Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Scottish Party Conference

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: City Halls, Perth
Source: Thatcher Archive: transcript
Editorial comments: MT was due to speak at 1900. The text has been checked against a tape in the Thatcher Archive and audience reaction described in editorial notes. The press release was modified in hundreds of places on delivery.
Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 3966
Themes: Autobiographical comments, Autobiography (childhood), Union of UK nations, Conservatism, Conservative Party (history), Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Economic policy - theory and process, Education, Employment, Industry, Monetary policy, Public spending & borrowing, Foreign policy (USA), Labour Party & socialism, Community charge (“poll tax”), Race, immigration, nationality, Trade union law reform, Strikes & other union action, Voluntary sector & charity

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen may I begin by saying what a privilege it is, Mr. President, to share this platform with you. You have presided over this Conference with your customary eloquence and skill; and the dignity and the courage with which you have surmounted personal tragedy is an inspiration to us all. [clapping]

And may I also thank Jimmy Goold for the way he has carried out his duties as Chairman. [clapping]

As you know I come to Scotland several times a year, and you always make me feel at home. Indeed just ten days after I was elected leader of the Conservative Party, I came to Scotland, and I shall never forget the warmth of that reception. Overnight, I became “Maggie” ! [laughter] And I've been Maggie ever since. [laughter]

Now I really would like to thank you for your foresight and thoughtfulness for arranging this rally on my husband's seventieth birthday. It's the best and largest birthday party we could possibly have had. [laughter and clapping]

The part played by the Scottish people in the life of the United Kingdom has helped to forge our history. Your contribution has been outstanding—in scholarship, in medicine, in finance, in business. [end p1]

And Scotland always provides stiff competition in Prime Ministers. Harold Macmillan, now Lord Stockton, whose mental agility and brilliance remains undiminished [clapping]; and Alec Home, who has won a very special place in all our hearts [clapping]. We are delighted and honoured to see Alec and Elizabeth HomeElizabeth, as always, at our Conference. They are a shining example to Conservatives everywhere—loyal, true, and committed. [clapping]

Now Scottish Members of Parliament, Scottish Conservative M.P.s—under the magnificent leadership of George Younger and his team—do an excellent job at Westminster. I have only one complaint. [pause] There are not enough of them. [laughter and applause]

It is sometimes suggested that the Conservative Party need not worry about its political strength in Scotland as its power base is south of the Border and Scotland is Labour territory. Nothing could be further from the truth. [clapping] We are a conservative and a Unionist Party and we seek success in every part of Britain.

As Disraeli said, we are a national party or we are nothing. And he was referring not only to people in all parts of Great Britain, but to people from all walks of life. Scotland ought to be natural Tory territory. That's the way we want to see it. We did it in the 1950s and it is time that, together, we did it again. [clapping]


Mr President, There is one subject in particular about which you will want me to say something this evening. Yes, it's rates. [laughter] [end p2]

Now I know you had a long debate on the subject yesterday—and a good debate, too. George Younger has told me all about it. A robust debate—and quite right. Trial by combat is not yet dead after all! [laughter]

I understand the strength of feeling that has been generated by the revaluation, and by the large increases that the assessors—who are entirely independent of Government—have imposed on many householders and businesses. George has kept me fully in the picture, and so have your individual M.P.s.

The fact is, that for far too many people, this year's rate demand has come as a thunderbolt. And I know how commercial ratepayers feel—I spent my early years living above the shop.

What the revaluation really does is to bring home the anomalies, and the unfairness that's inherent in the present rating system. [clapping] But we must remember that some of this unfairness is the direct result of extreme, spendthrift Labour Councils, like Edinburgh. [clapping] They have deliberately used the revaluation as a cover to impose real hardship on the ratepayer.

Now George explained to you yesterday that the Government has already provided over £50 million to ease the rates bills of householders. And next week, he will announce in Parliament details of a scheme costing a further £40 million, at least, to help some 50,000 small businesses and others who are worst affected. We are anxious to ease this burden which has made such deep inroads into some family and business budgets. [end p3]

But the underlying problem remains. I think we have reached the stage when no amount of patching up the existing system can overcome its inherent unfairness. [clapping] So last October, we announced a fundamental review both of the rating system and of the whole of local government finance. Our aims are these.

Any new scheme must be fairer than the existing scheme. The burden should fall, not heavily on the few, but fairly on the many. [clapping] Councillors should always have to consider not only what they want to spend but also what it will cost their electors. Many Conservative councillors do this already—but many Labour councils do not.

Secondly, the rate support system has now become so complicated that hardly anyone can understand it. [clapping] So we are working towards a clearer and fairer way of distributing Exchequer grant among local authorities.

