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 in Auckland – 9 November 1995

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech at the Regent Hotel in Auckland, held on Thursday 9th November 1995.


Prime Minister, Mrs. Clarke, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Perhaps first I may thank you both for your very warm and very pleasant welcome to Auckland. Norma and I have long wanted to visit New Zealand. As you both said, it is far too long since a British Prime Minister was here and nothing I have seen or heard since I have come is likely to delay my return though of course there are two or three days still to go! [Laughter]

Some of you may be a touch surprised to hear me say this but I think the timing of this visit is exactly right. There are important issues that we need to discuss and I think we should discuss those issues face to face and not through the distorting prism of long-range soundbites and I believe that the United Kingdom and New Zealand have a longstanding relationship that will enable us to do that.

Both of our countries have changed quite remarkably in recent years. In both, the economy and the structures of Government have been transformed and in each case our countries have emerged the stronger for it. Inevitably, our relationship has changed, it is now more modern, certainly more equal but that shouldn’t exclude ties of history, of personal friendship and of shared interests.

Though we won’t always adopt identical positions, the New Zealanders and the British need to understand one another’s viewpoints and it is in that spirit that I wish to say something today about three issues that are in the headlines and which matter: the Middle East, nuclear weapons and Northern Ireland.

I came here last evening not from London but from Israel and I would like to say just a few words first about Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

He was a warrior, a man who fought and led in several wars in defence of his country’s interests, but as Israel’s Prime Minister he fought with equal courage for a lasting peace in the Middle East and for that a few days ago he gave his life.

Whether we are from Britain or from New Zealand, it is in the interests of all of us to see a settled peace between Israel and her Arab neighbours. A peace settlement won’t remove all threats to stability in the Middle East, it will emphatically not resolve the problems posed by Iraq, posed by Iran, posed by Libya or the fragility of Algeria but it will defuse the sharpest issues in the region and allow new relationships to grow.

In the Mount Herzl cemetery on Monday, leaders from West and East, and most remarkably from a range of Arab nations, shared the grief of the Israeli people. That could never have happened even a few years ago and it showed more powerfully than any words that could be uttered that a stable peace can be achieved if Prime Minister Rabin’s work is carried on, as I passionately believe it will be by his successor.

I know that here in New Zealand you’d wish to join with me in remembering his life with gratitude and the achievements that he produced towards a lasting peace in the Middle East.

Let me now turn to another issue of some importance mentioned both by the Prime Minister and by Mrs. Clarke, an issue that arouses strong emotions, the issue of nuclear weapons.

It is not in the style of New Zealanders and the British to be other than direct and open with one another so let me tackle nuclear testing head on because to judge from some of the comments I have read and heard over recent weeks the British position is not properly understood here in New Zealand so let me set out the position for you.

We, like you, wish to see a complete end to nuclear testing. We, the British, have no plans to carry out further tests or need to do so. We, like you, want a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. We, like you, want to prevent the proliferation of all weapons of mass destruction and we are working for controls on fissile material and to eliminate chemical and biological weapons.

We, the British, were one of the architects of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and were instrumental in achieving its indefinite extension earlier last year.

In all this, I suspect Britain and New Zealand are united but there is a difference between us. Britain is a nuclear power and New Zealand is not. As Prime Minister, I have the ultimate responsibility for the use, the control and the safety of Britain’s nuclear deterrent. I hope and pray that it need never be used but until I am sure of that, sure of that beyond doubt, we will keep the deterrent and keep it in working order.

Some say the world no longer needs deterrence. I must say I don’t agree with that point of view. Nuclear deterrence gave Europe security and stability. It would in my judgement by irresponsible to discard it before there is a better means of preserving stability to put in its place.

Let me cite for you the example of Iraq. Saddam Hussein was developing – and might still be planning – nuclear weapons. He developed hideous forms of biological warfare and stockpiled enough biological and chemical weapons to wipe out the world’s population several times over. We cannot ignore such threats; that is one and there are others.

As a Permanent Member of the Security Council, the United Kingdom is insisting on the full disclosure and elimination of these Iraqi programmes and strict monitoring to ensure compliance. We have at times come under pressure, often rather hard pressure, to soften our stance but we shall not do so. With the evidence that has now come to light, I believe we are right not to soften our stance. It is also right to keep our nuclear capacity and we will do so for as long as we judge it is needed for Britain’s protection and, if necessary, for the protection of our friends around the world.

