Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Conservative Party Conference

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

MT spoke without an autocue. She began her speech at 1430. At 1525 she left to visit the wounded at the Royal Sussex County Hospital. Film of the speech can be viewed here.

Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 4659
Themes: Health policy, Social security & welfare, Society, Agriculture, Employment, Industry, Privatized & state industries, Public spending & borrowing, Trade unions, Strikes & other union action, Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (Asia), European Union Budget, Local government, Science & technology, Transport, Defence (general), Terrorism, Northern Ireland, British Constitution (general discussions), Law & order, Conservative Party (organization), Labour Party & socialism, Famous statements by MT

Sir Alistair GraisserMr. President, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The bomb attack on the Grand Hotel early this morning was first and foremost an inhuman, undiscriminating attempt to massacre innocent unsuspecting men and women staying in Brighton for our Conservative Conference. Our first thoughts must at once be for those who died and for those who are now in hospital recovering from their injuries. But the bomb attack clearly signified more than this. It was an attempt not only to disrupt and terminate our Conference; It was an attempt to cripple Her Majesty's democratically-elected Government. That is the scale of the outrage in which we have all shared, and the fact that we are gathered here now—shocked, but composed and determined—is a sign not only that this attack has failed, but that all attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail.

I should like to express our deep gratitude to the police, firemen, ambulancemen, nurses and doctors, to all the emergency services, and to the staff of the hotel; to our ministerial staff and the Conservative Party staff who stood with us and shared the danger.

As Prime Minister and as Leader of the Party, I thank them all and send our heartfelt sympathy to all those who have suffered. [end p1]

And now it must be business as usual. We must go on to discuss the things we have talked about during this Conference; one or two matters of foreign affairs; and after that, two subjects I have selected for special consideration—unemployment and the miners' strike.

This Conservative Conference—superbly chaired, and of course, our Dame P. HunterChairman came on this morning with very little sleep and carried on marvellously,—and with excellent contributions from our members, has been an outstanding example of orderly assembly and free speech. We have debated the great national and international issues, as well as those which affect the daily lives of our people. We have seen at the rostrum miner and pensioner, nurse and manager, clergyman and student. In Government, we have been fulfilling the promises contained in our election manifesto, which was put to the people in a national ballot.

This Government, Mr. President, is reasserting Parliament's ultimate responsibility for controlling the total burden of taxation on our citizens, whether levied by central or local government, and in the coming session of Parliament we shall introduce legislation which will abolish the GLC and the Metropolitan County Councils.

In the quest for sound local government, we rely on the help of Conservative councillors. Their task should never be underestimated and their virtues should not go unsung. They work hard and conscientiously in the true spirit of service and I pay special tribute to the splendid efforts of Conservative councils up and down the country in getting better value for money through greater [end p2] efficiency and putting out work to competitive tender. This is privatization at the local level and we need more of it.

At national level, since the General Election just over a year ago, the Government has denationalized five major enterprises, making a total of thirteen since 1979. Yesterday, you gave Norman Tebbit a standing ovation; today, our thoughts are with him and his family.

Again and again, denationalization has brought greater motivation to managers and workforce, higher profits and rising investment, and what is more, many in industry now have a share in the firm for which they work. We Conservatives want every owner to be an earner and every earner to be an owner.

Soon, we shall have the biggest ever act of denationalization with British Telecom and British Airways will follow; and we have not finished yet. There will be more to come in this Parliament.

And just as we have stood by our pledge on denationalization, it is our pride that despite the recession, we have kept faith with 9 million pensioners and moreover, by keeping inflation down, we have protected the value of their savings. As Norman Fowler told the Conference on Wednesday, this Government has not only put more into pensions, but has increased resources for the National Health Service. Our record for last year, to be published shortly, will show that the Health Service today is providing more care, more services and more help for the patient than at any stage in its history. That is Conservative care in practice. And I think it is further proof of the statement I made in Brighton in this very hall two years ago—perhaps some of you remember it—that the National Health Service is safe with us. [end p3]

Now Mr. President and Friends, this performance in the social services could never have been achieved without an efficient and competitive industry to create the wealth we need. Efficiency is not the enemy, but the ally, of compassion.

In our discussions here, we have spoken of the need for enterprise, profits and the wider distribution of property among all the people. In the Conservative Party, we have no truck with outmoded Marxist doctrine about class warfare. For us, it is not who you are, who your family is or where you come from that matters. It is what you are and what you can do for our country that counts. That is our vision. It is a vision worth defending and we shall defend it. Indeed, this Government will never put the defence of our country at risk.

