The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1995Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech to the 1995 Welsh Conservative Party Conference – 9 June 1995

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the Welsh Conservative Party Conference, held in Llangollen on Friday 9th June 1995.



Mr Chairman, I’d like to turn first to the remaining Royal Welch Fusiliers – and the Royal Air Force military observer – still being held hostage in Bosnia.

That is where the thoughts of many people in Wales will be until they are safely home.

Of course, we’re all relieved that so many of their colleagues have now been released unharmed.

But let us be clear. These are impartial peacekeepers who should never have been seized in the first place.

To hold just one hostage, just one peacekeeper – let alone dozens – is despicable.

No reputable army would have contemplated doing it.

The leaders of the Bosnian Serbs know that they will be held personally responsible if they let any harm befall our men.

They should release them unharmed.

Release them unconditionally.

And release them immediately.

Mr Chairman, I spoke this morning to the Commander of the First Royal Welch Fusiliers in Gorazde, Colonel Jonathan Riley.

Let me tell you about the vital work the Fusiliers are doing.

One company of the Fusiliers is at Bugojno – a base in Central Bosnia I visited last year.

There British soldiers helped to establish a ceasefire between the Muslims and the Croats 15 months ago.

The Fusiliers are making that ceasefire work.

They and their colleagues are patrolling 140 miles of the old battle lines.

They are helping former enemies to live together, work together, and rebuild their lives – in peace.

Just a few months ago people there were killing each other in their thousands.

Today, thanks to British and other United Nations soldiers, across a large area fields are being planted and children are playing safely and happily.

In Gorazde, where three companies of the Fusiliers are stationed, there are about 45 thousand people.

United Nations agencies have been supplying them with food and medicine.

But Gorazde is now under heavy bombardment. Serb artillery is ranged against a large force of Bosnian government infantry.

But the Welch Fusiliers are facing these difficulties with great determination and are in good spirits, as Colonel Riley told me.

Let me give you just one example of the work the Fusiliers have done.

On 23rd May, a little over a fortnight ago, two of the Fusiliers’ armoured cars were escorting an aid convoy.

They came under heavy fire from the Bosnian Serb army. They fired back in self defence – as is their right.

Their vehicles were hit, but they came away without casualties.

On its way back, the patrol stopped to help a heavily pregnant Bosnian woman – and the Royal Welch Fusiliers delivered her baby and took mother and child to safety.

Mr Chairman, life in Gorazde for the Royal Welch Fusiliers is arduous, uncomfortable and at times dangerous.

But they have done a superb job.

And I believe we should be very proud of them.

I want the UN forces in Bosnia to be able to go on doing their job, so long as they are not facing unacceptable risks.

We have a clear duty to save lives and prevent mass slaughter in our own continent.

Yet there is an even stronger reason for us to have our troops there.

There are war memorials across Wales and throughout the United Kingdom bearing the names of the millions who died in World Wars which began in the Balkans and Eastern Europe.

In the years before 1914, and again in the 1930s, Britain paid a heavy price for the mistaken view that events hundreds of miles away had no importance to us.

By the time we learned that we could not turn our back on the fate of fellow Europeans, it was too late.

So the British troops who are in Bosnia today are upholding a vital national interest – the preservation of stability in Europe.

But while they are there they must have all the protection we can give them in discharging their duties.

That is why the Government has decided to send reinforcements to Bosnia.

It was a hard decision.

But I am sure that it was also the right decision.

One thousand men – an armoured engineer squadron and two artillery batteries – are already on their way.

And I can confirm today that, as soon as details are finalised with the United Nations, over 5,000 men of the 24th Air Mobile Brigade will be deployed to Bosnia.

They will form half of a new UN Rapid Reaction Force at the disposal of General Rupert Smith and his fellow commanders.

They will provide additional protection for UN forces – and our British troops – so that they can defend themselves. And so that they can respond more robustly if they are attacked.

But I must make this clear: British troops are not there to fight a war.

It is possible the warring parties might make their job impossible.

And, if they do, we might be forced to withdraw those troops. I don’t want that to happen, but it could.

That would have dire consequences for everyone in Bosnia and grave risks for the whole region.

Mr Chairman, that is why we should give our total backing to our forces.

We ask much of our young soldiers.

They are performing magnificently.

And they should know that this Government will do whatever is necessary to provide them with the protection they need and the security they deserve.

The Nation

Mr Chairman, the Conservative Party has always had a strong vision of the right future for our country.

