The text of Sir John Major’s speech at the Hope and Homes for Children Dinner, held at the House of Lords on Tuesday 16th May 2006.
SIR JOHN MAJOR:
We are lucky.
Whatever problems we have, we have a roof over our heads. We are fed and clothed.
So are our families.
Our children and grand-children are cared for. Never lost or alone. We share their triumphs and disasters. We make provision for their future.
The children Hope & Homes care for have none of these comforts. I am not part of the charity, but from the moment I learned about its work, I have been hugely impressed.
The children face hardship for reasons that are not their fault. They are the victims – the flotsam and jetsam – of the failure of earlier generations.
130 years ago – not far from here in the British Library – an elderly man who actually did care for the underclass wrote a book that changed the world – not – as he anticipated – for the better, but for the worse.
Das Kapital attacked the failings of the world in which Karl Marx lived, and prescribed a remedy that led to misery for countless millions of people. Until only 30 years ago, one-third of the world lived under Marxist regimes, including many of the countries whose children now need the help of Hope & Homes. Marx did not intend this, but the perversion of his philosophy brought it about.
Today the free market and democracy has won its battle with Marxism. Only North Korea and a handful of despotic states cling to that failed philosophy. As a result, our world is changing for the better – though not yet for everyone.
But it is a world of change. In China and Asia an economic revolution is tilting world growth from West to East. Every time I visit the Far East, I come away with two emotions: admiration at their progress and foreboding about how competitive they have become.
China is not alone.
India is 15 years behind her – but with enormous potential.
Turkey is industrialising. So are parts of Eastern Europe, although – as Hope and Homes knows as well as anyone – not fast enough for the victims of economic failure.
Russia is energy-rich. Putin has made democracy worse – but the economy better.
Today, the revolution in Latin America is as much economic as once it was military.
Between 1986 and 1996 inflation was 180%, today it is between 6-7%.
All these are advances.
Over recent years every emerging economy in the world has outperformed every mature economy.
This fore-shadows a different world:- for the last quarter of a Century, the principal engines of world growth have been the US, Japan and the EU. Soon, China, non-Japanese Asia and India will join them. As a result, growth in the world economy will be better balanced than ever before.
This is encouraging as it does offer long term hope for many of tomorrow’s children – but does not diminish the need for help now – and for decades to come.
Over a lifetime, you see a lot. Often, things you would have preferred not to see.
Sometimes, what you see gives you hope:
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In the midst of change, despite overall economic improvements, there are many millions of people who are falling behind. These are not mere statistics – they are individual human lives.
Our world has six billion souls. Of these six billion, one-half live on less than US$2 per day, and one-fifth on less than US$ 1 per day. This cannot be acceptable. I daresay no-one here today would hesitate in spending that sum on a cup of coffee on their way into work each morning.
The rich nations do help: at present, they spend US$ 50 billion in total on overseas aid: an enormous sum. But less generous than it seems when you realise that Europe and America also spend US$ 350 billion on agricultural subsidies alone.
To put that into context: we spend seven times as much subsidising cheap food for those already well-fed, as the whole world on all the needs of those whose bellies are swollen with hunger.
The call for greater help is not simply altruism. It is in our interests to remove grievances, to cut away the resentment of the “have-notes” for the “haves”. It is in our interests to foreclose on misery and hardship to come and undermine the message of hate that fuels radicalism. And it is in our interests to build the alliances that will result from that.
Wherever we look, change is accelerating. In the late 18th Century the British Prime Minister, William Pitt, was reflecting on Britain’s relationship with America and realised he had not heard from his Ambassador in Washington for a long time. He picked up his pen and wrote to his Secretary of State: “If we have not heard from the Ambassador in another year …. we should send a note.”
Today, the leisurely world of William Pitt is long gone.
We have a global economy. The political map is fluid. Each day, there are ground-breaking new developments.
The speed of medical advance is bewildering. The demand for medical services is infinite. Yet it will grow: the mapping of the human genome system will lead to an explosion of demand for preventative care and, where this is provided, to an increase in life expectancy.
Science and technology is accelerating changing which already takes place at break-neck speed.
The past may give us an idea of the scale of change we might see.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, no-one knew of blood groups, of hormones, of barbiturates. Marie Curie had not discovered radium – not had Einstein perfected his Theory of Relativity.
There would have been amazement – even disbelief – at the thought that – one day – it would be possible to breakfast in London and lunch in New York.
In 1900, the Europeans were dominant.
The United Kingdom, France and Russia controlled 80% of the world’s surface.
How things have changed.
The Ottoman Empire has gone.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire has gone.
The French empire has gone.
The British Empire has gone.
The Russian Empire has both come – and gone.
The US is now the most powerful nation in the world with China and India on course to become great economic powers.
The impact of all this is far beyond economics and politics.
Children born today will see the conquest of the stars.
Most will live longer, see more, do more, know more than any earlier generation. They will see deserts bloom. See a genetic rebuilding of failing bodies.
Live with technical innovations beyond our present imagination. It will be a world unrecognisable to their forebears.
But not for all children – and we need to ensure that those children left behind do not suffer the hardships of their forebears.
That is what Hope & Homes is about. That is why it is necessary.
That is why I support it.
And that – I hope – is why we are all here tonight.