Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Conservative Women’s Conference

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Barbican Centre, central London
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking text
Editorial comments:

Around 1515. The text was checked against delivery by John Whittingdale, who timed it to thirty three minutes. His annotations of audience raction have been retained in editorial notes. Sections of the speech have also been checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 25 May 1988.

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3714
Themes: Conservatism, Labour Party & socialism, Leadership, Media, Religion & morality, Executive (appointments), Parliament, Law & order, Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy - theory and process, Defence (general), Employment, Monetary policy, Taxation, Trade union law reform, Economic policy - theory and process, Family, Social security & welfare, Voluntary sector & charity, Women, Community charge (“poll tax”), Education


Madam Chairman, we meet on the occasion of two historic anniversaries—1918 and 1928. It is difficult to believe that women achieved full equality of voting rights only within the lifetime of some of us here today.

And it was Conservatives who led the way. Mrs Pankhurst, who became a Conservative candidate, launched the campaign to win the vote for women. [end p1] It was a Conservative, Nancy Astor, who was the first woman to take a seat in Parliament and who did so with great style and confidence—proving that a woman does not have to be masculine to succeed in a man's world. [Clapping]

It was the Conservatives who extended the vote to all women in the Equal Franchise Act, sixty years ago. And, dare I say it—it was a Conservative who became Britain's first woman Prime Minister.[Clapping]

Since 1979, Madam Chairman, nine other women have held Ministerial appointments in our Conservative Governments. Six do so today. But if we are to have more women in Government, we must have more women in Parliament. And that means you must select more women candidates—and more of you must put yourselves forward. [Clapping] [end p2]

Conservative women are, above all, practical. For example, we don't seek to advance women's rights by insisting that you, Madam Chairman, be addressed as Madam Chairperson, Madam [Clapping] Chair, or, worse still, just plain “Chair” . [Laughter]

With feminists like that, who needs male chauvinists? [Laughter]

Conservative women bring common sense to Government. [Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 25 May 1988:] I can't help reflecting that it's taken a Government headed by a housewife with [end p3] experience of running a family to balance the books for the first time in twenty years—[End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 25 May 1988.] [Clapping] with a little left over for a rainy day.

We support the right of women to choose our own lives for ourselves. If women wish to be lawyers, doctors, engineers, scientists, politicians, we should have the same opportunities as men, more and more we do. [end p4] In the last ten years, the number of women becoming solicitors has doubled; the number of women doctors graduating is up by over 50 per cent; and the number of women becoming chartered accountants has increased threefold.

But many women wish to devote themselves mainly to raising a family and running a home. And we should have that choice too. [Clapping] Very few jobs can compare in long-term importance and satisfaction with that of housewife and mother. [end p5]

For the family is the building block of society. It is a nursery, a school, a hospital, a leisure place, a place of refuge and a place of rest. It encompasses the whole of society. It fashions our beliefs. It is the preparation for the rest of our life. And women run it. [Clapping]

The state must look after some children in care and those old people who cannot look after themselves. But the family is responsible for an infinitely greater number of children and far more elderly people. [end p6]

However much welfare the state provides, the family provides more—much more.

Yet today, in some of our inner cities, as many as one in three children are being brought up without the security of two parents.

Family breakdown on this scale leads to poor results in school—and to worse. It is serious not only for these children but also for the health of society. [end p7]

That is why we introduced the new Family Credit—a new benefit—to give extra help where the breadwinner is striving to support the family on a low income.

That is why we removed the financial penalties on marriage in the recent budget.

And that's why, because children of an impressionable age spend so much time watching television, often unsupervised, we think it necessary to bring in a Broadcasting Standards Council. [Clapping] [end p8]

Madam Chairman, We must strengthen the family. Unless we do so, we will be faced with heart-rending social problems which no Government could possibly cure—or perhaps even cope with. [end p9]


And that is so, even though the great revival of the British economy has meant that we are providing more help to more families than ever before. And What a revival.

For in the last nine years, our economy has been transformed. New companies, new products, new technologies, new jobs are springing up throughout the land. Industry is on the move again. [end p10]

Five hundred new businesses a week since 1979.

Since 1983, the beginning of our second term, well over one and a half million new jobs.

Nearly three million people self-employed—one million more than ten years ago

Unemployment coming down in every part of the country—falling fastest in the West Midlands, the North and the North West. [end p11]

People at every level of income are better off. The latest figures show that the living standards of the poorest families have been rising faster than those on average incomes.

