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1991 - Mr Major’s Speech to the Windsor Fellowship

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the Windsor Fellowship, given in London on Wednesday 25th September 1991.


PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you very much indeed for that very kind introduction and indeed I am very glad to be here this afternoon to present awards to the Windsor Fellows.

It is in many ways a unique programme, the Windsor Fellowship, and I think for that reason amongst others it justly deserves the support that it receives from everyone present here today. And I say that for a number of reasons. The job the Fellowship does, the example of the Fellows who are here is very important, not just important to them but important to others and I want to use this opportunity this afternoon to explain why I believe that to be the case.

Many of us present this afternoon doubtless have different views, different backgrounds, perhaps in some cases different political opinions. But all of us would share one wish, and I think the wish that all of us would share would be to see a truly open society and in that I believe the Windsor Fellows have a particular role to play.

I believe deeply that all men and women should be able to go as far as their talent, their ambition and their effort can take them, there should be no barriers of background, no barriers of religion, no barriers of race, and the society that I want to see is a society of opportunity where people can better themselves and their families by their own efforts, a society that encourages each and every member to fulfil his or her potential to the utmost.

In short, the sky should be the limit for each and every one of us. But all too often society's attitudes still impose a false ceiling instead of providing a ladder. Modern society is not a drab, monochrome affair, thank goodness, indeed it probably never has been, I know that. The Windsor Fellowship knows that that is the case because the Fellowship works to enhance understanding and pride in ethnic origin. But it is also concerned, as I am, to work for more effective integration in the United Kingdom socially, culturally and economically.

We have to consider what integration means. It does not mean everyone being like everyone else. Uniformity is not integration and uniformity is not my philosophy and neither has it ever been the philosophy of my Party. Integration I think is something rather different, it is like a successful team, all the different players have recognised roles to play, they have contributions to make and they are accepted by each other as equal parts of the whole.

I know from personal experience what a vital and rich contribution people from the ethnic minorities can make. I lived 35 years ago in Brixton, later I was a Councillor for some years in Lambeth, I know of the energy, the zest, the excitement of the people who helped to build up the community in that area. And I had the opportunity recently of tasting some of that again when I revisited Brixton to open a nursery at St Paul's Church, I had the opportunity of talking to the new youngsters who live in Brixton. And just like my generation, what they wanted to talk about was cricket and football and the same sort of things that concerned me so many years ago.

I have never experienced personally what racial prejudice is like but I do understand prejudice, I do understand what it is like to be out of the mainstream of society, I do know what it is like to be unemployed and they are three conditions too commonly experienced by people from ethnic minorities in this country.

So let me say here and now that I regard any barrier built on race as pernicious. And that is all the more so as black and Asian people have lived in this country for a very long time. In the 18th century, for example, a sizeable population of Africans and west Indians were in London. In the later 19th century people from the Indian sub-continent were coming to London in sizeable numbers. In Cardiff, which I visited just last week, there is a distinctive black population near the docks and they have been there since Victorian times. And there is of course a constant flow of students to Britain from Africa, the Caribbean and Asia and has been since the latter half of the 19th century. Indeed African children were sent here to school in the 18th century and have continued to do so ever since.

Many of these people of course led unrecorded lives, as did the white population, but there are individuals that stand out as a result of what they were and what they did. Ira Aldridge, the great black actor who barnstormed England for years. The Jamaican nurse, Mary Sokol [phonetic], who died in London in the late 1880s after sterling service in the Crimea and London hospitals. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, the composer and conductor. And the early Indian Members of Parliament, even though I must tell you one of them was a communist. And of course the great Leary Constantine, that wonderful cricketer who became the first black peer in this country.

I welcome the fact that there are now four black and Asian MPs in the House of Commons, even though I do not share their politics. There are a number of good Conservative candidates from the ethnic minorities in the past and there are more now, I hope there will be some black and Asian Members of Parliament on my side of the House after the next General Election, John Taylor in Cheltenham, Nirj Deva in Brentwood and Ongar, Lurline Champagnie whom I saw again just earlier today in Islington North. And I could go on with that list but time presses and curtails it.

So there is a long history of black and Asian Britons, and yet still, despite that, prejudice all too often stretches out its tentacles and bars the way forward. And so I am determined to work for a society where that prejudice shrinks and then withers away for reasons of straight, simple, straightforward justice and because of my belief in the value of the individual.

And because also of our nation's prosperity. As the Windsor Fellowship realises, as the government appreciates and understands, this country cannot afford to ignore the potential of any of its citizens.

