John Major – 1986 Speech on Statutory Sick Pay

Below is the text of the speech made by John Major, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, in the House of Commons on 15 January 1986.

I beg to move,

That the draft Statutory Sick Pay Up-rating Order 1985, which was laid before this House on 17th December, be approved.

The purpose of the order is to increase the rates of statutory sick pay and the bands of earnings which determine the rate payable. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has carried out his annual review of those amounts as he is required to do by the Social Security and Housing Benefits Acts 1982. The uprating of the bands, and consequently the rates, is reviewed in relation to changes in the general level of prices which, in the 12 months to October 1985, rose by 5–4 per cent. as measured by the index of retail prices. The draft order accordingly provides for an equivalent increase in the SSP rates and earnings levels to apply from 6 April 1986.

As hon. Members will know, there are three rates of SSP. As usual, in working out the new rates we have followed established practice and rounded them to the nearest 5p. The new upper and middle thresholds have been rounded down to the next 50p. Rounding down in that fashion is beneficial to employees as it enables more to qualify for the higher and middle rates of SSP than would otherwise be the case. The lower earnings threshold—below which no SSP is payable—is not subject to uprating by the order. That is set automatically by the Act at the lower earnings limit for class 1 contributions, which will be £38 from 6 April 1986.

The result of these calculations is that from next April employees with average earnings of £74·50 or more per week will qualify for SSP at the new standard weekly rate of £46·75. Those who earn between £55·50 and £74·49 will be entitled to the new middle rate of £39·20. And those who earn between £38 and £55·49 will receive the new lower rate of £31·60. These new rates represent increases of £2·40, £2 and £1·60 per week respectively.

The draft order makes the usual transitional provision for those employees who have current entitlement to SSP at the time the uprating takes effect. Whichever level of SSP an employee is receiving at the time the uprating takes place, whether standard, middle or lower, he will, from 6 April receive the new amount of SSP relevant to that level for as long as his period of entitlement lasts. This is so even if his average earnings—which are, of course, calculated at the start of his sickness—would put him in a different earnings band. Without this beneficial provision some employees could face a significant reduction in the SSP payable to them at the uprating date and I am sure hon. Members will welcome the fact that this will not occur. [HON. MEMBERS: “Hear, hear.”] I acknowledge support from whatever quarter it comes.

April 1986, will, of course, see other changes in SSP that lie outside the main provisions of the order. The House will recall that under legislation passed in the Social Security Act 1985, an employer’s maximum liability for paying his employees SSP when sick will increase from eight weeks to 28 weeks. Full reimbursement of the costs of this extended period will continue to be available with employers deducting their costs from their national ​ insurance liability. Some other changes in the present rules and procedures will also take place consequent on the increased maximum duration. These were developed following consultation and discussion with employers and others earlier last year. I am pleased to say that a completely revised employer’s guide to statutory sick pay, incorporating these changes, was issued to all employers last October to enable them to make the necessary preparation for these changes. The new rates covered in the order before us will thus be the first ones to apply to the extended scheme.

It remains the Government’s intention to review SSP rates and earnings bands annually, with increases taking effect from the following April. By 1987 social security benefits will also have moved to an April uprating date, We intend, therefore, that in future the Secretary of State will review SSP rates at the same time as other social security benefit rates.

Details of the new SSP rates and earnings bands will be notified to employers shortly in a leaflet issued with the new national insurance contribution rate tables, which will also come into operation in April. The new SSP rates will also be publicised in leaflets available generally from the Department of Health and Social Security.

Finally, I should perhaps remind the House that the rates of SSP are statutory minima. Many employees—in fact, the great majority—receive occupational sick pay from their employers and a number continue to get full pay when sick. We have no evidence to suggest that the current rates of SSP have resulted in hardship or difficulties for employees. Indeed there are clear indications that most employees prefer SSP to the sickness benefit it replaces because it is so much simpler for them to receive their money when sick from the same source as when working. Neither is there evidence to suggest that the rates have affected employers’ and employees’ flexibility for negotiating levels of occupational sick pay.

The draft order provides for the SSP rates to keep pace with the rise in the general level of prices. I commend it to the House.

John Major – 1985 Speech on Fuel Poverty

Below is the text of the speech made by John Major, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, in the House of Commons on 16 December 1985.

I listened with interest to the hon. Members for Ceredigion and ​ Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) and for Gordon (Mr. Bruce). I understand and share many of the concerns which they have expressed and congratulate them on the way in which they have expressed them.

The issues raised by the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North ranged wide and covered both fuel policy and the alleviation of poverty. He spread the net even wider by referring to draught proofing, housing and a variety of allied matters. I propose to refer briefly to energy prices, although strictly speaking they are for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy. I propose to devote most of my remarks to the help given to the less well-off through the social security system, but I shall attempt to touch upon the specific issues raised by the hon. Members for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North and for Gordon.

Both hon. Members mentioned the projects that have been undertaken by various neighbourhood energy action groups. There is not a great deal that I can say about them this evening, save that I recognise the good work that has been done by the groups. Decisions have yet to be taken on how they will be funded in future. That is a matter that we are considering. I hope that it will be understood that I can go no further than that this evening.

The hon. Member for Gordon referred to some of the absurdities of the exceptionally severe weather payments and the disapproval last year which that method of making payments received in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman will know that the chief adjudicating officer issued fresh guidance about the payments only recently. We are considering the guidance and the future of that form of assistance with heating bills. The hon. Gentleman will know that last year the payments amounted to only £1·7 million, while administrative costs were £1 million. I mention those figures, not to denigrate the help that was given, but to put them in the context of the £400 million worth of heating addition payments to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North illustrated the extent to which the cost of fuel is relevant to those on low incomes. I accept that view. It is an important view, and I accept what he had to say on that score. Fuel is clearly a basic necessity, especially for the elderly and the sick. I recognise the concern that is felt by many on low incomes when it comes to paying for fuel. I shall come to what has been done, what is being done and what will be done under our new proposals to try to alleviate that concern.

Reluctant though I am to do so, I must take issue with the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North about the term “fuel poverty”. It is a phrase which is often used these days, and upon examination it is a rather curious concept. The general idea of poverty itself is far from straightforward. We can recognise it, but it is not always easy to define it. The hon. Gentleman will know that the standard rate of supplementary benefit for adults has more than doubled in real terms since 1948 and that this benefit is the primary means of alleviating poverty, and has been so under successive Governments for some years. Yet the hon. Gentleman talks of fuel poverty. We do not hear a great deal about clothes poverty, or food poverty, but fuel poverty appears in a rather curious fashion to have developed a life of its own. Fuel, like clothes, food and all the other necessities for rich or poor alike is paid for out of people’s normal income.

I recognise that individual need for expenditure on fuel can vary, but that is true of other necessities. I do not wish to make too much of what may seem to be a matter of semantics, but it is often misleading to talk about fuel poverty as if it were some special breed of poverty that necessarily requires different measures from those that are generally used to support the less well-off. An effective attack on poverty, which we all wish to see, comes in many guises—for example, benefit rates, control of price increases, economic stability and economic growth. Energy prices are a part of that tapestry, but only a part.

Although the general financial framework within which the gas and electricity industries operate is agreed with the Government, price increases remain a matter for the industries themselves. The Government do not set prices and do not have the power to so. Tariffs must reflect the industries’ costs and provide a proper return on the substantial capital resources that they employ.

They are not a means of indirect taxation. I call in evidence to support my proposition the relatively low level of price rises in recent years, which the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North acknowledged. They have been below the rate of inflation in the past two years and charges have therefore fallen in real terms. After allowing for inflation, the price of gas to the home is roughly what it was in 1970.

The hon. Member for Gordon addressed himself to standing charges. I know that these charges have been a cause of deep concern to many for many years, especially to the elderly. The charges reflect the necessary cost of keeping a supply available to the consumer in his own home for 24 hours a day. They cover the maintenance of the connection, meter reading, accounting, billing and emergency services. The costs arise no matter how much or how little gas or electricity is consumed by the individual householder.

The abolition of standing charges, although self-evidently attractive in some ways, is not an easy option. It would cost the gas and electricity industries more than £1·1 billion a year in lost revenue. Abolition for pensioners alone—if we could determine which pensioners should have abolition, whether it should affect people living on their own and all the other details that must be decided—would cost about £300 million. That lost revenue would have to be recovered by substantial increases in unit prices, which would penalise many of those who, through age, sickness, infirmity or some other reason, need more heat, even though they may be among the least well off.