98 per cent of households now have a television.

83 per cent have a telephone.

82 per cent have a washing machine.

And over 70 per cent central heating—undreamed of ten years ago. [end p12]

Of course, these things aren't everything—but they're a help.

The people of Britain are prospering again.

And this recovery is soundly based.

Rather than piling up deficits for future generations to pay. We are repaying debts. Our budget is in surplus. We are lifting the burden off the shoulders of our children.

No wonder America's leading business magazine, Fortune, told its readers this month: Britain has come roaring back. [Clapping] [end p13]

Madam Chairman, the British miracle didn't happen by accident. It happened because we backed our faith in the British People.

We believed that the most powerful force for a prosperous country was the liberated energies of a free people. We saw that sound money, lower taxes and freedom for enterprise were the only solid foundations for growth without inflation.

We believed those things and we acted on them. And the whole world has seen the results. [Clapping] [end p14]

Foreign investment in Britain has soared: but first we had to abolish exchange controls. We did so.

The City is thriving and earning foreign exchange for Britain—more than North Sea Oil at its peak—but first we had to deregulate the financial services industry. We did so.

Even the unions are gradually returning to the hands of the moderate majority—but first we had to change the law and control the militants. We did so. [end p15]

And the spirit of enterprise has returned to Britain—but first we had to get taxes down. We did that too.

And under Nigel Lawson 's stewardship, they'll come down further. His 1988 Budget has been rightly hailed as the most radical since Lloyd George 's of 1909. It too is a “People's Budget” because it will mean a better life for all our people. [end p16]

The Choice is not between either tax cuts for the better off or more benefits for the poor. It's a one way choice—tax cuts are the incentive to create the wealth which pays for higher benefits. [Clapping] That's been the history of the last nine years.

As Abraham Lincoln put it: “You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong” .

Other Governments—and other Socialist Governments—are now coming here—to see how it is done and to try it out back home. [end p17]

Foreign countries may take their cuisine from Paris but they take their economics from London. [Clapping]

Two weeks ago, the Finance Minister in New Zealand's Labour Government, was speaking in London. Let me quote you his exact words: “Our policies, especially in the economic field, do not at first sight look like the policies of a socialist Government. Traditional socialist Governments do not deregulate banks, cut taxes, sell state-owned assets, remove subsidies or deregulate local industry and free up import access. [end p18] So why have we done it? The reason is very simple. It is because this Government is more interested in results than in process” .

“Interested in results. …   .” But how did he know that these policies would achieve the right results?

Madam Chairman, he and other Governments knew that these policies worked only because we had the courage to pioneer them, because we believed in them. [Clapping] [end p19]

We worked hard to achieve our present success. But we can't take it for granted. We still have much to do. We are only in our third term. And a woman's work is never done. [Clapping] [end p20]


Madam Chairman, Conservative policy has created not only a more dynamic economy, but also a more secure society in which ownership, capital and independence are spreading to whole groups of our people who have never enjoyed them before.

This is the fulfilment of a Conservative dream—what Anthony Eden, Iain MacLeod and others before them called a property-owning democracy. [end p21]

Previous Governments have talked about this.

This one has made it happen.

Two-thirds of the British people now own their own homes.

Almost half a million employees now own a part of their privatised companies.

There are now nine million individual shareholders in Britain—three times the number in 1979. [end p22]

Madam Chairman, Conservative Britain is again in the forefront of a great social change.

Labour believes in turning workers against owners; we are turning workers into owners. [Clapping]

Inherited capital is no longer the privilege of the few. It's a real prospect for the majority. For the first time, most families have a substantial legacy to pass on to their children. [end p23]

We are a capital-owning democracy of people and families. We have come out of the long, dark tunnel of socialism. We are the first post-socialist society [Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 25 May 1988:]

The Labour Party—in its desperation—tries to brand this the greedy society.

Can't they see that self-reliance is the first step towards helping others? That men and women are striving for more independence, accepting more responsibility, hoping to give their children a better chance in life? [End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 25 May 1988.] [end p24]

If Labour had a better understanding of British history—and human nature—they might recall the words of John Wesley who founded Methodism 250 years ago:

“Gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can” .

Madam Chairman, those words remain true today. And the British people remain true to them.

