Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Conservative Women’s Conference

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: The Barbican, central London
Source: Thatcher Archive: CCOPR 310/85 & speaking text THCR 5/1/5/329 part 1
Editorial comments: Embargoed until 1500. A paragraph of the section on the teachers’ strike was deliberately omitted from the press release. It is marked below.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3096
Themes: Arts & entertainment, Conservatism, Conservative Party (organization), Defence (general), Education, Higher & further education, Employment, Local elections, Monetary policy, Pay, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, Family, Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Health policy, Housing, Law & order, Local government finance, Religion & morality, Science & technology, Society, Transport, Trade union law reform, Strikes & other union action, Voluntary sector & charity

I want first to pay tribute to all that you have achieved during your year as Chairman; and to the marvellous work of our women's organisations up and down the country.

I am delighted to be here at the Women's Conference once again—the Conference from which we take so much inspiration. You have travelled from all parts of the country. Many of you have come to this hall this afternoon by the Underground, an Underground kept going by men who wanting to work, and denied a vote by their union, voted with their feet. Once again, it shows how right this Government has been to put trade union power in the hands of its members.

This good news is part of a trend. You might remember how the union leaders tried to get workers at Austin Rover to strike without a ballot. They failed. Or how, only recently, a Civil Service union tried to get its members to strike without a proper ballot. They failed too. If it were not for this Government's legislation, those trade union members would have been forced to take industrial action against their will. [end p1]

Our trade union reforms are beginning to succeed. And never forget—it took a Conservative Government to give a new dignity and a new importance to each and every individual trade union member.


But there is still one strike which is causing a great deal of concern—the teachers. We're worried—because we believe that children's education should be the first concern of teachers; and that teachers should lead by example.

Taking industrial action is not consistent with either of those things.

[following paragraph marked “not for press release”]

Children only go through school once in a lifetime. Their school days cannot be repeated, they have only 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.

[paragraph end]

We recognise that teachers want to earn more. So do many other people in both the private and the public sectors. And this Government recognises the importance of education just as we recognise the contribution of all those who work in the public services—whether in the police, fire services, Civil Service or health service. For the public service and the private sector are a fruitful partnership, in which each contributes to the other.

And provided our national wealth grows, we can afford to spend a little more on these vital services. But in the end you have to make a judgement as to how much the taxpayer can afford, and how much the wealth-producing part of the economy can bear.

I would like to make just one point to all teachers. Since 1979, average earnings of teachers have risen, over and above inflation, by 9 per cent. So teachers haven't lost out under this Government. But a difference has arisen over teachers' duties. We think the time has now come for these to be properly defined so people know where they stand. [end p2]

You will have heard what Keith Joseph had to say this morning. This Government is making strenuous efforts to improve standards in our schools so that all our children get an education suited both to their own abilities and to the world of work. And I believe that that is what most parents want.

So we are looking for a way—with the co-operation of the teachers—to provide better pay to reward better teachers. Yes, it will mean an assessment of performance. But there is nothing unusual about that. In most walks of life, it's quite normal.

If we can get these matters satisfactorily agreed, we have made it clear that more money would be available for teachers next year. I hope that, after due consideration, teachers will welcome that constructive approach; and that this present industrial action—which would have appalled so many of those who taught us in our day—will soon be resolved.

We are the Constructive Party

In the last few days there has been something of a wrangle between leaders of other parties. Well, let them get on with it; this Government has work to do. Let me show you what I mean.

Just over two months ago, Nigel Lawson introduced his second Budget. He reduced income tax again. If this Government had left Labour's system of income tax unchanged, a married man on average earnings would now be paying an extra £260 a year in income tax. [end p3]

Following on the heels of the Budget, Tom King produced his statement on Employment—“The Challenge for the Nation”—about how we can all help to create more jobs. And he is consulting on the future of Wages Councils. Why? Because many believe that these councils insist on wage levels especially for young people, which actually prevent them from getting jobs.

Keith Joseph has produced his plans for raising standards in schools, called “Better Schools”. At long last the debate has swung away from reorganisation of education on to the quality of education. Yesterday he followed this up with proposals for the development of higher education. We want to see closer co-operation between businesses and colleges. And because training is vital to our future success, the Government has set out its proposals for expanding the training for our young people.

And that isn't all. We're working on plans to improve our inner cities, setting up City Action Teams. And looking at the regulations and red tape which businesses face.

Meanwhile, Leon Brittan announced, only last week, his review of public order. This will give the police adequate powers to deal with marches, processions, assemblies and demonstrations. David Mellor at the Home Office is leading the assault on the drug abuse. Drug abuse is a disease from which no country seems immune. Parents are, rightly, desperately worried about it.

This is the most concentrated collection of constructive long-term policies that I have known in my 25 years in Parliament. And there's more to come. And we're still only at mid-term. [end p4]

Some of our critics, and fair-weather friends, would like us to slow down a bit; to take stock; even to let a few sleeping dogs lie. “Consolidate” they say. “Forget about radical reform.”

