Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Glasgow Chamber of Commerce (bicentenary)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Holiday Inn, Glasgow
Source: Thatcher Archive: ?transcript
Editorial comments: 1915-2245. The text appears to be a transcript.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3009
Themes: Agriculture, Economy (general discussions), Employment, Industry, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Energy, Trade, European Union (general), Religion & morality, Strikes & other union action, Famous statements by MT (discussions of)

My Lord Provost, Mr President, Members of the Chamber of Commerce, and distinguished guests …


I always enjoy birthday parties, but Prime Ministers don't get many opportunities. So it's a very special pleasure for me to say “Happy Birthday” to the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce on its 200th Anniversary.

This is a double celebration, because the “Glasgow Herald” shares your bicentenary. Congratulations to them, on two centuries of publication, almost unbroken except for that rather unfortunate start when the first editor was imprisoned for sedition. I look forward very much to seeing later tonight how the Herald has gone into the third century. I'm sure the present editor will escape the fate of the first one—but I shall be taking a particularly close look at the leader-column, just in case.

Thank goodness this anniversary falls a few days after Burns Night. I've never eaten Haggis on television. Nor have I tried to quote Burns in public, and I don't intend to start now—not even as my contribution to “Game for a Laugh” .

McGonagall, though, is a different matter. That great 19th-century master of rhyme and scanning would scarcely have allowed so important a double bicentenary to pass without commemorating it in an immortal masterpiece of verse.

It might have gone something like this:

“The Glasgow Chamber of Commerce has been going for two hundred years, So has the Glasgow Herald; to them both we say three cheers, Twas in the year of 1783 they started; now they're flourishing and sage; Which goes to show what we all know: that Scotch improves with age.”


Mr President, yours was the first Chamber of Commerce to be [end p1] founded in Britain. Now there is one in every major centre of business on both sides of the border, and indeed on both sides of the Atlantic. Where your forefathers in Glasgow led, we in England have gladly followed.

The founders of this Chamber of Commerce would be proud to see their successors gathered here today. They, of course, will have heard in their youth the lectures of Adam Smith, to which the ears of this city were then ringing. Much has been spoken and written in the name of Economics since his time—shouldn't bother to read most of it, it lacks the practical sense which Adam Smith displayed when he wrote:

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest” .

It was Adam Smith, after all, who said that the two foundations of a sound national economy are hard work and the particularly Scottish quality of thrift; and he would observe the results of that in the way this Chamber has flourished, just as he observed it in the early history of Glasgow.

Those qualities were to the forefront in the first prosperity of Glasgow. Your origins lay in 18th-century commerce—importing tobacco and exporting textiles. By Victorian times, Glasgow's prosperity was founded in the heavy industries of iron, steel, shipbuilding and heavy engineering. And brilliant and daring businessmen emerged to exploit the natural resources available.

Men like David Dale, the first to use the spinning jenny; J. B. Neilson, who invented the hot blast furnace; and Henry Bell, who commissioned the first steamship. They shaped Glasgow's 19th-century history. They exploited Glasgow's textiles, locomotives and ships to the four corners of the earth. By 1914, Britain owned almost half the world's merchant marine, thanks to men like the Napiers, the driving force behind the Cunard Line, and the Cayzers, who founded the Clan Line.

Well, Mr President, the past is another country. We forget how differently things looked to us then. Only ten or twenty years ago, “Silicon Glen” would have sounded like a place in a science fiction version of “Brigadoon” . [end p2]

It was not easy at that time to foresee how dramatically the industrial base of Scotland would be changed.

But the ingenuity and determination of Scottish people are never to be underestimated; again and again, your history has shown how resiliently the human spirit can recover from hardship and reversal.

A hundred years ago, the Scots led the first Information Revolution. Families like the Collins, the Nelsons, and the Macmillans founded the great publishing houses of Britain. Some came South. One or two Scottish publishers even went into politics. Didn't do too badly, either.

Now, Scots are among the European leaders of the second Information Revolution.


The qualities that are needed to make the best of a century are still the same: an open mind, and adventurous spirit, and a readiness both to travel and to welcome travellers.

Then and now, you do not get anywhere by blaming your own lack of progress on others. “It's all the fault of the multinationals” is a fashionable excuse. Yet it was Scottish trading houses, Scottish banks, Scottish shipping lines and Scottish engineers who were among the first and greatest of the multinationals.

And that multinational traffic was always a two-way traffic. There are those who are fearful of the dangerous novelty of inward investment. They should not forget that there were American-owned factories operating here in Glasgow more than a hundred years ago—making bicycles and tyres, and I understand the Americans even owned the Glasgow tramways, too.