That raises the question, which may have flashed through the mind of the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North, whether there should be special tariffs or free allowances for people on low incomes. That has been considered in the past, but successive Governments have concluded that it would be an expensive, ill-directed and probably ineffective means of helping those most in need. In 1976, the Labour Government announced that they had reviewed possible help through concessionary or restricted tariffs or free allowances of gas and electricity. Their conclusion—I quote from the report’s foreword which was written by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)—was that these did not offer

“a satisfactory way of helping poor consumers with their fuel bills”.

I am sure that the right hon. Member was right, and I suspect that the Liberal party thought so too, because, as far as I am aware, it expressed no contrary view at the time. Successive Governments have therefore taken the view that help is best given through the social security system. That help is considerable.

More than £40 billion is spent on social security—about a third of all Government spending. We have kept the major benefit rates ahead of the rise in prices during the lifetime of the Government and, because of the increases in benefit last month in line with inflation, we increased our spending by a further £2 billion a year. The main help for the less well off with their day-to-day living expenses, including fuel costs, is through the standard weekly rates of supplementary benefit. Those rates increased by 6 per cent. in real terms between November 1978 and November 1984 and were increased again last month in line with inflation. They have doubled in real terms since 1948, and I think that every hon. Member welcomes that.

On top of those benefit rates, we provide extra weekly help for those with special needs. The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North mentioned people with special needs—the elderly, the very young, the sick and the disabled. Each is entitled to heating additions. Last year we spent more than £400 million on those heating additions, which is £140 million more in real terms than any previous Government have spent at any time. Since 1979, we have extended the help available. In November 1979 we introduced a basic rate of heating addition for pensioner householders over 75. Over the years, we have extended the age range so that this now takes in pensioner householder over 65. We have introduced a similar addition for the under-fives. Last November, we introduced a new higher rate of heating addition, worth well over £200 a year—a considerable sum—payable automatically to householders over 85. We have also assisted disabled people. Since 1980, we have paid a higher rate of heating addition automatically to severely disabled people people on supplementary benefit who receive attendance or mobility allowance or its equivalent. Last month, we introduced a further measure—automatic entitlement to a basic rate heating addition for sick and disabled householder claimants on the long-term rate of supplementary benefit. As a result of these changes, we estimate that 60 per cent. of all people on supplementary benefit and 90 per cent. of supplementary benefit pensioners now receive a heating addition. That is a dramatic improvement on the position before 1979 and represents a considerable attack on what the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North referred to as “fuel poverty”.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North referred to the White Paper proposals. I should like to explain why we felt it right to move forward and reform these arrangements, as announced in the White Paper which was published today. The answer is that heating additions are merely a means of giving more help to certain groups of claimants who may have extra heating needs. The additions are better, in our view, than tariff adjustments and certainly better than nothing, but they are not the only, or necessarily the best, form of assistance.

Heating additions are a rather curious mixture. Many are paid automatically on grounds such as age, but others involve detailed questioning on matters such as the claimant’s health. There is a complex array of rates, rules ​ and regulations. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North did not feel that the White Paper would be an improvement on the present rather muddled situation. He asked me whether I was conscious of the need to modify policy to match reality. That is what we believe the White Paper is doing. I hope that, upon reflection, it will be shown that we are right, although I acknowledge that it is a controversial issue at present. In the White Paper we are proposing an income support scheme to replace the current weekly supplementary benefit. Income support will continue to provide set allowances for normal living expenses, including fuel costs. There will also be premium payments for families, pensioners, sick and disabled people and lone parents to help with the extra expenses that those groups tend to have—including extra heating costs. That will mean a system that is simpler than the present one. It will be easier for the public and staff to understand. It will cut out much of the intrusive questioning that now takes place—I think that everyone will welcome that—and it will also effectively direct extra help to groups of people who are likely to face extra expenses.

As I said in the House only a couple of weeks ago, the fact that we shall not call the premiums “heating additions” does not mean that they do not exist, that the cash is not in the claimant’s pocket and that it cannot be used towards fuel costs. We believe that income support will, in future, be a better means of delivering that help and we intend that the money spent on heating additions will be included in the resources available for the new scheme. Nor are we alone in that view. The Social Security Advisory ​ Committee commented similarly on the Green Paper in June. The committee welcomed the idea of premium payments in income support for different groups. Moreover, the Select Committee on Social Services said that it

“broadly accepted the principle of premiums reflecting the additional needs of individual client groups”.

Therefore, I think that a substantial amount has been done, is being done and will continue to be done to meet the needs of people who face difficulties with fuel poverty through poor or low incomes. I hope that the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North will accept that we are sincere in our intention to help those people meet the difficulties that they face.

I also hope that on reflection the hon. Gentleman will see the wisdom of the approach that we set before the House in the White Paper today and that we shall seek to carry through in a Bill early in the new year. I am confident that when the House debates the Bill, it will take that view. I hope that it will carry the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues with it at that time.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s concern that people should be able to afford adequate heating. We share that concern and we shall continue to offer substantial assistance to that end, but we shall do so in a way that we regard as simpler and more effective than the current system. We believe that our proposals will meet those criteria and I hope that in due course they will be endorsed by the House and the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North who raised the subject.

John Major – 1985 Speech on Heating Bills

Below is the text of the speech made by John Major, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, in the House of Commons on 4 December 1985.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) has pursued the issue of heating in all its aspects for some time, and I congratulate him on his persistence. I hope that he will understand if I cannot congratulate him wholeheartedly on everything that he said. It is not so much what the hon. Gentleman said as what he did not say.

An acknowledgement of what the Government have done to help with heating bills would have been welcome. By any yardstick, the Government’s contribution has been substantial, whether in terms of summer or winter bills. It is appropriate to put that on the record.

The hon. Gentleman did not mention that the Government have committed many billions of pounds to social security and have kept major benefit rates ahead of rising prices since 1979. This includes considerable help to the least well off for day-to-day expenses, including ​ heating, through substantial increases in supplementary benefit rates. These rates rose by 6 per cent. over and above the rise in prices between 1979 and 1984, and they were raised again a few days ago. More specifically, there was no acknowledgement of the substantial sum of £400 million spent last year on heating additions. The money was directed primarily to pensioners on supplementary benefit, to the sick, to the disabled and to some other special groups. That is a substantial record. The hon. Gentleman did not acknowledge that that substantial amount was £140 million more in real terms than had been spent by any previous Government on heating additions. This substantial Government record is not inclusive of all that has been achieved. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman, when presenting his case, was not able to make specific acknowledgement of this record.

Mr. Wilson

I do not wish to deter the hon. Gentleman from answering the principal case, but does he think that the Government have done enough, considering the rising trend of deaths from hypothermia and the misery that many elderly people face in their homes?

Mr. Major

I shall deal with that issue in the course of my speech.

The principle of weekly help with all living expenses, plus extra weekly help for those with special needs, is one that we plan to retain under the proposed reforms that will see the light of day in the White Paper shortly. I stress this because the hon. Gentleman clearly feels that, by changing the present complex system of heating additions, we are ending assistance with heating costs. That is not the position.

The income support scheme which we propose in our Green Paper in June will provide a better basis for regular weekly help for claimants. There will be basic personal allowances for normal living expenses, including fuel costs. There will be weekly premium payments for families, pensioners, the sick, the disabled and for lone parents. The premiums will be given in recognition of the fact that these groups face special pressures, not least with the cost of extra heating.

The fact that we shall not call the premiums “heating additions” does not mean that they do not exist, that the cash is not in the claimants’ pockets and that it cannot be used towards fuel costs. We expect that these resources will be used to go towards fuel costs and that income support, for a variety of reasons, will be a simpler and more effective means of help than the present complex system which has many defects, some of which the hon. Gentleman honestly outlined.

I do not disparage the substantial help given through heating additions, though their structure results in an uneasy alliance between automatic entitlement for pensioners on supplementary benefit and others and the complex rules about details of claimants’ health problems. The present regulations are quite mind-boggling in their complexity. The advantages which we believe will accrue from the income support scheme include the fact that we will avoid complexity and most important, the intrusive questioning that takes place before an entitlement can be determined. I believe that the hon. Gentleman will concede that that will be a substantial improvement on the ​ present position. I emphasise strongly that help will continue to be given to these groups through the special premia that we propose.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about high summer fuel bills, and I recognise that there are particular difficulties when bills are higher than usual. However, the problem must be put in context. Social security collectively costs many billions of pounds. It helps millions with their living expenses, and our aim is to ensure that that happens as effectively and simply as possible. Surely no one can dispute that over the years the system has become far too complicated and that that is not in the interests of claimants who receive assistance or those who run the system. It is clear that it is of no help to anyone. However, we shall make no progress in producing the right sort of rational, modern and helpful system that directs and targets help to where it is most needed if we try to tailor the weekly income that is provided for millions by introducing variations that are based on weather conditions, time of year or locality, for example.

Most people plan on the basis that they will spend less one week and more the next, and we should give social security claimants the credit of recognising that they do likewise. We shall continue to provide a level of weekly income that takes account of the recurring extra pressures that are faced by groups such as pensioners. That must be a more sensible and efficient way of providing help than increasing heating additions in the winter, decreasing them in the summer and increasing them again in the summer if the weather proves to be especially bad, as the hon. Gentleman has said it was during this summer.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the length of the heating season, and I understand the arguments that he has advanced. I have already explained that the help that we provide is geared to people’s needs year in and year out and not to providing higher levels of help at certain times of year. He implied that the heating season is generally longer in the colder parts of Great Britain than elsewhere. That followed on to a matter which he has raised before and on which he has some depth of knowledge, which is his idea of a cold climate allowance. That means, effectively, variable rates of weekly benefit depending on which part of the country someone lives.

I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s interest in this subject, and he knows that my colleagues have discussed it with him in the past. There are real difficulties. Ministers in previous Governments have seen strong arguments against any deviation from the principle of national benefit levels and I am bound to say that we can see the same arguments against them. Apart from heating, there are many regional price variations. It would be possible to make a similar case based on variations in transport or food costs, for example. There is a variety of other variable prices in different parts of the country and I have no doubt that others could point to variations that have an acute effect on the persons with whom they are concerned.

If we were in the business of trying to take a detailed and comprehensive account of all the variations, the task of setting and changing all the benefit rates each year would become impossibly complicated. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that that is so when he has time for reflection. There is evidence that there is little variation between the amount spent on average on fuel by those who live in different parts of Britain. That remains true at all income levels throughout the United Kingdom.

I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about hypothermia. Each winter we hear distressing accounts of old people —perhaps proud and independent people who are entitled to help but who for various reasons do not seek it, or who face difficulties in obtaining it —who suffer from the cold. I understand the problems and care about it as much as the hon. Gentleman. However, it is not reasonable to portray the Government —I think that the hon. Gentleman began to move in this direction when he remarked about help for farmers and not for those in need of heating additions —as uncaring and aloof from the problem of hypothermia.

Mr. Wilson

They are.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

That is right.

Mr. Major

I reject that charge absolutely. They would do well to recall, before they make it, that it was a Conservative Administration in 1979 that introduced automatic heating additions for the first time for older supplementary pensioner householders.

Mr. Wilson

It is not enough.

Mr. Major

If he thinks that that initial move was not enough, the hon. Gentleman may recall that subsequently we extended the number automatically entitled to heating additions so that as of today about 1·5 million supplementary pensioners over 65 get extra help with their heating of between £2·20 and £1–45 per week. When he makes remarks about help for cattle and not for people, he overlooks that substantial amount of assistance that was introduced, and is being given, by this Government. He might also bear in mind that nine out of every 10 supplementary pensioners now get heating additions, compared with only six or seven out of every 10 in 1978.

The hon. Gentleman also dealt with the exceptionally severe weather payments and some of the difficulties they cause. That payment is often confused with the cold climate allowance, but there is an important difference which may be understood in the House but not outside. Those payments are one-off payments to claimants in any part of the country if they have used more fuel than planned because of a period of exceptionally severe weather. The payments have always been a tiny part of the overall help with heating costs for the least well off.

The winter before last the chief adjudication officer, who advises local adjudication officers on the interpretation of the law, introduced a new system for determining when the regulation was satisfied. That system was based on temperature data provided by the Meteorological Office, collected from 17 weather stations throughout the country. The system was first fully tested earlier this year. As the hon. Gentleman will recall, there were some criticisms of the way in which it worked. I put that in the mildest form that is appropriate.

In the first place there were complaints from Scotland and from some parts of England and Wales where payments were not made. Secondly, the system was very complicated to understand. I recall that my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security himself described it as a pretty weird and wonderful construction. Thirdly, the amount of help delivered under the system was relatively modest, about £10 on average. We now know that the administrative cost of the scheme was very high indeed in proportion to the help given. We estimate that last winter it cost over £1 million administratively to pay out £1·7 ​ million in benefit. Clearly that was not satisfactory. In view of the difficulties we undertook to review the provision.

In the meantime, the chief adjudication officer arranged for a test case to be heard by the social security commissioners to clarify whether his guidance properly reflected existing law. Their decision, which was issued recently, was that the system used last winter was not a satisfactory method for deciding claims. They held in effect that local adjudication officers should use their own judgement in deciding, on the facts of each individual case presented to them, whether there had been a period of exceptionally severe weather and how much extra the claimant had spent as a result.

The chief adjudication officer is now issuing new guidance to local adjudication officers in the light of the commissioners’ decision, so we shall no longer have the system of trigger points and degree day percentages which caused so much bewilderment last winter. None the less, local adjudication officers may still have to face substantial difficulty in determining whether exceptionally severe weather payments should be made. For example, they will have to decide whether the weather is exceptionally or abnormally severe. Interpretation of those terms is difficult. They will have to decide whether there has been a period of exceptionally severe weather, although there is no set definition of “period” and it may in theory be as little as a single day.
The local adjudication officers will also have to establish both what the claimants’ normal fuel expenditure is and how much extra is spent as a result.

Mr. Wilson

Is the Minister saying that in departing from the previous system of trigger points and so forth the temperature to be used as a criterion in each area will be a local one rather than a national one? In other words, will it still be possible for people in the south to get benefits under the severe weather scheme while people further north will not get them if their average temperature is much colder?

Mr. Major

I was about to make that point, though we shall have to wait for the guidance of the chief adjudication officer, which we shall have very shortly. There is a substantial probability that payments may still ‘vary between different parts of Britain in an unacceptable fashion. I stress that point because some hon. Members may have overlooked it. The commissioners, in their recent decision, held that the weather must be exceptional for the place in question.

A number of other factors will need to be considered, one of which is the commissioners’ ruling that “exceptionally severe” also means exceptional for the time of year. I have no wish to belittle the difficulties outlined by the hon. Member for Dundee, East, that high summer heating bills can cause. The issue is whether ad hoc, finely calculated payments towards specific bills are the best ‘way to help. I wonder if the social security budget and social security staff are best employed making adjustment for exceptionally rainy summers, exceptionally chilly springs, exceptionally misty autumns, and so on. Surely it is better to concentrate on delivering the correct level of weekly income efficiently to those in need.

We are therefore continuing to consider this provision very carefully in the light of the commissioners’ decision and the chief adjudication officer’s impending guidance. ​ We shall be looking at the effects of that guidance, both in terms of the way in which it seeks to provide extra help with fuel bills and its practical implications. In the meantime, the guidance is being issued so that staff will be able to handle any claims being made.

I hope —though my expectations are not high —that I may have persuaded the hon. Member for Dundee, East that the Government are anxious to help the least well off ​with their heating problems. The Government are genuinely concerned about the matter and, regardless of whether I have convinced the hon. Gentleman, we shall continue to offer substantial assistance, although it may not be in the ways that the hon. Gentleman suggested in his remarks today.

Sir John Major – 2018 Speech at the Inaugural Albert Reynolds Memorial Lecture

Below is the text of the speech made by Sir John Major at the inaugural Albert Reynolds Memorial Lecture held in Longford, the Republic of Ireland, on 10 December 2018.

An invitation to deliver the Inaugural Albert Reynolds Memorial Lecture was irresistible to me, for Albert was a friend I cared about, an ally who mattered, and a man I miss.

I’m so sorry that, due to ill health, Kathleen cannot be with us today, but I am delighted that so many members of the Reynolds family are here….

