The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1992Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech to the Adam Smith Institute – 16 June 1992

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech made to the 15th anniversary Adam Smith Institute dinner at the Banqueting House, Whitehall, London, on Tuesday 16th June 1992.



I am delighted to have the opportunity to talk to you this evening about our domestic agenda for the years ahead. It is, of course, as Private Eye or The Guardian would have me say a time ‘of not inconsiderable interest in Europe’. But this evening my theme is domestic.

After our fourth General Election victory in a row, Conservatives might be forgiven for thinking that the Millennium had arrived a little early. They may even be forgiven for thinking we’d reached an end to politics, with the final demise of Socialism, and the Conservative philosophy of choice, of opportunity, of responsibility and ownership triumphant.

Such complacency would be wholly wrong. Complacency usually is. The good politician treads the waters like a duck. Unflurried calm above water and paddling like hell beneath it. But Socialism as a philosophy has been defeated and discredited. We should remember why. It has been defeated because of its intransigence and inflexibility. The attempt to marry 19th century political theory to late 20th century realities carries no conviction any more. Socialism has passed its sell-by date.


The real lesson is this: it is dangerous to get stuck in old ways. Conservatives, thank goodness, no longer debate the merits of the Corn laws. Yet Socialists still agonise over public ownership. To live, a political Party must always be examining and reexamining. It must listen and adapt to peoples’ changing needs. That is what this Party will always do.

The greatest strength of the Conservative Party is that we look to the future. We move with, and help to mould, the spirit of the time. We choose policies which break down barriers to personal achievement wherever we find them; we are ready to take on vested interests; we take our stand in defence of the interests of the ordinary man and woman.

Now, as ever, that means change. Not challenging the basic instincts of the individual – we will always go with the grain of human ambition. But answering better the aspirations of individuals. Opening up new doors and wider avenues so that their instincts and ambitions can be realised.

Let us leave the Socialists to defend the status quo and the collectivist past; we are on the side of individuals, of innovation and of reform wherever it is needed.


Some were apparently surprised that we won the General Election. Some commentators wrote us off well in advance. I am not by nature vindictive. But I was able to bear the sight of them with more egg on their faces after the campaign than I had during it. I can only suggest that next time they look for opinions a little wider than the chattering classes of W8 and NW3. Perhaps they should try the real world. What they totally fail to appreciate is how deep the Conservative revolution is sending its roots. Just how total is the resection of the ‘State knows best’ assumptions of Socialism.


We live in a new country. People have greater self confidence, independence and ambition. Forelock tugging belongs to yesterday. Living standards for the average family have risen by over a third since 1979. Millions of families now enjoy the freedom of ownership; ownership of shares, pensions and homes. We achieved an enormous amount in the 1980s. But that was only the beginning of what must be done. Now we must spread freedom and opportunity ever wider and ever deeper.

The instinct for independence is a basic human instinct. Any parent knows that. During the 1980s that instinct was reasserted throughout the world. Yet old habits die hard. Among too many people in this country – people who take the easy choices of prosperity and privilege for granted – there is still an arrogance which assumes that people who have little, or are dependent on public services cannot be trusted with choice. Over the years, government at all levels has been stiff with that attitude. But not only government. It can still be found in some of the professions, in universities, and in the media.

Well, I was brought up among people who had little. Yet they – we – were no different from the next man or woman. We had our own ideas, our own hopes, our own ambitions. Just because you have little money, it does not follow that you need little choice, that you are fit only to follow where others lead. People in those circumstances long to have choices. They want to be independent, not dependent on town hall or benefit office. They want a share in this country – a hand up, not a hand-out. They want to earn more, to have more, to build up the dignity of ownership and to leave something for their children. They are fiercely proud. How many do I remember from my childhood with little payments made weekly to the Tally Man to ensure they had enough to be buried with dignity. And some say such people do not want choice; do not want independence. And I say they are wrong. They do. And they want to feel that they own a piece of Britain and have a stake in its future. And we must make sure that they have that chance. Because if the Conservative Party doesn’t, no one will.


