The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1993Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech to the Conservative Party Women’s Conference – 4 June 1993

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the Conservative Party Women’s Conference, held in London on 4th June 1993.


Madam Chairman, it is over 30 years since I joined the Conservative Party.

I still recall why. Because it was the Party of the individual.

The Party of the family. It offered choice. It spoke about how people could better what they had.

How each of us could have more control over our own lives. Build up something more – then leave it to our children. They are simple enough objectives. They are what I believe in. What we all believe in.

We stand for them as strongly today as we ever did. Individual liberty in everyday matters. That is fundamental to a free society. But that is not the only appeal of our Party.

We help each generation lay the groundwork for the next. We keep our roots in the past, but we plan far into the future.

And we have persistence. What we start out we complete – however tough the prospects may look.

But, Madam Chairman, I don’t need to tell you that. Just remember the last Election. Win it? Many people were telling you that we hadn’t a cat in hell’s chance.

It would have been easy to give up then – but we didn’t. We didn’t do it then. We haven’t done it since. And, Madam Chairman, we’re not going to do it now. I know it’s not been easy for Conservative supporters. It’s easy to wear the blue rosette the day after an Election win. But it’s not so easy to lift hopes and hearts when things have been difficult.

But that’s what you all do. That’s what you did last March and April. That’s what you’ve been doing these last few months. And I know how much I owe you.

Madam Chairman, these have been difficult times for Britain, but things are looking up here now. And don’t let’s forget – as some people too often do. Look around Europe.

In France, in Germany, in Spain, in Italy – wherever you look – things are worse than they are in Britain. Higher interest rates. Higher inflation. And economies that are shrinking. In Britain the position is changing. We are now out of recession and returning to growth.

Inflation has fallen: down from around 11 per cent to under 2 per cent.

Interest rates: down from 15 per cent to 6 per cent.

Exports: soaring.

Manufacturing: beginning to re-employ again.

Over 1000 new businesses are started every day.

Unemployment has fallen over the last three months and job vacancies have risen.

Britain is now back into growth. And that is the way to get Britons back into work. Of course we still face problems ahead. As a Nation we are borrowing too much. That is almost inevitable in a recession. The Government’s income falls – fewer people in work means less income tax. Less spending means less VAT and excise duties. Fewer home sales means less Stamp Duty.

But it is not only that income falls in a recession expenditure increases. Social costs increase to protect the unemployed and others facing difficulty.This too, worsens the public finances. But I know of no Conservative Government that would abandon the vulnerable in a recession.

Quite simply, that is not our way. So, income down, expenditure up. That is one of the main reasons we are borrowing too much.

A good deal of our deficit will automatically disappear as we return to growth – the mirror image of what has happened over the last three years.

In the Budget we set out a clear strategy for raising revenue over the next 3 years. The main task now is to keep a firm grip on public spending to help bring the books back towards balance.

We must look across Government to see where savings can be made. As we do so we will not forget our Manifesto promises. We will not forget our commitment to the vulnerable – and especially the elderly. Nor will we forget our instincts and priorities as Conservatives.

Over the next few months you can expect a whole crop of scare stories. Our opponents will be unscrupulous in their willingness to frighten anyone and everyone if they believe it will frighten them into their political camp.

We have seen it all over the last two years.

‘The Government will privatise the Health Service.’ Remember that scare? Untrue.

‘The rural Post Office network will close.’ Untrue.

‘Pensioners won’t be able to collect their pensions from the Post Office.’ Untrue.

Three wrongs that were not right. And there’ll be more.

Be warned. Our opponents will scare and scare and scare again.

What they will not do is address the reality that – in the interests of the country – we must put the finances in order.

We have to take a good hard look at public spending – quite apart from the financial pressures of recession.

Let me tell you why.

More of our young people are going into further education. We want to encourage that – but it’s very expensive.

More people are living longer. We want to provide them with the care they deserve – but it’s very expensive.

Britain needs a modern industrial economy. So our young people need more and better training – but it’s very expensive.

All are important. But we can’t pile cost upon cost. We have to pick our priorities. More spending somewhere means more savings somewhere else. I know it will be unpopular in the area where savings are found. But – if we are to do what is right for the country – we must do it.

I believe the British public will understand this.

They know you can’t spend what you don’t have.

