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 CBI – 28 September 1993

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the CBI on Tuesday 28th September 1993 in London.


Madsen, thank you for that stimulating series of suggestions. I was wondering what we would be doing over the next seven years! [Laughter] I now have a fairly clear agenda and I am grateful to you for that. I am sure all my colleagues who are present this evening will have taken very careful note.

I noticed when I came in that I committed one of the gravest sins in the Madsen Pirie Lexicon by not having changed my tie before I arrived. I apologise for that but I think the direction of Madsen’s proposals of policy give a clear indication of the direction that I feel the general thrust of thought should go both now and in the future.

I am pleased to be here not just because of the convivial company but also because of the work that Madsen and his five colleagues – the Magnificent Six – have done in terms of policy promotion over the last few years and policy promotion for the next few years.

It is immensely invaluable to have someone galloping ahead of the pack with ideas that it is worth examining that will change the face of what is happening at present. We couldn’t have had a more powerful advocate for liberalisation and privatisation than the Adam Smith Institute; it has been an immense boost to have their support for – if I can say this in the secrecy and discretion of this room before somebody starts a tape recorder running! [Laughter] – I have to tell you that privatisation has not always been universally popular in every quarter and there have been moments when it hasn’t wholly carried even the hearts and souls of every single member of the Conservative Party but it is right and it is working and I think if people were just to look back at ten years ago and ask themselves, for example, what the tax level might be if we were still subsidising all those former industries in the public sector that are now profit-making in the private sector, they may begin to contemplate whether they were right when they criticised privatisation or whether those who privatised were right.

But there is more to be done. British Rail, perhaps not the most popular Bill at present, is undoubtedly right. I have, I must tell you, not a shred of apology about the policy to privatise British Rail and when I occasionally see opinion polls saying 87% of people are opposed to the privatisation of British Rail, I think they should ask people how many people are satisfied with the service they get from the present nationalised railway and I suspect the figure would be a deal less than 87%.

A great deal has been done with privatisation and with liberalisation and I think there is a good deal more to be done. I think there is not only more to be done directly in those policies. I think the introduction of private capital, first cousin perhaps to privatisation, into a whole range of endeavours – the infrastructure of course but way beyond it – is something else that I think we need to promote as much as we can over the period of the next few years.

What we surely seek, what I surely seek, is the minimum size of public sector and the maximum size of private ownership. That must be the right way ahead for us; it must be the right way for a whole range of reasons that I have no need to set out to this particular audience and the outriders in that argument have consistently been the Adam Smith Institute – for that I am deeply grateful. I am equally certain that they will remain the outriders for a whole series of ideas in the years immediately ahead.

Where Madsen, I am sure, is right is that people as yet have not begun to sense the underlying change that I believe is taking place in the economy and will become apparent over the next two years or so. Undoubtedly we are clear out of recession; we are back in growth when the rest of Europe isn’t; we are back in growth with the prospect of low inflation and continued growth for quite a period; we are hugely competitive, not just because of the changed exchange rate of sterling but also for other good practical reasons, productivity and unit cost improvement for example being first amongst them; the increasing capacity of employers to resist unreasonable wage demands and be sensible about containing their costs. All these are practical reasons making up a steadily more competitive nation.

I have to say to you that in the last week you may conceivably have noticed that I was in Japan and Malaysia; it possible it was brought to your attention and I have to say to you if anybody doubted the attractiveness of this country as a trading partner for a country to invest in, they should have been with me in Japan and Malaysia and seen the perspective that they had there of what is happening here for I have to say to you it was immensely encouraging. They recognise the opportunities that exist. Not only do they recognise them, I don’t have a shred of doubt that they are going to take those opportunities and I very much wish to see them do so.

So I think our prospects are a good deal brighter than many people would imagine. We propose to build on those prospects in the next few months and the next few years and I know as we do so we will be constantly prodded – perhaps where necessary with a pitchfork – by Madsen and his colleagues to make sure we head in the direction that I believe we should go, the direction that maximises private ownership, minimises public ownership, maximises the capacity of people to spend their own money in their own way on their own families – for they will spend it a good deal better than even the most benevolent state will – and maximises the opportunity for people to become, in Madsen’ s phrase, a nation of entrepreneurs. I think there is no doubt that that is the right way for this country to go, no doubt that that is the way that offers the greatest possible prosperity in the future and no doubt at all, I hope, that that is the way the Conservative Party, united perhaps as never before on an issue, will be able to carry policy forward in the next few years and I look forward to coming back at the end of those seven years, Madsen [Laughter] to hear what you have in store for us in the first decade of the new Millennium. [Applause].