Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1978 Feb 12 Su
Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Young Conservative Conference

Document type: speeches
Document kind: Speech
Venue: Harrogate
Source: (1) Thatcher Archive: CCOPR 194/78 (2) The Times, 13 February 1978
Journalist: (2) Fred Emery, The Times, reporting
Editorial comments: Embargoed until 1130 and marked "Please check against delivery". The Times report shows that MT introduced new material into the immigration section of the speech, reading out Willie Whitelaw’s words at the 1976 Party Conference. MT also answered questions from the floor. The Scotsman has additional material. Asked to pledge that Enoch Powell would never be brought back into the party leadership MT replied: "Mr Powell is not even a member of the Party. He is an Ulster Unionist and we have no Conservative Party in Ulster. I really am not likely to have as a member of the Shadow Cabinet a person who is not even a member of the Party". Sections of the text have been checked against IRN Report 12 February 1978.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3230
Themes: Judiciary, Civil liberties, Conservatism, Conservative Party (organization), Pay, Labour Party & socialism, Law & order, Race, immigration, nationality
Thatcher Archive: CCOPR 194/78.

Disraeli reminded us that in a progressive country change is constant. What I find so refreshing about today's political debate is how it has swung away from the smug assumption that change is bound to be towards the Socialist, corporatist, collectivist way of doing things.

The Socialists are out of touch to think that “progress” means taking banks and insurance companies, the construction industry, transport operators, and firms up and down the country, out of private and into state hands; as Labour's Programme for Britain proposes.

—that “progress” means giving Trade Union leaders still more power over the lives of working men and women.

—that it is “progress” for the State to interfere still further in our daily lives, telling us how to work, how to live and how to spend our money.

These smug assumptions of the 1960s are simply not relevant to the needs of the 1980s. After ten of the last fourteen years under a Labour Government the country is crying out to be spared further radical Socialist reforms. The Socialists are out of date and out of touch, and are rapidly running out of time.

Smokescreen Socialism

Of course, that is not the way Labour will be presenting things to the electorate. We must beware of Smokescreen Socialism, of the cloud of excuses, explanations [end p1] and justifications, which billow from Labour spokesmen whether they are sitting on the Government Front Bench—or sitting on their hands in the voting lobbies trying to stop Parliament reaching awkward votes.

It is the smokescreen experts in the Government who want to cover up the truly appalling unemployment prospect. Even if Mr Healey 's job forecasts were right—and when was a Healey forecast ever right?—we would still have more than a million unemployed in 1980.

It is the Labour smokescreen manufacturers who want to cover up their failed industrial strategy with its stagnant output and productivity—both among the worst in the industrial world.

It is the smokescreen crowd who cry ‘union bashing’ whenever an intelligent critique of the future role of trade unions is set out; or when attention is drawn to practices such as violent picketing or victimisation which most trade unionists abhor. Beginning of first section checked against IRN Report 12 February 1978

And it's the smokescreen people who come out in force shouting “racist” when we bring the immigration problem into the open and we try, despite the efforts of the rabble-rousers, to discuss in a reasonable way the genuine fears and concerns of many of our citizens.

Let us tell those shouters, we're not going to have our deep and passionate commitment to racial equality smothered by the orchestrated clamour of the Labour Left. End of first section checked against IRN Report 12 February 1978.

Their clamour cannot conceal what I have repeatedly said. Under our Conservative philosophy, all men are equal under the Law; whatever their colour, whatever their religion. And all are equally important; and they must have the opportunity to fulfil their own destinies, free to live their own lives.

But the shouts of the left cannot drown the voices of anxiety. We have to remove uncertainty where we can. [Beginning of second section checked against IRN Report 12 February 1978] Racial harmony in Great Britain will benefit most if some of the doubts about the future are removed: doubts on numbers and doubts on commitments.

I believe we shall only succeed in maintaining and securing our traditional tolerance and fairness in this country if we cut the number of immigrants coming in now. [End of second section checked against IRN Report 12 February 1978.] For the future, I have repeated the pledges given by Mr Whitelaw at our 1976 Party Conference, which are well known. [end p2]

Now that the subject is being discussed, loopholes will be closed, and numbers will begin to fall.