No. There are still too many tasks to be done, too many challenges to face. Some of them present us with immense difficulties. But this Government has never run away from long-term problems and we are not going to start now. And if we did, we wouldn't be worth re-electing. We shall press forward with zest, determination and confidence. This Government has work to do.

We shall continue with sound finance, because money matters. We shall give individuals and their families rights and responsibilities, for people matter even more. We shall put our country first, because Britain matters above all.

Money Matters—Inflation

Last winter, the value of the pound fell against the dollar. That forced up the mortgage and interest rates. The bad winter forced up the price of fruit and vegetables. And the result? Last month, the annual rate of inflation rose to 6.9 per cent—much too high, by this Government's standards.

But this experience has taught us one salutary lesson. Those who thought that the battle against inflation was won now know that it is a constant fight—which has to be fought every day, every week, every month. [end p5]

The “Cuts” That Are Increases

This Government must stick to a policy of honest money and keep public spending under control. Oh, yes, you hear a lot about cuts. Well, let me confess at once. There are some things I would like to cut. Income tax—more than we have. Rate increases—more than we have. And I reckon those cuts would be very welcome. We have just had a marvellous Council by-election win in Lewisham because the ratepayers there could see that rate-capping helps to keep their rates down.

But we have been accused of “cuts” in services where there have been increases. The Health Service, for example, where these accusations of “cuts” will simply not stand examination in the light of the facts.

—There are more doctors

—There are more dentists

—More health visitors

—More district nurses

—More home helps

—More patients treated

—More new hospitals—51 major hospital schemes built or being built by this Government.

—More spending on the National Health Service—after taking account of inflation, 20 per cent more.

—All this since 1979.

Those are not cuts. They are increases.

Under this Conservative Government we have the best health service the nation has ever had.

In Education, too, we are accused of “cuts”. What are the facts?

—More than ever is being spent on education per pupil;

—The teacher/pupil ratio is the best ever;

—More young people aged 18 to 20 are entering higher education than ever before; [end p6]

—And the science budget, so important for our future, is bigger in real terms than when we took office.

And I also hear critical accusations of “cuts” in the arts. Yes, the arts budget does matter for the arts enrich our lives. But what are the facts. After allowing for inflation spending has increased by almost a fifth.

The facts show that successive Conservative arts ministers have done a superb job for the arts.

And as for our magnificent police and splendid fire service: the numbers in the police are up by 11,500; the numbers in the fire service are up 2,000.

We can't be accused of cuts here, the only accusation that can justifiably be made is that we don't shout loudly enough about our achievements.

You might have heard a lot lately about “infrastructure”—the new “in” word. Some of you might even ask exactly what it is. You and I come by road or rail. But economists travel on infrastructure.

As it happens we are spending more money on improving our roads. We're rebuilding stretches of the M1, M2, M6, M40—shall I go on? Indeed, if you listen to the “Today” programme on the radio each morning, half the time they are complaining about so-called “cuts”; and the other half they're complaining about the cones and the contraflows where we are renovating the motorways. [end p7]


Property and Responsibility

As a Government we are providing the social services that people need. But by itself that is not enough. Our policies encourage people to provide for their own security, to buy their own home and to look after their own families. What our people have struggled and saved for, what our Party has bent every political muscle to give them, far transcends mere bricks and mortar. It is the security and independence of home ownership which we seek. So brick by brick, month by month, as home ownership continues to spread, freedom is being entrenched in Britain.

As property brings freedom, it also brings responsibility. It is, in family life that it is most common to find responsible caring, self-sacrifice, service, day by day, in a thousand different ways, in a million different homes. The Conservative vision of a property-owning democracy has not faded or foundered in a greedy materialism.

Never before has there been voluntary giving, so spontaneous and generous, as when we saw on television the scenes of the Ethiopian famine. Never before have our voluntary bodies and charities been so vigorously supported as they are in Britain today.

Never before has there been such care and concern for our national heritage and our natural environment. Personal ownership of property—homes, shares, occupational pensions savings, on a scale never before seen in our history—has turned us into a nation of active participants, not passive spectators. [end p8]


And in industry and commerce we have had a year of record output; we have a record standard of living; we have rising profits and record investment.

And yet, with all that, unemployment is still high. This is the paradox. No one is more anxious to see new jobs created than we are—above all, because we believe in the dignity of the individual. So we understand the frustration that unemployment brings; and the exasperation that leads people to say: “Something more must be done”.

They say “Train more young people”. Yes, we are. We have the largest youth training programme this country has ever seen, which has benefited 700,000 young people. They say: “Let more people retire early”. Many companies do. And the Government has job release schemes which enable people to retire, thus releasing jobs for others looking for work.

They say: “Give the long-term unemployed the chance to work for the community” We do. That is why we introduced a Community Programme—and expanded it to help 230,000 people next year.

