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1991 - Mr Major’s Speech at 1991 Welsh Conservative Party Conference

Below is Mr Major's speech to the 1991 Welsh Conservative Party Conference in Swansea on Friday 14th June 1991.


PRIME MINISTER:

This is my first opportunity to speak to the Welsh Conference as Prime Minister. I look forward with pleasure to many more. The Conservative Party is giving a clear lead in Wales, setting the agenda for all the other parties. Much of the credit for that goes to David Hunt and his team. They are doing a superb job. I am lucky to have them. And so is Wales.

Their work and their commitment makes me even more determined to lead this Party forward in Wales. Not only to win back Monmouth, Brecon and Radnor and Ynys Mon. But to take other seats as well. And, with your help, when the day comes we will achieve it.

In politics - as in life - it is easy to miss the turning-points. Only afterwards are we able to say: this was when it was clear the struggle was being won. This was when determination, grit and patience began to yield their rewards.

I believe, right now, that we are at one of those turning-points. For we have seen, over the past week, an unmistakeable advance in this country’s toughest economic battle - against inflation. We learnt in the 1980s how easily it can counter-attack against economic prosperity. And we know how painful it can be to force it back again.

Over eighteen months ago as Chancellor my first action was to set a course against inflation. So I take particular pleasure in the signs of success we are now seeing. It is not merely that the all-important inflation headline has fallen sharply this week - and is now down over five percentage points since last autumn’s peak. Today’s figure is an encouraging 5.8 per cent.

But more important is what this week’s figures say for the future. New realism in pay bargaining, which has brought the average increase down sharply this spring. And a new flexibility and variety in settlements. At the same time we have seen long-awaited evidence of a slowdown in price increases charged at the factory gate.

The message of this week’s figures is of real success. On any sensible measure, underlying inflation is coming down. We are coming into line with the best of Europe. We are learning how to compete, and to win. And we can be more confident still that our forecast for the end of this year - an inflation rate of only 4 per cent - will be met. And it will fall further next year. It has been a hard battle against inflation, fought during a world recession. But the news this week shows that we are succeeding.

Six months ago, three urgent tasks faced us:

- to prepare for a possible Gulf War and to steer Britain through whatever crisis arose;

- to sort out what seemed then to be the insoluble problems of local government finance, and;

- to reverse rising inflation and interest rates and set the economy back on the road to recovery.

GULF WAR

It did come to war in the Gulf despite all our efforts. In that war our Armed Forces, including many young men and women from Wales, performed superbly. They were well armed, well trained and well supported. We can be proud of what they did - and how they did it.

But now there are some who argue for concessions to be made to Iraq. I am not among them. So long as Saddam Hussein stays in power, we will maintain our firm line. We will veto any UN resolution to drop sanctions on Iraq. In the last six months we have driven Saddam out of Kuwait. His weapons of mass destruction are being destroyed. Of course he will lie and cheat - he is doing. But we will dog his footsteps. By whatever means it takes we will not allow Iraq to rebuild its nuclear, biological and chemical arsenal. So there should be no doubt. Iraq cannot return to the international community of nations white Saddam Hussein remains in control.

At the war’s end, when we saw the tragedy of the Kurds unfolding, it was Britain who took the initiative to help them. Again, some derided our efforts to bring help to the Kurds. But we continued to press our “safe havens” proposal. And first the European, then the whole international community accepted our ideas. The ‘safe havens’ were established and a human tragedy of enormous proportions was avoided. We can be proud that it was Britain that took the lead in bringing support to the Kurds.

COUNCIL TAX

Meanwhile, at home we were tackling a second acute problem that faced us last November. To cut through the divisive problems of local government finance.

Norman Lamont’s reforming Budget dramatically eased the burden of payment on local taxpayers. It made a £140 cut in headline charges. And gave extra help where it was most needed.

Then, in April, we published detailed proposals for a new Council Tax. It avoids the disaster of a return to the rates against which this Party rightly campaigned for so long. We are now converting our plans into legislation for the very next Session of Parliament, while Labour are still floundering, trying to fathom out just how their unrealistic rates policy will work.