Throughout the last twenty years we have set the agenda for Britain.

The Right to Buy.

Trade union reform,

The free market.

Strong defences.

Membership of Europe.

Tests in schools.

Punishing not rewarding crime.

Time and time again it has been policies which have been vindicated by events.

And yet, all the time, our opponents have fought our ideas ferociously, and then been forced belatedly – and half-heartedly – to accept them.

We have been successful in determining the terms of debate in this country because:-

– our fundamental convictions haven’t changed;

– our instincts and values have always been close to those of the British people;

– and we have always put the national interest first.

Many of the details of our agenda over the last 15 years are nearing completion.

Now we are ready once again to move the terms of the political debate forward.

While our opponents modernise themselves – up to a point – by catching up with our agenda of the 1980s, we will be moving ahead to shape the agenda of the 21st century.

Let me remind you of the five key themes which we will pursue in building a stronger nation.

They can be summarised by saying that we will work for:

– A Nation of Enterprise and Prosperity;

– A Nation of Opportunity and Ownership;

– A Nation of Law and Order;

– A Nation of First Class Public Services;

– A Sovereign Nation.

It is on the fifth of those themes – a sovereign nation – that I wish to concentrate today.

Wales – the economy transformed

A strong nation needs first and foremost to have a strong economy.

Here in Wales the economy has been transformed by Conservative reforms.

Wales is now more competitive.

– There are 16 per cent more businesses in Wales today than in 1980. Self-employment is up by 40 per cent.

– Wales has secured nearly £7 billion of inward investment in the last decade – creating or securing over 120,000 jobs.

– With only 5 per cent of the UK’s population, Wales consistently attracts between 10 and 20 per cent of the UK’s investment from overseas.

The fruits of this new prosperity may not be obvious to opposition politicians with their gift for competitive whingeing.

But they’re clear for people with eyes to see – and clear right around Wales.

– Home ownership has soared from 59 per cent in 1979 to 72 per cent – higher than anywhere else in the UK.

– For the first time in decades unemployment in Wales is down to the UK average – and it’s falling steadily.

– Ownership of consumer durables has soared. Half of households in Wales now own a microwave. 69 per cent – more than two thirds – have a video. And 72 per cent – nearly three quarters – have a car.

Mr Chairman, what created this unparalleled prosperity?

It wasn’t socialism.

It wasn’t Liberalism or nationalism.

It was Conservatism.

And it is only Conservatism that will preserve that prosperity – and expand it.

Wales has changed. It’s no longer famous as the home of dying trades, outdated technologies and clapped-out union attitudes.

Today it has tomorrow’s industries, not yesterday’s problems.

Now Wales exports televisions, computers, and compact disc players.

It is a major tourist destination. And a growing financial centre.

That is the strong and secure future for Wales under the Conservatives.

Europe and the Social Chapter

But our opponents have a very different approach.

Even though Labour copy our rhetoric daily, there remain many differences between their policies and ours.

But one difference is fundamental.

At heart Labour believes that Britain should steadily progress down the road which leads to a federal European superstate.

The piecemeal erosion of our sovereignty.

The step by step construction of a United States of Europe.

Mr Chairman, that is not the right way for a successful Europe.

It’s not what I believe the people of Europe want. Or the people of the UK. Or the Party.

And it is not what this Government will ever accept.

We believe in an effective Single Market with rules fairly applied to all.

A Europe which strengthens its competitiveness instead of undermining it.

A Europe built around the free co-operation of sovereign nation-states.

A Europe which, as it enlarges, recognises that it must be more flexible and cannot become too rigid.

We will not ride on an escalator that takes us where we do not want to go.

We will battle for the right sort of Europe – and Britain’s interest in it – in all circumstances and at all times.

That is why, so long as I am Prime Minister, our opt-outs and our right to say no will not be negotiable.

Labour’s misguided approach to Europe is summed up by their devotion to the Social Chapter.

Of course, these days they are happy to use the language of markets, competitiveness, and of success.

They don’t understand it, but they use it.

But they talk more loudly and enthusiastically about their commitments to the Social Chapter and the minimum wage.

Those policies are the ball and chain which Labour would put round the ankle of British business – and thereby cripple our chances of winning in the world’s markets.

Mr Chairman, I fought to keep Britain out of the Social Chapter.

I did so at Maastricht even though I was outnumbered on this issue by eleven to one.

Monsieur Delors lamented that by doing so I had made Britain a “paradise” for foreign investment.

