Speech to the Scottish Conservative Party Conference
|Document type:||public statement|
|Venue:||City Hall, Perth|
|Source:||Thatcher Archive: transcript|
|Editorial comments:||The Conservative Central Office press release (374/82) was embargoed until 1905. MT returned to the podium to speak after the ovation - further remarks follow the main speech.|
|Themes:||Union of UK nations, Conservatism, Conservative Party (organisation), Conservative Party (history), Defence (Falklands War 1982), Economy (general discussions), Employment, Industry, Monetary policy, By-elections, Local Elections, Foreign policy (general discussions), Famous statements by MT|
[ David Mitchell] Mr. President, my Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen. Yes, Mr. President, this is a very special conference for us all—for me and for you. And I really want to start, as you have thanked absolutely everyone, by saying a thank you to our marvellous organist, who always chooses the perfect tune for this great ceremonial entry which you arrange in Scotland, and tonight the Trumpet Voluntary was wonderful.
You gathered here in Perth from every corner of Scotland in the shadow of great events to celebrate the Centenary of our Party in Scotland, and to renew your faith and commitment to the future of a great ideal. The ideal of unity in diversity—a United Kingdom of all our fellow citizens, Scots and English, Welsh and Northern Irish, owing a common allegiance to the Crown.
Your record of service to the people of Scotland is a proud one. Over the past hundred years you have given us three most distinguished Scots Conservative Prime Ministers, including that most loved of all our elder statesmen, Alec Home. He set so many of the standards of integrity in politics which my generation tries to emulate and follow. And today with George Younger and his team, ably supported as they are by Hamish Gray at the Department of Energy, Alick Buchanan-Smith at the Ministry of Agriculture, Malcolm Rifkind at the Foreign Office and Iain Sproat at Trade, you can rest assured that the interests of Scotland are defended and advanced with clarity and vigilence in the Councils of the Realm. And with that number in our Government you can rest assured too, that in accordance with tradition, England continues to be governed by Scotland.
There have I know been disappointments, not least the recent by-election in Hillhead, where our outstanding candidate, Gerry Malone, was narrowly beaten in a particularly difficult four-cornered fight. It sometimes occurred to me to wonder in recent weeks whether the electors of Hillhead feel their views have been expressed by their latest [ Roy Jenkins] Parliamentary Representative in quite the way they would have chosen. One thing seems clear if last week's Local Government elections were anything to go by, and that is that a re-run of that by-election today would give Gerry Malone the victory that he so richly deserved and for which I feel sure he will not have too long to wait.
And here could I add a special tribute to Michael Ancram who gives such splendid service as our Chairman in Scotland. Last year I know he made a superb speech. This year I am told he topped it—what a task he has set himself for next year.[fo 1]
Now I said that we are gathered tonight in the shadow of great events. Events with which we were confronted through no choice of ours but in which we have been called, as so often in our Island's story, to stand for freedom and the rule of law, both challenged by the unprovoked aggression of the Argentine. The task has fallen to us but our service is to all who cherish liberty. Let us turn our minds back to that grey morning, in the South Atlantic, six weeks ago today, where the Argentine forces carried out a coldly calculated invasion of British territory. The reaction of the British Parliament and people was spontaneous and clear. The invasion was unlawful and unprovoked. It contravened every code of international conduct, it was in defiance of a United Nations Security Council call for restraint. It was directly contrary to the freely expressed wishes of the Islanders. It must be ended and it will be ended.
The Government responded at once by sending a Task Force, the largest that's ever been assembled in peace time to the South Atlantic, to back up intense diplomatic efforts to compel the Argentines to withdraw in accordance with the mandatory resolution which had been passed by the United Nations Security Council. The speed with which that fleet was gathered and the courage and the skill of those who repossessed South Georgia fill us all with pride, and a special pride in our young people who rose to that occasion in the very best of all our traditions throughout history.