If you stifle freedom; if government always ‘knows best’, you sow the seeds of resentment. I believe that it is the arrogance of central planning over many decades that lies at the roots of much unnecessary social division. Some express their instinct for independence in anti social ways. They reject the values of a society which gives them no voice. It is one of Marxism’s many ironies that wherever it has been tried, it produces a deeper sense of alienation from authority than capitalism ever has. We now see the anarchy that underlay the Soviet totalitarian state. Burke said ‘Freedom and not servitude is the cure of anarchy’. Give people more choices and responsibility; trust the people, and you will have a more just and ordered society.


We have made great progress. But we have no reason to be smug about it. Despite all the advances of the last thirteen years, one of the most over-governed nations in Europe. What do I mean by that? Well, first we have too many layers of Government. We intend to remedy that. That is why we have asked John Banham and the Local Government Commission to review local government structure. Local government should reflect the identity and interests of local communities. And, if that means bringing back some ancient authorities with which people still identify, that we shall do. But one thing we will do – add new tiers, permit the building of new bureaucracies. We will have no truck with regional assemblies and all the other jobs for the boys in the public sector unions that littered the manifestos of our opponents.

But over-government means more than that. Too often choice in public services is exercised by people who do not have to stand at the receiving end or anywhere near it. For many people lack of choice in public services is merely a minor irritant in their lives. But for those who depend on those services, it can be a source of bitterness and even despair.


This then must be the next phase of Conservatism: To shift the balance of choice in Society more radically than ever before into the hands of ordinary people. We have made a start.

We have privatised State-owned industries. We have cut taxes. We have liberated businessmen and investors. We have deregulated and opened markets. We have spread wealth and we have spread ownership. We have seen a phenomenal growth in personal pensions and savings.

There is no going back on this. We will continue to take the State out of the market place. We will privatise coal. We will bring private operators onto our railways. We will not go back to the corporatist days. No picking winners. No lame ducks.

We have been accused on occasions of wanting to centralise – to take powers from others to exercise it from Whitehall. But it is not the civil servant who decides who should buy their council house. It is the tenant. No bureaucrat decides whether a school should apply to become grant-maintained. It is the governors and parents. It is not the man in Whitehall who decides that a hospital should apply for Trust status. It is the hospital. It is the people most closely involved.

In the 1980s we opened doors. Those choices which used to be the monopoly of the State – in housing, in schools; and in daily life through high taxation – we gave them back to the people. People with enterprise flocked through those doors with enthusiasm. But others felt that opportunities were not for them. Perhaps they were not encouraged enough. Perhaps they were afraid of the attitudes of Socialist councils and unions. In the 1990s we mean to widen the avenue to choice and freedom. We mean to empower not just the enterprising, but people – the least well-off – those most dependent on public services as well.

That must be the story of the 1990s. Where once Socialism nationalised or municipalised personal choice, taking it away from the individual and the family, we will give choice back to them and extend it further. Of all the privatisations that this Conservative Government conducts, the greatest and most far-reaching and the one to which I am most committed is the privatisation of choice.


That is the message of the reforms which make up the Citizen’s Charter. It is the most radical programme of reform of public service at all levels that we have ever seen. Yet thus far it has barely begun.

It starts with Government. Already, we are acting on our Manifesto commitment to open a wide range of central government services to competitive tender. I want to bring to central government the benefits which contracting-out has brought to local government. Whitehall Departments, Next Steps Agencies, other parts of public service – all these must look at how bringing in outside skills could improve the standards of service on which the public depend.


I also want to see a significant change in the role of the State. Whitehall should not be so inward-looking as it now is. It should be more open in its procedures and already we are beginning to change it to bring that about. People need to feel greater- ‘ownership’ of their government, to see it as less austere, less remote. I want people to respect the considerable skills, the commitment and professionalism of public servants. But those skills are too often hidden from view.


Adam Smith believed that the State had a responsibility for reform, to remove impediments to natural liberty and to facilitate the development of services like basic education for all.

I agree with Adam Smith. It is a little over two hundred years since he wrote the ‘Wealth of Nations’. In the intervening years the State has arrogated to itself more and more powers. The wheel is now coming back full circle. For an increasing number of public services the State should be an enabler and facilitator. Adam Smith believed that in providing services, the State should simulate market conditions wherever possible. It is a pity he is not alive to advise us on the Citizen’s Charter. No Adam Smith perhaps. But at least we have Madsen Pirie, who sits on my Advisory Panel.