I have to tell you that walking into Albert and Kathleen’s home in Dublin was like being wrapped into a warm and cosy blanket – while enjoying hot tea and cakes. It was always a treat. And delivering this lecture is a tribute to a very special man.

Albert was never a run-of-the-mill politician. Some thought he’d strayed into politics by accident, but I don’t agree with that at all. Certainly, his background was atypical – for Taoiseachs.

Albert ran dance halls, and thrived on the back of 1960s pop music – but he was always fully prepared, fully equipped for politics: he was a deal-maker supreme, a “bottom line man”, a man who demanded an outcome, a solution, to every problem.

His background – far from being a drawback – was an asset. Albert knew people: how they lived, how they thought, what they cared about.

And, in my experience, he liked people – forever an asset in a politician.

He had no illusions about how some could go astray, but no doubt about what they could achieve if given the opportunity.

And he was an optimist – far more inclined to say “we can do this”, than to rule anything out. To Albert, a deal not made was a failure.

Some people in politics are no more than ambitious concoctions. But Albert was the real deal – in practice and in spirit. The world saw just how authentic he was at his funeral service at Donnybrook Church, when symbols of his life were carried to the altar by members of his family.

The Downing Street Declaration was, of course, laid on the altar. But then so was a pack of cards, and a tin of dog food. Even in death, Albert could shock the politically correct. During that Service I may have had tears in my eyes, but I knew that – watching from afar – Albert was chuckling.

At the very core of Albert was Kathleen and their family, about all of whom he was inordinately proud, and often spoke. I once teased him that “I know you love children because you have so many”, and he replied, “Not enough, John. Not enough.”.

And that is true, too, of his time as Taoiseach. Not long enough. Not long enough by a long chalk.

But Albert left an indelible mark on Irish history and will, I believe, be remembered long – and fondly. I know the memory of Albert will always bring a smile to my face.

In five days’ time it will be the 25th Anniversary of the Downing Street Declaration, which led to paramilitary ceasefires and, ultimately, the Good Friday Agreement. It would never have happened without Albert.

The Declaration didn’t come easily. In negotiation, you give to gain. Albert and I had a common objective, but came at it from different directions. There were many proposals, many drafts.

There were advances and setbacks. Mini triumphs and mini disasters. There were frustrations and rows, gains and concessions. And, of course, we both had critical – often hostile – opponents to persuade or to cajole.

But, with help and advice from many quarters – officials, politicians, the Church – we got there and, for Albert’s sake, I’m delighted you have remembered his own vital contribution to this document, and also honoured me by your invitation.

It is one of the greatest disappointments of my life that I wasn’t able to complete the Peace Process, but I applaud Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern for doing so. They met all the challenges successfully.

The Irish Ambassador to the UK, Adrian O’Neill – who is a superb representative of your country – quoted aptly from the Declaration in a recent speech.

The Declaration had a range of objectives: to heal past enmity; to ensure a peace that lasted; and to encourage the economic and social co-operation that was, and is, and always will be, essential for mutual understanding and, with it, peaceful prosperity.

The Declaration was born during a private conversation with Albert in the White Drawing Room of Downing Street. As I recall, we were talking of our respective children over a drink, and then – more widely – the children of the Troubles.

Albert said, “No child should have to face this”, and I agreed, adding “If it were in Surrey or Sussex it would not be tolerated; nor should it be accepted in Northern Ireland.”. So, together, we agreed to try and end it, and I could never have had a more dedicated partner than Albert Reynolds.

Were we together this evening, Albert and I would be concerned about Brexit; the Irish border; the protection of the Peace Accord; and – perhaps most important of all – the long-term relationship between our two countries.

As the Peace Process advanced in the 1990s – and especially after the Good Friday Agreement was signed – the Anglo-Irish relationship blossomed.

Our joint history is chequered, but it was put behind us: not forgotten, perhaps, but no longer used as a weapon with which to attack one another.

In the last two decades, the Anglo-Irish relationship has been better – and closer – than at any time in our history. Now, once again – as the UK leaves the EU – there is reason to be concerned.

The Republic – as well as the UK – needs the power-sharing executive to return to its duties in Northern Ireland. It needs to ensure that now – and in the future –there is no hard border dividing the island of Ireland; and it needs a future that embraces what Ireland and the UK have in common.

Some opinion – including many who believe themselves to be Unionists – has shown a breath-taking ignorance of the likely impact that unsettling the Good Friday Agreement will have on Ireland, both North and South.

To them, the Irish demand for a “backstop” is a bogus ploy to keep the UK in a Customs Union: in truth, a backstop is of vital national interest for Ireland and for the UK.

As our own Prime Minister has said, this is not a demand imposed on the UK by Dublin or Brussels – it is an interest we all share.

Furthermore, the Brexiteers claim that the backstop damages the Union is wholly misguided. The greatest danger to the Union would be a hard border that damaged jobs and prosperity in Northern Ireland, and undermined the Good Friday Agreement.

If the people of Northern Ireland see a border returned – together with no power sharing at Stormont – will they not look once again at a United Ireland?

The plain truth is this: the future of the Union is protected, not undermined, by avoiding a hard border.

If the House of Commons defeats Mrs May’s plans tomorrow, the risk of a hard border once again becomes possible.

Even if her plans are approved, the problem is not solved, but temporarily put on hold – until a “frictionless” border moves from myth to reality; or until a long-term deal is reached that removes the need for any border at all.

A hard border – now, or at the end of a long transition period – would be disastrous. That said – whatever may happen at Westminster this week or later – I do not believe a majority of Members of Parliament will permit a hard border to become a reality.

The reckless few, who are careless of its likely effect, are a clear minority. And with good reason.

Of course, a new border would not remotely resemble its hated predecessor – with its barbed wire, its listening posts and its Army check-points.

But any new border – however gentle its intent – would become a symbol, and thus a target. Both physically and emotionally it would present not only a barrier between North and South; between Unionist and Nationalist; but between the UK and her nearest neighbour.

The fear – that must not be forgotten – is this: any border, be it now or in the future, risks creating an impediment to the excellent bilateral relations of recent years. That, truly, would be a tragedy.

Peace is at risk if we erect barriers that remind people of ancient disputes: it will only be a way of life we can rely if we create a future in which old protagonists can live and work together.

Peace is not secure – it never is – and any new border would be a focus for the wild men on the fringes to reactivate old disputes and hatreds that should be laid to rest – for good. Until sectarianism is ended, that will never be fully achieved.

Some hardline pro-Brexit voices have claimed that European and Irish opposition to a “hard” border is merely a means of frustrating Brexit. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are blind to the reality.

As Sir Hugh Orde, former Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, has said – the political consequences of Brexit “will play into the hands of those who are still determined to destroy the relative peace we have enjoyed”.

“Customs Posts”, Sir Hugh added, “would be a target for dissident paramilitaries”. Sadly, such dangerous people are still around – in both communities.

Those who mock and disparage the “backstop” should reflect on the risks of destroying it, and stop relying on uninvented, fanciful, technical alternatives that, for now, exist nowhere.

At stake is not only community relations, but security – and, with it, lives as well. We should not forget that the “Troubles” began in the 1960s with the murder of Customs Officials at the North/South border.

A “no deal” scenario would have many damaging repercussions for the UK and Ireland.

If – by accident or design – the UK was forced to trade under WTO rules, both sides would be forced to apply customs tariffs on imports from the other.

This would not be optional. Under WTO rules, the UK and Ireland could not reach a bilateral “sweetheart” deal of low tariffs – even if they wished to do so.

The UK would have to charge the same tariffs to Ireland as to any other member of the WTO worldwide.

And Ireland would have to reciprocate. The impact on business – and farming – would be instant and profound. This is no way for friends and neighbours to treat one another.

But, once again – for what it is worth – I do believe wise counsel will prevent this outcome.

I have made no secret of my own view that the UK leaving Europe is a colossal error. It is a lose-lose decision for both sides. It betrays the internationalist past of the UK, and undermines her future.

Most of the world believes we have taken leave of our senses, and so, I believe, will future generations. However, that is an argument I would prefer to make in the UK – and not here this evening.

But what of Europe? How are they affected? That is an argument for now – and for Ireland as a member of the European Union. Is the whole of Europe, including the UK, better off with a strong European Union or a weak one?

Across Europe, some extreme nationalists believe it would be better if the European Union collapsed and we returned to a Europe of nation states. I believe they are profoundly wrong in that judgement.