Now I hope that by the end of the year we shall be in a position to publish proposals to meet these aims. Of course, they will then have to be discussed in Parliament and elsewhere. So many people agree on the problem, but disagree on the solution. I want to get agreement, and then move ahead quickly. And I believe that's what you want too. And your support will be crucial. [clapping]


I know you are also worried about the teachers' strike. I, too, am greatly concerned at the damage being done to children's education and this applies not only in Scotland but south of the border as well. Children only go through school once in a life time, their school days cannot be repeated, they only have one chance. A teacher may be able to make up for lost time and lost earnings, a child can never make up for lost education. [end p4]

I owe so much to my own teachers. I am eternally grateful for their dedication, which did not stop at the sound of the school bell, at the end of lessons. I know how much I owe to my own head teacher—a Scots classicist from Edinburgh who came south to teach us English—and a lot of good Scots sense besides. [laughter]

Our teachers enjoyed high prestige. They won it by their example. There are thousands like that today whose commitment is being obscured by the actions of others.

Keith Joseph and George Younger have some very exciting plans to improve the school curriculum and to raise standards in our schools. I hope that we can get on with these things.

And I hope that teachers north and south of the border will use the machinery to negotiate in the normal way, so that the education of our children and the esteem of our teachers can soon be restored. [clapping]

Moving Ahead

Mr. President, we're nearing the halfway mark in this our second term. It is a time for cool heads,—a time for keeping calmly on our chosen course not shirking the problems, but tackling them with humanity and determination,—a time to reaffirm our vision, to go forward, confidently blending the new with the old.

Indeed, There is no better place to illustrate what I mean than here in Perth. For if anyone knows more about blending, it's the Scots. [laughter and clapping] So let us take stock for a minute of what has already been achieved in Scotland. Last year was an all-time record for new investment in Scotland. If you believe in the future, you invest in the future. [end p5]

If you believe that progress is a partnership between what Government can do and what free enterprise can do, then look at the record of the office of “Locate in Scotland” over the last four years—£1,300 million of investment and 30,000 jobs. And when, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I answer Questions in Parliament facing the Opposition, they paint a picture of Scotland as a land of gloom and depression. But it isn't.

Why don't they describe Scotland's vigour, its achievements in high technology, its new oil business, its successful food and farming industries, its modern communications, its air of commitment to the future. Why don't they sing Scotland's praises for a change? That's the way to persuade people to put their efforts and their money in Scotland. [clapping]

And if you're thinking of investing and you believe that the future lies in efficient, enterprising and flourishing industry, just look at the productivity record of Scottish industry. Why, George tells me it's far better than in England. And I'm sure George is right.[laughter] And Scotland can boast some real success stories in setting up new businesses. Like the two young men who in November 1979 started a new company, a dental laboratory, in Dundee. In less than six years their turnover has increased ten-fold. And today they employ 26 people.

Or like the company Howco, in Kilsyth, which as recently as 1982 set up in specialist steels. Today they have a turnover of over £2 million and a workforce of 18. [end p6]

It is to firms such as this that we look for the future and for jobs for the future. For Mr. President, the only basis for expansion is an efficient industry and new businesses. And in Scotland you have both. Now that was not achieved by pouring taxpayers' money into declining industries though, yes, we have done that in some cases, and the reason was a good Tory one, so that we could mitigate hardship and give time for other new business to develop. That is a very good Tory instinct. Yes, to do things to mitigate the hardship, to give time for other things to develop.

But this record was achieved in Scotland by visionaries with their jackets off, who ran with the swiftest, competed with the strongest and went out to win in the markets of the world.

Now, Mr President, I want to …

Now, Mr President, I want to come to something that many people find as a paradox.

Many people find it a paradox that,

although we have had a year of record output although we have had a year of record standard of living although we have had a year of rising profits and although we have had a year of record investment; all that and yet unemployment hasn't fallen.

Now a fall in unemployment is what everyone wants, and no-one more that I. But the number of jobs is increasing. And if at the last election, when I was here in this very hall, I had told you then that the number of jobs would increase by 600,000 within two years, you wouldn't have believed me. But that's what's happened. If, of course, at the same time I'd said that the number of jobs by 1985 would increase by 600,000 but the numbers on the unemployment register wouldn't have fallen, you wouldn't have believed that paradox either. But both of those things have happened. We are on the right lines.… We are on the right lines in getting the creation of new jobs. But the fact is—and I think Tom King explained it—the new jobs are not yet coming fast enough because there are still more people entering the workforce.

So we have to create still more businesses and expand existing ones to create enough new jobs. You know about those things in Scotland. For you helped to create the industrial revolution in this country, and elsewhere. You sent engineers, scientists and businessmen the world over in pursuit of business opportunities.