Let me give you four examples, in key areas of Conservative policy, where we must work to empower the user better in the course of the 1990s. In education. In housing. In law and order. And in health.


In education, I have a simple dictum – the best for every child, the best from every child. I make no apology for our insistence on higher standards, on testing, and on a return to basics in our schools. It is what parents expect and deserve. And it is what parents and pupils will get. Education is the key to the opportunity society. We mean to end for good – and I mean for good – the giant Left-wing experiment in levelling down. This will not only help the gifted but, perhaps most importantly, the less gifted and the deprived as well. Nothing is more patronising or more damaging than to lower the expectations you have of pupils simply because they come from a less advantaged background. They too, have the right to be challenged, stimulated, and stretched. And encourage them we will.

Mr Chairman, we will extend further choice for parents. The introduction of open enrolment and Grant Maintained Schools is already beginning to have a dramatic effect on standards and attitudes in Schools. Where are all those people who predicted it wouldn’t work because parents would not be interested? I’ll tell you. They are the people who are now complaining that parents’ determination to choose the best for their children is cutting across the educationalists’ plans. Imagine: parents having the effrontery to cut across educationalists’ plans. Whatever next? Well, All I can say is: ‘About time too’.

Why – last week I even heard that Labour now intend to ‘soften its approach to opt-out schools’. Isn’t amazing what an effect a caning at the ballot box can have? Jack Straw says Labour still oppose opting-out. But he admitted Labour had to recognise – and I quote – ‘Parents are bound to make decisions as to what is best for their children’. Well I never. What a painful admission for a Labour politician after decades of Socialist educational theories. Parents want the best for their children! It’s the Socialist world order turned upside down.

We are extending parental choice everywhere. But I can tell you today that we will go further. It is all very well if you live in an area where there is a choice of good schools. What if you don’t? In too many deprived inner city areas, where councils are dominated by the Left, there is still too little choice. Many of these schools still provide standards of education which are inadequate. A choice between the bad and the barely tolerable is no choice worth speaking of.

We cannot leave this as it is and we won’t. We intend to take powers to set matters right. I want to see good schools grow and bad schools improve or close. I want to expand opportunities for new schools and new types of schools to develop. And where our new independent Inspectorate finds that standards are unacceptably low, I do not believe that Government can stand indefinitely by. If the governors or the local authority are unwilling or unable to put things right, then we must find ways to raise standards for the children in them. Children’s needs come first that is why John Patten will be producing new proposals to tackle the worst schools in his White Paper later this summer. They will be radical. They will be controversial. And they will be absolutely in the interests of the pupils.


In housing, we have brought about a revolution in the years since 1979. Millions of people are now homeowners who never thought it possible. And we have given tenants new rights in place of the old rules laid down by Council housing departments. Here, too, we must now take our programme further. To create more new owners with the Right-to-Buy and with the new Rents-to-Mortgages scheme. To give further new rights to those who rent- the right to repair, and a new right to benefit from improvements they have made. And, as we have just announced, to crack down on Councils that patronise their tenants. Councils will now have to put housing management out to tender and to bring in managers who can provide a better service for tenants.

We also want to take further steps to improve the availability of housing in the private rented sector. Our ‘rent – a-room’ scheme will enable home owners to let rooms to lodgers without having to pay tax on the rent they receive.


In upholding the law we want a return to the old approach to policing. 130 years ago, a Russian coming to Britain said; ‘Until I came to England the appearance of a police officer always produced an indefinable disagreeable feeling and I was at once morally on my guard against an enemy. In England a policeman at your door merely adds to your sense of security’. People should feel that the priorities of the police are their priorities. There should be a policeman passing your door regularly, and not just when the burglars have called. People in our cities should not be afraid to walk the street or open the front door.

We will back the police. We always have – and we always will. But we will back the policemen on the beat by insisting on better management, on greater flexibility, on greater attention to the concerns of the public with more use of civilian staff and community policing. Ken Clarke’s review of the functions and structure of policing will ensure that we have a modern, efficient and fully responsive force – one which meets the needs of the public, and which retains and returns the public’s respect.


