Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1981 May 8 Fr
Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Scottish Conservative Conference

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Speech
Venue: City Hall, Perth
Source: Thatcher Archive: CCOPR 413/81
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: Embargoed until 1900. A section of the text has been checked against BBC Radio News Report 2200 8 May 1981 (see editorial notes in text).
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4576
Themes: Agriculture, Conservatism, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Economy (general discussions), Education, Employment, Industry, General Elections, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Energy, Pay, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, Trade, European Union (general), European Union Budget, Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Housing, Labour Party & socialism, Law & order, Local government, Local government finance, Liberal & Social Democratic Parties, Northern Ireland, Race, immigration, nationality, Religion & morality, Society, Social security & welfare, Terrorism, Trade unions, Trade union law reform

This great gathering in Perth, drawing together as it does men and women from every walk of life and every constituency across the length and breadth of Scotland, comes just two years from the first meeting of this Parliament. So today I want to take stock with you: to chart our progress and our disappointments: and then to set our goals for the years that lie ahead. For my purpose this afternoon is to lay before you our strategy for the next Election when it comes in two or three years time.

Two years ago we inherited a nation wracked by domestic strife. Our predecessors' vaunted ‘social contract’ had collapsed in social discord. Essential public services to the old, the sick and the disabled were disrupted by the ruthless pursuit of narrow sectional self-interest. The nation's ability to defend itself in an increasingly dangerous world had been undermined by years of neglect. The morale of our police force, and its capacity to protect the citizen on the streets and in the home, had been sapped by the absence of support from Government. In the European Community, sulking had brought us nothing more tangible than contempt and isolation. Prices, steadied briefly by the intervention of our international creditors, were fast accelerating. Post-dated cheques to buy a temporary pre-Election respite from industrial strife, filled every Departmental in-tray which awaited us. We could not go on that way, and we haven't.

We have lost less time through strikes than we have for a generation. We can now regain our markets. We have given the priority which we pledge to give to national defence, and we have acted swiftly to restore the morale of our police. Every Police Force in Scotland has been expanded, and all save one today is up to strength or better. Notwithstanding the vital need to curb our over-spending, we have increased resources for defence, and we are proud to give a lead to the whole Alliance. We have brought peace and international recognition to Rhodesia [end p1] after fifteen years of frustrated effort. We have got a far fairer distribution of the European Budget—not by obstruction and hostility, but by combining a wholehearted commitment to the European purpose with a stout defence of our national interest within it. We have restored rewards for effort and achievement by cutting those very high levels of taxation which destroyed incentive and offered little return to the Exchequer. They only gave satisfaction to those obsessed with envy.

We have attacked some of the worst abuses of Trade Union power by giving rights of appeal and compensation to the victims of vindictiveness and by restricting the right to picket. We have offered every union the chance to practice the democracy they too often only preach, by consulting the membership in secret ballot.

And in the Nationality Bill we are now engaged on a long-overdue re-definition of the privilege of British citizenship. For, as I have told our friends abroad, we, and we alone, must have the right to define our own nationality.

Last— but in my book first, for without it all we seek to achieve for this nation would be at risk—we are making steady progress towards stability of prices and the restoration of sound money.

I do not seek to shroud our disappointments. In one part of the United Kingdom, a challenge to the rule of law, to democracy itself, is being mounted. It is no comfort to us to know that a similar challenge is being mounted in other European countries. In Germany, France, Italy and Spain groups whose only mandate is their fanaticism, backed by bullet and bomb, have been seeking to displace the ballot box as the means by which civilised communities resolved their differences.

In Northern Ireland, the Provisional IRA have, of late extended their criminal violence from the streets of Belfast and Londonderry, and from the fields of Armagh into the prison cell.

One of their Bobby Sandsmembers has chosen to kill himself—a needless and futile waste of his life. I say “futile” , Mr President, because the political status sought by the hunger strikers. will not be granted. The Government's position is clear. Crime is always crime, whatever the motive. Murder is never anything other than murder. [end p2]

It is argued that the Government has been intransigent. It has not. In the months before the first hunger strike began, last autumn, we implemented a series of justified changes for all prisoners. The conditions in prisons such as the Maze are now as humane as those anywhere in the world. We have respected, and will continue to respect, the views of the European Commission for Human Rights. One is bound to wonder about the motives of those who choose to ignore all we have done.

