John Major – 1991 Commons Statement on Maastricht

Below is the text of the statement made by John Major, the then Prime Minister, in the House of Commons on 18 December 1991.

I beg to move,

That this House congratulates the Prime Minister on achieving all the negotiating objectives set out in the motion that was supported by the House on 21st November; and warmly endorses the agreement secured by the Government at Maastricht.

In no other country of the Community have the issues that were decided at Maastricht been as hotly debated as they have been in this country. I have found in discussions with fellow Heads of Government that they have been frankly astonished by the amount of coverage in our media and by the intensity of the debate that we have had in this country over many months. I think that that coverage is not just a reflection of the measure of controversy ; it reflects also the Government’s determination to ensure that the fullest information was available to the House and the country before the European Council. It is perhaps also a reflection of a national characteristic–it is by no means a new one.

After meeting Macmillan in Bermuda in 1957, Eisenhower wrote : “Any conference with the British requires the most detailed discussion. They do not like to sign any generalisations in a hurry, no matter how plausible or attractive they may be, but once their signature is appended to a document, complete confidence can be placed in their performance.”

He went on, rather unkindly the House may think, to say : “French negotiators sometimes seem to prefer to sign first and then to begin discussion.”

In this country, every detail of the negotiations has been pored over both by hon. Members and by the press, and not only by them. I have had letters in recent weeks from the public–from schoolchildren, very well informed– on the pros and cons of a single currency, but I suspect that in a number of other Community countries the real debate is only just beginning.

Last month, I set out the issues that would be argued over at Maastricht. No one here or elsewhere in Europe could have been unaware of what we were arguing for. I explicitly said that we would not change our position at the very end of the negotiations. We did not, but we did achieve our objectives.

A full text of the treaty on European union is in the Library of the House. Jurists and linguists will ensure that the text is ready for signature at the beginning of February, but the treaty will enter into force only once all 12 member states have ratified it. The Luxembourg European Council last June agreed that this process should take place during 1992 so that the treaty can enter into force on 1 January 1993.

Before we shall be able to ratify the treaty, it will need to be incorporated into United Kingdom law by amending the European Communities Act 1972. As I assured the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) last week, it would not be right to carry through that legislation in the remainder of this Parliament. It will properly be a matter for the next Parliament.

This afternoon, I should like to set out what the agreement means and how I see the future development of the European Community. The misleading and controversial word “federal” has now been removed from the text of the treaty. Our partners agreed to return to the words of the original treaty of Rome–

“ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”.

That has a different connotation. It means that the interests of the Community’s citizens must come first and foremost.

That has always been the Government’s approach. That is why Britain drove the creation of a single European market to the top of the Community agenda. It is why we have argued for reform of the common agricultural policy, and it is why my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) fought for and won a fair budget settlement for this country.

I believe that the Community has made a unique contribution to the development of post-war Europe. Our future is as a European power, albeit as one with continuing responsibilities in many parts of the world. The balance of national interests lies clearly in making a success of our membership of the Community, so we must work with the Community to make sure that the Community works for the whole of Europe, and especially in the interests of the people of Britain. The Community can fulfil its role properly only if it responds to the needs of its European citizens. It must respect national identity and national traditions. It must not, in the name of some wider European ambition, override the democratic wishes of the people of any one of its member states.

That is why the treaties now agreed at Maastricht were so hard-fought. Real British national interests were at stake in those discussions. The Government’s job was to safeguard and to advance those interests. It was not to sign up, without critical examination, to anything that was presented to us with a European label. I set out to the House a month ago exactly what our goals would be and what we could and could not accept. The outcome matches up to those goals and commitments in every respect. The most significant agreement of the Maastricht treaties is the agreement to co-operate in a legally binding but intergovernmental framework in the three key areas of law and order, foreign policy, and defence policy. Many of our partners would have preferred to conduct that co-operation through the institutions of the Community. That was not acceptable to us; nor, in my judgment, would it have worked. We have been able to draw a crucial distinction between those areas, such as the single market, where the Community institutions are the best tools for the job, and other areas, such as foreign policy and the fight against crime, where direct co-operation between national capitals is likely to produce the best result.

However, despite that satisfactory outcome, no one in the House should assume that that argument has been settled for all time. Some Community member states will go on pressing for a united states of Europe, with all co-operation within one institutional framework. We shall continue to argue forcefully against that proposition, and I believe that we will win the argument in the future as we have thus far.

The treaty on political union was a challenge as well as an opportunity. The challenge was to ensure that we checked the encroachment of the Community’s institutions. The opportunity was to make the Community work better. In the event, a large number of the agreements that were reached stemmed specifically from proposals that were put forward by the United Kingdom. It is worth stating the extent of those proposals. Our proposals were for stronger European security and defence co-operation, making the Western European Union the defence pillar of the European union, while preserving the primacy of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. For us, the prime importance of NATO was a vital national interest, and that has been secured.

Our proposals were also for a common foreign and security policy going beyond the Single European Act, but remaining outside the treaty of Rome and beyond the reach of the European Court. They were for co-operation on interior and justice matters, but also for co-operation outside the treaty of Rome and the jurisdiction of the European Court. They were also for co-operation for greater financial accountability, for a treaty article on subsidiarity–an article that specifically enshrines the crucial concept that the Community should undertake only those measures that could not be achieved at a national level–and for the right of the European Court of Justice to impose fines on those member states that fail to comply with its judgments, or with Community law, having previously signed up to it. We won agreement to all those proposals, and it was vital to the interests of this country that we did.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) : Will the Prime Minister help with this paradox concerning the future of Europe? The west is moving towards union; the east is moving towards a looser association–a commonwealth idea. Is it not possible that the harmonisation of the interests of individual member states along commonwealth lines rather than by means of a union would offer a more durable future, given that the break-up in the east came about because centralisation occurred without the consent of the peoples of the countries involved?

The Prime Minister : I have much sympathy with what the right hon. Gentleman has said. It is for that reason that I regard the innovation of the pillared structure operating on a co-operative basis outside the Community institutions as a very desirable development in the negotiations at Maastricht. I believe that it opens up new opportunities in the future for a European co-operation, which I believe is in all our interests–but outside the centralising institutions of the Commission, and outside the influence of the European Court of Justice. It is because of the extent of my sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman–although I would not, I believe, go as far as he would in that regard–that I believe that the agreement at Maastricht is so important.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : I am grateful to the Prime Minister for allowing me to intervene on the subject of centralised institutions. He mentioned subsidiarity, and article 3b of the treaty of union. Does he not agree that that unclear principle, on which it is very difficult to adjudicate, is totally limited by a phrase in the article? It applies to the Community only when the Community does not have matters “within its exclusive jurisdiction”.

Given that, by virtue of its powers of regulation, the Community has a very wide area of exclusive jurisdiction, does not that limit subsidiarity, whatever it be, to a very narrow range of topics?

The Prime Minister : Any action taken by the Community must not reach the level necessary to infringe the principle of subsidiarity. In essence, if it can better be done at national level, it ought not to be done at Community level. That is the principle that we have enshrined in the treaty. I shall return to that point in a few moments.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : Will the Prime Minister give way?

The Prime Minister : I will make a little progress. I shall return to that point; I ask the hon. Gentleman to be patient. Had it not been for Britain’s arguments, we would have had last week a treaty which brought foreign policy and interior and justice matters within the treaty of Rome. We would have had a Community setting itself up as a rival defence organisation to NATO. We would have lost our independent right to decide foreign policy. The European Parliament would have had equal rights with the Governments of member states to decide on the policies and laws of the Community, and the Community’s competence would have extended into virtually every area of our national life.

I do not believe that it would have been right to agree to all that. It would not have been acceptable to this House or this country, and it would have been a betrayal of our national interests. Let me turn to social issues, and set out in detail the reasons why we could not agree to the social chapter in the treaty. Let me first remove a misunderstanding. The issue with the Community is not the quality of social provision in the countries of the Community. In Britain, we have a national health service free at the point of use– [Interruption.] It is free at the point of use, and it is the envy of Europe. Only one other European country is in a position to say that.

We have a benefits safety net that puts many European socialist Governments to shame, and the issue before us is whether social policy should be dictated by Brussels or determined in this country. We have long accepted that there should be a social dimension to the activities of the Community. It makes sense, for example, to ensure that common standards of health and safety at work are observed. There are already agreed Community measures in the social area covering freedom of movement, collective redundancy arrangements and equal treatment for men and women in pay and social security.

Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South) : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

The Prime Minister : Not at the moment, if the hon. Lady will forgive me.

They all help to make a reality of people’s freedom to seek a job anywhere in the Community, widening the opportunities open to all our citizens.

We have not only agreed those measures; unlike some of our partners, we have implemented them. With Germany, we are the only member state that has implemented all the 18 directives so far adopted by the Community. We have made it clear that we will adopt and implement the majority of the proposals in the Community’s existing social action programme. Nineteen of the 33 measures so far published have been agreed by the Council of Ministers, and the United Kingdom has not blocked a single one of them. We have played a full part in the social dimensions of the Community, and no one has gone further.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : Will the Prime Minister make clear to the House and, perhaps therefore, the country something that is not understood? How is it that countries such as Greece, Portugal and Spain could put their names to the social chapter but the United Kingdom could not? Does the Prime Minister really want to be the leader of the “little boys up chimneys” party?

The Prime Minister : If the hon. Gentleman had been patient, I would have turned from the social dimension to the social chapter about which he is talking.

The social dimension exists under present Community competence. It is a matter in which we have been fully involved, and I have listed many of the areas of legislation that we have accepted, with a better record than anyone else in the Community. The social chapter covers the point raised by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), and the point that others may have wished to raise. We have refused to accept that, in addition, the Community should intrude into aspects of social policy best decided nationally.

The Government will not support proposals that would destroy jobs by imposing damaging costs on British industry. Companies know best how much they can afford in relation to their competitors, not the social affairs directorate in Brussels. That is why we are resisting the proposed working time directive, which would cost British employers up to £5 billion in the first year alone. There is also the part-time working directive, which would require up to 1.75 million part-time workers to pay national insurance contributions. The effect of that directive would be to impose extra costs on those workers at modest levels of earnings whose contributions burden the House lightened as recently as 1989.

That single illustration gives the lie to the absurd notion that all proposals from Brussels are socially enlightened, and all resistance to them is from the dark ages. Who in this House wants higher national insurance contributions on low-paid workers? That is what the directive proposes. If the Opposition support that, let them say so. If they do not want to do so, let them support us in resisting its imposition.

Those are directives that the European Commission is endeavouring to make, even under its existing competence. That makes it abundantly clear why I was not prepared to accept a further massive extension of competence in this field.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) : The Prime Minister is telling the House that he totally misunderstands the social charter and the social chapter. Europeans regard the social dimension, the social chapter and the social charter as one and the same. Will the Prime Minister tell me and the House how he will feel when he signs the treaty, and the protocol that deals with the social charter? He will not sign, but will exclude Britain from the institutions of the Community, from all its mechanisms and from every aspect of this policy. How will he feel when he does not sign that page?

The Prime Minister : The protocol is not in the treaty; it is adjacent to the treaty, but it is not in it. The protocol will not apply to us. It will not impose damaging costs on British industry and workers. I feel, as so many employers in this country and abroad feel, that it will give a competitive advantage to this country, not a competitive disadvantage. The social chapter would have implied that laws could have been imposed on the United Kingdom, by a qualified majority vote of member states, on working conditions, rights of information and consultation–including that of unions to block essential business decisions–and any action related to the provision of jobs for unemployed people. These would have ceased to be a matter for decision by this House and by British employers and employees, according to the needs of this country.

The Community’s ambitions would not have ended with those matters : social security and protection, union rights to representation of workers, union involvement in company management and the conditions of employment of non-resident workers from outside the Community would all have been explicit Community responsibilities. That, without a shred of doubt, would have been a recipe for a centralised Community social policy, which could not possibly have taken account of wide variations in traditional practice, culture and experience. It is clear that it would have enabled costly laws to be imposed, irrespective of the needs of our economy and our jobs, and I was not prepared to accept that.

Ms. Ruddock : Will the Prime Minister confirm that Britain has the lowest maternity pay of any country in the Community and, in the context of the remarks that he has just made, is he satisfied with that state of affairs?

The Prime Minister : Britain has the longest maternity leave, as the hon. Lady may know, of any country in Europe : this House decided that, and the hon. Lady has to recognise that point. It is for the House to determine that.

Let me turn to article 118b in the agreement of the 11, of which the Opposition are so fond. Let me explain to the House what the agreement that I rejected says about the role of collective agreements at Community level, rather than what some have led us to believe in recent days. It provides for such agreements between Community-level representatives of management and labour. That means, principally, the Union of Industrial and Employers Confederations of Europe and the European Trades Union Congress–a body whose combined membership is no more than one in four employees in the Community. It provides that such agreements shall be implemented in member states in one of two ways.

The first is to require such agreements to be implemented directly in member states according to their own procedures. Such agreements could cover any matter, including pay, the right to join a union and the right to strike. The only exclusions from those provisions are what Community-led employers and unions fail to agree on. The second way is to require the Council, at the request of these employers and unions, to implement these agreements through Community law, enforceable through the European Court. In this case all the matters within the huge range of Community competence that I have described could come within the scope of such agreements. Only pay, the right to join a union and the right to strike would be excluded.

The Opposition told us the exclusions, but they failed to mention the list of inclusions. The matters included run to union law as well as the laws affecting individuals–rights of recognition and negotiation, the right to block company decisions–and nowhere in the proposals tabled are collective rights excluded from action, and laws could be imposed on this country without the agreement not only of its Government but without the agreement of its Government, its employers and its employees. That is not acceptable.

