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1993 - Mr Major’s Speech to 1993 Conservative Central Council

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the 1993 Conservative Central Council meeting, held in Harrogate on 6th March 1993.


PRIME MINISTER:

Yesterday this Conference paid its tribute to Nick Ridley.

He was an original. A one-off. And whatever he did he faced the world square on and never once flinched.

The Commons was the poorer when he left it. And the Party is the poorer for his loss.

Mr Chairman, in the last two years events have thrown at this country everything they could.

Abroad - we've had the Gulf War, the Yugoslav war, a world recession that gets worse abroad as it gets better here. There have been plans from Europe that we've had to water down or reject. At home we have had our share of world recession, a difficult general election, and conflicts on Europe that strike deep at the instincts of many in our Party.

Mr Chairman, on these issues it’s right that we should have vigorous debate. When people feel strongly they should express their views. Argue their case. Fight their corner.

But once we have taken our decisions on how to proceed, then I believe we should all support those decisions. The British people put us back in power to carry on with the full range of our policies. They gave us five years to beat inflation, create growth and jobs, improve choice, fight crime and maintain the unity of the United Kingdom.

Mr Chairman, that is what I want to see this Party and this Government do. And I want to see us do it now - and I want to see us do it together. It is in difficult times like these that the Conservative Party most needs to be united - and to stay united.

At the last election we had one of the biggest leads in votes ever recorded. But only a 21 seat majority - now, sadly, for the moment only 20. So these are difficult days. We no longer have a cushion of 100 seats, and those who want us to be successful know what that means. Let me say it bluntly - disunity is a luxury we cannot afford.

Mr Chairman, none of us should forget the scale of the responsibility placed upon us. On April 9th last year, 14 1/4 million people turned to us - people of all ages, all walks of life, from all corners of Britain. Every one different. Each with their own personal hopes and fears. They all trusted us with the hard job that lay ahead.

We must live up to that trust. That does not mean responding to every short-term whim. It does not mean avoiding difficult decisions. It does mean holding fast to the long-term course that will bring us prosperity, growth, and jobs, even in the teeth of short-term difficulties.

Those short-term problems have often caught the headlines. But they have not prevented progress towards our long-term objectives. So let me put it all in perspective. Let me remind you of what we have done in the last eleven months - smack in the middle of a world recession.

I’ll start with the Health Service. Remember what Labour said about health. They said if we won it would be the end of the Health Service. One year on, we have more National Health Service Trust hospitals and more GP fundholders providing better care to more patients than ever before.

The end of the Health Service? One year on, it’s not the NHS that’s falling apart; it is Labour’s scares that have fallen apart. Remember that truly disgraceful election broadcast? That was the one in which Robin Cook predicted the end of the NHS. Well today the Health Service is moving on - and Robin Cook has been moved on. Out on his Jennifer’s ear - and deservedly so.

As hospitals have become self-governing - running their own affairs - so have schools. Over 500 have chosen the new freedom to become Grant Maintained. They have moved out of the hands of local authorities and into the care of governors and parents.

And we’re promoting subject teaching in primary schools - so much more important than vague topic work and generalised themes. So it’s maths, geography, science and history lessons. And putting emphasis right from the start on standard English and on the 3Rs.

That, Mr Chairman, is the right Tory agenda - and we have put it in place in the first year. We’re supporting good teachers and putting the spotlight on the bad. Publishing the exam results of every school.

Mr Chairman, those results should never have been hidden in the first place. Now we've brought them into the open. And they will never be hidden again.

And, one more thing, Mr Chairman. When we talk of publishing the facts, I must say this to those teacher unions that are threatening to boycott tests - you are wrong. Life is a test. You do pupils no good by hiding them from reality.

To teach children what they need to know, we must find out what they don’t know. Tests are an essential part of good schooling. Tests are here to stay. And I hope the teacher union leaders get that message loud and clear from this Conference. And, before I leave education, here’s something for the history books.

By 1996 nearly a quarter of a million extra students will be in college - the biggest expansion ever. And when they are there they won’t have to join the activities of the National Union of Students - because we are ending the NUS closed shop.

That’s the right Tory agenda - and all in the first year. And it is not only the NUS monopoly that is going - remember Neddy, that hangover from the 1960s, that corporatist relic?

Well, that’s gone, too. Unlamented. We have scrapped it. And not before time. We are giving new freedoms to members of Trades Unions. And new powers for every individual to act in court to stop wildcat strikes. All part of the right Tory agenda - and in hand in the first year.

And the Tory programme to promote ownership is rolling forward, too. We have introduced a new incentive for personal pensions. One that will help millions enjoy their retirement in comfort and security.

