Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Young Conservative Conference

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Torquay
Source: (1) Thatcher Archive: speaking text (2) Thatcher Archive: transcript (Q and A)
Editorial comments: A question and answer session followed the speech.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4673
Themes: Union of UK nations, Commonwealth (South Africa), Conservatism, Defence (general), Economic policy - theory and process, Education, Primary education, Environment, European Union (general), Foreign policy (Africa), Family, Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), NHS reforms 1987-90, Labour Party & socialism, Community charge (“poll tax”), Religion & morality

The Conservative Revolution

You and I are living through a revolution. Over the centuries of European history, revolutionary change has sometimes brought freedom and sometimes servitude. But what we are witnessing now is a revolution of Conservative values, of free enterprise and of fervent, national pride.

In Eastern Europe the dogmas of Marxist-Socialism are crumbling—scorned by the very men who, but a year or even months ago, posed as that creed's most ardent apostles. [end p1]

In the Soviet Union, the rising demand for democracy and rights and the rule of law now echoes against the walls of the Kremlin itself—and receives a bold response.

Never in my lifetime have the ideals which I entered politics to fulfil been more dramatically triumphant. Freedom is on the march and our Conservative, British hearts are with those who will lead that crusade to victory.

As friends of freedom, we rejoice in the changes for the better which we see in Eastern Europe—and in South Africa too. We share those sentiments of Kipling 's famous poem: [end p2]

“So when the world is asleep, and there seems no hope of her waking
Out of some long, bad dream that makes her mutter and moan,
Suddenly, all men arise to the noise of fetters breaking,
And every one smiles at his neighbour and tells him his soul is his own!”

But we are not changing those systems by mere rhetoric or by economic sanctions or by enforced international isolation. We are doing so through continued contact and influence from a position of resolute strength. [end p3]

Against Communism, we fought the battle of ideas for freedom.

Against a barrage of pro-Soviet appeasement from the Labour Party, we held firm to our convictions.

Against apartheid, we demanded and encouraged fundamental political change and the release of political prisoners.

These policies have worked.

In Europe and South Africa, we are seeing the advance of democracy and the strengthening of liberty. [end p4]

But, as freedom's true friends, we know that we must heed the lessons of the past.

Too often the democratic peaceful nations let slip their guard because they assumed that the danger had gone, assumed that the future would be one of peace and progress. And too often they were wrong. For the course of history is not predictable. Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 10 February 1990

Great plans for peace can precede great wars. Cool-headedness, common sense and vigilance are never more important than when Europe is convulsed by change. End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 1300 10 February 1975. [end p5]

Let's not forget, it is NATO with its strong defence which has kept the peace in Europe for the past forty years. Moreover, in future, there will be far more countries with access to nuclear weapons than the present few. So keeping our own nuclear deterrent has never been more important.

The Poverty Of Socialism

We Conservatives know the lessons to be drawn from crumbling Communism. But I'm not so sure about the Labour Party. [end p6]

For it's not only totalitarian dictatorship whose shackles the peoples of the world are throwing off. It's socialism. It's the central planning and state control, the grinding inefficiency, the shortages, the bureaucracy, the embittered politics of envy, the corruption, the oppression, in a word it is the poverty of socialism, from which our world is breaking free.

At home, the Labour Party has changed its socialist rhetoric. It's repackaged its socialist policies. [end p7]

I wouldn't be surprised if it decides to change its name—just like those Communist parties in Eastern Europe, searching for some limp fig leaf to cover up their record and conceal their true intentions. Mr Chairman, freedom and Socialism just don't mix. It's not that every socialist wants Communism—of course it isn't. The problem is that Socialism itself requires coercion—to impose the will of the State on the lives of the people. And Socialism—whatever its kind, whatever its degree, and whatever its excuse, is as discredited and as bankrupt as the Marxist parties to which in other days it looked for succour. [end p8]

The hardships and dangers which the brave reformers of Eastern Europe are facing demonstrate how easy it is to lose the habit of freedom—and how difficult to revive it.

Events there warn us of the risk of treading backwards towards central state control, the planned economy and bloated bureaucracy. They demonstrate the folly of embracing socialism, when those who have seen and endured its worst are discarding it with contempt. [end p9]

Free Enterprise Works

It is free enterprise within a framework of law which has given us record living standards, record investment and won us the record in the 1980s for economic growth in Europe.