I have been very struck in travels round the world over the last year by the pace of technological change in every part of the world and if this country cannot do as well or better we will fall behind. And to do as well or better we must harness to the full the potential of all our citizens. Capabilities and not colour is what must matter and will matter in the future.

The government can only do so much to combat prejudice through legislation, but legislation certainly does have its place. And indeed we have strengthened the law on incitement to racial hatred. There is new legislation in the Public Health Order 1986, which came into force in 1987. And Geoffrey Holland I have no doubt has outlined employment legislation and policies.

Our action for citizen initiatives promote enterprise, education and training in the inner city areas. The Section 11 grants now amount to over 100 million a year, overcoming barriers for pupils with Commonwealth backgrounds and yet a poor command of English. And there were new arrangements introduced last year and we must see how those work. We have the new Ethnic Minority grant paid to the voluntary sector through Tex for training and for enterprise.

And we are also introducing new reforms in education and the Fellows here today are proof of the value of education. I know of the very high value which people from the ethnic minorities traditionally place on education so I want to spend just a few moments talking about that.

I know that parents from the ethnic minorities are rightly in my view concerned that their children should have the best possible start in life and high standards in schools are absolutely key to this. I know that many Afro-Caribbean parents especially are dissatisfied with education provided by some local authorities, they are concerned that their children are not stretched enough and some have even gone to the extent of setting up their own schools, the John Loughborough School in Haringey is an example of that. And I know that many others work desperately hard to send their children to independent schools.

Our education reforms directly address these concerns; they are designed to raise standards across the board for all pupils. The national curriculum guarantees that every child gets a broad, balanced and relevant curriculum. National testing means that all children will be encouraged to achieve their full potential with national standards to measure up to and it is clear already that national tests are a powerful engine for raising standards and for raising expectations and in this year's tests, one-third of pupils did better than their teachers expected and if only politicians of all parties had a similar success rata I am sure we would all be very happy.

We will shortly be publishing what I believe is a landmark document, the Parents' Charter; we will follow up in more detail what the Citizens' Charter said about education; we will set out clearly parents' rights and their responsibilities as well; and we will give parents a much greater say in the running of state schools.

I sometimes wonder what parents need to break into a system which has sometimes resembled Fort Knox. I think the answer is clear: they need information, facts, figures; knowledge for them is power. Schools, like children, do best with the active support of parents; parents can only give that if they are fully informed about what is happening in the schools so the Parents' Charter will make clear the steps we are taking to ensure parents are given genuine, relevant information about schools in their area, the school their child attends and their child's progress and we must help parents to become equal partners with teachers in their child's education.

Under the Parents' Charter, parents can expect to have information about all the schools in their locality, grant-maintained schools, city technology colleges, independent schools as well as local authority schools and league tables of public exam results, the national curriculum test results, truancy rates, the destination of school-leavers, all that information will be available and it will be easier, therefore, for parents to compare schools when they begin to consider and choose how and where they would like their child to be educated. They will know exactly what is on offer before they choose the school that they want for their child. And parents will get a report on their child's progress at least once a year; that report will name a teacher who will discuss the report with parents if they wish so parents can monitor their child's progress. Independent inspectors will regularly assess state schools' performance; parents will get summaries of their reports. Where there are weaknesses, the school governors will have to tell parents how they plan to put things right and keep on telling them until the things are put right. Parent with older children will get similar information on sixth form and further education colleges and we will publish the exam results and the destination of leavers.

The Charter is important for all parents so it must be accessible to all parents and it will therefore be made available in the main minority languages so that all parents can use it and it should, believe, especially help members of ethnic minority communities who feel disadvantaged by lack of information about schools and lack of opportunity for involvement in their child's education. I hope, too, that black and Asian parents will seize the new powers we are giving to school governors. There is a fundamental shift of decision-making powers to individual schools and colleges; school governors now take key decisions for their schools; they can best judge spending priorities within their schools and they know best the needs and aspirations of pupils, parents and local communities.

Next year, the four-year term of office for many school governors expires and that creates marvellous opportunities for members of the ethnic minority communities to put themselves forward and I hope people will consider taking advantage of that; I hope many of you will take advantage of it and will encourage your friends to do so as well.

Some people argue, I know, that these reforms are all very well for the majority of schools but some schools will be left behind, especially inner city ones but I am confident that schools everywhere will benefit from our national programme of reforms. But some inner city schools do face special difficulties; that is why Kenneth Clarke has launched the new grant scheme starting next April to raise school standards in the inner cities. Funds will be targeted on schools in some of the most disadvantaged areas; they will support projects to strengthen the delivery of the curriculum, particularly in the vital area of reading; they will foster links between school, home, the wider local community, including business.

Much, of course, depends upon the teachers. I should like to see more of our best-quality teachers working in the inner cities. Teaching in the inner city schools can be immensely challenging but also very rewarding. I would like very much to see more black and Asian teachers in our schools too, both in the inner cities and elsewhere; the potential of such teachers as role models for black and Asian pupils is enormous.

I hope that our reforms will enable mothers and fathers concerned about their children's education to break into the system and to bring about the improvements that they want in the interests of their children but education is not the be-all and the and-all; it is not a cul-de-sac; it should be an ever-widening road leading on to opportunities at the end of it and that is especially important for young people from ethnic minority groups. There is now a greater concentration in the under-sixteens - 8.2 percent - but unemployment rates are still one-and-a-half times higher for ethnic minority groups than for the white population. That is an improvement on five years ago when it was nearly twice as high but it is still not good enough and one of the reasons is an important reason why our battle against inflation is so vital. We are now winning that battle. Underlying inflation is down to 4.7 percent; we are on track for below 4 percent inflation by the end of the year. Only when inflation is kept down, can we look forward to stable and secure growth in the economy and that is essential to offer greater employment opportunities to everyone, including black and Asian graduates.

Furthermore, firms must employ people on merit, not on the colour of their skin. We cannot afford stereotypes. At a college of further education in Bridgend last Friday, I saw young women being trained as engineers; there was a practical illustration of one stereotype being broken down. We have no place for stereotypes of gender and no place for racial stereotypes either.

I am not one of that breed of politicians who think the Government can do nothing but if I don't subscribe to the view that the Government can do nothing, neither do I subscribe to the view that the Government can do everything. It is up to individuals, up to individual companies, and that is why the Windsor Fellowship is so important. Whilst the Fellowship's activities are designed to help west the hopes and aspirations of black and Asian undergraduates, it is equally committed to help the needs of employers in industry, commerce and the public sector. The Fellowship exists as an answer to two conflicting statements: the black graduate saying; "They didn't want to employ me!" and the predominantly white institution saying: "They don't apply!".

Each of your Fellows makes an important contribution to ensuring that other black and Asian graduates have a better chance of a job which will stretch and reward their skills. Once in a firm or a Government Department, you can show any doubters that it is your skills that count, not your colour and the ripple effect goes well beyond that: your success as Windsor Fellows lays a responsibility on you as role models and possibly even mentors for your friends, your brothers, your sisters and their peers.

I am glad that some very important Government Departments participate - the Department of Education and Science, Employment, Health, Social Security, Defence, Home Office, the Lord Chancellor's Department, the Cabinet Office. I hope that the list will soon stretch beyond these.

The Civil Service is wholly committed to being an open, equal employer. There are genuine opportunities, genuine competition and that was not always the case. In days gone by, being the second son of a duke could guarantee you a sinecure in the Civil Service for life; the Trevelyan-Northcote reforms in the second half of the 19th century put an end to that sort of nepotism and opened up the Civil Service but we still need to be alert to possible discrimination and so we will maintain ethnic monitoring and special training programmes to ensure fair chances for everyone.

I hope that one day such programmes will be unnecessary. I expect the Windsor Fellowship will one day count itself successful when it can wind itself up. Meanwhile, I wish it and you every success. No doubt you will remember in your careers that the Fellowship programme wasn't just about self-reliance and personal development - it was also about understanding the needs of others and how to be active citizens in your local communities as you become graduate Fellows and I note with a very considerable amount of pleasure that voluntary work is an integral part of your programme.

The Windsor Fellowship's expectation doesn't stop at your qualification and enhanced skills; you are expected to go on caring for one another and never stop working for a more cohesive society, no matter what your profession may be or how far you go in your career. I can assure that the Government will lead in combating discrimination through employment practices in the Civil Service, through maintaining legislation and through example.

Finally, I want to tell you something that happened three years ago at a Conservative Party Conference: a young woman finished her speech by saying she was black, British and Conservative and proud of all three. I hope that those of you are Windsor Fellows and graduate Fellows can say that you are black, British and Windsor Fellows and be proud of all three and I wish you the best of luck in the future. [Applause].