Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech at the Newspaper Society Luncheon, held on Wednesday 5th May 1993.
Can I say that I do regard today as an important occasion to talk about some of the particular difficulties and some of the opportunities that are faced by the press generally but most importantly in terms of today's occasion, the regional press. It does I believe have a very special place in our community and I want to touch upon that in a little more detail in a few moments.
It is a rapidly changing industry, it has come a huge way since that old and hoary
headline we all know about the sinking of the Titanic, Aberdeen Man Feared Lost at
I teased about Aberdeen Man Lost at Sea. But I have to say, despite the modern attitudes
of your industry, despite the changes in it, the headline writers still occasionally
have a tricky job. For example, I have in my hand the Lynn News. Those people who
wonder whether I read the press now know that I read the regional press. And last
week's Lynn News announced: "MP introduces his bride-
My current favourite headline does not as it happens come from today's press but
from headlines: "Better times", it says, "are really on the way". I think that should
be good news for everyone although of course good news for some is bad news for others.
And to quote a recent headline in the Financial Times: "British recovery worries
Mr President, let me say something about how I see the importance of your industry.
Or perhaps a little better, let me quote Alan Proper from the Kent Messenger Group,
and I do so now: "The strength of the regional press lies in binding together local
communities and giving people back a sense of belonging." I think that is right.
And in giving us just that you often, as you hinted in your modest remarks earlier,
Mr President, you often out-
So far as public figures are concerned you may think different circumstances apply. I certainly know, and I see a number of my Parliamentary colleagues from different parties here today, I know many Members of Parliament are tempted to use Sir Jacob Astley's prayer. He wrote as follows:
"Oh Lord, thou knowest how busy I shall be this day,
If I forget thee, do not thou forget me."
A very wise man, Sir Jacob Astley, and any Westminster politician who thinks he can forget the real Britain and forget his local newspapers will be out of touch now and probably be out of office later.
I welcome unreservedly, and I say so not simply because Harry Roach is sitting opposite
me, I would have said it anyway, if you spent Tuesday and Thursday afternoons like
I do you lose that sense of delicacy, I welcome unreservedly yesterday's statement
by the Press Standard's Board of Finance outlining measures to strengthen self-
The best of the national press can be very good even though it may not thunder like the times of delaying, often it drizzles, sometimes it drizzles acid rain. There are moments when Quintus Flyde of the People's Vanner appears to have leapt straight from the pages of Trollop into contemporary journalism. Quintus Flyde was very fierce with politicians and I think it has to be said that politicians are sometimes very fierce with the Quintus Flydes. Baldwin's memorable remarks about press power and responsibility have travelled famously down the years.
And last night reading in the watches of the night that remarkable Martin Gilbert biography of Churchill I came across Churchill's letter to The Times complaining that his editorials had, in his words, and now I quote, "been a very important adverse factor in the life and strengths of the British Empire and Commonwealth." And he went on, in remarkable fashion: "Time after time they have thrown their immense weight on the wrong side and such is their power that they have been able, again and again, to blow away the head of every front or formation which could be made to keep Britain great and strong."
Thank goodness it is not like that today. Churchill, you may equally be interested to know, wrote his letter, but as Martin Gilbert faithfully reports, he did not send his letter which suggests that underneath the frustration there was a very practical politician indeed.
Now obviously, just as the press has responsibilities to the public, so the government
has responsibilities to let the public and the press know the state of our thinking.
We will never be proscribers but there is a common climate of anxiety about malevolent
abuse. Contemplate for a moment, particularly important I believe to the regional
and local press, the new opportunities to challenge government and public services.
Under the Citizen's Charter we are publishing more information about public services,
about school league tables, hospital waiting times and shortly the performance of
local authorities as well, comparing one with another. Rich pickings for local reporters,
bad news for the inefficient, ammunition for the awkward squads and even fun for
We are giving, too, much more detail of the thinking behind government policies.
Ten times more background information accompanied this year's budget compared with
15 years ago and we are opening up the process of government, Cabinet Committees,
historical records, disputed criminal verdicts, the Channel Island occupation papers,
even the secret of the FCO Sphynx Suez -
In recent weeks, Mr President, a cascade of economic information has been released that suggests we are moving out of recession and back into growth. The recovery is in its infancy but it is growing daily, GDP up 0.6 percent in the first quarter; new car registrations 11.5 percent up on a year ago; manufacturing output up; construction orders up; retail sales at record levels; exports at record levels; unemployment down for the second month in succession. And business optimism, so vital, that instinct, that feel that people have for what is likely to happen in the future, business optimism, as assessed by the CBI, the highest for 10 years. Other surveys, private sector, not government surveys, paint the same picture.