It is argued that we should take political initiatives in Northern Ireland, We have. Humphrey AtkinsThe Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has done everything in his power to try to build up political institutions acceptable to all sides of the community in the Province. But that community cannot be coerced into accepting such institutions if it does not want them. We are not in the business of replacing one form of instability by another. There can be no short cuts.

Our commitment to Ulster is clear. So long as the majority of the people of Northern Ireland wish to remain part of this Kingdom, that wish will be upheld and defended. However long and hard the road may be, the Government will not flinch from their duty.

We recognise, of course, that our neighbours south of the Border, the Republic of Ireland, are concerned about the situation in the north. That is why over the last year and more we have joined in an effort to improve the relationship between London and Dublin. We both have much to gain from working more closely together.

Above all, we have an over-riding and shared interest in securing peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. If that prize is to be won, the challenge of terrorism must be resisted and turned back.

The challenge will be resisted patiently—for we shall not be provoked into over-reaction. —It will be resisted with scrupulous legality—for any other way lies anarchy. —It will be resisted effectively—for we shall commit whatever resources are necessary to ensure that violence does not succeed.

And let me, Mr. President, pay tribute here to the work in Northern Ireland of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Ulster Defence Regiment, and the Army. Their performance in recent days, as always, has been beyond praise. [end p3]

Eventually, Mr President, the challenge from the terrorists will be defeated. For no-one should doubt that the Government and people of this country have the resolve and stamina to make certain that in the United Kingdom the gun shall not prevail over the will of the people.

Another deep disappointment is the toll of unemployment. Enforced idleness is a personal tragedy. The Welfare State has taken the harsh edge of deprivation from redundancy and all of us who are at work must and do accept the obligation to contribute through our taxes to the help of those less fortunate than ourselves.

But no amount of cushioning can take away the loss of a purpose to our lives which comes when businesses in which we work have closed, or been forced to make redundancies. It is hardest of all when businesses collapse through no fault of their own.

But we are not going to rid Scotland or Great Britain of the scourge of unemployment by mouthing empty slogans. If full employment could be delivered on a conveyor-belt from the Cabinet we should never have had half-a-million out of work at one time in the 1950s, or a million out of work at one time in the 1960s, let alone a million-and-a-half in idleness at the very moment in the 1970s when the present Michael Footleader of the Opposition was said to be in charge of full employment policy. A Government which genuinely cares about the frustration of the dole queues owes to the unemployed a proper diagnosis of the reasons why the jobs have gone; and how real ones can be created.

First we have to recognise that what has happened here in Scotland has been happening right across the world. For 25 years after the Second World War the real costs of power to turn the wheels of industry was getting cheaper year by year. Thus was sustained one of the longest periods of expansion in our recent history. But the inevitable correction, when it came, was sharp. In 1973, and again in 1979, the oil price increase brought a massive shift of wealth from industrial countries which spend their income through trade to other countries that can't. The easy sellers' market of the 1950s and 1960s suddenly gave place to fierce competition for the shrunken custom which was all the world could offer, after paying for its oil.

But for us in Britain, the shock was doubly severe. For over the years we had sought to compensate for lost competitiveness by debasing the coinage. Many still lost their jobs: but many more remained on payrolls where they were not really needed. That was possible—albeit at increasing cost—so long as international trade was booming. When the boom was over, that option was no longer open to us. [end p4]

And successive Governments had regularly deferred the painful decisions where they could. Take the steel industry for example. It was quite obvious that by the time the last Government took office: “There would have to be a rationalisation of steel. If it had been done earlier, there would have been fewer closures and less unemployment. We have not done the Welsh valleys” —or the West of Scotland, I might add— “any favours by holding back.”

That's not my assessment—although I'm certain that it's true. That is the assessment of a senior Cabinet Minister in the last Administration.

So redundancies that had been deferred have come upon us all at once. And the loss of jobs has been multiplied again because we've tried to pay ourselves to meet our expectations, and not what firms we worked in could afford. In five short years we doubled money wages—But we only added 2 per cent to the volume of the goods that we produced—The balance came in dearer prices—But it also came from cash that should have gone to new equipment and to servicing investment. That, in a nutshell, is why our unemployment has been so extra harsh. We saved our living standards—our jobs we could not save.

So this is where so many jobs have gone. The world condition, our own past errors and shortsightedness, the rigidities of our labour market, all have played their part.

We simply cannot buy those jobs back with extra public spending. That is what we have tried to do so often in the past, and with less and less success. As we know only too well the printed money so created didn't increase output, but it did increase prices.