Look at donations to charities. People now give twice as much—on top of inflation—as they did in 1979. [end p25]

Look at the 2,500 charitable schemes already set up under the payroll giving scheme this Government introduced.

Look at appeals like band aid, live aid, Childline, and next week's telethon.

Madam Chairman, as the British people become better off, so they share the fruits of their work with others. Their generosity is greater than ever. And there's something about a pound given voluntarily that is much better than a pound given through the state. [Clapping] [end p26]

And remember, that this generosity is in addition to the largest-ever expenditure of taxpayers' money on social security—a sum equal to £67 per week for a family of four.

This is an enormous sum of money, no less than one third of all public spending. [end p27]


It is a great responsibility to spend such large amounts. We have to bear in mind two very important principles.

First, it is wrong to load society with public burdens without ensuring it can create the wealth to sustain them. It is dishonest to promise benefits which cannot be paid for. Public morality must never be financed by dud cheques. [end p28]

We met that requirement—and more—when we paid for our social programmes out of greater national wealth and a balanced budget.

But the second principle is even more demanding. For it is self-defeating to have systems of state provision which undermine the self-reliance of the individual. [Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 25 May 1988:]

Self-reliance and self respect are precious qualities, they are the source of all endeavour. But they are all too easily destroyed by the temptation of state-induced dependence. [end p29]

Government must never supplant personal responsibility. [End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 25 May 1988.]

Our social security system did that sometimes. That is why we had to reform it.

The system of social benefits we inherited was telling young people that living on benefit was an acceptable substitute for being in work. So some young people were choosing to be idle. That was wrong. [end p30]

So, for those who couldn't get a job, we offered training and a grant instead, and we withdrew supplementary benefit between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. That way they learn a skill for the future, self-reliance and the habits of regular work. That was right. It's much better for them.

Then, some families on low wages with young children found that they were worse off if they worked harder and earned more. They lost more benefit than they earned. That was wrong.

So we have introduced ‘family credit’ a new benefit that will help 400,000 people to keep the dignity and respect of working to provide for their own families. That was right. [end p31]

And, Madam Chairman, I am proud to say that, all told, and in real terms, your Government spends eighty per cent more on long term sick and disabled people than when we came to power. That's right too. I hope you're proud of it. I am. [Clapping]

Madam Chairman, our social security system involves record levels of spending. You wouldn't think so from the smokescreen that Labour has put up. But Labour badly needs a smokescreen. You see, for every £3 that Labour spent on social benefits we are spending £4—and that's on top of inflation. We are doing a lot better than they did, but that's what you would expect from a Conservative Government. [end p32]


Social security was the last great reform of our second term. We begin our third term with two other great reforms—the community charge and education.

On community charge, I am delighted to say that we won the debate in their Lordships' [Clapping] House earlier this week on the sheer merit of the argument.

Indeed, it is significant that a majority of the independent peers who attended the debate voted for us. [end p33]


The second great reform is to raise the quality of education.

Our children need to speak and write clear English if they are to compete in later life. They need a good grounding in basic mathematics. They need to know all that is best in the history of their country. [end p34]

Children need to be taught traditional moral values and to understand our religious heritage. We can't leave them to discover for themselves what is right and wrong. [Clapping]

Yes, there are good teachers and successful schools. When we see them we know what other young people are missing.

Kenneth Baker 's Education Reform Bill aims to extend the high standards that exist much more widely. [end p35] —By establishing a National Curriculum of basic subjects. —By stopping local authorities putting artificially low limits on entry into good schools. —By giving parents and governors the right to take their children's school into the hands of their own governing body with the grant coming direct from the Education Department. [end p36]

These Independent State Schools will be of most benefit—not where the parents are already satisfied with their children's education, but where they believe that their children could do a lot better.

Parents will insist on high standards, on a good education for their children, on good schools. And we are giving them the power to do so. [Clapping]

But Madam Chairman, education is about more than passing examinations. [end p37]


Today the biggest blight on many neighbourhoods is crime.

Before we came to power in 1979 we promised to act against crime. We promised we would make the police service stronger and criminal justice tougher. We have kept both those promises.

Today the police service is bigger, better paid, better equipped, and more thoroughly trained than at any time in the past. [end p38]

What is more, figures published last week show that serious offenders are receiving the longer sentences you have always called for.