What has happened since has justified his judgement – and mine.

For the Social Chapter is not a fixed menu of measures.

It’s a mechanism which would allow Brussels to foist an endless stream of directives on British business. And just look at some of what we have avoided in the last two years alone, thanks to our opt-out.

The Works Council Directive.

The Parental Leave Directive.

The Part Time Work Directive.

They might sound harmless.

But they’re not. Together they would blunt the competitive edge of British businesses.

Just those three directives alone would cost our companies almost £2 billion a year.

But don’t just look at the statistics.

Listen to what foreign companies say. And do.

Companies like Black and Decker. They’ve switched their factories from Germany to Britain.

Companies like Daimler Benz. Their Chairman has warned that his company may do the same unless the German government sorts out the problem of rising social costs.

Companies like Nikko, a large Japanese bank. Their Deputy Chairman has said that firms invest in Britain because of our lower employment costs.

Companies like Sabena, the national airline of Belgium. They say that they cannot compete with British airlines because

Belgian social costs are almost three times higher than in Britain.

So, Mr Chairman, when some suggest that we should surrender the huge competitive advantage which we have gained by staying outside the Social Chapter, my answer is simple.

That opt-out was hard-won.

And it is not negotiable.

And while the opt-out stays in the UK, foreign investment will stay in Wales.

That’s a Conservative promise that no other party can match.

But what is Labour’s reaction to this enormous competitive advantage which Britain has gained from sixteen years of Conservative government?

Do they queue up to praise it?

Do they promise to build on it?

Do they even to undertake to protect it?

No, of course not.

Labour’s pledge is to do everything they can to eliminate that competitive advantage as fast as possible.

The Labour leader has said that one of the first acts of a Labour Government would be to sign up to the Social Chapter. That would be a huge and wholly unnecessary blow to British business and British jobs.

And Mr Chairman, when it really matters, I don’t believe that the British public will vote for a party which is offering them the fastest sell-out since the Christmas sales.

The Minimum Wage

Then there is Labour’s commitment to a minimum wage.

Of course the idea sounds attractive. Who would not want to help people on low incomes.

But it is a delusion.

The only way to make people better off is to strengthen the economy, raise skill levels and cut costs.

That is what we have been doing.

It is the reason why Britain has seen unemployment fall further and faster in the last two years than anywhere else in Europe.

It is down by 650,000 since 1992.

And it is still falling by around 600 a day.

Falling unemployment is the most effective anti-poverty measure of all.

And taking measures that destroy jobs is the fastest route to impoverishing a nation.

Yet that is precisely what a minimum wage does.

And it would be the low income jobs which the low-skilled, the part-time and the young depend on – either as the first rung on the ladder or as a useful supplement to the family income which would be lost.

Mr Chairman, we must continue to tell people the truth about the Minimum Wage.

We must not let them by seduced by its friendly sounding name.

Under its sugar coating lies the bitter reality that it will cost people their jobs.

Labour and Devolution

But, Mr Chairman, of all Labour’s ideas the one which would cause most damage to Wales – and to the United Kingdom – is their plan to tamper with our nation’s constitution.

Those who want to rip it up should realise that it is not some patchwork quilt that can be stitched together in a different way.

It’s not a mix’n’match assembly kit.

It is the product of generations.

A union that has weathered trial and tribulations because we realise that, united, we are stronger, divided we are weaker.

No wonder then that we have learned today that a clear majority of the British people – and even most Labour supporters – believe that Labour’s devolution plans would weaken the United Kingdom.

They are right to think that.

For Labour’s plans would potentially set each part of the United Kingdom against the others.

That is why the last time this poison pill was offered, the Welsh people rejected devolution overwhelmingly.

And that is why they would be wise to do so again.

Frankly, Labour’s plans for a Welsh assembly are an insult to Wales.

They carry no conviction.

They are the left-overs of their plans for Scotland.

There would be a Parliament at Westminster, a Parliament in Edinburgh, but only an assembly in Wales.

Now, I think a Parliament in Edinburgh is a mistake.

But Labour don’t.

So, if it is right for Scotland, why isn’t it right for Wales?

Why are Labour taking Wales for granted when it has so often been loyal to them? Let me tell you.

Labour want a Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh for their own party political reasons.

They are afraid of the Scottish Nationalists.

But a Scottish Parliament, with wide powers including the power to raise more taxes, ought to mean fewer Scottish MPs at Westminster.

