Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1983 May 13 Fr
Margaret Thatcher

Speech to the Scottish Conservative Party Conference

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Speech
Venue: City Hall, Perth
Source: Thatcher Archive: CCOPR 347/83
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: Embargoed until 1900. A section of the speech has been checked against IRN Report 13 May 1983 (see editorial notes in text). The opening section derives from the speaking text in THCR 5/1/4/47 f82.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3402
Themes: Executive, Conservatism, Conservative Party (organization), Conservative Party (history), Defence (arms control), Defence (Falklands War, 1982), Employment, Industry, General Elections, Housing, Labour Party & socialism, Law & order, Liberal & Social Democratic Parties, Religion & morality, Science & technology, Sport

Section in speaking text marked: "NOT PRESS RELEASE"

Mr President, I think I ought to start by congratulating you on your timing!

I confess I thought I chose the election date on Monday, but obviously you knew better. For I believe you picked the date for this great gathering in Perth a year ago. Well I always knew the Scottish Tory Party was dedicated, enthusiastic, wise and far-sighted. But I did not realise until now that you possessed second sight as well.

After the campaign is over, I hope you can tell me how it is done.

Michael Ancram

Press release begins

Since I came to Perth four years ago this week, on the morrow of our first great victory together, much has been accomplished. But much remains to be done.

The Task We Faced

The problems that confronted us when we came to office were daunting.

Labour had borrowed and left Britain bowed down by debt.

We were shocked by the winter of discontent. Shop stewards usurped the role of management and sometimes seemed more powerful than the Government itself. Britain's defences were undermined and our police demoralised. Inflation was taking off again. In short, we were a nation which had all too plainly lost its way, and almost abandoned hope of finding it again.

And we found a world poised on the brink of the worst recession since the 1930s.

It was, without a doubt, the bleakest prospect facing any newly elected government in Britain since the War. We could have bought a little time with short-term soft options. But too many previous Governments had done that—you elected us to tackle the real problem. And we've had the courage to do it.

And so we set in hand a programme to cure the nation's sickness and restore its health and reputation. [end p1]

We had to break the habit of inflation once and for all, before the habit became an addiction.

We had to set about repaying the debts Labour left behind.

We had to restore worthwhile rewards for leadership and enterprise and give them room to breathe again and put out shoots of healthy long-term growth.

We had to restore to management responsibility to manage, and to employees their right to be consulted by the union that claimed to represent them.

We had to uproot the thickets of bureaucracy and controls in Whitehall and the town halls.

We had to rebuild the nation's ability to defend itself in an increasingly dangerous world.

We had to increase the numbers and the authority of the police and let them know that they had a Government which would back them to the hilt in enforcing the law.

We had to give council tenants the opportunity to buy their own homes.

We had to get a fairer balance of benefits and payments in the European Community.

We had to prove to friend and foe that those who looked to us for their defence would find once again that our word is our bond.

These things we have done. What we could not do—for it is not in the power of any Government—was to shift overnight the ingrained habits of half a lifetime.

Had both sides of industry realised that in future they had to take responsibility for their own actions, and that they would not automatically be bailed out regardless of their performance, hundreds of thousands of worthwhile and productive jobs would have survived the recession. [end p2]

But the convictions that a pay rise every year was each man's birthright, and that jobs had somehow nothing to do with satisfying the customer, died hard. When proof arrived that times had changed, it was often too late.

Labour's Scare Stories

And there is something else that we have done.

We have exploded those scare stories with which our opponents tried so hard to cling to power in the 1979 election.

Let me remind you of a few of them.

They said we would cut pensions. Instead, we've raised them by two-thirds—well ahead of prices.

They said we'd dismantle the National Health Service. Instead, we have nearly doubled spending on the Health Service here in Scotland—and today there are many more doctors, dentists, and nurses—almost 6,000 of them—in your Scottish hospitals and health centres, than when we took office.

They said we'd cripple education. Instead expenditure per child is at an all-time record, and so is the proportion of teachers to pupils; and a higher proportion of our young men and women are going on to full-time further education than ever before.

They said we'd be the dear-food party. Just let's look at the record. When they were in power, food prices more than doubled. What you got for £10 at the beginning cost you £22 at the end. Under this Government, what you could buy for £10 when we took office would cost you £13.50 today. Not good enough, but getting better. And in the last year food prices have risen by less than a penny in the £.