And the vital ingredient for our economic future is confidence, confidence that recovery has started, confidence it can be sustained, confidence we can compete successfully abroad in manufacturing and services. But confidence and recovery need to be earned. It was the long hard slog to get inflation down, down from nearly 11 percent to just 1.9 percent, that laid the foundation for recovery. We started that process before we joined the Exchange Rate Mechanism and the benefits had started to come through before we left the Exchange Rate Mechanism. Interest rates had been cut from 15 percent to 10 percent before last September. GDP had stabilised before September and started growing again in the second half of last year. And it is now clear that retail sales, industrial production and manufacturing Investment all started to recover from around the middle of last year. So anyone who argues that leaving the Mechanism was the sole cause of recovery should inform themselves by looking at those facts. We were cutting inflation and cutting interest rates well before and recovery was starting to show through, but we could not have sustained recovery if we had not already got inflation under control. And those conditions, low inflation, low interest rates, competitive exchange rates combined with high productivity, those are the quiet enormously influential guarantors of sustained recovery for the future.
Of course our recession was exacerbated by a slow-
Mr President, in recent months public and parliamentary debates have been dominated
by the economy and by the Maastricht Bill. And one of the effects of that has been
that a vast range of reforming legislation has been passing through Parliament in
some cases almost without notice, other than perhaps by those Parliamentarians who
spent so many hours debating it, discussing it, reforming it and amending it. Recently
I asked my staff to draw up a list of our manifesto commitments and the progress
that we had made thus far in putting them into effect. On a rough estimate we have
already fulfilled rather more than one-
And we have had resounding successes in taking important reforming measures through
And neither I think should we overlook some of the other notable successes, the dogs
that did not bark, the successful introduction of the Council Tax and the long awaited
reforms of health care in London. And then there is a whole list of solid achievements,
of far reaching reforms that just over a year ago people said would never happen
We are bringing the fresh air of private enterprise into the railways and we are
saying that public services -
So away from the headlines, away from the smoke and fire of Westminster, we have been pushing ahead with a radical agenda to extend choice, open up opportunity and enable more people to know the pride of ownership. That is what has been happening.
In the year ahead I want us to make more progress on that vital domestic political
agenda and I want to single out just two areas where we will be moving the debate
forward. Firstly, and I make no apology for putting it first -
For I am personally in no doubt at all, when that smoke and fire spoke about has cleared away and the Maastricht Treaty is concluded and the immediate concerns and day to day high publicity of the economy have been swept to one side, the matter that is most likely to be on the minds of all of our fellow citizens up and down the country is the need for us to deal firmly with the concerns that they face about crime and the determination to uphold law and order and it is right for Parliament to put it in the centre of its concerns, and that I am determined is precisely where it will be.
And secondly, businessmen tell me time after time about the problem that they face
But unnecessary bureaucracy is a drain on the economy. No-
There is a great deal that needs to be done, a great deal that want to do, a great
deal that I believe the people of this country want to see Parliament do if we are
going to build on the reforms of the 1980s and turn Britain into a country that will
succeed in the 1990s. That is why the legislative programme this year is so full;
that is why the legislative programme next year -
We live, I believe, in the most rapidly-
It is very easy -
It will need changes. Sometimes they will be painful changes. Change is often difficult,
often debilitating, often something people would like to put aside and wish it wasn't
necessary but unless we wish to decline, we must face up to many of the needs that
we see for changes and implement those changes during this particular decade. I want
to be certain that when we start the next Milllennium in 80-
Mr. President, let me just finally turn back, if I may, to your own industry. It
shouldn't, I think, surprise you that I feel a certain sympathy and kinship for your
industry. After all, politicians and some journalists hold an equal place in the
public's esteem -
So let us see who can improve their rating fastest. We, the Government and the newspaper
industry national and local, won't always agree, Mr. President, but let us join forces
in one thing at least. As I said a moment ago, our world is fast changing, disturbing
and too many people are uncertain of the future, fearful of losing much that is traditional
and valuable about our society -
Alan Sprossor spoke of the danger of people becoming -
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
I ask this question, Prime Minister, not because I am sitting opposite you [indistinct]
[laughter] I was very pleased indeed to hear the fact that you welcomed the improvements
that [indistinct] announced yesterday about self-
Let me say firstly to Harry it is unsurprising you should have a question in mind and I answer it not because I'm sitting opposite you but because I am happy to deal with what is a very important point.
Let me elaborate firstly on the question of self-
Let me tell you some of the instincts I have about press regulation. I have made it clear before and I am happy to make it clear again today that I am reluctant to go down the route of statutory press complaints tribunals. I am reluctant to do that. I have made that clear before and am happy to reiterate that point today. We have reserved our position but our reluctance is genuine.
We have accepted the recommendations that Calcutt produced for criminal offences of unwanted intrusion into people's privacy. We have done that because we think there is a difficult balance to be kept. There is firstly upon the one hand the legitimate right of the press to investigate and report and as I said a few moments ago when I spoke to you, I am not a proscriber, I am not in the business of restricting the legitimate rights of investigation of the press but I do want to balance it with the legitimate right to privacy of individuals as well. It is a difficult balance to keep but it is one in my experience that the regional and local press particularly have well understood over many years and well appreciate.