And all of us have to take that message – uncomfortable as it is – to every constituency in the land.

Some areas of public expenditure will continue to grow – year by year. We must answer the question – how are we going to meet rising needs without ever higher taxation? I believe the answer lies in policies that will sustain the recovery – low taxes on larger profits and more incomes.

Madam Chairman, I want our country to be economically powerful again. To build up its industrial and commercial strength. The economic conditions are in place. Now we need to shape policy so that it supports business and allows it to grow.

Only growth will provide jobs, yield taxes, invade foreign markets, replace foreign imports and boost our prosperity.

Madam Chairman, I believe the Government does have a role to help industry. It has a responsibility to shape the economy; to keep taxes as low as possible and to produce economic conditions that favour investment. But it can do more than that.

It can curb unnecessary regulation. And we will do that.

It can stop costs being loaded on British companies by unnecessary action in Brussels. And we will do that.

It can help exporters to win in overseas markets with strong support and the full use of British political influence abroad. And we will do that.

It can produce the reforms that help industry.

The trade union reforms. The education reforms. The training reforms. And we will do that.

The economic conditions are in place for growth. Slowly, but certainly, confidence is coming back.

Confidence to encourage investment.

Confidence to expand.

Confidence in our economic prospects.

That confidence will ripple through the economy – from the greatest companies to the village shop.

And the sooner it does that, the better it will be for everyone.

We are now at a turning point. The recession is slipping behind us. Steady growth lies in front of us. And if the OECD and European forecasters are correct, next year Britain will grow faster than any of the leading EC countries.

They are saying it abroad. So let’s hear it at home. It is time to stop knocking Britain. It is time to talk Britain up – and talk Britons back into work. And it is also time to protect Britain from well-meaning but damaging legislation.

At Maastricht I refused to accept the Social Chapter. Not because I want to damage workers’ rights. But because I don’t think that being priced out of a job and being made unemployed is much of a right. The Social Chapter loads costs on employers and will cost jobs for employees.

Throughout Europe over 17 million people are unemployed.

All Europe competes with the US, Japan, and the Pacific Basin. But if Europe piles costs on itself, it will not be able to compete – and unemployment will rise across the Community.

Earlier this week, under the provisions of the Single European Act, our European partners were able to agree a directive by a qualified majority vote that tries to change British working practices. I believe their proposals are folly.

In any event that should be a decision for this country. It should not be a decision made in Europe. So we will fight it politically. And we will take our case to court. Our partners have also proposed the establishment of works’ councils. Let me tell them now. They are wasting their time.

They need unanimous agreement for that – and Britain will not give it. We have a veto on this issue. And we will use it. But let us not forget that Europe is changing.

Today’s European agenda is not about federalism, still less about some fanciful “superstate”.

It is about making Europe competitive; securing a GATT agreement; stimulating growth and jobs building up the single market.

About decreasing regulation and increasing national decision- making.

About bringing new members into the Community, and building up links with Eastern Europe.

These are the realities of life in the Community today. They reflect our ideas. They are good for Europe. And, Madam Chairman, they are good for Britain.

Madam Chairman, over the last few days I have had the opportunity of reading your paper on crime. It comes at a good moment. Three weeks ago – at the Scottish Conference at Edinburgh – we heard from a very brave woman who spoke about being the victim of a violent crime.

It was a harrowing account delivered with great dignity. The chances of being a victim may – statistically – be remote. But fear of crime is not remote. It is all too real to too many people. People living on their own. Women. Pensioners. And people living isolated lives in our big city estates.

That fear limits freedom blights lives and corrodes society.

How many people here, when they get into the car, press the central locking with their elbow before they drive off?

Quite a lot, I bet. Across the country millions do. I’ve seen my own family do it.

How many women think twice before venturing out into their own town or city in the evening?

We really shouldn’t have to give that a second thought. It cannot be right that people feel so insecure.

Madam Chairman, we intend to respond to those fears. Of course, we will give the police and courts the powers and support they need to fight crime on our behalf. We are doing that. But that’s only half the equation. The police and the courts can’t do the job on their own.

The fight against crime – if it is to be successful – must involve us all.

Parliament can’t solve crime with legislation. Governments can’t solve it just with expenditure.

Both have a part to play – but it is only a part.

