Sir John Major – 2017 Speech on the Responsibilities of Democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I now fear for these broad, socially liberal attitudes.

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

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

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


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

But free trade is under attack.

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

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

Individuals have gained wealth that Croesus would have envied.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

I hope Government will rethink recent practice on special advisers.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Oratory can change public opinion – for good or ill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As a boy, I read what Edmund Burke said:

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

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

I agree with that implicitly.

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

All must ask themselves:

– Did I do what I believed to be right?

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

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

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

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

Indeed so. That is the responsibility of democracy.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And even that sharing is partial.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And what of the “numbers” argument?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Show us charitable need and we dig deep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me set out my own position.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If the UK departs, the EU will lose:

– its fastest growing economy;

– one of only two nuclear powers; and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Major – 1990 Speech to the Young Deaf Achievers Awards


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

Ladies and Gentlemen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Major – 1995 Speech to Northern Ireland Mayors and Councillors


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let me stress four points:

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

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

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

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

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

Let me now return to the business of this meeting.

We have three agenda items, one in two parts:

– economic growth

– urban and regional regeneration

– finance

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

John Major – 1990 Autumn Statement


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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) Not any more.

Mr. Major We shall add to that this year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Major – 1995 Speech to Scottish Conservative Conference


Below is the text of John Major’s speech to the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Association Annual Conference at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow on Friday 12th May 1995.

Let me turn first to those Conservative councillors who lost their seats in Scotland last month and in England and Wales last week.

From my time as a councillor, I know how bitter defeat feels. I know the disappointment when a good local record is swept aside by national politics.

So let me say to them: you served local people ably and well. You served local democracy well. Your defeats were none of your doing. And I am proud of what you achieved.

There are two things we can do after such a defeat. We can grumble and be disillusioned.

Or we can fight back.

We can work to make sure that the councils our opponents won this spring come back to us at the first opportunity.

So we will keep an eagle eye on them.

We shall set up a “Council Watch” to see how they keep their promises. To see how they spend your money. To see how they put your council tax up.

We must put disappointment aside. Go out into local communities. Work. Work. Work. Begin now to prepare for the next elections. And when they come we will take back those councils, each and every one of them.

Politics is in a strange mood at the moment.

Curiously this is partly because we have won the battle of ideas and forced Labour to deny some of their ancient prejudices.

We’ve won the battle for an enterprise economy.

For individual choice. For consumer power.

We’ve defeated the old socialist ideas of state control and public ownership.

Of course, Labour still hanker for them in private. But in public they’ve been forced to claim that they disown all the values they once believed in.

All gone. The Socialist cupboard, we are told, is bare after the most comprehensive philosophical wipe out in British political history.

Well, I am a bit suspicious about that. Some changes, yes.

But if Labour could shed so easily the values they held for so long, how deep is their commitment to values they’ve lifted from us likely to be?

I’ll tell you. As deep as electoral convenience needs it to be. Labour know that the electorate wants Tory values. So they have an extraordinary election cry.

“We were wrong all the time. The Conservatives were right. But trust us to behave ourselves in future. Oh, and by the way, please don’t ask us about policies.”

We’re very generous hearted, we British, We always forgive sinners who repent and Labour is benefiting from that at the moment. But we’re also discriminating and I think people will ask “if they were wrong before, why should we believe they’ll be right in future?”

It’s a good question – and we’ll go on asking it.

The extraordinary thing about our Party is that, after 16 years in government, it is still fizzing with ideas.

In this week alone we have announced measures to:

cut electricity bills

make our Post Office more competitive

and crack down on drugs

And before, the Commons rises for the summer we will:

publish a Housing While Paper

launch a major new national volunteering programme

invite the first private Sector bids to run British Rail services

announce a fares policy to help commuters

publish a second Competitiveness White Paper

consult widely on ID Cards

and announce a bold expansion of nursery education.

We already have a range of ideas which will keep us moving forward for years.

But it is right for us now to discuss with you, the bedrock of our Party, what you want to see in the next Manifesto.

A Manifesto grown from our grassroots, as we build the next phase of Conservatism.

I came from the grassroots of the Party.

I know the wealth of talent and experience our supporters have to offer.

So I will be the first leader in our Party’s history to give every member in every constituency an historic opportunity.

An invitation to help shape the policies of the future.

I have already set up Policy Groups on more than 30 policy areas, chaired by senior Ministers, and including representatives of all parts of the Party. Their first reports will reach me by the end of June.

Now it is right to unveil the next stage of this unprecedented exercise in consultation.

From this summer to next spring there will be a series of discussions across the party and across the country.

Each discussion will be around the Five Themes set out last month:

how to secure economic prosperity

how to improve further opportunity and choice for everyone

how to improve decent, commonsense values in law and order

how to deliver first-class public services

And how to build pride in the nation.

These discussions will be detailed and genuine. They will take place on an agenda which will be shaped by the work of the relevant Policy Groups.

I want Conservatives up and down the country to take part in this.

CPC groups – as ever – will form the core of policy discussion at constituency level. But we intend to involve as many party members as possible.

These discussions will be followed by Conferences here in Scotland, Wales and across England, where we can bring these ideas together.

The developing agenda – not detailed Manifesto points – will begin to be unveiled at next year’s Central Council Meeting in Harrogate.

I will play an active role in leading this process, together with all my colleagues.

The Conservative Party has always listened to the people.

That is why we were the first party to support the Right to Buy.

The first to introduce Trade Union democracy. The first to give parents the right to know about their children’s schools.

So we will begin this massive consultation exercise within our party, and then will broaden it to engage and enthuse the public as a whole.

So I am going to go out and about. To meet you, to talk to you and to listen to you.

To build a People’s Policy to bridge the gap between the doorsteps of Britain and the Corridors of Power.

I’m going to share with you the hopes I have for this country of ours. The problems we face. The opportunities we have. I’m going to talk about the long-term as well as the short-term.

And when we’ve reached a policy conclusion, I’m going to ask the nation for a majority sufficient to put it into operation.