In health, we have won the battle of the health reforms. Look how many hospitals applied for trust status before the election, despite all Labour’s threats to the jobs of those who appeared too enthusiastic. Trusts and their equivalent in primary health care, the GP fundholders, now have an unstoppable momentum – north of the Border as well, as I discovered on a visit to Scotland two weeks ago. Why? Because they know that they can provide better standards for their patients and more fulfilling careers for themselves if they run their own show.

In GP surgeries and in hospitals, our reforms are working. They are strengthening the health Service and extending the frontiers of free modern patient care. They are here to stay.


Our Citizen’s Charter is about choice, competition, management change and responding to the users of services. The Charter will be at the centre of all our decision-making. Pushing forward market-testing. Setting and reporting on service standards and performance against them. Widening choice and competition. Enforcing higher standards where choice and the market cannot fully operate.

That does not mean excessive new regulations. We are not giving people more choice in some areas, just to see it removed by over-zealous and over-detailed regulation in others.

So central and local government alike, be on your guard. We have a new commitment to deregulation. It was set out loud and clear in our Manifesto. And over the next few months we will be relaunching that drive.

But if we are to achieve the standards we want in key services – in schools, in social work, in policing, fire services and probation – I believe that rigorous independent inspection is crucial.

That will mean reform in present arrangements. We have begun in education. But the inspection of key public services must – and will be – independent of the services they inspect. I do not accept that schools can only be inspected by educationalists, social work by social workers. There is room for good, old-fashioned commonsense, for the outside view, and for other professional skills. We need and we will deliver, independent scrutiny from outside.

The Citizen’s Charter is no blueprint for those who want to push the public spending ratchet up a few notches. No one who uses public services can fail to be aware that within any given level of resources, standards and efficiency can improve. There will be no let up in my personal determination to keep public spending under tight control, no matter how difficult the choices will be. Better value for money is part of better public service – and we will continue to work for it.


The Citizen’s Charter is about giving power to the people. And that is fundamental to my vision of the society I want to see develop in the 1990s. I have said I want a ‘classless’ society. I do not mean that in the sense that people should all be part of some amorphous mulch. Of course society forms itself into groups of people who share attitudes and interests. There is nothing wrong with that. And there will always be snobbery, no matter how much I personally deplore it. I cannot legislate to change human nature, nor would I want to.

What we can do is give everyone a better opportunity to make the most of their lives. That is one more reason why we will continue to ensure people keep more of what they earn. We will help millions more to obtain personal pensions, so that they will have extra security when they retire. And we will ease inheritance tax to enable every family to pass on to their children what they have built up in a lifetime of work. The politics of envy have no place in my view of the future this country.

I want to do away with the old divide between those who choose and those who have to take what they’re given. I want to do away with barriers to achievement. Too often people give up. They turn against those who slam doors in their face. Those doors should be open. I want a country where achievement is not resented because everyone feels they can achieve things too.

Reform starts at the top. We are chopping Goliath down to size. We are giving people the slings and stones to do it. I don’t want to hear any more carping about the faults of the dependent. Who has made people dependent? We have. By ‘we’, I mean Governments, planners, those who think wrongly that they have a monopoly of wisdom. We have done it not because we provide the welfare and the services, but by denying people the basic human dignity of independent choice in the way they are provided.

Michael Oakeshott wrote of ‘human beings impelled by an acquired love of making choices for themselves’. Yes, it should be their decisions which shape our society. He said ‘we know as little and as much about where it is leading us as we know about the fashion in hats of twenty years time or the design of motor cars’.

I agree. Some would criticise us for that. I take it as my starting point. The past 200 years has been the story of the evolution of democracy. The progressive extension of the franchise. The extension of wealth. The extension of choice. In the 1990s, I want the privilege of ownership and the luxury of choice to be no longer a privilege. No longer a luxury. I want them to be for all. To be as universal as the franchise itself. But just as individual and just as personal. For, like the right to own, the power to choose is not something which we kindly permit every four or five years. It should be the birthright of every citizen of every part of every corner of this country. And it should be there every day.

We are determined it will be.