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 at the 1993 Lord Mayor’s Banquet – 15 November 1993

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech at the 1993 Lord Mayor’s Banquet, held in London on Monday 15th November 1993.


My Lord Mayor, My Late Lord Mayor, Your Grace, My Lord High Chancellor, Your Excellencies, My Lords, Aldermen and Sheriffs, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I wish to begin this evening, My Lord Mayor, by thanking you for your generous hospitality. Such warmth is traditional to Lord Mayors and on behalf of all your guests this evening may I say we are in your debt.

You spoke, My Lord Mayor, of many things, you spoke of St Paul’s Cathedral. In the mind’s eye of we Londoners, and I too am a Londoner, My Lord Mayor, in the mind’s eye forever is the is of that great dome defiant in the blitz. It is I believe an enduring symbol of London.

I hesitate to say this in the presence of the Archbishop, but the problem at St Paul’s is reconciling its twin roles as a place of worship and as a tourist attraction. And there is, I must tell you Archbishop, a sign at the door which reads “No eating in the Cathedral, this means thou”. I am not sure if it is endemic, St Paul’s tends to have trouble with signs. A previous Dean anxious, understandably anxious to capitalise on the Cathedral’ s position, is said to have put up a sign that perhaps, My Lord Mayor, is not entirely flattering to the City. It read as follows: “Last chance to pray, pray now before you enter the city”.

But I wonder whether St Paul’s would have been built today. You mentioned the Great Fire and what sprang out of it in terms of that remarkable building. But would it have been built today, I wonder? Christopher Wren, after all, was a difficult man, he kept changing the design, the planning committee would undoubtedly have had a fit. We would nowadays get an enforcement notice.

And what perhaps is even worse is that it took 44 years to complete. Now if it were a public building would Parliament wait that long? If it were a private venture, would there not be pressure to change it to a hotel or an office block? Very probably.

And I think with such difficulties, My Lord Mayor, you are absolutely right to seek to preserve the assets that London already has. But not only preserve them, to capitalise them, because no other city in the world has more to offer in terms of art, recreation, music, theatres, museums, parks and gardens, the list is endless.

I wish to see us parade those virtues more often and more loudly. The government proposes to spell them out next week in a document we are publishing that will celebrate London, it will emphasise the best assets of our capital city, it will contain a questionnaire asking Londoners how we can make our city a better place to live and work in, it will be the biggest consultation exercise ever in London.

And what Londoners tell us will help the government and the partnership working on London Pride, the prospectus for the capital. We have invited the Corporation of London and the London boroughs to work with the private and the voluntary sectors to prepare this with Alan Shepherd, the Chairman of London First, bringing the team together. If London is to stay ahead it must develop and compete and it is doing.

Transport, My Lord Mayor, has often been a theme of this occasion and it was again this evening. Well work has begun on the Heathrow Express. Last month we gave the go ahead for the £1.9 billion Jubilee Line extension; we are working urgently to bring private finance into the Cross-rail project and we are seeing improvements to the East Thames corridor and the Lee Valley. When next year Parisians come to London in three hours they will come to a great city determined to be greater still.

And more and more businesses are already coming here, they are welcome and so are the jobs and so are the growth that they bring with them. The Corporation of London and others intend to set up an inward investment agency for London and I can promise tonight that the government will help make that a reality.

But while we tonight can perhaps be misty eyed about the glories and opportunities of London, let us not forget the flip side. As we dine in white tie off gold plates other Londoners do not and nor do many others across the country.

The recession is over but it has left its scars. We are on our way to rebuilding prosperity but we must also rebuild confidence and that feeling of security that is so important to individuals and to their families. What they are concerned about is their livelihoods, their security, their families and their prospects and we must never forget that that is the case.

I have spoken about getting back to basics. That is not nostalgia, personally I have no reason to be nostalgic, it is the future that concerns me. In fashioning policy for a world that is swiftly changing we must have an eye to the underlying values and instincts with which as a nation we are comfortable. Basic economic values like low inflation, free markets and a climate we decline. Basic social values like self-discipline, respect for the law, concern for others. A greater acceptance of personal responsibility and family obligations. A concentration on education with an understanding that it is not just about training for work, it is a wider perforation for life and it involves parents as well as teachers, it means learning the values of our society as well as the rules.

Some will say the values are obvious. I would say if so then why have so many people forgotten? We made huge strides towards common sense policies in the 1980s. Many problems were overcome but others remained and new problems have arisen. We must now move on and tackle the most urgent tasks for this decade.

And most urgent, most immediate of all, we must complete the GATT round of world trade talks. It is not going to be easy. We nave only 30 days left, 30 days in which over 100 countries must put their weight behind GATT and get the deal done. There is no certainty of success. The United States administration has seen preoccupied with the Congressional vote on the North American Free Trade Area; in Japan there are problems in the Diat; in Europe the French have problems with agriculture.