I believe that the commonsense of Conservatives up and down the land is the best guarantee that we will enter the 21st century with the right policies for our nation’s future.

Let me turn to two or three of the five themes. First, policies to spread economic prosperity and security.

People feel secure when:

their jobs are secure

their living standards grow steadily year after year

and they can be confident that their children will have a better future. I know of no-one who doesn’t want that.

But it doesn’t happen by magic.

If we’re really determined to build security and prosperity for all – as I am – then we must continue to build an enterprise economy. And to get that we must take the tough decisions to create it.

Sometimes they’ll be unpopular. Because it means resisting the clamour of every interest group for higher spending.

It means clamping down on inflation, however loud the protests. And it means cutting state borrowing, whatever the moans.

We’ve been doing that. And it is the right thing to do – and to do what is right, however, difficult, is not a bad creed for politics.

And, as a result, we can now look forward to the best and most prolonged period of economic recovery for decades.

This is no ordinary recovery. What we may be seeing – provided we can carry it fully through – is the reawakening of Britain as a growing economic power.

And before our critics scoff let me give them some examples.

When we came to office, Scotland was the home of dying industries, poor productivity and mass trade union power. Frankly, it was an economic mess.

Today Scotland is in the forefront of new technologies. Scotland makes more than a third of all the personal computers manufactured across Europe and over half of all Europe’s cash machines.

Scotland is attracting inward investment from companies in Germany, Japan, the United States and across the globe.

They are attracted here by the enterprise culture built by the Tories, the corporate tax structures, designed by the Tories, and our lack of the Social Chapter insisted on by the Tories.

Since 1980 Scotland has seen self-employment increase by two-thirds.

For the first time in decades, the United Kingdom is increasing its market share of exports.

And we are now paying our way in the world.

For years we looked enviously at the industrial competitiveness of Japan. So we attracted their investment. Now Japanese companies based in Britain are exporting their products from here back to Japan.

And now, just think about this. Today, when you put visible and invisible trade together, the UK is in surplus with Japan.

How many of us ever thought we would see that happen again? That transformation is remarkable.

And it’s been achieved by implementing the Conservative agenda of reducing burdens on business. Cutting back the power of shop stewards.

Getting Whitehall off the backs of our companies. Lowering corporate taxes. Resisting unnecessary regulations from Brussels.

And above all, by setting free the talent and skill of individuals right across this country. No serious observer can doubt these changes.

And yet the country had better be warned: every aspect of this transformation would be reversed in one term of Labour government.

We were told that by changing Clause IV Labour showed they were reformed: they no longer believed in nationalisation. At last, they were a modern party.

But what have they spent the last fourteen days doing?

Pledging themselves to reverse rail privatisation – even though it will produce lower rail fares.

Promising to end compulsory competitive tendering – even though it has saved council taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds.

Threatening new controls on privatised companies – even though their increased efficiency has produced a much better deal for consumers.

And trying to block the privatisation of the nuclear industry – even though it will cut electricity bills right across the country.

What this shows is that there is still a yawning credibility gap between what Labour says and what Labour does.

Do real Labour honestly worry about the profitability of our companies at ward meetings in Govan and Monklands?

Do they agonise about the “insecurities” of the middle classes in Constituency Labour Parties in Tayside?

Do delegates at Labour Conferences rack their brains to propose new policies to help private enterprise?

Of course not. You only have to ask the questions to know the answer.

If they were really serious they’d stop supporting the Social Chapter.

They’d drop their ideas to force employers to recognise trade unions.

They’d abandon their commitment to a minimum wage.

They won’t, of course. Because their commitment to the market is skin-deep. Were they to be in government, their Party would resurrect the calls for Socialism.

Daily our warnings are being proved right.

We always said the minimum wage would be damaging to jobs. And this week has proved it

First the CBI made it clear that they believe that any minimum wage would destroy jobs, drive away investment and cripple our companies.

And now we learn of a huge row within the Shadow Cabinet.

John Prescott attacked Gordon Brown’s figures on the minimum wage.

Gordon Brown attacked John Prescott. So in the end, decisive New Labour could only agree not to publish a figure at all.

Let me help them out of their dilemma. A minimum wage would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and hurt most those who are most vulnerable.

And that is why we believe it is wrong.

This little cameo creeping out from behind the mask shows how utterly unfit for office Labour still are.

They have ideas aplenty on how to make companies less competitive but none on how to help them win.

That is why, next time as last time, the economy will be an area where we will win – and win well.

I want to say a word or two about crime.

We’ve always stood for decent commonsense values and for strong law and order.

We’ve always stood by the police.

Our first thought has always been for the victim.

And we’ve always believed in tough action against crime, And we’ve backed up our views with votes in the House of Commons.

The battle against crime is constant. It’s never easy. It has to be fought consistently over years.

Tougher penalties. New crime prevention measures. More powers for the police. That’s what we have been doing.

The statistics show that crime in Scotland is falling. Good – but not good enough.

So we have introduced measures which will have a significant effect on the fight against criminality.

We are introducing a national DNA database to harness the advances of science against the criminal.

This may prove to be the biggest breakthrough in the detection of crime since the invention of fingerprinting.

From now on, those who break the law had better know that the best techniques of modern technology will be used to track them down.

Just one drop of blood or tissue or hair at a crime scene could be enough to identify and catch a criminal.

We have set up a national fingerprint register.

And in the next few weeks a national database of criminal records will go live to provide a valuable new weapon against convicted and persistent criminals.

From now on, if someone is arrested in Glasgow the police will be able to know immediately whether they have also been committing crimes in London.

And our new Criminal Justice Bill in Scotland will give the courts and the police a wider range of powers than ever before to catch, charge and convict criminals.

All these changes are designed to make our country safer and put more thugs behind bars.

But we have fought this battle alone without Opposition support. Where have Labour been as we have waged this war?

When we strengthened police powers to stop and search criminals, were Labour tough on criminals? No, they voted against.

When we gave the police new powers to deal with riots, were Labour tough on rioters? No, they voted against.

When we ensured that all prisoners serve at least half their sentences in prison, were Labour tough on prisoners? No, they voted against.

And when we passed laws to fight terrorists who bomb and maim the innocent, were Labour tough on terrorists?

Hazard a guess.

No, they voted against.

But most revealing of all, how did Mr Blair describe Michael Howard’s 27 measures to fight crime?

Measures to crack down on young offenders. Measures to tackle bail bandits. Measures to stop professional crooks running rings round the courts. Measures called for by the police for years.

Mr Blair called them “gimmicks”. Gimmicks.

Well, I don’t call them gimmicks.

The view I take of crime is quite straightforward. We are engaged in a war against the criminal.

In that cause we should put the rights of the public first and the rights of criminals second.

Most people are perfectly able to distinguish right from wrong.

If people break the law, they should not be excused.

They should not be pampered.

They should be punished.

That is what that people of this country expect. That is what this Party expects.

That is what I believe.

And that is what our policies will deliver.

Let me just say a few words about policy on Europe. Britain’s future depends on us getting that right.

The European Community gives our companies the biggest home market in the world.

It has brought peace to countries which had fought for centuries.

And it can increase the influence and prosperity of all the countries within it. It has many virtues.

So I want Europe to succeed.

But not at any price.

And not at the expense of the nation-state.

I am keen to co-operate with our European partners. But I will not deliver Britain to a federalist future.

At Maastricht I negotiated long and hard for two key opt-outs against total opposition from our partners.

Both were vital for our national interests. I secured them.

I removed Britain from the Social Chapter – making this country a haven for foreign investment, and giving our companies a crucial edge over their competitors.

And I reserved for us the absolute right to take our own decision, in our own time, about whether we join a single currency or whether we stand aside.

There has been some speculation in recent days about what will happen to those opt-outs at the next Inter-Governmental Conference.

So let me tell you.

Those opt-outs will stay. They are permanent.

And they are not negotiable.

In any discussion about Europe’s future, I will always consider Britain’s interests before I decide,

That is what this country expects. And that is what this party will deliver. Pride in the Nation is a phrase with a particular meaning here in Scotland.

We have a deep instinct as Conservatives. We care passionately about the nations of the United Kingdom. Our feelings are emotional as well as intellectual.

There is no other political party in the world whose history is so deeply bound up with the identity of one particular country.

You couldn’t translate the Conservative and Unionist Party to any other country. Yet for 300 years, it has given voice to the people of a United Kingdom.

I am proud of our Party. Of its history. Of its record. It has built Britain’s influence in the world.

It has defended our institutions and our freedoms from threats without and within.

It has worked unceasingly to spread decent values of democracy and push back the darkness of totalitarianism.

In a rough, tough world, Britain has a high profile – at the UN, in the G7, in NATO and in Europe.

We have real influence as we approach the 21st century.

So it would be a disaster if we of all nations imploded into nationalist divisions of our own.

Labour’s devolution policy is a shambles. With one speech last year, I forced a U-turn on regional assemblies in England. Since then, Ian Lang and I have asked a series of simple but important questions of Labour’s leaders about their ideas.

Questions like how much would it cost? They don’t know. What would happen to the Scottish Office? Difficult one, that. And what is their answer to the West Lothian Question?

Mr Blair said that “The answer to the West Lothian Question is the answer that we’ve always given”.

Unfortunately for him, they’ve never given an answer.

In that at least it’s consistent with the rest of Labour’s Scottish policy. There are lots of questions, but rather fewer answers.

Labour’s approach to devolution is as elusive as the Loch Ness Monster but a good deal more dangerous.

Nessie brings jobs to Scotland. Devolution would drive them away.

So, why do Labour support devolution? It’s a good question.

Not because they really care about the constitution of Scotland. If they did care, they would have found answers to these basic questions.

Not because they think it make Scotland more prosperous, They are tartan taxers. They accept that it would put Scottish taxes up – and they know that the Scottish business community think it would drive away investment.

No, the simple reason why Labour support devolution is just to lure votes away from the Scottish Nationalists.

Yes, they are ready to play with the very survival of our United Kingdom for party political advantage.

It is the most cynical policy of modern times.

There could be no clearer demonstration of the difference between parties which talk about convictions and values –and those who live them.

I scorn such cynicism. And I will never take any lectures from people such as these on the importance of principle in politics.

And what of the Scottish Nationalists themselves?

At least they have thought their policy through. It would be profoundly bad for Scotland but it is thought through.

They admit that if you fiddle with the powers of the United Kingdom Parliament you will ultimately destroy the unity of the United Kingdom itself.

The SNP aren’t Tartan heroes. They should be seen for what they are.

They are socialists. They are unilateralists. And they are politically extreme.

Their message is a contradiction of all Scotland really stands for. A denial of its historic role. Inward looking and introverted.

They thrive on negative resentment, the culture of criticism. They kick traditional institutions just to feel good. It’s a dangerous game to play.

The SNP’s approach boils down to one phrase. Socialism in one country.

It has never worked. It can never work. And our task is to make sure that it is never tried.

Scotland would pay a high price for independence.

Taxes here would soar and soar again.

Independence would be an unpriced menu.

But I do not rest my opposition to independence solely on that.

For Scottish independence would hurt not only Scotland, but the rest of the United Kingdom as well.

All of us – Scots, English, Welsh and Northern Irish – would find ourselves citizens of a lesser county, with a smaller voice in the world, and with less chance to influence our future.

So we are and will remain the Conservative and Unionist Party. We believe in the Union and in Scotland’s place in it.

I believe the Union is in the lifeblood of our party and our nation. It’s our duty to stand up and defend it. We won’t shirk that duty.

So long as I have heart and voice I will defend the Union against all who would weaken it.

In the interests of all our country some causes are bigger than the transitory rancour of politics. And this is one.

Those who would seek to marginalise Scotland must be defeated. And with the help of those in this hall they will be.

John Major – 1995 Speech in Belfast


Below is the text of John Major’s speech in Belfast on Wednesday 3rd May 1995.

Thank you very much for that introduction. I look forward in a few minutes to hearing what you have to say about tax, and no doubt roads, and no doubt a whole range of other matters. And may I say what a delight it will be to discuss the same sort of economic matters in Northern Ireland that I would discuss in every other part of the United Kingdom as well, and the sooner I can come here and discuss just that, the better it will be for Northern Ireland and the better it will be for everyone else.

But we have not quite reached that happy state yet and what I want to do this morning is to talk for a while about where we are on the road towards a durable peace. A great deal of attention, especially outside Northern Ireland, has been focused on a rather narrow definition of the peace process on the exploratory talks with Sinn Fein and with the Loyalist Paramilitaries. Of course they are important, but progress in Northern Ireland runs much wider and much more deeply than that, its seeds were sown long ago and people in all walks of life are contributing. You and your fellow businessmen are contributing. Those who have long worked for fair employment and against sectarianism are discrimination are contributing. The churches, the community workers, groups fighting courageously against intimidation and violence. And the police, not just in protecting the population with the army’s help, but extending crime prevention and community policing. And of course those democratic politicians who, throughout the troubles, have stood against violence and exclusively for constitutional methods.

That common determination to move forward is, I believe, the surest guarantee that Northern Ireland will have a better future. Our task, everyone’s task, is now to create a rolling tide for peace that no-one can withstand. I want to see the people of Northern Ireland confident in themselves, confident in their economy and confident that the political system can produce a lasting agreement. And I think the signs of progress are beginning to show. Unemployment here is now at its lowest point for 13 years. Employment, the number of people in jobs, is at an all time high. Tourism is growing dramatically, there will be 20 percent more visitors this year spending an extra 200 million pounds, and there are going to be new hotels to house them.

And since the Belfast Investment Conference there have already been 20 possible new investment projects. In the last week Seagate have announced a large expansion creating 300 jobs in Londonderry; Dairy Young [phoentic] is bringing 500 jobs to a new investment in Craigavon; and Mivan [phoentic] of Antrim have announced double profits. I hope we are going to hear further success stories at the Washington Investment Conference later on this month.

So I believe that your growth challenge, an important initiative is an initiative that is catching that rolling tide for peace that I referred to. It comes at a time when Northern Ireland exports are growing even faster than those of the United Kingdom as a whole, and the United Kingdom as a whole is leading the field in exports across the whole of the European Union.

Peace is boosting business confidence, just as growing prosperity itself reinforces peace. So I think the moment is right for business, in partnership with government, to accelerate growth. And we need to make sure that this peace I speak of extends right across the community, that it meets the challenges of a new situation. This morning I had the opportunity of discussing some of those challenges with church leaders, with trade union leaders, and with representatives of Families Against Intimidation and Terrorism. And later on this afternoon I will be seeing how the RUC are responding to the challenges that they face.

And one challenge of course is to deal with paramilitary criminality, with extortion rackets, with intimidation and with a vicious phenomenon of what are called punishment beatings. Since the ceasefire there has been an unwelcome increase in vicious paramilitary assaults, the mis-named punishment beatings. I met, as I said a moment ago, Families Against Intimidation and Terror this morning and they told me that they had counted 97 assaults since 1 September, at least one of which led to a young man’s death, a young man not yet 17 who killed himself as a result of what are euphemistically called punishment beatings.

They told me of other things as well. Another 16 year old boy whose legs were smashed on both sides with iron bars for 10 minutes while he lay on the ground with a paramilitary foot on his body, holding him in place while he was beaten. The family is forced out of Northern Ireland for speaking out against terrorism. And I met a mother who, like other grieving relatives here, cannot be at peace in her mind because the paramilitaries murdered her son 17 years ago and they have still not told here where that body lies so that she can give her son a decent Christian burial.

That is not politics. That is barbaric criminality. And everyone in the community should help the police and the courts to combat it, and no-one who aspires to democratic politics in any way should defend or in any way tolerate such unspeakable activities. I hope that the people of Northern Ireland, whenever they have any knowledge of any incident like that, any group that seeks to exclude someone from part of Northern Ireland, that takes upon itself punishment of some sort that they have no proper legal authority to take upon themselves, I hope anyone with any information of that sort will have the courage to take that information to the police so it can be properly dealt with, properly investigated, the perpetrators arrested, tried and if found guilty suitably punished properly in accordance with law.

It is a difficult job, policing in Northern Ireland. I have a great admiration for what the RUC have achieved. They are already responding to the challenge of civilian policing throughout all of the community. But it does need the help of the community, not wilful obstruction of the crime prevention campaigns or intimidation of new recruits, the whole community needs to be involved to help develop policing for a Northern Ireland at peace and to break down decades of suspicion and distrust.

Over the years the RUC has withstood the most intense assault and it has made many sacrifices in the cause of impartiality, courage and professionalism. As it is increasingly freed from the threat of terrorism, I believe it can serve the whole community as never before. The men and women of the RUC have seen Northern Ireland through the past 25 years, they have defended democracy, they have defended the rule of law, they deserve our support and they will get it and we will stand by them.

Let me mention also the trade union leaders whom I met this morning and who play an important part in your lives as businessmen. They too have played a remarkable role often where passions burn most strongly in bringing all sides together. They have helped rid shop floors of destructive sectarianism, they have shown that people in Northern Ireland can and do work together in the workplace to the benefit of everyone and Northern Ireland as a whole. And for doing so they deserve their share of the credit for Northern Ireland’s success.

Let me now for a few moments just turn to the political process. Paddy Mayhew and his colleagues will shortly begin a further round of talks with the parties. Those talks have one overriding objective – to move towards agreement on the widest possible basis on a stable and harmonious future for Northern Ireland. Such an agreement has always eluded us, it will not come quickly or easily now. But without question, we have a better chance of achieving it than we have ever had before.