The Opposition cannot credibly claim that such extraordinary provisions would not recreate precisely the kind of national bargaining–but now at a Community level–which created what was called the “British disease” of the 1960s and 1970s, so I rejected those proposals. I shall not turn back the clock to the failure of the corporatism of the 1960s and 1970s. I do not believe that the British people want to see Europe trying as national Governments tried in the 1960s and 1970s–

Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield) : Will the Prime Minister confirm that, in relation to the first way that he mentioned, the declaration attached to article 118 states that none of the agreements can impose

“any obligation to amend national legislation in order to facilitate their implementation.” ?

Will he also confirm that, in relation to the second way, they are all covered by article 118b, which specifically exempts the right to strike and union legislation?

The Prime Minister : The hon Gentleman is wrong on his second point. There is the possibility, the probability and even the certainty of supranational agreements being imposed on this country as a result of these agreements. I am not prepared to accept that on behalf of this country. Neither–on the basis of the experience of what is happening under the existing social provisions–was I prepared to trust the Commission not to stretch the new definitions of the proposed social chapter. We have seen what the Commission is doing with the working time directive under the health and safety article– [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. I ask the House to settle down.

The Prime Minister : We have seen what the Commission is doing in terms of the present health and safety article, and I am not prepared to take the risk of that happening again, with the Commission stretching its responsibilities.

Finally, I am not prepared to envisage a situation in which labour regulation, I am not prepared to envisage a situation in which labour regulation could be imposed on the United Kingdom even if the Government of the United Kingdom, the Confederation of British Industry in the United Kingdom and the Trades Union Congress in the United Kingdom had all voted against it, yet that is what the Opposition wish to support.

Mr. Rees rose–

The Prime Minister : I told the House on 20 November– [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. There are many people outside the House who are very interested in the debate and who want to know what the Prime Minister has to say. I ask the House to settle down.

Mr. Rees : On such an important issue, on which the Prime Minister went three ways, would it not be a good idea if he were to ask the learned Attorney-General to give his view to the House?

The Prime Minister : The learned Attorney-General’s view is that which I have expressed to the House.

The proposal is unacceptable, and that is why we rejected it. It is also the view of British industry and commerce and of other people all around Europe that we have made the right decision. Perhaps the Opposition would be interested to hear what the rest of the world says. The Environment Commissioner, Mr. Carlo Ripa di Meana, said that the agreements that we have reached would make Britain “the most attractive country for foreign investment.”

The Japanese equivalent of the CBI has expressed concern about the consequences of the social chapter on labour flexibility and wage costs–we know how proud the Leader of the Opposition is of the Japanese investment in his constituency.

The director general of the CBI has said that the agreement has achieved “exactly what business needs”. The director general of the Institute of Directors has described the outcome as

“a triumph for British business”.

The chairman of British Petroleum has said that he is “delighted”, and the chairman of ICI that this is probably as good an outcome as could have been hoped for.

All those people with direct experience of industry are right, and the Opposition are wrong.

I told the House on 20 November that, on economic and monetary union, there must be a provision to allow this country to decide whether–not just when–to join a single currency. That is what we have achieved–precisely, and in legally binding form. As a result, we are uniquely well placed to make a sensible judgment on this important question at the right time. If we do not wish to join, we are in no way obliged to do so. If we wish to join a single currency, it will be open to Parliament to decide to do so at exactly the same time as any of our partners.

Let there be no doubt : Britain is among those who will meet the strict convergence conditions. We took the lead in setting them and will continue to be involved at every stage leading up to the decision whether to launch a single currency.

Mr. Frank Cook rose —

The Prime Minister : There are some who argue that the treaty creates such a strong momentum towards a single currency that, whatever our doubts, we shall be compelled by economic pressure to join when the time comes. I do not believe that. The balance of economic advantage will depend heavily on the circumstances in which a single currency is created–how many member states are involved, and whether the Community has met the convergence conditions. No one can judge now what the situation will be in five or six years’ time. No economic pressure could compel this country to join a single currency if Parliament judged the political disadvantages to be too great.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : Will the Prime Minister give way?

The Prime Minister : I believe that it has been right for this country to maintain, as we have done, a two-way option–to go in if we judge it right to do so, but to stay out if we judge it right to do so. The debate about the European Community is littered…

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : Does the Prime Minister believe that the existence of the two-way option will help Britain to attract the central bank to the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister : I think that it will do no harm whatever to our prospects. Many other countries believe that we are wise to have this option. We have all the advantages of determining the conditions up to entry and–uniquely–the right to go in or not, depending on whether it is right for our country. The debate about the European Community is littered with labels for people- -anti-European, pro-European, Euro-fanatic, Euro-sceptic or Europhobe. Those labels are echoes of a healthy debate, but they should not destroy our sense of purpose.

No country has a greater capacity than ours to commit itself to a cause that it believes to be right–the history of this century clearly shows that. Many people in this country have committed themselves to membership of the Community with a similar sense of dedication. They made a commitment to an organisation which they believed would be a powerful force for good. I believe that they were right to do so.

It was right to join, not just for the opportunities that the Community offers as a common market, not even for the economic strength of the Community collectively, but for the collective power of the European democracies to improve the general weight, politically and economically, of European opinion throughout the world. Nothing that has happened in the almost 20 years of our membership causes me to doubt the rightness of the original decision to join the Community.

Mr. Frank Cook : Will the Prime Minister please, please, please give way?

Mr. Speaker : Order. Will the hon. Gentleman please sit down?

The Prime Minister : I have given way on nine or possibly even 10 occasions. I suspect that there are more than 600 hon. Members to whom I have not given way, and the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) is one of them.

As I said earlier, we attach great importance to the principle of subsidiarity. It is not only a defence of our national freedom of action but a statement of our willingness to co-operate. Such co-operation does not mean compromising our national traditions or institutions–far from it. It means not allowing sentiment to stand in the way of real interests. It is right to be hard-headed in our dealings with Europe, and that was our approach in the negotiations. At Maastricht, we ensured a safer Europe, and we reaffirmed the primacy of NATO. We set the framework of a stronger and more coherent European foreign policy, in which our national independence of action is assured. We strengthened the rule of law in the Community. We established more efficient and more effective institutions, with stronger arrangements for budgetary control.

We gave the European Parliament a greater role in monitoring the Commission. We obliged the Community to respond more directly to the needs of the citizen. We equipped ourselves to fight international crime, terrorism and drug trafficking. We secured provisions that will be good for British industry, and a Community that will be open to the rest of the world.

Our role consistently has been to ensure that the Community does not become self-regarding, inward-looking and over-regulatory. Brussels is a means to an end; it is not the end itself– [Interruption.] From their policies and comments, Opposition Members clearly feel differently. In their view, if Brussels says it, it must be right irrespective of the national interest.

There is one critical agreement among the Twelve, which is outside the treaty but in the presidency conclusions, and which I believe is vital for the future of Europe. As we reach the end of the century, it becomes even clearer that the Community does not end with the Twelve. I do not accept– [Laughter.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. These are not matters of hilarity, as many people outside would agree.

The Prime Minister : I do not accept the conflict, which is often referred to, between deepening the Community and widening it. If the Community ignores what is happening beyond its boundaries and simply concentrates on internal development, it will not become deeper; it will just become shallower. We must broaden it and open its doors. It would be a tragedy if historians could look back and say that the Community had been sleepwalking through a year of revolutions elsewhere. That tragedy would be compounded if historians were to look back and say that, if only the Community had reached out to the fragile democracies of the east, disasters in those democracies could have been averted.

At Maastricht, the Community committed itself to further enlargement. It did so at Britain’s initiative. That commitment will be seen as one of the most significant of the agreements to which we signed up last week. In six months’ time, Britain will hold the presidency of the Community. In that six months, we hope to start negotiations leading to membership of the Community for Austria and Sweden, and other European Free Trade Association countries. We shall start to pave the way for the eventual membership of the countries of eastern Europe. We shall put in place the last measures needed to complete the single market–a single market that will extend way beyond the borders of the Twelve, even before the new member states join.

In the treaty of Rome, the free countries of Europe wove their own lifeline. We now have a responsibility to the other countries of Europe to throw that same lifeline to those countries now embarking on a perilous journey towards stability and democracy. If we were to fail in that endeavour, we should put at risk all the achievements of post-war Europe. The prize if we succeed in that endeavour is enormous.

I see the main task of our presidency next year as being to ensure that the Community matches up to this, its greatest challenge and opportunity–the achievement of a Community open to all the democratic countries of Europe and reducing, perhaps even eliminating, the risk of conflict within the whole of our continent from one end to the other.

That was the kind of Community that we fought for at Maastricht. That is the kind of Community that we wish to build. We can take pride in achieving our goals in this negotiation, and I commend the outcome to the House.

John Major – 1991 Commons Statement on Gulf War

Below is the text of the statement made by John Major, the then Prime Minister, in the House of Commons on 17 January 1991.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on the start of hostilities in the Gulf in the small hours of this morning.

Aircraft of the multinational force began attacks on military targets in Iraq from around midnight Greenwich mean time. Several hundred aircraft were involved in the action, including a substantial number of RAF aircraft. The action was taken under the authority of United Nations Security Council resolution 678 which authorises use of all necessary means, including force, after 15 January to bring about Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait.

The action was taken after extensive consultation with the principal Governments represented in the multinational force and following direct discussions between President Bush and myself over a period of weeks. It was taken only after exhaustive diplomatic efforts through the UN, the European Community, Arab Governments and others to persuade Saddam Hussein to withdraw peacefully.

The action is continuing. Attacks have been directed at Iraq’s military capability, in particular airfields, aircraft, missile sites, nuclear and chemical facilities and other military targets. Reports so far received suggest that they have been successful. Allied aircraft losses have been low. I regret to inform the House that one RAF Tornado from later raids is reported missing.

The instructions issued to our pilots and those of other forces are to avoid causing civilian casualties so far as possible.

Our aims are clear and limited. They are those set out in the United Nations Security Council resolutions: to get Iraq out of Kuwait-all of Kuwait; to restore the legitimate Government; to re-establish peace and security in the area; and to uphold the authority of the United Nations.

As I explained in the debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday, it is only with the greatest reluctance that we have come to the point of using force as authorised by the Security Council. We did so only after all peaceful means had failed and Saddam Hussein’s intransigence left us no other course. We have no quarrel with the people of Iraq. We hope very much for a speedy end to hostilities. That will come about when Saddam Hussein withdraws totally and unconditionally from Kuwait. Our military action will continue until he comes to his senses and does so.

Most of all, our thoughts go to the men and women of our forces and their families who wait anxiously at home. [HON. MEMBERS: “Hear, hear.”] They have our wholehearted support and our prayers for a safe return home.

Sir John Major – 2017 Martin Gilbert Lecture

Below is the text of the speech made by Sir John Major, the former Prime Minister, on 14 November 2017.

When Esther Gilbert invited me to deliver this inaugural Lecture in Martin’s name, I was honoured to be asked, and delighted to accept.

Many – perhaps most – of you present will have known Martin, enjoyed his friendship, and admired his talent. There was much to enjoy, and a great deal to admire.

I first met Martin over 30 years ago, and liked him immediately. He was highly intelligent, inquisitive – and interested in everything. He was also self-effacing and modest. Rarely has so much talent been so well concealed.

And his was a mighty talent. Together with Boswell’s “Life of Johnson”, Martin wrote one of our greatest biographies. His volumes on the life of Winston Churchill may never be bettered. If Churchill was our greatest Briton – and it is easy to argue that he was – then Martin will be remembered as his peerless chronicler.

Churchill once said that history would treat him kindly because he, himself, would write it! But it will also do so because of Martin’s monumental work.

Anyone who knew Martin learned very soon that he was a workaholic: his 88 books testify to that. To him, recording history was an obligation seared deeply into his soul. He accompanied me once on a tour of Israel, and sat in on all my meetings – including those with Prime Minister Rabin and Yasser Arafat.

He recorded – with commentary and colour – every word and action of significance, together with shrewd judgements upon them. If it had been practical to do so, I would have taken Martin everywhere.

But Martin had other work to do. He wrote extensively, and with affection and insight, of Israel – as well as a comprehensive history of the 20th Century – certainly the most crowded and bloodthirsty Century that history has yet known.

But, despite his special interests, Martin was an observer of the whole world: he focused on the key events; and – in his writing – not only brought the past to life, but often foresaw what its effects would be.

The chronicler and historian was also a seer – and his intuitive and enquiring mind over how history unfolded provides my theme for this evening.

Those famous lines by Rudyard Kipling come to mind:

“I keep six honest serving men (They taught me all I knew);

Their names are What and Why and When

And How and Where and Who.”

Those were the questions to which Martin always sought answers.

Martin saw the world as it was. At this moment, we need to see it as it is.

Some of what is happening today is uplifting: but much is not.

Forty years ago, four in every ten people in our world lived in dire poverty: today, notwithstanding a near doubling of world population, that has fallen to less than one in every ten.

Today, and every day, that number falls by a further quarter of a million.

In the last 25 years, child mortality has halved – and better medicine and diet has saved the lives of 100 million children.

I could go on. In the midst of the noisy mayhem, it is easy to overlook quiet, meaningful progress.

We can be proud, too, of the advances in science, in technology, in medicine and in longevity. So much that was once a mystery is now known. So much that once seemed impossible is now a daily occurrence.

But, while science and humanity have advanced, politics and statesmanship have not. In some ways, we seem have gone backwards.

The United Nations reports that – only last year – 67 democracies saw a decline in political and civil liberties, and only 36 countries registered gains. Hate crimes have increased. Terror continues unabated.

In many countries – in and beyond Europe – nationalism and populism has bred intolerance – and has grown. Often, this is the seedbed of autocracy and the signpost to outright dictatorship. History has surely taught us not to ignore this: I know that Martin would never have done so.

As one looks around the world, there are wars – or civil wars – in Syria, in Iraq, in Libya, in Somalia, in Yemen, in Darfur and, of course, in Afghanistan.