In housing, we are back on course for the home-owning democracy. We have a new scheme to help tenants become homeowners by treating rents as mortgage payments. We’re giving leaseholders the right to buy their freeholds. And later this spring Michael Howard and his team will launch a new campaign to spread the Right to Buy.

That’s the right Tory agenda - this Government’s agenda. Never mind the news - that’s the reality.

All that sounds like a full menu for a full Parliament. Yet all I have done is to give you a selection of starters. Your starters for 5, 10, 20 years, years in which we will indeed - build a stronger and better Britain.

Fine words, you say. But fine words butter no parsnips. What about jobs? I know that the main thing so many people seek above all is a worthwhile job. That is why, from April, we will have in place the most comprehensive package to help people back to work that we have ever seen in Britain: youth training, Training for Work, Restart, Job interview guarantees, business start up schemes. Schemes that will help up to 1 1/2 million of our fellow citizens keep in touch with the world of work.

And those schemes all have one thing in common. Every one was opposed by the Labour Party. How can they defend that? They call for help for unemployed people and then vote against it.

We want our training schemes to lead to full-time jobs. It’s permanent jobs that people want. The only way to get people permanently back to work is to help the economy grow. To improve our skills. To promote our exports. To widen our manufacturing base. And to make it worthwhile to start new companies.

That’s the road back to jobs. Permanent jobs. Jobs with prospects. And that’s the road we are travelling. The outlook for our economy is good. Interest rates down. Inflation down. Strikes down. Manufacturing productivity up. Retail sales up. Exports up. That’s what’s happening. And that’s the way back to work for Britain. The only way.

The prospects for the Nineties are good. It’s been slow, frustratingly slow. But we are on our way. And don’t just take it from me. Over the next two years Britain is forecast to have the highest rate of growth in Western Europe.

If we have confidence in ourselves others will have confidence in us. And when confidence grows jobs must follow. Some people still haven’t quite grasped the progress we've made.

So let me put this way. 1954 - that’s 39 years ago, the year Roger Bannister ran the 4 minute mile - that was the last time the January inflation rate fell to 1.7%.

And 1956 - 37 years ago, the year Jim Laker took 10 Australian wickets for 88 at the Oval and, no, drat it, I wasn't there! - that was the last time mortgage rates for first time buyers were as low as they are, now.

So, for goodness sake, let’s not belittle what we've done. Let’s not run our prospects down. Let’s leave that to the Labour Party. Day after day they attack us for ‘talking the economy up’. What a crime. What a dreadful thing to do. Trying to instill confidence.

Well, it’s about time we got after them for talking the economy down. When did you last hear John Smith say a good word about Britain?

And another thing, is there anyone here who’s ever seen Gordon Brown smile? No one. I thought not. Is there anyone anywhere who’s ever seen Gordon Brown smile? Is there anyone who wants to see Gordon Brown smile? And by the way, has anyone yet seen Gerald?

Mr Chairman, there’s something else that is absolutely crucial to business confidence - the certainty that Britain will help determine policy in Europe, and not be dragged along behind a policy made by others. We should remember what we have achieved for Britain in Europe this year. We have every right to be proud of it.

We have completed the biggest free trade area the world has ever seen. We have reformed the Common Agricultural Policy after years of squabbling. We have put a ceiling on EC spending right until the end of the century. We have opened up the Community to new members. And we are changing the course of Europe - away from centralism and returning powers to member states.

That is the classic British agenda for Europe. It is not the federalist agenda. On crucial issues we are making sure the final say sits where it should be - right here in Britain. So let’s not fear the future in Europe. Let’s go out and shape the future of Europe. Shape a market of 340 million, where businesses can compete, export and invest wherever they like - where future generations will have opportunities we never dreamed of to work and to travel.

And we must shape a wider Europe. That’s what we decided at Edinburgh - to bring in new member nations, first from Scandinavia and later from central Europe. And we won agreement - against all expectations - that our old friends, the Poles, the Hungarians, and the Czechs would eventually join us.

Do you remember how as the Iron Curtain fell we welcomed them to our Party Conference two years ago? Well, we are still working on their side. And now - in time - we look forward to them joining the European Community, too - as a result of our influence.

The present Community is but a fragment of Europe. Our long- term vision is a Europe without trade barriers, a vast continent of free democracies, from the Urals to the Atlantic and from the Baltic to the Mediterranean.

A Europe full of trade and free of war. We won’t achieve that speedily - but isn't that what we should work for for future generations? So let me tell you what’s at stake. I know the concerns and passions aroused by arguments over our future in Europe. I see them in the House of Commons whenever we debate the Treaty of Maastricht.

