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Cameron hints at moves to cut the rate of business tax

By Sam Lister

Tax and regulation cuts to help boost the private sector would be a top priority of a Tory government, David Cameron pledged last night.

The Conservative leader told party members that he would tackle European rules to ensure the UK could make wide-ranging changes to the current system.

During the 67-minute long speech at the party's autumn conference in Blackpool, he told how Spain and Germany had drastically cut corporation tax.

But he failed to highlight Northern Ireland's sustained campaign to reduce the levy in the province to 12.5% to bring it in line with the Republic.

He said: "There are huge changes taking place in Europe. The Spanish, they are cutting corporation tax by 5%. Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, who I met recently, is cutting it by 9%. Sarkozy in France is cutting (the) top rate of income tax to make his economy more competitive.

"I know that business wants to hear from the Conservative party how we will reduce regulation and reduce taxation to give them more freedom.

"And I tell you that we will get through to the European Social Chapter so we can make those rules in Britain, rather than in Brussels.

" As we share the proceeds of growth between public spending on the one hand and lower taxes on the other we can give businesses the lower tax regimes that they need."

But the Tory leader said the cuts would only be possible if businesses accept their social responsibilities.

" Here's the deal - for business and for us to make sure we have sustainable low taxes we need businesses to help us cut the bills of social failure," he added.

"We need business to be responsible in the way they market to children, the way they treat employees and in the way they encourage family life.

"All of those things will help us to get tax and regulation down for the long-term good of our economy."

He added: "That's the modern Conservative change for this new world of freedom."

Mr Cameron, looking relaxed and confident, rallied the party faithful with promises to tackle crime and improve education.

He returned to taxation again, insisting the Tories would end the "couple penalty" and recognise marriage in the benefits system, adding: "I think at the next election we will be able to offer people the strongest family package any party has put together."

Addressing international issues, Mr Cameron said his top priority would be Afghanistan, claiming his worry was that "we could win the military campaign but start to lose the country".

He went on to wrap up the lengthy speech by challenging Gordon Brown to call an immediate general election to " let the people decide" adding: "We will fight - and Britain will win. " He insisted his party would inspire people with a message of optimism in the "new world".

Calls for a reduction in corporation tax here have been gathering pace since the Industrial Task Force, led by Sir George Quigley, and The Belfast Telegraph launched high-profile campaigns in 2005 urging the Treasury to harmonise tax levels with the Republic.

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