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 on West Country Tour – 17 July 1992

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech made during his West Country visit, on 17th July 1992, entitled “Our Common Inheritance”.


I am delighted to be in Cornwall today and able to speak to you.

I want to talk firstly about the great heritage of the South West and then turn to how that affects the challenges you face to generate growth in the local economy while preserving the unique character of this part of England.

To be successful the drive and energy for growth must come from local people. It cannot be imposed. Drive and energy is something about which TECs know a great deal. It is their job to work with Iocal agencies and organisations to create local training and enterprise programmes which reflect local needs.

The TEC in Devon and Cornwall was one of the first to be launched. And with a budget of 60 million pounds a year, it is one of the largest in the country. It already involves industrialists, employing one third of the total workforce, as well as local authority, educational and other community leaders, from across the two counties. It is driving forward with ‘Investors in People’ – our new national standard for companies making a commitment for training. It is also one of the 11 TECs chosen to pilot the new training credits scheme. Under the able chairmanship of Eric Dancer, it is going from strength to strength. If the TEC movement is to succeed it will be because TECs like Devon and Cornwall lead the way.

A predecessor of mine, Stanley Baldwin used to talk about ‘Our Common Inheritance’. He was right to do so. And we know that without the counties of the South West, that inheritance would have been infinitely poorer.

The Romans called the South West ‘Britannia Prima’. They knew a thing or two! King Arthur and his Court are not just of local interest in Tintagel or Camelford. They became a national myth which inspired the people and pageantry of England over many centuries. And what would we have been without Raleigh, without Drake, Grenville, Hawkins, Frobisher and the rest – all great West Countrymen? Would we have beaten the Armada? Would we have founded an Empire? Would we be renowned as a ‘seafaring nation’? I doubt it.

Their instincts are still prevalent in the West Country. That combination of a strong conservatism with fierce local independence. The West Country is a unique part of England – and uniquely English too – proud of local tradition, adventurous, sceptical and, dare I say it, sometimes downright eccentric and no-one could – or would wish to – change that.

It is impossible to travel to the West Country and not feel proud of this country. Some people have an insatiable appetite for running Britain down. Day after day on subject after subject our opponents tell us that Britain is always wrong. That we will always be beaten. That others will prevail.

Yet most people are proud of their country. We have the greatest literature, the richest history, the finest countryside, the best sporting tradition and the most brilliant scientists and inventors of any country in the world. I have no hesitation or embarrassment in saying this. It is true. I am determined to keep it that way.

These things are not accidental. We have an open society. We have a society in which Government has not tried to impose its own blueprint on the development of individual talent or local culture. Within the Union we have nations which have kept their separate identity and counties and communities with different traditions. A strong feeling of local independence is what makes us a united Kingdom.

A Living Heritage

We take so much for granted. People from the New World come to the Old World to find their ‘roots’ and we find it amusing. Not so amusing are the hatreds of hundreds of years which are being relived with terrible bloodshed in Yugoslavia – in the old Soviet empire and South Africa. Our heritage matters. Look around you. Is it possible to find a country whose heritage of buildings, of countryside and literature speaks more eloquently of centuries of mainly peaceful change?

Love of heritage is no mere nostalgia for a past that no longer exists. As events in Yugoslavia demonstrate all too well – it shapes our behaviour now. In our case our inheritance of social and political stability gives us an immense competitive advantage. It attracts investment from overseas. It means that we are better equipped than many to meet the challenges of innovation and change that are the key to economic success. The question of key contemporary economic importance to the West Country is – how do we build on these strengths?

The South West Preserving the Old: Exploring the New

The South West faces many challenges. Many of us – many of you – have been hit by the recession in world trade. Many of you are having to make adjustments – often painful adjustments as jobs are lost in traditional employment – in mining – in defence and agriculture and fishing.

Your challenge – our challenge is threefold. It is to develop new businesses – new employment – without compromising the unique character of these counties. It is to help traditional industries to adjust to meet the needs of the 1990s. It’s to ensure that local people have access to high quality services – to housing, education, health and many other things.

My engagements in Cornwall today demonstrate the breadth and strength of its contribution to our nation.

My first visit was to a successful dry docks in Penzance where I saw many of the traditional Cornish skills which have supported the area’s offshore industry for so many generations. I then visited an excellent Infants and Junior School in Cambourne, where no-one could fail to be impressed by the dedication of the teachers and the pride in the quality of the education they are offering their pupils.

This afternoon I will visit one of the county’s principle tourist attractions – an excellent example of how the tourist industry can operate in harmony rather than in opposition to the environment.

Finally I shall be visiting a company who have made a success of one of Cornwall’s most many famous exports, the pasty. Each and every pasty is still hand-made.

Tourism – Combining Heritage with Prosperity

Tourism has been a major growth area though it too is suffering – temporarily – from world recession. Yet some people like to suggest that tourism is a ‘Cinderella’ industry – ephemeral – somehow less real than jobs in traditional manufacturing. Remember some countries, half as well favoured as ours – have built their wealth on tourism. And it is expected to become the world’s biggest industry by the year 2000. Tourism is vital to Cornwall. It is a long-term growth industry. It provides people with flexible employment and it contributes 25 billion pounds to our GDP.