I understand how hard it can be to pursue the greater national interest against tough political opposition. But a GATT deal would be good for French industry and for the European economy as a whole. Nothing will do more to increase world trade than a success in this round, and conversely nothing would do more damage to world confidence than a failure to agree in these Uruguay world trade talks.

Free trade will not on its own be enough to build prosperity in the 1990s, particularly in Europe. There are some uncomfortable issues we must confront. The plain fact is that much of Europe is becoming uncompetitive. During the 1980s labour costs in Europe rose by 50 percent; in the United States the increase was 10 percent; in Japan there was no increase at all. The result has been predictable, fewer jobs in Europe and 18 million of our fellow citizens unemployed. If Europe had done as well as others in the OECD there would be 9 million more people at work in the Community today. And if the Community continues to lose its share of world trade at the present rate, by the turn of the century Europe will have been overtaken as an economic power by the countries of the Pacific Basin. My Lord Mayor, it is time, past time, to sound the alarm.

Against that background our competitors in Japan, South East Asia and America must be astonished at the calls in Europe for the introduction of a 35 hour or 4 day week and I must say it takes my breath away as well.

And, that message is beginning to be understood in the Community. At Copenhagen we put competitiveness at the top of the agenda and we asked the Commission to produce a White Paper. In Brussels last month I found more agreement than ever before about the fundamental problems that Europe faces.

In December we will discuss the Commission’s White Paper. Let me tell you what I believe it needs to contain. It needs to set out ways to make labour markets more flexible; ways to improve skills and control costs; ways to create a climate for enterprise and to cut red tape. We must find ways to make Europe more competitive and stop taking measures which unnecessarily destroy jobs, for that is what has been happening in recent years.

And if we do not, if that challenge is not picked up and taken by the leaders of all the European Community nations, if we do not then that 18 million unemployed will become 20 million, then 25 million, then 30 million and the hopes and prospects for Europe will be smashed. That is what is at stake and that is why all argue so fiercely and so frequently for the sort of changes in European policy that I have advocated this evening and that I believe are so necessary to make a success of the European Community.

In the United Kingdom unemployment has steadied and is now gently falling. But the policy prescription that we offer to Europe is right for us domestically as well. Not only must we work for enterprise in creating the right framework, we must also work with business. We do not want to prop up or bail out, we do want to build a partnership with industry.

Let me tell you what has been happening since I spoke to you last year;

We are giving much greater support to British exporters, including access to credit on competitive terms. Ministers have led delegations of industrialists around the world. I have myself led groups to India, Japan, Malaysia and the Middle East and on those trips we have won confirmed orders for over £7.5 billion for British industry.

We are determined to use private finance to help bring about the capital and infrastructure projects that both the Government and industry want. We have ripped up restrictive Treasury rules but some blockages still remain and so the Chancellor has today appointed Sir Alastair Morton to chair a working group charged with removing them.

The opportunities are immense. We are already seeing private finance for rail, for roads, for prisons and for hospital buildings. If we can fully mobilise the power of private finance then we will have taken a giant stride towards the infrastructure development that we need in this country for the turn of the century and beyond but for industry and the economy to prosper we need another basic ingredient, a well-educated, skilled workforce. The best of our schools produce pupils educated as well as any in the world – we can be proud of them – but too many do not and as a result standards have slipped below those of our competitors.

Let me give you just one example. In arithmetic, 13-year-olds were asked to multiply 9.2 by 2. 5. In Korea and Taiwan 70% got it right, in Western Europe 55%, in England 13% and against that background, my Lord Mayor, I cannot understand opposition to simple tests in maths [Applause]. If we allow Korea and Taiwan a competitive advantage in schools today then we are handing them a competitive advantage in industry tomorrow.

Raising standards in education will be difficult but our children must be taught what they need to know to succeed in later life. That is why we need rigorous inspection, a national curriculum, national testing and openness about results. Later this week, we will publish this year’s public exam results for all schools and for the first time national tables on truancy. They will point to an alarming problem, one which many determined head teachers have shown can readily be solved; we must help them to make sure that it is.

My Lord Mayor, you have already paid tribute to the work of the City police. I fully support that but I would also applaud the quiet but effective way the City responded to the Bishopsgate bomb. Business life went on and practical measures were taken to reduce risks in the future. The fact that terrorists bombed and murdered on the mainland make us much more aware of the feelings of people in Northern Ireland as they contemplate the horror of the terrorist murders in their community and make us acknowledge even more the bravery of the security forces there. [Applause].

There may now be a better opportunity for peace in Northern Ireland than for many years. There are several important elements coming together. First, there is the burning desire on each side of the community for peace, not a peace at any price but peace that is fair and just. This strength of feeling is far more intense than ever we have seen before. No-one wants to continue living with death and terror and fear for another twenty-five years. This desire for peace gives an opportunity we must try to take.