They say: “Make it easier for employers to take on more people”. We have done. We have abolished Labour's National Insurance Surcharge which taxed employment. And in the last Budget we cut National Insurance for the lower paid. We are doing all these things.

People are moving from declining or overmanned industries to more modern and more profitable ones. [end p9]

And that is right. For that is the way to renewed vigour and prosperity in our economy. Yes, we have to cushion the effects of change. And we do. But we must not try to prevent it.

New jobs are being created—in the last two years, 600,000 new jobs. Not enough yet. But a clear sign that we are on the right road. Attitudes are changing. Just listen to what one Southampton docker said:

“We were becoming uncompetitive with other ports, … And we had to reduce the box rate; and the only way … was to reduce the wage bill.”

“I think every port now is under pressure to go exactly the same way as Southampton. That's the real world, and I'm afraid you've just got to face up to it.”

These changing attitudes are crucial to sustaining Britain's recovery. No amount of economics work unless people do.

Britain Matters

Whatever our differences in background, or in views, what binds us is our belief and faith in Britain. This year, we commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe and in Asia. A War in which 50 million people died. A sacrifice which must never be repeated. That War taught us that appeasement doesn't pay. It is weakness, not strength, that tempts the tyrant.

It is to guard against a future conflict that this Government has increased spending on Britain's defence by over 20 per cent in the last five years. [end p10]

It is the reason why we have decided to modernise our nuclear deterrent, which is and will remain the ultimate guarantee of our national security.

Strategic Defence Initiative

It is also the reason why President Reagan has embarked upon his Strategic Defence Initiative. The propaganda which pours out from the Soviet Union portrays this initiative as dangerous, de-stabilising and unethical. Nothing could be more hypocritical.

The Soviet Union has for years been doing its own research into defences against nuclear weapons. They already have an anti-ballistic missile system round Moscow. They already have the only operational anti-satellite weapon. And they have devoted vastly more resources to offensive nuclear weapons than have the Americans.

We need to examine the strategic defence initiative calmly and on its merits. To understand what it is and what it is not. [end p11]

First: the emphasis has to be on the word defence. That is why, to call it “Star Wars” is so wide of the mark. The Strategic Defence Initiative is not directed to devising new instruments of war. It is an attempt to find a more reliable basis for peace. Every weapon throughout history has called forth a corresponding defence:

—the shield against the sword

—armour against the lance

—in modern times, guns and missiles against aircraft.

So there is nothing unusual, let alone immoral, about seeking a defence against that most lethal and destructive of all weapons, the ballistic nuclear missile. Moreover, President Reagan has many times made clear that his aim is a system which destroys those terrible weapons before they can destroy people. Who could quarrel with that aim, if it could be realised?

Secondly: what is being undertaken is only research. No-one can yet predict what results that research will yield. Even though the United States has already made astonishing advances at the frontiers of technology, it will be many years before we can know. But it would be irresponsible for the research not to be done. For we cannot be left behind. Because our nuclear deterrent would fail if the day ever came when the Soviet Union knew they could stop our nuclear weapons but we could not stop theirs.

Thirdly: our American allies are not pursuing the Strategic Defence Initiative to increase the total number of weapons. On the contrary, they are at the same time proposing large reductions in nuclear weapons. [end p12]

But we must not let the possibility of Strategic Defence undermine the present balance of deterrence or undermine the existing arms control agreements we have with the Soviet Union.

It is too soon to judge whether what is possible in theory can be achieved in practice. We must not drop our present guard unless and until we are confident that there is something better to put in its place. Until that day, the nuclear deterrent will continue to guarantee our freedom in the future as in the past.

This Government and this Party will never deprive Britain of the defences which it needs. And, as always, we will continue to work closely with our American allies who put such a tremendous effort into the defence of freedom the world over; and whose capacity and resolve is the mainstay of the NATO Alliance.

I have spoken to you of policies for the future, and of present achievements. We must face problems that are still unresolved realistically, and in a way that is in tune with the best of our customs and traditions. For in our Party we do not conduct politics by personal insult and abuse. The issues are far too deep for that.

And not for us a political doctrine which places people in neatly labelled classes or which regards them merely as fragments of some bloc vote. We value each individual too much for that. We are in the business of breaking down barriers and opening up opportunities—whoever you are, wherever you come from. [end p13]

Breaking down the Barriers

It is this Government which

—has helped tenants to become home-owners;

—has helped employees to become share-owners;

—has given each trade union member the right to a secret ballot.

It is this Government which supports those

—who work hard and pay their taxes;

—who don't go on strike or demonstrate;

—who want to do better for their children;

—who uphold the law and support the police;

—who are staunch believers in the defence of the realm.

It is this Government which believes that the future of Britain depends on the talents of the British people. Those talents must not be stifled. They must be released. Levelling down is no part of our policy. We believe the British people will rise to the challenge. These are positive policies, constructive policies. They are in keeping with the character of the people. That is our way and that is the way we shall continue to go.