For example, those convicted of robbery offences, on average now receive 51 months, compared with 41 months five years ago.

Strong measures by Government and Parliament are essential, but they are not enough. [end p39]

Combatting crime is everybody's business, everybody's responsibility. It cannot be left solely to the police, any more than we can leave our health solely to the doctors.

Crime prevention is largely a matter of common sense. It is about making the home secure to make life difficult for the burglar. [end p40]

It is about being a good neighbour. There's evidence that, where good neighbours work together in a well organised Neighbourhood Watch Scheme, burglary comes down.

Madam Chairman, the most likely British criminal is a fourteen or fifteen year-old boy. [end p41]

You do that child no favour if you suggest that he is not responsible for his actions. [Hear, hear] He won't change and improve his life if he doesn't accept responsibility for it.

Those who commit crime must be held personally responsible for what they do. If they learn that lesson, then there is hope for them and for us.

If they don't hold that lesson, we must hold them to account. [end p42]

The Criminal Justice Bill now going through Parliament will help.

It will increase the penalties for offences using knives or firearms.

It will strengthen juries by removing the right of defence lawyers to challenge without cause.

It will introduce a right of appeal against unduly lenient sentences. [end p43]

It will introduce a statutory right of compensation for victims of violent crime.

It will increase protection for children by increasing penalties for child abuse and making it easier to obtain evidence. [end p44]

In dealing with crime, we have to make life as tough as possible for the criminal.

We must never allow the rule of law to be replaced by the rule of fear.

For we are treating a disease which infects the body and soul of society. [end p45]


Madam Chairman, next week there is a summit meeting between President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev. That is coming to seem quite a normal event. But don't under-estimate its significance.

We have made the difficult passage from the cold hostility of Marxism to a better relationship between East and West. And we have done it without sacrificing any of our basic principles or weakening our defence. That is an historic achievement. [Clapping] [end p46]

We must give some credit to Mr Gorbachev. He has understood that the Communist system produced military might but not the standard of living, the standard of technology, the standard of social services which his people want. So he is trying to change the system. He has not let the difficulties eclipse the opportunities.

But when history is written, I believe that this new spirit in relations between East and West will be remembered as one of the greatest achievements of President Reagan [end p47]

He strengthened the defence of the west.

He stood firm on the basic issues: liberty, justice, human rights.

But he also helped to lift the cloud of fear and hostility. He held out the vision of a better world.

And he refused to be deflected. [end p48]

Who could have thought, even two years ago, that the Russians would today be withdrawing from Afghanistan. [Clapping]

The West's policy—our policy—of negotiating from firm principles and a sure defence has been justified.

Last week I sent a message about the Summit to both President Reagan and Mr Gorbachev, setting out the areas where I hoped progress could be made. [end p49]

I believe that Britain's voice will be heard because we are once again strong and respected. Because we have never hesitated to say openly where we stand: You can never compromise on liberty; You can never compromise with terrorism and violence. And nuclear weapons are vital to our defence. [Clapping] On this fundamental issue Labour twists and turns. The British people want strong defence. [end p50] They recognise that our national safety cannot be guaranteed except by nuclear weapons. Labour Knows that.

But there is only one thing which frightens Labour more than our enemies and that is the left within their own party, the Left to which their own Neil Kinnockparty leader belongs on this fundamental issue.

When it comes to defence, there is only one conclusion you can draw. [end p51] Labour will wriggle. They will dodge. They will hedge their bets. They will adapt their words to the occasion.

Only a Conservative Government can be relied on to safeguard Britain's defence. [Clapping] [end p52]


The government which I am privileged to lead has set our country on a new path. Britain's industry and commerce have begun to flourish again. Today we can compete with the best in the world.

Our standard of living is at a level undreamed of a generation ago.

The spread of capital and property has brought people new independence and security. [end p53]

The standard of social services far exceeds that provided under any previous government.

All these are protected by a sure defence. And there is more hope between East and West than every before in my lifetime.

Madam Chairman, we can be quietly pleased at our stewardship during the last nine years. As for the future, we need have no fear.

We shall be strengthened and upheld by our Conservative values: self-reliance, personal responsibility, good neighbourliness, generosity to others. [end p54]

Most of us were brought up to respect these values. I respect them today. For they are the traditional values of British life. And as the false values of socialism fade, so those true and traditional values are returning to our country.