As my James Callaghanpredecessor once explained to his Party Conference a few years back, spending our way out of recession is not an option that any longer exists.

That is why we had, albeit reluctantly, to call on our people to bear some tax increases in Geoffrey Howe 's latest Budget. Of course we would have had it otherwise. But partly because of the severity of the recession, and partly because of the poor performance of the nationalised industries and overspending by local government, there were extra bills to be met. By insisting that these extra bills were honestly accounted for from increased revenues, we were able to out interest rates to the benefit of our industries and agriculture. [end p5]

And productive industry is responding. We are winning orders at home and abroad in the face of all that international competition can throw at us. Let me remind you of just one or two of the orders won for Scotland in the last six months alone. N.E.I. Peebles: transformers worth £1½ million for Kuwait. Kelvin Diesels: marine engines worth £7 million for Burma. John Brown Engineering: gas turbines worth £13½ million for Brunei, £9½ million for Oman, and £35 million for Iraq. Babcock Power: boilers worth £60 million for Hong Kong. Caledonian Airmotive: a contract worth £2.3 million for the overhaul of aero-engines for West Germany. Anderson Strathclyde: machinery worth £8 million for Romania, and £2 million for the USA. Redpath de Groot Caledonian: an oil platform worth £35 million for Norway.

Did you know that last year, notwithstanding all the problems of an exchange rate riding high, and dear money at home, we increased our sales of drilling bits to the oilfields of the world by 6 per cent in volume? Of office machinery by 10 per cent? Of high quality woollen and cashmere textiles by 28 per cent? And of electronic micro-circuitry by no less than 75%; in a single year? All of them products in which Scotland is proving its ability to beat the world.

Later this year I look forward to opening a new factory at Renfrew in which the Howden Group is investing £6 million to make gas circulators for the nuclear power stations at Torness and Heysham. Meanwhile down the Tay from here Timex is tooling up with a £12 million investment to produce the world's first 3D camera for the retail market, while another 1,000 jobs are due at the same factory in Dundee with work upon another world-beater—the first genuinely pocket-sized TV. Further up the coast at Aberdeen there is the John Wood Group. Ten years ago this was a small fishing and ship repair business earning less than £600,000 a year. Last autumn they won a £13 million order from Shell for North Sea work. Or Christian Salvesen of Edinburgh: £61m ploughed back into the business over the past five years: 1600 houses built and sold for private homes in Scotland.

I could go on. But every single one of these achievements—and many others that I have not mentioned—have one thing in common. They mean jobs for Scotland. Jobs which earn their keep. Jobs which make a real and a lasting contribution to the national balance sheet. Jobs which help to pay for better living standards, and better services for all our people, in the years to come. Jobs won not by Government purchase, and therefore extra tax on successful Scottish businesses. But by the resource, the perseverance, and the aggressive salesmanship of Scottish firms and Scottish people. More power to their elbow!

Oh yes, I know, we have recently been told by no less than 364 academic [end p6] economists that such things cannot be, that British enterprise is doomed. Their confidence in the accuracy of their own predictions leaves me breathless. But having myself been brought up over the shop, I sometimes wonder whether they back their forecasts with their money. For I can't help noticing that those who have to do just that—the investing institutions which have to show performance from their judgement—are giving us a very different message.

For unless the stock markets have got it very wrong we are in for a dramatic recovery in the profitability of British industry in the months ahead. Now I know that to our opponents this is just about irrelevant. The Michael FootLeader of the Opposition apparently thinks we shall get more mileage out of marching. Not for him the microchip. Not even the wheel. He offers us the pedestrian revolution. Left Foot forward.

Others have more sinister ambitions. They have no time for Parliamentary democracy. They look to the manipulators of the block vote: the tiny caucuses which plot and scheme to win power through apathy. Power in a Party which is so desperately vulnerable because, unlike ours, it has no mass membership. Power over unions where the mass membership—voluntary and involuntary—has to battle to be heard against the barriers artificially erected to genuine participation. Power for one purpose only: to impose upon this nation a tyranny which the peoples of Eastern Europe yearn to cast aside.

Some, in desperation, have departed to launch new formations of their own. Formations which agree on anything save what their actual policies ought to be. Others remain to fight again the battles with the Marxists that they have lost so many times before. But I doubt if we dare confide the defence of Parliamentary democracy to those who, not so long ago, did not hesitate to join hands to blockade the streets outside Grunwick to deny to others their democratic right to go to work. Or to those who prefer posturing in the streets before the television cameras, to attendance at debates on employment in the Parliament to which they were elected.