But we also have to remove doubts about our commitments. [Beginning of third section checked against IRN report 12 February 1978] The Conservative Party, which has done so much for our immigrant community, will honour in full our legal commitments to United Kingdom passport holders in East Africa and to the immediate dependants of all those who were settled here as of right before 1973. We will honour those commitments. (Applause.)

Those smokescreen makers have tried to distract attention from the real world: the world where our city centres decay, homelessness increases and jobs are hard to find.

Oh, we shall have much to put right at the end of socialist days, but we shall do it and we shall set about it with a will. (Applause.)

Now it's also these same smokescreen politicians who want us to forget the frequent occasions when this Labour Government oversteps its powers and has to be restraint by the courts. You'll remember Skytrain and Freddie Laker, TV licences, Tameside.

And now it's they who are trying to blacklist and blackmail firms and their work-forces into submitting to their so-called voluntary pay policy. Their action is arbitrary and unjust. (Hear, hear; applause.) [End of third section checked against IRN Report 12 February 1978.]

And it is they who, only this week, have been accused by a Select Committee of the House of Commons of showing a “cynical disregard for the rights of the subject” .

Above all, it is the main Labour aim to draw a gigantic smokescreen across the Labour Party's real policies and real intentions for the future, to keep from the people Labour's plans, already worked out in detail, to build the collectivist state and to bury free enterprise.

Yet it is not a socialist or a collectivist society towards which today's younger generation look. They do not wish to be dragooned.

On the contrary, they seek a world in which people and families can act more for themselves, own their own homes, spend or save more of their earnings as they choose, run their own business without harassment, select their own ways of helping themselves and their neighbours.

They want a world in which the state looms less large, in which power, property and authority are well dispersed, not concentrated in state and party political hands. [end p3] Beginning of fourth section checked against IRN Report 12 February 1978

And, of course, there is one vital area in which people are looking with increasing anxiety to Government to give a lead. They expect Government to provide a firm framework of justice, law and public order in which physical security can be assured, property respected, and free choice exercised.

Yet the irony is, Mr. Chairman, that while we've got a state that's only too ready to interfere with every economic detail of our lives—that is, setting prices, fixing wages, sometimes, as we've seen this week, without bothering to check whether their methods of interference are lawful—it is failing to fulfil one of the most basic functions of government, that is, to protect people from criminal violence and to see the law upheld. (Hear, hear; applause.) End of fourth section checked against IRN Report 12 February 1978.

On the contrary, the country is now in the grip of the steepest rate of increase in crime this century. The police are understaffed and overloaded. London has a police force scarcely bigger than twenty years ago. Yet detected crime has quadrupled in the last twenty years.

Experienced police officers are leaving the force at a worrying rate. Yet the Merlyn ReesHome Secretary tells Parliament that “we are doing very well” !

Meanwhile the prisons are full to bursting; vandalism is growing; in some areas people are afraid to answer their doors at night.

Nor should we be surprised that respect for the law is dissolving. When the philosophy prevails that the state is responsible for just about everything, the way is open for a society in which the individual feels responsible for nothing.

The “State” view dominates—a dubious and uncertain quantity, as we have seen—a standard which varies from time to time depending on what suits the politician best, or on whom they regard as their friends and who their enemies.

A Government which is going to protect people and property must be committed to law and lawful behaviour from its very roots.

But Labour Ministers have put politics before the law. They have attacked the judiciary. They confronted the police on the Grunwick picket line. Whilst the insidious gospel is put about that defiance of the law for political ends is no crime.

And all this is done in the name of “Socialist Progress” . [end p4]

One thing is clear. We must never again allow power to become so dangerously centralised and politicised in our society as it is now.

That is why as Conservatives we stand for a strong Parliament as a proper check on the Executive. We stand for a strong and independent judiciary. The day that the judicial system comes under party political control, as some of the Left would like, that is the end of the free society.

That is why we stand for personal and independent ownership against state ownership. It is a bad omen when we see the share of wealth held by the people falling as the share held by the state rises. This is what the most recent figures show.

