Jump to content
 

Speech Archive

Leader's speech, 1960

Harold Macmillan (Conservative)

Location: [Location]

Commentary:

This was the first conference since the Party won its third successive general election victory in 1959. In this speech, Macmillan outlined the Party’s achievements since then - which included a fall in unemployment and good progress in slum clearance - and spoke about the values underlying its policies. He stated his opposition to communism and described unsuccessful attempts to persuade the Soviet Union to disarm at the Summit conference in May, the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in September, and at the recent meeting of the Ten Power Committee. Macmillan also spoke of Britain’s responsibility to provide financial aid to its former colonies, which were among the poorest nations in the Commonwealth, and of his pleasure at seeing the leaders of many of these nations at the UN Assembly. However, he expressed his concern about the continuing crisis in Congo.

Last year, if I remember right, we did not have a Party Conference. We had a General Election instead and that really went quite well, considering. So far as we are concerned, our mood can be described quite simply. We are grateful but not complacent. Grateful because three successive victories with increasing majorities is something we have received for which we ought to be duly thankful. At the same time, in face of many problems at home, in the Common wealth and in the world, we need to brace ourselves for renewed efforts. Yet if neither the Government nor the Party can afford to relax, we can at least say ‘thank you.’ As Leader of the Party, I have already had many opportunities to express my personal gratitude to individuals or groups. But I want just once more to thank you all, and through you the massive body of our loyal supporters throughout the length and breadth of the land.

Nor should we forget the great men of the past, who made possible this spectacular revival of our Party and presided over its continuous growth - Churchill, Eden, Woolton. These were the architects of victory. After them came Hailsham and Poole, whose confidence never faltered in good times or bad. It would be impossible to mention all my colleagues who have served so well, but there are one or two to whom I must refer. First the Home Secretary: you would think his own Department was enough to keep him occupied - drink, betting and all the rest. But in addition he leads the House of Commons, he is Chairman both of our Party Organisation and its Research Department. We owe him a great debt. We owe much to Heathcoat Amory, whose wisdom, charm and modesty made him both loved and trusted. His successor, whose qualities have been proved in five arduous years at the Foreign Office, brings to his new task a firm character and a flexible mind. I have seen enough already of the new Foreign Secretary’s work, especially at the United Nations, to confirm my confidence that the choice was right, and now you have heard him for yourselves. And then we have to welcome back one or two who have recently returned to us - wandering souls, but happily not lost. We have a young Party and, with some exceptions, a young Government. At any rate we can claim this: although we do not normally address one another as ‘comrade,’ we are in fact a comradeship of loyal friends.

For the last twelve months all sorts of experts have been making surveys and writing articles seeking out the reasons for our victory. There has been a lot of talk about the images of the political parties but what has really emerged is the image of the British people in 1960. What is it that the people of Britain - especially the young people - want in the 1960s? They want to see their country economically sound and prosperous and they want opportunities to get on in their jobs and to use intelligence and imagination and initiative. That is Conservative policy. They want to earn more and to keep more of what they earn. That is Conservative policy. They want more new hospitals, houses, roads and schools. That is Conservative policy. They want their houses to belong increasingly to themselves, not to a local council. That is Conservative policy. They want to see the State coming to the aid of the old, the sick and the unfortunate, with a wide variety of services. That is Conservative policy. They do not want nationalisation or rigid State control of industry. They prefer the Conservative policy of encouraging industry to get on with its own job, with the Government helping and not hindering - a partnership, not a gigantic takeover bid. They want to see their country playing its full part in developing the resources of the Commonwealth and aiding the less fortunate nations of the world. For they know - young and old alike - that materialism is not enough. That material prosperity, to be hallowed, must be shared. That is the policy of the good neighbour; and if it means risks or sacrifices to achieve it, these must be accepted. That, too, is Conservative policy. They see the securing of peace and justice as the most important problem abroad, and they want our country to be united and strong enough to give a lead. They are not despondent or cast down by difficulties. They are eager to face the exciting problems of prosperity and development in a rapidly changing and often dangerous world. That is the Conservative faith.