In the two framework documents we identified the issues that need to be addressed. There has been a wide debate about those issues, different views have been expressed, sometimes with more passion than accuracy. Hard questions have been asked. We now want to have a constructive discussion with the political parties on the way forward, about the issues in the two documents and about their own ideas as well on a political settlement. And encouragingly some meetings have already taken place between the political parties themselves.

Mr Vice-Chairman, I am in doubt that with your support and with the support of the overwhelming majority in Northern Ireland which seeks a stable and just future, there is a basis for a lasting settlement, a settlement which the parties can honourably agree and the people will be prepared to support in a referendum. This is a process with a single track. Sinn Fein, through their own actions, have left themselves further back than others, but they can advance down that track and we wish to see them do so. We want all parties in Northern Ireland to be full participants in a democratic, political and exclusively peaceful process.

And that is one of the main purposes of the exploratory dialogue with the Loyalists and Sinn Fein. When Michael Ancram joins the dialogue with Sinn Fein next week it will be an historic moment. It will also be an historic opportunity because we want to explore how Sinn Fein and the Provisionals can best demonstrate their exclusive commitment to peaceful methods by putting away violence and by putting away the instruments of violence. They know what is required of them. We and the Irish government spelt this out in the Downing Street declaration and have done so on many subsequent occasions. There will be no tricks and no traps, just the opportunity offered by the Downing Street declaration to Sinn Fein to join in the political process on the same basis as other parties with a democratic mandate, the basis of exclusively peaceful methods and a commitment to abide by the democratic process, the basis of a level playing field on which no-one threatens violence or intimidation.

When we began many people did not see the Downing Street declaration a a realistic basis for a ceasefire. They were wrong. Some now argue that it is not realistic to expect the paramilitaries to dispense with their arsenals. They too are wrong. It is neither realistic, nor acceptable, as we come to the end of the 20th century, for parties in our democracy to front private armies. And this is why I have said, and the Taoiseach has said, and President Clinton has said the decommissioning of arms is so important. And that is why we and the Irish government have worked on a joint plan for decommissioning.

I can put it no better than the recent Irish Times editorial which said, and I quote: “Sinn Fein can be under no illusion that the question of IRA arms must be resolved before it can be an equal partner in political talks”. That is the end of the quote. To sit at the same table, Sinn Fein must gain the confidence of the other parties, by making a commitment to progressive disarmament and by beginning a verifiable process of decommissioning.

Over the months the government and the security forces have responded in innumerable and imaginative ways to the new opportunities of the ceasefire. The people of Northern Ireland have responded themselves to those opportunities. It is now time for the paramilitary organisations and their political representatives to pay heed to what the people of Northern Ireland are seeking and are saying and to respond to that.

I have no doubt that it is realistic to expect them to take these essential steps and we shall help them to do so in every way that we can. I spoke earlier of confidence. In the Downing Street declaration we offered a fair deal for everyone who embraced peace, and you can be confident, and they can be confident, that we shall stand by that pledge.

You yourselves are helping-to generate confidence through your growth initiative. Every week, every month, has helped to build more confidence in that rolling peace process. The tide is carrying Northern Ireland away from violence and towards an enduring peace. With growing and visible economic success, an unshakeable political resolution, a much better future for Northern Ireland is at hand.

There is a new atmosphere out there in Northern Ireland, a willingness to think afresh. People here, people I have spoken to today, people who have suffered terribly from violence over the years, they want to take down barriers and make peace irreversible, to make the price for going back to violence unbearable for those people who might seek to go back to violence.

After 8 months of ceasefire people can see no cause, no reason and no sense in the illegal arsenals which still impede progress. Neither can I. An opportunity to remove them, an opportunity to come fully into the democratic process is there, it is there for everyone with courage and vision to take that opportunity.

I believe that the time has come to put those weapons aside forever and to invest only in peace. That is the chance that is at hand, that is the chance that I hope everyone will take.

We for our part will do our best to bring those talks satisfactorily and honourably to a conclusion that will lead to a permanent peace in Northern Ireland. The opportunity is there. If we have to be patient, we will be patient. If we have to be bold, we will be bold. But we see that chance of peace and we don’t wish to see it lost. My hope is that everybody will see that peace and that chance in precisely the same way and we may be able to carry it through to fruition.

I come back frequently to Northern Ireland. Every time I return I am refreshed in my view of the opportunities that exist here. I know in listening to what you have to say in a few minutes I shall find that view reaffirmed yet again and I am delighted to have had the opportunity to express it this morning.

John Major – 1995 Speech at the Britain in the World Conference


Below is the text of John Major’s speech at the “Britain in the World” conference, held in London on Wednesday 29th March 1995.

Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning. When I heard Jim was here chairing the conference I tore up my speech and prepared 32 interruptions.

The motto to this conference today perhaps is best epitomised by a leading British Ambassador, now retired, who kept what became a very famous plaque in the middle of his desk, and in capital letters it bore a single word upon it: “THINK” – not I think a bad motto. And these days when Ministers and officials, pre-occupied perhaps obsessively sometimes with the immediate issues of the day, find themselves constantly under pressure to react, and react immediately, perhaps thinking long-term thinking may be thought to be an optional extra, but in truth it is not, it is essential.

And thinking of course, thinking widely, perhaps quite outside the normal drift of thinking, is precisely what today’s conference is about. In its 75 distinguished years Chatham House has done a very great deal of useful thinking about foreign policy and in doing so it has provoked a great deal of thought amongst others, and I warmly congratulate it for that.

I congratulate also both Chatham House and Douglas Hurd in bringing together on this occasion industrialists, bankers, politicians, public servants, academics, journalists, non-governmental experts and specialists in a range of different fields. Britain’s place in the world, in a different way perhaps, is of concern to all of us present today and everyone else in the country.

And I am delighted also that later on today the conference will hear of how the United Kingdom looks from the outside from two very eminent speakers, Dr Kissinger and Dr Joffe, and I am delighted to see them both here today.

Mr Chairman, this conference might equally have been entitled Britain in the Wider World, because over recent years the domestic debate in Britain has perhaps too often focused, and too narrowly focused, simply upon the internal workings of the European Union. And of course they are vitally important to our interests in this country, but so too are the United Kingdom’s interests and responsibilities in the other four continents and the oceans between, to which the other half, and at the moment a growing half, of our international trade goes.

So I think it is right to widen the focus today, to ask whether this medium size country of ours of 55 million people really needs a global foreign policy, and if so, how we should operate it over the next quarter of a century or so. And I think the timing is right to look at that as well because there is a sense in which one historical period has ended and another is just beginning. It is surprisingly 70 years ago since Winston Churchill said: “What a terrible century the 20th Century has been”. Well a terrible 20th Century, savagely deformed by totalitarianism, by fascism, by World War and by Cold War, but marked also by astonishing technological progress, and yet it has ended sooner and more suddenly than anyone could have foreseen. And it is not merely, I believe, that the world is changing faster than ever before, it is at least as much that the rate of that change is accelerating. Events happen on a speed and on a scale which risks running beyond the control of governments and of international institutions.

Let me give you but one graphic example in the 24 hour global money market. Ten years ago daily currency flows were of the order of 300 billion dollars. Now, thanks to computerisation and space-age communications, 1 trillion dollars can cross the exchanges in a single day. So 10 years ago central bank intervention could be decisive. I suspect that can no longer be the case and a different approach is needed.

And change of a different sort has affected international politics and security. Today’s world is less predictable and perhaps more volatile than at any time in the past half century. The old known threats to stability, huge though they were say during the Korean war, the Berlin Blockage and the Cuban Missile crisis, they have changed, they have been changed, supplanted by new, often unknown and diverse risks. For example, international terrorism, some of it state-sponsored, must be high on the agenda of all responsible governments and so is the need to deny the most destructive modern technology to extremist regimes.

I would like this morning to divide my remarks really into two parts. And first, as a backdrop to your discussions today, I would like to describe in outline the British government’s broad approach to the world. And then I would like to pose some questions to you, questions about how we should respond to the challenges and the opportunities that lie ahead.

I suspect, looking at this audience, that I scarcely need to remind them of Dean Acheson’s famous dictum in the ’60s, that Britain had lost an empire and not found a role. It hurt, it hurt at the time because Dean Acheson was uncomfortably close to the truth when he said it, and that is why we hated him for saying it.

But that was 33 years ago. Britain has found her role in Europe and around the world and has developed it more successfully than many people in this country appreciate. We have operated in that time as a leading member of NATO and the European Union, a Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council, part of the Group of Seven Economic Summit countries, and of course as a founder member of the Commonwealth. The UK now has troops deployed or stationed in over 40 countries around the world in a wider variety of roles than ever before. The end of the Cold War may have led us to reduce the size of our Armed Forces, but not their quality which we believe remains the equal of any in the world, and nor their importance to this country for which the Armed Forces remain an outstanding national asset.

We have begun I think more than ever before to realise the power of our language and of our culture. We have built up a remarkable portfolio of investments overseas. Per head the United Kingdom’s direct investment is higher than that of the United States, of Japan, of France or of Germany. Our global investments are said to be worth around 300 billion dollars and only Japan and the United States can exceed that sum. And that very naturally gives this country a very lively interest in what happens practically anywhere across the globe.

I will not attempt this morning a full inventory of our national interests, but let me try and define some of the main characteristics of the United Kingdom in the world.

First, this is a nation state, a nation state in what I firmly believe will continue to be a world of nation states for the foreseeable future. We are attached to our independence, to our sovereignty and also to our national peculiarities. But there are numerous interests that we necessarily share with others. We work particularly closely with our partners in the European Union which remains essential to our prosperity and to our security. The world may no longer be divided into rigid blocks, and nations must act more closely together than ever before to deal with the global, economic and security problems that we all must face.

And second, it follows inevitably from what I have just said that we have at the moment a global foreign policy. Prescriptions for areas of concentration and inner and outer circles were floated in the 1960s and they were done then on a pessimistic analysis of the future outlook for Britain. We did not follow them at that time and I think the politicians of the day were right not to follow them for events have shown that that is the case.

Thirdly, no less than in past centuries, the United Kingdom remains a trading nation, but in a world where invisibles are now as important as visible trade, and one quarter of our GDP comes from external trade. Export success, investment success, have both helped our current account to go down dramatically last year from nearly 12 billion to more or less zero and we now have a current account surplus with Japan, a point perhaps not generally recognised in every part of the country.

Promoting trade is an important part of our activities, an important part of my own business abroad whenever I travel. The Indo-British Partnership which I launched in India has helped the surge in trade. Visits to other parts of the world that I have made and that other senior Ministers have made have so often taken with them large parties of British businessmen interested in trading with the countries abroad, investing in countries abroad and attracting investment from those countries into the United Kingdom.

Those of you who are here today who are businessmen will have noticed, I believe should have noticed, a cultural change in British diplomacy abroad. Carlton Brown has left the Foreign Office and the Foreign Office now devotes far more of its overseas resources to commercial work than to any other front-line activity, and rightly so. And that has made a significant difference to the way in which British commercial interests can be represented overseas.

And fourthly, the United Kingdom remains one of the world’s leading free market democracies. We actively promote democratic values and liberal economics in our foreign policy, not simply to proselytise but because in our view they are the best guarantors of peace and of stability.

And fifth, we have stopped taking for granted the English language, British science, education, training and broadcasting, we realise precisely what assets they are and what can be done with them both at home and abroad. Through immense good fortune the United Kingdom originated the world’s most valuable piece of intellectual property – its main international and business language – and we are now marketing it more aggressively than ever before.