No-one in their senses wants nuclear weapons for their own sake, but equally, no responsible prime minister could take the colossal gamble of giving up our nuclear defences while our greatest potential enemy kept their's.

Policies which would throw out all American nuclear bases—bases which, mind you, have been here since the time of Mr. Attlee, Mr. Truman and Winston Churchill—would wreck NATO and leave us totally isolated from our friends in the United States, and friends they are. No nation in history has ever shouldered a greater burden nor shouldered it more willingly nor more generously than the United States. This Party is pro-American.

And we must constantly remind people what the defence policy of the Opposition Party would mean. Their idea that by giving up our nuclear deterrent, we could somehow escape the result [end p4] of a nuclear war elsewhere is nonsense, and it is a delusion to assume that conventional weapons are sufficient defence against nuclear attack. And do not let anyone slip into the habit of thinking that conventional war in Europe is some kind of comfortable option. With a huge array of modern weapons held by the Soviet Union, including chemical weapons in large quantities, it would be a cruel and terrible conflict. The truth is that possession of the nuclear deterrent has prevented not only nuclear war but also conventional war and to us, peace is precious beyond price. We are the true peace party. And the nuclear deterrent has not only kept the peace, but it will continue to preserve our independence. Winston Churchill 's warning is just as true now as when he made it many many years ago. He said this: “Once you take the position of not being able in any circumstances to defend your rights against aggression, there is no end to the demands that will be made nor to the humiliations that must be accepted.” He knew, and we must heed his warning.

And yet, Labour's defence policy remains no Polaris, no Cruise missiles in Britain, no United States nuclear bases in Britain, no Trident, no independent nuclear deterrent.

There is, I think, just one answer the nation will give. No defence—no Labour Government.

Mr. President, in foreign affairs, this year has seen two major diplomatic successes. We have reached a detailed and binding agreement with China on the future of Hong Kong. It is an agreement designed to preserve Hong Kong's flourishing economy and unique way of life and we believe that it meets the needs and wishes of the people of Hong Kong themselves. [end p5]

A few weeks ago, the unofficial members of the Executive Council of Hong Kong came to see me. We kept in touch with them the whole time and they frequently made journeys to No. 10 Downing Street as the negotiations with China proceeded. We were just about to initial the agreement and we consulted them, of course, about its content. Their spokesman said this: he said that while the agreement did not contain everything he would have liked, he and his colleagues could nevertheless recommend it to the people of Hong Kong in good conscience—in good conscience. That means a lot to us. If that is what the leaders of Hong Kong's own community believe, then we have truly fulfilled the heavy responsibility we feel for their long-term future.

That agreement required imagination, skill, hard work and perseverance. In other words, it required Geoffrey Howe.

And in Europe too, through firmness and determination, we have achieved a long-term settlement of Britain's budget contributions, a fair deal for Britain and for Europe too. And if we had listened to the advice of other party leaders, Britain would not have done half as well. But patient diplomacy and occasionally, I confess, a little impatient diplomacy, that did the trick.

Also, we have at last begun to curb surplus food production in the Community. Now, we know that for some farmers this has meant a painful adjustment and we are very much aware of their difficulties. Their work and their success are a great strength to our country. Michael Jopling and his colleagues will continue to fight to achieve a fair deal for them.

We have also won agreement on the need to keep the Community's spending under proper control. The Community can now enter on a new [end p6] chapter and use its energies and influence to play a greater part in world affairs, as an example of what democracies can accomplish, as a very powerful trading group and as a strong force for freedom.

Now, Mr. President, we had one of the most interesting debates of this Conference on unemployment, which we all agree is the scourge of our times.

To have over 3 million people unemployed in this country is bad enough, even though we share this tragic problem with other nations, but to suggest, as some of our opponents have, that we do not care about it is as deeply wounding as it is utterly false. Do they really think that we do not understand what it means for the family man who cannot find a job, to have to sit at home with a sense of failure and despair? Or that we do not understand how hopeless the world must seem to a young person who has not yet succeeded in getting his first job? Of course, we know, of course we see, and of course, we care. However could they say that we welcome unemployment as a political weapon? What better news could there be for any Government than the news that unemployment is falling and the day cannot come too soon for me.