I understand the instincts and the patriotic feelings that motivate many in our Party who have doubts about the Treaty. I understand, and share, their pride in Britain’s great past. But we have to build a great future. So let me tell you, clearly and frankly, that I believe the fears of those who resist our European policy are mistaken.

Mistaken because they underestimate what we have achieved in our negotiations in Europe.

Mistaken because they have failed to focus on our wider vision of Europe.

Mistaken because if we step aside from what we have agreed there would be an enormous economic price to pay.

There would be an immediate blow to economic recovery. International investors, who have poured money into Britain, £100,000 million in the last five years, would turn their backs on us.

Those investors want access to the European market. And if we sidelined ourselves they would no longer be certain that that would be the case. That is why the price of standing aside from the agreement we freely made would be heavy. As Douglas Hurd told you yesterday, it would be £50 billion off our national production over the next five years. I wonder how many jobs that would cost?

And then there is that Social Chapter - another threat to jobs. Surely no-one in this Party - for any reason - would give houseroom to that. Where we want to be is on the inside track to prosperity, and outside the grasp of bureaucracy and socialism. Inside Europe and outside the Social Chapter.

I know our Party. I cannot believe that anyone, when they have considered all the facts, could want to let slip those opportunities before us.

Let me tell you what I believe. To do so would be to take a conscious decision to become irrelevant in Europe. That would be a decision not only for our time, but for our children’s also. It would be the surest possible way to impoverish our country and damage our standing in the world - almost beyond repair.

So let us put aside the fears and hesitations that hold our Party back. We may have our differences. But they are as nothing to the things that unite us.

So let us take the chance we have today - to mould Europe in our own image. Don’t let us shirk that challenge. In a thousand years of history we never have. And we must not now.

Mr Chairman, I want British industry to win not just in Europe, but around the world. I want a different attitude to industry at every level in this country. I want people to see that making things matters. I want more that matters to be made in Britain.

Our exporters need to know that the Government supports them. And where we can help to open doors and free up markets we will always do so. That’s why in the Autumn Statement we committed £700 million extra to help British companies win new orders. And when our businessmen travel abroad I expect all our embassies to work with them. Cultural exchanges are fine - but I want export deals as well.

Mr Chairman, exports are booming. Leaving the factories faster than journalists leaving the Daily Mirror. Mirror, mirror, on the wall - are there any journalists left there at all? In the battle for exports I want Government out there in the field foursquare behind our businesses.

A few weeks ago, I spent the morning in India, lunched in the desert in Oman, and had dinner in a palace in Saudi Arabia. And that day, as a result of months of effort by business and Government working together, we won orders for British goods worth billions and safeguarded thousands of jobs. These days there are no easy exports. The world is too competitive for that. More competitive than ever before.

Those countries that once were captive markets are now manufacturing themselves or challenging us as rivals. The countries on the Pacific Rim have developed massive industries of their own. China is set to become a huge manufacturing power in the century to come. Against that background, we need to help British companies carve out a bigger place for Britain. But before we export, we have to manufacture. And we have to manufacture quality.

That’s why we need to build up craft skills and practical training in every part of Britain. End once and for all that senseless prejudice against the best of our brains going into commerce and industry. That prejudice is damaging - and we can no longer accept it.

Mr Chairman, by helping business I don’t mean artificial subsidies to industries. I mean setting the right economic structure for business. I mean pursuing the right policies for business. I mean having the right curriculum in our schools. I mean reforming vocational training. I mean lifting burdens from the back of businesses.

Of course, we need some regulations. But there are people in Brussels, in local councils and, yes, in Whitehall who seem to have a mania to hold back the future in a mesh of pettifogging detail.

So I have told every Department of State: scrap unnecessary regulation. It’s a simple message. Red tape means lost jobs. And that doesn't only apply to large companies like ICI. It applies to the smallest businesses and local services too.

You know what I mean. Health and safety enthusiasts bent on eliminating every conceivable - and inconceivable - risk. Local councils badgering good nursery schools when they’d be better employed helping them.

The food safety people who tell us that what we've been eating for generations will certainly kill us if we don’t stop instantly. Well we’ll certainly die a good deal sooner if we do stop eating instantly. Mr Chairman, it’s all gone way over the top. Well, I’d rather it went in the bin.

Isn't it barmy? Would Drake have been in time to meet the Armada, and would Nelson have made Trafalgar, if an inspector had been on hand to say ‘Hold everything - we haven’t checked the ship’s biscuits!”

Mr Chairman, I said earlier that one of the reasons we were elected was to keep up the fight against crime. Vandalism; burglary; car theft. Crimes against property; crimes of violence; crimes involving drugs.