There are new, and dangerous tensions, in Korea and the South China Sea.

The Middle East remains part war zone, part uneasy peace, part tinder-box waiting to be lit.

Syria is a failed state. Sunni–Shia rivalry – epitomised in Saudi–Iranian tensions – de-stabilises the region. The former unity of the Gulf States has gone. Neither Turkey nor Egypt is in a state of grace.

And, in the twenty years since the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, an agreed solution to the Arab–Israeli conflict seems further away than ever.

People sometimes speak of the Middle East as though it were a single problem requiring a single solution. It isn’t: it is many intractable problems – often poisoned by the past, and with emotions too deep and too wide to be readily stilled.

There are also armed conflicts – too many to list – that in recent years have been seen on every Continent.

And there are new threats, unlike any we have known before. Many States – and, most probably, terror groups as well – are developing offensive cyber capabilities that could be targeted anywhere. It is conceivable we might not even know we were under attack – or from where that attack had come.

But we know how it could be deployed. It could hit anything from missile defences to nuclear power plants; to water supplies; to innovative research; to business interests; or to Government secrets. Every interest, including national interest, is potentially vulnerable – in this and every other country.

We are living through an uneasy time, with an extraordinary diversity of risks. Commonsense would suggest that the most powerful nations of the world would be getting together around a table to address these common problems.

But they are not – because political squabbles are standing in the way of statesmanship. So, in these turbulent times, we are adrift with no anchor of purpose.

Solutions require diplomacy and statesmanship, yet – at the moment – both seem in short supply.

This is worryingly true of the relationship between America and Russia and the EU.

At the moment, America and Russia look at each other with a level of mistrust not seen since the dog days of the Soviet Union.

This is not simply the result of grand-standing by Presidents Trump and Putin – although that is a factor. But the root of antagonism lies in intractable political attitudes that are not easily resolved.

Russia claims American policy is hostile to her interests.

America believes Russian policy towards her neighbours is aggressive.

Russia believes America is waging economic war on her, and encouraging regime change. She accuses the West of interfering in her traditional sphere of influence. She is suspicious – and resentful – of NATO expansion into former member nations of the Warsaw Pact.

America’s concerns are a mirror image. She argues that former Soviet Union countries, now satellites to Russia, have an absolute right to self-determination and sovereignty, and shouldn’t be menaced by Russian ambitions.

She accuses Russia of invading Ukraine; supporting a despot in Syria; and interfering in the recent American Presidential election.

There are further disagreements about Iran, Libya and Afghanistan – as well as upon issues of trade and climate change. A failure of diplomacy enables these grievances to curdle – and they are doing so.

On both sides the charges are deeply felt, and supported by popular opinion in their respective countries: even with goodwill, it would be challenging to resolve them – but at present there is no goodwill.

And this is relevant because we live in an age in which popular prejudices affect policy more than at any time in modern history.

Mr Putin – who was elected to make Russia strong again – delights in tweaking Uncle Sam’s nose, because to do so is wildly popular with the Russian people.

To add to the mix, the EU has its own very similar store of grievances with Russia. It is also out of step with America over policy to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Nor does Europe agree with other policies of an erratic American President they neither understand nor much admire. They worry about his commitment to NATO, to free trade, and to America’s European allies.

In the midst of all this, British electors have voted to leave the EU – albeit without the opportunity to explore an opinion on how we should leave – or what future relations we should maintain. That was denied them with a ballot offering a simple “Yes” or “No” answer to an issue of immense complexity and detail.

I don’t wish to enter the labyrinth of trade and commerce options with Europe this evening. These are important to our economic and social wellbeing, but the implications of leaving go far wider. Our departure has political consequences that may be as profound as any economic effects.

Martin, I think, would have focused on these.

One – for obvious reasons crucial to me – is the question of a customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

In the Referendum, Tony Blair and I travelled together to Northern Ireland to warn of the risks to such a border – only to have our concerns dismissed. It seemed it was – and remains – the problem no-one wished to confront, and everyone wished to vanish away. But how can it?

The Peace Process has transformed life – not only in Northern Ireland – but in the South. Relations between Belfast and Dublin have improved beyond measure – and those between London and Dublin are now better than at any time in our history.

For the last two decades, the lack of any physical border has made a vital contribution to community harmony, as well as trade between North and South. Now, albeit in a different guise, a border is likely to return.

There is general goodwill to resolve this issue, but no-one has yet found an acceptable way of doing so.

The obvious options fall foul of partisan politics.

We could stay in the Single Market and Customs Union. The British Government opposes that.

We could conduct customs controls within the Republic. The Unionist Parties oppose that.

We could grant Northern Ireland a unique status in which they, and they alone of the United Kingdom, remain in the Single Market. That is constitutionally hard to accept for the British Government and anathema to the Unionists.

Such an outcome also has dangers. It would be likely to increase calls for a Border Poll, in which a divided public in Northern Ireland – who voted to remain in the EU – are asked if they still wish to do so by leaving the UK and becoming part of the Republic. This could well lead to violence.

All these ramifications were not only foreseeable – they were foreseen. Now, those who brushed them aside as of no consequence – or denied them altogether – must find a solution.


For a long time, British foreign policy has been based upon the twin pillars of our relations with America and the European Union. To have been straddled between these two economic and political giants has served our interests well.

But, once we abandon the European Union, we become far more dependent upon only one of those pillars and – for four and possibly eight years – upon a President far less predictable, and less attuned to our free market and socially liberal instincts than his predecessors.

Despite the romantic view of committed Atlanticists in the UK, the “special relationship” they cherish is not a union of equals. I wish it were – but it isn’t: America dwarfs the UK in economic and military power. Within the EU we can assert ourselves and lead. But raw power matters. With America, we follow.

And – once the UK leaves the EU – our relationship with the United States will change. America needs a close ally inside the EU: once outside, that can no longer be us.

At the same time, the EU is focused on a long list of internal problems: Catalonia; Greek debt; immigration; nationalist populism; the future shape of the Union; the intransigency of the Visegrad countries; and, of course – Brexit.

It is a full agenda, and leaves too little time and energy for external problems.

It is a dispiriting reality for those of us in the Western democracies that – as autocratic China confidently sets out extraordinary long-term ambitions – the democratic nations of the West appear to be navel-gazing at disputes they do not know how to resolve.

A decade or so ago, it was easy to argue that the democratic system of the West was irresistibly destined to spread ever more widely. It may yet do so, but there is much less confidence now that it will be admired and copied in countries where, until now, democracy and liberal values have been unknown.

Almost wherever one looks, democracy – with its gentle instincts of persuasion and consensus – appears to be in trouble, and often in retreat, while populist nationalism and autocracy is growing.

The characteristics of populist nationalism are becoming easy to recognise. Leaders are said to be charismatic – although in my own view that is a much abused description. Populists deliver personal rule, not democratic rule through the institutions of government.

They disparage institutions. They promise what cannot be achieved. They dislike bureaucracy, and experts, and independent courts. The media is either their flag-waver or their enemy.

Their creed is to imply that they alone understand their nation’s problems, and that they alone can solve them. They are not democrats, and when they claim to represent the view of “the people”, they are only ever representing the people who agree with them.

To recognise this is the first protection against it. We must never be complacent about democracy. It is not a given. For all its shortcomings, it must be cherished and protected.

When an established democratic system begins to fray – perhaps even fracture – it is time for democratic politicians of all parties to come to its rescue.

In America, discontent elected President Trump. In France, the old political establishment was shattered on the left and right and President Macron emerged. Less democratic outcomes have been evident in Austria, in the Czech Republic, in Poland and in Hungary.

In Germany, the far right AFD returned 93 members to the Bundestag. And, in the UK – an anti-establishment, anti-immigration, anti-European Party emerged, flourished for a while, and opened the way for the British to vote to leave the EU.

None of this means our democratic system is in danger of collapse, but we do need to restore public affection for it.

For when the public begins to turn away, believing that “all politicians are the same”; that “no-one understands” their everyday problems; that it doesn’t matter who you vote for because “nothing ever changes”, the warning signs are flashing.

To retrieve its reputation, democratic politics must re-ignite growth and optimism and hope.

In our own country, it must tackle the obstacles that prevent people from achieving perfectly natural ambitions: to be decently housed, preferably in a home of their own. To have a secure job. To see their children educated well in the state sector. To be able to look forward to reasonable security in retirement.

In our country, these are modest ambitions, but for many of our young people they are pipe-dreams.

University students leave full-time education with debts they must repay; they cannot afford homes, even while interest rates are rock bottom; and the collapse of company pension schemes means they must contribute more to their own retirement than any previous generation.

Collectively, these burdens are a daunting way to start working life.

The popularity of any leader, or any system of Government, is inextricably linked to raising the living standards of the nation.

For many decades in the UK living standards rose about 20%, but in the last ten years that figure has fallen to under 2% – with many people literally worse off than they were at the time of the financial crash of 2007.

This is not just in the UK. It is true, also, of the US and many countries across Europe: it is hardly surprising if there is disillusion: the only surprise is that rebellions against the status quo have been so peaceful.

I have always believed that, as far as practicable, people should stand on their own two feet. I am committed to the free market and benevolent capitalism.

But that does not mean “anything goes” capitalism. Nor does it mean the State can ignore its obligations to smooth its citizens’ way to a better quality of life. The State cannot – must not – stand aside where the wellbeing of their people is at stake.

By this I don’t simply mean the State must offer hand-outs, or subsidies or social benefits: although, for some that will always be necessary.

What I do mean is that any Government should worry less about Party ideology; less about placating self-interested lobby groups; less about believing their way is the only way – and worry far more about delivering pragmatic policies that enable people to improve their own lifestyle.

I consider myself very fortunate to have been born – and to have lived – in this country. I would not – could not – live contentedly anywhere else. I am as proud of my country as any Briton.

But, as we work to secure our nation’s future, we must be realistic about how we are now seen by our friends around the world – and where we stand in the world.

We are still a sizeable power but – in a world of 7 billion – we 65 million Britons shouldn’t over-inflate our influence.

We are less than 1% of the world’s population.

China and India are each around 20%.

That already matters – but will matter even more as they continue to grow economically.

On some measures, we are still the fifth (or, possibly, sixth) largest economy in the world: and we can be proud of that. But on other measures we are ninth – or lower – with much larger nations snapping at our heels.

The world sees that and so must we. And, however you look at it, weakening our ties with Europe and the US can only diminish our influence. To maximise our role, we must use our skills to work with others around the world, and not isolate ourselves within it.

On occasions such as this, it is natural to focus on the challenges we face. But a more rounded picture also embraces the many achievements we should celebrate.

Such as the innate humanity – or goodness, if you wish – of so many individual people. One of the glories of our country is the number of those who are involved in voluntary work, in charities, in philanthropy – both great and small, both national and within local communities.

I look around this room and see friends whose background and activities I know well. I know what they have done in offering their time and their energy and their treasure to others, often unsung but not unnoticed – and I know its effect.

We can multiply that in every part of our country and – despite the difficulties and concerns I have spoken of – there is a warmth in that, a national empathy, a basic soundness of purpose that makes me positive about our future.


When I last saw Martin he was very ill, in hospital unable to speak or move. Esther was with him, and caring for him, with a devotion that I cannot praise too highly. She cared for him, hoped for him, prayed for him, and cried for him. In all that – even in his final illness – Martin was a lucky man.

During that last visit I talked to Martin – of current events, of the world, of what we had done together. Although he was unable to respond, I am sure that he heard my words, and took in all that was said.

Even then, in the closing days of his life, his love of yesterday was still married to his curiosity about tomorrow.

And when we lost him there was one small consolation: ahead of us all, as always, Martin finally learned about the greatest mystery of all.

We miss him – but we’ll never forget him.

His books speak to us still – and will continue to do so for generations to come.

Martin not only left us his history, but also the legacy of this wonderful Learning Centre.

In the hands of Esther, Harry Solomon, Victor Blank and other distinguished Trustees, this promises to be an intellectual landmark in the lives of many people.

Martin always believed that – by having a knowledge of the past – the future could be shaped for the better.

He would have been proud of this Centre.

And he would have been right to be proud.

Just as we are right to be proud of – and thankful for – the life and the legacy of our friend, Martin Gilbert.

Sir John Major – 2017 Speech on the Responsibilities of Democracy

Below is the text of the speech made by Sir John Major in Westminster Abbey on 6 November 2017.

As a boy, in the 1950s, encouraged by close friends, I cut my teeth as a public speaker on a soapbox – across the river in Brixton Market.

In those early days none of my friends would have imagined that – one day – my soapbox would be upgraded to a lectern in this beautiful and historic Abbey.

I doubt that I imparted much wisdom from my Brixton soapbox, but I did learn about people. No-one barracked. No-one told me – as surely they could have done – to go away and come back when I knew something about … well, anything.

Even in a crowded and busy market, some took time to stop and listen or question. No-one seemed to resent me or my views. No-one was hostile, although many must have disagreed with what I said.

Today – as politics has become more rancorous – I have often thought back to that time, and wondered how we lost that tolerance of opposing views.

Certainly, tolerance was missing from the EU Referendum Campaign, when honest and thoughtful political debate was abandoned in favour of exaggeration, half-truths and untruths. No-one seemed ashamed or embarrassed by this.

Indeed, some revelled in it, which suggests that mendacity is acceptable if it panders to a popular prejudice. Then, it is sanctioned by many who know it to be untrue, and welcomed by others whose prejudices are supported by it. And, if delivered with wit and panache, it may even be believed.

Some of the media reported what was said – even when they must have known it to be improbable (at best) or untrue (at worst). In this way, the Referendum showcased a deterioration in both the conduct and reporting of our politics.

There will be those who think that my subject, “the Responsibilities of Democracy” is inappropriate for Westminster Abbey – that it is a secular concern, and that the arts and practice of democratic politics are far removed from the higher concerns of the Church.