And may I remind you that inflation—now at 4.6%; and going down is at its lowest level for 15 years? That is an achievement of which we can be justly proud, and for which we have every reason to be grateful to Geoffrey Howe. [end p3]

They said we would starve the Scottish Development Agency of funds and let it die. Instead we have nearly doubled the cash it has had to spend productively in Scotland.

I remind you of these scares because in the next three weeks there will be plenty more.

What They Stand For

There will be plenty more because if there's one thing our opponents don't want to talk about, it is their own policies. So you must see to it that every home in Scotland understands precisely what they stand for:

First, this Labour Party wants us to abandon our own independent nuclear deterrent; a deterrent which has helped to keep the peace for nearly 40 years; a deterrent which has been endorsed by every Labour Leader—Attlee, Gaitskell, Wilson and Callaghan—but not this one.

And they want us to do it without a corresponding reduction from the Soviet Union. As Mr. Andropov put it when asked whether he would agree to one-sided disarmament, “We are not a naive people” .

And as if that was not enough, they want to serve notice to quit on every American nuclear base in Britain, many of which have been here for 30 years and which are part of NATO defence. Not exactly the action of a reliable ally. Nor does it recognise the tremendous contribution made by the United States to the defence of free Europe.

This Labour Party would take Britain out of the Common Market—putting at risk 50,000 Scottish jobs and millions of £s of new investment.

This Labour Party has adopted a deliberate policy of inflation in spite of everything we've suffered from rising prices in the last ten years.

This Labour Party would take away the council tenant's right to buy his own home which has transformed the lives of half a million families.

This Labour Party would put Britain back under the dominance of the Trade Unions. They would repeal our legislation which has helped to restore the balance between the unions and the community and given individual rights to union members. [end p4]

This Labour Party would take over control of how your pension fund invests the money you have entrusted to it for your retirement.

Without a shadow of a doubt, this Labour Party has the most extreme and most damaging programme ever placed before the British electorate. No wonder they usually try to talk of anything but that.

The Other Danger: Liberal S D P

But voting Labour is not the only way of putting Labour in.

When Labour came to power in 1974, they did so on their smallest post-War vote to date. And who put them in? The Liberals and the Nationalists in Scotland. And do you remember what happened in 1976 when the Labour Government was tottering? Who came to the rescue? It was those self-same Liberals with the notorious Lib-Lab Pact who propped up the most illiberal Government of modern times.

Today the Liberals have new allies: the S D P: the very men (and women) who, when members of the Labour Government, destroyed our direct grant and grammar schools, who undermined respect for the family in the name of a misleading permissiveness, and who nationalised still more of our industries.

It would be a final irony if the votes they received this time were to put back into office the very party which they themselves had abandoned.

It is our duty to the people of Scotland to ensure that every one of them is made aware of the hidden danger of the so-called protest vote.

Scotland—New Industries

Scotland has battled through recession with determination and enterprise. In the 1930s it was the new generation of consumer goods industries—the motor car and washing machine—which led to recovery from the slump, and too much of it was located in the South of England, passing Scotland by. [end p5]

This time, by contrast, it is precisely the products of the next generation—transistors and computers, the micro chip and the semi-conductor—which have chosen Scotland as their preferred base for the European market. “Silicon Glen” has earned a second meaning—more appropriate indeed than the first. And so Scotland now greets the recovery of world markets with a new industrial base—the broadest you have known since you pioneered the first industrial revolution.

There is a long roll call of those in the very forefront of the new technology who have chosen Scotland for investment in recent months, creating thousands of vital jobs in doing so:

Hyster, Wang, Nippon Electric, Burr-Brown, General Instrument.

Scottish enterprise and overseas investment here are leading to recovery. But your Scottish Ministers have also played a crucial role.

They have helped to capture orders for such famous names as John Brown Engineering, Babcock Power, the Weir Group, and Ferranti. Indeed, time and again, the Scottish Ministerial team have richly earned the collective title which I believe some jealous Sassenachs imposed upon them—that of the Tartan Mafia.

And I must say that George Younger makes a most benevolent “Godfather” .