And those people didn't wait for a boost or a boom. They were the boost and they were the boom. [end p7]

Mr President, this Government is especially anxious to help young people and to help those who have been out of work for some time. That's why we are extending our Youth Training Scheme for two years. Because we want to reach the position where unemployment is not an option for our young people. We don't want them idle. It's better for them either to continue in education or in a job or in training than be idle.

That's why we're extending the training scheme so they have something to do, something to work for, some skill to acquire. So we've made special arrangements for that. And then we are particularly concerned about those who have been unemployed for some time. And so, Nigel Lawson—to whom you gave such a marvelous reception a short time ago—doubled in the last budget the Community Programme. That is especially for people who have been unemployed for a long time. And we're doing it because we want to get the long term unemployed back into the world of work.

Mr President, as you know, I recently returned from the Economic Summit in Bonn. And the economic strategy which we are following in Britain was endorsed, at that Summit, by every one of the heads of government there—even the Socialist ones. And I should say very much the Socialist ones because they had tried out their Socialist theories and found that they failed. [clapping]

Of course, the Opposition didn't like it when I announced this in Parliament, but the fact is that every one of the heads of government of the seven big industrial nations endorsed the kind of policy that we have been following for some time.

We all of us agreed that if we are to tackle unemployment, we have to persist with the battle against inflation. Now some people think that we have already defeated inflation. Mr President, we haven't. It's a daily struggle. And let the rise in inflation which unfortunately occurred last month—deeply worrying to pensioners, householders and businesses as it is—let that small rise be an abiding lesson to those who would pursue a general policy of reflation and throw restraint to the winds. [clapping] [end p8]

But, Mr President, the Economic Summit at Bonn, of course, went far beyond economics. For sitting round the table last week were the nations which fought each other in that devastating war which ended forty years ago.

Britain fought then to uphold freedom, democracy and Western civilisation itself. One of the world's ugliest tyrannies had to be defeated so that we could live in peace and human dignity. It was a war of the common man—our own, Russian, French and American. We all fought, rich and poor, men at the front, women in the factories, fought together in a common cause which transcended all our differences. Here in Britain, under the indominitable leadership at No. 10, we lived—and made—history. Some gave lives. Many were at constant risk—in London streets; at Anzio; at Coventry, at Murmansk. The ideas of men like R.J. MitchellMitchell, like Sydney Camm, like SirRobert Watson-WattWatson-Watt and Barnes Wallis changed the course of the war.

Each individual whoever he was, or she was, made his own distinctive contribution to the common purpose. Each was a vital part of the whole; each one mattered. And as it was in winning the war, so it is in winning the peace. Each one matters. It was a war fought for freedom and justice. It is a peace built on freedom and justice. For freedom belongs, not to a collective, not to this on that class, but to individuals, each and every one. [clapping]

Somewhere along the way we lost that vision. We looked to the State for too much, and to ourselves for too little. and so in 1979, this Government set out to redress the balance between the power of the State and that of the citizen, in favour of the citizen. Now, Mr. President, I have never believed in laissez-faire. I believe that just as each of us his an obligation to make the best of his talents, so Government has an obligation to create the framework within which those talents can flourish. And central to that task of creating the right framework is the building of a Britain where everyone can become a property-owner. [end p9]

It has taken many years to convert a nation of tenants into a nation of home-owners. And we are far from completing it in Scotland. But we have made giant strides. To own your own home brings security for the family and something to pass on for the next generation. But security means more than that, and again we have to create the right framework. Security also means proving for your retirement. Some 11 million people have become occupational pensioners. And all the evidence shows that more would like to do so. And we intend to help them and help more to become occupational pensioners. We believe also that it should be as common for people to own shares as it is for them to own houses or cars. The privatisation of British Telecom and many other firms extended share-ownership to hundreds of thousands who had never owned shares before.

And there will be further measures to come. [clapping]

This is part of our capital-owning democracy. For capitalism is the story of how the privileges of the few became the daily necessities of the many. [clapping] Communism is the story of how the privileges of the few were kept by the political few and never transferred to the many. [clapping]

Earlier today I referred to the importance of small business. We need more. How do we get them? We have to cut regulations we have to shape tax incentives, we have to foster the venture capital, we have to encourage enterprise. Oh yes, we've made progress. There has been a big increase in self-employment. And there are a hundred thousand more businesses than when we came to office.

All these things are part of creating the right framework—part of our vision.

All these things are important aspects of wider ownership. When you have something of your own, you take care of it—you do it yourself in the garden or in the house. As a property owner you respect the rights of others, and the rule of law which upholds them. [clapping] As a property owner you understand your own responsibility and you respect the responsibilities and duties of others. As a worker shareholder you take an interest in selling more goods and looking after the customers.