Why were people and Parliament so united? Why in the days that followed did Britain receive such widespread international support? Our fellow members of the European Community plus Canada, Australia and New Zealand, always so robust, and many other countries across the world, came out in clear condemnation of the Argentine aggression. And so many helped us by imposing an Import Ban on Argentine goods. They all knew that the principles we were defending went far wider than the future of the 1,800 British people on the Falkland Islands, although the cause of but one person, if it is just, should be enough to take action. They knew that this invasion was one of those insidious tests, which throughout history evil has used to undermine the resolve of the good, and the world wondered would the good and the true respond? And the good and the true did. Nevertheless, our first duty is to the Falkland Islanders themselves. We must uphold their right to live their lives in their way. We must respect their loyalty, the wonderful loyalty they have shown. Their freedom of choice and their independence of spirit. After all, Mr. President, that's what being Scottish and British is all about.
But there are even larger issues at stake. The right to self-determination is enshrined in the United Nations Charter. If that right is weakened, small countries the world over would be at risk. And nor must aggression be seen to triumph for it grows by feeding on example. And our men and ships now facing all the rigours of the South Atlantic in mid-winder are there not only to secure the withdrawal of Argentine troops from territory which is not theirs. They are there also that others may mark and learn that land they take by force they shall not hold.[fo 2]
For nearly 150 years now, the United Kingdom has been in peaceful and continuous possession of the Falkland Islands. The administration of the Islands has been British and until the invasion, out of the total population of the Islands, the Argentinians numbered only forty. The rest were British and mainly of Island stock. Families which have been there for four or five generations, longer than the ancestors of some of the Argentinians who came from Spain and Italy. Argentina claims that theirs is an act of decolonisation. Ladies and gentlemen, that simply isn't true. No nation in the world has a longer or prouder record of bringing colonies to true independence than our own. What Argentina wants is not to decolonise the Falklands but in fact to put them again under a different colonial control, and one which has not had the respect for liberty and democracy which the Islanders have come to love.
Over the years, successive British governments have sought always in company with the Islanders, to reach agreement with the Argentine over the long term future of the Islands. The last of those meetings took place in New York at the end of February, less than three months ago. Yet only three weeks later, an Argentine Navy ship landed sixty Argentines on South Georgia without permission from us. We sought to solve that problem by diplomatic means, but it was the [ Nicanor Costa Mendez] Argentine Foreign Minister himself who, on the very eve of their invasion, told us that the diplomatic channel was now closed. That same day President Reagan's personal appeal was spurned by the [ Leopoldo Galtieri] President of Argentina. Mr. President, they didn't want a peaceful settlement then because the next day the Argentines invaded and the Falklands were occupied. The Security Council called for Argentine withdrawal and since that mandatory instruction the government of Argentina throughout these six weeks has made no move to comply. On the contrary, they have poured in additional troops and additional equipment. Mr. President, there can be no doubt where the guilt lies. It lies in Argentina. And after six weeks we need to remind other nations that if they believe in justice at all they cannot be even-handed between the aggressor and the aggrieved. We welcome the support we have had from many of those nations. We hope and trust that support will continue until the invader is thrown off the Islands.
Of course we will continue to negotiate. We'll go on doing all we humanly can to reach a peaceful settlement. A settlement in which the Argentine leaves the islands they now occupy unlawfully. The government want a peaceful settlement but your government totally rejects a peaceful sell-out. There would be neither honour nor credibility in our country or our people if we were to do that.[fo 3]
I hope that the negotiations will succeed. I don't want to see one more life lost in the South Atlantic, whether British or Argentinian, if it can be avoided. But I should not be doing my duty if I didn't warn you in the simplest and clearest terms that for all our efforts, those of Mr. Haig, and those of the [ Javier Perez de Cuellar] Secretary General of the United Nations, a negotiated settlement may prove to be unattainable. Then we should have to turn to the only other course left open to us. And that is why, as I have repeatedly said in the House of Commons, the Government, in its attempts to find a diplomatic solution, has done nothing which forecloses any military action now, or any military option for the future. Nothing is being held up because we are negotiating. Nor should it be. It would be only too easy a ploy for the Argentinians to say, "Don't have any military action while we negotiate". They would be quietly in their bases on land while we should be tossed about the South Atlantic in those intemperate seas. We are not going to fall for that one.