Ownership which is widely dispersed is the best bulwark of all against coercive power. Our forefathers knew this and Conservative policies in modern times have long recognised it.

Through measures to encourage home ownership and more personal saving, Conservative Governments have helped to spread wealth on a wide scale to people who like most of us started with nothing. We want to make a property-owning democracy a reality.

The policies we have been setting out in recent months reinforce our commitment in these crucial areas.

There are our policies for tax reform and tax reduction, especially the reduction of tax on earnings and savings.

There are our policies to further the sale of council houses to tenants.

There are our policies to encourage savings out of earnings, so that everyone can build up a bit of capital of his own and enjoy the independence it brings.

There are our policies to promote small businesses, and still more businesses; for they are the hope and source of tomorrow's jobs and careers.

There are our policies to reduce time-wasting bureaucracy and form-filling.

There are our policies for agriculture which will ensure that independent-minded farmers and their families stay in business.

There is our determination to preserve a free press against the spread of a closed shop. [end p5]

There is our instinctive belief in the importance of free and responsible collective bargaining—vital if the decisions on who shall be paid how much are not to be taken by the politicians and their advisers with their pocket calculators.

—vital if the main purpose of Trades Unions is not to be extinguished.

We are the party of freedom. But we are also the party of order. Our police must be strengthened and our magistrates given back adequate powers to deal effectively with young offenders.

We are realists and we know full well the strength of the forces against us in a complex modern society—the people who will always have a reason for state intervention, for fixing this man's wage, for regulating that firm's price, for laying down who should be employed and how and where.

But we are also idealists, and I know that with the people behind us we can overcome these pressures and head towards a world which is both freer and safer for young people, their children and their children's children.

Socialism in Britain is not the wave of the future. It is the flotsam of the past.

The long night of collectivism must soon come to an end. The time has arrived to move on to a new common ground: where people matter, where effort pays, where responsibility is freely exercised, and the power of the state firmly contained.

For you who own tomorrow, that is the choice today. [end p6]

(2) The Times, 13 February 1978

Conservative pledge to keep faith with immigrants

Mrs Thatcher, in what was seen as an attempt to clarify her policy on immigration and allay fears that arose after her recent television interview, said at the Young Conservatives' conference yesterday that a Conservative government would honour in full “our legal commitments” to immigrants. Racial harmony would benefit most if some of the doubts about numbers and commitments were removed. She restated the policy, outlined in 1976 by Mr Whitelaw of “working towards the end of immigration as we have seen it” .

Mrs Thatcher clarifies policy

Mrs Thatcher, Leader of the Opposition, yesterday sought to clarify her policy towards ending immigration in an attempt to calm fears she had aroused in and outside the Conservative Party with some emotive remarks on television.

Addressing the Young Conservatives' conference at Harrogate, she no longer promised a “clear end to immigration” but spoke of “working towards” that end. She also spoke of having to “cut the number of immigrants coming in now” , without specifying how.

Instead of worrying about being “swamped” , she admitted that numbers would begin to fall, as a result, she maintained, of the issue's being openly discussed.

For the first time since the furore erupted, she stated clearly, although reluctantly, that a future Conservative government would “have to face” the fact that legality could not be taken away from former illegal immigrants who had been amnestied and granted permanent settlement.

Denying settlement rights to the dependants of such people had been one proposal under consideration by her.

The Young Conservatives, like the party itself, had been divided over her approach on television. After hearing her yesterday, they gave her an enthusiastic reception.

Many Young Conservatives, particularly students, are proud of the efforts they have been making in community relations, and before her arrival had been expressing dismay over the language she had used.

A delegate from Prestwich, Lancashire, frankly asked her, in the public question and answer session after she spoke, why she did not “court” the immigrant rather than the National Front votes. There were more of the former, he said.

Mrs Thatcher answered stiffly that her policies were for all the people, regardless of background.

But there were probably many more delegates on Mrs Thatcher's side, delighted that she had brought the issue out into the open and at last “voicing the worries of ordinary people” . It was impossible to tell the extent of the division because the emergency motion on the subject that was carried had been virtually impossible to oppose.