The Wider Vision: Prosperity as a means to an End

But, Mr President, our vision is about much more than ownership and material things. We seek a world in which individuals can aspire to their own particular greatness. Where the quality of life is improved by the changed attitudes that prosperity and ownership can bring. [end p10]

Truly this is the way to One Nation, where all the different but all the equally important. Robert BurnsBurns as always put it more colourfully and I can't say it in the right accent and it wouldn't sound right if I did, so let me say it in my English, an anglicized version of Burns: “The rank is but the guinea stamp; the man's the gold for a' that …   .” [clapping] All different, all equally important. And he went on: “Then let us pray that come it may, as come it will for a' that; that sense and worth, o'er all the earth may bear the prize and a' that” .

I didn't expect to find so much pure Toryism in Burns. But there it is [laughter] written long before we were here. [clapping] And, of course, I understand that he once lived in the constituency which George Younger now represents, so … [laughter]

But now prosperity and having a stake in the future are not materialistic: because prosperity and a stake are bed rocks for improving the quality of life. And I get sometimes a little concerned when I hear people dispising them as ‘materialism’. But you know, you have got to provide money to look after … the old, the sick and the disabled in a more generous way. And prosperity and a stake in future are what enables us to protect the environment, to encourage the arts, to promote the sciences. All are part of our vision. They are the means through which we give voluntarily to those great charitable causes, which are so much a feature of our national life; they are the means to help others in the Third World whose plight is flashed so vividly onto our television screens. And didn't our people give so generously and wonderfully in the way in which it has become our custom to give. They are the means by which we exercise choice; and choice is the essence of liberty.

That is our vision. That is the framework which we believe government must create, and then that is the way in which we believe people will use their own talents, their own opportunities to develop, as free people. [clapping]

The Socialist Way

Mr. President, the Labour Party can't stand the thought that we want to have to a classless society where everyone counts. Because class is the whole basis of the Socialist creed and without it they're lost. And they've uttered yowls of rage. It was after all the Socialists who fought tooth and nail against the right of council tenants to buy their own home. [clapping] And who can really be sure that Labour would not abolish tax relief for the home-buyer with a mortgage? Of course, it depends who's get hold of the megaphone for the day. [laughter and clapping]

And it is Labour who have designs on your occupational pension. They want to direct where the pensions funds will be invested—not for your benefit but to further Socialist planning. And it's Labour who want to go back to their old levels of income tax. Have you forgotten what those were? Let me remind you. Under Socialism on earnings, a top rate of 83 pence in the pound. That was the income tax. And on savings a top rate of 98 pence in the pound. What a penalty on success! Hardly the way to keep the talent Britain needs to create more jobs! [clapping] [end p11]

And it's the Socialists who back every strike. And it was their supporters who sued the picket line to try and prevent men and women from going peacefully to their place of work as it is their right to do. [clapping] And Labour would sweep away those very laws that we have introduced to give trade unionists democratic rights in running their union's affairs. That's the first time the ordinary member of the trade union has had his full democratic rights and he got them from a Conservative Government. [clapping begins] He'd never have got them from a Labour government. [clapping] Because to us it wasn't the collective that mattered, but the rights of the individual to his dignity.

And Labour say they will scrap our immigration laws which give us immigration control. Hardly a way to reduce unemployment. And it is the Labour Party who, if they were ever given the chance would eliminate Britain's nuclear defences.


Mr President, if the last war taught us anything it taught us that appeasement never makes for peace. [clapping] On th contrary, it is weakness, not strength, that tempts th tyrants. Only with a defence that is strong, and known to be strong, can we in the West safely conduct a dialogue with the Soviet Union. Only with a defence that is strong, and known to be strong, can we hope to negotiate balanced and verifiable treaties that reduce weapons on both sides.

What conceivable incentive would there be for the Soviet Union to enter into agreements with us to limit arms if we were already busily disarming on our own? And to believe that the Soviets would follow Britain's example and embrace nuclear disarmament because Britain had pointed the way is to occupy the commanding heights of naivety. [clapping] Yet that is Labour's defence policy. And at the same time, they would close down American nuclear bases in Britain and send the Americans packing. Why the Americans should continue to defend us after that has yet to b explained. Mr President, this party is pro-American and would like to thank our American allies for their generosity and for their devotion to the defence of the cause of liberty, in Europe as well as in America. [prolonged clapping] [end p12]

Mr President, in the immediate aftermath of the victory we commemorated on Wednesday, there was—amid relief, joy and sadness—something else: a belief that people who had suffered so much deserved a better world.

What time could be more fitting than the 40th anniversary of peace for nations who fought alongside and against one another to reach out across the great divide to create that better world, to strive together to secure a lasting peace; a peace in which old scores are forgotten, old scars healed, and we in our country free from both the tyranny of war and the shakles of the state, are free—one nation under a just law—free to live our own lives in our own way. That is our message from Perth tonight. Let it go out. Let it be that we are working to win and retain that peace and liberty for each and every individual in this wonderful country of ours. [ovation]