COMING OUT OF RECESSION

The third great task we faced last November was to lead Britain out of the world recession. That recession is not unique to this country. It has hit economies as strong as the United States and as far apart as Canada and Australia. But as we come out of recession, we need to look to the future. We need a stable framework for the 1990s that will keep inflation down so that the problems of the last two years will never occur again.

That is why last autumn we took Britain into the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. Since then we have had five cuts in interest rates in just seven months. We have lowered interest rates by 3 per cent from their peak last autumn.

A STRONGER ECONOMY IN WALES

We are now reaping the rewards that flow from co-operation in Europe. No-one in Wales should need convincing of that. Our central role in Europe has been the prime reason for the massive flow of foreign investment into Wales over the last 12 years. In that time we have set out a new course for Wales, reversed its decline, and opened new prospects for the future.

In doing so, it has not been the State on which we have relied. It is the choices and ambitions of millions of men and women that lead our country forward. The Conservative Party stands for variety and for independent action. In that it is akin to the natural instincts of the Welsh. The cultural, religious and  practical inheritance of Wales bring a special quality to the character of the United Kingdom. We have done much to nurture the Welsh language and sustain Welsh traditions. We have swept away attitudes that patronised Wales, and brought new life to the Welsh economy. Where once it was dependent on old and declining industries, it now has new industries, new confidence, and jobs with a long-term future. It offers wider opportunities to its young people than ever before.

In Wales we have also seen a revolution in investment. Companies from around the world have been attracted here. Bosch from Germany, Delanair from France, Matsushita, Toyota and Sony from Japan among many others. I tell you this. None of those companies would have come here if we had stood outside the European Community, as Neil Kinnock himself demanded we should, year after year until he became Leader of his Party.

This investment drive continues. Take just the last few weeks. At Bridgend Sony, backed by Government support, creating some 1,400 jobs in television and computer display. And in the same period the 50th and 51st German-backed companies investing in Wales. Nine important new job announcements were made in Wales in May - with more to come in the pipeline. In the last financial year alone nearly 70 investment projects from overseas have been announced in Wales, totalling almost £300 million and creating or safeguarding over 8,500 jobs.

I know that the recession has pressed hard on businesses - large and small - in Wales. But I also know that Wales is now in a stronger position than ever before to confront it. It is sought out as an investment base more today than at any time in history. This Government can be proud of that.

Government support for Wales goes much further than promoting inward investment. Remember the unnecessary delay and obstruction over the planned Cardiff Bay barrage? How typical it was of many in the Welsh Labour Party to complain about job losses in Wales and then hold up a project to create 25,000 jobs. The very day after their members had filibustered for hours in the House of Commons to block new opportunities for 25,000 people, Labour had the sheer effrontery to launch a bogus policy document called ‘Opportunity Britain’.

But we were not prepared to let Wales be filibustered. So we stepped in and gave full backing to the Cardiff Bay project. We will now make sure, through our own Government Bill, that the Cardiff Barrage and the thousands of jobs it will create will go ahead. And so will the housing for people on low incomes, many elderly and disabled, that go with this scheme.

When we look at the progress made since 1979 in Wales as elsewhere, we see a picture of a nation transformed. There are three reasons for this.

The determination and skills of a whole generation of people.

The leadership in Wales that Peter Walker and David Hunt have given. That has been outstanding. They have fought to open up new opportunities for Welsh business and families. As a result more people than ever before now have homes, savings, shares, pensions. They have a stake in the present and the future. Many of them didn't dream that was possible in the 1970s. Now it’s an everyday reality.

EUROPE

But the third reason for Wales’ revival has been our membership of the European Community.

I have said before that I want to see Britain at the heart of Europe. A Europe which has seen, over the past two years, historic changes. A Europe in which the barriers of half a century have broken down. A new and wider Europe of free nations.

Throughout the twentieth century, Europe has inflicted its worst wounds on itself. Now we must ensure that the years of division and hostility are finally put behind us.