So we need not be surprised when the pollsters tell us that more and more Conservative support is coming from the young people. We must keep it that way. Our Party needs all the time new blood and new ideas. My first duty today is formally to launch the new national campaign of our Young Conservatives. In this campaign we have two aims - to increase their political activity, and to increase their membership. Mere numbers are not enough. That is why I am so glad to learn that there are now well over two hundred Young Conservative policy groups in the constituencies. This work will be of real value in our Government. It will give us first hand information about the way the younger generation is thinking and feeling. And, by the way, our Young Conservatives cover a very wide range of responsibility and age. At one end they are at school; at the other they may well be married people with children of their own at school. Their voice deserves to be heard in the Party, and in recent years it has been heard with increasing effectiveness. Everybody who has attended your discussions this week will have heard that for themselves. Next February they are going to have a go at a conference of their own. The Young Conservatives are already the largest political youth movement in the free world. They have played a great part in the historic victories of our Party. I ask everyone to help in this campaign. I hope that it will result in a big boost in the numbers and the enthusiasm of Young Conservatives throughout the country. If it does - as I am sure it will - then we can say with all confidence: ‘The Future is Ours.’

At the last General Election we called our Manifesto ‘The Next Five Years.’ The first of these years is over; and you have heard a progress report from Ministers of how they have been using it. Let us start with our social laws - many of them notoriously out-of-date. We have dealt with betting in the first Session of Parliament; licensing comes next. In all this our aim is to keep a right balance between freedom and excess.

The problem of crime, as in most other countries, is a cause of concern. It will certainly help if the police are not expected to enforce laws which no longer command general respect. It will also help them to be relieved of some of their routine traffic duties. Of course, the new system has its growing pains, but I think it is beginning to work. Anyway, I heard all about it from my wife. On the broader aspects of crime and prison reform the Home Secretary is manfully at work on new legislation.

I turn next to education. We have a proud record of achievement, and the Minister, Sir David Eccles, has ambitious plans for the future. Since 1951 we have provided nearly 2,500,000 new school places and - even more important - there are 57,000 extra teachers in the schools. We have big development programmes under way covering both schools and colleges. Next, housing. At our Conference ten years ago you told us to raise our sights and asked for the 300,000 target. The Socialists said we could never build them, or alternatively, as the lawyers put it, that we could only do it at the expense of school building. They have been proved wrong on both counts. We have built the houses and we have built the schools, too. More than 2,500,000 houses have gone up since 1951, giving one family in every six in this island a new home. And for many of them not just a home, but a home of their own. Meanwhile the local authorities, with Government help and encouragement, are making good progress with special needs such as houses for the elderly and slum clearance. We need to do better still for the elderly, and we will. We are getting ahead with slum clearance; we are re-housing people from the slums at the rate of 200,000 a year.

Housing, with all its related issues - rents, the use of land, town planning - involves some pretty intricate and knotty problems. In you, Mr. Chairman, we have the right man to tackle them. Better homes make for better health. Yet whatever strides we make in the prevention of disease, we shall always need the health service to cure illness. There are now nearly two hundred major hospital building schemes in various stages of building and planning covering the whole country. Apart from maintaining a high standard in the Health Service, we have given special attention to the needs of the mentally sick under the new Act which was put on the Statute Book last year. On Thursday you debated the needs of the elderly; their human needs as well as their financial needs.

At the last election both Parties put forward their schemes. I observe that the Labour Party’s has now been scrapped. It was found, it was said, to be too complicated to attract the electors. In other words, they did not trust it - or its authors. In contrast, our plan has been put on the Statute Book and comes into operation next April. It is designed to get the right balance between State help and self help. While it strengthens the State scheme, it does not exclude private and occupational provision. These arrangements are for the future. For those who have already retired I made our policy clear at the Election and I repeat it now.