If we are to have a successful long-term crusade against crime we have to change the general attitude to crime.

We must end the all too easy tolerance of petty crime – because it breeds an appetite for more serious crime.

We need to encourage self-discipline. And we need the help of the public.

Some months ago I said of crime: ‘We must understand a little less, condemn a little more.’

Some people were outraged. But I wouldn’t change a word of that view.

If we understand too much we condone.

If we condone we encourage.

If we encourage we will not bring down crime.

In understanding crime you can, literally, kill with kindness.

Our long-term battle against crime must start in the home.

We need to teach our children the difference between right and wrong while they’re young. Children need rules. To be shown that life on the right side of the law offers so much more than life on the wrong side. Violence is not a routine part of life. And it should never be portrayed on our videos or television screens as if it were.

We don’t want our children saturated by violence. We want them to grow up appalled by it.

Madam Chairman, we will not shrink from taking any necessary steps to combat crime.

In this session of Parliament we will be taking the action you asked for.

We will be giving the courts the powers they need.

Cracking down on arrogant criminals who ask for bail, get it and then commit crime all over again.

We will be extending the maximum penalties for drunk and dangerous driving.

And we will let courts take previous convictions into account when passing sentence.

Madam Chairman, that is just the beginning of the changes to come.

Next year Michael Howard will make the battle against crime the centre-piece of our legislation.

We’ll be acting on criminal justice.

And we’ll be acting to strengthen and to modernise the police.

We will be developing new institutions for young offenders – so that they’re where they belong – off the streets.

We will be tackling those so-called ravers, squatters and new age travellers, who treat other people’s property as if it were the municipal rubbish dump.

And, yes, we will be clamping down more comprehensively than ever before on fraud in the social security system.

If there are to be cuts in expenditure, let the first cut be fraud.

We will also reform the police. We have the men and women we need – but all too often they are having to spend time sitting in offices filling in forms.

We want them out of offices, catching those who have form. That’s what our new plans are about. That’s what we want.

And isn’t that what the people of this country want too?

Madam Chairman, the whole country will agree we need to tackle crime. But they won’t all agree about tackling some of the other problems in front of us.

I know what many of our supporters are saying. ‘Why can’t they leave well alone? Why are they always changing things?’ I understand that. No one likes change for its own sake.

That’s normal; that’s Conservative. It’s an everyday instinct.

And it’s my instinct, too.

But when I see something wrong then, yes, I do want to change it. To change it for the better – and change it for good.

Continuity and change weave together into the living tradition of modern Conservatism.

Continuity of institutions is the bedrock upon which we can make changes elsewhere.

Above all, there is the continuity of the Monarchy.

Forty years ago this week, the nation celebrated the coronation of our Queen. Millions lined the streets and millions watched on flickering black and white televisions. I know that I did.

Britain is a constitutional monarchy. And I for one hope and believe it always will be.

The Church, the State, Parliament – all help provide solid anchors for our way of life.

So does our language – the richest in the world. So does our evolving way of life in town and village that provides a comforting mixture of the old, the familiar, and the new.

These are lasting things, living things that evolve and do not change dramatically. And nor would we want them to. Yet, at the same time, we enforce change elsewhere.

We promote it. We deliver it. But only where necessary.

Not change for change’s sake.

Madam Chairman, one area we do need change is education.

I’ll tell you why. A third of those going on to training courses needed remedial help with English. Two in every five need basic help with numbers to get through their courses. One adult in six has problems with skills which can be tackled by a well-taught 9-year old.

Yet, Madam Chairman, how can this be?

How can this be when we are spending more public money per pupil than ever. Half as much again as we spent in 1979?

Something is clearly wrong.

Yet that is the reality in some classrooms.

I don’t regard these bad results just as statistics. They tell us about children who don’t reach their potential.

About opportunities lost.

They tell us something too about the effect of lack of discipline.

About the blind eye turned to truancy.

Madam Chairman, that does mean change.

To opt for the quiet life in education would be to accept the second-rate. Frankly, we’re not prepared to do that. For the worm is in the apple. And it’s time to face this problem square on.

That does not mean we want a battle with teachers. We do not. We want to work with teachers.

Few jobs carry greater responsibility than that of the teacher.

The future of our country is shaped in our schools.

The prospects for millions of lives are determined there.