Others, while not questioning our sincerity, argue that our policies will not achieve our objectives. They look back forty years to the post-war period, when we were paused to launch a brave new world; a time when we all thought we had the cure for unemployment. In that confident dawn it seemed that having won the war, we knew how to win the peace. Keynes had provided the diagnosis. It was all set out in the 1944 White Paper on Employment. I bought it then; I have it still. My name is on the top of it. Margaret H. Roberts. One of my staff took one look at it and said: “Good Heavens! I did not know it was as old as that!” [end p7]

Now, we all read that White Paper very carefully, but the truth was that politicians took some parts of the formula in it and conveniently ignored the rest. I re-read it frequently. Those politicians overlooked the warning in that Paper that government action must not weaken personal enterprise or exonerate the citizen from the duty of fending for himself. They disregarded the advice that wages must be related to productivity and above all, they neglected the warning that without a rising standard of industrial efficiency, you cannot achieve a high level of employment combined with a rising standard of living.

And having ignored so much of that and having ignored other parts of the formula for so much of the time, the result was that we ended up with high inflation and high unemployment.

This Government is heeding the warnings. It has acted on the the basic truths that were set out all those years ago in that famous White Paper. If I had come out with all this today, some people would call it “Thatcherite” but, in fact, it was vintage Maynard Keynes. He had a horror of inflation, a fear of too much State control, and a belief in the market.

We are heeding those warnings. We are taking the policy as a whole and not only in selected parts. We have already brought inflation down below 5%;. Output has been rising steadily since 1981 and investment is up substantially. But if things are improving, why—you will ask—does unemployment not fall?

And that was the question one could feel throughout that debate, even though people know there is always a time lag between getting the other things right and having a fall in unemployment. Why does unemployment not fall? [end p8]

May I try to answer that question?

Well, first, more jobs are being created. As Tom King pointed out, over the last year more than a quarter of a million extra jobs have been created, but the population of working age is also rising very fast as the baby boom of the 1960s becomes the school-leavers of the 1980s; so although the number of jobs are rising, the population of working age is also rising, and among the population of working age a larger proportion of married women are seeking work, and so you will see why we need more jobs just to stop unemployment rising and even more jobs to get it falling.

Now, on top of that, new technology has caused redundancy in many factories, though it has also created whole new industries providing products and jobs that only a few years ago were undreamed of.

So it has two effects: the first one redundancies, the second and slightly later, new jobs as new products become possible. This has happened in history before.

A few days ago I visited York, where I saw the first railway engine, Stevenson's “Rocket” . I thought of the jobs, the prospects and the hope that the new steam engines and the railways then brought to many people. Communities queued up to be on a railway line, to have their own station. Those communities welcomed change and it brought them more jobs.

I confess I am very glad we have got the railways, but if we were trying to build those same railways today, I wonder if we would ever get planning permission—it sometimes takes so long. And that is one thing that can sometimes delay the coming into existence of jobs.

That was one example from history, but let us go through during my lifetime as we have this same phenomenon, redundancies from new technology more jobs from new technology. [end p9]

In the 1940s, when I took a science degree, the new emerging industries were plastics, man-made fibres and television. Later it will be satellites, computers and telecommunications, and now it is biotechnology and information technology; and today our universities and science parks are identifying the needs of tomorrow. So there are new industries and new jobs in the pipeline.

I remember an industrialist telling me, when I first went into business—and I have always remembered it— “Our job is to discover what the customer will buy and to produce it.” And in Wrexham the other day, at a Youth Training Centre, I was delighted to see a poster saying “It is the customer that makes pay days possible.” So those young people are not only learning new technology; they were learning the facts of business life and how we create new jobs. Because it is the spirit of enterprise that provides jobs. It is being prepared to venture and build a business and the role of Government in helping them to do that? It is in cutting taxes; it is in cutting inflation; it is keeping costs down; it is cutting through regulations and removing obstacles to the growth of small businesses. For that is where many of the new jobs will come from—small businesses. And it is providing better education and training.

The Youth Training Scheme, now in its second year, was set up to give young people the necessary skills for the new technologies and the necessary approach to industry. A majority of the first year's graduates are getting jobs. A much bigger proportion of those leaving the Youth Training Scheme are getting jobs than of those which left the Youth Opportunities Scheme, and so they should, because it is a much better training scheme and it will improve again this year. I was very interested in it. David Young started it and [end p10] I offered to take a trainee for our office at No. 10 Downing Street. We would love to have one. Now, he or she might not have made it to be Prime Minister in one year, but the work at No. 10, because we have a staff, obviously, to run the office, of about a hundred, is varied and interesting and we really wanted to take on a trainee, and we also said we would take some trainees into the other parts of the Civil Service. So we were not willing [sic]; we were really welcoming this person or people and looking forward to it.