The difficulties we face are formidable but our determination to secure a just solution is relentless and in that I believe we have the whole country with us.
Mr. President, for too long, or so it seems to me, we in Britain have been seen by ourselves and by too many overseas people as drifting on the ebbing tide of history, slipping inexorably backwards under pressures we somehow felt powerless to resist. Yet in truth there was nothing irresistible about them if we had but the resolve to reverse the current and to convince others and ourselves of our sense of purpose. Even since I was given the trust to lead our Government it has been my purpose to set a course that both friend and foe may understand and that we may adhere to. And that purpose is the same at home as it is overseas. To uphold certain principles and values which some had thought that we could live without. And foremost among them has been to restore honest money and sound finance and to make our industries profitable once again. Of course, we knew that the paths we set would need to be adjusted to the unmapped terrain that lay ahead and we didn't hesitate to adjust it, but our goal was not adjusted and it shouldn't be. And it won't be. Steadily but surely we are gaining ground, because ordinary folk understand our sense of purpose. They understand we are going to stick to it and more and more are coming to count upon that.
In recent weeks of course all attention has been directed to the South Atlantic but here at home, almost unnoticed, signs of economic spring are beginning to show. And the most significant of these has been the news about inflation. During February prices virtually stood still. In March the year on year inflation rate fell again and we expect it to be in single figures by mid-summer. Now this hasn't just happened by chance. It's happened through steady and persistent and dogged determination. And what's more we shall have[fo 4] got to single figures without artificial controls on prices or wages, because they serve only to put off the day of reckoning and to store up trouble for the future. So this fall in inflation, like this Government, is soundly based. And if we continue this way, inflation will fall further and that is our purpose. And let us not forget that exports are earning us a record surplus. Who would have believed it? Under a Conservative Government, in spite of all the difficulties, exports last year earned a record surplus, some £8 billion. And as the latest figures show, the good results continue. So let us just congratulate our businesses for once, management and men alike. It's a team achievement. Recovery gradual but steady, and the sounder base for that continues. The components for success are there for all to see. Wages hand-in-hand with output. Wasteful practices discarded. Profits earned and gathering momentum, but still too low. We need them higher yet, because profits are the life blood of investment and the years ahead.
Mr. President, some say we have laid too much stress of fighting through to stable prices. We haven't done so out of slavish obedience to some economic theory. For I agree with those who say that theories are for armchair critics—not only about economics but about the South Atlantic too. I only wish we hadn't listened quite so avidly to the voice of academic fashion in the past.
Nor have we pursued this course because we think that inflation is the only thing that matters. For we also agree with those who say that the miseries of unemployment are just as bad. We've done it because inflation gone beyond a certain point, and we are long since past that point, attacks the very central nervous system of the nation. We cannot choose to tackle unemployment by letting go of prices, because the prices go, but sadly unemployment doesn't. So inflation and unemployment are not the heads and tails of politics. The cure for unemployment depends upon our willingness to cure inflation—and we are determined to do that because that offers the best hope of secure jobs and good profits for the future.
