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1994 - Mr Major’s Speech at Lord Mayor’s Banquet

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in London, held on 14th November 1994.


PRIME MINISTER:

It is now some 80 years since the then Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, looked out from his office across St James's Park and wrote these famous words in his diary: "The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetimes".

He was right. The War brought horrors no-one imagined; and changes which have shaped our century. It led to economic crisis, to dictatorship in many countries, and finally to a tense peace in an armed and divided Europe.

And yet, as our century draws towards its close, these changes are being reversed. The lights have come on again all across Europe.

As they have done so, they have illuminated some dark corners of the Cold War. Ethnic tensions, seen at their worst in the country that used to be called Yugoslavia.

But overwhelmingly the ledger is favourable. East/West relations are no longer conducted through the balance of nuclear terror.

Europe has become, not two blocs, but a single Continent.

The Soviet Empire has gone, ancient states have reappeared, subject nations have gained freedom.

In South Africa, apartheid has gone and majority rule has been established.

In the troubled Middle East a settlement of the Arab/Israeli conflict seems at last genuinely at hand.

All around the world, democratic multi-party states are appearing in countries which previously only knew despotism and one party rule.

In our own kingdom the guns are silent in Northern Ireland. The talks which once seemed impossible may now start within a few weeks, and the demand for peace is deafening.

Two months ago, as I watched the last of our troops leave Berlin after fifty years, I said "We have before us possibilities of peace, freedom and friendship that we have never had before". If we are wise, Europe can enjoy a new Age of Reason.

Lord Mayor, problems that seemed likely to be with us for ever are being solved. We have good cause for hope and optimism.

The world economy is recovering. Our markets in Europe are growing. At home we have the possibility - probability - that we may at last have broken the inflationary psychology that time and time again has dragged down our prospects and held back our living standards.

You might be forgiven for thinking this must be an illusion. This is not the way people think. This is not the message we hear daily. But perhaps we are too ready to believe the worst of ourselves, of each other, of our institutions.

I believe we need to overcome that. Let us by all means judge ourselves sternly. But let us do so with balance and perspective.

Nolan

Recently, a series of events have cast doubt over standards in public life. The attention given to them must have led people to wonder whether those in public life are there only to serve their own interests.

I don't believe they are.

But we do need to re-assure people that public life is not self serving.

The committee chaired by Lord Nolan will help with this.

If the rules governing conduct in public life are vague or unsatisfactory, Nolan will clarify them. But his task is not just to meet immediate questions. It is to act as a running authority of reference - almost, you might say, an ethical workshop called in to do running repairs.

Parliament

We need the best people to serve in our institutions. In my own trade, in Parliament, I shrink from the notion of the wholly professional politician, whose expertise is honed only to the pursuit of power, preference and political ideology.

We would not benefit from a monastic Commons, a chamber of high minds, a conventicle of saints, grateful that they are not like other men and women, 650 lives devoted to jumping ever and again over the hurdles and fences of standing and select committee and the chamber. That wouldn't be a real Commons: it would be a sort of Bore of the Year show.

We politicians are in this world and we must know how this world works. The solicitor, the accountant, the shopkeeper, the trade unionist certainly, the farmer, the stockbroker, the journalist comes equipped with that knowledge.

Why on earth hang it up like the boots of a retired sportsman?

Consistent with the priority of Parliamentary duties, it must be right for MPs to have other interests, but parliament should not be, as frankly it sometimes has been, a way to other jobs. The Commons is an assembly, a forum, above all, a legislature. It needs all trades, but it should not be a hiring fair.

Standards

Our standards are stricter today. Some nostalgics may doubt that. If they do, I invite them to look at history. Can you imagine the current coverage if the Prime Minister of the day disappeared for hours, toured Soho, and returned to Downing Street with a galaxy of ladies and held an impromptu prayer meeting in the front hall of Number 10? In Gladstone's days, people knew nothing about such activities. They would now!

We no longer live nowadays, thank goodness, in a "deference society", where you are respected for who you are, not what you are. I welcome that. But let's not swing too far in the other direction.

The freedom to comment, to attack, to condemn, to expose public institutions and public figures, is very great. In a free society such as ours it is very important. But such power should only be used with responsibility.

Most people in public life are there because they want to do something for others. What we must be concerned about is that their motives are not so denigrated; that they are not so unreasonably subjected to scrutiny and pressure that their successors will not come forward. We must ensure that we do not reach a situation where people are not prepared to serve the public good because the price of doing so is so high.

Public Sector

We not only need the right people in public service.

We also need to improve the accountability of public service.

It is damaging if there appears to be some kind of inside track - a gulf between those who know how to play the system and others who do not. My sympathy is with those who sit on the outside track.

That is why, when I became Prime Minister, I brought in the Citizen's Charter - to give power and, as far as possible, choice to the people who use public services. They pay for them with their taxes and they are entitled to the same courtesy and service they would expect if they were cash-on-the-nail private customers.

That is why we are telling people what they should expect from public service and then giving them the information to judge whether they are receiving it.

This new accountability, new openness, in public service shows up deficiencies more readily. This is uncomfortable but it is right.

Government has been too secret too long. That is why we launched a code of practice on access to Government information, with statutory access rights to personal records and health and safety information. That is why I published "Questions of Procedure for Ministers" and the membership and terms of reference of Cabinet Committees. And that is why I have opened up greater access to public records.

I am sure this is right and we will continue with it.

Business

Business, too - like public service - is now held up to greater public scrutiny. British capitalism has become capitalism with a conscience. For some, it always has been, but now it is for most. Businesses up and down the country recognise much wider responsibilities than to make profits for shareholders.