That would mean fewer Labour MPs.

So to justify keeping Labour’s over-representation at Westminster they have cooked up the idea of a Welsh Assembly and Regional Assemblies around England.

It’s a blatantly self-interested partisan policy to benefit the Labour Party.

So the people of Wales would have foisted upon them a whole new layer of bureaucracy, and a whole new class of politicians, just so that Labour can protect their narrow party political interest in Scotland.

It is a shameful spectacle – and Labour deserve to be punished for it by the electorate.

In England, Labour’s desperate attempt to find a rational policy has produced a lurch from one policy to another. One day they support regional assemblies everywhere.

Another day they want regional assemblies to be phased in, in some places.

Because on yet another day they say regional assemblies would never appear in regions where they were not wanted.

In Scotland, there is no answer to the big questions.

Why should Scottish MPs be allowed to vote at Westminster on matters affecting England and Wales, when English and Welsh MPs would not be allowed to vote the same matters affecting Scotland?

How can that be defended? No answer.

What is the justification for the Tartan tax – forcing Scottish people to pay more tax than the English and Welsh just because they live North of the border?

No answer.

And what happens when a Scottish Prime Minister answerable to a Scottish Parliament finds himself in conflict with a United Kingdom Prime Minister answerable to a United Kingdom Parliament?

You’ve guessed it – no answer.

In Wales, as Neil Kinnock said, “Rightly or wrongly, the people will see the Assembly as a body which, in order to justify its forlorn existence, will have to take power from whatever tier of government it can get it’

So the assembly would try to grab the powers of Welsh councils.

That’s Labour’s new meaning of devolution.

Not devolution down to the people, but p to the bureaucrats.

Labour say their Welsh assembly wouldn’t be allowed to raise taxes.

But have any of us ever met a socialist elected at any level who doesn’t want to spend more of the public’s money?

So how long would it be before this Assembly started to demand the power to do so?

These ideas would produce a decade of constitutional upheaval and muddle.

But the damage would not stop there.

The Assembly would become the focus of resentment against Westminster and a recipe for conflict with the rest of the United Kingdom.

The Nationalists at least have logic on their side.

They are profoundly wrong, but at least their arguments are logical.

As for Labour, they have abandoned even the pretence of rationality in their schemes.

The Mad Hatter could have dreamed them up.

In their eagerness to tamper with the historical constitution of our Houses of Parliament, to divide up the United Kingdom internally, and to cast aside many of the veto powers protecting our sovereignty in Europe, Labour would inflict great damage on this nation.

Mr Chairman, we must fight with all our strengths to stop the nation sleepwalking to such a disaster.

That is our historic task.

And you have my pledge to put the maintenance of our United Kingdom – and of the place of Wales within it – at the very centre of our campaign for the next Election.

The Liberals

Mr Chairman, a few days ago Mr Paddy Ashdown announced that the Liberals were dropping the pretence of being neutral between the Conservative and Labour parties.

He said that the Liberals would never do a deal with us. Mr Chairman, I have news for Mr Ashdown.

We’ve always known that he would be happy to prop up a Labour government.

That’s no surprise at all.

Mr Ashdown would no doubt be happy to be Minister for Morris Dancing in a Blair Cabinet.

In fact, I’m sure he’d do that very well.

But the Leader of the Liberal Democrats announcing the death of Liberalism as an independent political force is of some significance.

Liberalism has in the past been a powerful force in the history of Wales.

Whatever our quarrels with the Liberals, we should acknowledge that in parts of Wales they have fought socialism as vigorously as us.

So I suspect that there will be some Liberals who cannot stomach being a wholly owned subsidiary of the Labour Party.

They now know from the lips of their own Leader that there is now only one political party in this country which is committed to fighting the divisive, illiberal force of socialism and state control.


So those Liberals who still support the ancient Liberal virtues of individual liberty, of limiting the state, and of ever wider opportunity are welcome to join us.

For only the Conservative Party now stands for those values.

And we are open to anyone who shares them.


Mr Chairman, I’ve no time for fainthearts in this Party.

At the next election we will defeat Labour and their fellow travellers just as decisively as we have at the last four.

We will be able to point to clear evidence of rising prosperity, as our decisions bear fruit.

We will have a detailed agenda of policies to shape a stronger Britain in the new millennium.

And we will have the knowledge that we and we alone will defend our nation’s interests abroad and our national unity at home.

That is a strong platform.

It is the right platform.

And it is a winning platform.