We all know from time to time that the desire to know goes further than the desire
to know legitimately ought in the interests of the individual and you have seen the
sort of occasions I mean: where there is a vast collection of people with bugging
devices, telephoto lenses and a degree of intrusion and harassment often of people
in a very defensive position, perhaps when someone has died in a very emotional situation
and I think many people think that goes too far. Much of that is for self-
We are considering precisely how we should proceed. I think it is right that we should take a good deal of time to do so because it is a very important series of principles that are at stake. They are not principles that all lie on one side of the argument. There are legitimate principles over the right to know as well as legitimate concerns over the right to privacy. I don't want to make a snap judgement on what might be in any proposals we produce. Let me say to you: when we produce those proposals, it will only have been after the greatest consideration and care and with no intention to do violence to the traditional freedom of the press. That is not our intention and we will announce our conclusions when we have finished our consideration. That, I fear, will be a little way ahead [applause].
Yes, I do, but let me say a few general words and then I'll come directly to article 3B which for those of you who have been carefully following the debates in the House of Commons through day and night and not reading Martin Gilbert's biographies will know is the clause that actually deals with subsidiarity.
Let me say a word or two about Europe first. There are three sorts of people who look at Europe and our position in it.
There are those who wish in their hearts we were never part of it and the world was
still as it was a long time ago and that we were still sending Henry II abroad to
teach the French how to behave [laughter] -
Then there are those who are full of the milk of human idealism and do actually see a great deal of advantage in a centralised Europe.
I would suggest to you that both of those two extremes are a minority of opinion amongst the British people.
And then there are the vast majority of people, amongst whom I stand myself, who
look across the European Community and see the reality of what life is industrially
and commercially and the opportunities that exist for us if we play a part in it
and the disadvantages that lie ahead for us if we do not. Those people, I believe,
take my view that we are in the European Community, 60% of our exports go to the
European Community. We export more to Germany these days than we do to the United
States and Japan added together. There are vastly important markets for us and for
our industry and the European Community of which we are a part makes the rules that
govern this great free-
We have a choice: get out and lose many of those markets; stand aside without influence and let the French, the Germans, the Dutch and the Spanish make the rules that will govern the way our industry operates or get in the middle of it and actually form alliances with other people who think as we do and ourselves begin to frame the sort of European Community that is compatible to us and compatible to the rest of the European Community and there I must say is where I take my stand as to the right policy for the United Kingdom.
There are those who say to us: "But you never win!" Where have they been these people
who say we never win? Who invented the Single Market, the free-
Who pushed for the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy? The British pushed for the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.
Who want the European Community to widen and bring in the EFTAn states? The British wanted it to widen and bring in the EFTAn states and why? Because what we have at the moment is a fragment of Europe, not the real Europe; it is a fragment of Europe.
Bring in the EFTAns and you bring in free traders, you bring in people who will contribute to the Community budget and you make it infinitely more likely that you will have the sort of European Community that will be amenable to you as a businessman and to every other businessman in this country.
And then lift our eyes for a moment above the mundane problems of commerce and the
profit and loss account nationally or at company level. Twice this century the world
has gone to war and the war has started in Western Europe. That is inconceivable
and the principal reason it is inconceivable is that intermeshing of trade that has
come about over the past 30 to 40 years in the European Community, that interlinking
of mutual self-
That is -
What was I doing last night? I was discussing with the new French Prime Minister
the virtues of subsidiarity with which he wholeheartedly agrees. What was I doing
in Salzburg when I went to see Chancellor Kohl on his health cure? [Laughter] I was
actually eating a five-
It is not just we who feel frustrated about it. Ask the French how they feel about the fact that they are often stifled and you will get the same sort of response that you had a moment ago. Ask the Germans how they feel about subsidiarity with the troubles they have got between their federal parliament and the their Lander all the way around Germany.
What has changed in the European Community is that Britain no longer stands alone. That is what has changed and we have the opportunity of forming those alliances and shaping in a way we have not previously had the sort of Community in concert with our partners that we like.
Let me put this point to you. If any other European country suddenly said: "We are going to do it all our way and the rest of you in the Community can follow on behind!" If the French said that, the British would be up in arms and equally, I have to say to you that when the British beat their chests and say: "In a Community of Twelve we are going to do it our way or not at all!" the same frustration, the same blockage, the same breaking of links that will actually reach concrete results also comes about so I no longer am Henry II. I cannot go abroad and impose my will. I have to negotiate and agree what is right for this country but I don't have any doubt that it is right for us to be there, right for us to create our sort of Community and I have no doubt that the principle of subsidiarity
[small section missing]
I put it at its simplest. The Maastricht Treaty is in British national interest.
If I had wanted cheap, short-