Free enterprise is reviving our inner cities from that squalid deprivation, which is the monument of socialism wherever it's applied.

Free enterprise has created more jobs in Britain this decade than in any other European country. [end p10]

It is free enterprise which generates the wealth to protect our environment—and it is the Marxist countries, which hold the prizes for pollution.

Free enterprise harnesses new scientific discoveries, turns them to the benefit of the people and transforms jobs of drudgery into jobs which bring fulfilment.

And how vital that is for our young people who wish to succeed for themselves, their families, their neighbourhood and their country—rightly impatient with attitudes and institutions which hold them back. [end p11]

That's why we're putting so much into better education and training so that tomorrow's opportunities will be yours.

Of course, there are always some people who will abuse freedom.

That's why we Conservatives believe in a strong rule of law, support those who enforce it, and put the victim's not the criminal's interests first. [end p12]

Strengthening Responsibility

But we, who are freedom's staunchest friends, have a clear idea of how to promote responsibility as well.

First, we must all of us protect and strengthen the standards and values which underpin our way of life. That means teaching right and wrong in families and in schools. And never, never bowing again to the waning fashions of the permissive 1960s.

Second, all our policies must be carefully directed towards strengthening family life. [end p13]

It lies at the root of everything we believe in and provides the essential background of security and affection for children.

Third, we must pursue policies which give incentives to work, devolve decisions, enlarge choice and encourage participation.

This approach has led to more jobs, higher living standards and better social services than ever before in our history.

The same principles underlie our reforms in health, education and housing. [end p14]

Greater choice, diversity in supply, excellence in service and greater participation.

Some people try to dismiss our approach as individualism, yet in reality our reforms are all about the greater involvement of parents, tenants and patients, as well as doctors and teachers, in developing the communities of which they are part.

These are the right policies for the future, the right policies for Britain and they are now being taken up by the wider world. [end p15]

We Conservatives believe in freedom and the values which sustain it. We believe in Britain, so long the home and champion of liberty. Above all, we believe in Britain's youth—who take forward the torch of liberty to light up that darkness in which so many in our world still dwell. [end p16]

Question and answer session following speech


Prime Minister, we have received a substantial number of questions on a variety of subjects. What we'll try to do is pick a representative group of those. One we had quite a lot on was on the environment and the first one I'd like you to tackle is from Chris Whiteside of St Albans, member of the National Advisory Committee, Eastern Area. He asks: What role do you see for Britain in helping the world to tackle its environmental problems?

Prime Minister

Well, that's a pretty broad question. A very important role for Britain. I think we have been foremost in leading things on the global environment. I think you have to divide the environment really into three aspects.

First, the global environment which enables us to have life on our world and fundamentally to protect that and not dump all the waste gases in it. That is absolutely vital. It requires, of course, the co-operation of every country. So we all have to be careful we don't put the fluorohydrocarbons in it, all have to be careful about the amount of methane and carbon dioxide which goes up there, because it is that which marks out our planet from others, which means that we can sustain life here.

And because we now have something like six billion people, whereas two hundred years ago we only had one billion, and because we have in fact managed to keep all the extra agriculture to keep those going and [end p17] managed all the extra technology, we really are putting more waste things up there than ever before in the history of the world and we don't know its effect.

So, we on that aspect were one of the first to realise that was happening. We held a big conference in London on the Ozone Layer. I also did a speech on the scientific aspects to the Royal Society and also a major one to the United Nations last November. And I hope that that will take the global aspect forward. It must be done through United Nations and we are doing very well ourselves on the ozone layer and are now beginning to tackle the other things and we shall continue on a sound scientific basis to take the lead in that aspect.

Now, the second aspect of the environment is the regional one. It is concerned with the amount of waste you put into the North Sea, into the rivers, into the amount of acid rain which knows no borders. It is the regional one and we have to tackle that really through Europe and the wider Europe. Not only the European Community, because Europe was there long before we had a European Community. It is the wider Europe. Now, we have a major programme there for cutting down the emission of sulphur dioxide and nitric oxide from coal-fired power stations and we shall be fulfilling that.

We also had a North Sea Conference in Britain and we have come to certain arrangements that we shall not put certain chemicals in, nor have the burning of waste at sea unless there is no better way of disposing of it. That has to be done through the European Community and that is going well.