We live in a world in which America – so long the guarantor of European safety – is turning her interest increasingly towards Asia-Pacific.

China – with the largest navy in the world – is now growing both in economic and military power, and is prepared to use that power for political gain. Russia is, once again, behaving as a rogue nation.

In the light of these developments, is Europe better or worse off being united rather than divided? Undoubtedly, it is better united.

Are we all at greater risk if Europe is weakened? Undoubtedly yes – both economically and militarily.

Is the world order better balanced with America, China and a strong European Union broadly economically equal, or with the European Union minus Britain falling below the economic authority of their two rivals? The answer is obvious.

And yet the British departure will not only weaken the UK but – certainly more important to the wider world – diminish the role of the EU. The EU will lose:

Sixty five million citizens, and its fastest-growing economy; potentially, the largest economy in Europe;

It will lose one of only two powers with a nuclear capacity and a significant military capability;

It will lose the nation with the longest and deepest foreign policy reach; and

It will also lose the only buffer the EU has had to hold back policies promoted by Germany and France in partnership.

British pragmatism and caution will be sorely missed by smaller EU countries: on many occasions, the UK was their protector.

Time and again, it has not been unusual for the UK, alone, to oppose a European policy – while other member states remained silent – and later be thanked for having done so.

The UK’s departure means that, for the first time, the European Union is contracting and not expanding. This will weaken the EU – especially when set against the superpowers of America or China.

The British departure is likely to hasten European reform – which will involve Ireland as a Member of the Eurozone.

Over the next few years, I expect members of the Eurozone to further align fiscal policy to protect the Euro even though – at present – that is not politically acceptable.

I do not believe – after the Greek experience – that the Eurozone will hurry to admit new members and, if that assumption is correct, a distinct inner and outer core is likely to take shape.

Other changes – opting in to policies rather than opting out – may be sought by the less consensus-minded countries from Central and Eastern Europe.

Nothing is certain but – ten years from now – the Union may look very different. Ironically, it may be a Union that would be much more amenable to the UK.

The Anglo-Irish relationship will change when the UK leaves the EU – but we need to cherish it, and I will talk of that at greater length tomorrow.

For now, let me simply assert that the relationship should remain precious to us both, and our duty is to ensure that it is.

My working assumption is that the UK will leave the EU in good order and not in chaos. If so, she has a robust political and economic structure – and should be able to weather the almost inevitable economic turbulence upon leaving.

However, as many independent assessments have set out – as well as the Bank of England and the UK Government itself – I do anticipate lower growth, lower inward investment, and – subject to the terms of any future trade deal with the EU – a range of practical (and costly) obstacles for British commerce.

No-one can be certain how long such a trade deal will take to negotiate: or even if aggrieved nations will hold back – or refuse – their consent to any, or all, of it.

What we can be sure of is that the right deal will be tough to get; and an imperfect deal will be hard to sell – and harder still to justify. But, as grievances cool, a deal is in the best interests of both sides.

The City of London is powerful, innovative and pre-eminent. But, post-Brexit, we can assume other financial centres in Europe will wish to challenge its present dominance. That is an unavoidable consequence of the British exodus.

Although I don’t believe the EU can hope to replicate the City in any foreseeable timescale, I do expect they will move towards focusing more financial activity within their own Borders – politics will dictate this as well as long-term self-interest.

Dublin itself may be a beneficiary of this trend.

The wider trade implication of leaving the EU is that the UK not only loses her free trade deal with the European market of 500 million people, but also free trade deals with 53 other nations that were negotiated by the European Union – but only for its Members.

Over time these can be replaced, but, for now, there is a very, very long way to go – and the question arises: are 65 million Britons really likely to get the same favourable treatment as 500 million Europeans?

The UK lives by her trade – so, we must try. But this process will not be swift – or straightforward.

Let me summarise. Barring a sudden outbreak of common sense, and a reality check on national self-interest, the UK will be the first nation to leave the EU.

This will be yet another irony, as the first proposal for a European Union came not – as is generally supposed – from the French cognac salesman, Jean Monnet, but from an Englishman.

Three and a quarter centuries ago, in 1693, William Penn advocated a European “Diet or Parliament” as a policy to end perpetual military conflict on the Continent. It took 280 years and two world wars to convince his fellow Britons that unity was better than division.

Forty three years later, the British people reversed that decision.

It is in the interests of both Ireland and the UK that wise negotiators can now minimise the downside and maximise the opportunities.

Let us hope they will – and they can.

Many futures depend on it – both in my country and in your own.

As I speak, I can hear Albert’s lilting voice pushing us on towards a sensible deal.

We must all do everything we can not to let him down.

John Major – 1989 Autumn Statement

Below is the text of Mr Major’s Autumn Statement, given in the House of Commons on 15th November 1989.

CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER:

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. John Major) : With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement. Cabinet agreed the Government’s expenditure plans this morning. I am now able to inform the House of the public expenditure outturn for this year; the plans for the next three years; proposals for national insurance contributions in 1990-91; and the forecast of economic prospects for 1990 required by the Industry Act 1975. 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 Wednesday.

Tight control of public expenditure remains a central element of the Government’s economic strategy. In the past seven years this has led to a sharp fall in the ratio of public spending, excluding privatisation proceeds, to national income. This fall has made it possible to improve dramatically the Government’s finances while still making substantial reductions in tax rates. The ratio of public spending to gross domestic product was nearly 47 per cent. in 1982-83. In the current year, it is likely to be 38.75 per cent., significantly below the level expected at the time of the last Autumn Statement. For the next two years the plans I am announcing today show ratios of 39 and 38.75 per cent. Those are unchanged from the ratios published in last year’s Autumn Statement, and permit a cash increase in general Government expenditure in 1990-91 of around £5.5 billion. By 1992-93 the ratio is expected to fall further to its lowest level since the mid-1960s.

For the current year, the outturn of expenditure is expected to be about £168 billion–£1 billion higher than the original planning total. This partly reflects a lower level of privatisation proceeds, but its principal cause is massive overspending by local authorities on both current and capital account. As the House knows, new arrangements for the finance and control of local authority expenditure in England and Wales are being introduced on 1 April 1990. This year’s outturn shows how necessary those new measures are. Central Government spending remains firmly under control. The plans for the next three years have been set on the new definition of the planning total which the Government announced in July last year and which was welcomed by the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee.

This includes central Government support for local authorities, but excludes their self-financed expenditure. The composition of general Government expenditure remains unchanged. For 1990-91, the new planning total has been set at £179 billion and, in the following two years, at £192 billion and £203 billion respectively. Within that, the estimates of privatisation proceeds are unchanged, at £5 billion a year. There are also substantial reserves, rising from £3 billion in 1990-91 to £6 billion and £9 billion in the following two years.

The new plans also show continued real growth in spending on the Government’s priorities. Thus, between this year and next, spending on the National Health Service in the United Kingdom will rise by £2, 400 million. Taking account of income generation and cost savings, that is equivalent to a £2,600 million increase in resources, or 5.5 per cent. in real terms. These plans will finance the improvements in the management of the service outlined in the National Health Service review. They provide more than £200 million extra for hospital building and other capital expenditure next year ; and they will finance continuing growth in services for patients. They are the clearest possible evidence of the Government’s practical commitment to improving the care available in the National Health Service.

There will be substantial increases also for investment in transport. Spending on national roads is planned to double between 1988-89 and 1992-93. Extra financing of £400 million to £500 million a year is being made available for the railways and London Regional Transport, including upgrading the services on Network SouthEast and the London Underground, to relieve congestion and improve safety, and for rail services for the Channel tunnel. In total we have added £1.8 billion to the planned spending on transport in the next two years. The plans provide an extra £250 million over the next two years for a new initiative to tackle homelessness, to be announced today by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. Central Government support for the provision of new homes by housing associations will more than double from £800 million in 1989-90 to £1,700 million in 1992-93.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security has already announced real increases in benefits which will help 1.5 million families and 500,000 long-term sick and disabled people. There will be a further increase of over £500 million in the total resources available for higher education in 1990-91 compared with this year. It will provide for the continuing growth in the number of students, which has risen by 30 per cent. since 1979, and is now at a record level and it will cover the cost of the Government’s proposals on top-up loans. There is provision for more environmental research, including the new climate change centre and the doubling of our contribution to the United Nations environmental programme. About £1.5 billion has been added to planned capital spending by central Government and public corporations in 1990-91. That represents a real increase of around 10 per cent. compared with 1989-90.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I have been a Member for a long time, but I wish to know whether I am allowed to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer a question. He is making a long statement. Am I allowed to ask a question and, if not, when can I ask him a question?

Mr. Speaker : Surely the hon. Member does not need to pose that question. If I call him later, he can ask the Chancellor a question then.

Mr. Major : The new plans include the money central Government provide to support local authority spending. The Government’s proposals for aggregate external finance in 1990-91 were announced to the House in July. Measures have also been announced which will ease the transition from rates to community charge. The cost to the taxpayer of these measures will be nearly £700 million in 1990-91, with further substantial sums in each of the following two years.

Capital grants and credit approvals will provide central Government support for local authority capital expenditure under the new arrangements. The new plans provide support for a sustained programme of school and college building and modernisation, for local authorities to contribute to the homelessness package, for transport projects, as well as capital spending on other local services, including local roads and environmental improvement. As in the past, these improvements have been possible only through a rigorous selection of priorities, substantial gains in value for money, and a very welcome reduction in the burden of debt interest. They have been found within an affordable level of total public spending. Overall public spending excluding privatisation proceeds is expected to grow on average by 1.75 per cent. a year in real terms throughout the period between 1988-89 and 1992-93. This was the rate of growth projected in last year’s Autumn Statement and we have stuck to it. Over the 1970s, a decade of high borrowing and high inflation, as well as high public spending, it grew not by 1.75 per cent. a year but by 3 per cent. a year.

The Government’s new plans demonstrate their continuing commitment to two vital principles : first, to maintain firm control over total spending; and secondly, to increase efficiency in order to provide more resources where they are most needed. I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary on his skilful and successful conduct of the public spending round.

I turn next to national insurance contributions. As the House knows, we have now implemented the reform of employee contributions announced by my right hon. Friend the member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) in the Budget. From last month, two of the three step increases in contribution rates have been abolished. This means that employees who get pay increases taking them just above these steps can no longer lose more in higher contributions than they gain in extra pay. And the initial step at earnings of £43 a week, where people first enter the contribution system, has been more than halved. These measures have reduced contributions by up to £3 a week for nearly 19 million employees and are of particular help to many employees on modest incomes ; they have also removed some important disincentives. The usual autumn review of contributions has been conducted in the light of advice from the Government Actuary on the prospective income and expenditure of the national insurance fund, and taking account of the statement on benefits made in October by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security.

Next year, the initial class 1 contribution rate payable on earnings up to the lower earnings limit will remain at only 2 per cent. This means that a payment of only 92p a week will buy entitlement to the basic pension and other contributory benefits for those who earn just enough to pay contributions. On additional earnings, up to the upper earnings limit, the rate will remain unchanged at 9 per cent. For employers, the main rate will also be unchanged at 10.45 per cent.

The lower earnings limit will be increased to £46 a week, in line with the single person’s pension, and the upper earnings limit will be raised to £350 a week. For employers, the upper limits for the three reduced bands will be increased broadly in line with prices. I am also publishing today the economic forecast required by the Industry Act 1975.

It is clear beyond doubt that the economy has greatly strengthened over the last decade. We have experienced eight years of strong and sustained growth with inflation at moderate levels. This has brought an increase in employment of about 2.75 million since March 1983 and a sustained rise in living standards. However, it is also clear that in the last two years, 1987 and 1988, demand, and with it output, rose at a rate which exceeded expectations and could not be sustained. That became apparent in increased inflationary pressures and the growth of the current account deficit.

These pressures had to be reduced and monetary policy was tightened accordingly. The effects of this tightening are already apparent in recent retail sales figures, and the turnaround in the housing market. The Government’s fiscal position is also very strong. I now expect this year’s fiscal surplus to be about £12.5 billion, equivalent to 2.5 per cent. of GDP. That represents a very tight fiscal stance by any standards. Both tax yield and expenditure are higher than forecast at Budget time, but lower proceeds from privatisation and the very high take-up of personal pensions mean that the public sector debt repayment will be slightly below the Budget projections.

Looking at the wider economy, as always, a great deal inevitably depends on the actions of companies and individuals. So there is bound to be uncertainty about the speed with which the economy will adjust to the present tight stance of policy. Our forecast is that growth in domestic demand will be a little over 3.5 per cent. in the current year–a sharp, but inevitable, slowdown from over 7 per cent. recorded in 1988.

Non-oil GDP is expected to grow by 3 per cent. this year. GDP growth as a whole for the current year looks like turning out at 2 per cent., a little below the forecast published at Budget time. This results from lower than expected North sea oil production, which is taking longer than expected to recover from the several serious accidents of the past two years.

Business investment is likely to increase by 9.25 per cent. this year, giving a total of over 40 per cent. in the three years to 1989. This is the largest-ever rise in business investment over a three-year period and is two and a half times as fast as the growth of personal consumption over the same period. This has inevitably contributed to strong import growth and a higher current account deficit in the short run. Notwithstanding this unwelcome effect, the resulting increase in productive capacity will help to sustain the growth of output and in due course bring the deficit down. Looking ahead to 1990, our tight fiscal and monetary policy will have an increasing impact both on household spending and on company spending, which typically reacts later than the personal sector. Investment should continue to grow, but it will do so more slowly. The slowdown in the economy means that GDP is forecast to increase by only 1.25 per cent. in 1990. This will bring the average growth in the four years to 1990 to 3 per cent. a year.

As domestic demand slows, import growth should moderate. At the same time, the strong rise in exports, which has been one of the most welcome developments in 1989, is forecast to continue. Non-oil visible exports are expected to rise by over 11 per cent. this year, the highest rate since 1973, and we expect a further substantial increase next year. As a result, we now forecast that the current account deficit will fall from some £20 billion in the current year to about £15 billion in 1990.

We will also see a further reduction in inflation. The headline measure of retail price inflation has already peaked at over 8 per cent. in May and June this year, and has since come down a little. Following the recent rise in mortgage rates, it will remain high for some months, but our forecast is for it to fall to 5.75 per cent. by the fourth quarter of 1990, and I expect to see it fall still further after that.

Our main priority must be to bring inflation decisively down, and keep it down. To achieve this, the economy must slow down for a while. This does mean that 1990 may not be an easy year, but the economy enters the 1990s in incomparably better shape than it entered the 1980s. The supply side reforms of the last decade have left business and industry better able to handle both the short-term difficulties before us and the longer-term opportunities to come. I have no doubt that we must stick to the policies that have turned the economy around, and that we are determined to do.

John Major – 1993 Speech to Conservative Central Council

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the 1993 Conservative Central Council meeting, held in Harrogate on 6th March 1993.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yesterday this Conference paid its tribute to Nick Ridley.

He was an original. A one-off. And whatever he did he faced the world square on and never once flinched.

The Commons was the poorer when he left it. And the Party is the poorer for his loss.

Mr Chairman, in the last two years events have thrown at this country everything they could.

Abroad – we’ve had the Gulf War, the Yugoslav war, a world recession that gets worse abroad as it gets better here. There have been plans from Europe that we’ve had to water down or reject. At home we have had our share of world recession, a difficult general election, and conflicts on Europe that strike deep at the instincts of many in our Party.

Mr Chairman, on these issues it’s right that we should have vigorous debate. When people feel strongly they should express their views. Argue their case. Fight their corner.

But once we have taken our decisions on how to proceed, then I believe we should all support those decisions. The British people put us back in power to carry on with the full range of our policies. They gave us five years to beat inflation, create growth and jobs, improve choice, fight crime and maintain the unity of the United Kingdom.

Mr Chairman, that is what I want to see this Party and this Government do. And I want to see us do it now – and I want to see us do it together. It is in difficult times like these that the Conservative Party most needs to be united – and to stay united.

At the last election we had one of the biggest leads in votes ever recorded. But only a 21 seat majority – now, sadly, for the moment only 20. So these are difficult days. We no longer have a cushion of 100 seats, and those who want us to be successful know what that means. Let me say it bluntly – disunity is a luxury we cannot afford.

Mr Chairman, none of us should forget the scale of the responsibility placed upon us. On April 9th last year, 14 1/4 million people turned to us – people of all ages, all walks of life, from all corners of Britain. Every one different. Each with their own personal hopes and fears. They all trusted us with the hard job that lay ahead.