We in the Conservative Party have better things to do. To help the nation build upon the recovery which is now upon us. There are those who say that the new spirit in British industry will fade and vanish as the order books improve. That we shall be back to the bad old ways of restrictive practices and irresponsible wage bargaining. I do not believe it. And I will tell you why. [end p7]

The evidence of our eyes and ears, as well as every survey taken over many years, has shown that the overwhelming majority of the working population longs to be released from the tyranny too often exercised by handfuls of the militants. The fear of reprisal held them back. But in recent months they have found it possible to defy the militants: and the earth has not opened up beneath their feet. They have cast aside their fetters. They are not going to submit tamely to that yoke again simply because the industrial prospect shows improvement.

This is crucial: for it is only by matching French or German productivity that Scotland will catch up once more with French and German living standards. We in Government are determined to build upon that progress, and we will use all the measures open to us to bring new profitable investment to Scotland from across the globe. During the last twelve months George Younger and his team helped create almost 50,000 new jobs by putting your taxes to work in partnership with private enterprise. In the last six months alone not far short of £30 million has been pumped into new plant and new machinery with the active support and involvement of your Scottish Ministers. And let me assure you that with George Younger beside us none of us in Cabinet is allowed to forget for one moment the potential and priorities of Scotland.

But you too have your part to play, ladies and gentlemen. We need your help as local electors and ratepayers to insist on better housekeeping from the town halls and the regional headquarters. It can be done: and the figures prove it. This spring Tory-controlled Scottish district councils raised their rates by 14½ per cent, and Tory-controlled regional councils raised their rates by 23 per cent. That is far too much. And you and we will expect them to do better in future. But look at Labour. Labour regions and districts raised their rates by 39 and 40 per cent respectively. Such extravagance is totally unnecessary: and we have got to bring it under better control. For rate increases of 30 or 40 per cent are nothing more than an attack on local jobs. Firms cannot pay them. They move elsewhere, or go under. They do not have a vote in local government elections. But their voice must be heard—before it is too late. You have a most important debate tomorrow on Rating Reform; and I have asked Malcolm Rifkind to report to me personally on your views on this subject which I know will be expressed with your customary Scottish zeal.

We also need your help to alert people in Scotland to the new rights and opportunities opened up for them by this Government. [end p8]

As Robert Miller-Bakewell reminded you this morning, we have given to every parent in Scotland, for the first time in our history, the right to a proper say in the schooling of his or her own children. As Mrs Susan Bell from Lanark told you yesterday we have given to every council tenant the opportunity to become the owner of the family home. Already since the last Election 25,000 Scottish families have availed themselves of this opportunity or are in the process of so doing. And let me assure you that we shall not allow Socialist councils to flout the law and stand in their tenants' way. George Younger has the powers to enforce the law where there is wilful obstruction—and he will not hesitate to use them. But all of us in the Tory Party have a duty to ensure that our neighbours are fully aware of these new-found rights and opportunities, and of how to take advantage of them.

Building upon recovery also has an international dimension. When I travel abroad in your name it is no longer as a suitor or a supplicant. Instead I make a point of telling the Leaders of the nations that I visit how British industry can and will perform. We seek no special favours: by the same token I am determined to see we get equal treatment. Where others resort to unfair trading practices, we have not hesitated to take action to prevent damage to British industry, and we shall take action in similar circumstances in the future.

But that is light years removed from a retreat into blinkered protection. Do those who urge us to put up the shutters to international trade realise that a higher proportion of our jobs depend on exports than in almost all the other major trading nations—including West Germany, Japan, and the United States? Free trade is a vital national interest to the British people, which we simply dare not put at risk.

Similarly, within the European Community we shall continue to insist on fair treatment. It is not acceptable to us, for example, that those of our partners who have drained their own coastal waters by over-fishing should now be free to lay waste the waters around our shores. In George Younger and Alick-Buchanan-Smith, the fishermen of Scotland have tireless champions.