But to me it is more than that. To be successful in tourism we have to advertise ourselves. We show our pride in our heritage. We have to talk ourselves up, not run ourselves down. Tourism can help us cherish and maintain our heritage. It is a vital component in a local economy. It provides a second income for many farmers. They can diversify. They can continue the traditional patterns of farming which give the South West its unique character.

Although we are committed to developing tourism, tourist development must not be allowed to destroy the environment people come to see. Development must be high quality. It must be sensitively planned by local councils. Not for us the coastal high rise of the Costas. Our Britain is a country of local character and living communities. It is not Disneyland.

Above all development must be sustained by local commitment. Your heritage is in your hands.

Fighting for Britain’s Farmers and Fisherman

We are determined to protect the interests of Britain’s farmers and fishermen. These are difficult times for Britain’s fishermen, and I understand people’s concern. But the truth is if there are no fish there is no future for them. That is why it is so important to conserve fish stocks and that is why we are taking measures through Parliament to safeguard their future. I recognise people’s fears. But I hope they will wait to see how the new arrangements work in practice. I don’t think there is any fundamental disagreement that without effective conservation our fishermen’s very future will be put in jeopardy. I also recognise the importance of proper enforcement of fisheries regulations which must apply to all people fishing in the waters of the South West. I think our determined response to the incident off the Scilly Isles two weeks ago demonstrated our commitment.

We are fighting equally hard for Britain’s farmers. John Gummer’s success in agreeing a reformed Common Agricultural Policy is a remarkable achievement. It’s good for Britain’s farmers because we succeeded in removing measures which would have put them at a disadvantage. And it recognises that farming and environmental protection go hand in hand. We are also building on our environmentally sensitive areas scheme where we have led the way in Europe. The ESA in West Penwith was of course one of the first areas to be designated in 1987. We remain determined to preserve the unique and diverse character of British farming – from the small family farms of the South West to the extensive hill farms of Scotland and the big arable farms in my part of the world.

Helping Local Communities Remain ‘Viable’

Preserving the character of an area also means helping local people to live in the area. You face particular difficulties. Cornwall is especially attractive to people wanting holiday homes and retirement homes. We cannot and should not prevent that. Our prosperity depends on freedom to own – freedom to move – freedom to buy and sell. But I quite understand and have great sympathy with the concerns of local people that traditional communities are threatened by newcomers – ‘Grockles’ I believe they are called, buying up homes in rural villages and making it difficult for local people to find homes in the communities in which they were born and brought up.

Local Housing for Local Needs

The answer must lie in new housing – modest developments to meet local needs without damage to the character of villages and countryside. I can think of no other area in which the ‘enabling’ role of councils – as planning authorities – is more important. Careful and sensitive planning can make the difference between life and death for rural communities and for services – for shops – for schools – for pubs and other services on which they depend.

I say ‘modest’ development. We don’t want to see the open countryside scarred by unsuitable developments that change this character that both locals and visitors value.

There must be close partnership between planners, housing authorities and housing providers: partnership with housing associations who are – with our support – now major providers of affordable housing: partnership with local communities and landowners to take advantage of our ‘exceptions’ scheme. The release of small sites exceptionally, which would otherwise not be available for housing, to meet local village needs is proving increasingly popular. It has already contributed to the salvation of many village communities.

There must also be partnership with commercial developers using the planning system to get low-cost housing in market developments where it is needed. Negotiation with developers is a key to increasing private sector provision of affordable housing. And councils can use their own land for ‘build under licence’ schemes – the right to nominate purchasers in exchange for cheaper land.

Providing enough housing for local needs is a big challenge for the 1990s. We will be successful where councils use their planning role creatively and involve local communities. There is no national blueprint. Nor should there be. Decisions should be local: for local needs and preserving local character.

Better Local Services

Giving back choice and responsibility to local people runs like a grain through all our policies for public services. It provides the underlying philosophy of our Citizen’s Charter.

In education we are returning to basics. We are raising standards. Shakespeare is in. Neighbours is out. Parents now have choice. More schools are going grant maintained, running their own show. Local people can shape their schools to meet local needs. They may want schools that specialise – in technology or music for example – or perhaps in Cornwall in view of the importance of tourism, in business studies, or in local heritage and the local environment. They may wish to develop selective or part selective schools or encourage particular styles of teaching and organisation.

In health care local GPs and hospitals have new opportunities to shape the services they offer to meet local needs. Not surprisingly, the independent spirits of the South West have already established 18 NHS Trusts and 20 GP fundholding practices. They are raising the quality of NHS service towards the high quality of its medical care for which it has always been renowned.

Unity in Diversity

The history of twentieth century teaches us one basic fact. Where central government and central administration takes too much away from people, where it tries to forge a national cohesion from the centre, it is undermined from beneath by the alienation of people whose rights are usurped.

The character of our nation is the sum of the contribution which individuals and local communities have made over many centuries. Yet for too much of this century, politicians have forgotten this fact. There has been too much ‘Whitehall knows best’. We are returning choice, returning responsibility to individuals and local communities. That is the key to a more united Kingdom – a Kingdom which values its common inheritance but respects the traditions, customs and instincts of all its people, wherever they live.