Employment legislation won't be throwback to 1970s, Blair promises

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The Independent Online

Tony Blair held out an olive branch to big business yesterday by pledging that there would be no return to the labour laws of the 1970s and promising that Railtrack shareholders would receive some compensation.

The Prime Minister's comments in a speech to the CBI conference in Birmingham follow complaints from business leaders that the Government is becoming too pro-union.

Mr Blair sought to woo his audience by reassuring them that the workplace legislation the Government plans for this Parliament did not herald a change in approach to the unions. "There will be no new ramp of employment legislation taking us backwards to the 1970s," he said. "The basic settlement in the last Parliament will remain."

The Prime Minister also appeared to soften the Government's hard line on the treatment of Railtrack shareholders, who are demanding £1.9bn in compensation after the Government's decision to wind up the company.

The Government initially insisted that there would be no compensation for Railtrack shareholders. But yesterday Mr Blair said: "Shareholders will receive what they are entitled to." He did not elaborate on this and Downing Street insisted that the Government's position had not changed since Mr Blair said in an interview last week that "shareholders will receive something".

His more conciliatory tone may be designed to deflect criticism from Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Transport, who is speaking at the CBI conference today. One delegate said: "We are keeping hold of the rotten tomatoes until tomorrow afternoon when Byers speaks."

In a wide-ranging speech which was warmly received, Mr Blair also said the Government intended to do more to promote the take-up of broadband services, which offer high-speed internet access and video on demand. The Office of Government Commerce, the organisation charged with improving procurement policy across Whitehall, had been asked to look at whether there was more that could be done to help departments buy broadband more effectively, he said.

Earlier, Britain's e-Envoy, Andrew Pinder, had accused the Treasury of holding back the development of broadband. He said every time he urged the Treasury to give more backing to the roll-out of broadband it responded by pointing out that in areas where the technology was available, there was very little uptake either by business or consumers.