The other day I appeared on a certain television programme. And I was asked whether I was trying to restore “Victorian values” . I said straight out, yes I was. And I am. And if you ask me whether I believe in the puritan work ethic, I'll give you an equally straight answer to that too. [end p3]

I believe that honesty and thrift and reliability and hard work and a sense of responsibility for your fellow men are not simply Victorian values. They do not get out of date. They are not tied to any particular place or century. You could just as well call them “Scottish Values” or “English Values” . They are part of the enduring principles of the Western world. And if we just write them off and wave them goodbye, we are destroying the best of our heritage.

These principles are being put to the test, south of the border, in the water industry. Trade unions in the water industry are bound by their own agreement with the employers to settle disputes by arbitration. They insisted on independent mediation. They agreed the mediator. But now they refuse to accept the result. The employers have accepted that result—even though it has meant raising their offer twice.

The Trade Unions began as Friendly and Provident Societies. Would not those early pioneers have been shocked to see their successors attempting to deprive the community of one of the very essentials of life, a decent supply of water? Let us hope it is not long before better counsels prevail.


Mr President, since the expansionist days of the 19th century, and especially in the post-war period, some had come to regard growth as an effortless entitlement. We have had to learn the lesson the hard way. Many countries of Europe, and some in the Far East and Latin America, have surpassed us in our traditional industries. As a result, many of our skills and resources have been supplanted by those of the newly-industrialised countries.

There are some who argue that we should exclude all foreign competition.

But, if cossetted and pampered with protection, our industries will grow sluggish, and expire slowly but surely on the bed of their own shortcomings; and our standard of living would fall irretrievably. Competition is a spur as every football team and, Mr President, golfer knows. But the rules have to be fair. This is the line we are pursuing in international negotiations. [end p4]


I am often asked what are the products that will pull us out of this recession; who will be the new captains of industry; who will create the jobs we need?

But surely in Scotland we can see some of the answers already. We see the beginning of new industries of which Patrick Colquhoun could only have dreamed.

Oil now gives employment to 90,000 people in Scotland. The heavy industries of the past are giving way to the high-technology industries of the future. Electronic engineering in Scotland now employs 40,000 people—more than in shipbuilding and steel together. And the United States computer giant, IBM, which launched its new Personal Computer in Britain recently, has chosen its plant at Greenock—in the face of fierce overseas competition—for the manufacture of its personal computers not only for the British market, for for several European countries as well.

Other industries, too, are growing fast—such as the health products industry in which Scotland excels and which now employs over 7,000 people in over seventy companies in Scotland. The great financial professional and scientific services have grown rapidly over the last ten years, responding to new needs for quicker than any politician or Government Department. It is you who know the market-place. You who supply the service; and you who create the jobs.

And of course we must never forget the basic industries of Scotland like construction, farming, and fishing. They will still be with us long after others have come and gone. I would like to say tonight what a great achievement it has been to get a Common Fisheries Policy which gives the industry, after seven arduous years of hard bargaining, a secure future and a good chance to prosper.

As so often in its proud history, the Facts show that Scotland can succeed.

Now, I need hardly tell you it's not all roses. There are a lot of thorns, too. You know better than I how hard it is to get the new ideas, to build the new firms to create the new jobs that will replace [end p5] the old; how much greater is the competition you face than your Victorian grandparents faced, and from countries of which they had scarcely heard; and how deep and severe has been the international recession of the last few years.


Mr President, we have celebrated in fine style tonight, and you have entertained me as only Scotsmen know how. Yet in this city there will be many who have little to celebrate.

For Glasgow has more than her fair share of unemployment. And unemployment is a prison in which millions, both here and throughout the world, are held captive—unable to find work in the society in which they live.

It is all too easy for some politicians to raise false hopes. All too easy to pursue policies which are superficially attractive in the short term, but would deepen our problems in the future. But superficial solutions can never solve deep-seated problems.

If we had failed to follow a firm and responsible course of financial management, unemployment would now be still higher.

If we now departed from sound and prudent policies, the prospects for the future would be bleak indeed. We want a recovery that can be sustained, not one that would inevitably bubble and burst.

I know that the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, with its long and proud tradition of enterprise and service, will do everything it can to offer opportunities for training and work for our young people today. The more they are trained in the habit and custom of sound Scottish enterprise, the better for them and the better for all of us. We need them: they are our future.


I would like, if I may, to offer you some encouragement tonight by telling you how we as a nation are going to recover from the recession. [end p6]


First and foremost, we are becoming more competitive again. I won't bore you with all the figures. In the last two years the improvement in efficiency has been enormous—far greater than anyone would have predicted. And you in Scotland can be proud that in the past few years the growth in productivity of your manufacturing industry has outstripped even that achieved nationally. This is the spirit of a Scotland that is determined to show it can take on all comers and beat them.


Second, we are getting a firm foothold in the technologies of the future.