To the Cadburys and Frys we add the Sainsburys, the Clores and the thousands of corporate business donors in Charities Aid Foundation reports. Round the country - including here in the City - we see businesses involved in the local community, in crime prevention schemes, helping young people in inner cities, improving the environment and much more besides.

But there is more that business can do to further improve its image.

There is no doubting the resentment that large and often unjustified pay rises can cause. So I welcome what Sir Bryan Nicholson, the President of the CBI, had to say about the need for responsibility in setting the pay of company executives.

The power is there to control this. I hope it will be used.

Economy

My Lord Mayor, right across the economy the reality is turning out to be the opposite of what so many pundits predicted.

We were told when the recovery came, we'd see a widening trade gap. Wrong, the trade gap has been shrinking.

We were told manufacturing investment was a thing of the past. Wrong, manufacturing investment is growing healthily.

We were told we couldn't break out of the inflationary stop-go cycle. Wrong, inflation and pay settlements are at their lowest level for a generation.

We are hugely competitive. And with the markets for our goods moving from recession to growth, the export outlook has rarely been rosier.

We're exporting nearly 40 per cent more telecoms equipment, nearly 40 per cent more microchips. British Steel, an industrial basket-case in the early 1980s is now one of the most efficient steel producers in the world.

Nor is it all that long ago that the British motor industry seemed to be in terminal decay. We heard more of strikes than successes. Now it is set to become a net exporter of cars. And Triumph Motorcycles - that illustrious name, dead in the water in the '70s - is now exporting top of the range British motorcycles once more to Japan, Germany and Italy.

The people who say we can't make things are the people who are out of touch. They should get in their British car, on their British motorbike, on their British bicycle, and go and see for themselves how British industry is making more and selling more, all round the world.

Day by day we see the evidence. Low inflation, falling unemployment, rising investment, increasing competitiveness, more modern and efficient management. This is the reality of the changing economic and industrial face of Britain today.

Northern Ireland

My Lord Mayor, on this occasion a year ago I said that we had a better opportunity for peace in Northern Ireland than for years. One month later, we launched the Downing Street Declaration. Since then, the opportunity for peace has begun to turn into reality.

The reality of border crossings reopening; fewer troops on the streets; turnover in High Streets rising sharply; people going out at night rather than staying at home.

Few people would have forecast all this a year ago. Yet, today, hope is abroad, and any group that imperils progress will not carry hearts and minds in Northern Ireland.

The deplorable murder of a Newry postal worker, Mr Frank Kerr, last week has shown what risks still abound. Revulsion and anger at this murder reinforces the need to deal with the weapons held by both Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries.

That is one of the purposes of the exploratory dialogue which we are ready to begin with Sinn Fein before the end of the year.

Tonight, I can tell you that we have decided also to hold exploratory talks with Loyalist political representatives. I hope that these talks too will open before the end of December. The purpose in both cases is the same: to draw them into democratic politics and out of violence.

The Downing Street Declaration laid out a level playing field for the politics of Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein and the Loyalists can take advantage of this. They can assert their point of view freely and fairly.

But they must accept democratic practice. Illegal weapons and explosives must be taken out of commission. There must be an end to intimidation and punishment beatings. Racketeering and criminality must end as well. These are the essential conditions for democratic legitimacy.

In the months ahead, attention will focus on political developments. But peace will also unlock an economic transformation: the jobs, the companies, the investment that Northern Ireland needs.

So, my Lord Mayor, in a month's time, we shall be holding an international investment conference in Northern Ireland.

It will be the largest that Northern Ireland has ever seen.

We intend to make sure that investors around the world know about the new opportunities that are now opening up. To give just one example, new air routes are opening up. Two new routes from Belfast have started since the ceasefire, and two more are under trial - one from the City Airport to Londonderry. People are already coming into Northern Ireland. Hotel bookings are up, and enquiries to the Tourist Board rose by nearly 100% in October.

Such economic growth can help cut off the oxygen of terrorism.

My Lord Mayor, I am delighted that you have accepted my invitation to this Conference. The City has itself suffered grievously from the hatred unleashed in Northern Ireland. It can now play a part in ending this for good.

Peroration

My Lord Mayor, it's been quite a day. Breakfast at the Tower and dinner in the Guildhall.

And as I got up to launch the new National Lottery, the first fare paying passengers were boarding the new Eurostar train service to Paris and Brussels through the Channel Tunnel.

Both projects have long histories. We have had previous failed attempts at building a Channel Tunnel. And we have had previous National Lotteries - in one of which Treasury officials walked off with the prize money.

But today, both projects have been brought to fruition.

We should be more self-confident as a nation - in what we have achieved and will achieve: more confident in our institutions: in our way of life; and in our capacity to win in this fiercely competitive world.

Let us concentrate on the things that really matter. Build up the present renaissance of our industry. Capitalise on this the finest financial centre in the world. And exploit the great economic opportunities before us.

My Lord Mayor, today our future is in our hands. I am reminded of those lines of Wordsworth's:

"Enough if something from our hands have power to live, and act, and serve the future hour."

The Channel Tunnel; the National Lottery; the opening up of Government; the economic transformation in Britain; the end of violence in Northern Ireland; the hopeful sight of a New Age of Reason. All these will serve not just this passing hour, but lay down lasting foundations for the long-term strength of our country.

My Lord Mayor, I believe in this country's future. It is a time for hope, and a time for confidence. Let us show those qualities - and there will be few limits to what this country can achieve.