France, too, is a nuclear power whose weapons contribute to deterrence in Europe. Unlike Britain, France still needs to conduct some tests before signing a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. In this situation, it would have been very easy for me to come here this week and join the chorus of disapproval about French nuclear tests, I have no doubt it would have provided me with some easy plaudits and a very nice, free ride during my visit here to New Zealand. I could have done that. After all, we declared eight years ago that the United Kingdom would abide by the Protocols to the Treaty of Rarotonga, we accepted the South Pacific Nuclear Weapons Free Zone and three weeks ago we announced that we would sign the Protocols in the first half of next year in the company of the United States and France and we, the British, worked for this triple undertaking at the specific request of the Governments of New Zealand and Australia, so I could have taken that free ride had I chosen to do so but I must say to you I am not prepared to do so because if I had, I believe it would have been hypocritical.

I know the responsibility of being a nuclear power, I understand the difficulties that faced the President of France and I am not prepared to condemn him for discharging those responsibilities and if I had, I must say to you as friend to friend I would have fallen short of the honesty and frankness that New Zealand has a right to expect from the United Kingdom. Upon this issue, to my regret, we must agree to differ.

Finally, Jim, you mentioned Northern Ireland, a matter very close to my heart and my Government’s policy. You, Prime Minister, are one of many in New Zealand with Irish antecedents.

Northern Ireland has changed dramatically since Albert Reynolds and I signed the Downing Street Declaration just two years ago. Fourteen months of ceasefire have seen life there returning step by step towards the sort of normality which you in New Zealand can take for granted. As the threat of terrorism has diminished, we have been able to relax the measures necessary to combat it and now, throughout the Province, there are no military patrols, we have relocated large numbers of troops back to their home bases; there has been a surge in the economy, unemployment is dropping, trade and investment are rising and tourism has hit record levels.

We now want to move forward as soon as possible to negotiations which will embrace all of the parties in Northern Ireland, including those parties previously associated with terrorism. Our aim is a lasting political settlement fair to all parties and fair to both sides of the community.

Such a settlement can be achieved. With the active partnership of the Irish Government and valuable support from the United States, we have opened the way to a democratic future for all the people of Northern Ireland but there are still many problems to overcome. We still have to overcome the legacy of suspicion and the mindset of violence. Though shooting and bombing have ceased, the IRA and the Loyalist paramilitaries both retain their arsenals and continue the hideous practice of so-called punishment beatings.

Let me say this to you today: a democratic society can neither accept muttered warnings by political leaders of a return to paramilitary violence nor the spectacle of thugs smashing teenagers’ legs with baseball bats.

For the past ten months, through patient negotiation we have been trying to bring Sinn Fein into the democratic arena. Last Friday, we published new proposals for representatives of the paramilitaries to discuss with an international body how their arms and explosives could be taken out of commission while parallel talks took place to prepare for all-party negotiations. I hope that Sinn Fein will respond positively to our proposals. I hope they will catch the tide of peace self-evidently flowing so strongly amongst all the people of Northern Ireland.

Once the paramilitaries start consigning their weapons to history, they can make a full contribution to Northern Ireland’s democratic life on precisely the same basis as all the other constitutional parties.

Jim, when you next visit the land of your fathers, I hope you will go once again to Northern Ireland. You will find there an atmosphere transformed out of all recognition even since your last visit just two years ago.

Let me return finally to where I began. My visit here today is about keeping in touch. For all our family ties, for all our connections in sport and education, in culture and in trade, for all the links which see 100,000 New Zealanders come to Britain each year and even more Britons come to New Zealand, we mustn’t take each other for granted because of those long historic links so I was delighted with your announcement this morning that more young Britons will be allowed to come here as working holiday-makers. We, for our part, are going to mount a special programme of events in 1997 to show young New Zealanders why the link with Britain remains relevant to them in the 1990s.

You and I, Prime Minister, have worked together in a way that the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and New Zealand have traditionally worked together. We have spoken openly as friends, bluntly from time to time when that was necessary and we have listened to what the other had to say. We have a great deal to learn from each other. I believe that Britain and New Zealand, with that close link that has been there for ever, have both gained from that and will gain from it in the future.

We have watched from the United Kingdom with interest and admiration the reforms of the public sector that you have undertaken, reforms whose implementation, as we have seen in our own experience in the United Kingdom, can sometimes be very painful but which are now bearing fruit in a revitalised economic performance.

Whenever you asked me to take up issues on New Zealand’s behalf, I have invariably done so. Equally, let me say to this audience today how much I value your Government’s support over Northern Ireland and your decision to send a contingent to serve with distinction alongside British troops with the United Nations in Bosnia. We shall work just as closely together, I believe, over the next few days to ensure the success of the Commonwealth Meeting under your Chairmanship.

The Commonwealth, as I have seen on countless occasions, generates a unique spirit and on this occasion it has provided the happy circumstance of bringing Norma and me here today to see you and Joan once again, to enjoy your generous hospitality, to meet friends old and new and to see a country we have always wished to visit. It is a visit we will cherish and we are delighted to be here and most grateful for your hospitality. [Applause].