At first, the union said yes, then they said no, and the result is that young people have been denied training places.

The same problem arose at Jaguar. First the union said yes, then they said no. So 130 unemployed teenagers have been denied training, and that means young people were denied jobs.

Mr. President, we cannot create jobs without the willing cooperation not only of employers but of trade unions and all of the workforce who work in industry and commerce as well.

Yesterday, in the debate, we were urged to spend more money on capital investment. It looks a very attractive idea, but to spend more in one area means spending less in another or it means putting up taxes. Now, in Government, we are constantly faced with these difficult choices. If we want more for investment, I have to ask my colleagues in Cabinet: “What are you going to give up or you or you? Or you or you?” Or should I perhaps ask them: “Whose pay claim are you going to cut, the doctors, the police, the nurses?” I do not find many takers, because we have honoured the reviews of pay for doctors, nurses and the police and others in full. And you would not have cheered me if we had not done so and quite right too, but I am bringing this to you because although people can say the way to solve [end p11] unemployment is to give a higher capital allocation, I have to say what are we going to give up or I have to turn to Nigel Lawson and ask him which taxes would he put up. Income tax? The personal income tax is already too high. Value Added Tax? Well, I should get a pretty frosty reception from Nigel and I should get a pretty frosty reception from you. But I would be loth to ask him anyway.

But you see, governments have to make these difficult choices, because as you know, whether your own households or whether your own businesses, there is a certain amount of income and you are soon in trouble if you do not live within it.

But what I want to say to you is that we do consider these difficult choices in the public expenditure annual round and we are just coming up to it, and we have managed to allocate a very considerable sum to capital investment. Indeed, we have found the money for the best investment projects on offer and believe you me, it has been because of very good management in each and every department. It has been cutting out waste so we could make room for these things and be certain that we could say to you that we were getting value for money.

Let me just give you a few examples of some of the investment projects for which we have found money, by careful budgetting.

There is the M25 road for example. It is being completed. British Railways have been given the green light to go ahead with electrification, if they can make it pay. We have started or built forty-nine new hospitals since 1979. Capital investment in the nationalized industries as a whole is going up. Of course, we look at those things like new power stations and in a year after drought we look at things like more investment in the water supply industry. So we are going ahead with major capital investment. [end p12]

So what is the conclusion that we are coming to? It is the spirit of enterprise that creates new jobs and it is Government's task to create the right framework, the right financial framework, in which that can flourish and to cut the obstacles which sometimes handicap the birth of enterprise, and also to manage our own resources carefully and well.

That is more or less what that Employment Policy White Paper in 1944 said, so let me just return to it, page 1. It is getting a bit old.

“Employment cannot be created by Act of Parliament or by Government action alone. The success of the policy outlined in this Paper will ultimately depend on the understanding and support of the community as a whole and especially on the efforts of employers and workers in industry.”

It was true then, it is true now, and those are the policies that we are following and shall continue to follow, because those are the policies that we believe will ultimately create the genuine jobs for the future. In the meantime, it is our job to try to mitigate the painful effects of change and that we do, as you know, by generous redundancy payments and also by a Community Enterprise Scheme, which not only finds jobs for the long-term unemployed, but finds them in a way which brings great benefits to the communities. And then, of course, where there are redundancy schemes in steel and now in coal, the industries themselves set up enterprise agencies both to give help to those who are made redundant and to provide new training. All of this is a highly constructive policy both for the creation of jobs and a policy to cushion the effects of change. [end p13]

May I turn now to the coal industry?

For a little over seven months we have been living through an agonising strike. Let me make it absolutely clear the miners' strike was not of this Government's seeking nor of its making.

We have heard in debates at this Conference some of the aspects that have made this dispute so repugnant to so many people. We were reminded by a colliery manager that the NUM always used to accept that a pit should close when the losses were too great to keep it open, and that the miners set great store by investment in new pits and new seams, and under this Government that new investment is happening in abundance. You can almost repeat the figures with me. £2 million in capital investment in the mines for every day this Government has been in power, so no shortage of capital investment.