Nor is it only at the Scottish Office that they make their presence felt and the voice of Scotland heard. Hamish Gray had a great deal to do with the widely welcomed tax reforms for North Sea Oil in this year's Budget. In the tough negotiations in Brussels, Alick Buchanan-Smith has proved a doughty champion of Scotland's fishermen and farmers. Iain Sproat has made a most effective mark at Trade. Malcolm Rifkind, in his recent mission to Moscow, pleaded eloquently for human rights and left the Russians in no doubt where Britain stands. [end p6]

Conservative Policies for the Future—Peace

Mr President, when we met in Perth last year it was in the shadow of great events then taking place on the other side of the world. Not for the first time in our history, the courage, skill and sheer professionalism of the armed forces of the Crown, went on to earn for them the admiration of the world. And if today we walk a little taller—and I believe we do—then it is those brave young men who deserve the praise. But they have achieved something even more important: their deeds have made the world a safer place for all of us.

That truth is worthy of a moment's reflection. In recent months we have heard a lot about the protest lines at Holy Loch and Greenham Common—and elsewhere in Western Europe. Now I do not doubt the sincerity and indeed the idealism of many of these people. The real aims of some of them is another matter. But if a hostile Government was tempted to pursue its demands by armed aggression, which example would be more likely to make it pause: the renunciation of the means of national self-defence which the banners call for? Or the swift and sure response of our young men in the South Atlantic just a year ago?

As Lord Home said only a few weeks ago: “I can find nothing in Christian teaching that forbids me to defend myself when faced with an evil aggressor who aims to destroy my religion and all the values which I treasure” .

And that is why on June 9th we will ask the people of Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom to treat the Nation's defence as the first call on the Nation's resources.

Upholding the Law

It is not only in international affairs that this Government has strenuously upheld the rule of law. We have done so with great determination at home, not least here in Scotland.

To the criminal, the greatest deterrent is the certainty that he will be detected and punished. In the war against crime, our police are in the front line. In that war they can be confident, and our people can be confident that this Government gives them total support. [end p7]

The Left would openly seek to make the police instruments of socialism, because they (the Left) set little store on a truly free society.

We believe in a police force that is well-manned, well-paid, well-equipped, one which in carrying out its duties is fair, independent, and impartial, one that is devoted to conserving the essential freedoms of our society.

We have proved this belief in our police not only by word but also by action. When we came to office, we immediately made substantial improvements in their pay, condition and equipment. Last year we spent twice as much on the Scottish police as Labour did.

But the police need more than money: they need to be equipped with effective powers to seek out the criminal and bring him to justice. The Scottish police now have the powers they need to deal with the scourge of violent crime. We found the great cities of Scotland scarred by the violence of the stick the knife and the razor.

Too often what might have passed off as a drunken disturbance became a mob murder because such weapons were being carried.

We legislated to give the police power to stop and search those whom they suspected of carrying such weapons. This power, so necessary for the protection of our people, was bitterly opposed by all the other political parties in Scotland. It has been used responsiby and effectively. One third of those searched have been found to have offensive weapons. This legislation is a real step forward in crime prevention.

Nor did we forget the victims of crime. We brought in for the first time in Scotland a comprehensive scheme to require criminals to pay compensation to their victims.

Sport was not forgetten in this reform either. So often a Saturday afternoon's entertainment at a Scottish football match had been marred by the drunken and violent behaviour of a hooligan minority. This disruption was threatening the very life of the game at which the Scots have so often excelled. The crowds dwindled. Some responsible fans stayed away.

We took firm action. Its success is plain. The cans and bottles left after a match are now no more than a handful. The disruptive behaviour has strikingly diminished. [end p8]

And spectators can enjoy the game again—and we all enjoyed Aberdeen's triumph in Europe this week.

Vandalism is the acid which corrodes and destroys the quality of life for so many.

Vandalism has destroyed schools in Strathclyde and ratepayers have a bill of £1000 per day just to repair broken windows.

All over Scotland new houses suffer damage even before they are occupied.

Mindless destruction and drunken violence have made life a waking nightmare for those who live in some of Scotland's housing schemes. For them our resolute approach to law and order holds out most hope.

Theirs is a misery which no one should have to bear.

We support the police unswervingly.

We support the bobby on the beat.

We are alert to take every opportunity to win the war against crime.

We shall not rest until the bullies, who prey on the elderly, on the lonely widow, on the disabled, are brought to justice.