It was a “congratulations, but” motion, the mover said, applauding Mrs Thatcher's openners but reminding her of the need to repeat commitments and to promote racial harmony.

In her speech Mrs Thatcher duly obliged, at the same time giving the Government a blistering indictment for its pay enforcement policies, calling them “arbitrary and unjust” , blackmailing, blacklisting and bullying. It was a trailer for tomorrow's Commons debate.

Mrs Thatcher's theme was to attack Labour's concealment of its true intentions: “smokescreen socialism” , she called it. “Let us tell those shouters we are not going to have our deep and passionate commitment to racial equality smothered by the orchestrated clamour of the Labour Left,” she said.

So she now put first, ahead of immigration control, the pledge that all men were equal. But she insisted that racial harmony in Britain required the removal of doubts about the future. She went on: “I believe that we shall succeed in maintaining and securing our traditional tolerance and fairness in this country only if we cut the number of immigrants coming in now” .

She then read out with only non-essential modification the full quotation of commitments given to the Conservative conference in 1976 by Mr William Whitelaw, the deputy leader. Had she remembered it two weeks ago it might have saved her a lot of bother.

“I do not believe we have any hope of promoting the sort of society which we want unless we are to follow a policy which is clearly designed to work towards an end of immigration as we have seen it in this country in the postwar years. I believe there can be honestly no question other than facing this harsh and realistic fact.

“That is why we have to speak out loudly and clearly. We have to work towards the ending of immigration in this country and we have to have the policies designed to do so.”

Of what those policies might be, and whether they could affect the numbers any more than could the Government's present policy, there was no word. Instead Mrs Thatcher promised to “honour in full our legal commitments to United Kingdom passport-holders in East Africa and to the immediate dependants of all those who settle here as of right before 1973” .

To the question, put later, of what she proposed doing about the amnesty of illegal immigrants, Mrs Thatcher acquiesced in their settlement rights with clear regret. Conservatives had been “very critical” of the 1974 and 1977 amnesties, she said. They did not help to uphold the law and they were not fair to those waiting in the queue.

However, “the fact is that once a person has been ‘legalized’ for permanent settlement, you cannot then take away a legality that has been given, and we have to face that” , she said.

Mrs Thatcher had faced pressure from some of her colleagues in the Shadow Cabinet to get matters right here. Lord Thorneycroft, the party chairman, returned to invigorating form after his operation, set the tone on Saturday. He pronounced that Mrs Thatcher had been right to speak out but then turned the screw on his own party.

Good race relations meant, he said. bringing coloured people in far greater numbers into Young Conservative branches, Conservative clubs and into every Conservative association in the country.

The conference of some 900 applauded, even though there were only two “non-white’ Britons among them.

Another striking warning that the party would “never be able to represent the nation until we can see the problems in an even-handed way” , was put yesterday in an unscripted peroration by Mr James Prior, opposition spokesman on employment. He had attended the conference preliminaries on Friday evening and had heard the many voices of disquiet. [end p7]

Departing from his subject, Mr Prior, noting “delicate issues” raised by Mr Christopher Gent, the Young Conservatives' national chairman, said they required policies that must unite, not divide. Mr Gent had roundly denounced attempts to win back Mr Enoch Powell and had insisted on an unequivocal commitment to multiracialism.

Mrs Thatcher, when asked to undertake never to have Mr Powell in the Shadow Cabinet, as good as agreed. She was not likely, she said, to include someone who was not even a member of the party.

But it would be seriously misleading to depict either Mrs Thatcher of the conference as being absorbed by immigration issues. They were of course transfixed by the prospect of the next election. The conference held nine short, sharp debates across the range of policy. It was mostly earnest stuff, not unlike the Young Liberals.

Among the oddities was the passage of a quasi-Luddite motion, casting aspersion on technological progress; the passage of a tough détente motion and one calling for the reintroduction of capital punishment.

One interesting debate ended in the defeat of a Scottish motion calling for federalism, which Mr Francis Pym, Opposition spokesman on devolution, admitted ought to be considered among other possible constitutional changes.