We intend that they should continue to share in the expansion of national wealth. And I think you will find that in the future, as in the past, our actions match our words. That, then, is the story. The facts are clear. We have the biggest social programme in our history and we are spending on it a bigger proportion of our national wealth than ever before. We are carrying out scrupulously the pledges given at the last Election. We are doing things that people want done and that we believe need doing.

I know there are some people who never like to dwell upon anything that goes right. They seem to think that to travel despondently is better than to arrive. But we must face the fact that in many fields, particularly in education, expenditure is bound to rise.

We must also recognise that taken together with necessary expenditure on defence, it places a big burden on the economy. There is thus a limit to what the Government can spend, and a limit to the speed with which we can carry out our declared policy of seeking to reduce taxation. Of course, if you are right, and you are right, to want to see more money spent in all kinds of worthwhile directions, then we must accept the consequences. If you go into a restaurant and order a meal, you must be prepared to pay the bill when it is presented.

Experience over the last nine years, however, shows that we need not be discouraged. For we have been able both to expand our national services and at the same time to reduce taxation.

The social services today are costing hundreds of millions more than when we came to office. But we are taking £1,300,000,000 a year less from the taxpayer than we should be if we had maintained the Socialist rates of direct taxation. How has that come about? We have spent more and yet drawn out less in taxation.

One explanation of that is in prudent management and an attempt to concentrate spending at the points where it will do most good. That has meant - you must have forgotten them now but I have not - doing some unpopular things as well as popular things. That’s what Governments are for.

The other explanation is the expansion of our national wealth. We must make sure that this healthy growth continues upon sound foundations. We want this growth, and the prosperity that goes with it, to be spread as evenly as possible throughout the country.

In the past year total unemployment has fallen by 100,000. With a national unemployment figure of only 1.4 per cent we have today by any definition full employment. But at the time of the Election we were disturbed by the existence of local patches of unemployment in particular areas. We promised - to deal with it - a Local Employment Act. This has now been passed into law. Under this Act, you will have read of great schemes of development in those parts of the country, where they are specially needed, steel, motor-cars and other projects. But even before these schemes have reached fruition, which are only now beginning, I am happy to say the figures in these areas are improving all the time.

In Scotland unemployment has fallen from 3.9 per cent to 3 per cent; in Wales from 3.2 per cent to 2.4 per cent; in the Northern Region of England from 3 per cent to 1.4 per cent; in Lancashire from 2.4 per cent to 1.7 per cent. There is, alas, one area that still causes us great anxiety and for which we will do our best - the loyal people of Northern Ireland.

In our Manifesto we said that our policy was to double the British standard of living in this generation. This was an ambitious aim - some thought too ambitious. But as Mr. Butler told you yesterday, the figures prove that we are well up to schedule.

Now, a word about Agriculture. With an increased production of 68 per cent above pre-war, Agriculture is playing its full part in the national wealth. It is still our greatest industry and it plays a double role. On purely economic grounds a high and efficient agricultural production helps our balance of payments. From a wider point of view a prosperous and contented countryside is part of our way of life, and essential to the wellbeing of the towns. As we all know only too well, agriculture must always be to some extent at the mercy of the weather. Last year the problem was the drought. This year we are all extending our sympathy to those areas which are suffering grievously from flood. Of course the officials in the Ministry even it all up. They produce annual figures adjusted to what they optimistically call ‘normal weather conditions.’ Personally I share the view of the old farmer who said that he hadn’t seen one average summer in the last sixty years.

However, our agricultural progress has continued - come drought or flood. Happily today, even in difficult areas, the great spread of agricultural machinery has lightened the task of the farmer, and it is worth recalling that our agriculture is the most highly mechanised in the whole world. Progress has continued not only on the large farms, but on the small ones too. It has been aided by our various schemes for improvement grants, of which growing use is being made.

I said just now that the prosperity of town and countryside were interlinked. Ultimately they both depend - we all depend - on the expansion of world trade. To achieve that expansion - and I read the most interesting debate you had here - we are working on different schemes to increase economic co-operation between the countries of Europe.