They are wrong – as wrong, or misguided, as those who argue that the Church should stay out of politics: it should not. Both Church and State care for the wellbeing of people, and if one institution is failing them, the other has a duty to say so. Two-way constructive criticism, if conducted civilly, is healthy – and no-one should shrink from it.

In years gone by, the Church was criticised as “The Tory Party at Prayer”. Today, it is often told it is too Left-wing. I doubt the first was ever true; and the charge of Left-wing bias is trotted out whenever the Church talks about poverty.

But the Church should talk of poverty. So should we all. Poverty is not the sole preserve of the Left. Conservatives from Wilberforce to David Cameron – who made overseas aid to the very poorest a signature policy – have focused upon poverty.

On occasions such as this there are two kinds of Lecture. One is uplifting and intellectual. It enlivens the conscience and leaves us pondering the higher purpose of Man.

My purpose is more prosaic. It is to provoke thought about democracy – both generally and in our own country. Democracy is very precious but – how is it performing in a new world that is changing at bewildering speed? Is it doing its job? Is it at risk? Where is it failing? What is its future?

In many countries, I see a distaste for politics that runs deep. That is a danger to democracy. So, inevitably, my theme – in part – is a cry for action where there is none; and of warning where there is peril.

What is democracy? It is surely more than electing a government through a universal franchise. Elections are an expression of democracy, but the ballot box alone is insufficient.

President Putin wins elections – is Russia a democracy? No – it is not. Is Turkey? Is Egypt? Even on the narrowest and meanest of definitions the answer is – No. Nor are many other countries that hold elections hold elections – sometimes rigged – but, voting apart, have few of the attributes of a genuine democracy.

My worry is that democracy is in retreat; stifled by its own virtues. Democracy operates on consent. That being so, it is slower to make decisions than autocracy or outright dictatorship. Democracy must cajole. Must persuade. Must seek consensus. Not so autocracy.

This can make autocracy seem more efficient than democracy, more decisive, more able to deliver its promises, more swift to act in crises. The rise of non-democratic China to economic super-stardom is one of the great stories of history, but there is a price to pay for her success.

The price is a lack of personal freedom for the masses.

For now, countless millions of Chinese are grateful for that economic improvement. But human nature suggests that as their individual wellbeing grows, they will demand greater personal liberty. If that happens, autocracy must yield – or repress. This choice lies ahead for many countries.

At the heart of true democracy is liberty under the law. Democratic government must be freely elected for a fixed period in a universal franchise, untainted by coercion.

There must be checks and balances to its authority. The rule of law must apply. The judiciary must be independent, and there must be a free media, an independent academia, and a functioning Opposition free to oppose without sanctions. Only then can freedom of speech and action be protected.

But these attributes are merely the trappings of democracy. Democracy in action is more than satisfying the material demands of the majority, or honouring the promises of an election manifesto.

Democratic government must govern for the future as well as the present. A Governing Party must govern for political opponents who did not vote for them – and may never do so.

It must govern for the unborn, and the country they will inherit. For minorities. For the wider international community. And all Governments have a responsibility to themselves for the manner in which they govern.

One has only to set out these responsibilities to see that no Government, perhaps ever, has met this ideal – Government by men and women, not saints, is an imperfect vehicle for perfection. But that does not mean their imperfections should be ignored or accepted.

Yet, today, they often are, as a disillusioned, disinterested, preoccupied or – in some cases, a cowed or misled – electorate shrug their shoulders and turn away.

In such a climate, democracy faces a threat from the rise of nationalism. This is not theoretical: in many countries that is a reality. In others, a clear and present danger.


In the democratic West, we have come to believe that our liberal, social and economic model of democracy is unchallengeable. It is not. Last year – as the United Nations has reported – 67 countries suffered a decline in political and civil liberties while only 36 had gains. What has happened there can happen elsewhere.

Over 20 democracies have collapsed during the last two decades, and there is widespread public dissatisfaction in many others.

Across Europe, nationalism has gained more than a foothold. It begins with a populism that masquerades as patriotism, but morphs into something far less attractive.

In many countries, nationalist parties have significant support. They can attract true patriots – but are also a political vehicle for those who flavour that patriotism with xenophobia.

Nationalism is authoritarian. It turns easily towards autocracy or – at worst – outright dictatorship. Nationalists hide their threat under an exaggerated love of country, an unthinking patriotism: “my country, right or wrong”. Its leaders view other countries – and sometimes other races – as inferior.

Nationalism is suspicious of foreigners. It accuses immigrants of “stealing jobs” or, in some other way, undermining the indigenous population. This has been so for hundreds of years: it is often wrong, and – let it be said in this House of God – un-Christian.

There is a great difference between nationalism and patriotism. Patriotism is more than pride in country. A mature patriotism concerns itself with the condition of the People, as well as the prestige of the Country. Such a patriotism worries about deprivation, opportunity and incentive.

It asks itself: how can we spread our wealth and opportunity more evenly around our country? And it is as concerned with the growth of food banks as it is with a shortage of aircraft carriers.

I now fear for these broad, socially liberal attitudes.

The financial crisis – less security, low or no growth, and rising taxes – has created public dissatisfaction with the old, albeit fallible, politics. Anger about its shortcomings replaces cool, dispassionate judgement. Despair gives a credibility to promises of easy solutions when – in truth – there are none.

Our social and economic liberalism may be fallible but it is not some mish-mash of woolly headed do-gooders. It protects individual liberties and human rights. It promotes market freedoms, ownership of property, and freedom of movement.

We dare not take these familiar values for granted. We need to celebrate them, protect them and practice them: Politics must not become a playground for demagogues.


Capitalism and free trade are the bulwark of democracy. They have lifted millions of the poorest people in the world out of poverty. As trade has grown, wealth has grown, literacy has risen, and fatal diseases have been eradicated.

But free trade is under attack.

When growth was buoyant, all was well. But, after the financial crash of 2007/8, many workers see global trade as a threat. So do companies exposed to foreign competition.

There are problems that must be dealt with. Globalisation has distributed its gains unevenly.

Individuals have gained wealth that Croesus would have envied.

Global companies have driven out competitors, and become mega-rich.

But, to protect itself, capitalism must be ethical. If it is not, then opposition to it will grow. Business must confront malpractice and eliminate it.

Capitalism must reform itself – or Government must make it do so.

“Anything Goes” capitalism is not acceptable: it can only damage free trade and open markets, and encourage protectionism, less trade, slower growth and greater poverty. If that happens, everyone loses. But those with least will lose most.


Our British democracy is seen as honest, not corrupt; and free, not repressive. Our legal system is widely admired and respected. Our elections are acknowledged as fair, not fixed; and Governments leave and enter Office without violence – and within a few days.

Our Parliament has been a democratic model. As a nation, we can – and should – be proud of all this, and I am … but …I will come to the “buts” in a moment ….

First, let me say, I’m not among that minority of Britons who disparage our country and side with our critics. I am, and always will be, proud to be British.

However, having seen our democracy at work – over many years – from the inside, and for the past sixteen as a reasonably informed outsider, not all is as it could be – or should be. We can do better.

Our present Parliament faces an extraordinary range of complex problems. Brexit – an historic blunder in my own view, although it is not my theme for this evening – will consume the time of this Parliament, and crowd out domestic issues that are crying out for action.

It would be better were Parliament free to focus its attention on health, social care, housing, education and transport.

But until Brexit has been resolved – which may take years – few, if any, of these subjects will get the attention they deserve.

Nor will constitutional issues over Scotland and Northern Ireland; or the social problems of income disparity and the North/South divide – which surely cannot be permitted to continue as it is. All of these – each vital to the future wellbeing of our country – will be secondary to the fallout from last year’s Referendum.

Let me now turn to that list of “buts”.


To cynics, the words “service” and “duty” are old-fashioned, yet they are virtues that deserve praise, not scorn. Our Public Service embodies them.

The Civil Service is a fundamental engine of our democracy. It has an historic memory, which protects against the errors of the past. It is politically independent. It brings balance to our system of government. And yet, in the last 20 years, it has been undermined by its own masters.

When things have gone wrong, a small number of Ministers – against all past practice – have blamed the Civil Service for the failure – and not themselves. Political advisers have undermined civil servants and usurped their role. The Freedom of Information Act has hampered the dispassionate advice offered to Ministers.

Ministers may decide policy, but the Civil Service must deliver it. To do so, it trawls for ideas; delves deep into potential pitfalls; advises; cautions; and prepares legislation.

It is in our national interest that public service should remain a career that attracts some of the very best brains in our country. We should value it, not disparage it.

I hope Government will rethink recent practice on special advisers.

Ministers have a right to non-Civil Service advice. But, as advisers are paid from the public purse, they should be men and women of experience and ability. Many are – but not all. Their role needs redefining. Good special advisers, with expertise and political nous, can make for better government and better liaison with the civil service.

But, over the years, a handful of advisers have acquired unjustified power that has been misused. At times they have driven wedges between Ministers and their civil servants. Some have been used as attack dogs – on both their political opponents and their colleagues. The culprits were often protected by their Ministers, when they should have been dismissed without ceremony.

Some advisers – with intellect but little judgement – are easy prey for the media. They are flattered, wined and dined; and the naïve among them talk unguardedly, whilst the more unscrupulous leak stories that create feuds between senior Ministers, and complicate policy.

Any special advisers that behave in this fashion should go: a “one leak and you’re out” policy would be a worthwhile discipline for the Prime Minister to institute across all Government departments.


It is a strength of our democracy that debate on policy is fierce. That is as it should be: policy affects people’s lives. Passions can rise – and sometimes it is right for them to do so.

But policy disagreement is not only across the floor of Parliament. Too often, members of the same Party are seen as opponents: not “one of us”, to echo an unfortunate phrase from the 1980s, and this leads to rival camps being formed.

These factions – opposing wings of the same Party – fight one another more vigorously than they do their opponents. This is potentially destructive to the Party system, which is the main operating structure of our democracy. The old political adage: “My opponents are opposite – my enemies are behind”, is currently apt for both our main Parties.

There is a reason for this. The anti-European Right wish to control the Conservative Party: the neo-Marxist Left wish to dominate Labour. Both are making headway in a battle for the soul of their respective Parties.

These ideological battles have dangers for our democracy. The rebellious radicals of Right and Left argue for partisan policies that appeal to the extremes of their Party base. As they do so, political divisions widen, consensus shrinks, and a minority of the Party begins to manipulate the majority.

This is dangerous territory. The malcontents should remember that, without some give-or-take, without some effort at consensus, our tolerant Party system can become ungovernable. In politics, as in life, consensus is wise, not weak; and tolerance is a virtue, not a failing.

If fringes begin to dominate a political Party, the middle ground of their support will turn away in disgust, as the shrillest voices and the most extreme views begin to dominate debate.

Where that risk arises, democrats should worry. Indeed, they should do more than worry: they should fight back.


Politics has always been a tough trade. It arouses strong feelings, and plain speaking which – sometimes – can turn into abuse. The hard-boiled professional would say: “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”.

Well, maybe …. but the language and tone of politics matters. It can enthuse or repel. Excite or deflate. Uplift or cast down. Clarify or confuse. Examine the truth … or ignore it.

In the 1930s, Oswald Mosley used his oratory to stir up violence. During World War II, Churchill – in Ed Murrow’s memorable phrase – “mobilised the English language and sent it to war”.

In the 1960s, the Conservative Enoch Powell inflamed opinion on immigration – and the Dockers marched in his support.

Oratory can change public opinion – for good or ill.

Today, we need it to explain complex policy in a way that is easily understood.

It is decades since the popular press fully reported speeches in Parliament. The speeches may have been dry, often dull; but, perhaps by osmosis, policy was understood.

Today’s media world is more complex. The written press can’t be a public service. It is losing readership and fighting for its very existence. In its struggle for survival, it favours sensation – because that’s what sells newspapers. This entertains – but may not inform.

Many political stories are spiced up by “informed sources”. This is often self-interested malicious comment, and should be read with many a pinch of salt on the side. It may excite and intrigue, but leaves no-one any wiser.

Television news is more informative, but not always so. Often, interviews are brief and confrontational, and focussed on securing a headline for the next news bulletin.

Political news programmes have longer interviews and can be a better source of information but they, too, often slip into confrontation.

In each of the above charades, the electorate is left confused and uninformed.

We cannot only blame the media. “Spin” and “soundbite” replaced informed argument with meaningless phrases: Labour’s “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”; and the Conservatives’ “Take Back Control” serve as memorable examples of pitch-perfect absurdity.

They convey nothing. They explain nothing. And they are worth nothing.

And they can mislead. I once used the phrase “back to basics” and it was taken up to pervert a thoroughly worthwhile social policy.

A low point was reached when politicians were offered a daily “form of words” to be trotted out in every interview. This is not only undignified, it is self-defeating. As voters hear our elected representatives uttering puerile slogans instead of explaining policy, it is no wonder if respect for them melts away.

Slogans and soundbites are a deceit. Electors deserve the truth in plain English, not in fairy tales. When trust in our elected representatives falls, democracy fails.

There are rare occasions when public interest demands “an economy of the truth”; but, in the main, clarity – and honesty – really is the best policy.

And by honesty, I mean more than simply straight-talking. I mean honesty in facing up to challenges; honesty in acknowledging fears or dangers; honesty in action; and honesty in admitting the limitations of Government. Honesty can be politically inconvenient, but less so than concealing the truth.

Honesty commands respect. Slogans do not. Soundbites do not. Spin does not. Honesty is essential in a functioning democracy. It is infuriating to listen to interviews where every question is side-stepped, or answered with obfuscation. Such conduct treats the electorate with contempt – and no-one should be surprised if they return the compliment.

I don’t wish to be prissy about this by suggesting that there was some past, mythical age in which everything was perfect. There certainly wasn’t. I wasn’t. But politicians can do better to serve the electorate – and they must do so.