Then there is the third aspect: our immediate local environment. And it is no good concentrating very much on the global environment and the North Sea and the rivers, unless we are also prepared to keep our towns and cities clean of litter and graffiti and I hope that those people who talk about the environment so much will be the first to see that they do not in fact throw down litter, that the motorways are clean, that the towns and the countryside is kept in a clean state, because it really is [end p18] appalling if people go to scenes of great beauty which are lovely when they get there and they leave them littered with all kinds of rubbish. So that too is important.

May I just, as I have been thinking on my feet, say there is a fourth point about the environment? Environment is not only about the physical environment. It is about the standards and values, the courtesy, the conduct by which we live. That matters very much indeed and courtesy is by definition: thinking of others. It is taking pride in the school of which you are part, pride in the reputation of your company, pride in your area and setting the standards. We are active in all four parts of those aspects of the environment.


Prime Minister, one of the issues we had the most questions on was actually on local government and local government finance and so I picked two questions which I'll read together, if I may, and if you could respond to them, because they cover nicely the two different aspects of local government finance.

First of all from Jackie Townsend of Banstead, who is a student: Does the Prime Minister think that the current figures being suggested for the community charge are too high and need to be lowered?

Secondly, from Adrian McLellan, the chairman of Surrey YCs, and he asks: At last Labour have announced their plans for local government expenditure. Does this not demonstrate they are still unable to produce any credible policies?

Prime Minister

Now, can I have a word about the community charge first? The community charge will meet in England only about 25%; of local council expenditure. Some 50%; is paid by the taxpayer and the other 25%; is paid by business. So, the community charge meets about a quarter. It is less in Scotland. It is less in Wales, because we English who are [end p19] marvellous people are really very generous to Scotland and very generous to Wales.

Someone has to speak up for we English, we're the most underestimated people in the United Kingdom.

So, the first point to get across is that it meets only a quarter.

Now, the actual amount of the government grant to local authorities as a whole has gone up by 8½%;. That's the amount which you are paying as taxpayers—8½%;. That is greater than inflation and should be enough to hold down the community charge and not get a colossal increase in expenditure over last year. You simply must watch all of the expenditure of your local councils, districts and counties, and see which is going over the amount. Local councils are not spending their money. They are spending yours.

There are some, there'll be quite a lot, who will actually spend below the standard assessment, so they prove it can be done. Now, this will mean that every single elector will have to look very carefully at what their local council is spending the money on and whether it is necessary because they are taking it now in a community charge from each and every member, which is very very much fairer than it used to be.

You know there are 35 million people who in fact have a vote in national and local elections and only about 17 million people who paid rates. And I think the other thing you should look at is what would have been the percentage increase in rates at the same percentage increase in expenditure being levied by the old rating system.

Now, as you know one in four will get a rebate from the community charge. One in four. That will cost us about two billion and you as taxpayers will pay the total cost of that two billion. That community charge rebate is based upon your ability to pay. It is a means-tested rebate and it will go to one in four. [end p20]

There is a second relief, a transitional relief, which means going from the old system of rates to community charge. That is not means-tested in any way. It is meant to smooth the difference between paying by rates and paying by community charge.

So, I think that in fact we have covered most aspects of the transition and gone to a very much fairer system than ever the rating system was. I have been in my life through two rating revaluations, two domestic rating revaluations. In Scotland they went through one after about seven years between the new one and the last one. The results were absolutely appalling and we had one of the biggest political rows in Scotland we ever had, as people simply could not take the results. They demanded such enormous increases on this comparatively narrow base of people who pay. So we promised them that we would change the system to a much fairer one and that is what we have done.

Now we understand that, unusually, the Labour Party have decided, or partly decided, on their alternative policy which is, as far as we can make out, to be a tax on the capital value of the house whether or not you own it or are a tenant. The capital value would have to be re-ascertained every year and as you know, it is very very varied and of course artificial things can make it go up or down according to whether you are near or far away from a new motorway, according to whether someone has just bought a house in your district and it has all of a sudden gone up in price and the whole road goes up in price. Based on the capital value, whether or not you're an owner or a tenant and you know how the capital values have gone up.

And, of course, you know what happens, the anger we used to have under the old rating system when you improved your house—you put central heating in, you put in a new kitchen, you put fitted cupboards in the bedroom, you must have a new conservatory judging by the advertisements I see … you've improved it as an extension—up goes the capital value, up goes the amount you would pay. Then, having got that capital value, got it revalued every year, you then apparently pay according to your income tax. [end p21]

Now, I think the horror of having to reveal your income tax payments to the local authority or have a new assessment would, of course, put off most people—and which year? Do you pay on last year, because that is the only year you know? Do you pay on this year even though you might change or you might have had a bid of bad luck and your income will go down? It is absolutely a ridiculous cloud cuckoo-land scheme.