Two groups, as you know have been formed - the Six and the Seven, we call them. It is our aim to bring them into better harmony to the mutual advantage of all. It will not be easy but we shall not be discouraged. And you can be sure - as you have already heard it from the Ministers concerned - that we shall not overlook in any of these plans the vital interests both of Commonwealth trade and British agriculture. There are, I am told, some signs that expansion in world trade has slackened recently, after its great surge forward in the last year or two, but it seems likely that any pause will only be temporary. Be that as it may, what is certain is that world trade is becoming more and more competitive.

It has been said before, but we must always remind ourselves of it - the world does not owe us a living. We have to earn it. That means that we have to compete, and to compete with some very efficient countries equipped with the most modern machinery. Anything, therefore, which pushes up our production costs, whether it be excessive wage demands, or inefficient management, or restrictive practices on either side of industry, can only damage our export trade and the foundations of our present prosperity and full employment. And this is the background in which I appeal to all concerned in industry - employers and employed and especially the very responsible Trade Union leaders who play such an important role - that all work together to ensure that our industrial costs do not rise beyond what our customers overseas will pay. Of course, in his conference speech the Chancellor of the Exchequer covered all this ground; (and, by the way, I hope the Foreign Secretary is not depressed at seeing how much better the Chancellor of the Exchequer looks now that he has left the Foreign Office; but I think the Foreign Secretary has the strength. If he looks as well in five years’ time as the Chancellor of the Exchequer does now I will be very pleased.) He dealt with all these subjects on which I would only touch by saying this: an economy as delicately balanced as ours is, where exports are so vital and where excessive imports may be so damaging, such an economy cannot be steered with absolute precision. We have all the time to keep upon the narrow edge between undue inflation or undue deflation - both of them in their different ways equally disastrous - and between too much expansion and too little. And if the balance is to be kept, economic adjustments are necessary from time to time; nevertheless, I can assure you that the broad purpose of the Government is to encourage the development of investment and production at the greatest pace which prudence will allow.

I have tried to summarise the work of one year to give you a broad picture of how our social and economic policies have been progressing. Perhaps you would now allow me just to say a few words about the principles which lie behind these policies.

Our starting point, I think, is the supreme value of each individual human being and his right to develop his personality in freedom. That may sound just a vague truism. Yet it is one that no politician should ever forget, because it at once sets the limit to political action and to what governments can do or ought to do. But individuals live in society and they have duties as well as rights; and the State must maintain the framework of an ordered society. An important part of this framework lies in our institutions. Through them our national character is expressed and continuity maintained. Through them our forefathers have endeavoured over the ages to work out a balance between order and freedom, and so we continue today. In all this, the Crown, Parliament, our legal system, our local government institutions, to mention but a few, play a vital part. A good deal of history (and some of it pretty rough history) has gone into the fashioning of these institutions to give us the right balance between order and freedom, and the maintenance of this balance needs constant vigilance.

Last century when Liberalism was in the ascendancy, Conservatives felt the need to counteract the excess of individualism and laissez faire. When we came into office in 1951 we found that the balance had been upset in the other direction - too much power concentrated in the State. We have done a good deal to restore it since, that is the first principle. The second, with which I hope you will equally agree, is that the family is, and must continue to be, the keystone of our national life. Divinely ordered, the family it is at once the most natural and the most intimate of our institutions. It has the most decisive influence in moulding our early years, and the effectiveness of the services the State provides - for example, education - largely depends upon the foundations laid in the home. So does respect for law and decent behaviour.

The strengthening of family life must be one of our central themes, and that as much as anything has inspired our housing drive.

What do these guiding principles - the dignity of man and the consequent necessary limits to political power, the value of our institutions as the cement of society - mean in terms of policy?

One thing they mean is surely this: moderation should be the keynote of policy. Extremes always threaten the family or the individual in one way or another. Too much State control endangers freedom and initiative; but a free-for-all exalts rights over duties and means that the weak go to the wall. Extremes undermine the national unity which it is our Conservative tradition to foster. We want the maximum of consent to acts of government and the minimum of coercion. Our aim is to harmonise different and conflicting interests, not to set them against each other with the strident accents of the class war. We aim to balance them so that all can contribute as one nation to the common good.