To secure our future, we need not abandon our past. Or accept the imposition of uniformity on the nation states of Europe. But we must not - cannot - turn our backs on the construction of the new Europe. That is where our history points; and our interest lies.

There have been times, in our island story, when we have turned aside from Europe. But we have always been drawn back to Europe. There are still those, today, who argue that Britain should step off our chosen path. They seem to believe that Harold Macmillan was wrong to make our first application to join the European Community. That Ted Heath’s government was wrong to sign the Treaty of Rome. That the British people were wrong to vote overwhelmingly for Britain in Europe. And that Margaret Thatcher’s government was wrong to sign the Single European Act. I do not share those views. Sulking on the fringe of talks about the destiny of Europe cannot be the right role for Britain. Europe is not a battle between “them” and “us”. It is our continent, too.

Of course, there are frustrations in membership of the European Community. Things on which one member will disagree with another. Things we fail to get right. But the opportunities dwarf the disappointments. We have gained much; we can hope to gain more from membership of a thriving Europe.

There are people, of course, who readily admit we need a place in Europe, but suggest we might leave the Community for EFTA. What an irony, when so many EFTA countries are preparing themselves for membership of the Community. Indeed, this very morning Sweden announced its application to join. They want to be at Europe’s top table - where we already enjoy our rightful place. What a folly it would be to leave a party in full swing, to join one whose other guests are departing.

In years to come, the European Community will have far more members than it has today. It must be in our interest to be an architect of that wider Europe.

Our presence in the Community has helped to shape its development so far. Britain’s free market principles have been a powerful force for good. The single market, free of national barriers, will be the clearest expression of our contribution in Europe.

And these same principles govern our approach to the Community’s long term objective. An objective formally approved by our Conservative Government in 1985, in the preamble to the Single European Act: the progressive realisation of economic and monetary union in Europe.

For we bring another distinctive contribution to the European debate: a habit of asking how ideas will work in practice. A habit of subjecting them to hard-headed tests of their effect on our freedom and prosperity. That is the contribution we are making, yet again, to the current - critical - negotiations on the future of the Community. There are inevitably some faint hearts who think the outcome of these negotiations is bound to be bad for this country. I am not among them. And for good reason. We are negotiating vigorously. Positively. Clear in our aims, and confident of our position.

Let me make one thing quite clear. There can be no change in the Treaty of Rome taking us towards economic and monetary union unless all members - Britain included - agree. We could say no. If we cannot find common ground, we may have to say no. And if necessary we will. But no-one should imagine that our European partners would simply abandon their ideas. That Europe would remain fixed in aspic. Or that we could insulate ourselves from the effect of what the rest of the Community decided to do.

I do not intend to let Britain be sidelined. The potential damage to our trade, to the City of London and to our future prospects would be immense. Moreover, the rest of Europe does not want to sideline us. We all want to find common ground. There has been much talk recently of offers and compromises. But we are not interested in a fudge  - in the kind of waffle we have heard from Neil Kinnock on Europe. So let me make the Government’s position clear.

I will not agree to a treaty on economic and monetary union unless it is practical and workable. It would not be in our interests, or in the interests of our partners, to endorse economic nonsense.

I will not put to the House of Commons a treaty unless I believe it conforms with our free market principles, and unless I believe it is in the interests of Britain to sign.

I support the idea of a common currency, which all Europeans could use if they wish. But I am wholly opposed to the imposition of a single currency.

I am not alone in Europe in my appreciation of how economically damaging it would be to put widely divergent economies into the straitjacket of a single currency. Act in haste; repent not at leisure, but in failure. I believe the whole European Community will come to see the need for caution.

But I do not rely solely on this belief. I will promise you one thing more. We may, by the end of this year, have before us a treaty. A treaty that could, amongst other things, allow Europe to develop a single currency at some time in the future. If so, such a treaty would have to contain the following clear provision. The British Government and the British Parliament would only move to a single currency if they took a further, separate and explicit decision to do so. Not just when to do so. But whether to do so at all.

