Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Conservative Central Council (1200Z)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Harrogate Conference Centre
Source: Thatcher Archive: transcript
Editorial comments:

MT addressed the Conference at 1200.

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4442
Themes: Conservatism, Labour Party & socialism, Liberal & Social Democratic Parties, Media, Religion & morality, Law & order, By-elections, Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), European Union (general), European Union Budget, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Terrorism, Industry, Monetary policy, Pay, Trade, Strikes & other union action, Economic policy - theory and process, Social security & welfare, Society, Health policy

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very happy to be here once again at this Central Council meeting, the great mid-year meeting of our party in this splendid new hall. I must say I hope we can afford it, it looks more like the TUC or the NUM, you know, than us. But I think it is terrific.

Just a few weeks ago I was out on tour in a factory in the East Midlands and I saw a poster up in that factory which I thought had a very important message for us. It said this: “The tougher the job, the greater the challenge, let's look at tough jobs as challenges not problems. Let's try for success.” Somehow they must have known that it was a sort of suitable message for me because they insisted that I was photographed behind the poster with the Managing Director of the factory. And so let's just spend a few minutes first looking at the challenge which faced us. I want to look back for a moment not to yesterday but six years back to the time when Britain was experiencing the real effects of a Socialist Government, when inflation had been up at 26%; or more, when Britain was outstanding only in the degree of disaster which beset us, when Denis Healeythe Chancellor of the Exchequer had to turn round at Heathrow in desperation to stave off the collapse of the pound. Mr. Chairman, that moment was the true measure of the Socialist alternative. Britain was broke. That was the effect of their strategy—what they now call their alternative strategy. It is against that background and that history that I want you to look at the challenge and the signs of success that we see before us today.

Because as the world grapples with the worst recession we have seen for many decades, Britain's inflation rate falls, not as dramatically as we would like, but slowly and steadily is being pushed downwards, until this last month for the first time in twelve years we ended the month with prices at the same level as they began. The first time in twelve years. [end p1] Contrast what is happening in France where their inflation is rising.

Throughout this nation productivity has risen by levels we never before considered possible. Levels which we envied in Japan and which we believed could never be emulated here. But they have and we were top of the league for improvements in productivity last year.

Wage rates, once pushed through the roof in response to bounding inflation are now settling at 4%; and 5%; especially in the private sector. And that's without a statutory incomes policy, so we are not storing up troubles for ourselves in the future.

People have now begun to understand that wage increases which are not earned by extra productivity can lead to pricing themselves and their jobs out of the market. So productivity, the reduction of inflation, moderating wage increases, falling interest rates, all this means that Britain is becoming competitive once again. And we are now the world's best performer in exports selling abroad a higher proportion of what we produce than any other nation. More than Japan, more than America, more than Germany more than France. Let's give a big hand to those many industries which are achieving this on our behalf.

Indeed last year when the full and precise figures are out we shall see that our balance of trade was at an all-time record.

And at home, too, we are beginning to compete. Once, you know, the problem was that the British worker spent his week in a factory in this country making British goods only to go out at the weekend and spend the money that he had earned on foreign imports. Now our new competitiveness is changing all that. We are beginning to meet the demand at home with the goods we produce at home. And therefore, Mr. Chairman, I begin my speech today with the confident message that we are beginning to see the success we knew our policies could produce. [end p2]

And after nearly three years of battling not only with the problems of recession, but with the endemic problems of the British industry, we are beginning to see the regeneration of our economy.

Now, of course, we are not there yet. Of course, inflation must be pushed down much further if we are to achieve our goals. Of course, we must turn our competitiveness into actual orders and our productivity into real economic growth. And only then will we begin to see the unemployment figures coming down. And only then will our people recognise that the tough measures of these last three years have been worthwhile and have been right.

So far of course our people have counted the cost but they have not yet begun to glimpse the prize. And that is the true lesson of Hillhead. Voters who knew only too well the hard facts of life were offered easy solutions and a comfortable way out of the nation's problems by people who should have known better. And it is indeed very beguiling just at the moment when some begin to wonder whether the sacrifices are going to be worthwhile. Hillhead was the verdict of the voters on the sacrifices. They have yet to vote on the success.

But who would have thought six months ago that we would have had any chance at all to hold so marginal a seat at so difficult a time? And yet here today, we are disappointed because we did not achieve it. Hillhead marks the end of one chapter and Harrogate marks the start of a new one. We may take comfort from the proverb that says “Adversity is sometimes the rain of spring” . It starts the new growth.

Slowly the signs of success are showing around our country. More and more people are saying and admitting that it has all been worthwhile. All of those who voted for the easier path will begin to recognise that ours is the way to succeed. When the next General Election comes one of the results which will help the return of a Conservative Government will be Gerry Malone winning Hillhead back from the SDP. [end p3]

Mr. Chairman, politics aren't just about economics although sometimes over these past few years it has seemed like it. The long years of failing to face the real issues left us with so heavy and burdensome a task that economic measures dominated the political scene.

And of course that's natural because we have to get the economic base right if we are to have the resources to achieve other things. But as I go about the country so many people say “well, we think you are going to get the economy right. You are getting inflation down and we believe you are on the way” . But they then go on to ask, “But what use is prosperity if we cannot walk safely in our streets—free from violence, free from fear, free to go about our lawful business unhindered?” And it is to this which I wish to address the main part of my remarks. Because it is the first duty of Government to protect the citizen and to uphold the rule of law. And we are all horrified by the increasing violence on our streets and by the ever rising crime figures. Our people have every right to demand that we give this our highest priority and we are, and we shall. We said we would spend more on fighting crime. We have done so. In England and Wales the strength of the police has increased by some 8,000 and at over 119,000 it's the highest it has ever been.

We said we would reduce the burden of traffic offences on the police so they would have more time to prevent and detect crime. And the Transport Bill now before Parliament proposes an extension of the fixed penalty system to achieve that objective. We said we would give extra powers to the courts in the sentencing of young offenders and the present Criminal Justice Bill does just that.

Moreover it strengthens the provisions whereby parents may have to pay their children's fines. We said more compulsory attendance centres for young hooligans were needed. Thirty-five have been set up since we took office. One-hundred-and-fourteen are now in operation and more are planned.

We said we would set up a tougher regime in selected detention centres. Already we have done so in four. We said that prison places must be provided for those whom the courts find [end p4] it necessary to send to prison. And Willie Whitelaw has reinstated the prison building programme which was cancelled by Labour. Eight new prisons are to be built, and this is the first significant building programme for prisons for decades.

We said we would give the police the extra powers they needed to combat crime. And on Thursday Willie Whitelaw told Parliament that he would give new powers to the police to stop and search people for offensive weapons.

We said that we would hold the scales even between the rights of the accused and the administration of justice. Willie Whitelaw intends to disqualify from jury service anyone convicted of an imprisonable offence during the past ten years. All of this is being done. More is in the pipeline. Gradually it will have an increasing effect. Of course, there is more to be done and may I make it perfectly clear that if more police are required we must and we will recruit and train them. We cannot economise on this aspect of our nation's affairs. But I want to pay tribute to some of the remarkable successes of our police. Last year the police solved 80%; of the crimes involving danger to life and 97%; of the homicides. And that is a truly remarkable achievement.

Did you know that our police have cracked some of the most highly organised international crime rings involved in the evil trade of drugs?

And weren't we all intensely proud of the way in which our police handled the hijacking at Stansted? And didn't the world say how firm, how quiet, in fact how typically British?

But neither the police nor the magistrates, nor the judges, nor even our distinguished William WhitelawHome Secretary can on their own solve the problem of rising crime. We all have a responsibility, for we all set the standards of society and no-one can opt out. [end p5] Yes religious influence has declined; parental discipline has diminished; social sanctions have virtually disappeared.

Just before I was elected Leader of our Party more than seven years ago, I was deeply impressed by an essay written by Freddie Forsyth, which I have kept by me ever since. It was about the values of the society to which he was brought up. He pointed out that when he was a boy, most people had standards by which they tried to live and by which, without much fuss, they tried to abide.

In brief he said and I quote, “You worked hard because that was what life was about and you paid your way. “You did not have what you could not pay for. “You kept your word and you settled your debts. “You were taught to be polite, because it made life more agreeable and tolerant. “You declared your earnings honestly and paid your taxes dutifully, because it was right. “You lived below your earning power, in order to save, to put something by. “Morality was strict by the standards of the permissive society, perhaps even stuffy by any standards, but better than no morality at all. “You supported the police, and you disapproved of violent crime.”

Mr. Chairman, over these past two decades and more, you and I have watched all these standards steadily and deliberately vilified, ridiculed and scorned. And for years there was no riposte, and no reply.

Mr. Chairman, the time for counter-attack is long overdue.

For those are the standards by which we wish to live, those are the standards we wish to be taught to our children. We are reaping what was sown in the sixties. The fashionable theories and permissive claptrap set the scene for a society in which the old virtues of discipline and self-restraint were denigrated.

Teachers, parents and other adults need to set clear consistent limits to the behaviour of our children and young people. Children need, they respond to, and they too often lack [end p6] clear rules, consistently, firmly, fairly and affectionately applied. They long for them. And only in this way will they be able to grow up in a framework of certainty and learn the self-control necessary to cope with the problems of life. Of course, children learn by example and the most powerful influence on their life is what they learn at home and at school.

And television can't escape its responsibility for affecting society's standards.

Our children are fed on a daily diet of violence unparalleled in our history. That diet can numb the sense of shock and render acceptable those things which we should all totally reject.

But leaders at every level also influence society's values.

There are those who, for sinister political reasons, wish to undermine the institutions and values upon which we depend.

Those who call for extra-Parliamentary action, and the sacking of Judges and Chief Constables; those who viciously attack the newly appointed Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis six months before he has even taken up his appointment; there are some teachers, teachers of all people, who go on strike in pursuit of a pay claim. There are trade unionists who take industrial action in support of a baggage loader found guilty of theft who was demoted; there are Councillors who openly urge others to defy the law by not paying their full fare. These are the men and women who are guilty of eroding respect for the law and the values by which society lives.

In this, the Central Council of our Party, we are united in our support for the police and I promise you there will be a further increase in their numbers should that be necessary to defeat the rising tide of crime. We are united in upholding the courts and the rule of law.

We are united in accepting our personal responsibilities as citizens and as parents. And we are united in our support and admiration for the man who at this exceptionally difficult time most needs and most deserves that support—the Home Secretary himself—who, throughout these past three years [end p7] has shown himself to be superbly qualified for the high office which he holds.

Mr. Chairman, if the first purpose of Government is to protect the nation against attack from within, a second and equally important duty is to protect it against attack from without.

We have not had a full debate on defence, but I know the question of Trident played a considerable part in the recent by-election, that a number of people would like to hear our views upon it and upon the nuclear deterrent.

Defence and the rule of law are essential priorities and no amount of economic advance can make up for failure to carry out these two trusts. And that is why this Government has increased expenditure on defence and on the police force. On defence a 3%; increase in real terms every year we have been in power for our Defence Budget. We have done that because peace with freedom matters above all. And strength sufficient to deter the potential aggressor is the best way to preserve it.

For thirty years under Governments of all political complexions that strength has included the nuclear deterrent.

And yet, throughout Europe, there is a growing controversy about the whole subject of nuclear weapons. Many of those demonstrating in favour of unilateral disarmament are well intentioned and sincere. But, Mr. Chairman, they risk increasing the very dangers which they hope to avoid.

But first let us be clear what is at stake. It is the very survival of freedom and the rule of law. And the alternative? A society where fundamental rights are denied to all men, and where tyranny prevails.

Believing as I do in our way of life: believing that man was not called into existence just to exist, but to use his qualities and [end p8] and his talents in a way that directs his life to higher purposes; noting the lack of both freedom and dignity in the alternative society, I am prepared to defend to the utmost the things in which I believe and which I wish to hand on to our children as our forefathers handed them on to us.

Of course, I want to see nuclear disarmament. Indeed I should like to see general disarmament as well. Wouldn't we all? I shrink from the horrors of war. Nuclear or Conventional. But the steps towards disarmament should only be taken by agreement with the Soviet bloc, verifiable agreement. Should we more easily get the Soviet side to the table to negotiate if we had already renounced nuclear weapons? Of course not. Why should they come if we had already laid down our arms? Would they follow our example? They are not even allowed to demonstrate about it in Moscow.

But the more fundamental question is whether the unilateral renunciation of nuclear weapons would in fact make war less likely. Mr. Chairman, it wouldn't. It would increase the risk. If the West as a whole were to abandon nuclear weapons unilaterally, we should be left with only conventional weapons. We should be vulnerable to every pressure, every threat.

What would happen if we were threatened with nuclear weapons and had no means of retaliation? We should have to choose between surrender and losing everything, and embarking upon a war with no hope of victory and no certainty of avoiding nuclear destruction.

Until there is genuine disarmament, that is why we need those weapons. They have deterred would-be aggressors for many years. They will do so in the future. And their possession makes peace more secure. But you will ask and our young people rightly ask, and many of our older ones too, “What are we doing to negotiate genuine balanced disarmament? The kind which leaves us protected at every stage but which leads to lower expenditure and fewer weapons.” And it's that question which I want to answer. What are we doing because we all want genuine disarmament, disarmament with safety and security for our people and our way of life? [end p9]

We are doing more than most people think.

First, in June I will be going to New York for the second United Nations special session on disarmament. So will many other leaders. We hope that that session will create a comprehensive programme of disarmament. And we have already put forward our ideas to the Committee on disarmament. That's one thing.

Second, proposals have been made by NATO to negotiate on what are called intermediate nuclear weapons—like the SS20 of which Russia puts a new one in place every week, all of them targeted on Europe, on us. The West's similar weapons are Cruise missiles. President Brezhnev said he won't make any more SS20s if we don't put any Cruise missiles in place. But that would leave the Russians with an enormous superiority. Some balance that.

President Reagan and NATO are saying that we want to do away with such missiles altogether and if the SS20s are dismantled by the end of 1983 we would not have to put the Cruise missile in place. That is our objective. The zero option objective. That is a balanced objective. You get rid of yours and we won't put ours in place. It retains the balance, that is true disarmament. That is true security.

Third, President Reagan has made proposals to achieve substantial reductions in the larger strategic weapons. And we look forward to the opening of negotiations between the United States and Soviet Russia.

Fourth, with other members of NATO we have been engaged since 1973 in negotiations in Vienna for reductions in conventional weapons in Central Europe. I am afraid little progress has been made because of disagreement about the current level of forces in the Warsaw Pact countries. It is of course easier to get at the facts about our forces, than it is about Soviet forces. But as Western proposals to break the deadlock clearly demonstrate we want to make progress on reducing conventional weapons in a balanced way as well.

Fifth, we want a comprehensive nuclear test ban. Negotiations under that committee in Geneva are also going all too slowly, but it remains this Government's objective.

Sixth, we destroyed the stocks of chemical weapons more than a decade ago. Not so the Soviet Union. This Government attaches great importance to the early conclusion of a convention banning the development, production and deployment of these terrible weapons. [end p10]

Mr. Chairman, the search for arms control and disarmament measures by this Government, by the West, is wider and more intense than most people realise, and we must let our young people know about it.

Resolutions, petitions, demonstrations and speeches are no substitute for the patient negotiation of the detailed issues between the Governments actually concerned. That is what we are doing; we have the will; the proposals have been made; we await the response, the genuine response, from the other side.

But until we negotiate that multilateral disarmament, we have no option but to retain sufficient conventional and nuclear weapons to make it clear to any would be aggressors that the consequences of an attack on us would be disastrous to them. The cost of keeping tyranny at bay is high. But it must be paid.

Mr. Chairman, the question of the European Economic Community is also becoming a source of controversy.

This week marks the 25th Anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome.

I think it provides a good opportunity to look at our membership of the European Community in an historical perspective.

Just let's stand back from the day to day frustrations and there are many, and you'll see that a picture emerges which is very different from that all too often portrayed by the media.

Just look at what the Community has achieved over the last twenty-five years for the strengthening of political stability and parliamentary democracy in Europe. And that is what is really important, that we keep stability and we keep democracy and we extend its boundaries to include other nations.

The major Western European nations emerging from the most devastating war in history, battered and weak, have nevertheless succeeded in building themselves into what is now the world's most powerful economic entity.

It accounts for over a third of the world's trade.

It is by far the largest donor of aid to developing countries. And that isn't realised for so many people who have such tremendous ideals and aspirations. The European Community is the largest donor of aid to developing countries, and [end p11] we do our fair share of that, too.