In politics we need faith. We need hope too. These are great virtues. But don’t let us forget the words, ‘the greatest of these is charity.’

All that preoccupies us here at home must be set in a wider context. All our achievements and all our hopes depend on peace and prosperity in the world. It is just over a week since my return from New York to which you referred. I was not at all sure whether I could do any good by going there. I certainly did not wish to be tempted into playing Mr. Krushchev’s game. However, after the Foreign Secretary had attended the opening of the United Nations General Assembly he sent me a message urging me to come. He felt that it was only right that with so many Heads of State and Heads of Government, including many of the Commonwealth countries, collecting in New York, the British Prime Minister should be present. And I am glad that I went. It was a remarkable gathering - the leaders of nearly 100 nations from North, South, East and West; comprising, with some important omissions, almost all the countries of the world. It was a dramatic and unforgettable experience. And with all its weaknesses and faults, the ludicrous aspects as well as the solemn, no one who has any imagination can fall to look on this spectacle without a certain awe. Here were the representatives of this strange human race that in a tiny period of geological time has conquered all its terrestrial rivals and made itself master of the material world. Is it doomed now to self-destruction? Or can it conquer its own passions and so, under Providence, master its own destiny?

Today the world is full of divisions, and there are various ways of looking at them. There is the East-West, or Communist versus the free countries; then there is the division between developed and undeveloped countries; and there is the division between the democratic countries and non-democratic countries. And then there is the new Soviet view that the world is divided into Communist, Capitalist, and Uncommitted. Of course, in reality it is not so simple. It is true that the two great power groups, that is the groups armed with the most formidable weapons and the power of producing them, are on the one side, the Communists, and on the other the Western Democracies. There is no question where Britain stands here. Britain stands with the West. Nor let the world be deceived by the chance clash of personalities and argument in our strange political disputes here at home. There are of course earnest and sincere pacifists, a body of opinion which has always been respected and, may I add, generously treated in this country. There are, of course, a few Communists and fellow travellers. There are a few traitors too, I have no doubt. Then there is a large class of worthy but rather woolly-minded people who are more easily moved by emotion than thought and argument. But there is nothing new in all this. We understand it here at home. But sometimes in the past our enemies and even our friends have been deceived by a chance vote given here or there. They are wrong. The British people do not change. And at heart they are determined to stand firm in the defence of freedom. There has been great talk recently of a neutral bloc. It is true that there are countries which are not members of one or other of the great military alliances. All the same, even those members of the Commonwealth who follow a policy of non-alignment are opposed to Communism. They are not spiritually uncommitted, even when they are so militarily. And what is true of these Commonwealth countries is true of many others who are in no military grouping. There is in this sense no real neutral bloc. A certain grouping of this character forms itself from time to time in the Assembly meetings for special purposes. But it has no great underlying unity of political doctrine or constitutional method. These countries are neutral in the sense of not wishing to be involved in the clash between the great Powers. They have an important part to play in the world, and we have an important duty towards them. And yet, of course, by a strange paradox, this neutrality would be gravely threatened if it were not for the power of the West. I ask myself - how far would it be possible to sustain a neutral position if it were not for NATO, SEATO, CENTO, and above all, the Western determination and authority. Had NATO, which I was glad to have the chance of defending in the Assembly, had it not come into being, or were it now to be deserted, abandoned by America, Canada, Britain or France, what would be left of freedom and national independence?