That is a question that would not arise in this parliament. It might not even arise in the next parliament. But if or when it arose, it would be for Parliament to decide. Parliament will not be committed in advance. In no circumstances will I agree a treaty which does not contain that safeguard. Of course, that safeguard is not all we require. I have spelt out today a number of other important considerations. In long and complex negotiations, many issues arise.

I believe the interests of this country lie in negotiating toughly and forcefully. Europe’s aim must be to achieve a treaty on which all can agree. This may not prove possible. But for my part, I believe the chances of successful negotiation are greater if it is clear where we stand.

So, as you would expect of us, this Government will do what is right for the future of Britain. And I know that this Government and only this Government is capable of completing these negotiations and building the new Europe in the way that our country needs. So we intend to lead this country through to the conclusion of these talks later this year. That is my position. That is the Government’s position. That is the Conservative Party’s position. That is where we stand.

LABOUR’S KEBABBLE

Mr Chairman, I have today set out our position on Europe and set it out clearly. Just compare that with the sheer babble we heard from Mr Kinnock earlier this week when he was asked to explain where Labour stood. He claimed that there was “real understanding” of his ideas among European Socialists. Frankly, if they understand that, they'll understand anything.

Of course, Mr Kinnock never likes being asked to explain what Labour’s policies are. He calls it being “kebabbed”. Do you remember? When he refused to go on with an interview because he didn't like the questions. Mr Kinnock was kebabbed alright on Europe this week. And his Euro-kebabble can't hide the absence of a policy. He should be under no illusions. Over the next few months we’re going to put the search-light on Labour and expose Kinnock’s kebabble, not only on Europe but on every other issue as well.

SOCIALISM - THE ROAD TO NOWHERE

For there is only one thing that could stop the progress Britain has made over the last 12 years. A Labour Government. And that would do worse than stop progress. It would reverse it.

Just remember. Year after year through the 1980s, Labour opposed all our advances for the people of Britain. They were against lower taxation. Against home ownership. Against denationalisation and better public services. Opposed to the right to buy shares in privatised companies. Against rights for parents in schools. Against help for savings and personal pensions. Against the hope and the independence that millions of people yearned for under the bankrupt Labour Governments of the ‘70s.

Throughout the last 12 years Labour have fought and fought and fought again, against a better future for the people of this country.

Labour have one constant criticism of us. Whatever the issue, whatever the problem, whatever the Department, they say we don’t spend enough of your money. It might have been Wilfred Pickles’ approach to politics. Do you remember? “Give ‘em the money, Mabel”. You name it; spend more on it. That’s Labour’s approach.

But promises have to be paid for. And people are rightly afraid that under Labour their spending commitments would mean bigger tax bills. Labour don’t have the honesty to admit that. Instead they send John Smith out into the Boardrooms of the City to say that all those spending plans can be discounted. They promise the public they’ll spend. They promise the City they won’t. That’s what Labour call Public Relations. It’s what most people call public deceit.

It’s the same on economic management overall. Labour seem to think it is possible to run the economy by giving everyone everything they want whenever they ask for it. Pay rises. Interest rate cuts. Spending increases. They will give you whatever you want. You name it. You can have it. All at the same time. As a result Labour have no credible policy on the economy at all. None on inflation. None on unemployment. None on investment. None on growth.

But Labour’s policies do mean something. They mean a pay explosion, a huge increase in public spending, a surge in taxes, an increase in borrowing, a loss of confidence in our currency. Glad, confident morning would be followed by growing misery, devaluation, rising interest and mortgage rates for all. ‘Vote now, pay later’ is the essence of Labour’s plans.

And there is one other basic truth about Labour Government which has not changed. Labour Government would be trade union government. The two are indivisible.

Just consider some of Labour’s so-called new policies. The green light to flying pickets. Secondary action in industrial disputes. New life for the closed shop. A minimum wage that would destroy up to 2 million jobs. Labour say they have changed. But who is calling the shots when it comes to Labour policy?