The essence of our democracy is “One Man, One Vote”. But, except in the ballot box, no democracy offers equal influence to every citizen.

Anthony Trollope, honoured here in Poets’ Corner, wrote in his biography of Cicero:

“The power of voting was common to all citizens: but the power of influencing the electors had passed into the hands of the rich.”.

That was, of course, two millennia ago in Ancient Rome, but the same “power of influencing” lingers on in modern democracies. The very rich, if they assert themselves, may be able to influence government.

In America, big money perverts the system. The sheer cost of their elections – with most of it spent on advertisements attacking their opponents – is enormous.

A Member of Congress seeking election every two years is perpetually fundraising. Even if donors ask nothing in return for their generosity, it is likely to be in the mind of the politician as he or she considers policy – and it ought not to be.

In the UK, money is far less damaging to the system, but still manifests itself through Party funding.

Party funding is an acute dilemma. All political parties must raise money to campaign, to run their organisations, to pay their staff – and none can hope to fund all this through membership subscriptions alone.

There are only two ways to fund the balance, and neither is attractive.

At present, the bulk of funding is by wealthy individuals, business, and the Trades Unions. This is bound to give rise to obligations – whether sought or not by the donor – and is intrinsically unhealthy.

In my experience, many donors are altruistic and give money simply to support their Party; but others may seek to exact a price. Whether that price is a policy promise; an appointment; or an honour – it is undesirable.

An alternative is more funding through the public purse. This would be deeply unpopular and I share the general distaste for it. Nonetheless, it may be the least bad option.

A compromise might be more State funding than at present but, in return, a legal limit to donations from individuals or business or Trades Unions. This should be set at a level where no-one could reasonably argue that it influences policy.

Such a scheme is not perfect. But, on balance, it would be beneficial for our democracy.

Here tonight, in this magnificent and hallowed place, we are surrounded by the spirits of many historical figures who were elected to represent us.

Over many centuries. Many generations. Through times of strife and turmoil. Of uncertainty and change. Through times of national crises. Times of celebration. They are commemorated here, for the service they gave to our nation.

Whatever their political beliefs – they were all elected by the people to serve the people – and it was the people who had the power to dismiss them.

As a boy, I read what Edmund Burke said:

“To deliver an opinion, is the right of all men; that of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a representative ought always to rejoice to hear; and which he ought always most seriously to consider.

But authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience, these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.”

I agree with that implicitly.

As that young boy across the river, I would never have believed that the weight of that responsibility would ever fall upon my own shoulders. It was a privilege, but a burden too – as it is for all those who bear it.

All must ask themselves:

– Did I do what I believed to be right?

– Did I speak up – and not be afraid to speak the truth?

We are blessed to live in this land. But each and every one of us has a responsibility to keep democracy alive and kicking and never stifle free speech or freedom of action if it is within the law.

Earlier, I spoke of my soapbox in Brixton, and the tolerance that was shown to me in the salad days of my political life – by many who would have quite reasonably taken an opposite view.

“I do not like what you say” said Voltaire, “but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

Indeed so. That is the responsibility of democracy.

Sir John Major – 2016 Speech at Oxford Union on the EU


Below is the text of the speech made by Sir John Major, the former Prime Minister, at the Oxford Union on 13 May 2016.

This is my first formal speech in the Referendum campaign, and it is appropriate that it is here – because it is your generation’s future that will be enhanced or diminished by whether we “remain” in or “leave” the EU.

I’ve no particular reason to be a supporter of the EU. It is far from perfect. A quarter of a century ago it bitterly divided my Party, and European disagreements wrecked many of the ambitions I had as Prime Minister. It opened disputes that linger yet. Nor am I an unquestioning European: I did, after all, say “No” to the Euro, and “No” to joining the Schengen Agreement on open borders.

Even so, I passionately believe we must remain in Europe and help shape its future: geography, trade and logic mean our futures are linked whether we wish it or not.

Tonight I want to explain why I believe that is so, and then cast a critical eye over the flawed – and misleading – arguments for Brexit.

What sort of country are we? For hundreds of years we’ve been a positive force in the world – a nation that looked outwards, and spread our ideas, our principles, our laws, our democracy, across the world.

But that world has changed. Today, we are 65 million people: less than 1% of a world of 7,000 million, forecast to become 9,000 million by the time your own children are at University.

And the global market is inexorably drawing that world together on a scale we could not have imagined even a few years ago. It is counter-intuitive to try to go it alone and, as our friends around the world tell us, a disastrously bad decision to do so.

Within the EU, we are a large and influential nation and – while we remain a part of a Union of 500 million people – we have serious political and diplomatic clout, as well as economic advantages. Some examples make this clear.

In Europe, we were able to impose sanctions on Russia to keep her in check, and deter further misbehaviour in Ukraine. We persuaded the EU to join America and impose sanctions on Iran, to bring about a deal that halts development of a nuclear weapon. We could not do this alone. If we were to leave, the world would consider us diminished. Departure would be a gratuitous act of self-harm.

The economic argument for Europe is overwhelming: it is nearly half our export market, and nearly five times bigger than all the 52 Commonwealth countries added together, or indeed, six times more than the sum total of trade with Brazil, Russia, India and China.

In the EU, we have unimpeded access to the richest trade market in the world – right here on our doorstep. Access to that market of 500 million people encourages a wealth of investment into our country. That’s not an abstract statistic – it’s people’s jobs, taxes, profits and overall quality of life.

Outside Europe, we would still have to comply with EU rules and regulations, unless we surrendered all access to the Single Market – which all reputable authorities, not least the IMF, OECD, NIESR and the Bank of England, regard as economically foolish.

And, once out – or “liberated” in the more emotive language of the “Leave” campaign – we could no longer protect ourselves against the impact of EU laws on the City of London, nor on our industry and service sectors.

Nominally, we would indeed be “free”, but – in practice – we would only be “free” to accept whatever the EU determined, with no power to argue against it. Is that “taking back control” – as the “Leave” campaign describes it? No it isn’t. And it’s not glorious sovereignty either. It is nothing other than reckless, imprudent folly. And the price for that would be paid by every British family.

It is not the only price. The NIESR warns of a collapse in the value of Sterling. The LSE warns of higher prices. The Bank of England fears higher interest rates and mortgages. All this and more – from independent bodies – is ignored and brushed aside by the “Leave” campaign.

Yet many people – not least in my own Party – wish to leave.

Their motives are many and variable: pride in our country, concern over sovereignty and immigration, and fear that we have no influence in Europe and are heading towards a federal structure.

We must address these instincts, these emotions, and debunk myths that are wrong, but sunk in our national consciousness. If we fail to do so, we may end up leaving Europe because absurd falsehoods are widely believed to be true.

One absurdity is that, subsumed in Europe, we would lose our traditions, our heritage, our individuality. We won’t: after sixty years of Europe are the French less French or the Germans less German? Of course not: and nor will we be less British.

In the search for voter support the “Leave” campaign repeatedly overstate their case: if they were to win, they risk a backlash from those who reasonably might say they were misled.

There is no shortage of such exaggerations. One clear example is the cost of Europe. Nigel Farage, Iain Duncan-Smith and Boris Johnson all put it at £20 billion a year; Michael Gove is more modest at £18 billion (£350 million a week), all of which, they tell us – if only we could be free of Europe – would be spent on the Health Service and our hospitals.

If only … if only…. but the truth is their figures are wrong by a factor of over three! During the last five years the average gross payment was £12.7 billion of which £5.6 billion was paid back to us. Last year, our gross payment was just over £11 billion, of which over £5 billion was paid back to our farmers, businesses, science, research and regional aid. This is not my calculation – it is the calculation of the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

So, to put £20 billion more into hospitals the “Leave” campaign would have to claw back all the money paid to some of our fellow countrymen and, on top of that, tax us all by an additional £10 billion. Those who make such false claims – and knowingly do so – need to apologise that they’ve got their figures badly wrong – and stop peddling a demonstrable untruth – as they have been repeatedly asked to do by the Chairman of the UK Statistics Authority.

The “Leave” campaign fret that we have surrendered our “sovereignty” to Europe. That is a very rum claim: and – if it were true – how could we offer our nation a Referendum? It is certainly true that we have shared sovereignty: we share ours and, in return, we gain a share of the sovereignty of 27 other nations.

But this is our choice – because it is in our own national interest. And, if it ever ceased to be, our Government can always commence withdrawal with Parliament support. So let me make the position on sovereignty absolutely clear: we share it within the EU only for as long as our British Parliament wishes us to do so.

And even that sharing is partial.

What say does the EU have over our economic policy? None.
Our education system? None.
Our NHS? None.
Our welfare system? None.
Our Armed Forces? None.
Our police? None

I could go on: 98% of government spending is entirely in the control of the British Parliament.

Like much we hear from the “Leave” campaign, the sovereignty argument is emotive but specious. In a global economy, no country truly has sovereignty – not even our mighty friend the US. And in our most crucial area – security – we have happily shared sovereignty within NATO for over 60 years.

Of course, we don’t always get our own way. Who does in any relationship of two – let alone one that numbers 27 other Member States? But we should not forget that – in well over 90% of the votes cast in Brussels – the UK wins. The caricature that we are repeatedly voted down in Europe is ill-informed nonsense.

Another cherished “Leave” mantra is that we will all be “dragged” into a “federal” Europe. It is their favourite horror story. But, yet again, it is fantasy.

Were we dragged into the Euro? No
Were we dragged into Schengen and open borders? No
Are we now exempt from “ever-closer union”? Yes, we are.

And if any new Treaty seeks more power, that Treaty would have to be put to the British nation in a Referendum and if – and only if – it were approved by us would it become law.

A final point on sovereignty: we have sovereignty in its purest and most potent form: we – the UK – can leave the EU at any time; nothing legally binds us to the EU forever. That is the fact and we should disregard the fiction.

As the “Leave” arguments implode one by one, some of the Brexit leaders morph into UKIP, and turn to their default position: immigration. This is their trump card. I urge them to take care: this is dangerous territory that – if handled carelessly – can open up long-term divisions in our society.

I grew up in Brixton in the 1950s – a time of massive West Indian immigration. As a boy, I played in local parks with the children of migrants. Some of these newcomers rented rooms in the same house as my family.

So, I can tell you, as a matter of fact, not fantasy, that those I knew then – and later – didn’t come here for our benefits: they came half-way across the world to give themselves and their families a better life.

But, at the time, fears were fanned by careless statements from political figures. That was a mistake then, and would be a mistake now.

Do not misunderstand me. Of course, it is legitimate to raise the issue of the sheer number of those wishing to enter our country. I wholly accept that. Nor do I wish to silence debate. We mustn’t overlook genuine concerns: but these should be expressed with care, honesty and balance. Not in a manner that can raise fears or fuel prejudice. The “Leave” campaign are crossing that boundary, and I caution them not to do so.

They attribute motives to new arrivals that are speculative and, frankly, offensive. They highlight – with grotesque exaggeration – the risk of mass migration from Turkey – which is unlikely to be joining the EU any time soon and indeed may never do so. And – even if she did – the terms of her accession would need to be agreed by every Member State.

So, when the “Leave” campaign warn of “opening our borders to 88 million” (meaning Turkey and the Western Balkans) they cross the boundaries of responsible comment. It is unlikely in the extreme that – I quote – “another 88 million people will soon be eligible for NHS care and school places for their children”.

I assume this distortion of reality was intended to lead the British people into believing that almost the entire population of possible new entrants will wish to relocate to the UK. If so, this is pure demagoguery. I hope that – when the heat of the Referendum is behind us – the proponents of such mischief making will be embarrassed and ashamed at how they have mis-used this issue.

They advance a second migration red herring – that the recent modest rise in our National Living Wage will be “irresistible” to would-be migrants.

This is very dubious. First of all, 40% of all migrants are under 25 and therefore ineligible.

Second, are people really motivated to cross an entire Continent to receive a few pence a week extra? I very much doubt it.

But even if they were – why would they choose the UK, when the minimum wage is higher, for example, in France; and wage levels higher in other countries that have no statutory minimum.

And what of the “numbers” argument?

There are various categories of immigrants. Commonwealth immigration is entirely unaffected by our membership of the EU.

Would-be migrants from around the world need skilled worker visas to enter: and these are under our control.

Refugees are dealt with on a case by case basis. Many of those applying for citizenship have lost everything, and we have always been a compassionate nation. But these decisions are under our control.

But there are clearly undesirables, who we can – and already do – exclude. This includes anyone where there is concern over national security, criminal activity or adverse immigration history. This, too, is already under our control.

But yes, if we were to leave Europe, we could exclude more EU citizens – such as the 54,000 EU migrants now working as Doctors, or Nurses or Ancilliaries in our Health Service, or the nearly 80,000 working in Social Care. We could exclude skilled workers like builders and plumbers – or unskilled labour that takes jobs that are unappealing to the British. In short, the people we could most easily keep out are the very people we most need.

A balanced approach would acknowledge the contribution of migrants to our national wellbeing. Without their contribution, the Health Service would not be able to cope – nor would our public transport system; and our hotels, restaurants and shops would be without staff to serve their customers. We would have a shortage of many skills for industry. This is the reality of what lies beneath the emotive language of those who seek to raise the drawbridge on our country.

This problem of numbers will not be forever. The growth of the Eurozone economy – now clearly underway – should cut demand to come here, as jobs grow elsewhere across Europe. And, in any event, a short term migrancy flow should not be the issue that drives the UK out of an economic union that already benefits our country immensely – and will continue to do so in the future.

I asked earlier: what sort of country are we? And what sort of people are we?

Under our undemonstrative exterior we are an essentially kind and benevolent nation, and more inclined to emotion than the age old caricature of stiff upper lip.

Show us charitable need and we dig deep.

Show us children in need, and we pay up happily.