There is, however, another and a much more real division between the nations of the world. It is the division between the developed and the undeveloped countries. All developed countries have a moral obligation towards their less fortunate neighbours. Britain has a special duty which she is manfully performing. It is the duty to the Commonwealth countries which, although now independent, still require investment of money and men on a massive scale. Indeed, one of our main concerns in the management of our own economy is to guide it so as to be able to carry out these duties. Nor have we limited our responsibilities to Commonwealth countries. There are many other areas which we have aided and will continue to aid. As I said just now nobody can be in any doubt that we stand loyal to our Alliances and a stalwart member of the coalition of free nations. That is clear. But it does not in my view mean that we should all the time indulge in a running propaganda battle with the Soviet Union by means of violent polemics. It may suit them but I do not really think it suits us. What we ought to do is this. We should be absolutely firm in our attitude towards the Soviet bloc. We should not give in. We should not surrender. But we should try to damp down controversy and we should try to encourage in every way we can a general amelioration of relations, or in the current cliché - I do not like it but it is the one which has become current - the reduction of tensions.

I believe that is not only in the interest of Great Britain, and in the interest of the West, but in the interest of the whole world. For after all, however far away it may be - I shall not live to see it, but however far away - we must look to the end. And how will the struggle end? It can end in only one of two ways. The first, force: that is no direct solution in the modern nuclear world. It doesn’t end the argument, except in the sense that it ends the people who are arguing. It ends in mutual destruction. The second way is by negotiation, leading perhaps to a slow but gradual transformation of the situation. Given peace, and given time, we must believe in our ultimate success. For we believe that our way of life is better materially, morally, and spiritually, and that, with peace and growing contacts between the two concepts, the faith we hold must triumph. If we do not believe that, then we have no right to call ourselves either democrats or Christians. Mr. Krushchev, for his part, no doubt thinks his way of life is better, and that, given peaceful co-existence, perhaps of his own definition but still that it will be without war, is bound to succeed. Mao-Tse-Tung and Chou-En-Lai do not agree with this view. They think (which is the orthodox Marxist view) that it can only be resolved by armed conflict. Hence the dispute of which you read. Now, if I may venture, without impertinence, to join in this controversy, I am bound to say I lean myself to the Russian as opposed to the Chinese view. But if we think negotiation, peaceful co-existence, of whatever form, the lowering of tension, feasible and right, how can we make progress? I must confess to you that the collapse of the May Summit was a grievous disappointment to me. I had worked hard enough for it, and it was a tragedy to see this dream melt away in an afternoon. However, it is no good crying over spilt Summits, and I felt that we must nerve ourselves to face what would happen and look forward to some later improvement.

Of course, the situation has substantially worsened since May. It would be quite foolish to deny it. It has been worsened by a new outburst of controversy and by the use of the United Nations Assembly for purely propaganda purposes. It has worsened because negotiations have in fact been broken off. Nevertheless our purpose must be to try to get back to the mood of last spring. Negotiations on Germany and Berlin will have to be resumed. I have had one or two conversations the - Foreign Secretary with me - with Mr. Krushchev, and he has given his accounts of what I said to him at some Press Club or public meetings in New York. And when I refer to the careful record which has been kept, I am sometimes a little surprised. But allowing for the embroidery of his natural exuberance, I do not think that he has misrepresented the spirit of our private talks. Our public meetings were rather different. I told him that the problem of Berlin and Germany must be handled in a way that does justice to the reasonable desires of the German people through negotiation and not by force. It is a potentially dangerous problem from the point of view of East and West alike. And, if we can have a Summit for this - and other purposes - and if my two partners, the Presidents of the United States and of France agree, I am all for it. I have said so, both privately and publicly. Indeed, all the three Western powers said it in their joint statement last May, after the collapse of that Summit meeting.