Who wants to scrap competitive tendering and waste money on direct labour in Councils and hospitals more than Rodney Bickerstaffe and the National Executive of NUPE?

Who wants to bring in a National Minimum Wage more than Ron Todd and the National Executive of the TGWU?

Who wants a National Economic Assessment, in which trade unions would parcel out the nation’s resources, more than John Edmonds and the General Council of the TUC?

So whose policies are they really?

Behind the Shadow Cabinet loom bigger shadows still - the big brothers at the TUC. In a Labour Britain they would be eased back into Downing Street faster and even more conspicuously than Neil Kinnock’s wardrobe.

What does Labour’s National Economic Assessment mean? I'll tell you. It means a glitzy gloss on meddling by trade union bosses. It means the elected Government surrendering its responsibility to unelected union bosses. Of this you can be sure. Just so long as the trade unions go on paying for the Labour Party, a Labour Government would go on paying off the unions.

Mr Chairman, our duty in this Conservative Party is to stop there ever being a Socialist Government. Not just this year. Not just next year. Not just in 5 years’ time. But for good. For the hard-learned lesson of the twentieth century is this. Freedom, free enterprise, personal independence and wider ownership are the roots to richer, more inventive, more varied societies. Socialism is the road to nowhere. And it is on the road to nowhere that we will ensure the Labour Party stays.

THE CONSERVATIVE APPROACH

Our approach is far different from Labour’s. People say to me: ‘You cannot cut tax and improve public services’. But we have. We have. We have shown over the last twelve years how wrong these people are. Cutting income tax by record amounts, but spending far more than any Government before on improvements in health. Cutting back taxation on companies, but spending more per pupil on education than any Government before. Sweeping away the last Labour Government’s taxes on jobs, but committing billions of pounds to new roads, railways and hospitals.

We will continue that work in the 1990s. And as we do I want us to concentrate, not simply, as Labour do, on what we spend, but on what we deliver for the money that we provide. That is why we are developing right across Government our Citizens’ Charter programme. The Charter initiative will bring new pride to those who work in public services, and still higher quality for those who use them.

The 1980s were a decade of Government achievement. But we can’t stand still now. The world has moved on and so must we. So we are developing new policies. And improving familiar ones.

Things will be different in the 1990s as we build on the bedrock of the last decade. It will be an era in which we develop further the wider competition, the choice, and the personal opportunities we have brought in in the 1980s. But it will also be an era in which we extend a helping hand to those still not aware of, or still not able, to take the opportunities that Conservative policies bring. A helping hand to help people up. That is our way.

Our distinctive Toryism is the polar opposite of Socialism. It rejects their policies based on envy. It rejects their attitudes which foment class division. For our belief - our Tory belief - grows from the commonsense instincts of the British. From their fairmindedness, their sense of what is right and their sense of obligations to other people. It builds on the instinctive friendliness of our people. It seeks to unite, and not to divide. I want no barriers in my Party. And no barriers in our country either.

I want our Tory approach to strike a common chord with all generations - a Toryism based on the liberal free market but sensitive to individual needs. A Toryism that stands for a stable way of life rooted in decency. For the breaking open of closed doors in our society, whatever or wherever they may be. For a culture of generosity, public and private; respect for the contributions and opinions of others; and pride in our great national institutions. For making it easier for everyone to build up something to call their own and to pass it on to their children and those after them. For all those values that, as I believe, go to create a nation that is sure in its aims and at ease with itself. We want a Toryism that encourages and does not threaten. That is as relevant in the high rise housing estate as by the village pond.

I want to build a nation that can put hesitation and self-doubt aside. A nation that will act confidently in the world. That will accept its obligations and defend its rights. I stand for a strong, independent Britain playing a positive part in building a better and wider Europe. And playing its part, too, as a cornerstone of NATO in the defence of peace and security.

Only a Conservative Government can build and sustain such a nation. And together we must fight to ensure that it is a Conservative Government that leads our country through the 1990s and beyond.