Our combined economic strength has enabled us to wield an international influence for the protection of our economic interests, an influence that none of us could have hoped to exert individually. Of those twenty-five years of achievement Britain has been a member for only the last nine and a quarter.

We missed out on the unprecedented period of economic expansion which the Community enjoyed in the sixties. Unfortunately our accession coincided with the oil price rise of 1973 which led to economic recession. Since then a second sharp oil price rise has led to the deepest world recession since the war. But despite this there can be absolutely no doubt that we have gained substantially from our membership.

Just look at what the Community gives us: a tariff-free home market in Western Europe, which takes nearly 60%; of our exports. The CBI estimates that some 2½ million jobs depend on trade with the European Economic Community. Britain because of our membership of the Community and our language, attracts a third of all United States world wide industrial investment. A third of all their investment comes to Britain, partly because we are a member of the European Community. We need those jobs and those who remotely suggest that we might leave Europe put those jobs in jeopardy and all the future that we could enjoy in the modern industries in this country.

Of course, there have been problems too. The Community's Budget arrangements are badly out of balance and they operate seriously to our disadvantage. But our efforts, this Government's efforts, to resolve this problem have already begun to pay off. Did you know that just two days ago the Commission announced the payment of another £813 million worth of refunds under the agreement negotiated by this Government two years ago.

These monies will go to finance investment programmes in Scotland, in Wales, in Northern Ireland, and in England in the North, the North West, the South West Yorkshire and Humberside and a programme of trunk roads investment outside the assisted areas has also received support. All that negotiated by us. Not by the Labour Party—they left the Budget in a bad shape—negotiated by us.

Now we've another Budget battle ahead in the next three months. And I am confident that this Government will settle that satisfactorily for Britain and for Europe. Mr. Chairman, ours is a positive approach to Europe, as a matter of fact ours is a positive approach to the whole of politics and I reckon we are the only Party that's got a positive approach. [end p12] Positive in terms of the Budget, positive in terms of exports, positive in terms of jobs, positive in our search for peace.

Mr. Chairman, we have been resolute and realistic on the economy. We have to be. Without a sound economic base we cannot prosper.

We have been resolute on the rule of law, on the maintenance of order. We must be. And we shall be. Because without an ordered and disciplined society there is no freedom for any of us.

We have been resolute on defence. For without national security there is no Great Britain at all.

But it is perhaps hard to be seen to be both resolute and realistic on so many things, and at the same time to be recognised as properly concerned about the social aspects of life, about the disabled and disadvantaged members of our society. But we are every bit as concerned about that as well. Indeed if one wants enough resources to do everything we wish to do you have to be resolute about the other matters too.

And in striving for sound finance, we have still remembered those who need help now. How many people know what we have done? We have increased the mobility allowance for the disabled. What's more this Government has taken it right out of tax altogether. Not the last Government, this Government. We have done the same for War Widows' pensions.

We've doubled the tax allowance for the blind. Retirement pensions will be raised by 11%; this November covering both the expected rate of inflation and the unexpected shortfall over prices last year.

Do you know that this Conservative Government has paid the £10 Christmas Bonus to pensioners every Christmas since we came to Office and will do so again this Christmas? Labour did not pay it at all in 1975 and 1976. Did you know that we have more doctors, more dentists, more nurses and mid-wives in our Health Service, and that the waiting lists are down?

These are some of the achievements of your Government. You know about these achievements. I know about these achievements and it's our task to make sure that they are proclaimed in every part of this Kingdom. Mr. Chairman one of the things which distinguishes our party from that of our opponents is that we do not vary our policies [end p13] according to the audience.

We say the same thing in Yorkshire—and even in Lancashire—as in Cornwall and in Norfolk and elsewhere. Scotland, Wales, I should be in trouble for not saying everywhere, but everywhere and abroad too. And they know it. It is this consistency of policy and purpose which marks out our policy and our Party from the others.

We shall persevere in our policies because we know that they are the right ones for Britain, and because we care deeply for the future of our country and for all our people.

Of course we shall be buffeted by the storms which assail any Government. But we can and shall ride out those storms, and we will ride them out together. And we will achieve our purpose.

Let me finish up with a little rhyme that puts it very well.

“The ship sails east, the ship sails west, Whatever the wind that blows ‘Tis the set of the sail and not the gale That determines the way she goes” .