The fear of crime lies deep in the instincts of law-abiding people. They find it hard to understand how others move outside the law, careless of the interests of their neighbours, preying on the property of others, even threatening their lives. I said last week that we need to understand less and to condemn a little more. That was not a simple cry for retribution.

My point was this. Unless society sets rules and standards and enforces them, we cannot be surprised if others flout them. It’s true we mustn't exaggerate the problem. Compared to many others in the world, Britain is still a safe country.

But those who point to that and say ‘do nothing’ are wrong. I say to those people: even if the problem here is smaller, it’s still far too big. And every single victim of crime in this country will agree with that.

That’s why this Government has done so much to step up crime prevention and crack down on crime. There are too many violent offences - that’s why we have increased penalties against them, especially for those thugs who go out carrying firearms.

There is too much drug dealing - that’s why we've taken powers to confiscate the assets of those who sell drugs and wreck the lives of young people. There have been too many lenient sentences - that’s why we've given the Attorney General power to refer sentences to the Court of Appeal. And one final example - it is intolerable that some offenders charged with a crime go out and commit another while they’re on bail. I want to see those further offences reflected in the sentences they receive.

Mr Chairman, there can be no doubt about where this Party stands in the fight against crime. And no doubt about the support we have given to those who fight it. We have given our police forces better pay and more resources than any Government in history. Now we must help them get even better results in everything they do. That is why we are now reviewing the effectiveness and the organisation of British police. I want our police to the most modern and the most efficient crime-fighting force in the world.

Mr Chairman, the issue of crime runs deep. To catch and to punish is to deter. But we want to prevent crime too. So we must go to the roots of why some young people do what they do. Too many children have been denied the proper guidance they need in their own homes and schools. Of course, the authority of the family comes in here.

And, yes, the churches - they may have a legitimate role to criticise, but they certainly have a role to play. And there’s another factor that goes right home in every sense. And that’s too much violence in videos and on television. What we watch is the single biggest influence on many people’s thinking.

We’re an open society. We can’t censor television. But we can say to parents - control what your children watch. And we can say to those who make and distribute films and videos - think whether a relentless diet of violence won’t have a serious effect on the young. And we can say to television programmers - don’t just be careful when you show it, be careful what you show.

Mr Chairman, Government alone cannot change behaviour. Concepts of right and wrong are something for all of us. But there are some things Government can do - and we will.

First, truancy. It is stark staring obvious to me that if children are staying out of school, they are not learning what they should be and they are probably learning what they shouldn't. For too long the facts on truancy have been hidden by a conspiracy of silence. So from this autumn in our new league tables we will make all schools publish openly their levels of attendance.

We will find out where the problem is worst. We’ll target it and tackle it. I want our children in class. Not in trouble. And, Mr Chairman, we are taking another step. This morning Ken Clarke told you about his new proposals to set up secure centres for that hard core of youngsters who go on offending and reoffending, devoid, it seems, of any sense of fear or guilt about what they do.

Some say we shouldn't respond. They say it’s a relatively minor concern. I don’t agree. I say that not to respond would be a double dereliction of duty. A dereliction of duty to the public at large. And, worse, a dereliction to those children. Because we let children down if we don’t set boundaries and enforce them. For their own good and for the good of their communities we must take those persistent young offenders off the streets.

It is a clear-cut idea, carefully worked up over these last few months, targeted directly at an obvious gap in the law. How strange - but how very revealing - that in a matter of minutes it was condemned out of hand by the new model Labour Party. When I heard that, it sounded just like the old unreconstructed Labour Party to me.

When the test came they failed it - so let’s give them another chance. We'll set them another test. Eleven times in all Labour have voted against the Prevention of Terrorism Act. I find that unbelievable.

And so, I suspect, do the people in the battle against terrorism who are putting their lives on the line to protect the lives of others. Terrorism is the biggest crime of all. So for Labour let it be the biggest test of all. So no hedging, no weaving, no messing about. Let them vote with us next week - or pipe down about crime.

Mr Chairman, I've reminded you of some of the things we have done in these last few months - and set out some of our plans for the future. As always this Party is a reforming Party. And as a nation we need to reform. Because we live in a rapidly changing world. Change can be frightening. We must manage it carefully. Nurture it to our national advantage. Our watchword is - to hold on to the best of the past and to create the best for the future.

Mr Chairman, last March it was at this Central Council that we launched the General Election campaign - the election that no-one thought we could win. We took our message to every part of our country. It was the roughest, toughest campaign for years. But we won it.

And how did we win? By sticking to our principles. By keeping our nerve. By standing together. And, above all, by staying together. United. That’s how we won - and that’s a lesson we must never forget.