We must live up to that trust. That does not mean responding to every short-term whim. It does not mean avoiding difficult decisions. It does mean holding fast to the long-term course that will bring us prosperity, growth, and jobs, even in the teeth of short-term difficulties.

Those short-term problems have often caught the headlines. But they have not prevented progress towards our long-term objectives. So let me put it all in perspective. Let me remind you of what we have done in the last eleven months – smack in the middle of a world recession.

I’ll start with the Health Service. Remember what Labour said about health. They said if we won it would be the end of the Health Service. One year on, we have more National Health Service Trust hospitals and more GP fundholders providing better care to more patients than ever before.

The end of the Health Service? One year on, it’s not the NHS that’s falling apart; it is Labour’s scares that have fallen apart. Remember that truly disgraceful election broadcast? That was the one in which Robin Cook predicted the end of the NHS. Well today the Health Service is moving on – and Robin Cook has been moved on. Out on his Jennifer’s ear – and deservedly so.

As hospitals have become self-governing – running their own affairs – so have schools. Over 500 have chosen the new freedom to become Grant Maintained. They have moved out of the hands of local authorities and into the care of governors and parents.

And we’re promoting subject teaching in primary schools – so much more important than vague topic work and generalised themes. So it’s maths, geography, science and history lessons. And putting emphasis right from the start on standard English and on the 3Rs.

That, Mr Chairman, is the right Tory agenda – and we have put it in place in the first year. We’re supporting good teachers and putting the spotlight on the bad. Publishing the exam results of every school.

Mr Chairman, those results should never have been hidden in the first place. Now we’ve brought them into the open. And they will never be hidden again.

And, one more thing, Mr Chairman. When we talk of publishing the facts, I must say this to those teacher unions that are threatening to boycott tests – you are wrong. Life is a test. You do pupils no good by hiding them from reality.

To teach children what they need to know, we must find out what they don’t know. Tests are an essential part of good schooling. Tests are here to stay. And I hope the teacher union leaders get that message loud and clear from this Conference. And, before I leave education, here’s something for the history books.

By 1996 nearly a quarter of a million extra students will be in college – the biggest expansion ever. And when they are there they won’t have to join the activities of the National Union of Students – because we are ending the NUS closed shop.

That’s the right Tory agenda – and all in the first year. And it is not only the NUS monopoly that is going – remember Neddy, that hangover from the 1960s, that corporatist relic?

Well, that’s gone, too. Unlamented. We have scrapped it. And not before time. We are giving new freedoms to members of Trades Unions. And new powers for every individual to act in court to stop wildcat strikes. All part of the right Tory agenda – and in hand in the first year.

And the Tory programme to promote ownership is rolling forward, too. We have introduced a new incentive for personal pensions. One that will help millions enjoy their retirement in comfort and security.

In housing, we are back on course for the home-owning democracy. We have a new scheme to help tenants become homeowners by treating rents as mortgage payments. We’re giving leaseholders the right to buy their freeholds. And later this spring Michael Howard and his team will launch a new campaign to spread the Right to Buy.

That’s the right Tory agenda – this Government’s agenda. Never mind the news – that’s the reality.

All that sounds like a full menu for a full Parliament. Yet all I have done is to give you a selection of starters. Your starters for 5, 10, 20 years, years in which we will indeed – build a stronger and better Britain.

Fine words, you say. But fine words butter no parsnips. What about jobs? I know that the main thing so many people seek above all is a worthwhile job. That is why, from April, we will have in place the most comprehensive package to help people back to work that we have ever seen in Britain: youth training, Training for Work, Restart, Job interview guarantees, business start up schemes. Schemes that will help up to 1 1/2 million of our fellow citizens keep in touch with the world of work.

And those schemes all have one thing in common. Every one was opposed by the Labour Party. How can they defend that? They call for help for unemployed people and then vote against it.

We want our training schemes to lead to full-time jobs. It’s permanent jobs that people want. The only way to get people permanently back to work is to help the economy grow. To improve our skills. To promote our exports. To widen our manufacturing base. And to make it worthwhile to start new companies.

That’s the road back to jobs. Permanent jobs. Jobs with prospects. And that’s the road we are travelling. The outlook for our economy is good. Interest rates down. Inflation down. Strikes down. Manufacturing productivity up. Retail sales up. Exports up. That’s what’s happening. And that’s the way back to work for Britain. The only way.

The prospects for the Nineties are good. It’s been slow, frustratingly slow. But we are on our way. And don’t just take it from me. Over the next two years Britain is forecast to have the highest rate of growth in Western Europe.

If we have confidence in ourselves others will have confidence in us. And when confidence grows jobs must follow. Some people still haven’t quite grasped the progress we’ve made.

So let me put this way. 1954 – that’s 39 years ago, the year Roger Bannister ran the 4 minute mile – that was the last time the January inflation rate fell to 1.7%.

And 1956 – 37 years ago, the year Jim Laker took 10 Australian wickets for 88 at the Oval and, no, drat it, I wasn’t there! – that was the last time mortgage rates for first time buyers were as low as they are, now.

So, for goodness sake, let’s not belittle what we’ve done. Let’s not run our prospects down. Let’s leave that to the Labour Party. Day after day they attack us for ‘talking the economy up’. What a crime. What a dreadful thing to do. Trying to instill confidence.

Well, it’s about time we got after them for talking the economy down. When did you last hear John Smith say a good word about Britain?

And another thing, is there anyone here who’s ever seen Gordon Brown smile? No one. I thought not. Is there anyone anywhere who’s ever seen Gordon Brown smile? Is there anyone who wants to see Gordon Brown smile? And by the way, has anyone yet seen Gerald?

Mr Chairman, there’s something else that is absolutely crucial to business confidence – the certainty that Britain will help determine policy in Europe, and not be dragged along behind a policy made by others. We should remember what we have achieved for Britain in Europe this year. We have every right to be proud of it.

We have completed the biggest free trade area the world has ever seen. We have reformed the Common Agricultural Policy after years of squabbling. We have put a ceiling on EC spending right until the end of the century. We have opened up the Community to new members. And we are changing the course of Europe – away from centralism and returning powers to member states.

That is the classic British agenda for Europe. It is not the federalist agenda. On crucial issues we are making sure the final say sits where it should be – right here in Britain. So let’s not fear the future in Europe. Let’s go out and shape the future of Europe. Shape a market of 340 million, where businesses can compete, export and invest wherever they like – where future generations will have opportunities we never dreamed of to work and to travel.

And we must shape a wider Europe. That’s what we decided at Edinburgh – to bring in new member nations, first from Scandinavia and later from central Europe. And we won agreement – against all expectations – that our old friends, the Poles, the Hungarians, and the Czechs would eventually join us.

Do you remember how as the Iron Curtain fell we welcomed them to our Party Conference two years ago? Well, we are still working on their side. And now – in time – we look forward to them joining the European Community, too – as a result of our influence.

The present Community is but a fragment of Europe. Our long- term vision is a Europe without trade barriers, a vast continent of free democracies, from the Urals to the Atlantic and from the Baltic to the Mediterranean.

A Europe full of trade and free of war. We won’t achieve that speedily – but isn’t that what we should work for for future generations? So let me tell you what’s at stake. I know the concerns and passions aroused by arguments over our future in Europe. I see them in the House of Commons whenever we debate the Treaty of Maastricht.

I understand the instincts and the patriotic feelings that motivate many in our Party who have doubts about the Treaty. I understand, and share, their pride in Britain’s great past. But we have to build a great future. So let me tell you, clearly and frankly, that I believe the fears of those who resist our European policy are mistaken.

Mistaken because they underestimate what we have achieved in our negotiations in Europe.

Mistaken because they have failed to focus on our wider vision of Europe.

Mistaken because if we step aside from what we have agreed there would be an enormous economic price to pay.

There would be an immediate blow to economic recovery. International investors, who have poured money into Britain, £100,000 million in the last five years, would turn their backs on us.

Those investors want access to the European market. And if we sidelined ourselves they would no longer be certain that that would be the case. That is why the price of standing aside from the agreement we freely made would be heavy. As Douglas Hurd told you yesterday, it would be £50 billion off our national production over the next five years. I wonder how many jobs that would cost?