The overwhelming majority of teachers are dedicated and able – and we must help them.

I am determined to see the high professional standing of teachers restored.

That is why two years ago I gave teachers a Review Body on pay – to emphasise their professionalism and importance.

I want teachers who are working day after day to help their pupils to know that the Government will support them.

And I want them to know something else.

Some of the tests are too bureaucratic. And I want them slimmed down.

We are going to take some of the burden off their backs. It crept in – and we must remove it.

There is strong support for a national curriculum in schools. We want to see greater emphasis on the basics. So, I believe, do parents.

That’s why we must monitor every stage of a child’s progress at school. And that means tests. And that is why we are insisting on the publication, school by school, of exam results, testing scores, and truancy rates.

Those who want to hide this information are quite wrong. Parents and public have the right to informed choice. They need to be able to judge how their schools are performing. Those performance tables are crucial – and they are here to stay. And in case there be any doubt, let me be crystal clear about some of the things I want to see.

More attention to the basics of reading, writing and maths for our 5-7 year aids.

Experienced people who are good with children coming into the profession.

Children introduced to subject teaching and timetables at an earlier stage.

And simple pencil and paper tests to find out what each pupil has learned – and what he has not.

I want to see schools developing pride in the traditions and achievements of Britain – it is nonsense to have a history curriculum that is strong on the Aztecs but doesn’t mention Nelson or Wellington.

I want to see truancy and absences cut back.

Homework set and marked.

Gifted children and those with learning difficulties stretched to their limits. And I want to see teacher training courses concentrating on subject knowledge, with experience of how to teach learnt where it can be learned best – in the schools. And, Madam Chairman, that will be the objective of teacher training reforms which we shall bring forward for next year’s programme for Parliament.

People say there is too much jargon in education – so let me give you some of my own.

Knowledge. Discipline. Tables.

Sums. Dates. Shakespeare.

British history.

Standard English. Grammar.

Spelling. Marks. Tests.

And, Madam Chairman, good manners – good manners are important for children.

But children learn by example.

So good manners are important for headteachers as well.

Madam Chairman, it won’t be easy.

Our education reforms were never going to be plain sailing all the way.

Our goals are clear.

To put in place a high quality education system.

To bring the best out of the skills of our teachers.

To meet the needs of all children, whatever their abilities and wherever they live.

To be on the side of pupils and parents.

Nothing – and no-one – will deflect us from that task.

Madam Chairman, I’ve spoken about the prospects for the economy. The need to control public expenditure. Tackle crime. Continue with our reforms on education.

All of this falls within a classic Conservative agenda. Whatever we do we need to remember always that at the other end of our policies – are people.

People with their own ambitions and their own hopes.

They are not always grand ambitions.

But we should always remember that a private triumph for a private man is as important to him as a public triumph for a public man.

Our job is – wherever we can – to help everyone meet their ambitions – not stand in their way.

But, Madam Chairman, one of the glories of our country is that people’s ambitions are not always for themselves. Often they are for others.

At the beginning of the year I issued a call for more recognition of voluntary effort. We in government are looking actively at how we can promote and add value to the work that is done. And we have announced already that those who give of themselves for others will gain a more prominent place in our system of honours.

We are a caring country. That is true of individuals – and it’s also true of industry. We should not forget the great part that British industry plays in voluntary support. There are those who talk glibly of the selfishness of capitalism.

Frankly they don’t understand it.

It is high time we heard more about the huge contribution of private enterprise to our national well-being.

Not just in the goods it produces – or the jobs it creates.

But in sponsorship, gifts, secondments, administrative help, and joint ventures with private voluntary groups.

This private sector contribution grows year on year. Capital and charity hand in hand.

Help worth over £200 million last year from just 216 companies in one survey.

Giant contributions to health, education, sport and the arts.

There are some who say news must reflect reality.

Well, there’s some good news about Britain. Caring people. And caring capitalism.

That is the reality – it would be nice to hear it in the news.

Madam Chairman, Britain’s prospects for the future are looking up.

Our economy is strengthening, our place in Europe secure.

And as prosperity grows, so too will confidence and trust return.

A country fashioned by the craft and skills of its people.

One in which every person feels – heart and soul – that they belong.

In whose prosperity all have their own personal share.

People ask what we stand for. That, Madam Chairman – that is what we stand for.