Let me add one more characteristic. The United Kingdom is a conservative country, with a small ‘c’. We have enjoyed enviable stability over centuries and we cherish our institutions – Monarchy, parliamentary government, a rigidly impartial Civil Service, professional Armed Forces, an independent judiciary and churches operating within religious tolerance. It has become fashionable in some circles, some cynical quarters, to snipe at those institutions. I believe that is a destructive tendency, but it will pass because those institutions remain the bedrock of this nation and the bedrock of Britain’s place in the world and they will outlast superficial criticism.

But the essential conservatism of the British, and I am not making a party political point here, it spans the political divide, should not be mis-read in any sense. We are rightly averse to revolutions but we are not afraid of change or of risk. And indeed I would go further. I think that our willingness to take intelligent risks, to act sometimes quickly and independently and to give a political lead, underpins Britain’s standing in the world. It explains why, despite nature’s inevitable limits on our size and resources, the UK is one of the five Permanent Members of the Security Council and has the world’s sixth largest economy. It is not a quality that we should permit to be submerged, it brings value not only to this country but to the international community as a whole. And let me perhaps put some flesh on that assertion, some illustrations from current policy.

One revolution we did back, and backed sometime before it became fashionable to do so, was Gorbachev’s revolution in Russia. We did not hesitate to support the reformers when they came under attack, both under Gorbachev and under Yeltsin, and we have no intention of changing direction now. It may take a generation, perhaps longer, before Russia has a full range of effective democratic institutions, more time still before its people enjoy the standard of living we take for granted here, but we shall continue to take the long view for I believe that is the wise view to take with the changes taking place in Russia.

There will inevitably be set-backs. Chechnya I believe is one such example. The Russians there faced an unenviable problem. But the response of Russian military commanders was wrong and it was brutal, as many Russians to their credit will acknowledge. The fighting there must be brought to an end, international conventions and norms of behaviour must be respected. We should not pull our punches at all over Chechnya, but that huge error does not toll the knell of economic and political reform in Russia, it remains in our interest in this country and in the West to encourage reform in Russia and to develop further cooperation in foreign policy. And that is why I stand by my decision to recognise our common sacrifice in the World War II by going to Moscow in May, as I promised President Yeltsin last September. And it is also why I continue to support Russian participation in the Halifax Summit later this year.

We have taken a similarly long-term view of China. No longer these days is China a sleeping giant. We have welcomed China’s advance on the world scene, we would like to bring China into economic partnership and political dialogue. But at the same time we have not minced our words about human rights and their abuse in China. We are fulfilling our vital responsibilities to Hong Kong. That approach has not been free of risk but I believe it has earned respect and we will continue with it.


When Yugoslavia erupted, the United Kingdom didn’t hang back. we sent in an emergency aid programme which remains the lynchpin of the international humanitarian effort. We convened the international conference in London against I may say a very unpromising background indeed and got a diplomatic process moving. The UK was amongst the first to deploy troops to UNPROFOR in Bosnia and our large contingent has performed outstandingly there. I am in no doubt whatever that the suffering in Bosnia would have been far worse without the steps that we took and that the war would almost certainly have spread perhaps southwards, perhaps wider to a full-scale Balkan conflict.

That Bosnian problem is still with us and may I fear be with us for some years to come. In the past few days, fighting flared up again in Tusla, in Kravnik, even though the cease-fire has yet another month to run and if there is all-out war in Bosnia, UNPROFOR’s position could become untenable but sooner or later the Bosnian parties will need to find a negotiated outcome and there will be no clear-cut military solution and the sooner that is recognised the better. But however hard the task, it is in Britain’s interest, working with Europe and the Contact Group, to edge the parties towards a settlement.

Two weeks ago, I visited Israel, Palestine and Jordan. It is an area fraught with political risk but the United Kingdom has huge interests and a longstanding affection for the Middle East. I was the first G7 Head of Government to visit Chairman Arafat in Gaza and I went because we have an interest in supporting the peace process. Yasser Arafat asked me on that occasion if the European Union would coordinate international monitoring of the Palestinian elections and the Israeli government, when I spoke to them, supported this request. I hope that the European Union will now agree to take on that task and thereby to engage more directly than ever before in the attempt to build peace in the Middle East.

We have had to take risks over Iraq. We took losses in the Gulf War and broke new ground promoting safe havens for the Kurds. When Saddam threatened Kuwait again last year, we responded very rapidly and in force. Now, Saddam Hussein is trying to blackmail the Security Council by causing his people to suffer. The world must not give in to such tactics, Saddam must comply with the United Nations obligations and must never again be permitted to threaten Iraq’s neighbours but we must also help the Iraqi people, themselves innocent, who are as much his victims as anyone else and we must do that by standing robustly against Saddam’s wanton abuse of human rights and declining any compromise or accommodation with him whatever his blandishments and of course by trying to get aid through to those who are today suffering. Britain is therefore launching a new proposal in the Security Council to allow Iraq to sell oil and thereby import food and medicines. We wish to see an end to malnutrition and deaths from curable diseases. Saddam must show whether he has any concern for his people and I hope he will take up the offer that now lies before him.

Neither, Chairman, has our commitment to the Kurds of northern Iraq diminished. I understand Turkish concerns about PKK terrorism but Turkey itself should remain within the rule of law. We look to Turkey to withdraw its forces as soon as possible and to avoid harm to non-combatants and to relief efforts.

South Africa, like Russia, is at the beginning of a long-term transition without a guaranteed outcome. It would have been wrong for the United Kingdom to hold back and wait and see what happened so we are doing all that we can to help this remarkable transition we see daily in South Africa move towards success. I believe the United Kingdom can be a tremendous power for good in South Africa provided we don’t shy away from taking risks and there could be no better demonstration of this than last week’s outstandingly successful state visit by the Queen in which the Foreign Secretary took part.

Finally perhaps Ireland. For the past four years, we have worked more closely than ever before in our history with the Republic of Ireland and we have done so to promote peace in Northern Ireland. In doing this, the British and Irish Governments had to overcome historic tensions and entrenched positions. It hasn’t been an easy process for either of us and many more difficulties remain to be surmounted but a lasting settlement will only come about if all concerned are prepared to risk a new approach.