And then there is that Social Chapter – another threat to jobs. Surely no-one in this Party – for any reason – would give houseroom to that. Where we want to be is on the inside track to prosperity, and outside the grasp of bureaucracy and socialism. Inside Europe and outside the Social Chapter.

I know our Party. I cannot believe that anyone, when they have considered all the facts, could want to let slip those opportunities before us.

Let me tell you what I believe. To do so would be to take a conscious decision to become irrelevant in Europe. That would be a decision not only for our time, but for our children’s also. It would be the surest possible way to impoverish our country and damage our standing in the world – almost beyond repair.

So let us put aside the fears and hesitations that hold our Party back. We may have our differences. But they are as nothing to the things that unite us.

So let us take the chance we have today – to mould Europe in our own image. Don’t let us shirk that challenge. In a thousand years of history we never have. And we must not now.

Mr Chairman, I want British industry to win not just in Europe, but around the world. I want a different attitude to industry at every level in this country. I want people to see that making things matters. I want more that matters to be made in Britain.

Our exporters need to know that the Government supports them. And where we can help to open doors and free up markets we will always do so. That’s why in the Autumn Statement we committed £700 million extra to help British companies win new orders. And when our businessmen travel abroad I expect all our embassies to work with them. Cultural exchanges are fine – but I want export deals as well.

Mr Chairman, exports are booming. Leaving the factories faster than journalists leaving the Daily Mirror. Mirror, mirror, on the wall – are there any journalists left there at all? In the battle for exports I want Government out there in the field foursquare behind our businesses.

A few weeks ago, I spent the morning in India, lunched in the desert in Oman, and had dinner in a palace in Saudi Arabia. And that day, as a result of months of effort by business and Government working together, we won orders for British goods worth billions and safeguarded thousands of jobs. These days there are no easy exports. The world is too competitive for that. More competitive than ever before.

Those countries that once were captive markets are now manufacturing themselves or challenging us as rivals. The countries on the Pacific Rim have developed massive industries of their own. China is set to become a huge manufacturing power in the century to come. Against that background, we need to help British companies carve out a bigger place for Britain. But before we export, we have to manufacture. And we have to manufacture quality.

That’s why we need to build up craft skills and practical training in every part of Britain. End once and for all that senseless prejudice against the best of our brains going into commerce and industry. That prejudice is damaging – and we can no longer accept it.

Mr Chairman, by helping business I don’t mean artificial subsidies to industries. I mean setting the right economic structure for business. I mean pursuing the right policies for business. I mean having the right curriculum in our schools. I mean reforming vocational training. I mean lifting burdens from the back of businesses.

Of course, we need some regulations. But there are people in Brussels, in local councils and, yes, in Whitehall who seem to have a mania to hold back the future in a mesh of pettifogging detail.

So I have told every Department of State: scrap unnecessary regulation. It’s a simple message. Red tape means lost jobs. And that doesn’t only apply to large companies like ICI. It applies to the smallest businesses and local services too.

You know what I mean. Health and safety enthusiasts bent on eliminating every conceivable – and inconceivable – risk. Local councils badgering good nursery schools when they’d be better employed helping them.

The food safety people who tell us that what we’ve been eating for generations will certainly kill us if we don’t stop instantly. Well we’ll certainly die a good deal sooner if we do stop eating instantly. Mr Chairman, it’s all gone way over the top. Well, I’d rather it went in the bin.

Isn’t it barmy? Would Drake have been in time to meet the Armada, and would Nelson have made Trafalgar, if an inspector had been on hand to say ‘Hold everything – we haven’t checked the ship’s biscuits!”

Mr Chairman, I said earlier that one of the reasons we were elected was to keep up the fight against crime. Vandalism; burglary; car theft. Crimes against property; crimes of violence; crimes involving drugs.

The fear of crime lies deep in the instincts of law-abiding people. They find it hard to understand how others move outside the law, careless of the interests of their neighbours, preying on the property of others, even threatening their lives. I said last week that we need to understand less and to condemn a little more. That was not a simple cry for retribution.

My point was this. Unless society sets rules and standards and enforces them, we cannot be surprised if others flout them. It’s true we mustn’t exaggerate the problem. Compared to many others in the world, Britain is still a safe country.

But those who point to that and say ‘do nothing’ are wrong. I say to those people: even if the problem here is smaller, it’s still far too big. And every single victim of crime in this country will agree with that.

That’s why this Government has done so much to step up crime prevention and crack down on crime. There are too many violent offences – that’s why we have increased penalties against them, especially for those thugs who go out carrying firearms.

There is too much drug dealing – that’s why we’ve taken powers to confiscate the assets of those who sell drugs and wreck the lives of young people. There have been too many lenient sentences – that’s why we’ve given the Attorney General power to refer sentences to the Court of Appeal. And one final example – it is intolerable that some offenders charged with a crime go out and commit another while they’re on bail. I want to see those further offences reflected in the sentences they receive.

Mr Chairman, there can be no doubt about where this Party stands in the fight against crime. And no doubt about the support we have given to those who fight it. We have given our police forces better pay and more resources than any Government in history. Now we must help them get even better results in everything they do. That is why we are now reviewing the effectiveness and the organisation of British police. I want our police to the most modern and the most efficient crime-fighting force in the world.

Mr Chairman, the issue of crime runs deep. To catch and to punish is to deter. But we want to prevent crime too. So we must go to the roots of why some young people do what they do. Too many children have been denied the proper guidance they need in their own homes and schools. Of course, the authority of the family comes in here.

And, yes, the churches – they may have a legitimate role to criticise, but they certainly have a role to play. And there’s another factor that goes right home in every sense. And that’s too much violence in videos and on television. What we watch is the single biggest influence on many people’s thinking.

We’re an open society. We can’t censor television. But we can say to parents – control what your children watch. And we can say to those who make and distribute films and videos – think whether a relentless diet of violence won’t have a serious effect on the young. And we can say to television programmers – don’t just be careful when you show it, be careful what you show.

Mr Chairman, Government alone cannot change behaviour. Concepts of right and wrong are something for all of us. But there are some things Government can do – and we will.

First, truancy. It is stark staring obvious to me that if children are staying out of school, they are not learning what they should be and they are probably learning what they shouldn’t. For too long the facts on truancy have been hidden by a conspiracy of silence. So from this autumn in our new league tables we will make all schools publish openly their levels of attendance.

We will find out where the problem is worst. We’ll target it and tackle it. I want our children in class. Not in trouble. And, Mr Chairman, we are taking another step. This morning Ken Clarke told you about his new proposals to set up secure centres for that hard core of youngsters who go on offending and reoffending, devoid, it seems, of any sense of fear or guilt about what they do.

Some say we shouldn’t respond. They say it’s a relatively minor concern. I don’t agree. I say that not to respond would be a double dereliction of duty. A dereliction of duty to the public at large. And, worse, a dereliction to those children. Because we let children down if we don’t set boundaries and enforce them. For their own good and for the good of their communities we must take those persistent young offenders off the streets.

It is a clear-cut idea, carefully worked up over these last few months, targeted directly at an obvious gap in the law. How strange – but how very revealing – that in a matter of minutes it was condemned out of hand by the new model Labour Party. When I heard that, it sounded just like the old unreconstructed Labour Party to me.

When the test came they failed it – so let’s give them another chance. We’ll set them another test. Eleven times in all Labour have voted against the Prevention of Terrorism Act. I find that unbelievable.

And so, I suspect, do the people in the battle against terrorism who are putting their lives on the line to protect the lives of others. Terrorism is the biggest crime of all. So for Labour let it be the biggest test of all. So no hedging, no weaving, no messing about. Let them vote with us next week – or pipe down about crime.

Mr Chairman, I’ve reminded you of some of the things we have done in these last few months – and set out some of our plans for the future. As always this Party is a reforming Party. And as a nation we need to reform. Because we live in a rapidly changing world. Change can be frightening. We must manage it carefully. Nurture it to our national advantage. Our watchword is – to hold on to the best of the past and to create the best for the future.

Mr Chairman, last March it was at this Central Council that we launched the General Election campaign – the election that no-one thought we could win. We took our message to every part of our country. It was the roughest, toughest campaign for years. But we won it.

And how did we win? By sticking to our principles. By keeping our nerve. By standing together. And, above all, by staying together. United. That’s how we won – and that’s a lesson we must never forget.

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.