Some of the world's most advanced manufacturing, including nuclear based industries, is to be found within a hundred miles of where we are gathered tonight. Britain is well up with its competitors in information technology, deep sea diving, process plant manufacturing and many other industries. And I don't need to praise our defence-based industries in the home of Yarrows, who have recently won the order for two new Type 22 frigates.


Third, and of particular interest to you in Scotland. We are anxious that when recovery comes we will have retained our capacity to bargain in Europe and elsewhere for a bigger share in production. That was the basis of our decision that steel-making should continue at all five of the British Steel Corporation's major plants including Ravenscraig.

I am of course fully aware of the continuing great concern in Scotland about the future of Ravenscraig. The Government's decision does not mean that the future of the plant is guaranteed, but it does mean that the management and workforce have the opportunity to demonstrate that Ravenscraig can produce steel as competitively as anyone else in the world. [end p7]


Fourth. The Nation's finances are in excellent shape, and are going to stay that way.

The budget deficit as a percentage of GNP is one of the smallest among major industrial countries, the fall in inflation has been the fastest, and the money supply is on target. And, with inflation at 5.4%; there is certainly no reason for interest rates to rise; and no reason connected with the state of our own finances for the exchange rate to fall.

Of course the exchange rate between sterling and other countries' currencies is affected by their fortunes as well as ours. A fall in the price of oil is on balance good for us, our costs and it will help world trade; and, since oil only accounts for a modest proportion of our trade, the impact on our balance of payments will be correspondingly modest. But there is no doubt that it is even better news for countries like Germany and Japan who are large net importers of oil. So it is natural that when a fall in oil prices is expected their currencies should have been marked up. That shows as a fall in our currency against theirs. But when people say that sterling is overvalued or uncompetitive by making statistical comparisons with the past I can only say: what nonsense! They should look at the superb trade figures. Following a record year in 1981, figures published yesterday show that last year 1982 the surplus on current account was £4.6 billion—one billion better than forecast—one of the largest surpluses in the industrial world. In 1982 the volume of British manufactured exports—and that excludes oil—held steady when world trade was declining. An excellent performance. Congratulations to all those firms here who made it possible.

I repeat, Mr President, we are going to keep the nation's finances in excellent shape. Not for us the accumulation of debt of which that great Scottish philosopher, David Hume, complained. He wrote:——

“The source of degeneracy which may be remarked in free Governments consists in the practice of contracting debt and mortgaging the public revenue, by which taxes may in time become altogether intolerable.”
[end p8] Wise words, but not wise enough, I am told, for Glasgow, who in the 1750s turned Hume down for a post at Glasgow University.

Those, then Mr President, are the four signposts to recovery. Without them, when the international recession ends, we should simply be left behind again. With them, we shall free the same spirit of enterprise which was once to be seen on the Clyde every hour of every day, as Scottish ships full of Scottish products ploughed profitably towards their many destinations.


Change is constant but the transformation is slow. As we advance towards the 21st Century, we carry with us much of the legacy of the 19th. But there are generous taxpayers' grants to help companies to develop new products. Thanks to George Younger and Alex Fletcher, the Scottish Office have two very successful schemes, the Industrial Development Drive, and the Business Plan Service. The Industrial Development Drive is to help Scottish businessmen benefit from all the Government and European Community aid available for investment, innovation and export. As a result, I understand that around two hundred specific new investment proposals have been made.

The Business Plan Service is to enable small businessmen to get top-class advice from the private financial sector at half the normal cost.

I hope that many will take advantage of it. Small businesses are vital to the health of Scotland's future.


Mr President, the prosperity of this City will depend, as it always has done, on the ability of its industries to invent and to exploit the opportunities afforded by the new technologies. You are a centre of academic excellence, with two Universities. I feel that town and gown will work together in this age of science-based industries.

There is a great need for a regeneration of the City itself. [end p9] The Scottish Office have a scheme called GEAR—the Glasgow Eastern Area Renewal Project. By the end of March this year, some 570 private houses will have been completed, and more are planned. Construction industry jobs have been created and the demand for local services has increased. Firms are actively seeking sites to develop commercially. This augurs well for the future of the East End and for the great City of which it is part.


Mr President, Glasgow has for 200 years had a Chamber of Commerce worthy of this great City.

Your forebears were bold, inventive, thrifty and industrious. I am confident that these same qualities will continue to characterise your endeavours in the years to come.

I am confident that whatever the future may hold, both you and the City of Glasgow will surmount your problems and break new frontiers.

And I am confident that, when in 200 years time your descendants are celebrating the Chamber's 400th Anniversary, one of my successors will be saying, as it gives me great pleasure to say to you now—

Lord Provost, Ladies and Gentlemen, let us drink to our forebears, to our great inheritance, and to the prosperity of the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce.