Mo Mowlam – 1998 Speech to TUC Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Mo Mowlam to the 1998 TUC Conference.

Can I say it is good to be here, particularly to open the debate on Northern Ireland as part of the International Affairs debate. Before I speak on what I have planned to do, can I just, in terms of the TSSA, David, and Keith from ISTC, add my comments that one of the important things – and I think it is symptomatic of what the TUC has done over the years – is that the cross-community representation in the different delegations makes a difference. It is sometimes difficult but it always has helped when the unions have remained organised across the divide – a very important situation to have.

Also in relation to what Mark Healy said from the POA, of course we will have our differences and I would just like to say, through him, a ‘thank you’ to his members for what they have done because, as he says, they have not had an easy time with the deaths that they have gone through, and working in certain prisons in Northern Ireland is tougher than elsewhere for the very simple reason that when somebody threatens you in the Maze there are people outside who are prepared to carry it out. That is tough not just on the POA members but on their families too. Hopefully we have got a time of change ahead and it is change for everybody. So I thank them for what they have done in the past and thank them also for the difficult times that we will face in the future, because change is hard for everybody.

Just a final note on the brothers and sisters in the Probation Service: it is not easy in Northern Ireland. I think the Probation Service is one of the harder jobs around. They make some very tough decisions and not many of them people acknowledge. They have worked hard in Northern Ireland and it has made a big plus. (Applause)

In terms of the welcome you very kindly gave me earlier, can I just share that with the people who have done the work over the years. I think it is important to acknowledge that it has been a joint effort over many years – previous Governments, Tony Blair, Bertie Aherne, the Taoiseach – and one of the big differences is we have worked together, the British, Irish and the Americans, to build the coalition to move the process forward, an important point in getting us going when the Labour Government took over.

But over the years the work has been put in by people like Peter Cassells from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, an all-Ireland body as many of you are aware, and by people like Terry Carlin and Tom Gillan from the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress. They have put that work in. We also have people like Bill Atlee here from SIPTU. Again this did not happen in 16 months, it has happened over 16 years and it is the people who are not represented here today that I would like to share that acknowledgement with.

I do not think it will come as any surprise to anybody here to learn that trade unions, which have been at the forefront of much of the progressive social changes that have taken place throughout the world, were also at the forefront of social change in Northern Ireland and we should say ‘thank you’ to them.

Let me just give you some examples in Northern Ireland of how the trade unions have worked over the years which have helped us get to where we are today. The first – and you do not often think about this – is over the last 30 years most of the focus by the press has been on the violence, and it has been appalling and atrocious for people to live with, but the trade unions, to their credit, kept up campaigning on those issues that affect people’s lives day in and day out as well as the violence. They have campaigned on health, education and, above all, employment. They never let those fall off the agenda in Northern Ireland and I think that is terribly important to remember. One of the phrases they used as a campaign phrase was “A Better Life for All”, and that really encompasses everything that they have fought for over the years gone by.

The other thing they have done is work tirelessly to build up relationships across the communities. A good example is money came from Europe for Northern Ireland to help try and build the peace – Peace and Reconciliation Fund – and they gave it to Northern Ireland and said, “How can we get this through to the people?” So Monika Wulf-Mathies, who is a wonderful Commissioner in Europe, set up these committees, 26 throughout Northern Ireland, and on them are politicians right from DUP to Sinn Fein, trade unionists, business people, community groups, voluntary sector, and they allocate the money for different areas. Throughout all the difficulties those committees have kept meeting, kept talking and delivered things for the local people – over 11,000 community groups set up.

Crucial to those were the trade union members and when the politicians found it difficult, which they inevitably did, they were there to keep the process alive. I can never prove it, but I have no doubt that those partnerships and the schemes they have set up over the years have helped people on the ground get to know each other and get the kind of results we have got now because it is people in Northern Ireland who want peace. They will keep pushing which is why I am so sure we will get there because people want a future that is non-violent and that is a way that the trade unions have helped tremendously. They have got their own projects, like Counteract, in the workplace to try and deal with inter-communal strife that arises – again trade union instigated, again slow, subtle. People do not necessarily notice it first time but again it makes a difference.

Can I just be cheeky for one minute because it is my own union and that is UNISON, just to say what I think UNISON has done and I would like particularly to mention Inez McCormick and Patricia McEwan and lots of the other folk there who worked on the ground to get lots of people, particularly women, involved. They have done an amazing job and I know how effective they are because I remember the first time when I was Shadow in this job I went to Inez’s office and said, “Inez, I just need you to talk me through what the issues are, what I need to know”, and she said nothing, took me down to the Royal Victoria Hospital to the basement, put me in a room for an hour with cleaners, cooks, porters and they told me what they expected me to do without any doubt. That is the way the work has been done on the ground and I would like to acknowledge particularly what they have done.

Other examples of what the unions have done: the campaign that they have organised on what we call the Fairness Equality agenda again has been central because inequality, discrimination, has been a crucial part of the backdrop of what has happened in Northern Ireland, and the work they have done on fair employment legislation has made a big, big difference.

Finally to thank them, when we had the referendum in Northern Ireland back in May I kind of had a free front of panic for the first week because not many people were saying anything, and because of the difficulties that have happened in the past people are sometimes reticent to speak out. It takes a lot to have the confidence to stand up and say, “I’m going to support this side”, or the other. It is a bit of a risk. It is not easy in Northern Ireland. That “Yes” Campaign, which won the Referendum, was due in large part to, as always, the union leaders in Northern Ireland having the guts to stand up, put their head above the barricade and say what they believed. That got it going and that made a difference. I do want to put that on record because they were crucial in getting us to where we were.

The second thing I want to touch on, briefly, is the degree of violence and the degree of divisions which exist in Northern Ireland – that sectarian bigotry which you see at different times manifest itself. That is not going to disappear overnight. It is going to be there for years. We must slowly edge away at dealing with that. You deal with that by building up people’s confidence and getting them closer and closer to respect each other to hope that the future will be very different.

One of the central difficulties is the degree of exclusion that divisions create. The deprivation which exists in parts of Northern Ireland is worse than anywhere else in the UK. That fuels the difficulties of the past.

Let me give you a very bland statistic. Out of the unemployed in Northern Ireland, more than half of them are long-term unemployed. That is double anywhere else in the UK. It gives you an idea of the extent of how there is a group which is marginalised on both sides of the divide, and that needs addressing. We are beginning, in the first sixteen months, to address that.

Let me give you a quick example so that you get a feel of what is actually happening in Northern Ireland. First, New Deal is working and making progress. We have a thousand employers signed up. Do not forget that Northern Ireland comprises 1.5 million people, similar to Greater Leeds, so that is a good bit of progress in terms of getting people off the dole and into a better future.

Policies which will be implemented here by the middle of next year, such as the minimum wage and Fairness at Work will all help. We have many policies, thanks again to the equality agenda which has been pushed, on TSN – Targeting Social Need – so that policies in terms of fair treatment are directed to the most deprived.

The Gordon Brown “the Chancellor’s package”, as we call it, which is a specific effort to put money into infrastructure to make it more attractive to get investment, has helped again. One of the big differences is that the people of Northern Ireland are at the moment putting together their own economic strategy to grow local businesses. In the past 24 hours there has been , 5 million worth of investment between two local companies in Craigavon and Dungannon. Again, that is real progress alongside the talks which will help make them work.

The other and final area which we have been working in is trying to get more inward investment. We have not done too badly. We are off again next month to try and get more investment from the United States, who have been quite positive in their investment in Northern Ireland. Eleven cities will be visited and Gordon Brown will launch it. The important point about this tour is that it is headed by David Trimble and Seamus Mallon, together in partnership symbolically saying “We are working for a different future in Northern Ireland and we are leading it to show that this is where the future lies”. That is a real big plus because it shows to people Unionists and Nationalists working together to build for the future.

In terms of that visit in October, we have had a lot of support from the AFL-CIO, particularly John Sweeney, who has worked with us in what could otherwise be a difficult area to facilitate that trip.

While I am on the subject of leaders, one of the things which has helped in Northern Ireland is the relationship between the trades union Movement in America, in Ireland and here, in Northern Ireland, in the UK. The co-operation between them makes work easier. John Monks is an important part of that. His contribution — do not look so embarrassed — has been important because he is there in public when you need him. He went after the Canary Wharf bomb to Derry and spoke. When we were having the Referendum, he came to Belfast and spoke. That counts.

But in addition what also makes a difference is, privately, when we are going through tough times he is there behind the scenes, over the years, working consistently to try and move it forward. We all have bad days. I have had some pretty bad days in the past 16 months. It makes a difference when people like John phone you up and says “It happens to all of us. Keep going”. I did just want to take this opportunity to thank him, too, because that has made a difference.

Let me just touch on some aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. I also ought to say that of symbolic importance is at the Labour Party Conference at the week after next. We have a fringe meeting at which David Trimble and Shamus Mallon are speaking. It is sponsored by the TUC and the CBI, which shows that in Northern Ireland it is about partnership and working together. That is happening.

I hear a mobile phone! I have a rule with the press in press conferences in Northern Ireland. That is that if a mobile phone goes off I stop and refuse to speak until the sinner leaves the room. They do not thank me for it but it is pretty awful.

Let me talk about a couple of things that we are doing in the Good Friday Agreement. It is quite important in terms of the fairness and equality agenda which you, as a Congress, have committed yourselves to over many years. One of those aspects is that we are setting up a Human Rights Commission, which will be a new and powerful body. It is about changing the culture, to a human rights culture from one of injustice and discrimination. When people are threatened, they go back into their own culture and people. We are saying that if we have a human rights culture where everybody is treated fairly, then that will make a difference. That is part of the Good Friday Agreement and it is being set up. It will exist not just to advise people about the rights that they are entitled to but to help them when they believe their rights have been abused, or they have been denied rights, but it will give them assistance in taking it through the courts. I think the Human Rights Commission will be an important and powerful body. It is part of the “new” politics which is going to be the future as Northern Ireland begins to change.

One of its priorities, for example, is to look towards consulting with all the parties in Northern Ireland to examine the possibility of a human Bill of Rights, which would, again, be an important and symbolic backdrop for making progress in Northern Ireland.

Another part of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, which again links in with your interests, is, as part of that, a commitment to introduce a legal duty on all public bodies, which is legally binding, to be sure that there is the promotion of equality of opportunity, not just a fairness for Catholics and Protestants, and that will be for men and women, people of different races, people with different disabilities, sexual orientation and age. It will be a pretty comprehensive equality of opportunity portfolio together. The point is that unless we deal with those underlying inequalities, we will never deal with the fundamental problems. That is why I have highlighted those two because I think they are important.

As to that equality commitment, in terms of equality of opportunity, we are putting in an Equality Commission to implement it. I know, from talking to a number of you, that that is not terribly popular because we are merging some of the different inequalities. People feel that some may be treated as second class rather than the importance they have as individual agencies. We are still consulting on it and I hope that we can find an agreement so that everybody will get a bit of what they want. In the nature of compromise, nobody ever gets everything they want. I hope we get there.

Let me, briefly, emphasise where we have got to and where, I hope, we are going in the next couple of months. At present we are indulging in implementing all the different bits of the Good Friday Agreement. The only way we are going to continue to make progress is if it is implemented in total, because those Parties which signed up to it did not sign up to it because they agreed 100 per cent with it — nobody agreed 100 per cent — but they all got something which they wanted. The only way that we are going to be able to move it forward now is that the bit which they wanted moves in unison with everything else. Otherwise, they will say “Why have you got it and I have not?”, and we will be back to where we were for many years.

At the moment we are putting in place the Assembly in the North, the North-South Ministerial Council and the Civic Forum, which is a chance for other voices to be heard in Northern Ireland from other communities apart from the political parties. I noticed, as I was coming in, I saw one of those voices, Monica McWilliams, who is a T&G woman, who had her voice heard in the Women’s Coalition, which did very impressively and gained a couple of seats, and also May Blood, who is one of those women who have been there for years and worked on the ground to make it happen.

I have to mention some other bits because if I do not, people say “You are not doing that which we are implementing” in parallel with the ones that I have just mentioned. At the British Irish Council we have Commissions working on criminal justice review, on policing and where that will go in a year’s time, and a decommissioning independent body, which is a difficult one. Nobody doubts that the decommissioning of weapons has been one of the stumbling blocks in previous years with previous Governments. It is hard. It is part of the Good Friday Agreement and it has to happen in unison with the other parts of that Agreement.

I believe that in the two year stretch we have we will see not just the decommissioning, but another tough issue which has started and that is the accelerated release of prisoners. Again, it is very difficult for victims who have lost people – victims’ families – to cope with that. We have a counselling service in place and constraints. Anybody who committed anything after April 10th cannot qualify. None of those who committed the atrocities at Omagh or those who murdered the three Quinn brothers will qualify. But that accelerated release, however difficult people are finding it to be, is part of the Good Friday Agreement. My job is to honour that Agreement and implement it in full, and that is what we will be working at.

Alongside that, and Tony has worked very hard — I did not think the Prime Minister would have as much time as he has had to work on this — on this. When we have had difficulties and could not anybody, it has been very useful to call on the Prime Minister to come in and knock heads together, which he has done on more occasions than I believed possible, but he has made a difference.

The other person who has made a difference is, when we have worked with the President of the Irish Republic, Bill Clinton. I do not think that many people know but during the talks he used to stay up all night because of the time difference. When we wanted a call from the Prime Minister, a call from the Irish Taoiseach or a call from the President of the United States, when we were trying to move along in those last days, everybody played their part, but none of that has hit the media. That helped us push people along to get to where we did.

Finally, let me talk briefly about the security situation because, as a Government, one’s real job, first and foremost, is to make sure you protect citizens, and that is our first job. We are doing everything we can on that front to achieve as tight a level of security as we can. Two weeks ago we put through the House of Commons legislation which now matches the Irish legislation — legislation for legislation — to do all we can to catch the very small numbers still engaging in violence. The advantage of that is for the first time ever — the Irish Dail passed legislation at the same time as the Westminster Parliament — terrorists cannot go from one side of the border to the other, which they have in the past, to escape. This should put us in a much stronger position.

Contrary to some of the things said in the wonderful press, everything we have put in place is in line with the European Convention on Human Rights. I am sure we will be challenged but we would not have done it otherwise. It is time limited and focused on the specific groups which are still committed to violence.

I consider myself a libertarian. I do not have any trouble with that legislation. We are dealing both north and south of the border with — I do not know — maybe 100, 200 or 300 people who are directly or indirectly still involved with violence in Northern Ireland. I do not think that we should let them ruin what 99.9% of people in Northern Ireland want to see.

The final way to rid a community of terrorist activities, of people who indulge in violence, is to make the Good Friday Agreement work. Only when the community reject them and does not give them any hiding place ‑‑ that is, everybody’s mum and granny says, “If he is involved, they are not coming in this house” ‑‑ do you begin to root them out. That is why making the Good Friday Agreement succeed will take out those men of violence quicker than anything else. That is also why, in the weeks and months ahead ‑‑ it is going to be tough; nobody said it was going to be easy ‑‑ we have to make sure, even though the formal talks are over, that the talking continues because that is the only way we are going to find a way to build a better future. The good part of that is that most of the decisions now are devolving slowly to local people during this transitional period ensuring that by next year it is not us but the representatives of all the communities in Northern Ireland making those decisions.

David Trimble made the best point when the Assembly met last week: “I want this to be a pluralist Parliament for a pluralist people in Northern Ireland in which all of us, Unionists and Nationalists, work together for the benefit of all.” When David Trimble says that, and Seamus Mallon immediately afterwards says “A peaceful path has been created”, it is up to all of us now to walk down it.

That is why I am hopeful. I am very pleased that we are walking down that path step in step with the unions in Northern Ireland to deliver what people in Northern Ireland deserve, which is a future based on equality, justice, opportunity, but, above all, hope. Thank you.

Peter Mandelson – 1998 Speech to TUC Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Peter Mandelson to the 1998 TUC Conference.

Thank you very much for that welcome. May I say that this is a very poignant moment for me indeed. I was one of the TUC’s brightest eyed young staffers when, 20 years ago to the month, I attended Congress. I will always be grateful to the TUC for the introduction it gave me to the world of trade unions, to practical politics, and to the values of systematic filing. Those were the days when I thought of John Monks as my boss. You can all take comfort from that. Old habits die very hard.

Then too another GMB General Secretary, the leader of my own union, was President of Congress, David Basnett, a man who had a similar reputation for choosing his words very carefully.

Then too there was a Labour Government and the Prime Minister came to address us, and you will be relieved to know that I am not going to take a trip down memory lane by trying to sing you a music hall ditty as he did, but those were times when you had to keep your spirits up.

In the mid 1970s an economic whirlwind of unprecedented ferocity had hit the world economy. The labour Movement faced that whirlwind with great fortitude and great solidarity. Inflationary collapse was averted. Unemployment began to fall. But, as the fatal winter that followed that Congress was to prove, Labour’s achievement was fragile. Tony Blair is determined that in the 1990s we will not repeat the mistakes of the 1970s. No one in this hall ‑‑ not you, not me ‑‑ will complain at that.

This Labour Government has good relations with the trade unions, but there is a key difference with 20 years ago. Those relations are now not too close for comfort. Today we have dialogue, good dialogue, but not under any duress. We should be able to agree and disagree without either being in hock to one another, or at risk of falling out — a mature practical relationship based on shared values and a shared agenda.

For example, we both believe that a workplace, based on mutual respect and minimum standards of protection, safety and consultation, is one which works better and more productively. That is why we have signed the Social Chapter, why we are introducing the national minimum wage, and why we are implementing the Working Time Directive without delay. It took a Labour Government to make these momentous changes, a New Labour Government.

The Fairness at Work legislation will be the central building block of this legislative package. This legislation will not turn the clock back to the days of strikes without ballots, flying pickets and mass actions. None of us want that; nobody is calling for that. What it will do is demonstrate that it is possible to have flexibility in the workplace, and to treat people well. Be under no illusion, these are controversial changes for which we still have to argue and win the case, particularly in light of the growing pressures on British business, but argue for it I will — for legislation that is seen by all to be fair and to be balanced if it is to win enduring support, as I am confident it will do.

To support this, to do this, I can think of no better ally than Ian McCartney to help me take this Bill through Parliament. You all know Ian McCartney very well. When I arrived at the DTi I will admit to being a little worried about Fairness at Work and I called Ian in to talk about it. I said “Ian, you know, it is a tall order this Bill” and he said “Don’t worry, Peter, I will make short shrift of the critics”. This reassured me enormously. This Bill will strengthen partnership at work. In today’s economy partnership is key to competitive strength. Britain is in a non‑stop race to boost that strength, to create comparative advantage, to add value ‑‑ all against the background of our current economic difficulties.

I understand the concerns that are being expressed about the level of the pound. We are all well aware of how tough life is out there, particularly for manufacturing industry and for exporters. Nonetheless, John Prescott was right on Monday to say that we should not talk ourselves into recession. Employment is not going down. The economy has generated over 400,000 jobs since Labour came into office. The Government’s policy for Britain is clear: a strategy for stability amidst instability in an uncertain world; a commitment to end once and for all the dismal record of stop‑go, and of boom and bust, the roller coaster of economic activity that has so damaged confidence and investment in the British economy over the past two decades.

This is why we have taken the politics out of interest rates by vesting authority in Eddie George and his colleagues at the Bank of England. That is why Gordon Brown has taken the necessary tough action to clear the Tories overdraft and to put the public finances back on track. Gordon’s is not an enviable job. He puts the interests of the country before those of any pressure group. He has the honesty to say “no” when others are tempted to let it be known that they might have said “yes”. I fervently believe that we will reap the benefits of the tough but wise decisions he and the Government have taken.

Nobody is saying it will be easy; it won’t. Asia, Japan, Russia, Latin America, jitters on Wall Street, collapse of the real economy in Indonesia — we face constant reminders that we live in a global economy. What effects one country affects us all. There is no magic fix of Government intervention or extra money that can solve these problems.

That is why economic cooperation between countries has never been more important than now and why we must strengthen Britain’s position in Europe, now our natural home market. On Europe the people who threaten to cut Britain off from this home market are the leaders of today’s Tory Party with their head in the sand policy on the single currency.

Congress, in yesterday’s debate you proved yourselves far more sensible than them. On this issue, Government, business and unions are at one and we are working in partnership in Europe. Now, at the DTi I know that John Monks believes that my new role is actually the first real job I have had since leaving Congress House. I would not go that far but the job is certainly a real challenge. Some have scoffed that under the Tories the DTi was the Department of Timidity and Inaction. Under my leadership I can tell you, no more. My mission at the DTi is to use all the tools at our disposal to strengthen industry, enhance business performance and to create an environment in which enterprise flourishes.

Britain can do better — much, much better. As a nation we have a world class science base. We have talent and creativity galore. What we lack are the entrepreneurs to turn these natural strengths into products and services that customers want. We must overcome these weaknesses. For unless we do, Britain will never succeed in exploiting the potential of the knowledge based economy of the future. In that knowledge based economy scientific discovery and technical progress will reach more directly and much more swiftly into every aspect of our lives. The key to competitive success will lie in the exploitation of knowledge for commercially profitable ends, as much in manufacturing as in services. In the knowledge-based economy, the increasing reality of liberalised markets and open trade will destroy the tradition sources of competitive advantage. Once that stemmed solely from the skills and techniques of production. Now it depends much more on the creativity that surrounds it; the know how that dreams up new ideas; the innovation that brings forward new products and the marketing that builds new brands.

In this new world, Britain has a simple choice. To move with the times or be swept away by them. My clear view is that we must make change our friend, not our enemy. That is how in simple terms I define the mission of my department. It is a task in which I want your full support; because together we can put the future on Britain’s side.

But I know many of you in this hall will have an even bigger question at the back of your minds. “Where do you think, Peter, the trades unions fit into your bright, knowledge-based vision of the future? I can be very clear where I stand. I believe in trades unions, not just for reasons of sentiment – though when your first job opportunity was working for the unions, that sentiment is real enough – not just either because I will always remember how the trades unions helped Neil Kinnock save the Labour Party in the 1980s, just as in my grandfather’s time the trades unions saw the Party through the upheavals of the 1930s.

No, it is much more than sentiment. For millions of people, trades unions are both relevant and necessary in today’s world. The relationship between employer and employee is by its nature a fundamentally unequal one, one that the unscrupulous employer can exploit.

We all know that individuals at work still need the protection of trades unions against the arbitrary abuse of management power. We all know that a good relationship between trades union representatives and an employer can help to promote flexibility and productivity at work. Yes, I believe in trades unions. It is precisely because of that belief that you will always get from me honest, straight talking and candour. No grandstanding, no playing to the gallery, no more spin, honest.

Let me set out my vision of the role in society which I sincerely believe the unions can and should play.

Friends, a new economic future is beckoning for us in this country. For industry, it means adaptability, willingness to change, flexibility of working and a constant drive to modernise. If the trade unions want to be part of that future, then it means the same thing for you. In the 1980s the debate raged about whether the trades union were too strong or too weak. For some, that is still the dividing line. That is not a choice I accept, or one that the Government accept. For us the choice is between modern trades unions and those which are frozen in time, between effective trades unions and ineffective ones. I want to see modern unions working with successful companies in shaping Britain’s future.

I recognise that the trades unions have already made huge efforts over the years to change and modernise. Modernisation through the New Unionism project and the Organising Academy which is bringing a modern, business-like approach to the unglamorous but vital role of recruiting new members. I recognise that in many companies industrial relations have been transformed from the old-style battlefield of “them and us” to the new-style of co-operation in achieving shared success – shared success.

Good managers and good trades unionists have been responsible for that transformation. They need each other. But that modernisation and transformation must go further still. Indeed, if my analysis is right, it is never ending. I realise that this is not an entirely welcome message in a hall where in the past two decades so much painful change has had to be swallowed by so many. I know that to some of you I am seen as a non-stop moderniser, hell bent on change at any cost. I make no apology. I passionately believe that modernisation is essential in the trades unions’ own interest.

I saw some staggering statistics the other day. Only 6% of young employees are members of trade unions; only 18% of employees under the age of 30. The density of trades union membership is lowest in the fastest growing sectors of the economy. Of course I accept that there are rogue employers who actively discourage trade union membership, but for too many people trade unions appear only marginally relevant.

Many companies have built honest and credible partnerships with their employees with no involvement by trade unions at all. And if employers and employees are content with that, it is not the job of government to order them otherwise. Of course, it is not. As trade unions you can make the difference yourselves. To meet fully the challenge of modernisation, I suggest that you need to focus on three key areas.

You need to focus on delivering quality services to your members; helping achieve employers’ success and being seen as responsible to the general public.

First, delivery on behalf of your members. You are absolutely right to have put the emphasis back on what your members really care about – protection against arbitrary management behaviour or discrimination; fair levels of pay; safe working conditions; a pension to look forward to and the other essentials of decent conditions of employment. If together the trade unions and the Labour Party learnt one lesson from the 1970s and the 1980s it was the imperative to respond to the needs of individual members, not a vocal minority.

Trades unions cannot rely, and should not, on governments to deliver them a bigger membership. Unions have to win their position by demonstrating their value to members and potential members, but the Government do have some role in helping unions to represent their members in the most effective and most constructive way.

For example, in the Fairness at Work White Paper we said we intended to set up a Partnership fund to promote best practice in employee relations and their involvement.

You will be pleased to hear that I can today confirm that we are going to establish such a fund. Money will be made available for a series of projects to give employers and employee representatives a much better understanding of the challenges each face and what can be achieved by working together as companies like Tesco, Boots, Unisys, Blue Circle and European Gas Turbine are doing.

Working in partnership with employers brings me on to my second point: the need to focus on employer success. No union benefits from harming the companies its members work for. In the private sector that means actively working for and welcoming profits. In the public sector it means delivering ever better services of higher quality.

By the way, contrary to what you have read in the newspapers, no decisions have been taken to privatise the Post Office.

Congress, success in the public or private sector means awareness of labour costs. No one now deceives themselves that we can compete on costs regardless of quality. So no one should deceive themselves that we can compete on quality regardless of cost. It means sharing in the company’s success but also showing moderation in wage demands and flexibility in pay levels in times of economic difficulty. I say this every bit as much to company boards and to their directors as I do to trades unionists. By all means enjoy the rewards of success in the good times, but make sure those rewards are merited and make sure you are willing to share pain in the bad times, too.

The third test is being seen to be responsible to the public. I believe that unions have an important role which extends beyond the workplace. Trades unions are a force for good in our society in setting workplace minimum standards; in ensuring adequate health and safety; in promoting training and skills and in pressing for proper provision of pensions and other benefits.

Any responsible Government should always listen to what the trades unions have to say in these areas for they are unique in their ability to bring to the consideration of public policy the voice of direct workplace experience. The Government want to work with you in all these areas. We did on the National Minimum Wage. We have done so through the Skills Taskforce. We are doing so on the Competitiveness White Paper, and we shall do so in the development of the stake holder pension. I want to work with the trades unions.

But the extent to which the unions have a voice that carries influence and respect will always depend on the credibility and persuasiveness that unions themselves can command. That means co-operating in the modernisation of public services. It means working with us in forging other reforms, in the welfare system, in the schools and higher education, in de-centralising government. Above all, it means not attempting to veto change but embracing it and helping to manage it in the interests of all.

Tony Blair’s Government will never be a soft touch. We will do our duty whatever. We will never again contract out the governance of Britain to anyone, not to the TUC or its member unions, any more than we would to big corporate interests either.

As far as my Department is concerned, there is not a front door for some and a back door for others. There is one door for all – and it is always open.

Congress, the choice is yours – opposition or legitimate influence. I know my preference: it is for trade unions that draw increased strength from being modern, democratic, representative and influential, that day in and day out prove their relevance to their members, that match realism with responsibility in their dealings with employers and government. I believe that in working together in this way, we will not only generate respect for each other but that the unions will succeed in reinvigorating the public esteem they merit.

Take it from me. I know a little bit about public relations and improving images. So much so that one of these days I might even be able to do something about my own. But I am told that it will probably take me more than 48 hours in a week to do so.

Imagine depends on substance. Public relations will not succeed unless there is something real behind it. Trades unions do have the basis of such genuine appeal; a believe in social justice, an understanding of the real world, an ability to get to grips with practical workplace issues, a commitment to democratic methods and a willingness to co-operate.

That is not just a platform, it is a springboard for the trades unions. In leaping ahead to the new unionism demanded by economic change and by your own members, I can assure you that you will have my backing and that of the department I head.

I have battled for years for an electable Labour party. I am now battling for a successful country, strong in services and manufacturing, generous at home and abroad, with acclaimed public services and a dynamic private sector.

Congress, join me, please, in the battle for success.

Thank you very much.

Jeff Rooker – 1998 Speech to the British Poultry Meat Federation

Below is the text of the speech made by the then Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Jeff Rooker, to the British Poultry Meat Federation on 29th April 1988.

I am pleased that I have been given the opportunity to address this lunch. It has long been recognised that the poultry industry represents a great success story for UK agriculture. A success that has come about with little or no support from the Common Agricultural Policy.

Despite the lightness of the CAP regime for your sector the Ministry’s work does of course impinge on your industry in a number of ways.

Firstly, of course, there is the forthcoming establishment of the Food Standards Agency. This reflects consumers concern about the safety of the food they eat. But it would be quite wrong to see this development as conflicting with the ideal of a healthy and successful food industry. In fact, the opposite is true: the Government believes that UK food producers stand to benefit both domestically and abroad from the increased confidence in the safety of our food which the FSA should bring.

To back this up, we are building in safeguards to ensure that the agency does not impose disproportionate costs and burdens on British producers which are not justified on safety grounds. The rules under which the FSA operates will enshrine the principle that its actions should be proportionate to risk, and pay due regard to the costs as well as benefits to those affected by them.

Moving on, I know from your Federation’s detailed and well thought-out response to the White Paper that our plans to shift some of the costs of food safety work from the taxpayer to the industry are worrying you. This question perhaps provoked the biggest reaction in our consultation, with many strong views voiced from all quarters. It is our firm belief, however, that the food industry stands to benefit in the long term from the new food safety arrangements, and that it is only fair that it should pay its share of their costs.

But we do recognise that the area is complex, and we want to make sure that the final arrangements are both equitable and workable. We shall therefore be consulting on questions such as the scope of any scheme and the basis for calculating charges, including the need to take account of the size and type of the business, before we finalise our proposals.

Still on charges, I am aware of your concerns over Veterinary Medicine Directorate charges for residues surveillance which will raise more money from the UK poultry meat industry than is actually needed to carry out the sort of cost-effective residue testing programme the VMD is committed to. You know, however, that the level of charge is set directly by EU legislation and that the Commission will be closely monitoring our compliance. I firmly believe that the extension of the VMD statutory programme to poultry significantly enhances the protection available to the consumer. All results from the programme will be published along with brand names for those above the action level and all such positives will be followed up with farmer and his veterinary adviser.

I know the VMD have suggested ways in which to mitigate this problem. I have asked them to continue to be pro-active with your representatives and can assure you we will seek to re-negotiate the poultry residue charge set out in the EU legislation should the opportunity arise.

The levels of salmonella infection in the national poultry flocks continues to be a matter of concern. The ACMSF has looked at this area in detail, and its Report on Poultry Meat provides clear direction for the industry. In addition, the Forward Programme for the Poultry Meat Industry, in which the British Poultry Meat Federation were involved, indicates the way in which HACCP can be applied in the slaughterhouse.

I am pleased that the levels of salmonella enteritidis and salmonella typhimurium in broiler breeder flocks has been reduced. The policy of eradication in the breeding pyramid, which we have been concentrating on, does appear to be working.

I hear that the level of infection in the broiler flocks has also reduced significantly in recent years – perhaps to as low as 10% in some cases. Again, this deserves recognition, but I believe further progress is possible. The ACMSF saw no reason in principle why the prevalence of salmonella contamination in chickens on retail sale should not be reduced to single figures in percentage terms, on the basis of existing technology. The Department of Health will be conducting a survey on salmonella in UK produced chickens on retail sale later this year. As you know from the White Paper, the scope for pathogen reduction throughout the food chain in general is a subject in which we propose the Food Standards Agency will take a close interest. The continued co-operation of the whole industry will be essential in order to build on the progress made so far.

You may know that the European Commission has started its review of the original Zoonoses Directive. We will consult the industry as the review progresses.

You may also know that, in December 1997, the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) looked at the possibility of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies arising in pigs and poultry. Although it considered the risk to be small, it felt that recycling pig and poultry waste as feed for the same species could create the potential to spread disease, and recommended that the Government should remove this risk in discussion with our European partners. We have accepted SEAC’s recommendations and have asked the Commission to schedule early discussions about a possible ban on the use of poultry and feather waste as poultry feed within the European Community.

With regard to mammalian meat and bone meal I should say that there are very good reasons why our own controls on feed are more restrictive than those in place elsewhere, in countries where mammalian meat and bone meal can be fed to poultry. The Uk has had far more cases of BSE than any other country. Consequently we have to maintain stringent controls in order to remove the risk of ruminant diets being infected, either directly or through cross-contamination, with the disease agent.

Last year I announced that there would be a review under the Poultry Meat Hygiene Regulations, to look at the current exemption from licensing of those premises with an annual slaughter of less than 10,000 birds. This exemption affects both on-farm production and small slaughterhouses. The issue relates to the European Community wide prohibition on the production of New York dressed poultry, to issues of food safety and to the maintenance of a level playing field for all of the poultry industry.

This review is now under way within the Ministry, and we plan to have proposals ready for consultation in the summer. As I have promised, there will be a full public consultation, including the industry. The review will address all aspects of the issue, and consider all the practicalities of the various options available. I look forward to receiving the contributions of this Federation and of this industry to our proposals.

There are, of course, other policy areas that are of concern to you as producers, such as animal welfare and environmental protection measures.

It is important to strive to improve minimum standards on animal welfare. Obviously this is best done at international level if we are to achieve real improvements and not just open up our market to products produced elsewhere to lower welfare standards. There are encouraging signs of progress on this front but realistically the adoption of agreed EU minimum standards is likely to take some time. Meanwhile, as you know, there are pressures on us to legislate at national level and consumers and retailers are continuing to demand reassurance as to welfare standards. It is important therefore to show that progress is being made voluntarily by the industry to improve welfare.

You will all also be aware that the public is more conscious of the impact of agriculture on the environment. It is important that the industry takes a responsible attitude to how it organises its various operations, and takes care that those which might cause pollution do not do so.