It has been dubbed by our people in Scotland who are very good at these things, “roof tax” and I said in the House of Commons, as a “Thatcher” I object to a roof tax!


Prime Minister, the next question is on education and comes from Damian Geruido who is a member of the National Advisory Committee and lives in the North West. He said: In view of the recent Her Majesty's Inspector's Report, does the Prime Minister see any repercussions for government education policy?

Prime Minister

I read the Inspector's Report in full and it points out that nearly about 80%; of people are getting a satisfactory or better education. It points out that the new national curriculum is beginning to work well. Of course it goes on to certain things that are wrong. There will always be things that could be better done. But the fact is, at the moment we are spending more per pupil on education in real terms than has ever been spent before and there are a bigger proportion of teachers in relation to pupils than ever before.

Now, I used to look at these figures and think, well, how is it that more money and a bigger proportion of teachers are not producing a better education? And let's face it, education was at its most difficult in some of our inner cities. And some of the teachers were having a very difficult job in the inner cities. There was truancy and there was deprivation and sometimes you'll find in inner cities an enormous proportion of children of one-parent families who have been deprived of the kind of family life which we take for granted. [end p22]

And so it was really Kenneth BakerKenneth who tackled these things when he was Minister of Education and set the style for the new education. Because we found that after eleven years of compulsory education some children were coming out without the basic equipment in English and Arithmetic and Basic Science without the basic equipment for going to work and facing life and without being able to express themselves in an articulate way. And so for the first time in our history we decided it wasn't enough just to leave it to the local authority and to the schools. We had better set up a national basic curriculum on things which every child should be taught in Mathematics, every child in English, every child in Science and Technology, every child in History and in Geography and in one Foreign Language and a background of Music and the Arts and, of course, Sport.

This took a long time to set up and it was due to Kenneth Baker that it has been set up and it is now working. It will be of an inestimable value and also not only that but since that really parents and teachers ought to know how the children are doing. And so you have to have a test of attainment at about the age of seven, eleven and fourteen.

Now, some people have said to me, “Mrs Thatcher, don't you think seven is a bit young?” Let me tell you the reason for it, because I was once a Minister of Education. If a child is not learning to read and is not beginning to read well at seven, the teacher and the parent ought to know because remedial action has to be taken. It is no good leaving it, because after that you will assume the child can read and that is of very big importance for part of their future education. So, if you miss out then, you won't pick it up later.

That is very important. Primary School is very important and it is important that we should know what the children can do by seven, if not, take some remedial action and by ten or eleven, before they go on to their Secondary Schools.

Now, there are other things. We found that although we have no overall shortage of teachers, we in fact have a great shortage of specialist [end p23] teachers in Maths and Physics and in some of the languages. So we have had to do a complete restructuring of teachers' pay to enable us to start to pay more to those whose skills are in very short supply.

Now, teachers resisted it for a very long time, but you really cannot have a whole generation of pupils deprived of their right to education in Maths, Physics and Technology just because some people object to paying the amount to get the Maths, Physics and Language teachers. So we've got a whole structure which does enable us to pay more to those teachers at an earlier stage for them to come in.

Of course, there are always some buildings which need to be not merely maintained but replaced and this year the Norman LamontChief Secretary of the Treasury and the John MacGregorEducation Minister have allocated another £480 million to have a really good go to get rid of some of those old buildings and to improve them.

So, all of our policies are designed to giving children a much better education, to trying to get the teachers we want, the curriculum we want, the buildings we want. May I also say, which is a great pleasure to both Kenneth BakerKenneth and myself, more young people are going on after the age of sixteen into a higher education than ever before—and that is a good thing. And now we are trying to enlarge our ideas about training and seeing that we get the right training for the jobs of the future. It is a very good programme as you would expect. We are getting the fruits from Kenneth Baker 's period of education and John MacGregor is taking it forward. It is a very good programme for the future.