Then there is the question of disarmament. Here, too, progress has been disappointingly slow. The trouble is that the discussions never seem to get to grips. Plan succeeds plan, committee follows committee, but these conferences never seem able to cut the cackle and come to the rockets; and whenever a committee starts to go fairly well, so far the Russians have walked out of it. There are thus manoeuvrings and recriminations. Our position is clear and simple. We don’t want just to argue about disarmament. We want the nations to disarm. The broad problem of disarmament is discussed year by year by the Assembly in committee. And that is right, for the whole body of the United Nations has a continuing interest in this problem which affects them all. But this discussion by nearly a hundred Nations can only be in the most general terms. What is the next stage? Here I think we ought to distinguish between principles and the practical details. The principles can and ought to be discussed and agreed in a group representing the diverse interests of the world. For example the Ten Power Committee which the Russians so unexpectedly left earlier this year. That is the principles. But when it comes to the practical methods of inspection, control and the like, they must be examined by people who know something about the arms in question and how and what are the technical problems of controlling them. Such a group must be small, efficient, experienced. And we have an example as I said at the Assembly, in the scientists who met preliminary to the discussions on the abolition of nuclear tests who produced a practical report, upon which a political treaty may still, we hope, be based. For that negotiation, happily, is still proceeding. The Soviet Government appeared, however, either to reject or not to understand my proposal, but I will continue to do my best to make it clear to them. At any rate I feel sure that if we are to make progress on disarmament practical discussions of the technical details must go hand in hand with broad discussions of principle. The Russians say they want a general agreement on disarmament, but that only after that agreement has been reached will they discuss control. They accuse us of saying that we want control without disarmament. Of course, that is not our position. We want simultaneous disarmament and control, and the two must go together at all stages. I do not despair, for here is one of the cases where, as the Foreign Secretary said, our interests ought to be the same.

Disarmament, if it can be achieved, must be of equal interest to the Russian people as to our own. They too must grudge the large expenditure of human effort and skill which goes into these more and more complicated weapons. If the will is there - and it certainly is on our side - I believe a way can be found. As the Foreign Secretary told you on Thursday, we will continue our most strenuous efforts to clear away the misunderstanding, reveal the real points of difference, and try to resolve them. In spite of the disappointments we have had and the failure up to now to persuade the Soviet Government to accept our sincere proposals, we shall persevere.

I have spoken of these recent events. Perhaps you will allow me, before I finish, to say a few words about what I would call our role in this tumultuous world. What can we in Britain contribute, and for what can our country stand? First, let me say that we can contribute little unless we work together with a reasonable degree of internal unity and with an attitude of reason and calm. Ranting or exhibitionism, whether clerical or lay, of the intellectual or the hooligan, will not increase our standing in the world. It is true that, relative to other countries, or some other countries, we have not the great wealth, vast territorial possessions, the might and strength or armed forces that we had in the last century. I do not think that we need to be too depressed about that, because what is true of us now was true of our position in the 16th and 17th and a large part of the 18th centuries. Yet our influence in the days of the first Elizabeth may perhaps inspire us to what our influence could and, please God, will be in the reign of the second Elizabeth. We have experience, and that counts. We have perhaps a certain amount of self-control; and people get very excited all round us. We have worldwide interests: Europe, the Atlantic Alliance, and above all the Commonwealth. Our economic and financial interests are not limited to these islands or even to the groups that I have mentioned. We are linked with the whole Sterling Area, and thus closely with the under-developed countries.

Naturally the Second War knocked us about a good bit and it has taken us a little time to recover. But in recent years our reputation in the world and our influence is stronger. No one doubts our firm resolution. No one can doubt our earnest and honest desire for peace. But by peace we do not mean surrender to force: we mean peace with justice.

Moreover, we have shown a remarkable power to adapt our institutions to new circumstances and new needs both here at home and overseas. The older ones among us have seen in our lifetime startling changes. These changes are continuing at a tremendous pace. We have seen the Empire being transformed into the Commonwealth of free and independent nations.

I cannot tell you how moving it was to me and how helpful to find in the United Nations so many leaders of the Commonwealth countries and to profit by their experience and friendship. Representing the older members of the Commonwealth were great and stalwart figures, Menzies, Diefenbaker, Nash. I was able, also, to have long and intimate discussions with Mr. Nehru, almost the senior of our Commonwealth Prime Ministers, who has an unrivalled position both in his own country and throughout Asia - indeed throughout the world. There came too, the youngest of our team, Dr. Nkrumah of Ghana and Prime Minister Abubakar of Nigeria.