They have the united backing of the whole Cabinet for their insistence that the fisheries policy of the Community must reflect in full the substantial contribution of our inshore fleet to the total European catch. And where national aids give artificial advantages to producers in one or other of the Member-countries we must pursue our own national interests as we did last week with the subsidy on fuel for our glasshouse growers. [end p9]

But it's precisely because the determination of this Government to make a success of the European Community is undoubted that we are in a strong position to insist upon the recognition of our national interests within it. We cannot—we really cannot—put up to two-fifths of our trade in jeopardy by stalking out in feeble protest. Indeed, I don't believe our opponents, whatever they may be saying to try and save their seats and faces from the lunatic Left, would ever dare to do so. What I fear is that if the electorate were ever unwise enough to give them the opportunity, they would do what they did last time—exasperate our partners and achieve nothing for ourselves.

Nor is it only from the European Community that they say they would withdraw. They are even more impatient to deprive us of the ultimate means of national self-defence. Now I wholly understand the generosity of spirit which leads some of our young people in particular to campaign for nuclear disarmament. I share their aspirations.

If I believed there was any serious chance of the old men of the Kremlin responding in a similar spirit of generosity, I would be the first to join them. Sadly, experience tells us otherwise. After years of patient, step-by-step negotiation of mutual arms reductions—negotiations in which the West has, time and again, gone to the limit of prudence in taking promises of Russian performance on trust—Russian tanks rolled into Afghanistan. Two years later a bitter and bloody battle between the Afghan resistance and the invaders still continues.

Of course, I would rather spend the nation's resources and its taxes on schools and hospitals than on nuclear armaments. But the best schools in the world would be of little value to our children if we were unable to shield them from the imposition of an alien and tyrannical system by the hand of foreign conquest. That's the reality which has led successive Governments, under every single one of my predecessors since the war, to conclude that until we can win comprehensive international agreement on nuclear disarmament, we must maintain the effectiveness of our own national nuclear shield. That is the reality which led that Socialist and partriot, Nye Bevan, to warn his Party not to ‘send him naked into the conference chamber’. I find it tragic that Mr. Bevan 's erstwhile comrades and disciples should now turn their backs upon that warning. Perhaps the only fitting comment came from one member of the Shadow Cabinet who warned the other day that the first act of another Labour Government would be to reimpose exchange controls. It would need to be.

I have dwelt this evening upon your Government's material priorities: to restore the value and stability of our coinage; to clear the road ahead for industrial recovery and progress; to defend our commercial interest; to shield our national [end p10] security. I make no apology for that. With your encouragement, your loyalty, and your support—and nothing is possible without them— [Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 2200 8 May 1981:] I look forward to leading you into the battle for the renewal of our mandate when the moment comes against a background of more stable prices than we've known for a generation, of better industrial relations of rising output, of shrinking dole queues and more moderate taxation. And I believe that we shall then be able to tell the electorate with good reason that the performance which our continental neighbours have achieved in turn, but which has so often eluded us, is at long last in our grasp. End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 2200 8 May 1981.

But I did not join the Tory Party nearly forty years ago merely because I thought it best equipped to mind the shop—although I certainly did think that, and have not changed my mind (looking at our opponents, who would?). I joined the Tory Party above all because I saw in it an overriding commitment to the tradition of service to the community and the family.

More than thirty years have passed since the post-war creation of the welfare state.

We all have a duty to help others.

Our tragedy is that because our performance as a trading nation was poor for so long, we were unable to achieve the standard of provision which is now commonplace among our more successful continental partners. Yet there is also an insidious danger about the welfare state for all its merits. It is that we offload upon the state our obligations as good neighbours. That when we've paid our rates and taxes to provide suitable accommodation for the elderly, suitable treatment for the sick, and suitable schooling for the young, we have done our stuff. But we haven't.

The community in which the elderly are consigned to comfortable isolation and forgotten: in which the sick are nursed and yet remain unvisited: and in which standards of performance and behaviour in the young are deemed too much trouble for their parents to attend to—such a community has no right to call itself caring or compassionate. For caring and compassion are, in the end, personal and not collective virtues. The state can provide the X-rays, the blackboards and the underfloor heating. It can't provide an ever present human ear to listen or a human voice to comfort and console.

Over the years the high ideals of personal service and private duty have been all too often sneered at in this country. The helping hand has been scorned as ‘charity’: commitment to the family derided as ‘old-fashioned’: respect for [end p11] the police attacked as ‘authoritarian’: even loyalty to the nation itself demeaned as ‘out of date’.

Yet in the hearts of our people these true sources of our nation's inner strength lived on, longing and waiting for their chance to be heard and respected once again. That chance has come: and this Party, which has never wavered in its commitment to old virtues tried and true, is proud to set them out upon the high ground. Let us go to it together.