Show us people starving in Africa, and we text our contributions by the million.

Show us a far away nation suffering from natural disaster, and we rush to help.

We do so because our emotions are touched. But we should not let those emotions be stirred by false fear: nor allow false fear to impair our judgement on the future of our country.

Over the next few weeks we – the British people – will decide the future direction of our country.

This is not a General Election which rolls around every five years: we can’t “suck it and see”. There will not be another Referendum on Europe. This is it.

So – whatever your view – register and vote. Because the decision you take on the 23rd of June will shape our country, our people, and our livelihoods for generations to come.

Sir John Major – 2016 Speech on UK’s Membership of the EU


Below is the text of the speech made by Sir John Major, the former Prime Minister, in Hong Kong on 7 April 2016.

During the last few days in Hong Kong I have been asked repeatedly whether the UK will leave the European Union.

Almost without exception, the questioners – often investors in the UK – believe it is a bad idea. I will not quote their warnings given to me in private, but let the public remarks of Hong Kong’s Li Ka Shing, a large investor in the UK, speak for many:

“If Brexit really happens”, he said on Bloomberg, “we will surely decrease our investments.”.

Mr Li is not alone. As we move towards the referendum in June, the UK has been warned against exit by – amongst others – China, Japan, America, New Zealand and Australia; by the G20; the Governor of the Bank of England; our military leaders; our leading academics and scientists; and a majority of large and small businesses.

In response, the advocates of Brexit accuse all these sources of “interfering” if they are foreign; or “scaremongering” if they are British.

The “Out” campaign label such warnings – even from distinguished friends of the UK – as “Project Fear”. I disagree. In truth, it is Project Reality – and the British people have a right to be told what is likely to happen if the UK were to leave the EU.

Let me set out my own position.

As Prime Minister I refused to join the Euro currency. I believed it to be premature and risky. I also opted out of the Social Chapter since, at the time, it seemed to give rights to those in work, at the expense of denying work to the millions who were not. And – when it was first introduced – I refused to enter the Schengen agreement on open borders.

I am, therefore, no starry-eyed European enthusiast. Yet I have not a shred of doubt that the UK should remain a Member of the EU.

The case for remaining is most often seen in economic terms. But it is far wider than that. The outcome of the UK Referendum will decide what sort of country we are – and what our wider contribution to the world will be.

When the UK joined the then Common Market our economy was the “sick man” of Europe: today, as a result of our domestic reforms, together with our membership of the European Single Market, we have the best performing economy in Europe.

Within the next 20 years – on present policies and, crucially, with continuing full access to the Single Market – the UK is likely – not certain, but likely – to be the biggest economy in Europe: bigger than Germany.

On issues such as the environment, climate change, internet costs and consumer protection, the UK can best progress – or sometimes, only progress – in unity with our fellow Europeans.

The underlying mantra of the “Out” campaign is – and I use their words – “I want my country back”. It is an emotional appeal, but a bogus one. If emotion triumphs over reality, then all four British nations will lose out: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We will lose power, prestige, security and some of our future economic well-being.

At present, our world is very disturbed. Uncertain. Across Europe, the scales have fallen from our eyes over President Putin. We see Russia threatening her neighbours with trade embargoes, cyber attacks, energy cut-offs, and encouraging pro-Russian minorities to ferment trouble. I am not, and never have been, a Cold War warrior, but we ignore what Russia is doing at our peril.

A united Europe can help penalise and deter her: a disunited, shrivelled Europe cannot.

The faults and frustrations of the EU are widely publicised in the UK: its achievements, less so. But they should be. Across Europe, ancient enemies of many years no longer fight against each other – they work alongside each other.

The EU was the magnet that helped Spain, Portugal and Greece free themselves from fascist dictatorships. It helped the political climate that brought about the Northern Ireland Peace Process.

It helped re-build and heal the Balkans after a terrible conflict. And enlargement of the EU has brought a new future to countries once
imprisoned within the Soviet Empire. So, when we criticise the shortcomings of the EU, we should also remember its considerable successes.

If the UK leaves the EU, the impact will be felt widely – and negatively – not only in the UK but across the EU.

If the UK departs, the EU will lose:

– its fastest growing economy;

– one of only two nuclear powers; and

– the country with the longest and deepest foreign policy reach.

As a result, the EU would be gravely weakened, especially when set against the power of the US and China. Europe – the cradle of modern civilisation – would bow out of super-power influence.

Does the UK really wish to be the cause of that? Does she really wish to abdicate her role in European and global influence? I truly think not – but many enthusiasts for exit either cannot see the danger – or are prepared to run that risk.

The point is this: a UK departure would not only be a huge setback for my own country, but for many other nations too. It would have widespread repercussions – and no-one can be sure what they will be.

For Europe, already facing internal and external crises, it could be one crisis too many. There are hard questions for the UK too, and it is more appropriate for me to raise these in detail at home, rather than overseas. But some are directly relevant to our global trading partners.

Would external investors – China, Japan, America, be more or less likely to invest in the UK if she shrunk to a domestic market of under 65 million, rather than remaining inside a Europe-wide market of over 500 million?

That is not a difficult question to answer. The UK would lose investment and jobs. How much, how many, and how soon is difficult to say – but there is no doubt that would happen.

In the referendum debate, the advocates of leaving claim they can negotiate an arrangement to protect our trade relationship with the EU. After all, they say, the EU needs us because they – the EU – export more to the UK than the UK exports to them. It’s a beguiling soundbite, but they are deceiving themselves. Their argument is, to put it kindly, disingenuous: more accurately, it turns the
truth on its head.

UK exports to Europe are between 40-45% of all our exports: 14% of our overall wealth. On average, across the EU, the other 27 Members States only send 7% of their total exports to us: 2½% of their overall wealth.

In the game of who needs who the most, the answer is clear. If the UK exits the EU, our partners will not be the demandeur in any negotiations on our future access to the single market – the UK will be.

Moreover, it is blithe optimism on a Panglossian scale for the “Out” campaign to assume our partners – having been rebuffed, deserted and weakened – will still feel so well disposed toward the UK that they will be eager to accede to our demands.

I fear the reverse will be true. A divorce, at the behest of one partner, is rarely harmonious – or cheap. Such a broken relationship is more likely to be full of rancour.

The UK will have chosen to leave and, by so doing, will have gravely weakened the whole EU. Some countries will see fifty years of ambition imperilled – and our partners will hardly wish to reward us for that.

Any trade deal the EU might eventually do with us would certainly not be a sweetheart deal: and it may be harder and harsher than the optimists believe.

And if we wished such a deal to include services (and we do – since they represent 80% of the UK economy) – or the removal of hidden non-tariff barriers – it may be a long time coming, not least since it would need the approval of 27 other Member States – many of them angry and disappointed at our departure.

And, of course, the UK would have to accept free movement of people. If we refuse that – there will be no trade deal at all – as Germany, for one, has already made clear.

The UK will face another dilemma with its international trade.
By leaving the EU, we would be withdrawing from Free Trade Agreements with 53 countries negotiated by the EU on behalf of all their Member States. These cover 60% of all UK trade. They will all need re-negotiation: a tough – and almost certainly lengthy – process. It is pure self-deception to believe that less than 65 million Britons will get the same favourable terms as 500 million Europeans.

Nor will bilateral renegotiations of these Free Trade Agreements be a priority for other nations – as America, for one, has made clear. Our partners are more concerned with multilateral trade agreements, and will see the UK’s need for a speedy bilateral deal as a self-imposed own goal: we may well have to wait our turn to have any new deals agreed – and it could take many years.

To brush aside such realities is to play Russian roulette with the economic future of the UK. The battle now joined over Europe has – on one side – the romantic nostalgia of an “Out” campaign that aches for a past that has long gone, in a world that has moved on.

On the other side those – like me – who wish to remain are not European dreamers: we are realists who see an edgy, uncomfortable world, and believe that the UK is safer, more secure and better off remaining with our partners in Europe.

In the Referendum, the easiest slogans inevitably lie with the “Out” campaign, and repudiating their often foolish and extreme claims is for a UK audience. Suffice to say, the “Out” advocates, whether in enthusiasm or ignorance, lace their argument with false statistics and unlikely scenarios.

They promise negotiating gains that cannot – and will not – be delivered. They hail the purported gains of leaving Europe, whilst ignoring even the most obvious obstacles and drawbacks.

Nor can they tell us how they actually see the UK outside of Europe. This is simply astonishing, not least since some of them – for over a quarter of a century – have made a career out of wishing to leave the EU. Yet now they have the opportunity to do so they seem bereft of any real detail.

Some wish to have no relationship at all with the Single Market. Others can’t – or won’t – say what relationship they favour: 25 years of planning, and they still have no idea. Instead, they engage in shrill denunciation of what we have, with no indication of what would replace it.

I understand the frustration that fuels the “Out” campaign, but have no doubt that an exit from the EU would harm our nation, now and in the future. We must not let an emotional spasm of faux-patriotism overcome the realities of the modern world and spin us out of Europe.

We would soon regret it. And our children and grandchildren would regret it even more. That is why – between now and June – I will be doing all I can to persuade the British people that the consequences of our leaving the EU would be bad for the UK, bad for Europe, and bad for the wider world.

I hope and believe that – on 23 June – good sense will prevail, and we can finally lay this particular ghost to rest. I have no doubt that, once it is, our international investors will breathe a large sigh of relief … as most definitely will I.

John Major – 1991 Statement on the 1991 European Council Meeting at Maastricht


Below is the text of the speech made by John Major, the then Prime Minister, in the House of Commons on 11 December 1991.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the European Council in Maastricht which I attended with my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The European Council has reached agreement on a treaty on European union. The relevant texts have been deposited along with the presidency conclusions. The House will be invited to debate the outcome next week.

Let me set out the main provisions of the agreements we reached. The treaty covers economic and monetary union and political union. It follows the structure for which the United Kingdom has consistently argued.

The treaty creates a new legal framework for co-operation between member states in foreign and security policy and in the fight against international crime. That co-operation will take place on an intergovernmental basis outside the treaty of Rome. That means that the Commission will not have the sole right of initiative and the European Court will have no jurisdiction.

On defence, we have agreed a framework for co-operation in which the primacy of the Atlantic alliance has been confirmed and the role of the Western European Union has been enhanced.

As the House knows, there was strong pressure over many months for all aspects of co-operation to come within European Community competence. That was not acceptable to this country. Instead, an alternative route to European co-operation has been opened up. I believe that this will be seen as an increasingly significant development as the Community opens its doors to new members, and more flexible structures are required.

I turn now to the main features of the text. The treaty provides for the possibility that member states will wish to adopt a single currency later this decade, but they can do so only if they meet strict convergence conditions-conditions for which the British Government have pressed from the outset. These cover inflation, budget deficits, exchange rate stability and long-term interest rates.

A single currency may come into being in 1997, but only if a minimum of seven countries meet the convergence conditions, and eight of the Twelve vote in favour. The treaty lays down that a single currency will come into being by 1999, but only if those convergence conditions are met and only for those countries which meet them. It is therefore highly uncertain when such a currency will be created and which countries it will cover.

In the House on 20 November, I said that there must be a provision giving the United Kingdom the right to decide for ourselves whether or not to move to stage 3. That requirement has been secured. It is set out in a legally binding protocol which forms an integral part of the treaty. The protocol was drafted by the United Kingdom and fully protects the position of this House. The effect of the protocol is as follows. We have exactly the same option to join a single currency at the same time as other member states if we wish. We shall be involved in all the decisions. But, unlike other Governments, we have not bound ourselves to join regardless of whether it makes economic or political sense.

The treaty text on political union provides for enhanced intergovernmental co-operation on foreign and security policy, on defence policy and in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking and other crimes.

International crime knows no frontiers. Terrorists and other criminals must not be allowed to escape justice or to retire abroad with the proceeds of their crime. This text gives us a new basis for co-operation with our partners in bringing these criminals to justice.

The text provides for joint action in foreign policy, building on what was already agreed in the Single European Act. But, as I told the House on 20 November, if Britain needs to act on its own, it must be free to do so. The treaty meets that requirement. Joint action can take place only if we agree. Where there is no joint action, each member state is entirely free to act on its own. If, after joint action has been agreed, a member state needs to take its own measures to meet changed circumstances, it may do so.

There was pressure from other member states to take foreign policy decisions by majority voting. I was not prepared to agree that Britain could be outvoted on any substantive issue of foreign policy. Some of our partners also sought to draw a distinction between decisions of principle, where unanimity would apply, and implementing decisions which could be subject to majority voting. No one was able to explain how that distinction would work. I told the European Council that, if such occasions did arise, we should consider the case for majority voting on its merits. The treaty reflects our view. It provides that the Council may, but only by unanimity, designate certain decisions to be taken by qualified majority voting. But we cannot be forced to subject our foreign policy to the will of other member states. We have, in fact, preserved unanimity for all decisions where we decide that we need it.

We are agreed that Europe must do more for its own defence. We should build up the Western European Union as the defence pillar of the European union, but the treaty embodies the view set out in the Anglo-Italian proposal two months ago, and endorsed at last month’s summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation that whatever we do at European level must be compatible with NATO. The WEU must in no way be subordinate to the European Council. It is not. We have avoided the danger of setting up defence structures which would compete with NATO. We have created a framework in which Europe can develop its defence role in a way which complements the American presence in Europe and does not put it at risk.

In these negotiations, we put forward a series of proposals designed to be of direct benefit to the European citizen. All of them were accepted. The Community has agreed to increase the accountability of European Community institutions; to strengthen the European Parliament’s financial control over the Commission; to allow the European Parliament to investigate maladministration and to appoint a Community ombudsman accessible to all Community citizens; to build up the role of the Court of Auditors, which becomes an institution of the Community; and to ensure compliance with Community obligations by giving the European Court of Justice power to impose fines on Governments who sign directives but subsequently do not implement them.

