention to the strengths that left-behind regions already have, rather than focusing on parachuting new activity in or dictating from the top new economic models. We will support the creation of new “catapult centres”, helping universities generate business and innovation in their surrounding locales. We will allow local authorities more flexibility with planning laws, to accommodate how planning laws designed for London are not suitable for the entire nation. We will place evidence-based policy at the heart of every department and move more government activity away from the South East and towards other regions.

This will join our investments in science and research, deployed across the country, and pioneering new investments in childcare, training, and education.

There will also be, as Noemie Suchet has laid out, the Coal Investment Fund. We want to invest the proceeds from either privatisation or, ideally, a new licencing scheme where the Crown owns the mines and licences them out to private companies. 70 percent of the fund shall be reserved for our coal communities, this investment shall be used on areas of  housing, healthcare, interest free business loans, infrastructure, education and culture. 20 percent of the local community fund shall be spared for environmental preservation projects in our coal communities. 10 percent of the total fund shall be used to develop green technology.

We also believe smart economic policy can be married, from the ground up, with environmental preservation. There will be, under the Liberal Democrats, a bold new investment in resource and energy efficiency, while continuously raising regulatory standards, leading the way internationally, saving manufacturers money, saving families cash on their fuel bills, while at the same time helping the environment.

We will invest in creating a circular economy, where reusing, recycling, and closed supply chains help bring down the costs of materials and help generate good well-paying jobs.

We will transition away from taxing productive and good things - like income and investment - and towards environmental taxes. We will aim to deliver a carbon tax.

We will position the UK on the front line of green investment, research, and innovation, and produce new funds for renewable energy, natural capital, and green exports.

We will invest in public transport, strong freight and rail links throughout the country, new walking and cycling paths, and fuel efficiency, to fight pollution and make a better connected country where no community is isolated.

An economy that works for all, and an economy that protects our environment. That is what the new millennium calls for. That is what the Liberal Democrats shall deliver.

((A bit late but didn't receive a response from the admins re: NPC approval. If not approved, I gave 1 and 3, Ege gave 2))
Deputy Leader Duncan MacMahon spoke on devolution.

"I am a proud Scotsman.

I am a proud Brit.

I am a proud unionist.

I believe in the union. I believe we are all so much stronger - at every level, with more opportunities for individuals and more power and influence for our family of nations as a whole - when we work together, when we exist in unison, when we act as one. England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, a terrific family of nations, stronger when acting together than when drifting apart.

But the United Kingdom must be a union of equals. It must be a union built around mutual respect, around collaboration, of respecting the sovereignty and talents of each of the peoples within it.

To deliver upon that promise requires a stark change in thinking. There are two steps to that process. Two steps that I would say we must take.

Step one is simple. Vote out the Tories.

We saw how the Tories - most appallingly with the poll tax - see fit to use and abuse Scotland and Wales as guinea pigs for their perverse ideological experiments. We have seen that. We have seen how there is a callous political appetite within the Conservative Party for using the Celtic nations as a testing ground for politically toxic experiments, and we have seen, sadly, how little there is within our current constitutional framework to prevent such chicanery.

Now the Tories might promise - if they decide they want Scottish or Welsh votes - to say, ‘oh, don’t mind us, old chum, we wouldn’t dare think of using you in that way again’. Maybe they might promise that. Who knows, some of them might even mean it! But is that not enough? No. The very fact that a future government could abuse Scotland and Wales in such a way, even if they have secured their electoral mandate in England and England alone, is a crying injustice. How can we say the union is truly a union of equals with such a glaring deficiency in place?

Let me tell you this - the best way to prevent another disastrous imposition such as the poll tax, or ensure a future government does not, from afar, allow the ritual gutting of the industry and life force of whole towns and regions - is devolution. That is step two.

Devolution! What a radical concept, the Tories may whine, as they wring their hands, as they bluster and bloviate. But is it really? Is it truly? What is so radical about making sure that those decisions that are best taken by those who will be directly affected by them are, indeed, taken by those who will be directly affected by them? That is all devolution is. A simple premise. Saying, bluntly, that the Scots know what is best for Scotland and the Welsh know what is best for Wales. That they know what interests to consider, that they know which experts to call upon, that they know what strategies they wish to adopt and values they wish to pursue.

Now, onto the positive case for devolution. Sometimes, there is a need for experimentation, for bold innovation, for novel ideas and reforms. But it should be the Scots who decide what policies are trialled in Scotland and the Welsh who decide what policies are tried out in Wales, not some rich bairn Tory MP who was incubated in a think tank and who's only ever visited the Celtic countries to play golf.

Decisions about culture and heritage, schools, healthcare, planning law, environmental preservation and conservation, economic strategies, these should all be developed through devolved democracy, both because it is the democratic imperative and because it will deliver better policy.

That is why the Liberal Democrats are saying, unequivocally, that if elected, we will make sure there have been devolution referendums in both Wales and Scotland and that, if so desired by the people of those nations, devolved parliaments will be in place before the new millennium.

In Wales, we will call for, at first, a devolved power structure, where twenty policy areas are devolved to the new Welsh legislature - with a Welsh Parliament, a Welsh seal, and a Welsh government.

In Scotland, we will, in acknowledgement of the fact Scotland has a more oven-ready capacity for deeper devolution owing to political and legal contexts, opt for a reserved-power model, where all policy areas except those specifically relegated to central government shall be put in the Scottish Parliament’s hands.

And we would be excited to start a broader discussion about federalism, of supporting devolution to regions as well as nations, remaking our politics. We will legislate to give regions the power to seek to receive devolved powers. That is our offer to everyone in the United Kingdom: a new constitutional arrangement that localises power to the greatest possible extent.

Fundamentally, what we have here is an issue of trust. The Liberal Democrats trust you, we trust your communities, to decide your own future. We trust you to decide what your priorities should be, what your public services should be like, what your community looks and feels like. That entails federalism. That entails devolution. That entails voting Liberal Democrat.

And as we prepare for a new millennium, we have a chance to fundamentally devolve power, to change how politics is structured, to show that Parliament trusts the people to manage their own affairs. A new millennium calls for a new way of thinking. An integral part of that new way of thinking is devolution, and that is why I say: vote Liberal Democrat! Thank you!"