We heard moving accounts from two working miners about just what they have to face as they try to make their way to work. The sheer bravery of those men and thousands like them who kept the mining industry alive is beyond praise. “Scabs” their former workmates call them. Scabs? They are lions! What a tragedy it is when striking miners attack their workmates. Not only are they members of the same union, but the working miner is saving both their futures, because it is the working miners, whether in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, North Wales or Scotland, it is the working miners who have kept faith with those who buy our coal and without that custom thousands of jobs in the mining industry would be already lost.

And then we heard—unforgettably—from the incomparable Mrs. Irene McGibbon—who told us what it is like to be the wife of a working miner during this strike. She told us of the threats and [end p14] intimidation suffered by herself and her family and even her 11-year-old son, but what she endured only stiffened her resolve. To face the picket line day after day must take a very special kind of courage, but it takes as much—perhaps even more—to the housewife who has to stay at home alone. Men and women like that are what we are proud to call “the best of British” and our police who upheld the law with an independence and a restraint perhaps only to be found in this country are the admiration of the world.

To be sure, the miners had a good deal and to try to prevent a strike the National Coal Board gave to the miners the best ever pay offer, the highest ever investment and for the first time the promise that no miner would lose his job against his will. We did this despite the fact that the bill for losses in the coal industry last year was bigger than the annual bill for all the doctors and dentists in all the National Health Service hospitals in the United Kingdom.

Let me repeat it: the losses—the annual losses—in the coal industry are enormous. £1.3 billion last year. You have to find that money as tax-payers. It is equal to the sum we pay in salaries to all the doctors and dentists in the National Health Service.

Mr. President, this is a dispute about the right to go to work of those who have been denied the right to go to vote, and we must never forget that the overwhelming majority of trade unionists, including many striking miners, deeply regret what has been done in the name of trade unionism. When this strike is over—and one day it will be over—we must do everything we can to encourage moderate and responsible trade unionism so that it can once again take its respected and valuable place in our industrial life. [end p15]

Meanwhile, we are faced with the present Executive of the National Union of Mineworkers. They know that what they are demanding has never been granted either to miners or to workers in any other industry. Why then demand it? Why ask for what they know cannot be conceded? There can only be one explanation. They did not want a settlement; they wanted a strike. Otherwise, they would have ballotted on the Coal Board's offer. Indeed, one-third of the miners did have a ballot and voted overwhelmingly to accept the offer.

Mr. President, what we have seen in this country is the emergence of an organized revolutionary minority who are prepared to exploit industrial disputes, but whose real aim is the breakdown of law and order and the destruction of democratic parliamentary government. We have seen the same sort of thugs and bullies at Grunwick, more recently against Eddie Shah in Stockport, and now organized into flying squads around the country. If their tactics were to be allowed to succeed, if they are not brought under the control of the law, we shall see them again at every industrial dispute organized by militant union leaders anywhere in the country.

One of the speakers earlier in this Conference realized this fact, realized that what they are saying is: “Give us what we want or we are prepared to go on with violence,” and he referred to Danegeld. May I add to what that speaker said.

“We never pay anyone Danegeld, no matter how trifling the cost, for the end of that game is oppression and shame, and the nation that plays it is lost.” Yes, Rudyard Kipling. Who could put it better?

Democratic change there has always been in this, the home of democracy. But the sanction for change is the ballot box. [end p16]

It seems that there are some who are out to destroy any properly elected government. They are out to bring down the framework of law. That is what we have seen in this strike, and what is the law they seek to defy?

It is the Common Law created by fearless judges and passed down across the centuries. It is legislation scrutinized and enacted by the parliament of a free people. It is legislation passed through a House of Commons, a Commons elected once every five years by secret ballot by one citizen, one vote. This is the way our law was fashioned and that is why British justice is renowned across the world.

“No government owns the law. It is the law of the land, heritage of the people. No man is above the law and no man is below it. Nor do we ask any man's permission when we require him to obey it. Obedience to the law is demanded as a right, not asked as a favour.” So said Theodore Roosevelt.

Mr. President, the battle to uphold the rule of law calls for the resolve and commitment of the British people. Our institutions of justice, the courts and the police require the unswerving support of every law-abiding citizen and I believe they will receive it.

The nation faces what is probably the most testing crisis of our time, the battle between the extremists and the rest. We are fighting, as we have always fought, for the weak as well as for the strong. We are fighting for great and good causes. We are fighting to defend them against the power and might of those who rise up to challenge them. This Government will not weaken. This nation will meet that challenge. Democracy will prevail.