We wanted-and secured-a sensible enhancement of the role of the European Parliament. We did not accept the proposal made by other member states for a power of co-decision between the Parliament and the Council. As I told the House on 20 November, the Council of Ministers must be the body that ultimately determines the Community’s laws and policies.

I also said then that we were prepared to consider some blocking power for the European Parliament. That has now been agreed. The treaty sets up, in a limited number of areas, a conciliation procedure where there is disagreement between the Council and Parliament. In the last analysis, the Parliament would be able to block a decision in those areas, but only if an absolute majority of its members turned out to vote the proposal down.

The House has been rightly concerned at the creeping extension of Community competence over the last few years. The Commission has often brought forward proposals using a dubious legal base, and the Council has found it difficult to halt that practice in the European Court. We have taken significant steps to deal with that problem. First, the structure of the treaty puts the issues of foreign and security policy, interior and justice matters and defence policy beyond the reach of the Commission and the European Court. Secondly, the treaty itself embodies the vital principle of “subsidiarity”, making it clear that the Community should only be involved in decisions which cannot more effectively be taken at national level. Thirdly, in some areas-notably health protection, educational exchanges, vocational training and culture-we have defined Community competence clearly for the first time. Fourthly, there will be no extension of Community competence in employer-employee relations-the so-called social area. We have a high standard of social protection in this country. Our national health service, free at the point of use, is the envy of many in Europe, but we recognise the Community’s social dimension. Also-unlike some of our European partners-we have implemented that dimension too ; 19 out of the 33 measures in the social action programme have been agreed. But there is no reason for the Community to get involved in employment legislation, which must be for each country to decide for itself.

Over the past 12 years, we have transformed labour relations. In 1979, 29 million working days were lost in strikes. Last year the figure was less than 2 million. I was not prepared to see that record put in jeopardy. Nor was I prepared to risk Britain’s competitive position as the European magnet for inward investment. I was not prepared to put British jobs on the line. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. A great many people outside the House are interested in what the Prime Minister has to say.

The Prime Minister : Many of our partners have a wholly different tradition of employment practice which is reflected in the separate arrangements which they have agreed, which will affect only their countries and for which only they will pay. But even among these member states there are many who fear the effect of Community measures on their jobs and their ability to compete. Our arguments are based not only on our national interest but on the risks we perceive to the competitive position of the Community as a whole. This week’s events in the Soviet Union were a salutary reminder that reform in the Community is not an end in itself. The Community’s primary task must be to extend its own advantages of democracy, stability and prosperity to eastern Europe. At British initiative, we committed ourselves at Maastricht to the further enlargement of the Community, starting with the EFTA countries. When they and, in due course, the new democracies of eastern Europe are ready to join the Community, we shall be ready to welcome them. With this in mind, the Commission will report on enlargement to next June’s European Council in Lisbon. Thereafter, it will be for the British presidency to carry that work forward. I look forward to doing so.

We agreed a number of statements on foreign policy issues. I will single out two of them. On the Soviet Union, the European Council calls on the republics to respect the rights of minorities, to implement international agreements on arms control and nuclear non-proliferation, to control and secure their nuclear weapons, and to honour their obligations in respect of the Soviet Union’s external debt.

The European Council has endorsed the demands which we, France and the United States have made to the Libyan Government requiring them to abandon their support of terrorism and to hand over the alleged perpetrators of the Lockerbie bombing.

The founders of the Community knew that they could not create a viable organisation if they established goals that could never be achieved. In talking about European union, we are talking about concepts that have to be cast in the reality of national legislation and everyday life. The Single European Act started as a grandiose design and ended up as a workmanlike blueprint for a free market. Those treaties have followed the same course.

Our role has been to put forward practical suggestions-and sometimes to rein in the larger ambitions of our partners. Where we believed their ideas would not work, we have put forward our own alternatives.

Those can be found throughout this treaty. As with all international negotiations, there has been give and take between all 12 member states. But the process was one in which Britain has played a leading role, and the result is one in which we can clearly see the imprint of our views.

This is a treaty which safeguards and advances our national interests. It advances the interests of Europe as a whole. It opens up new ways of co-operating in Europe. It clarifies and contains the powers of the Commission. It will allow the Community to develop in depth. It reaches out to other Europeans-the new democracies who want to share the benefits we already enjoy. It is a good agreement for Europe, and a good agreement for the United Kingdom. I commend it to the House.

John Major – 1990 Speech to the Young Deaf Achievers Awards


Below is the text of the speech made by John Major, the then Prime Minister, at the Cafe Royal in London on the 12 December 1990.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Chairman, thank you very much indeed. I must let you into a secret that not many people are aware of – indeed, if they were, I suppose in a curious way it would not be a secret! But we do have in the House of Commons something of a trade union of former Ministers for the Disabled. It is a very discreet, very select, rather enjoyable trade union but in that trade union the Father of the Chapel, irrespective of anything to do with politics, is undoubtedly Jack Ashley and it is a very great privilege for me to follow him today and to thank him publicly for the extraordinary amount of work he has done not just for people who are disabled through deafness but for people who are disabled in a whole range of ways. He has done more in my judgement [Applause].  Well there you are, I need not say it because you know, so it does not need saying!

Jack was kind enough to say that minutes were precious and to thank me for coming. If I may say so, I think perhaps I should thank him for inviting me because the reason I was keen to come today is because there are many of us here who are very fortunate in that we have to face no disability in the normal journey through life that all of us have; but those who do need a very special courage to face that – not just the courage to meet the challenges, but the ordinary everyday courage to actually decide to take on those challenges in the first place, perhaps to go to a workplace or a university or to enter into a sport or to enter into the normal social contact that most people accept, anticipate and enjoy with no difficulty whatsoever.

Faced with a disability, whether it be deafness or perhaps some other disability or perhaps a myriad series of disabilities which alas is so often the case, it does take a very remarkable kind of personal courage to enter into that commitment into society and the young people that I had the privilege of meeting just before lunch today were people who have not only had the courage to enter into society in that particular fashion but have achieved very remarkable things as a result of having done so and for me, it is a very great privilege today to have had the opportunity of meeting them. A privilege but not a surprise, for having been Minister for the Disabled, albeit for the all too short time of just a year, I learned during that period across a whole range of disability, with what enormous courage so many people in this country face hurdles that many of us cannot imagine and perhaps would not be able to cope with if we were able to imagine them. For we ought not to pretend, as we see these young people receiving their well-deserved awards in a few moments, that what they have achieved has been easy or comfortable or without some difficulties, for it has not been and indeed, in many ways it simply could not have been.

Many of us might think what today’s finalists have done was almost impossible but I think if you do think that, that shows the failure of our imagination and not theirs, for the young people who receive these awards did realise what could be done, put themselves to do it and have succeeded in my judgement in rather spectacular fashion.

One of the reasons I regard this as an important occasion is to touch upon something that Iain Vallance said. In many ways, these young people offer a very considerable beacon of hope to other people who are disabled as to what they can achieve in their own lives and they have precisely the same right to achieve what they can in their lives that everybody else has and we have an obligation to assist them to do it, whether or not they be disabled, and to ensure that they can get the maximum possible out of their lives provided that they will put into it – as those we meet today and hundreds of thousands of others do – the effort and courage that is necessary to deal with the difficulties they often face.

I hope that those people who perhaps still have in their minds some form of prejudice or difficulty because somebody has one form of disability will realise that one form of disability does not disable people from the normal functions of life, the normal responsibilities of life, the normal duties of life and the normal pleasures that the rest of us are able to enjoy.

If there is one thing that has been happening remarkably in the last twenty years or so, but which still has further in my judgement to go, it is to open up the opportunities for people who are disabled that those who are not disabled have over the years come to take for granted and I hope that that is something we will all be able to take a part in doing in the years ahead.

The people who are disabled know from their own experience the will power that is necessary to achieve what they have achieved and I think in terms of will power and courage, if there are two attributes that the young people you will meet shortly have demonstrated to a very remarkable extent it is those. I hope that we will continue to encourage them and many others to achieve precisely the same things in the future.

I would, if I may, therefore like to thank most warmly both [indistinct] and Iain Vallance and British Telecom for sponsoring this event, for the enormous amount that they have done, are doing and I very much hope will continue to do in the future and perhaps I should also mention just as an example, the contribution that British Telecom has made to the Royal National Institute for the Deaf telephone exchange for the deaf, which it has been jointly funding with the Government. This does allow deaf people to telephone, hearing people by providing an operator with whom deaf people can communicate through text; the operator then passes on their message. British Telecom announced a grant of 4 million pounds this year to allow this service to continue and I would like publicly to express my thanks to Iain Vallance for that very generous and … [Applause].

I think, if I may presume to speak upon behalf of the award winners today and perhaps also a little wider on behalf of disabled people – people who have disabilities I might more accurately say – elsewhere in the community, there are, I think, some people whom they would wish to thank and whom I might thank on their behalf and that is their parents and friends who will have encouraged them and helped them throughout the vast majority – in the case of their parents, throughout all their lives – to deal with their disabilities and to make the most of their opportunities. On behalf of disabled people, I would like to extend those thanks most warmly for I think they are thanks well deserved by those who offer so much to people who have been treated so harshly in so many instances.

I think, if I may say so, Chairman, that the principal purpose of today’s meeting is to honour those young people who have won in a very in a very remarkable fashion these awards which are so difficult to obtain and so I will say no more except to say that in a few moments I hope you will give a very warm welcome indeed to a number of very remarkable young people who have achieved what few could have achieved and which all of us may look at with a certain degree of pride that young people in our country can do such things despite the handicaps that they face.[Applause].

John Major – 1995 Speech to Northern Ireland Mayors and Councillors


Below is the text of the speech made by John Major, the then Prime Minister, on 23 January 1995.

I’m very glad you could all be here. I tend to spend most of my time concentrating on the political process in Northern Ireland, and I believe we are making progress. But the nuts and bolts of how we help the peace work on the ground is equally important. It is up to the politicians to make the peace. But it is up to the people to make the peace work. So I am really looking forward to your ideas.

Economic progress will be essential. The prospect of peace of already boosting the local economy. I was struck by the sea change in attitudes when I visited Belfast last month. We have seen the sales rise in Belfast’s shopping malls by up to 90%, a CBI survey rating confidence in the Northern Ireland economy at the highest level since 1987, unemployment down and the number of jobs up. So a spectacular recovery is already underway. But Northern Ireland needs more investment, more prosperity and more jobs if the peace that we seek is to be successfully underpinned.

That was why we held the Investment Conference in Belfast last month. This generated a tremendous response. It reflected the new mood of hope on the ground. This will bring more jobs to the Province. And it will change the way people look at Northern Ireland.

Today, Northern Ireland is an exciting investment opportunity. Many of those at the Conference saw that potential. Already, I understand that nearly 20 possible new projects are now being explored. But in the end the prosperity of Northern Ireland depends on the people of Northern Ireland. And that is why I am so hopeful.

As leaders of the District Councils, you have a major role both in local economic development and in helping to heal community division. You can help create the climate in which peace can take root. And if you succeed, we shall all look back on this time as an historic turning point.

I see this meeting as the start of a process of close consultation. All the Northern Ireland team are here today to listen to what you say and then carry it forward.

One of the issues we must discuss is how to deploy the welcome package of extra EU help. It won’t be possible to please everyone. But we want your views before we discuss with the European Commission how to allocate these funds. We aim to make the best use of them.

But you also want greater resources to promote local economic development. So let me announce today two initiatives which I hope will help:

– I know that District Councils would like to spend more of the District rate on local economic development. I have therefore decided that the Government will introduce legislation soon to double the present provision from 2p in the £ to 4p in the £.

– Second, we shall increase the resource elements in your General Grant by £2 million from a total of £17.8 million to just under £20 million. This will help you exploit this unique opportunity to use your district rate for economic redevelopment.

We have also allocated a further £5 million to the Community Regeneration and Special Programme (CRISP). This will enable a further 25 projects in disadvantaged towns and villages over the next three years.

I mentioned earlier the crucial role of the District Councils in developing community relations. Because I see you as uniquely placed to promote this, I have decided to extend the District Councils Community Relations Programme for a further three year period up to March 1998.

Before calling on the first speaker, let me say a word about something which is not on our agenda today – the Joint Framework Document.

There has been a great deal of speculation about it, which can unsettle people.

So let me stress four points:

– First, the document has only one purpose, which is to help the political Parties themselves to find an agreed way forward in the talks process. It will indicate one set of ideas, drawing on the talks of the past four years, on how a settlement might be found which would gain the necessary wide support across the community. But, as we have repeatedly said, there will be no question of the two Governments imposing a blueprint on the Parties. These will be proposals for negotiation.

– Second, our proposals are not yet completed. I want to complete them as soon as possible, so that we can then publish them. The people of Northern Ireland will then be able to judge for themselves all the suggestions – including our parallel suggestions for new arrangements within Northern Ireland. They will be able to comment on them to us and to the political Parties.

– Third, when the proposals are published, you will find no provision for the British and Irish Governments to exercise joint authority over the affairs of Northern Ireland. That has never been our intention, and that will not be our proposal.

– Fourth, the need for consent remains paramount. And agreed outcome will finally be put to the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum. The voice of the people will decide these matters.

I am taking this opportunity to reassure anyone who has been concerned at partial interpretations of what many be in a very full and careful set of proposals. I cannot yet say when they will be completed. But when they are, I hope that people will read them with equal care before forming their own opinions.

Let me now return to the business of this meeting.

We have three agenda items, one in two parts:

– economic growth

– urban and regional regeneration

– finance

We have four speakers, who will give a brief introduction to each item. I shall then call for short interventions from others, so that we can gather in as many ideas and opinions as possible.

John Major – 1990 Autumn Statement


Below is the text of the Autumn Statement speech made by John Major, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, to the House of Commons on 8 November 1990. 