Mr. President, each time I come to Scotland I take heart from your success stories. For example, the splendid profit figures recently reported by great Scottish businesses such as Babcocks of Renfrew, the Lilly Group in Glasgow, John Wood of Aberdeen. These mean jobs secured for Scotland. And when John Brown Engineering with the energetic backing of our Trade Ministers, including Iain Sproat I might add, when they pipped the international competition to the post for a £50 million power station for Oman, then that too means jobs secured for Scotland. When Volvo Trucks of Irvine wins the contract to deliver 180 double-decker buses to Indonesia, that is more jobs for Scotland and profitable employment for all of Volvo's 400 employees at Irvine.[fo 5]
The fact is there is business to be had, if we continue to pursue soundly based finance and economics. Let me just mention one or two other companies. The record of a company like Macfarlane Clansman of Glasgow which boosted sales by 66%; and profit by almost half in the very tough environment of 1981—that took some beating for again it means jobs secured for Scotland. Of course I know there is still much to be entered on the other side of the ledger. Too many businesses still slimming for survival, and I know how difficult slimming is, don't many women? Nor am I going to hold out false hopes of boom times just around the corner. We have had those all too often in the past and bust has followed boom. The world trading environment remains precarious and competition won't be any easier in the months ahead, but we're very much more able to tackle it now. But I was struck by the comment the other day of the Chairman of the Scottish CBI. I believe many of us know him. He runs a splendid business. On visiting a number of textile and electronic firms he had this to say: ‘I have heard’, he said, ‘that they are experiencing a real upturn, with increases in orders and enquiries being expressed in investment in new technology plant and machinery. Provided’, he concluded, ‘the increased profitability of companies remains with them Scotland can lead the world out of recession.’
I should perhaps add provided we continue under a Conservative Government.
So let me assure him and you, it is the purpose of this Government to see the profits are retained to be ploughed back to make the real lasting jobs we all long to see.
Mr. President, sometimes I had the feeling in these recent anxious days and nights, and they have been particularly anxious for me, and those who bear such responsibility in the Government and in the Forces, the one or two of those who have proclaimed themselves expert at analysing our national character have been feeling something of a culture shock. For years they have tried to tell us and others, who observe us from afar, that the British people had lost the taste for independent action. That Patriotism was outmoded. That the words of the familiar Naval prayer which speaks of our fleet as the defence of all those who pass across the seas upon their lawful occasions, that these things they said belong to the scrapbooks of nostalgia. How wrong they were. What have we seen in these last few weeks? We've seen this ancient country rising as one nation to meet a challenge that it refuses to ignore. Men and women working overtime to see the ships and supplies for our Forces in the South Atlantic delivered, not just on time, but well ahead of time, and it's been their pride to do it. Away went the strikes. People worked overtime and I remember one example told me of some particular thing, some particular[fo 6] modification, which we had been told would take thirty-two weeks to do, and those self-same people who quoted thirty-two weeks did it in two. That's the sense of pride that's been aroused.
Great liners called back into service and turned round to take our reinforcements. And all this done in what has sometimes seemed an impossible schedule. Perhaps we have surprised even ourselves. And I know we have surprised all those who didn't think we had it in us. But in these things Britain still leads the world. The love of liberty in the rule of law and in the character of our people.
So, Mr. President, two longs have merged [sic], too often denigrated, too easily forgotten, the springs of pride in Britain flow again. And one of our poets said, and I finish with his words, ‘Dear bought and clear, a thousand years our fathers title runs. Make we likewise their sacrifice, defrauding not our sons.’
(A short reply from David Mitchell, President of SCUA, then followed, before Margaret Thatcher returned to the rostrum.)
Mr. President, you have thanked everyone but no-one so far has thanked you. And so I want to do just that, not only for being President of this meeting and for chairing it so splendidly, but for all that you and all our members do each day, each week, each month, and each year in this hundred years of service. You're quite right, there have been very, very anxious days. I hope John Biffen's summing up was right, I believe it was, and I should perhaps just assure those of you who may have relatives in the South Atlantic that their safety is our very first concern. And it always will be.
What really thrilled me, having spent so much of my lifetime in Parliament, and talking about things like inflation, Social Security benefits, housing problems, environmental problems and so on, is that when it really came to the test, what's thrilled people wasn't those things, what thrilled people was once again being able to serve a great cause, the cause of liberty. They don't necessarily fight for a country because they want more wages, higher benefits, and new international economic order or anything like that, it is because we are a free country. It's come upon us in this Centenary year and we are all very proud and happy that in this Centenary year our tradition of service and your Presidency is as great as it was at the beginning of that century. And it all augurs very well for the second century. We won't be here, but we are handing on a heritage proudly as it was handed to us.