Of course there are differences of emphasis and approach, but I do not think any great difference of purpose and underlying faith. The very presence at the United Nations Assembly of these men was a living rebuttal of the attacks on what is called imperialism and colonialism. 

But of course we still have difficult problems ahead and we must try to bring to them both imagination and decision. In Africa British initiative has brought with it all the civilising influences. In addition to establishing peace and order it has developed industry, agriculture, transport and power. In certain areas, notably Kenya and the Rhodesias, many Brush people have settled.  They have made these countries their permanent home. And they have done so with the encouragement of successive British Governments.

We have, therefore, obligations not only of interest but of honour. But the very success of the pioneers has brought with it corresponding problems. With education and development there has grown a new ambition and a new political consciousness among the African people. We have, therefore, in the words of the Resolution you carried on Wednesday, to see that in the march to self-government legitimate rights are protected as well as legitimate aspirations fulfilled.

Of course it is not easy to do this, not at all. It is a tremendous test for all concerned. Our main duty here at home it seems to me, where we live remote from these pressures is to unite in showing understanding, sympathy and restraint.

We are indeed fortunate in having to help us the Commonwealth and Colonial Secretaries, Mr. Sandys and Mr. Macleod. Together they make a good team. This is not the time for me to speak about the details of the Monckton Commission. We have already expressed our gratitude to Lord Monckton and his colleagues for their work. It will, of course, be for the Federal Review Conference to discuss and decide these great matters. I would only say this: the purpose of the Monckton Commission was to help us not to destroy, but to confirm and develop the federal association between the three territories of Central Africa; and the remarkable and outstanding feature of the Commission’s Report is the nearly unanimous acceptance of the need for such a federation, and the tragedy that would be involved in its collapse. Not enough attention, I think, has been given to that which is the main feature of the Monckton Commission’s Report. The Government, therefore, will approach the Review with the earnest hope that the Conference will find an agreed basis for the continuance of a federal structure, and with the determination to carry out to the full our responsibilities and our pledges towards all men of all races.

I have said this is a world of change, but in change we must not despair; we must keep cool heads and stout hearts. Of course a lot of people do not like this change. The Pax Britannica had certainly great advantages. Guaranteed by the British Navy, there was maintained for a hundred years a broad peace between the great powers, in the course of which the world made the greatest jump forward in its history in technical and material progress. Nor should we forget what was done on the moral and spiritual side. If the trader developed the Empire initially, the doctor, the missionary and the administrator were close behind. Many people may think that the world was better in the old days - they always have thought so. Countries, like individuals, can give themselves up to an agreeable old age in cherishing these nostalgic memories. They have the melancholy charm of autumn. But spring is the time for a strong and virile people. This is no time for vain regrets; and the excitements, the opportunities, the thrills of what can be done in the second half of this century are, to my mind, as great as those seized by our forefathers.

Much of what is happening now is good, very good. Sometimes there is retrogression, confusion, almost chaos. There is a lesson to be drawn from the Congo situation. But it is just as much a warning against going too slow as against going too fast. At any rate, we have given our new emergent territories a good training and a good chance. They will make mistakes. Their Governments, like all Governments, will commit follies. Their countries, like all countries, will be misled by demagogues. But that happens even among quite experienced people.

I said in the beginning of my speech that I believed our people, and especially our young people - in spite of all the dangers and problems of the day - were ready to join confidently in the march forward. I believe that they would wish a British Government in the critical years that lie ahead to make its own positive contribution to these vast and often baffling problems. History and geography have combined to place our country at this time in a position of special responsibility and special opportunity.

It falls to the Conservative Party now - and perhaps for many years to come - to ensure that the responsibilities are faced and the opportunities seized. Let us remember the past both to read its lessons and to draw from it inspiration; but let our minds and energies be directed to the tasks of the future. In the closing minutes of this Conference - this great Conference - let us cast away party pride or sense of party triumph. Instead let us all humbly resolve to be equal to our duty and worthy of our trust.

Back to top

Home | About | Resources | Contact Copyright © British Political Speech 2017 | Terms and Conditions | Privacy Policy