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. John Major) With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement.

The Cabinet agreed the Government’s expenditure plans this morning. I am, therefore, now able to inform the House of the public expenditure outturn for this year; the plans for the next three years; our proposals for national insurance contributions in 1991–92; and the forecast of economic prospects for 1991 required by the Industry Act 1975.

As usual, the main public expenditure figures, together with the full text of the economic forecast, will be available from the Vote Office as soon as I sit down. The printed “Autumn Statement” will be published next Tuesday.

In this survey we have had to take some tough decisions in the interests of the economy and the new plans represent a very tight settlement. But it is a settlement which is fully consistent with the Government’s commitments and channels extra resources to the areas where the need is greatest. For this, and other reasons, I should like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for the skill and persistence with which he has brought the survey to a successful conclusion.

Since 1984–85, while the economy has grown by nearly 20 per cent., total public spending has risen scarcely at all in real terms. As a result, the ratio of public expenditure to national income has fallen by more than seven percentage points, the largest sustained fall for 40 years. Moreover, in the past three years large budget surpluses have enabled us to repay debt totalling £26 billion.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) Not any more.

Mr. Major We shall add to that this year.

The main objective of economic policy at present must be to bring inflation down, but, as we do so, the short-term prospect is bound to be one of weak activity. [Interruption.] In the past, during similar periods the ratio of public spending to national income has risen strongly. On this occasion it will not.

Planned public expenditure in the current fiscal year is now expected to be £180.6 billion, rather less than 1 per cent. above the planning total set a year ago. A large part of this extra spending is due to an increase in the financing requirements of the nationalised industries, to a surge of common agricultural policy spending on agricultural market support and to expenditure on the Gulf crisis.

Notwithstanding this cash overrun, public expenditure remains under tight control. Inflation has been higher than forecast, but it has not been allowed to feed through fully into expenditure. As a result, the ratio of spending to national income in the current year is likely to be slightly lower than projected at the time of the Budget – virtually unchanged from the 1989–90 level.

The decisions on public expenditure for the next three years have been taken against a more difficult world and domestic economic background than for some time. Activity at home and abroad has begun to weaken and some countries such as Canada and the United States are expected to grow very slowly indeed over the coming year. The outlook has also been complicated by events in the Gulf, with the rise in oil prices and the uncertainty that they have produced. Against that background, our new plans are designed to protect the most vulnerable groups in society against the effects of higher inflation [Interruption.] I repeat, to protect the most vulnerable groups in society and to maintain longer-term policies to improve the working of the economy.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) rose–

Mr. Major I shall of course give way to the hon. Gentleman when we come to questions a little later.

But, beyond that, this is not the year for making substantial additions to plans in other areas. The priority must be to honour existing commitments, within a total for public spending that is affordable and fiscally prudent. For 1991–92, the new planning total has been set at £200 billion, a little under £8 billion more than the previously published figure. The planning totals in the following two years are £215 billion and £226 billion respectively.

In recognition of the economic uncertainties and the risks arising from the Gulf crisis, these totals include higher reserves than last year’s plans: £3½ billion in the first year; £7 billion in the second year; and £10½ billion in the third. I believe that these increases are prudent. Our plans also incorporate an estimate of privatisation proceeds at £5½ billion a year that is in line with the average outturn in recent years.

After taking account of inflation, the level of spending next year will be rather less than implied by last year’s plans: that is, the cash additions to the planning total do not fully compensate for the higher level of prices now expected for 1991–92. This restraint is necessary, but it means that many of my colleagues have had to drop or postpone proposals that they would otherwise have regarded as desirable.

Nevertheless, within this total there are substantial extra resources in three main areas: health, social security and central Government support for local authority services. These additions to plans total some £7½ billion in 1991–92. It has also been possible to make improvements to other key areas including education, public transport, and the environment.

We have also been able to make savings elsewhere, including defence. I can assure the House categorically that financial constraints will not hinder in any way the United Kingdom’s military contribution to resolving the Gulf crisis. However, the “Options for Change” announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on 25 July will produce increasing savings in the defence budget. Over the next three years the new plans provide for a real reduction in defence spending of about 6 per cent., and further reductions should be achieved in later years as my right hon. Friend’s proposals are fully implemented. For the first time in the period since World War 2, we are now able safely to plan on a defence budget that is significantly less than one tenth of all Government expenditure and falling.

In certain other areas, we have been able to accommodate increases in expenditure by finding offsetting savings. For example, on the trade and industry and employment programmes we have made selective increases while keeping broadly to existing plans overall, and within the Home Office programme, lower prison population forecasts have enabled us to reduce the prison building programme, while considerable resources have been made available for the refurbishment of existing prisons, including Strangeways.

In July, the Government announced extra support for local authority current spending which will add around £2½ billion to previous plans. Current spending by local authorities has substantially outstripped central Government spending over recent years. This year local authorities in England budgeted for increases of over 5 per cent. in real terms before capping. This has led to community charges which in many authorities are far higher than expected or justified.

The additional support that we are providing for next year should enable local authorities to finance local services without sharp increases in their charges. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has already announced that, if required, the Government will make vigorous use of their powers to cap high-spending authorities. I re-emphasise that.

Nearly £3 billion has been added to the social security plans for next year. This mainly reflects the upratings already announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security which maintain in full the real value of benefits paid to 10 million pensioners and 11 million people on income-related benefits. The additions also reflect the substantial extra cost of community charge benefit which will help about one in four charge payers. My right hon. Friend was also able to announce selective increases for poorer pensioners, people in residential and nursing homes and families. These improvements will be financed within the social security programme by savings from restructuring the statutory sick pay scheme, as announced by my right hon. Friend on 24 October.

As in previous years, the Government have also made very substantial extra provision for health. Between this year and next, spending on the national health service in the United Kingdom will rise by £3 billion, so that the real resources over and above inflation that are available for spending on health will increase by a further 5 per cent. The total real increase in health service spending since 1979 will now be nearly 50 per cent. This has enabled the NHS to employ some 8,000 more hospital doctors and dentists, and over 50,000 more nurses and, of course, to provide for more sophisticated health care than ever before. As a result, more than 1½ million more in-patient and day cases are now treated every year. In the largest sustained programme of hospital building ever seen, nearly 500 major capital schemes have been completed since 1979. The plans that I am announcing ensure that the next three years will see further improvements in services.

Extra finance is also being provided for public transport. London Transport and British Rail have large long-term investment programmes which will enable them to extend and to upgrade the London underground and to prepare for the opening of the channel tunnel. Between them, they will spend some £¾ billion on safety alone in the next three years. The new plans also consolidate the substantial extra provision for roads that was announced last year and include measures to relieve congestion in London. Investment in public transport in the next three years will be double the level of the past three years.

Central Government spending on education will be increased by more than £500 million next year, largely to finance the record number of students in higher education. One in five of the 18 to 19 age group will be in higher education, compared with one in eight only a decade ago. The number of higher education qualifications gained, as a proportion of the relevant age group, is higher in the United Kingdom than in Germany, France, Italy and almost every other European country.

Following the publication of the White Paper on the environment, the new plans provide significant extra resources for environmental research and in support of environmental bodies such as the National Rivers Authority and the Countryside Commission. There is extra provision also for the Government’s programme of action on rooflessness.

Throughout the past decade, we have sustained a high level of capital spending in the public sector. In total, it will approach £30 billion in the current year. Leaving aside defence, our new plans include an extra £1½ billion a year for investment by central Government and nationalised industries. There is also extra support for local authorities’ capital spending on schools, housing and local transport.

Taking capital and current together, real growth in total public spending over the three survey years will be less than 2 per cent. a year – well within the trend growth of the economy. As I have said, this is a tight settlement and it means that the ratio of public spending to national income should remain stable at its present level for the next two years. Thereafter, as activity strengthens and inflation remains in check, the downward trend will be resumed.

I now turn to national insurance contributions. As usual, the review this autumn has taken account of advice from the Government Actuary on the income and expenditure of the national insurance fund, and of the statement on benefits that was made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security on 24 October.

The lower earnings limit at which contributions begin will go up next April to £52 a week, in line with the single person’s basic pension, while the upper earnings limit will rise to £390 a week. The upper limits for the reduced employers’ rates will also be increased.

In addition to those changes, there will be reductions in the contribution rates paid by employers. As my right hon. Friend explained in the House on 24 October, the restructuring of statutory sick pay will add modestly to employers’ costs from next April. It is right that the Exchequer should share these costs. Therefore, the main employers’ contribution rate will fall next April from 10.45 per cent. to 10.4 per cent. and each of the lower rates will be cut by 0.4 per cent. This relief through contributions will limit the impact of the statutory sick pay adjustments on employers of lower-paid workers in particular. The necessary legislation will be laid before the House. The contribution rates paid by employees and the class 4 rates paid by the self-employed will remain unchanged.

I am publishing today the economic forecast required by the Industry Act 1975, the first since we became members of the exchange rate mechanism. I must emphasise at the outset that the Gulf crisis and its effect on world oil markets make the future unusually difficult to predict. The United Kingdom, along with other countries, has already seen some of the adverse impact on consumer price inflation. The oil price rise is likely also to contribute to the general slowdown in the world economy that was already under way before the Gulf crisis.

For the Industry Act forecast I am following the practice of international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and assuming some fall in oil prices from recent levels to around $25 a barrel by the end of 1991. But I must reiterate that the situation in the oil market remains very volatile.

Despite these uncertainties, however, it is now clear that the tight United Kingdom policy stance of the past two years is bringing about an easing of domestic inflationary pressures. This will make possible both a sharp fall in retail prices index inflation next year and a strengthening of output.

So far this year, the public sector debt repayment has been running below both last year’s outturn and our expectations at Budget time. Local authority borrowing was particularly high earlier this year as some authorities experienced delays in collecting non-domestic rates and the community charge. Public corporations’ finances have been adversely affected by the slowdown in economic activity and central Government spending has also been higher. Nevertheless, despite this, I still expect a significant debt repayment in the year as a whole of £3 billion. This amounts to ½ per cent. of GDP and represents a strong fiscal stance at this stage of the economic cycle.

Mr. Skinner What was the right hon. Gentleman’s forecast?

Mr. Major For the benefit of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), we have a stronger fiscal position than Germany, France, the United States and every other member of the Group of Seven, with the solitary exception of Japan.

Thus our public finances remain strong. Given our membership of the exchange rate mechanism and the counter-inflationary strategy that we are pursuing, it is essential that they remain strong. As I made clear to the House last month, the Government remain committed to the medium-term objective of a balanced budget. That is why we have continued our firm restraint of public expenditure in the current year.

Turning to demand and output, it is clear that growth has now slowed down sharply. GDP is forecast to grow by 1 per cent. this year. This figure is the same as the forecast I made at the time of the Budget, but the path has been slightly different, and I expect output in the second half of the year to be down on the higher than expected and projected level in the first half.

This period of weak activity should last until early next year, after which I expect growth to resume; GDP is expected to grow by over 2 per cent. in 1991, though year-on-year growth is forecast to be only ½ per cent.

Unemployment has been rising since the spring and may continue to rise in the months immediately ahead, but job prospects will improve with a resumption of growth, the more so if employers keep tight control of costs, including pay rises.

Within domestic demand, growth of consumer spending has now slowed markedly from over 7 per cent. two years ago to under 3 per cent. in the first half of this year. The signs are that it will fall further over the year ahead as consumers continue to adjust to lower growth of real incomes, following the high borrowing of recent years.

Business investment rose by an unprecedented 45 per cent. in the three years to 1989, taking investment to an historically high level as a share of GDP. It may have fallen slightly in 1990 and is expected to fall a little further next year. A modest downturn from such a high level is unsurprising; indeed, it would be extraordinary if it did not occur at this stage in the cycle. It will still leave investment over 50 per cent. higher in real terms than in 1979.

The current account has now begun to improve markedly. With low growth of domestic demand, import volumes have shown virtually no growth over the past year and import prices have been falling in recent months as a result of the firm exchange rate. Export growth, on the other hand, has remained strong over the past year so that the United Kingdom’s share of world trade in manufactures has risen for the second year running. The deficit on visible trade has followed a welcome trend and has virtually halved since the middle of 1989. This progress has been partly offset by poor figures for invisibles in recent quarters, although in the past these have, more often than not, been revised up later – at times, substantially.

I now expect that the current account deficit in 1990 will remain close to the forecast I made at the time of the Budget – at just over £15 billion. With domestic demand and import growth likely to stay low, I expect a considerably improved performance next year, with the deficit falling to £11 billion despite some slowdown in export growth as world trade decelerates. As a proportion of gross domestic product the deficit is expected to fall from 3¾ per cent. last year to 1¾ per cent. in 1991 – a sharp improvement.

I am now certain that inflationary pressures have been brought firmly under control. The monetary indicators show this clearly. The growth of MO has fallen every month since April and is now considerably within its target range, while growth of the wider measure, M4, and lending have fallen sharply to 14½ per cent. and 15½ per cent. respectively. With demand and output slowing markedly over the past two years, it is clear that inflation will come down next year. The fall in the headline figure will be very sharp as the effects of the past mortgage rate rises, of the high initial level of the community charge and of recent petrol price increases cease to influence the inflation rate by the end of next year. From a peak at the current level of about 11 per cent., I expect RPI inflation to fall to around 5½ per cent. in the fourth quarter of next year.

In summary, the plans that I have announced today honour our existing commitments and provide additional resources for key areas – notably for the health service, for pensioners and for investment. They are within an overall total we can afford and they avoid the sharp upturn in the share of expenditure in national output which has occurred at similar stages in previous economic cycles. They are, therefore, consistent with the tight fiscal and monetary policies that will lead to a falling trade deficit and to a sharp reduction in inflation. They are, in my judgment, the right policies for building on the economic achievements of the past decade and I commend them to the House.