Prime Minister, we have around five minutes left for this particular session, so I'd like to jump to one of the last questions. This question was submitted by David Hart, East Belfast YCs but just before I ask it, can I welcome … (applause—words lost) … the question runs as follows: How does the Prime Minister see the situation in Eastern Europe developing over the next few years and what are the likely consequences for Europe in general and the United Kingdom in particular? [end p24]

Prime Minister

I'm afraid you are asking such deep questions and each of them is taking up almost a little speech of their own. It is changing very, very rapidly indeed and our first task is to see that the changes don't destabilise the peace and security which we have known in the last forty years. That's why it is absolutely vital that we all consult together in NATO to keep NATO together and to keep our defence sure.

Tom KingTom will have made a superb speech and said all this, may I say it again, it takes such a long time to design and purchase and have your weaponry, whether it be for your navy, for your air force, for your army, that if you ever make a mistake and haven't got them, that mistake could be fatal. Defence itself is a great deterrent to anyone who would attack you from whatsoever source that attack may come. As I pointed out, there are many people who have far more access to nuclear weapons and there are now in the Middle East many, many countries which have the missile technology. You don't know where the attack will come from.

Just let me give you an example. Even in the years in which I have been Prime Minister the things which came suddenly … my first Christmas on Boxing Day … I received a telephone call: The Russians have gone into Afghanistan. Totally unexpected. Now they've come out. That had consequences which you know which are still not resolved. The next one was that Iraq had attacked Iran, also with consequences which you know, and only recently we were called upon to send the Armilla Patrol, enlarge the Armilla Patrol up the Gulf to keep the water ways open. To enlarge the Armilla Patrol and, of course, to send mine sweeps. If we hadn't had it, we couldn't have sent them. 1982 we had the Falklands and so on. You must keep your defence strong. You must do it through NATO.

Now, the second thing is, how is the European Community to react, particularly to these countries down Eastern Europe which are changing from the Communist system, saying they have had enough of communism and socialism with it? [end p25]

What we have decided to do is that as each country is different, I think perhaps Hungary will be one of the first to have more likelihood to getting a market economy, perhaps, and also Czechoslovakia, we must have an association agreement between the European Community and each one tailored to their needs. But in the meantime we are giving them help. First, to stabilise their currencies, then to help train them on management and ask them over here to courses to see how a market economy works. It is not going to be easy because none of those people have been able to exercise responsibility or decision-making for a very very long time and our task is to make them see that it is only a market economy that will bring prosperity. But freedom incurs responsibility and they must not be afraid to take it. That is the second thing.

Now, the third thing is, of course, the enormous change that is taking place in the Soviet Union.

And the fourth thing is all the minorities, which those of you who know your history well know, which in the Balkans have gone right down central Europe. Now, we have a different agreement about that which also involves the United States, called The Helsinki Accord. Thirty-five countries signed that Accord, United States, all of the countries in Europe and the Soviet Union. It refers to Europe and the Soviet Union. And we agreed in that, among other things, that no boundaries would be changed, except by agreement. So, if any boundaries are to be changed this requires massive consultation between us and we are hoping to have a Helsinki Conference towards the end of this year.

All of this means that the changes which are taking place now in Germany and the way in which they go towards unification, must be done in conjunction with those other obligations to which we are all signed-up. And what we are saying is that there are great changes and we must have time for transition, to see that those changes take place against a background of security and stability and it is up to politicians to value that security and stability sufficiently to see that, happen what may, we retain it. [end p26]


A “quickie” on the economy. Prime Minister, this has actually been asked by … Chapman of Mulvalley: Can we be assured that there will be no let-up in taking whatever measures are necessary to bear-down on inflation?—One word will do.

Prime Minister



I'm told that I should draw the session to a conclusion. Ladies, and gentlemen, I am sorry for those of you who haven't been able to get your question called. Before I actually formally thank the Prime Minister, I would actually like to welcome and thank her husband, Denis ThatcherDenis, who is with us today here. Can I also say now in terms of formal thanks that the Prime Minister hasn't seen any of the questions that I asked her prior to coming up and I think it is a great tribute to our leader the broad range that was covered and the depth of knowledge that is just automatically there.

Can I also say once again how delighted we are that you have been able to visit us here in Torquay and express your support for the work that we are doing in the Young Conservatives? We have here today expressed our enormous support for you on your marvellous record as Prime Minister. As I said at the Party Conference, we hope that you will go on to win a fourth, fifth and sixth term and we must make sure as an organisation that we are out there winning the youth vote for the best Prime Minister we have ever had. Thank you very much.