That, Mr. Chairman, is the sort of country I believe us to be and that I wish us to remain, perhaps a little less cautious and a lot more hard-headed than many people may believe.

Now let me take the opportunity of speaking first at this Conference by throwing some of the difficult questions at you that governments will have to grapple with within the next quarter of a century and we perhaps may benefit from your advice today.

How should the United Kingdom respond to future challenges and opportunities? If the last quarter of a century is anything to go by, the world in 2020 will be a very different place from the one we meet in today. By then, the Asian tigers, once aid recipients bearing a Third World label, should be prosperous players in the economic first division. How is that going to change the balance of political power around the world?

Will China realise her huge potential and if so, to what effect? Will Latin America have consolidated democracy and taken off economically? Will South Africa have helped to generate an upturn not just in her own country but perhaps in all Africa south of the Sahara? What will be the consequences of the serious and mounting instability in North Africa? And in Europe we will, I hope, have embedded the new democracies of central and eastern Europe within an enlarged European Union but will we also have developed a close and harmonious relationship with the large states further to the east, with Russia and with Ukraine? How can we be sure of avoiding, as we must, a new dividing line down the centre of our European continent? Another question of some importance: to what extent will the United States still be engaged as an active partner in European security?

Technology has made a huge change to the way in which the world operates. Instant television reporting can move public opinion in an instant, easy air travel brings people together more frequently at all levels, telecommunications and computerisation have revolutionised the work of overseas outposts, heads of government these days can pick up the telephone and speak to forty or fifty other heads of government whom they personally know and have met in a way that their predecessors could never have imagined and how will the march of technology affect us over the next generation?

This is by no means an inclusive list but these are some of the variables in long-term thinking that are necessary for the present generation of politicians and businessmen and diplomatists to consider. Of course, we are often overwhelmed by short-term problems but how refreshing it will be to see some of these longer-term problems examined, considered and debated so that the public mood may be taken and the public wisdom gauged.

What policies should we now be shaping to equip the United Kingdom for change to take advantage of the new opportunities, to be ahead of the curve as events move on and what is going to happen to the institutions of which we are a part?

Let me here identify some of the key issues, turning first to the United Nations. The United Kingdom has supported the United Nations from its birth and played a leading role in it. Recently, we have been a leader of continuing efforts to reform the United Nations and make it more cost-effective and arguably – some would say unarguably – the need for a powerful, compelling United Nations has never been greater. The world is certainly replete with both man-made and with natural disasters and yet as we say that we see something else at the same time: the United Nations is in a profound financial crisis which is set to deepen; despite American arrears of $1.5 billion, the Congress has voted to reduce the United States contribution. Does the financial crisis present an opportunity for us to press for really effective reforms in the United Nations and if so, in what direction?

Second, that crucial transatlantic relationship. Britain has a vast range of shared interests with the United States which I shall be discussing next week with President Clinton. We have traditionally favoured both a strong Europe and a strong relationship with North America. How can we help promote ties between the two heartlands of democracy now that we are no longer bonded together by shared fears over the Cold War? We have seen the first stirrings of a debate in Britain and in Europe about a new transatlantic community, it is a worthy aspiration but how should it be developed?

Third, the United Kingdom and Germany have led the drive to extend western Europe’s security and prosperity to the east, to bring the countries of central Europe into the European Union and by forming closer ties with Russia and with Ukraine and this will require a huge political and economic effort over many years; it will require us to take the domestic strain of opening the markets of western Europe and of investing more in the east. Is this an attainable goal? Is western Europe simply strong enough to undertake that job?

Fourthly, is our diplomacy adapting fast enough to new international problems?

Some of the most acute threats to our interests and to our way of life are not posed by dictators, not posed by traditional conflicts but by terrorism and by crime, by the narcotics trade, by extremism in the name of religion, by diminishing natural resources and by environmental pollution. Do these problems receive a high enough priority? What new approaches to these problems should we now be developing?

Fifth, how do we play our proper part in tackling world poverty? Official development aid can point to some successes, for example in South Asia, but it is trade, investment, education and entrepreneurship which have fuelled the more spectacular development of South East Asia. Hundreds of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa have seen little improvement in their living standard despite huge flows of official aid over many years. How can we promote investment and entrepreneurship there? Is there still a rationale for official aid, tackling emergencies, promoting reform and spreading know-how? We have in the United Kingdom a tightly-administered aid agency in the ODA, it delivers both value for money and I believe credit to this country but increasingly the British bilateral aid budget is being swallowed up by our contributions to the multilateral programmes of the European Union so looking into the next century, what kind of aid programme should we maintain?

Without pre-empting the many questions already on the agenda, let me just raise one final point. I am a firm believer in the Commonwealth. It is more of a family than an institution and it brings us together with nearly one-third of the world’s nations. Sometimes we make good use of its assets as in the Trinidad Terms initiative or the Harare initiative on good government but if we don’t keep using it, then I believe we will lose it. The Commonwealth needs a focus, it needs a raison d’etre; what should it be as we look at the years ahead?

Mr. Chairman, as the opening speaker, I have had a luxury perhaps denied to others, a luxury of raising questions and inviting you to debate and perhaps supply some of the answers but I hope in some way I may have done a little more than that. I believe that this Conference is about building on success. The United Kingdom, as an island with a trading and a seafaring tradition, has always looked outwards. I am sure that we should continue to look outwards. We cannot afford a “Little Englander” mentality and frankly, I see little danger of that but I do think we will have to work even harder in the future to maintain the United Kingdom’s influence and a healthy competitive position.

I hope that the outcome of today’s Conference will help to guide our way in the years ahead, I hope it will inject fresh thinking into our external strategy, I hope it will assess our strengths and our assets critically but fairly and suggest how they can be best applied to the greatest benefit. If this gathering of nearly 700 people with such wide experience at home and abroad can do that, as I believe it can, then Chatham House in the Institute’s 75th year will have made yet another invaluable contribution to national policy and for that we may all be grateful.