Home Ownership

But a better police force is only one part of the Conservative approach to law and order. That approach has an even more positive side. Our whole philosophy is built on respect for the traditional moral values which are the cornerstones of a free society. All our policies are designed to encourage personal responsibility, personal initiative, self respect and respect for others and their property.

We have provided for many families for the first time the exciting opportunity to own their own homes; to have a property in the maintenance of which they can take pride. [end p9]

The transformation which home ownership can make is perhaps nowhere more clearly illustrated than in the experiment carried out in the Easterhouse area of Glasgow where the local authority had a neighbourhood so devastated by vandalism that nobody wanted to live in it. The houses were made available to private purchasers, and now each home is privately owned and the transformation is miraculous.

A Strategy for Jobs

We have to tackle and reverse the tragedy of unemployment, and to do it at a difficult time when world recession has coincided with a technological revolution, a time when new industries in the Far East compete in our markets both at home and abroad.

But these things have happened. And there is little point in bemoaning them. They merely raise the hurdles higher. But we still have to jump them.

New jobs come from new businesses and new products. Some of today's jobs in Scotland did not exist 10 years ago.

What can Government do to help with this industrial rebirth? It can create the climate in which industry can flourish.

It can keep inflation down. This Government has—and we shall get it down further.

It can help cut overheads in industry. This Government has—we have cut the National Insurance Surcharge—that tax on jobs imposed by Labour. In doing so we have returned £2,000 million to the private sector.

It can cut its own bureaucracy. This Government has—we have announced today that we now have the smallest Civil Service for 20 years.

It can legislate for more balanced Trades Union Laws. This Government has—We have passed two Acts in this Parliament and will put through more in the next Parliament.

It can provide tax incentives to good management. This Government has—We have cut the tax rates, especially on middle and top management. Their talents are in demand internationally. We need them here. [end p10]

It can provide help through lower taxes and loan guarantees for small business. This Government has—we have the best range of constructive measures for small business to be found anywhere.

It can help inventors and young people with ideas to launch new products. This Government has—any high technology firm with a suitable invention can get a grant to cover one third of the costs of bringing the product to the market.

It can help with research into new technology to put us ahead of the rest of the world. This Government has—in response to the Alvey Report, we have recently announced an ambitious scheme in which Government, universities and industry collaborate on the next generation of computers and beyond. £200 million comes from Government and £150 million from private industry. This is really investing in the future.

It can help through public purchasing. This Government has—some 90%; of our defence supplies and equipment come from British firms. There are at present defence orders for £1850 million in Britain's shipyards.

It can help with training young people to ensure that they have the skills which the new jobs will require. This Government has—We have the biggest and most exciting training programme for young people in our history. We have known the need for years. This Government is tackling it.

That is what Government can do.

But of course nothing can replace the enterprise of individuals or the drive and pressure of the market place.

The strategy which I have outlined is a strategy for genuine jobs.

Conservative Governments have never been laissez faire.—That label belonged to the Liberals.

Conservatives believe that Government must be strong to do those tasks which only Governments can perform. Equally, we are wise to leave to industry and to individual endeavour those things in which only they can succeed. [end p11]

I think in their hearts people know that our way is the one that will produce results. No glib talk; no gimmicks, no reckless expenditure, no false promises. Just effort, inventiveness, quality, efficiency, and reliability. Then we've got to go out and sell

It is not easy, but then our forebears who created the industrial revolution did not have it easy either. But they did not say we must wait for the upturn to come. They went out and created the upturn.

And so prosperity spread. And the standard of living rose. Even though Departments of Industry didn't exist.

In four short years, Britain has recovered her confidence and her self-respect. We have regained the regard and admiration of other nations. We are seen today as a people with integrity, resolve and the will to succeed. This is no small achievement. Beginning of section checked against IRN Report 13 May 1983:

Mr President, this is a historic election. For the choice facing the nation is between two totally different ways of life.

And what a prize we have to fight for: no less than the chance to banish from our land the dark divisive clouds of Marxist socialism and bring together men and women from all walks of life who share a belief in freedom and who have the courage to uphold it. [Applause]. End of section checked against IRN Report 13 May 1983.

So tonight we go forth from Perth to battle. Great things are expected of us.

If we keep our standards and our vision bright, what we have begun here tonight in Perth, will end not only in victory for our Party, but in fulfilment, of our nation's destiny.