The Ministry provides advice on preventing pollution, for example, through the Codes of Good Agricultural Practice. In the near future there will be legislation aimed at requiring an integrated approach. The Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive will affect a wide range of businesses, including some in agriculture. Of specific interest to you is the fact that it will apply to poultry businesses which have more than 40,000 birds. It will also apply to installations which process raw animal material including poultry meat, as well as slaughterhouses and animal renderers.

The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is in the lead on the implementation of this Directive, but the Ministry is closely involved in the discussions and you have been, and will continue to be, consulted as the implementation process develops towards legislation and the guidance to comply with that legislation.

Agriculture, including poultry businesses, will also be affected by the development of the EU Acidification Strategy. There is still some way to go on discussion of the Strategy. In particular, national emission targets which will limit emissions of the acidifying gases including ammonia, the gas most relevant to agriculture, have not been agreed. Once again the Ministry will continue to keep you informed of, and consult uyou on, developments.

Let me turn to the subject of trade, which I know is of major concern to the Federation. You will be aware that the next World Trade Organisation (WTO) Round of agriculture negotiations is due to begin at the turn of the century. Informal preparatory work has already begun at the WTO in Geneva under the WTO Agriculture Committee, involving the analysis and exchange of information between member countries to help them prepare their positions for the next Round.

What will the Government be looking for in the next Round ? The Uruguay Round was a significant step forward in terms of bringing agriculture under international trade disciplines, but there is still a great deal to be done in terms of policy reform and reducing protectionism. So we will be looking to the next Round to achieve further liberalisation of trade and reductions in agricultural support and protectionism.

This means lower tariffs, larger import quotas and tighter limits on export subsidies. And there will be pressure on domestic agricultural support, which will have to either be decoupled from production or live within tighter limits.

Having said that the Government support trade liberalisation, I know that a major concern of your industry is the increased volume of imported chicken particularly from Brazil and Thailand. The fact is that the Community is committed, under the Uruguay Round settlement, to provide a minimum level of access for imports of products including poultry-meat. This level of market access is bound to go up after the next WTO Round as the trend towards further liberalisation continues.

But the Uruguay Round also allows countries to take action in circumstances where the volume of imports has risen dramatically, or their price fallen. As you know, the Community has exercised its right to take this special safeguard action in your sector.

Under the forthcoming Poultrymeat Marketinbg Regulations THIRD country of origin will be required on labels for both pre-packaged and unpackaged poultrymeat. The latter is an option that the UK has decided to take.

We will continue to monitor the trend in imports closely and to discuss with you the effect on the UK market and industry. But the trend is clearly towards more liberal trade, and I urge you to be prepared, in the longer term, to operate in a more open and internationally-competitive environment.

One of my main concerns in this area is to ensure that the market for poultry meat in the UK, and the opportunities for export, are not undermined by producers in other European Union Member States who are not complying with the hygiene conditions laid down in Community law. I know that this is a particular concern for the Federation at this time. We do not have an easy task given the fact that trade in poultry meat is not normally dependant on official health certification and there will always be unscrupulous traders who seek to circumvent the rules for their own ends. The problem is not helped by the fact that some Member States have failed to transpose Community directives into their national law. But this does not excuse them from ensuring that their producers meet the conditions laid down in those directives.

We are very keen to bring examples of transgressions by traders in other Member States to the attention of the authorities in those countries. But we need your help in order to identify problems and I am pleased to say that we have been getting it.

Finally can I say that your Federation has effectively represented the views of your industry on the establishment of the FSA, on the implementation of the Poultry Meat Marketing Standards enforcement regime and on a whole range of other issues. These contributions are greatly appreciated and valued by the government, and long may they continue. Thank you.

Dawn Primarolo – 1998 Speech to the Women's Budget Group

Below is the text of the speech made by the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Dawn Primarolo, to the Women’s Budget Group on 12th February 1998.

1.      I am very pleased to have this chance to address you here today.  Both in Opposition and in Government, my colleagues and I have had respect for the work done by members of the Women’s Budget Group.


2.       The Government – and the Treasury in particular – is committed to supporting women in their diverse roles:

we want equality of opportunity for men and for women.   The Government must enable women to take their rightful place as the economic equals of men.  There is still much progress to be made: 79 years after women got the vote,  there are still far too many women in low income groups, low paid jobs and living in poverty in workless households.

and we must support women in their role usually as the main carer for children. Fundamental to this Government’s mission, is to serve the children who are our future. We are committed to tackling child poverty.


3.   I am proud to be part of a Government which understands that Governments should be aware of  – and take fully into account in the decision making-process – the differential effects of economic policy on men and women. Not as an afterthought, but as an integral part of policy making.

4.   The reality is that – overall – women’s lives differ from men’s in ways which are structural to our economy.  So some Budget measures affect women differently than men.  That is why an analysis of gender impact lies right at the heart of this Government’s Budget process.  We will publish information on Budget Day setting out the gender impact of those policies which particularly affect women.

5.   It is vital that our decisions – especially our Budget decisions – are taken on a gender aware basis.   Too often in the past, many of us have  felt that policy decisions have been taken in a way that is “gender blind.”  A poor policy process runs the risk of delivering poor decisions: decisions reflected in today’s status quo: a status quo which is failing women.


6.        Previous Governments have failed to respond to the changing political and economic context, and the changes in women’s and men’s roles. They have led to a status quo that is failing women today. The figures speak for themselves. Of the lowest 10 per cent of earners in the UK, nearly two-thirds are women.  Average weekly earnings for women are only three quarters of the level for men.    Three quarters of clerical and secretarial posts are filled by women whereas they only occupy a third of managerial and administrator posts.  Women in managerial posts earn on average just two thirds of the salary of their male counterparts. More women than men are on temporary contracts.

Previous Governments have failed to respond to womens’  changing place in the labour market.   The state –      through the benefit and tax systems – has continued to      assume that men work in secure long term jobs whilst women stay at home and care for the children. The reality is now much more diverse. More and more women are in employment  – in the last 15 years, we have seen an      increase of over 2 million working women. Many more women than men choose to take up the opportunities of part-time work.

Specifically, the benefit system failed women by assuming a family structure in which women are dependent on men; where there is a male breadwinner, with women staying at home to look after children.  Just one example:  the benefits system fails to give partners of the unemployed the help and advice they need to find work, because of the overriding focus on getting the breadwinner back to work.

The state has failed to adapt itself to changing social trends, for example the needs of  lone parents: parents who want to do the best by their children.  Lone parents have been denied the advice and help they need: instead, these parents were turned away with an order book, and told not to return until their youngest child had reached their 16th birthday.

The state has failed to adapt to changing needs on childcare.  There has never been a national strategy to      ensure that childcare in Britain matches  women’s changing role in the labour market. The issue of affordability has been ignored for too long.  And the childcare disregard  has benefited only 31,000 families – less than 5 per cent of Family Credit recipients.

The state has long failed to recognise the importance of unpaid work and the informal sector. Unpaid work plays a vital role in stitching together the fabric of society.


7.       This Government is not prepared to sit by and watch women being failed in all of these different ways.  That is why we are embarked on a wide ranging programme of reform to ensure that women get a new deal from the state.  This new deal must ensure that we help women from welfare into work, that we ensure that work pays and that we support women in all of their diverse roles.

8.     We have started to implement  the new deal for Lone Parents, giving women the advice and support they need in finding work, to improve their own and their children’s lifelong prospects.   This is the first national attempt to help lone parents – 90% of whom are mothers – into work.  The vast majority of lone parents  – just like women in couples – want the opportunity to work.  Not just for the financial rewards but for the self-respect and independence work brings. The employment rate for mothers in couples has risen from 53 per cent to 65 per cent, over the past 20 years.  At the same time,  the number of lone parents in work has fallen from 48 per cent to 40 per cent.  We are determined to give lone parents – and their children – a chance.

9.     We will be spending £175 million on the New Deal for lone parents over this Parliament. The programme will be available nationally for all new claimants from April, and will involve personal assistance with jobsearch, training and childcare for people who have previously been ignored by the system.

10.       We are modernising the tax and benefits system.  The key to tackling poverty among women and children is work.  Work provides a better standard of living than could ever be received on benefit. Our reforms aim to remove the financial penalties that the tax and benefits system present to those deciding to work.

11.       The Government is committed to introducing a 10p tax rate when it is prudent to do so.  This will help improve take pay for the low paid – many of them women as we know –  and improve work incentives.

12.           By setting a floor under wages, the National Minimum Wage will be of particular benefit to women in low-paid work. It will help to remove the worst cases of discrimination, and help promote work incentives. And  women stand to benefit from the introduction of the part-time workers’ directive, which aims to bring the rights of part-time workers more into line with those of full-time workers.

13.       We are developing a national strategy for childcare.

We have already started delivering, with a £300m out-of-school initiative.  Our national strategy will empower local communities to work together to meet their childcare needs. And we recognise the importance of, and are committed to promoting, family-friendly policies at work – for women and men and their families.

14.         Taken together, we have a host of policies which are designed to address the failure of past policy vacuum.    We are determined to deliver on these promises, and we have already started to do so.  Doing nothing is not an option if we want to improve lives of women where the system is failing.


15.       We recognise of course that many women choose to stay at home and look after their children.  The value to society of this unpaid caring work should not  be underestimated. Indeed I am pleased to note that the Office of National Statistics is now starting to collect and make sense of data on the unpaid sector of our economy.

16.  Our policies will be designed with the importance of this unpaid caring sector in mind.  For example, we are committed to introducing citizenship pensions for those who assume caring responsibilities and lose out on pension entitlements.  This is part of our agenda to ensure a decent  income for women over their whole lifetime.

17.      The primary caring role that women have traditionally held within the family, of course,  means that it is often women that are closer to the needs of children.  We are determined to bring forward policies which will enable women to look after the needs of their children.

18.       I want to reassure you today that child welfare is at the heart of our policies.  We know that investing in children – in this country’s future – is the most important investment we can make. The first few years of life are the most important in determining ability to thrive at school, in work, and in society more widely. Disadvantage in childhood can lead to life-long problems which affect the rest of the community – through crime, drug abuse and unemployment. The best way of supporting children is enabling parents to give their children the best start in life.

19.         We recognise the importance of child benefit as a mechanism for ensuring the extra cost of children is recognised.

That’s why we had manifesto commitment to retain it as universal benefit for the under 16s.  Child benefit has been frozen on a number of occasions in recent decades. This Government is committed to uprate it at least in line with prices.


20.    Welfare to Work and the Working Families Tax Credit  are key policies which  underpin our agenda for creating fairness, justice and equal opportunities for all. Our policies must facilitate the move from welfare to work, and must also ensure that work pays. A WFTC would be key to this strategy.

21.    Family credit has contained successful elements.  But we should have no illusions about its failings.  It is taken up by only 70 per cent of potential recipients.  And the childcare disregard has benefited only 31,000 families, only one-fifth of the number originally anticipated. Family Credit has  contributed to penal marginal withdrawal rates. 650,000 families face marginal rates of 70 per cent or more, with women usually the greatest losers. It is also administratively cumbersome: almost half a million families on Family Credit receive a benefit cheque from the DSS while paying income tax to the Inland Revenue.

22.      A new tax credit would have a number of advantages over the existing system of Family Credit:

its clear link with employment would demonstrate the

rewards of work over welfare and help people move off benefits into work.

the payment of a tax credit will guarantee working

families a minimum income, above and beyond the level of the minimum wage the onus would be on government to help ensure that as many individuals as were entitled would receive the tax credit, which – together with its status as a tax credit rather than a welfare benefit – should improve take-up  and, as the Chancellor made clear in his Pre-Budget Statement, the new system would also involve improved support for childcare through reform of the childcare disregard which has failed to cover adequately the childcare costs of lone parents and others on low incomes.

23.     Much of the attention surrounding today’s Conference has been focussed on what a Working Families Tax Credit would mean for women. The Working Families Tax Credit would be paid  to families with children.  One in five children live in families without work. Families without work are families without independence.  We are determined to help families with children give their children the best start in life.  The Working Families Tax Credit will help people’s incomes rise as the new system improves incentives to work.

24.       It is women who have been the greatest losers from the lack of coordination between tax and benefits systems to date.

It is women who have most often been prevented from working by the barriers the state has created which fail to give people incentives  to work and to move up the job ladder.  A reformed system is what women and their families deserve.

25.         The final issue that I want to talk about is the purse to wallet issue.  I believe that we need to be quite clear about the evidence on income sharing patterns within households.

Ruth Lister’s research is a helpful start, but her findings are clearly open to a variety of interpretations. Her work shows is that there is an extremely diverse pattern of income distribution within households.  There is no  one dominant model.

26.        There is no threat to independent taxation from the working families tax credit.  Nor would there be a compulsory transfer of resources from women to men. If the working families tax credit replaced Family Credit, families would have the right to elect to whom the tax credit is paid – the woman or the man.

27.  Women, because they are greatly over represented in the poorest groups, will be the main beneficiaries of a WFTC. This is especially true once the dynamic effects are taken into account. It is essential not to base thinking about welfare on the false premise that we are merely sharing out the state’s resources. That can only ever be a short term view.


28.      This government is embarked on a vast programme of change. We have put an end to men only economic policy. We will always consider the impact of our policies on women.  We will continue to support women in all of their diverse roles – as breadwinners and as carers in the home.

29.  My message to you today is that this programme of change is not a threat to women, rather it is essential for delivering a fair deal for women. We mustn’t look back. Only by moving forward can we deliver this agenda together.

William Hague – 1998 Conservative Party Conference Speech


Below is the text of the speech by the then Leader of the Opposition, William Hague, to the 1998 Conservative Party Conference in Bournemouth in October 1998.

They said we’d be disheartened. But they hadn’t reckoned with the heart, spirit and resilience of the people who’ve travelled to Bournemouth this week. They said we’d run out of ideas. But they hadn’t bargained for our lively debates on health, education and the constitution which have shown our readiness to start the new thinking for the future. They said we’d lost our vitality. You tell Ann Widdecombe we’ve lost our vitality. On second thoughts, you’d better not.

They said there’d be no surprises. Ted and Margaret came on to the platform for our debate on Europe and found instant agreement: they both hated those chairs. I’ll be totally candid with you: it hasn’t all been plain sailing since the election. I never expected it would be after such a heavy defeat. We’ve made real, substantial progress this last year. But I have never once pretended to you that the road ahead for our Party was anything but long and difficult. One of our successful council candidates summed it up the other week when she said to me: ‘the old hostility to us on the doorsteps has gone but we’ve still got to create the enthusiasm in its place.’ And she was right. We’ve changed our Party to make it the most open and democratic in Britain, and I want to pay tribute to the tireless work of Cecil Parkinson in seeing those reforms through. But now the best and most lasting thanks which we can all give to Cecil is to bring thousands more new members into our reformed Party.

We’ve set out with clarity and certainty enduring values which guide us, but now we must get on with communicating those values to the British people. You know the best thing about my job? Wednesdays, 3 p.m. Prime Minister’s Questions. The most disappointing thing about my job? Prime Minister’s answers. One of our new MPs did a study of Prime Minister’s Questions. In the last year the Prime Minister has been plain wrong 44 times; failed to answer the question another 44 times; and on seven occasions said he’d write a letter because he hadn’t got a clue. 95 times in a year. That’s twice a week he doesn’t answer the question, and he only turns up once a week.

What a shameful example of the contempt which this Government has for our Parliament and to the millions of voters who elected representatives to hold the Prime Minister to account. We’re winning the battle in Parliament. But now we’ve got to take that battle out to the country. There will be four steps to victory. None of them easy, but all of them within our reach. We’ve already taken the first step. In this May’s elections in London and around the rest of the country we gained 250 seats.

The next step is next May’s local elections. This time we will win council seats and take control of councils. And we’re going to win them from Labour and Liberal councillors who have betrayed their local communities with high taxes, poor services, and gross mismanagement.

The third step will be in Scotland and Wales. We are not going to leave the battleground to nationalist parties who want to destroy our country and a Labour Party which has played into their hands. We are going to invest the time and the energy and the resources to make sure the Conservative voice is heard in Edinburgh and Cardiff. We are a Party of the whole United Kingdom.

The fourth step will be the European Elections. We’re going to elect Conservative MEPs who will stand up for the Europe we believe in and for our country, instead of Liberal and Labour MEPs who would sell our interests short. You have chosen our outstanding candidates for the European Parliament. From their Chairman, Edward McMillan-Scott, to new young candidates like Teresa Villiers and Andrew Reid, who you have heard from this week. We owe it to all our candidates to get behind them next June.

But before we even come to these elections, there is another battle we must win. Later this month we will have the report from the so-called independent commission on electoral reform, The Jenkins Commission. It’s a rigged commission; it will be a rigged report. It is going to propose a plan to gerrymander our voting system and take away from the British people their basic democratic power to choose their government. And when that report comes out, I expect every member of this Party, every Member of Parliament – and I mean every Member – and every candidate in every election, to fight it with all the energy and determination they can muster. If you want to know what is at stake, just look at New Zealand. They abandoned our system in favour of PR. It took them two months to form a government. And they ended up with two parties who swore they would never work with each other. In other words, the one government that not a single voter had wanted.

So we are going to make common cause with people in other parties, with businesses, with trade unions and pressure groups, and we are going to fight in favour of a system which has served Britain well against the worst possible concoction of voting methods cobbled together over too many bottles of claret. Mind you, recent rumours suggest that the Prime Minister doesn’t know what he’s going to do on PR. The rumours have upset some people. I spotted this letter in a newspaper last week, ‘Dear Agony Aunt, I’ve been involved with a married man called Tony for 18 months now. He said personal relationships, or PR as I call it, were high on his life’s agenda; although, looking back, he always winked at his friends when he said it. But recently he hasn’t written, he hasn’t called. No flowers. No chocolates. He goes off to the seaside without me and he’s been horrible about me in front of all his friends. Now I’m terribly confused not a new experience for me – and I wonder if I should trust this man? Are we really going to have a relationship, or were my friends right all along? Yours, Heartbroken of Yeovil.’ The Agony Aunt replies, again in complete confidence. ‘Dear Paddy, I’m sorry to have to tell you that you’ve been taken in by this man. But take heart. You’re not alone. Many others have been taken in too. Paddy, it’s time to go away and get a life. You’ll be much happier hanging out with little groups of chums, just like you’ve always done. Yours, Agony Aunt.’

Now all that means we have a lot of battles to fight. And to win those battles we have to get three things clear. One, we must be clear about what it is to be a Conservative. Two, we need to be clear why we are different from a Labour Government that is using our language but reversing our most successful policies. Three, we have to be clear about the things we are going to stand for in the future. That is what this speech is about. Through the long, proud history of the Conservative Party runs a golden thread. That thread stretches out through the decades, linking each one of us to the great men and women who have led this Party. It is that we are a Party which draws its inspiration from the character of the British people; it is that we cherish the precious traditions and freedoms of our island home; it is that we found our programme on the experiences of the people, not the abstract theories of purists and ideologues.

When Pitt and Wilberforce pleaded with the House of Commons to abolish slavery, it is because Tories love justice and freedom as the British people love justice and freedom. When Disraeli told the crowds gathered in Manchester’s Free Trade Hall that constitutional stability is the only parent of personal liberty and political right, it is because Conservatives value tradition and continuity as the British people value tradition and continuity. When Salisbury and Joe Chamberlain came together to advance the Empire and defend the Union, it is because Conservatives are unionists as the British people are unionists. When Winston Churchill led this country in war rather than submit to the will of tyrants, it is because Conservatives show resolve and courage as the British people show resolve and courage. And when this country was laid low with a failing economy, held hostage by union barons, and we turned that economy into one of the most dynamic and successful in the world, it is because Conservatives like Margaret Thatcher possess enterprise and determination as the British people possess enterprise and determination. And then there is Northern Ireland. When we welcomed David Trimble to this Conference and wished him well with his daunting responsibilities, it is because Conservatives like John Major are dedicated to peace and democracy as the British people are dedicated to peace and democracy.

Our character is the character of the people. Our beliefs: the beliefs of the people. Our purpose: the defence, the advancement, the elevation of the people. Our history is that of a Party that trusts the people. It is a strange paradox that this instinctive quality of Conservatives, this belief in the value of experience over theory, this feeling of confidence in being British has been our most potent weapon in the battle of ideas. Look at the battles of the last 20 years. We fought the ideas of state control and intervention with a British belief in enterprise and freedom. And we won. We fought the defeatism over trades union power with a British optimism and refusal to be defeated. And we won. We fought the economics of the madhouse with British common sense. And we won. We fought the pacifists and the unilateral disarmers with a British sense of our world responsibilities. And no thanks to you, Tony Blair or Gordon Brown or Margaret Beckett or Jack Straw or Robin Cook – we won that battle too.

When I hear Tony Blair talk of these achievements I realise that he respects them, that he fears them, that he would like to take credit for them. But that he doesn’t understand them. He thinks we won just by publishing pamphlets, so he publishes his own. He thinks we won just by holding seminars, so he holds his own. He thinks we were ideologues, so he tries to invent his own ideology, the Third Way. It is true that without the academics and the think tanks, the Conservative Party’s common sense revolution would not have been all that it was. But without an instinctive understanding of the character of the British people, it would not have happened at all.

Our way is not the first way or the second way or the third way – it is the only way for us. It is the British way.

There are those commentators and politicians who do not like it when I say that the Conservative Party is going to listen. The message of our history is that unless we listen, we cannot hope to lead. It is my profoundest belief that if the Conservative Party is not in touch with the identity and values of the British people, then it cannot be authentically Conservative. What are the opponents of listening afraid of? We have nothing to be afraid of, for when we listen to Britain, we are listening to the defenders of liberty and freedom. When we listen to Britain, we are listening to the friends of tradition and continuity. When we listen to Britain, we are listening to the upholders of moral and social responsibility. When we listen to Britain, we are listening to those who every day show the strength of their compassion and responsibility to others. When we listen to Britain, we are listening to patriots, to true internationalists, to a vigorous, courageous and independent people. I know that when we listen to the people of Britain, we have nothing to be afraid of.

The Conservative Party has always been able to rely on the British people. Now we must make sure that the British people can once again rely on the Conservative Party. For Britain needs the Conservative Party today, needs it now, more than ever. For instead of a Government following the British Way, we have a Government searching for the Third Way.

Tony Blair knows he is in favour of the Third Way, if only he could work out what it is. I hope he doesn’t think it’s a new idea. In the 1930s an ambitious politician abandoned Old Labour and formed what he called the New Party. He used the term ‘the third way’ to describe what he said was his position ‘in the centre of politics.’ His name? Oswald Mosley. Not a happy precedent. In the Cold War, President Nasser and Marshal Tito found a way to avoid taking sides and being everyone’s friend. What did they call their approach? The Third Way. And 800 years ago St Thomas Aquinas came up with an original name for his philosophy: the Third Way. He described it in terms New Labour would have felt quite comfortable with. ‘It is, he said, ‘A thing that need not be, once was not, and if everything need not be, once upon a time there was nothing.’ The thinking of Tony Blair in the language of John Prescott.

For New Labour, the Third Way means having it every way. You can be in favour of freer markets and more government intervention. You can talk about personal responsibility and pursue nanny state policies that erode personal responsibility. You can say you support the family and then demolish the last recognition of marriage from the tax system. You can call for trade union powers to be curbed and steadily extend the power trade unions have. You can promise to devolve power and run the most centralising, authoritarian government. You can say you love the pound and do everything possible to abolish it at the earliest opportunity.

Handy thing, this Third Way, isn’t it? Tony Blair answers the charge that he believes in nothing by saying that, on the contrary, he believes in everything. I say that to believe in nothing and to believe in everything is exactly the same thing. That’s why, before the election, it was a good idea to ban tobacco sponsorship, and after the election it was not a good idea to ban it for Formula One. That’s why, before the election, they said they wouldn’t interfere with PEPs and TESSAs, and after the election they interfered with PEPs and TESSAs. That’s why, before the election, they said they wouldn’t introduce tuition fees, and after the election they introduced tuition fees. That’s why, before the election, they said that hospital waiting lists would go down, and after the election hospital waiting lists went up. That’s why, before the election, they said they’d control public spending, and after the election they lost control of public spending. That’s why, before the election, they said they wouldn’t raise taxes, and after the election they raised taxes seventeen times. That’s why, before the election, they said they would deal with young offenders more quickly, and after the election they deal with young offenders more slowly. That’s why, before the election, they said they’d be an open government, and went on about high standards, and, after the election they treat Parliament and the public with arrogance, secrecy, cronyism and contempt. That’s why, before the election, they went on about offshore trusts, and after the election appointed as Minister for off-shore trusts a man with off-shore trusts who influences his off-shore trusts. That’s why, before the election, they said they’d be a People’s Government and talked about the People’s this and the People’s that, as if we were all going to China, when all we’ve seen since the election is overpaid advisers, overseas junkets and over-promoted cronies all paid for by the People’s money.

That’s what happens when you believe in everything and believe in nothing. It would be funny if we weren’t talking about people’s jobs and people’s prosperity and people’s freedom. At the election Labour boasted that things could only get better. Now they talk about hard choices because they know things can only get worse. It is not their fault if there is a downturn in the world economy; but it is their fault if they pursue policies that mean those problems are going to be hitting Britain harder. One job lost every ten minutes while this Government presides over our economy. And the search is on for somebody else to blame: the managers, the workers, the investors, the Russians, the Malaysians. The only thing Labour Ministers are certain about is that they’re not to blame. Nothing to do with them. Forget the high interest rates, high pound, loose public spending, extra employment laws, new union powers and damaging European regulations. Nothing whatsoever to do with them.

In July, Gordon Brown announced his spending spree and his forecasts for the economy. We all knew those forecasts were wrong. Most economists knew they were wrong. Francis Maude told the Chancellor they were wrong. I asked Tony Blair at Prime Minister’s Questions whether he accepted that the forecasts were wrong. ‘No,’ he said with supreme complacency. See what I mean about those answers – 96 now and still counting. This week we discover they are completely wrong. Grim, but wholly predictable news for families and businesses throughout the country. So don’t tell me there’s no difference between the two Parties on economic policy. There is every difference.

What we have seen in the last year-and-a-half amounts to a major reversal of the economic policy of the last Government. We are close to a jobs crisis in this country. Agriculture is already in recession, British farming faces its worst crisis for more than half a century, yet Labour Ministers have closed their ears to the countryside. We shall never forget that the food we eat and the landscape we enjoy depend on a thriving rural economy. We shall speak up, as we always have, for British agriculture and the British farmer. Manufacturing industry is on the brink of recession. Foreign investment is draining out of the country. No amount of scripted sympathy and mock concern from the Government is going to lessen the impact on families around Britain this winter. At a time of great difficulty for businesses and jobs, this Government plans extra burdens, extra regulations and extra costs. This is exactly the wrong policy at exactly the wrong time.

What we need is action. First, the Government should announce a moratorium on any measures likely to increase business costs. That doesn’t just mean statutory union recognition and the minimum wage, it means getting to grips with their family tax credit plan with all its extra bureaucracy. Second, they should urgently rethink the New Deal. Help should not be concentrated on those people likely to find work anyway but on areas and people worst hit by big job losses. Third, the Chancellor should make an emergency statement as soon as the Commons returns. Since he’s been reckless enough to announce his spending without knowing his revenue, he must immediately come to the Commons to tell us how he is going to reconcile the two. Interest rates have come down today by a quarter of a percent, and that’s welcome. But rates will stay higher and do so longer than necessary because of Labour’s mistakes on tax, spending and regulation. I don’t blame Eddie George, but I do blame Gordon Brown. And without such a Jobs Crisis Package, the Government will be responsible for yet more lost jobs and factory closures.

It won’t be enough to produce another gimmick. This Government is very good at gimmicks. Take the Millennium Computer Bug, a huge potential problem for every business in the country. The Prime Minister’s answer? A great fanfare. Bright lights. Flash backdrop. Packed press conference. 20,000 specially trained ‘bug busters.’ Super bug busters. Doesn’t it sound good? How’s he getting on? Six months closer to the Millennium and he’s appointed 26 of them. New Labour says it’s preparing Britain for the new Millennium and they’re not even ready for the first day of it.

What about Welfare Reform? One of the most important issues facing our country. Remember how Harriet Harman was going to sort it out? Remember Harriet Harman? Remember the Welfare Roadshows that were going to travel round the country, persuading everyone of the need to make urgent reforms to the welfare state? What happened to those roadshows? Did one come down your way? Hands up anyone who’s actually seen one. The roadshows never got beyond Lambeth Bridge. You’re more likely to have seen Elvis shopping in a local supermarket than caught sight of one of Labour’s roadshows. And with the roadshows went any serious commitment by this Government to cut welfare bills, reduce dependency and reform our welfare state.

The short ministerial career of Frank Field is a parable of New Labour. For a whole year, the Prime Minister traded on the reputation of the only man of principle in his Government; and when that man had the courage to resign rather than sell out his principles, the whole House of Commons sat and listened to his resignation speech – everyone, that is, except Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who went creeping and crawling out of the Chamber. That was when we really needed a bug buster. That is what happens when you believe in everything and you believe in nothing.

But if you want to believe in everything and to believe in nothing, you need to find some allies with experience. Enter the Liberals. For too long our Party has ignored the Liberals at a local level. We’re not going to ignore them anymore. We’re going to attack Liberal councils which are failing their local communities with high tax bills, poor services and wasted money. We’ve always said voting Liberal is a wasted vote. And as anyone who lives under a Liberal Council will tell you, a vote for the Liberals is never so wasted as when the Liberals win. New Labour and the Liberals: the Third Way and the Third Rate. Our way is the British Way.

The British Way is about smaller Government and bigger citizens. I was 16 years old when I first addressed a Conservative Party Conference. I sometimes think I’ll be 116 years old before people stop reminding me of it. When I was 16 I had all that hair, but now I’ve lost some of it. I had a rather nice jacket with wide lapels, and I’ve lost that too. Thanks, Ffion. And I also had an abiding belief in freedom, and that’s something I’ll never, ever lose. While I may be as embarrassed as anybody is when looking at an old photo, I can always be proud of what I believed in. If I was Tony Blair and someone had a picture of me as a grown man wearing a CND badge and calling for unilateral nuclear disarmament, I don’t think I’d ever show my face in public again. I spoke of my belief in freedom when I was just 16, because a belief in freedom is in the bones of British people. We bridle against interference, bureaucracy and petty rules. We value our personal freedom and each one of us talks of the sanctity of our home as if it were the finest castle. We demand that power is always limited, law always restrained, authority always checked. It is because of these instincts that Conservatives want, in Chris Patten’s striking phrase, ‘smaller Government and bigger citizens.’

New Labour is making Government both bigger and bossier. Few decisions have been more ludicrous than banning beef on the bone. Since Labour took office it is now possible to go into a restaurant and be told that the starter has been banned, the main course is under investigation and the cheese has been impounded by Department of Health officials. In this Government we see all the instincts of the nanny state. Don’t eat beef, don’t drink, don’t stay up late, don’t drive, and if you do have to drive don’t park. I thought this was supposed to be a free country.

All this nonsense provides us with a great opportunity. We have always been seen as the Party of economic liberty. In the face of this Government’s attitudes we must make sure we are seen as the Party of personal liberty too. For the British Way is to keep Government in its proper place – as the servant, not the master. It is to keep taxes as low as possible, keep regulation to a minimum, make sure Government minds its own business so that people can get on with minding their own. That’s why the Conservative way is the British way. The British Way is also about safeguarding the independent institutions which alone nurture freedom and responsibility.

We are more than a nation of shopkeepers. We are also a nation of volunteers, of hobbyists, of sports fans, of churchgoers, of carers, of hundreds of thousands of charities and associations and societies. We Conservatives draw on a long and rich tradition of voluntary work and public service. Now we are going to be the champions of the local school, champions of the local hospital, champions of the voluntary group and of the charity. We must show that we have listened to Britain and that we are the people who can be trusted best with our public services. We have a lot of work to do – on health. The NHS doesn’t belong to the Labour Party, it belongs to the people of Britain. We are proud of what our Party has done to look after the NHS in fifty years. But let’s be honest. One of the reasons we lost the General Election is that people thought the Conservative Party didn’t care about the NHS. We cannot allow this damaging attack to go unanswered.

The NHS is part of the British Way. Free at the point of use, it belongs to rich and poor alike. But to say that we are true friends of the NHS is not enough. We have got to help this country engage in a mature debate about the NHS. The Labour Party, with its simplistic rhetoric and dishonest promises and cruelly raised expectations, is already letting people down. And that gives us another great opportunity. Of course there are real challenges. Medical technology advancing at a staggering pace. New treatments and new medicines emerging every month. And we will be straight with the British people. We shall certainly stand for generous public funding. But we will also stand for a future in which the people at the frontline of health care have the freedom to take their own decisions. A future when local GPs and local hospitals are embedded in strong local communities. A future where the Berlin Wall between the public and private sectors is torn down.

A Conservative future for the NHS. So let’s go and fight for it. We’ve got a lot of work to do on education. I was lucky enough to go to WathupomDeame Comprehensive, where dedicated teachers opened the door to a world of opportunities for me. I want to open the same door to the thousands of young people who are still denied the good teaching and high standards which ought to be their birthright in a civilised society. We made a start in Government.

But in his excellent speech on Wednesday, David Willetts got it right. In the post-war era, all politicians, including Conservatives, came to believe that we could put everything right by adding more and more regulations into a system planned from Whitehall. It must be clear by now that in education, as in anything else, this simply will not work. New Labour hasn’t understood this. All they offer is more and more central control over what teachers teach, over how they teach, over the way schools are run, over the amount of homework that is set. They even seem to know when every child in the country should go to bed. Here’s another opportunity for us. For we must develop policies which set all our teachers free. Policies which give power back to parents. Policies which give all children the high standards of teaching they deserve. Labour’s going to be the Party of political control. We’re going to be the Party of school freedom.

Labour’s going to fail on public services. They are going to let down the massive expectations they have aroused. And we are going to grasp the opportunity this gives us. We are going to be the true Party of public services. For the British Way is not uniformity. Not state monopoly. Not central control and direction. No, the British Way is about the creativity that comes from independence, it is about the diversity that comes from freedom, it is about the efficiency that comes from choice.

That’s why the Conservative way is the British Way. The British Way is to be on the side of people who try to do the right thing. People who save, who work hard, who try to be independent of the state, who obey the law and pay their taxes, people who are good citizens and who find that the system is not on their side. They’re the kind of people I grew up with in Rotherham. They’re hard-working families whose parents go out and try their best to find jobs because they don’t want to accept hand-outs from the benefits office; hard-working families in which children are taught to respect values like self-discipline, honesty, self-reliance, good manners and respect for other people. They don’t want to see the Labour Government abandoning welfare reform, increasing dependency, making it more expensive to work and putting up welfare bills by £40 billion in the next three years alone. They want to see people who do the right thing rewarded and not undermined. And they look to our Party to support them.

We must come forward with real welfare reform – welfare reform that ends the culture of dependency that pervades too many of our inner cities; welfare reform that encourages families to stay together and doesn’t discriminate against marriage; welfare reform that helps people off benefit and into real jobs. Strong and stable family life is the cornerstone of a healthy society, and let me make clear to you today that we shall develop policies on welfare reform, which strengthen family responsibility and support for the institution of marriage.

And it’s not just the hard-working family who doesn’t get the support they deserve. It’s the honest citizen, like the many I meet in my constituency surgeries who see a crime and do the right thing by reporting it, and who are then treated appallingly by the criminal justice system. They hear nothing for months; then they are summoned to court to give evidence only to find the case is adjourned; finally, they get to court and are told to wait around for hours in the same room as the person they are giving evidence against. And all because they did the right thing. My constituents and honest citizens like them don’t want to see a Labour Government presiding over longer and longer court delays. They look to our Party to support them and to make sure the courts make a distinction between who’s on trial and who isn’t.

And then there’s the small businessman, like my father before he retired, who works long hours to build up a profitable business and, instead of getting encouragement from Government for doing the right thing, finds he spends his life as an unofficial tax collector, filling in VAT forms and complying with an endless stream of regulation and red tape. He looks to the Conservative Party to set him free, to let him get on with doing the right thing and creating wealth and jobs for our society. These people who do the right thing rarely get the support they deserve from any Government. That makes them angry, and it makes me angry too.

But what makes them feel not just angry but resentful is when they see people who do the wrong thing put on pedestals and rewarded. What kind of society are we living in when we see terrorist murderers getting thousands of pounds compensation from taxpayers because their cells were searched by prison officers uncovering their plan to escape? It sickens me to read again and again about someone defending their own property who ends up being charged when the criminal gets away scot-free. It offends against a very deep British instinct. The sense of fair play.

I want the Conservative Party to be the Party of fairness. The Party which understands that when British people speak of fairness, they are speaking of something which is a million miles away from the so-called fairness of envious egalitarians and bureaucratic busybodies. I want the Conservative Party to be the Party that stands up for people who do the right thing. I want the Conservative Party to be the Party which rewards honesty, decency and diligence. I want the Conservative Party to be the Party which can distinguish between right and wrong. That is the British Way. And the Conservative way is the British Way.

The British way is about understanding that freedom and democracy can only exist if they are protected by a constitution which upholds the rule of law, which holds Government accountable to the people and which maintains the integrity of the United Kingdom. Those are the principles in which the British people believe, which Labour’s policies threaten and which the Conservative Party will fight to defend. It is difficult to overestimate the incoherence and confusion of Labour’s constitutional plans. They have now introduced so many voting systems that if you were born in Scotland, live in Wales, work in London and want to vote in the European elections, you need Peter Lilley’s brain to work out how to do it. But this Party has to understand that it will not be enough for us simply to campaign against change. Let me make it clear. We will not become an English Nationalist Party. We are a Party of the United Kingdom.

We are not going to be English nationalists, but we are going to see that the voters of England are fairly represented. I do not believe that the people of Bournemouth will long accept that Scottish MPs should vote to decide on health, or schools in Bournemouth, when their MPs have no say over such matters in Banff & Buchan. For the first time we will have to become the advocates of major constitutional change. It may be a change in the voting rights of Scottish MPs, it may be an English Parliament in some form. Labour have undermined the stability of the United Kingdom. We have to restore its balance. And we’re going to stop Labour turning the House of Lords into a giant quango. We’re not opposed to change in principle. But would it really be better to replace a Chamber partly chosen by the Almighty with a Chamber entirely chosen by the Prime Minister? I can still tell the difference. We are happy to consider the merits of changes to the Upper House alongside the merits of the existing system.

But we’re not going to go along with changes that would leave Parliament weaker, the Government of the day more powerful, the House of Lords neutered and legislation rubber-stamped by Tony’s cronies. The British Way is to take pride in our traditions, to value stability, to resist ill-thought-through and unnecessary change. But it is also the British Way to do what has to be done to preserve democracy and ensure that Government is accountable to the people. That’s why the Conservative way is the British Way. The British Way is to take pride in our nation’s history and in the achievements of the British people through the centuries. But the best traditions of this country look to the world beyond our shores not with suspicion or resentment, but with a buccaneering spirit of enterprise, self-confidence and adventure.

So our national interests, our security, our trade mean that we can never be indifferent to, or aloof from, what happens in the rest of the world. Britain faces a massive challenge across the globe. We must maintain in good repair our relations with the United States. Our armed forces may soon be involved in action in Kosovo. We face volatile opinions about Britain in our traditional friends in the Middle East and elsewhere. These are important issues and whatever we do, we must not look inwards to Britain; we must look outwards to the wider world. Europe is part of that world. And British people know that our geography and history mean that the interests of the United Kingdom are intertwined with those of the other nations of Europe.

Twice this century, in the trenches of the Somme, on the beaches of Normandy, our young soldiers sacrificed their lives to defend the freedom of our country and to liberate Europe from tyranny. I pay tribute to that generation of politicians, Ted Heath’s generation, who worked tirelessly to heal a divided continent, who built NATO and the European Union, and who did so in order to spare my generation the destruction and slaughter which they had experienced. But half a century on, Europe has changed. The vision of a closely integrated federal Europe, which inspired good and honourable men in the aftermath of war, does not meet the needs of our continent today.

We have a great opportunity. Our policy on the single currency is settled. Now that policy must become part of a positive and distinctively Conservative agenda for Europe, an agenda for a new generation. We need to reduce the shamefully high levels of unemployment in the EU by freeing Europe’s businesses from red tape and social costs. We need to create a true common market and work for free trade with the wider world. We need to strengthen the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe by welcoming them as full members of the European Union. For you do not measure European unity by the height of the barriers raised against the rest of the world. You do not build a sense of common purpose by taking power away from national parliaments. You do not build a Europe for a new generation by giving power to remote and unaccountable institutions in Brussels or Frankfurt.

The British Way is to be in Europe, but not run by Europe. That’s why the Conservative way is the British Way. In each generation, the left of this country regroups. It leaves behind its old errors and disastrous programmes and adopts new ones. Different each time, but each time an attempt to make Britain something that it isn’t, to make Britain somewhere else. And so in each generation, the Conservative Party faces a new challenge: How to safeguard and advance the basic character, values and institutions of our country in the face of yet another new left. The challenge has rarely been more difficult than it is this time. But I think it has never been so important. For New Labour threatens so much that is important in this country. It threatens our freedom, our democracy, our prosperity, our independence. It has persuaded so many people who love these things to let down their guard and to stand by while this assault on the character of our country goes on.

Well, we’re not going to stand idly by. We’re going to fight for the British Way. We are going to change our Party. We are going to listen to Britain. We are going to make sure that we are in touch with the basic instincts of the British people. We are going to be in touch with a Britain that values its freedom and is beginning to resent the way that New Labour is becoming bossier by the day. We are going to be in touch with a Britain that wants decent public services and is beginning to realise that New Labour’s way will not work. We are going to be in touch with a Britain that has a deep sense of fair play and will quickly realise that Labour do not understand it. We are going to be in touch with a Britain that values its stability and democracy and will be horrified when it realises how New Labour has undermined them. We are going to be in touch with a Britain that wants to be in Europe but not run by Europe.

The time has come for us to do what the British people expect us to do, and take on this Government. The time has come for us to take off the gloves and punch our weight. The time has come for us to be all that we know we can be. The Conservative Party has shaped British politics for the whole of the twentieth century and you have given me the privilege of leading us into the twenty first century. Be assured we have no intention of being satisfied with reading that history. We have every intention of continuing to write it. Together that is what we shall do.

Eddie George – 1998 Speech to TUC Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Eddie George to the 1998 TUC Conference.

If the newspapers are to be believed – and I make no comment on that – then you have just welcomed Daniel to the lion’s den. Although this is my first experience of this particular lion’s den, I must admit I have been in a few others. In fact, the last time that I faced such a formidable audience, the Chairman tried to reassure me by explaining that it wasn’t me they were angry with, it was the person who had invited me to speak. So to avoid any possible misunderstanding, I would like to begin by thanking John Monks for inviting me along this afternoon. It is perhaps no coincidence that today is Respect for the Aged Day in Japan!

Actually, I am very pleased to be here and to have this opportunity to respond directly to some of the serious concerns that have been expressed recently by trade union leaders, among others, about monetary policy. Let me start with perhaps what is your biggest concern. You think that the Monetary Policy Committee, which I chair and which sets interest rates, is only interested in controlling inflation and takes little or no account of the effects of its decisions on real economic activity and jobs. Some of you evidently think that that is because we are a crowd of ‘pointy-heads’, or ‘inflation nutters’, or even ‘manufacturing hooligans’, and I am not sure that these descriptions are intended as terms of endearment.

More seriously, and perhaps more generously, some of you think that the problem lies with our remit from the Government, which is first to maintain price stability, defined as an underlying inflation rate of 2 – 2.5% and, subject to that, to support the economic policy of the Government including its objectives for growth and employment.

Whatever the reason, your concern is that we place too much emphasis on holding prices down and not enough on keeping growth and employment up. The implication is that you see a trade-off between inflation and the rate of economic growth, so that if only we would let up a bit on controlling inflation then this country could enjoy higher activity and lower unemployment which are the really good things of life, or at the very least we could avoid some of the worst damage that is currently afflicting the whole of agriculture, large parts of manufacturing industry and even some services sectors. That might even be true – for a time. The trouble is that in anything other than the short-term it will be likely to mean more, rather than less, economic damage and lower, rather than higher, growth and employment.

Often in the past in this country we behaved as if we thought that promoting higher growth and employment, which of course is what we all want to see, was largely a matter of pumping up demand. We paid too little attention to the structural supply-side constraints. All too often we tried to buy faster growth and higher employment even at the expense of a bit more inflation. In effect, we tried to squeeze a quart out of a pint pot, and you all know the result – rising inflation and a worsening balance of payments which eventually could only be brought back under control by pushing up interest rates dramatically, far higher than they are today, and forcing the economy into recession.

I do not need to remind you of the really miserable social as well as economic consequences, as right across the economy people lost their jobs, their businesses and their homes; or insidiously repeated experience of boom and bust produced a pervasive short-termism in business behaviour which infected both industry and finance and, dare I say, both employers and employees however much we all like to blame everyone else. Everyone was tempted to grab what they could while the going was good.

But we have learned from that experience. We have learned that in anything other than the short-term there really is no trade-off between growth and inflation. What we are trying to do now through monetary policy is to keep overall demand in the economy growing continuously, broadly in line with the capacity of the economy as a whole to meet that demand. Both the previous Government and the present one set a low inflation target as the immediate objective of monetary policy, not as an end in itself but in effect as a measure of our success in keeping demand in line with supply. So the real aim is to achieve stability across the economy as a whole in this much wider sense.

Now there is not a lot, quite frankly, that we can do directly through monetary policy to affect the supply side, the underlying rate of growth that can be sustained without causing inflation to rise. That can be influenced by the whole raft of Government policies ranging from education and health to taxation and social security, and it depends ultimately on the ingenuity, the productivity and the flexibility of the economy. Employers and employees working together clearly have a crucial role to play in this context and I recognise the constructive and forward-looking role that many of you are now playing to improve the supply-side capacity of the economy.

But monetary policy operates on the demand side and the best help that we can give is to keep overall demand consistently in line with that supply-side capacity, not letting it run above capacity but not letting it fall below capacity either, as reflected in consistently low inflation. That way we can moderate, rather than aggravate, the unavoidable ups and downs of the business cycle, enabling steadier growth, high levels of employment and rising living standards to be sustained into the medium and longer term, and if we can do that then it will contribute indirectly to the supply side by creating an environment which encourages more rational, longer-term decision-making throughout the economy.

I would hope, President, that on this basis we could all agree at least on what it is we are trying to do. The debate is not about the ends, it is about the means. We are every bit as concerned with growth and employment as you are, as anyone in their right mind must be. But we are interested in growth and employment that is sustained into the medium and long term, and permanently low inflation is a necessary condition for achieving that. If I thought that low inflation were simply an end in itself, then I have to tell you I would get very little satisfaction from my job.

But even if we agree on the objective, that still of course leaves plenty of room for us to disagree about what that means for the actual policy stance, the level of interest rates, at any particular time. In fact, as you may have noticed, because we are wholly open about it, even the individual members of the Monetary Policy Committee have actually been known to disagree about that – at the margin.

Outside the MPC a lot of people say to me, “Okay, I agree we don’t want to return to boom and bust” – I have heard that this afternoon – “but”, they say, “you are still overdoing it. From where I sit, or from what I’m told”, they say, “we’re headed for recession, it’s just hours away”. Sometimes they imply that we are also going to undershoot the inflation target and sometimes they don’t much seem to care about what happens to inflation.

Now there are always plenty of people who claim to know what’s going to happen to the economy, to know that interest rates are “clearly far too high”, or “clearly far too low”, and the present time is no exception. It has been difficult recently to hear yourself think about the deafening noise of opinions on the state of the economy which, understandably, often reflect the situation in their particular neck of the whole economy wood.

The truth is that neither we, nor they, nor anyone else, can know with any great certainty precisely where demand is in relation to capacity in the economy as a whole. Still less do we know where it is likely to be over the next couple of years, and that is the more relevant consideration, given the time that it takes before changes in interest rates have their full effects.

Monetary policy isn’t a precise science, we have never pretended that it is, but it cannot be just a matter of sweeping, broad-brush impressions based upon partial information either. What we have to do is to make the best professionally-informed analysis we can of all the sources of information available to us, relating to every sector of the economy and every part of the country and then constantly review and, as necessary, modify our judgments month by month and quarter by quarter, in the light of the flood of new information as it becomes available.

That, of course, is exactly what we do in fact do, using the vast array of official economic statistics and financial market data, all the publicly available, and some private, surveys and commentaries, as well as a wealth of anecdotal and structured survey evidence that we collect ourselves through our 16 non-executive directors, through the frequent visits which MPC members make around the country, through meetings in London and through our network of 12 regional information-gathering and disseminating agencies with their 7,000 industrial contacts throughout the United Kingdom, and we openly display the facts as they are available to us as well as our analysis and our conclusions regularly through the publication of the minutes of our monthly meetings and in the quarterly Inflation Report.

So when people say to me that the economy is headed for recession, I am interested in comparing the evidence on which they base their views with our own evidence, and I want to know whether or not they are also saying that they expect us to undershoot the Government’s inflation target.

Let us just for a moment turn down the noise and look at some of the relevant facts as they relate to the economy as a whole.

Since the economy started to recover from recession in the spring of 1992, some six‑and‑a‑half years ago, overall output has grown at an average annual rate of about 3%. That is well above the trend rate for the past 20 years of just 2%. Employment has increased by 1.2 million over this period, while unemployment has fallen almost month by month, on the familiar claimant count measure, from a peak of over 10% in 1993, to some 4.7% now. That is the lowest rate for 18 years. Meanwhile retail price inflation (on the Government’s target measure) has averaged around 2.75% ‑‑ that is the lowest for a generation. There is not much evidence here that low inflation inevitably means low growth and employment.

But, of course, we started this period with demand blow capacity ‑‑ with a fair amount of slack in the economy which we were gradually taking up. By last year, it had become clear, in the evidence of rising capacity utilisation and of growing tightness in the labour market, that unless we acted to moderate the growth of demand we were at risk of overheating. That is why we tightened policy over last summer, to slow things down before inflation took off and to head off a subsequent recession. Although, as I say, you can never be sure ‑‑ economic forecasting is a very uncertain business ‑‑ a necessary slow-down, rather than a more serious recession is what we think we are seeing; and, as I understand it, that is what your own General Council thinks too.

Our problem in slowing the economy down has been enormously complicated by the increasing imbalance between the domestic and the internationally‑exposed sectors of the economy. Domestic demand for goods and particularly for services has been unsustainably strong and large parts of the economy have been doing very well on the back of that. But the sectors which are most exposed to international competition have been suffering enormous pressure as a result, initially, of the exaggerated strength of sterling ‑‑ especially against the major European currencies in the run‑up to decisions on the Euro ‑‑ and as a result subsequently of the successive waves of turmoil spreading through large parts of the global economy. Overall demand growth, at least until fairly recently, remained excessive, and the labour market has continued to tighten.

The question was what should we do? It was not that we did not know that large parts of the economy were under the hammer; we had been as conscious of that as anyone. Still less was it that we did not care; we care, just as you must, about activity and jobs in all sectors of the economy. But the stark choice confronting us was either to tighten policy, knowing that it would inevitably increase the pain which the internationally exposed sectors were already suffering, or to disregard the developing excess overall demand in order to protect the internationally‑exposed sectors from further damage. That was the choice that confronted us.

This second course might have meant less pain for the internationally‑exposed sectors in the short run, but it would have meant putting the whole of the economy, including the exposed sectors, at risk of accelerating inflation; and it would, in all probability, have meant a much sharper downturn in the economy as a whole a little further ahead. We have been round that buoy all too often before. And so we tightened policy, trying as best we could through our tactics to minimise the unwanted upward pressure on the exchange rate.

I know, President, only too well that this will be cold comfort to many of you in the exposed sectors, but there is no point in pretending that things are other than they are. The present imbalance means we are trying to maintain stability in the economy as a whole in extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

But I will make one final point. The inflation target we have been set is symmetrical. A significant, sustained fall below 2.5% inflation must be regarded just as seriously as a significant sustained rise above it. I give you my assurance that we will be just as rigorous in cutting interest rates if the overall evidence begins to point to our undershooting the target as we have been in raising them when the balance of risks was on the upside. There is now evidence that domestic demand growth is moderating, as it must do, and that the labour market is tightening more slowly than before. On top of that, as we said in our press notice last Thursday (announcing that we had not changed interest rates) we recognise “that deterioration in the international economy could increase the risks of inflation falling below the target”. That is still not the most likely outcome in the eyes of most of us; and, given the real world uncertainties, we cannot anyway sensibly tie our hands. But there is no doubt in my mind that recent international developments have at least reduced the likelihood that we will need to tighten policy further.

I am grateful for your attention. Thank you.

Jack Cunningham – 1998 Speech to the Oxford Farming Conference

Below is the text of the then Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Jack Cunningham, on 6th January 1988 at the Oxford Farming Conference.


I am delighted and honoured to open this 52nd Oxford Farming Conference. Oxford has a consistent record of identifying new trends in farming issues and communicating them to the wider world. Your title of the present conference – “the real world” – and your list of outstanding speakers demonstrate your determination to continue this fine tradition of leadership in the international debate on farming.

The present section of the conference is entitled “the world view”. As the United Kingdom begins its presidency of the European Union – the world’s biggest importer and second biggest exporter of food – this is highly appropriate. I shall say something later about my priorities for the presidency of the Agriculture Council during the next six months. But first I want to speak about the new British government’s approach to the farming industry in Britain and to the future of agricultural policy in Europe. Both have important implications going well beyond the borders of the United Kingdom and indeed of the European Union.

UK Farming

When I was appointed Minister of Agriculture I made clear what my priorities for British agriculture would be. I want to see an industry that is: successful, competitive and sustainable; that farms in an environmentally benign way; and that responds to consumer demands for high quality and, above all, safe food. Right from the start I put the health and well-being of people and the environment at the top of my Ministerial agenda.

My experience since last may has confirmed that these are the right objectives. The British public has sent a very clear message about the kind of farming it wants, and which it expects both government and industry to deliver.

Consumers increasingly want to know what is in their food and how it is produced. They want production systems which safeguard animal welfare, which they perceive as essentially natural and which do not damage the environment. They are often suspicious of new technologies and new production methods. Far more than in the past they look critically at the judgements and advice of scientists, governments and large multi-national companies where their food is concerned.

Nor are they willing any more to indefinitely subsidise farming for its own sake, even if they are willing to do so in order to help the environment or preserve and develop remote rural communities and areas.

These are complex and demanding messages from the public. They require a positive response both from government and from your industry. Farmers, I know, listen carefully to what their customers are saying. Like any other business you only survive by providing what the customer wants. He or she can always go elsewhere and these days consumer choice is expanding dramatically. It will continue to do so.

But government has a key part to play too. Food safety and consumer confidence cannot be left to the market alone. Government has a duty to ensure that quality and hygiene standards are high, that the welfare of animals is protected, that food safety is maintained at the highest possible level. Government must also ensure that consumers are given all the information they want about the food they buy. Clear and accurate information is increasingly important as consumers become more discerning. It is also the key to successful adoption of new technologies which may bring great benefits, but about which some consumers have considerable unease.

Above all, consumers must have confidence in the regulatory process and in government’s commitment to put their interests first. I will not hesitate to act on this principle, as I have recently shown over bone-in beef, specified risk materials and our decision to publish HAS scores. Our decision to create an independent Food Standards Agency with wide ranging powers is further evidence of this commitment. We shall be publishing our proposals in a white paper very shortly.

My plans to reorganise and redirect the Ministry of Agriculture, and to give it a new culture of openness and consumer involvement, together with a new identity which reflects the public’s expectations, are further essential steps to restore consumer confidence. As I work with our European partners for removal of the beef export ban, I must be able to demonstrate to those partners that our commitment in Britain to put safety first is paramount.

I recognise that higher standards may mean extra costs for the industry. You will understandably insist that if British farmers have to meet these high standards then so should your competitors. Otherwise your competitive position will be undermined. In a European single market and an increasingly open world trading system, how can this be assured?

This is not an easy question to answer. The straightforward response is that we should agree the high standards, whether of food safety or of animal welfare or for the environment, at European level and with our international partners. That is right wherever it is possible to do so. It is particularly important in the highly competitive European single market. That is why I have been pressing the Commission hard to produce proposals, for example, to phase out the use of battery cages for laying hens throughout the EU, and for the uniform treatment of specified risk materials in beef.

We must also make full use of the new international trade rules which allow countries to set high standards of human, animal and plant health protection provided they do this with proper respect for the science and in a non-discriminatory way.

But setting high standards for ourselves must not provide the excuse – as some in Europe have proposed – to erect unnecessary trade barriers against imports. When it comes to welfare issues or production systems, for example, we in Europe need to set our own standards for ourselves and make a virtue of them. We must then ensure consumers have the information about which products meet these standards and which do not. If consumers know that buying British means buying the best quality and best safety, you have nothing to fear from competition from farmers who do not meet those standards.

CAP Reform

I want to turn now to the question of the competitiveness of British farming. Let me start with a prediction – always a risky business for politicians! This is that by the time you hold your 62nd conference, in 2008, agricultural production in the European Union of 21 or more members will be very different from today – no longer subsidised – except in specific areas to preserve or enhance the environment and contribute to rural economies and enterprise.

Is that realistic? Should I have said 2010 rather than 2008? Perhaps. But the key message is that by then the inefficient world of European agricultural subsidy will have changed dramatically. The next WTO round is likely to require it. The budgetary implications of EU enlargement to the east will also do so. Enlightened farmers – particularly in this country, but also abroad – are preparing now for the restructuring of their industry.

The process of fundamentally reforming the cap will begin later this year when the Commission tables its proposals following up AGENDA 2000. I have no doubt that the negotiation in the Agriculture Council will be long and difficult. Some member states would prefer not to have to reform the CAP. But they all recognise that reform is essential in order to avoid wasteful surpluses and exclusion of our farm producers and their products from growing world markets. Some reform will undoubtedly come, probably during 1999.

The direction of Franz Fischler’s proposed reforms is right. European agriculture should not be insulated from world markets. Following the Uruguay round agreement, and reforms in American farm policy, our prices must come down to world levels if our agriculture is to retain its place in those markets. It is right to help farmers adjust to lower prices through higher direct payments. Equally, it is right to strengthen agri-environmental and rural development policies. These are important measures for preserving and enhancing the environment, helping meet biodiversity targets and dealing with any problems of desertification or rural unemployment, all of which are important considerations.

But we must not delude ourselves that the AGENDA 2000 reforms as they stand are sufficient to equip European agriculture to face the challenges of the next decade. The simple fact is that the average size of farm in the EU is 17.5 hectares and that is too small to give farmers a full time living from their land in the more open markets that will increasingly prevail. We should not base our policies on the delusion that sustainable agriculture can be built in Europe on such a base.

For this reason alone – and there are many others, I can assure you – the idea of imposing a Community-wide ceiling on CAP payments is a perverse nonsense. It is wholly at odds with the objective of creating competitive agriculture. I will strenuously oppose any ceiling or other modulation of aid which discriminates against British farmers.

We need a policy of reform that will encourage the development of our agriculture into a force capable of competing successfully in our own and world markets. This requires a level playing field and recognition that the most efficient farms are often quite large. We must avoid pursuing the chimera of an indefinable “European agricultural model” based on unviable farms that can only survive with ever increasing subsidy from taxpayers and consumers. If the CAP is to prepare European agriculture for a Union which includes Poland, Hungary and other Central European countries; if it is to prepare for a realistic outcome of the next WTO round; if it is to serve an agricultural industry that wants to remain a major force in the world, governments need to develop policies for the future and not be nostalgic about the past.

What does this mean in practice? First, support prices must be aligned with world prices as Franz Fischler has proposed. But this cannot be restricted to beef and some cereals. It is no less important to move to world prices for milk and sugar too. The fact that quotas apply to production of these products may mean that surpluses will accumulate less quickly. But if we keep our quotas we just surrender market share to our competitors in third countries. That cannot be in our farmers’ interests on any interpretation.

Second, we must recognise that farmers need clarity in policy making, like any businessmen operating in a long term industry. Farmers accept there is a need for reform. But once that reform is completed it should bring stability. That means the reform must properly address the pressures on the CAP so as to avoid the need for further reforms a few years later when the next WTO round is concluded.

Unfortunately, the AGENDA 2000 proposals make hardly any attempt to take account of the WTO round, or indeed the imminent enlargement of the EU. If they did, we would have an end date for milk quotas. The proposed compensation payments would be decoupled from production and be degressive. Failure to tackle these fundamental questions now, in this reform, will put the EU once again in a defensive position in the WTO negotiations, losing the opportunity to secure support for a sustainable long term policy which meets the real needs of our diverse rural areas. It will also leave the EU facing a second – and possibly much more painful – round of reform.

Failure to reform thoroughly now will also make the accession of the Central European countries very much more difficult. The objective of enlargement is to bring these countries, which suffered for so long under Communist rule, into the European democratic family. But forcing them to introduce milk quotas and sugar quotas, IACS forms and base areas and all the bureaucracy that goes with them will be reminiscent of the old command economy that they have so recently and painfully shaken off. Our contacts with Central European colleagues suggest that they are appalled at such a prospect.

Competitiveness is not just about the Common Agricultural Policy and modernising farm structure. Technology is also important for enabling farmers to produce high quality food at competitive prices, whilst protecting the environment.

An important factor in this is research. My department funds a very substantial research programme. A main theme of this is sustainability, including issues such as reduced inputs of pesticides and fertilisers, exploring the potential of bio-control systems, and the usefulness of buffer zones to protect freshwater fish and their habitats. This helps both to inform our policies and to help show farmers and environmentalists alike the options available for changes to present practice.

UK Presidency

I began by referring to the UK Presidency of the European Union which began 5 days ago. The government is determined to run an efficient, impartial Presidency. We strongly believe in the importance of the European Union and in Britain’s ability to play a constructive, leading role in it. I am determined that the work of the Agriculture Council, over which I will briefly preside, will illustrate this fully.

We will have a busy agenda, reflecting many of the themes I have touched upon. The top priority will be the launch of the negotiations on AGENDA 2000, comprising reform of no less than 6 commodity regimes (dairy, arable, beef, wine, olive oil and tobacco) and introduction of a reinforced agri-environmental and rural development policy. I do not expect to complete the reforms in our term. There will not be enough time for that. But when the Commission table their proposals, I shall give the negotiations a major push so that they are in good shape for the Austrians to carry forward when they take up the Presidency in July.

Secondly, I would like to use the UK presidency to make progress on proposals to improve animal welfare across the union. There exists a wide measure of support, particularly amongst Northern member states, for better animal welfare. We need to respond to that. I have asked Franz Fischler to table early proposals covering the welfare of hens in battery cages and the welfare of animals at slaughter, two key areas of public concern. I will give them high priority in the Council as soon as he brings forward detailed proposals.

Thirdly, we shall need to agree changes to the bananas regime to take account of the recent WTO ruling. Whilst this may be of less significance to many of you here than other elements of the CAP, I can assure you it is of critical importance to the banana producers in the small Caribbean countries whose economies could be wrecked if we cannot agree a new deal for them.

Fourthly, we shall have to agree the 1998 CAP price fixing, though I hope this will not take up too much time given that the important negotiations will be on the CAP reform dossiers. A central event of the Presidency will be the Informal Agriculture Council in May. I am very much looking forward to bringing Commissioner Fischler and all my Council colleagues to Northern England where I plan to show them some of the very best of British livestock farming. I want all of Europe to understand the immense efforts we and particularly you have made – and are making – to ensure the safety of British beef and to begin introducing systems of traceability and quality assurance which will stand comparison with the best in the world.

We shall have many other – less headline grabbing – dossiers to handle and no doubt some unforeseen problems in the Council. My aim will be to deal with all the issues in a fair, constructive and impartial way, as all our partners will expect.

British agriculture continues to demonstrate toughness and resilience. The ability to overcome current difficulties demands such qualities and more. It demands policies which work to develop genuinely sustainable farming economically and environmentally.

The prospect of change is always difficult to face, particularly at a time when incomes are squeezed and the impact of BSE is so debilitating. But British farmers have an excellent track record of responding to the challenge of change. And you have many natural advantages, including a relatively advanced farm structure and a strong asset base. The fact that you have responded so much more positively to the Commission’s reform ideas than have farming interests in other member states is a credit to you and your representatives, and your forward thinking. Those very qualities are the ones that will keep you ahead of the competition.

For my part, you may be assured of my determination to fight for British farming interests in the forthcoming negotiations in Brussels. I am committed to policies which will encourage you to succeed in increasingly competitive markets, to ensure a level playing field in Europe and in the rest of the world wherever possible, and to help restore the confidence of consumers that is so crucial to all your success.

Gordon Brown – 1998 Speech on the Comprehensive Spending Review


Below is the text of the speech made by Gordon Brown, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the House of Commons on 14th July 1998.

Madam Speaker, with permission.

This Government’s central objectives are high and stable levels of growth and employment, and sustainable public services, built from a platform of long term stability.

And to achieve this, two fundamental economic reforms have been undertaken for the long term – to take monetary policy out of party politics through operational independence for the Bank of England, and to impose a new framework of financial discipline, through fiscal rules that achieve a current budget balance and prudent levels of debt to national income.

Last May we imposed a two year spending limit and we have kept to this limit. We promised to cut public borrowing, and it has been cut by 20 billion. A fiscal tightening that will be locked-in into next year.

And to meet our fiscal rules and in line with cautious and published assumptions audited by the Independent National Audit Office, we plan current surpluses for the next three years of 7 billion, 10 billion and 13 billion. And as a proportion of national income, debt will fall below 40 per cent.

By the end of this parliament debt interest payments will be 5 billion a year lower than if we had simply left borrowing at the level inherited from the last government.

In the last economic cycle, under the previous Government, the current budget deficit averaged at 1 1/2 per cent of national income, the equivalent of 12 billion of extra borrowing every year. And during the 1990s national debt doubled.

Over this economic cycle and for the first time for decades, Britain is set to have both a current budget in balance and a sustainable approach to debt. An approach that is among the most prudent of our G7 partners, and more prudent than our predecessors.

All the allocations we make this afternoon are made within and subject to this overall financial discipline, as I set out in the Economic and Fiscal Strategy Report published last month. And through our New Deal for the unemployed, we are tackling the bills of economic failure and under the plans published today the growth in social security spending for this Parliament will be significantly lower than in the last Parliament.

Working within this framework, the Comprehensive Spending Review has examined the most effective use of public money across and within each department and I am grateful to the Chief Secretary and to the Public Spending Committee of Cabinet for their work.

By looking not just as what Government spends but at what Government does, the Review has identified the modernisation and savings that are essential. The first innovation of the Comprehensive Spending Review is to move from the short-termism of the annual cycle and to draw up public expenditure plans not on a one year basis but on a three year basis.

And the Review ‘s second conclusion is that all new resources should be conditional on the implementation of essential reforms, money but only in return for modernisation: Government moving out of areas where it need not be, and – in those areas where public service matters – Government setting clear targets for modern, efficient and effective services.

So today we begin not, as all spending announcements for the last 30 years have traditionally done, with annual allocations, but by setting out:

– the new three year objectives and targets for each service and therefore the results we are demanding;

– the new standards of efficiency which will have to be met to ensure every penny is spent well;

– the procedures for scrutiny and audit that will now be set in place;

– and the reforms we have agreed.

And all based on a clear and modern understanding that Government should only do what it has to do, but do what it does to the highest standard.

So let me set out the essential changes.

First, each department has reached a public service agreement with the Treasury, effectively a contract with the Treasury for the renewal of public services. It is a contract that in each service area requires reform in return for investment.

So the new contract sets down the new departmental objectives and targets that have to be met, the stages by which they will be met, how departments intend to allocate resources to achieve these targets and the process that will monitor results.

The Prime Minister has decided that this continuous scrutiny and audit will be overseen by a Cabinet Committee, continuing the work of the existing Public Spending Committee, and money will be released only if departments keep to their plans.

Second, the contract will stipulate new 3 year efficiency targets for the delivery of services – targets that range between 3 per cent and 10 per cent. The terms of these will be made public.

The purpose of these efficiency targets is to ensure more resources go direct to front line services – to patient care in the NHS, to classroom teaching, to fighting crime – a policy of promoting front-line services, so that by securing greater value for money, we secure more money for what we value.

Third, in addition to efficiency targets we have embarked upon a programme of radical reforms.

To achieve our priorities, difficult decisions and choices have had to be made.

We have already reformed student finance and begun welfare reform – matching rights with responsibilities.

And as a result of the Comprehensive Review, further reforms will be announced in legal aid, procedures for asylum, in child benefit, youth justice and with the withdrawal of unjustified subsidies. And in Defence and the Foreign Office, we have achieved the changes necessary to provide us with the defence and diplomatic capability we need while making the savings necessary – for example in the number of warships, and with a new public/private partnership for the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency.

Fourth, for central and local government we have now agreed a programme for releasing assets we do not need to fund 11 billion of additional new investment in health, education, housing, transport and other capital projects that we urgently do need. And with a number of further announcements today our policy of promoting public private partnerships is extended into new areas, including national science policy, urban policy and overseas development.

Fifth, while we are raising capital investment for a fixed period of three years in order to tackle a backlog of under-investment, current spending will grow by no more than 2 1/4 per cent. And we must ensure that public sector pay settlements are fair and affordable and do not put at risk our targets for public service improvement in each of the next three years for which we have budgeted.

So in line with the 3 years allocations, the independent review bodies will now report not just to the Prime Minister but to the departmental Ministers who have to meet these public service improvement targets and who will now respond to the recommendations.

And consistent with three year allocations, we are announcing a further strengthening of the pay review system. Having spoken to the chairmen, the Prime Minister has confirmed that their remits – in addition to their responsibility to recruit, reward and motivate staff – and therefore their role will be strengthened with three responsibilities:

– their recommendations will take account of affordability: in other words the current departmental spending limits;

– they will take account of the Government’s inflation target of 2 1/2 per cent;

– and they will take account of the need to achieve the Government’s targets for output and efficiency.

This reform offers the opportunity for public services to manage their pay and conditions more directly but also gives departments a responsibility to ensure that pay settlements cannot be determined without regard to the demands of the service. In this way – as in every other organisation – pay decisions will now be made in relation to the overall objectives of the service.

But perhaps the most important advantage of conducting a comprehensive spending review is the opportunity it allows for individual Secretaries of State to put in place a substantial reallocation of resources within their departments – from bureaucracy to front-line services, from dealing with the symptoms of problems to dealing with causes – and to consider a co-ordinated approach that breaks free from old departmental fragmentations and duplication.

As a result of interdepartmental reviews, services for asylum seekers will now be managed by one department rather than five; the three departments responsible for criminal justice will work together to one set of objectives; children’s services and the urban regeneration budgets and our approach to tackling fraud will be reorganised, achieving both efficiencies and savings.

Our prudence has been for a purpose. It is because we have set tough efficiency targets, and reordered departmental budgets that our top priorities, health and education, will receive more new money than the other 19 Government departments combined. To accommodate this we have had to take a firm line with other spending programmes, and rigorously select priorities.

As a result more than half today’s allocations – over 50 per cent – will be invested in health and education. So there will be additional resources – but it is money in return for modernisation.

Now the allocations to individual services.

Here the main conclusion of the Comprehensive Spending Review is that it is not just a social duty for government to invest in good public services, to improve our social fabric, and to tackle poverty and deprivation by extending opportunity. Most people in Britain, apart from a small and extreme minority, also agree that it is in the economic interests of the whole country to create an infrastructure of opportunity, and invest in education, science, transport and strong communities so that individuals can contribute to the economic and social well-being of the country.

I turn to education.

Invest in the education of our children and we are investing in our future.

In the old economy it was possible to survive with an education system that advanced only the ambitions of the few. The new economy demands an education system that advances the ambitions of all.

But investment will take place only in exchange for further modernisation and reform.

The Education Secretary has agreed not just to set numeracy and literacy targets for 11 year olds but to set Government targets for nursery education, for cutting truancy, for higher attainment by teenagers, for improved standards of teaching including a qualification for head teachers, for greater efficiency in further and higher education and for the inspection of schools. In return for investment there will also be further reforms in teacher training and in the administration of school budgets.

At every stage we are linking investment to reform and it is on this basis that the Education Secretary tomorrow will announce the biggest single investment in education in the history of our country. In this and in other services there will be separate announcements based on the Barnett formula for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In the last three years of the previous Government growth in education spending was 7 billion.

For the next three years, I can announce additional education spending of 19 billion.

In total we will spend 3 billion more next year, 6 billion more in 2000, 10 billion more in 2001.

That is what we mean by education, education, education. Honouring our commitment to the British people.

In eighteen years of the last Government, spending on education rose on average by 1.4 per cent a year.

Education spending will now rise in real terms by an average of 5.1 per cent a year till the end of the Parliament.

We said we would devote a rising share of national income to education – and we have.

Spending on education will now rise to 5 per cent of national income.

Today around a million children are still being taught in classrooms built before 1914. 6,000 schools are already being refurbished. On top of this, over the Parliament capital investment to re-equip our schools will double.

And after our reforms in student finance, there will now be an expansion in the number of students in higher and further education – by the end of this Parliament more than 500,000 additional students.

We said we would meet our pledge on school class sizes for 5, 6, and 7 year olds. Under the proposals the Education Secretary will announce tomorrow our pledge will be met – as we promised.

Investing in education is essential to secure both a fairer society and an efficient economy. And if our country is to be prepared and equipped for the competitive challenges ahead the Government also has an economic responsibility to invest in science and innovation; in the transport infrastructure, and in building safer and stronger communities.

Net public investment will be doubled as a result of the Government’s new Investing in Britain Fund, but in every area investment is conditional on reform.

It is the development and application of ideas and inventions in science that hold the key to improved national competitiveness.

As a result of a reduction in subsidies that can no longer be justified and as a result of 400 million in support from the Wellcome Foundation, whom I thank, the Government is able to announce the biggest ever Government-led public/private partnership for science. A total of 1.1 billion will now be available to provide modern facilities for science research at our universities and support science teaching and research throughout the country. This innovative step-change in our approach to science will lay the foundations for putting Britain at the forefront of the next generation of scientific and industrial research.

Anyone who travels on our roads and railways knows that after years of neglect and under-investment Britain suffers from an overcrowded, under-financed, under-planned and under-maintained transport system.

So for transport we propose a new investment strategy involving new public private partnerships – like those for the Underground and Channel Tunnel rail link – and a commitment to integrated planning. In return for these innovations there will be 2 billion more investment. From a 25 per cent decline in transport investment in the last Parliament, there will be a 25 per cent increase in the next three years – for investment in public transport and meeting our environmental objectives. Full details will be set out by the Deputy Prime Minister in his Transport White Paper.

Economic success and social cohesion both depend on safer and stronger communities. That is why we will now invest more in crime prevention. And that is why today also we propose policy reforms to tackle the underlying causes of poverty.

It is because we are announcing major modernisations that put legal aid on a fairer footing and reform youth justice, that more resources will be made available for policing and for the first time substantial resources for innovative evidence-based crime prevention work. Measures to tackle drug abuse will have a new priority, with a 25 per cent increase in funding. All details, including the new targets that will be met, will be given by the Home Secretary.

To build stronger communities we need also to renew our housing stock. To cut out waste and ensure best use of resources, the Deputy Prime Minister will impose new guidelines for greater efficiency in construction and repair. And a new Housing Inspectorate will audit housing management in every local authority.

With the help of these reforms we will be able not just to tackle homelessness but to renovate 1.5 million homes and to do so we will allocate, from capital receipts, 3.6 billion. Our commitment to the environment recognises the need for responsibility in the use of energy means there will be a new programme for home energy efficiency.

We are committed to a comprehensive programme of welfare reform.

Since coming into office we have introduced the New Deal, the reform in student finance, the working families tax credit and a new approach to child benefit. The Prime Minister has set up a Welfare Review which led to the Welfare Green Paper and a long term framework for the provision for future pensions and for the reform of disability benefits will be announced later this year.

Last week we announced reforms in the Child Support Agency, and yesterday new measures to combat social security fraud.

Today I announce further changes in welfare policy.

The New Deal for the unemployed is based on opportunities matched by responsibilities. It is now time to extend this approach to communities by tackling the underlying causes of poverty. For our most deprived estates, the key problems are not just poor housing but lack of employment and economic opportunity. In exchange for long term targets for improving business start-ups, skills and educational qualifications, a total of 800 million will be allocated to the New Deal for Communities. And a New Deal helping the young unemployed to become self-employed will be launched on Friday.

A further reform will make it possible for thousands more young people to stay on in school and go on to further and higher education. To raise Britain’s appallingly low staying-on rates, a new educational maintenance allowance, linked to attendance and based on parental income, will be piloted for 16 to 18 year olds.

If, as we expect, the new educational maintenance allowance succeeds in encouraging young people to stay on in education, we plan to introduce it nationally, using the money currently spent on child benefit post-16.

As the interdepartmental review of children’s services has uncovered, we spend 10 billion on young children but do so in an uncoordinated and piecemeal way with thousands of the youngest children, those under 3, missing out.

Plans for a Sure-Start programme will be announced later this month , to bring together quality services for the under-3s and their parents – nursery, child-care and playgroup provision, and post-natal and other health services. One new feature will be to extend to parents the offer of counselling and help for them to prepare their children for learning and school.

This is a significant step in the development of a family policy for our country, supporting family life and encouraging stable families, and building on our national childcare strategy. The Home Secretary’s group will bring forward further recommendations on family policy.

At the heart of our review has been a determination that we fulfil our duty to the oldest members of our society.

First, pensioners will benefit most from a better health service. And it has always been wrong that charges are levied on pensioners for the eye sight tests that they regularly need to preserve sight and protect against disease. So for pensioners, from next April, eye test charges will be abolished.

Second, the elderly who rely heavily on public transport need a fairer deal to enable them to be more mobile. In his Transport White Paper the Deputy Prime Minister will announce plans for nationwide help with transport for the elderly.

Third, the elderly fear their winter fuel bills. As a result of the cut in VAT, our winter fuel payment and other changes, average pensioner fuel bills are up to 100 lower this year. Later this week the Social Security Secretary will announce our further plans for help with fuel bills for the rest of the Parliament.

And she will also announce further financial proposals to help pensioners who need it. Here also we are prepared to make reforms that will help alleviate poverty. From next April every pensioner and pensioner couple will have a minimum income guarantee.

And we will also set a minimum tax guarantee: that no pensioner will pay income tax unless their income rises above a specified level. The Government will also announce measures to ensure that more people receive the income that they are due. As a result of our proposals, thousands of pensioners will be relieved from poverty. A total of 2.5 billion will be set aside for this programme.

Further reforms in other services have made possible new investments that improve the quality of our community life. As a result of cutting wasteful bureaucracy and quangos and a new targeting of resources on priorities, 290 million extra will be invested in museums, the arts and sport over the next three years, a real increase of 5 1/2per cent, making possible improved access to museums and galleries.

And as a result of asset sales in areas where spending is no longer needed, the Foreign Office budget will not only ensure more resources for the proper representation and promotion of Britain abroad, but also the Foreign Secretary is announcing today that our support for the BBC World Service will be raised by a total of 44 million over the next three years.

For twenty years overseas aid has been falling as a proportion of national income.

Under this Government it will rise.

As a result of a decision to sell a majority stake in the Commonwealth Development Corporation, and of a new decision to target overseas development assistance on health, education and anti-poverty programmes, the Secretary of State for International Development will announce today that Britain will, during this Parliament, increase overseas aid from the low of 0.25 per cent of national income – the budget figure we inherited last year – to 0.30 per cent of national income.

Britain will enter the millennium at the forefront in pressing for debt reduction for the poorest countries. And aid which was falling by 2 per cent a year under the last Government will rise in each of the next three years.

The National Health Service is compassion in action, what its founder, Aneurin Bevan, rightly called the most civilised achievement of modern Government.

The final conclusion of the Comprehensive Spending Review is that it is fair and efficient to provide the best health service we can on the basis of need, not the ability to pay, and that under this Government health services will never be left to the hazards of private or charitable provision.

Yet half the beds in NHS hospitals are in accommodation built before the First World War. And three quarters of ward blocks are hand-me-downs from the days of charity, voluntary and municipal and emergency wartime hospitals. Investment in the NHS is long overdue. And we will recognise the care, the responsibility and the dedication of doctors, nurses and all staff to the patients of the NHS.

My Right Hon Friend the Secretary of State for Health will announce on Thursday in this House targets that tackle inefficiencies in hospitals and cost overruns, that simplify management structures and give a new emphasis to long term planning.

On quality all hospitals will be required to publish league tables measuring the success rates of their treatments. Over the lifetime of this Parliament over 1 billion will be saved from red tape and put into patient care, in part by scrapping the costly and time-consuming annual round of contracts.

So on the fiftieth anniversary of the NHS this Government will now make the biggest ever investment in its future, giving the NHS for the first time for decades the long term resources it needs.

Under the last Government the increase for the last three years was 7 billion.

For the coming three years, I am announcing an increase in health service funding of a total of 21 billion.

Health department spending rose by an average of 2.5 per cent a year during the last Parliament. Next year it will rise by 5.7 per cent. The year after by 4.5 per cent.

For the rest of the Parliament this Government will achieve yearly real growth averaging 4.7 per cent.

We will meet our waiting list pledge as promised.

And every hospital will benefit from the 50 per cent increase in investment in equipment and buildings and the 5 billion fund for NHS modernisation – the largest hospital building and modernisation programme this country has seen.

As we start its next fifty years the National Health Service is safe in this Government’s hands.

This Government has made the choices necessary to deliver stable and sustainable public finances. We have been steadfast in our priorities – the nation’s priorities.

And now, as a result of prudence and a commitment to an investment in return for reform, a total of 40 billion pounds will be invested in the nation’s priorities – health and education.

A Government whose prudence allows us to build modern public services and to renew Britain.

A Government keeping our promises to the people of Britain.

A Government step by step making Britain better.

And I commend this statement to the house.

David Blunkett – 1998 Speech to TUC Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by the then Education and Employment Secretary, David Blunkett, to the 1998 TUC Conference.

President, Congress, it is a pleasure to be back with you and to be able to share thoughts this morning, and my congratulations to the award winners. It is very good indeed to be able to celebrate success and the work of the trade union Movement in the cutting edge task of the future.

I was going to crack a joke about Cabinet Ministers stacked up over Blackpool waiting to land, but apparently all my colleagues are stacked up over Tokyo waiting to land instead which underlines the nature of the global economy. More of that in a moment.

I want to thank all of you. I want to thank the trade union Movement for the work that has been done since the general election 16 months ago, for the constructive way in which partnerships have been developed locally and nationally, for the way in which we have been able to forward the common agenda which we share, of improving people’s lives, of greater equality of the opportunity to learn and to work. I would like to thank specific individuals. I would like to thank Bill Morris and Rodney Bickerstaffe for the work that they are doing on the New Deal Task Force, you, John, as President, and Ken Jackson and Tony Dubbins, for the work that has already been started on the Skills Task Force which I will mention later, Roger Lyons on the UFI embryo board for developing the University For Industry for the future and, of course, you, John Monks, for the continuing leadership and vision that you share. It is just a pity about Manchester United! That is a problem. My club has had a bid from the local radio station, I think, but I will probably get shot when I get home for saying that.

Over the last 16 months we have started the process of committing ourselves to meet the pledges and promises that we made. For the first time ever this country has a childcare strategy to begin the process of bringing equality into practice and decent childcare in every community. We have allocated , 600 million for a new Sure Start programme for work with families from the very moment a child is born, to change the inequality that makes such an impact on the lives of every child. We have already established an early years place for every 4-year-old whose parents wish it from this September, and over the next three years we will establish 190,000 additional places for children in nursery classes aged 3 in order to begin the process of providing that foundation on which success in later life can be built.

We have started the process of implementing the pledge on class size: 100,000-plus youngsters aged 5 to 7 will, from last week, be in smaller class sizes so that that pledge can be fulfilled over the next three years, and we have commenced the implementation of our literacy strategy so that children can read and write when they leave primary school and have the same opportunity that the better off have taken for granted over generations.

We have acted against exclusion and we have invested in lifelong learning, , 550 million extra next year for further and higher education – and that is only the beginning. Today the Prime Minister and John Prescott will be announcing the £800 million programme of investment in regenerating our communities, in linking the needs of that community to the will and the desire of men and women to work and to put back into the community their talents and their experiences, the ability to build an environment and a quality of life that is worthy of Britain as we move into the 21st century.

We have set up the Learning Grid, we have established a Training Challenge Fund. We have got centres of excellence emerging in information technology across the country and we have started work on the individual learning accounts and their links with the University For Industry.

But I recognise that there is a real challenge that all of us share together. The debates that are being held, the controversy that is highlighted in this morning’s papers, is a real challenge for Britain as well as for the rest of the world, and only by working together can we really tackle the new rapid change and uncertainty that faces every man and woman in this country, every community and increasingly every industry and service. The old certainties have gone for ever.

We live in a global economy, as John Prescott was describing yesterday, in which we cannot control the particular price of a particular commodity at a particular time, where rapid change disintegrates a market that looked certain only two years ago, whether it is in semi-conductors or the electronics industry, a period of rapid change in which we are not powerless but we are not all powerful either, where we should not accept economic determinism, but nor should we believe that a Government can wave a magic wand and solve all our problems.

I realise, as a visitor, I am sandwiched between the Deputy Prime Minister and the Governor. I watched Eastenders on Sunday night because we are doing a launch tomorrow of the Year of Reading with them and it reminded me of what the power of the Governor really is in all our communities. When you welcome him this afternoon, as the Governor of the Bank of England, it is worth just reflecting that the ratio of the pound to the deutschemark this morning is 5 pfennigs less than it was when we took over on May 1st 1997. The world is a funny place. Long-term underlying interest rates are the lowest they have been for years. The certainties about what needs to be done are uncertainties. The world changes day by day and our response needs to change with it.

All of us have a key role to play – my Department in terms of education, skills and training and tackling unemployment, you in terms of the response that you are making and feeling your way through in terms of what is happening with globalisation, the recognition that what happens in the United States, as well as what has already happened in the Far East economies, makes a big difference. I say to newspapers that think it is none of our concern as to whether instability exists in the United States, “Get real. We live in a global economy and we have to live through the changes and the uncertainties of that economy.”

But nor should we, in recognising that real challenge and the fact that this Government is not going to change its economic profile or its policies, accept that determinism that believes that nothing can be done. We can intervene but in entirely new ways, not by trying to save industries where the market has disappeared, money after jobs, as was the case in the 1970s, nor the “Hands off, there is nothing we can do” of those economists who, in my view misguidedly, believe that it is the means and not the end that are all important.

We can, for instance, recognise – all of us – the absolute critical nature of what is happening to men and women in our economy. I know about the theories that emerged 30 years ago from Milton Friedman, the words that are used so easily, “The natural rate of unemployment”, as some economists talk of it, “The non-inflationary rate of unemployment”; but I also know about the hopelessness and the misery and the despair of men and women up and down this country when they face unemployment, when they face, in their own community and family, the worthlessness of not having a job. That is why this Government will find a different way forward which bridges the gap between the belief that Government can do everything and those who believe that Government can do absolutely nothing. That is why, Congress, it is critical for us to join together in recognising what can be done.

Tomorrow the Prime Minister will launch a package of measures in the North-East, which will be put together with my Department, , 38 million which will tackle, through the new Regional Development Agencies, through a new rapid response unit, and a fund to back it up nationally, through further and higher education skills action, the job together with you to make it work for people in our communities.

Today I launch the interim report of the Skills Task Force — a Task Force that is looking at both the short term and the long term needs of our communities: the ability to change, the available pool of labour which in turn will have an impact on what is possible in our economy, and the reactions of the Monetary Policy Committee and the wider international monetary scene.

We can widen the pool of skilled labour and I know that over the years all of us have said, “What is the point in training people if people do not have a job to go to?” Of course that is right. Of course skills of training on their own are not adequate, but with a quarter of a million vacancies we have a massive task in terms of getting the right people with the right skills into the right place at the right time. We can do it; you are doing it.

We are celebrating this morning the activities of the trade union Movement in their commitment to lifelong learning. It is not just a slogan; it is not just for an awards ceremony. It is actually day‑to‑day the thing that will change the opportunity for all of us in that rapidly changing world. The task force recommend better coordination of the plethora of agencies and providers that exist locally and nationally, and we certainly need to do that. They talk about ensuring consistency of high quality learning in the workplace and in the wider community, and we need to do that. Employers as well as Government and trades unions have a responsibility in making that happen. We have a responsibility in linking public and private together, linking the individual, the company and the trade union Movement in making it happen on the ground.

There is the availability of information through the new Learning Direct Line that we have established, the development and investment in the Careers Service, the ability — as the Prime Minister will spell out tomorrow — to respond on the ground where it matters to changes that are taking place around us over which we do not have control but in circumstances where we do have a key part to play. There is the credibility of the high status apprenticeships and investment in replacement of the Youth Training Scheme; the national traineeships, the development and investment that we are making in modern apprenticeships and hope for the future; the help for small and medium sized enterprises in recruitment.

Whilst we are debating, and understandably debating, the fears that exist particularly for manufacturing industry in the immediate months ahead, we know that if the people we are able to get to were supported with greater mobility to be able to fill the jobs that already exist, we could lesson that fear, and we could make our labour market more flexible and responsive to the needs of the moment.

Of course, we need a strategy as the task force spells out for the development of information and communication technology where massive shortages exist. All of it needs to be put together with a review of the Training and Enterprise Councils, with the development of the new National Training Organisations (over 60 of them) that now exist in which the trade union Movement are playing a key part.

The development of those regional development agencies and the funding streams that we have set in place are all part of a process of change and of renewal, and all of it engages everyone, whatever their part in the trade union movement and at work. It is a critical and important contribution in drawing together the strands of a modern economy, not disengaging and washing our hands from the circumstances and the consequences for men and women across the country.

That is why I am so proud today to reinforce the message that Jimmy Knapp and the Learning Services Group have put out, about the work that you have been doing in the workplace. I am pleased to announce that 21 trades unions and 45 different schemes have benefitted from the , 2 million that we have allocated for the Union Learning Fund. I am also pleased to announce that because of its success I intend to invest another , 6 million over the next three years in making it possible to have continuity and to expand that scheme.

On the ground we have the Transport and General Workers Union with the Transferrable Skills Initiative using telematics; the scheme by USDAW and BIFU working together to support men and women to overcome dyslexia; the GMB with the Life Skills Task Force, and the way in which they are ensuring paid time off from work, even for one or two of the men and women who have only one parent to sustain them. And I was not thinking of one parent families. The MSF with their Virtual Learning Centre for mobile workers; UNISON with the accreditation scheme for care workers in Suffolk; and the AEEU working with Coca Cola and Schweppes. What a cocktail! What a new Labour programme that really is for the future of those workers.

Given the success of those schemes, we are clearly just at the beginning of a process of linking good intentions with practical action on the ground, making it happen where it really matters. While we are doing it, and while we are investing an extra , 19 billion in education, , 21 billion in health, whilst we are beginning at last to tackle head on the things that the Congress have demanded over the years, that John spoke about yesterday afternoon, the legislation and the beginnings of a long awaited national minimum wage, the Fairness at Work White Paper, the ability to be able to take on the key rights that have been taken for granted in other parts of Europe.

Whilst we are doing that, just take a look at our opponents. Just remember 16 months back, just recall what it was like, where we were. Just look at them now. A major referendum is taking place inside the Tory Party. I gather that William Hague and John Gummer are the key protagonists. You have to hold your breath to see which knocks the other one out first! The nation will have a referendum on the single currency. The Tory Party’s is a complete and utter irrelevance to all of us. For theirs is the old politics; theirs is an agenda of the past, looking over their shoulder, trawling over past failures. Ours is a new politics for the future.

Over the last 16 months we have been able to sustain month on month more people getting jobs, fewer people without a job. My task in the Department for Education and Employment is to ensure that people do have a job. There is no economic policy that justifies higher unemployment. There is no economic policy that seeks to waste the lives and talents of men and women or to increase public expenditure in keeping them unemployed. There is every justification for what we have been doing: , 3.5 billion on the new deal for the unemployed, for single parents, for men and women with disabilities, for those in long‑term unemployment who from this November will also have additional programmes at their disposal.

There is every reason to celebrate what we have achieved, to face the difficulties of the months ahead together, to see the old battles behind us, and to develop that new partnership, not for scoring points, not for blaming someone else, but for working together to tackle the changed environment we work in, the uncertainties that we face together and the needs of men and women in the workplace and the community who rely on us to continue that partnership; to continue working together in their best interests and ours, with a Labour Government that will fulfil its pledges and will, at the end of its term of office, have fulfilled its commitment to economic growth with stability, to jobs that are sustainable and that matter, and to a quality of life of which all of us can be proud.

Thank you very much indeed.

Tony Blair – 1998 Speech to the Local Government Conference


The below speech was made by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on Sunday 8th February 1998 to the Local Government Conference.

Let me begin by letting you in on a secret. My official visit to the US was originally envisaged as being longer than the three days I have just enjoyed there.

But when the dates for the visit were pencilled in, there was another engagement already there in ink – this one. If its Sunday, it must be Scarborough.

International issues, obviously, matter enormously and occupy a very large part of any Prime Ministers time, and I will say a little on that in a moment.

But this Prime Minister and this Government will never forget who elected us and why – the British people, because they want us to improve their standard of living and the quality of their lives and to deliver better services to them.

First though, Iraq. The UK, like everyone else, wants the current crisis resolved by diplomatic means. But we have to be realistic about the nature of the man we are dealing with. Saddam Hussein has lied and cheated at every turn. He is a man without moral scruple.

We want a diplomatic solution but this is a dictator developing an arsenal from which the Weapons Inspectors have already uncovered 38,000 chemical weapons, a vast biological warfare plant, 48 Scud missiles and attempts at nuclear capability. This is a dictator who has sufficient chemical weapons to wipe out the worlds population. Simply, he cannot be allowed to prevent these inspectors doing their job. These Weapons of mass Destruction must be destroyed for the future peace of the world.

Second, Northern Ireland.

I am delighted that the President has indicated he wants to make a return visit in the hope he can give further impetus to a process that could end in lasting peace and prosperity for Northern Ireland.

His message to me, and the message he delivers to the Parties and the Talks, is that the peaceful democratic path is the only way forward, that the chances for peace are real, and what we must not squander the opportunity before us. His message too was that anyone who returns to violence will find no friends in the White House or anywhere else in the US administration. I say to the political parties in Northern Ireland today: put the past behind you, leave the ancient enmities aside and embrace a future of peace. Do it for the future. Do it for the children – they deserve better.

I was also able to use the visit to advertise Britain, the dynamic, modern country we are building, to a wider audience. And I told them, as I tell you, that it will take time to turn Britain round.

Two tough years may not be the most politically exciting slogan. But we came to power precisely because we were honest about the changes we have to make to the Party, and we were tough and determined in seeing them through.

Britain renewed as a dynamic economy and a modern civic society.

We can and will do it. The gains will be immense. But only if we face up to the tough choices we have to take.

That goes for local Government too.

The best of local government is brilliant.

And the vast majority of councillors do a good job, often in very difficult circumstances. But our aim, as ever, must be to do better.

At the heart of our vision for local Government is leadership. Strong clear leadership that gives pride to villages, towns and cities all over Britain.

Strong clear leadership that gets local people, businesses, public agencies and voluntary and community groups working to a common agenda and pulling in the same direction, as we tackle drug abuse, poor health, crime, failing schools.

I picked up the paper the other morning and read, BEECHAM IN MEGA PLAN TO BE WORLD LEADER.

However, I need not have worried. When I read on I saw that the article was about Smith Kline Beecham not Jeremy Hugh Beecham.

But leadership is important and I pay tribute to Jeremys leadership.

And if local government is play its full and proper leadership in local communities then it has to change. It has to modernise.

We are modernising our party. We are modernising government. We are modernising Britain. We must modernise local government.

Tomorrow John Prescott and Hilary Armstrong will announce a new approach to improving local democracy.

Today I want to set out how local government can play its full part in the process. We want local government to work with us in achieving this new vision.

But to do that, local government needs to change. And to recognise why change is needed.

It needs a clear sense of direction.

It needs to improve its role as the key local co-ordinator.

And it needs to make sure that the quality of services it provides for people is always as good as the best.

I want to see change in four important areas.

Firstly, I want to see a new legitimacy in local government.

The claims of local councils to speak and act for local people are too often weakened by their poor base of popular support.

Local councillors are not sufficiently representative of the mix of local people.

Nearly half are over 55. Just one in 10 is under 40. Only a quarter are women. People from ethnic minorities are under-represented.

At the same time, Britain is at the bottom of the European league table on the proportion of people who vote in local elections.

Participation levels in council elections average 40 per cent, and are often as low as 25 per cent. Especially in inner city areas.

Boosting those may mean adopting some new techniques.

Steps like postal voting. Citizens panels. Polling stations in shopping centres and supermarkets. Community forums. Elections every year. Electronic voting. Voting at weekends. Referendums.

Local people need new local ways to have their say. I want every local authority to set itself targets for improving voter turnout, and strengthening local participation. And to meet them.

Secondly, new ways of working.

Many councillors are hugely diligent, spending many hours on council business. I want to thank them here and now for all their work on behalf of their local communities.

But as the Audit Commission said last year, endless committee meetings place too much of a burden on local councillors.

Recent survey figures suggest that councillors spend almost 100 hours a month on civic business – two thirds of it on meetings. Thats more that half a normal working week.

And the more time councillors spend on committees, the less time they can give to doing what is their most important job – representing people.

Seventy per cent of councillors feel that representational work is their most important job. But they spend an average of less than a third of their time on it.

How many people in your area even know the name of the leader of the council? Let alone the chair of education. Very few.

Leadership in local government, as in national government, needs to be clear. Visible.

So in London were going to propose doing just that – by having a referendum on introducing an elected mayor.

And not just in London – the bill sponsored by Lord Hunt will allow the idea to be piloted in other areas.

Elected executive mayors. Dynamic. Influential. With real power. Getting things done for people.

That will allow the leaders of our major towns and cities to be influential figures on the national stage. As they deserve to be. As they are in other countries.

Now I know some councillors are concerned about this. I know some of you may be worried about what role it will leave for you.

Your role will be vital. And it will be clearer.

Instead of spending your time in fruitless meetings, you will be able to scrutinise in detail what council leaders are doing.

And not wasting time in meetings will mean youll be able to spend more time in your local communities. Listening to people. Absorbing their views. And then taking them forward into your council.

Nothing is yet set in stone. John Prescott will tomorrow set out some options about how in practice the idea of mayors would work.

He will as well be exploring further our proposal that a number of councillors in each area should be elected every year.

Thirdly, new disciplines.

The vast majority of councillors are decent and honest.

But we know there have been problems in some councils. We know there have been cases where actions have been unacceptable.

I intend to tackle them. Head on.

Councillors and officials who are incompetent, or worse still corrupt, not only undermine their own claims to leadership – but tarnish the reputation of local government as a whole.

I will not allow the behaviour of a few to undermine the reputation of the many.

The Audit Commission. OFSTED. The Social Service Inspectorate. They all show that there are some councils failing to deliver acceptable standards of service.

Weve seen too often the sad and sometimes savage results of council incompetence.

Failure which may blight the chances of a child receiving a decent education.

Or even worse. Failure which can result in harm to the elderly. Or the abuse of children.

CCT did not address the problem. And it will go.

But dont for a moment think our drive for Best Value in councils will be a soft option. It wont be.

If authorities cannot – or will not – take the load, we will have powers to intervene. We want you to succeed. But we will be ready if you fail.

But worse still than any council incompetence is council corruption.

Council corruption is unacceptable. Not on. Not in any circumstances. Not for any reason.

We will publish proposals, based on Lord Nolans report on conduct in local government, for a new framework of standards in local authorities.

Every council will have to introduce its own code of conduct, based on a national model.

And every council in its code will need to include provision for the investigation of all serious allegations of malpractice.

Any investigations will be independent. They will be swift. They will be searching. And their findings will be put into place.

I know corruption is not widespread. But one case is too many. On corruption, its one strike – and youre out.

Finally, new powers.

We want local authorities to change. We want them to embrace this programme of change.

Where councils do so, they will see an effect. They will see their own powers, and their own status, enhanced and improved.

The Government will want to see evidence of change. Of local authorities modernising themselves.

I see little point in giving extra powers and functions to councils which are not dealing adequately with the powers they already have.

But equally, theres no reason why councils which are performing well should be held back by those who arent.

Increased responsibility. Increased rights. Rights and responsibilities going together – in councils, and across the Government.

That is the message, the clear message, to local authorities. I say to you that if you accept these challenges, if you take part in the process of reform, than at national Government level, you will not find us wanting.

You will be able to play a full part in the process of modernisation New Labour has been elected to enact.

Thats the message. Change – and get involved. Change – and work with us. Change – and be a part of it.

Modern government – national and local – for a modern Britain.

So with the country, if we explain why we are taking the decisions we take, if we are honest about what we can and cannot do, we will keep the people with us.

I want to say two things to you about your Government. First, whatever the day to day news agenda that knocks us this way or that, we will remain forever focused on the big picture. An end to boom and bust, rising living standards, schools, hospitals, crime. Thats what we were elected for. That is what we will do, and no amount of hype or heat from the media will deflect us.

Second, I know the frustration you feel in wanting change quicker. I feel it too. You want more money on schools, hospitals and transport. You dont like interest rates going up. You could probably do with some more money on local Government, you think!

But let me tell you something. Since the war the British economy has gone from boom to bust. Twice in the past twenty years alone, Conservative Governments have sent the economy up only to have it come crashing down. In the early 90s we had mortgage rates at 15% for a year and the largest borrowing in British peacetime history. In a boom and bust economy, one year the money would be there for health or other services. The next it would be gone. No stability. No capacity to think long-term.

One of the myths of the election was that we inherited an economy where everything was in good shape. Not true. Inflation was back. The budget deficit was too high. We were heading for the old boom and bust cycle. I am determined this time we will beat boom and bust.

That is why we have given the Bank of England independence in setting interest rates. That is why we have cut the budget deficit. Within three years I want that deficit gone. If we avoid boom and bust, we can enjoy rising growth, more investment and more resources to spend where we want to spend them. But it cant be done without the tough choices on interest rates and spending now.

On welfare reform, more tough choices. People in need are not going to suffer. We want to help them. But we have to end the situation where there are 3.5 million households of working age with nobody working in them. It is not good for them. It is not good for the country. It cannot be afforded and that is why welfare to work is right and we will carry it through with the rest of welfare reform.

Schools and hospitals. Yes more money, but tough choices too. We are getting extra money in and will get more in if we get the economy right. But they need reform – LEAs, schools, teachers, parents and Government – we all have a responsibility to root out failure, to raise standards and to pursue excellence. Ive said we will build the best education system in the 21st Century and I mean it.

But again, it takes time. There will be two tough years. But if we see it through, we will reap the benefit.

A stable economy with no boom and bust. An education system showing real improvement in results and standards. An NHS that is cutting waiting lists and improving patient service. Juvenile crime cut. The most comprehensive programme of constitutional reform this century delivered. Britain strong again in Europe and the world.