Second, the Irish Government have shown a new understanding of the rights and concerns of Unionists. They are willing to reach out to them and I believe to make constitutional change a part of an overall settlement. They accept, rightly, that it is for the people of Northern Ireland freely and democratically to determine their own future.

Third, most of the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland are engaged purposefully in discussions about a political settlement. They accept that flexibility is needed to achieve that settlement but some cherished positions will have to be modified. All accept that no change can be made to the status of Northern Ireland without the consent of its people.

These elements present the opportunity we are determined to pursue. Against the sombre history of Ireland, many will say that the odds are against us. I accept that. I accept that all concerned will have to show courage, court unpopularity, break down old barriers and take risks. That is why we are for our part now actively seeking a framework to deliver peace, stability and reconciliation.

I shall not raise false hopes or set deadlines. We need both a permanent cessation of violence and intensification of the political talks. These objectives are complementary. We shall press forward in all three areas of the political talks in developing democratic and accountable structures within Northern Ireland in the search for new relationships between the North and the South of Ireland and in building closer cooperation between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland and when a true basis for an agreed passage is established, we aim to bring all participants back around the table to secure a lasting settlement. We shall work to protect all the people of Northern Ireland and of Britain from terrorism and to convince the men of violence in both communities to end violence unconditionally and for ever and to choose instead the path of legitimate and democratic political activity. Some would deny them that path on account of their past and present misdeeds. I understand that feeling but I do not share it.

Let me tonight make explicit what has always been implicit: these who decline to renounce violence can never have a place at the conference table in our democracy but if the IRA end violence for good, then after a sufficient interval to ensure the permanence of their intent, Sinn Fein can enter the political arena as a democratic party and join the dialogue on the way ahead. [Applause].

There can be no secret deals, no rewards for terrorism, no abandonment of the vital principle of majority consent but there is the incentive, the incentive that peace would bring a new and far better way of life to all the people of that troubled land.

It is, of course, my Lord Mayor, not only in Northern Ireland that we search for peace. The end of the Cold War may have lifted the threat of a nuclear holocaust but it also brought great political and economic uncertainty. In the former Yugoslavia, that uncertainty has turned to tragedy, human suffering on a scale unseen in Europe since the Second World War and not only in Europe, Every night, the television brings us images of tragedy in Africa, in countries of the former Soviet Union and right across the world.

We cannot ignore the suffering and the conflict. The United Nations is striving to help keep the peace and aid the afflicted. Frankly, its record has been mixed. It has no troops and no money of its own. It relies on the contributions of member states whose governments are bound to weigh the national interest before they commit their own people to the expenditure of blood and treasure but the world community is learning slowly and painfully how to cope with the tragedies and challenges of uncertainty. So too are the Europeans. Those of us who were fortunate enough to preserve our liberty and prosperity during the Cold War have a duty towards our fellow Europeans who were less fortunate and that is why I hope that the new democracies of central and eastern Europe can qualify as members of the European Community in the not too distant future.

We won the Cold War because the Americans were willing to commit themselves to the defence of Europe. That commitment is just as important today. In January, the leaders of the NATO Alliance will meet. NATO’s transformation has gone a long way and it will go further. At the summit, we must adapt the Alliance; it must be able to contribute to peace and security in a wider world; we must bring our fellow Europeans into new kinds of partnership. Today’s uncertain world offers opportunities as well as challenges and we intend to grasp them.

My Lord Mayor, this week sees the beginning of a new parliamentary session. Tonight, let me tell you what will dominate the political debate:

First, there will be a wide-ranging Criminal Justice Bill to tackle crime and to strengthen the powers of police and courts in catching, convicting and punishing criminals. [Applause].

Second, we will be introducing a substantial Bill to cut red tape and bureaucracy [Applause]. It will give us powers to scrap unnecessary or burdensome rules more easily.

Third, we will be introducing a Bill to reform the training of teachers. We intend to increase the school-based element in teacher training and encourage more graduates to come into the profession.

My Lord Mayor, much else of course will be done as well but I believe it is right to concentrate on these core issues. We have an enormous task ahead to make sure that Britain and Europe can meet and beat the competition but in Britain we start today from a sound base. If I had predicted on this occasion last year that by now we would have had inflation below 2% for nine successive months, that interest rates would be lower than in the rest of Europe, that unemployment would be falling, that output would rise by 2%, that British industry would be cutting its unit costs and that Britain would be set to grow faster than any of our main competitors in Europe, you would not have believed me yet that, my Lord Mayor, is where we are. I believe, my Lord Mayor, this is a basis for sustained recovery. It is a beginning of renewed prosperity. It is an opportunity for the future and we must take it. [Applause].