Jump to content

Speech Archive

Leader's speech, 1962

Harold Macmillan (Conservative)

Location: [Location]


This speech was Macmillan’s last as Party Leader and Prime Minister. At the time of the conference, the government was engaged in negotiations for Britain’s entry into the European Community. Macmillan argued that it would be better for Britain to join while the Community was still in its formative stages, as it would be more able to influence developments, and that Britain’s entry into Europe would be beneficial to both parties. Macmillan also spoke about Britain’s ‘new industrial revolution’ and the need to both embrace and prepare for the changes that accompanied the new technology.

This is the fifth time I have had the privilege, as Leader of the Party, to address the full Conference at the end of their work. I am bound to tell you that I always find this, although an agreeable occasion, a difficult task; for in the course of your debates all the great subjects of the day have been fully discussed, both from the floor and from the platform.

I have had full reports of your discussions and followed them day by day, almost hour by hour.

You have debated the future of Britain, Europe and the Commonwealth, in their broadest aspects. One outstanding theme in your debates has been what role Britain can and should play in the changing conditions of the modern world. What opportunities and what difficulties lie before us. A second major theme, whether you have been discussing financial, economic, industrial or social questions, has been how do we face the problems of change and innovation in a rapidly changing society? These two subjects are closely related, for on how we live our lives at home depends on how we stand in the world outside.

Momentous decisions such as these inevitably arouse doubts and misgivings, and differences of opinion inside as well as between political parties. The historic debate you had on Thursday naturally reflected something of this. Of course when a party is in Opposition, it can allow itself to be lured by the pursuit of power without any inhibiting sense of responsibility. To this end the leaders can - if they wish - sit on the fence without fear, if not without reproach. Perhaps you saw in the news the other evening that a Monsieur Henri Tochatain in central France gave up after standing and sitting on a tightrope for 174 hours, just over a week. Poor deluded man. He thought he had set up a world record. The alternative to sitting on a fence seems to be to hop from perch to perch, waiting to see how things develop and where, and how the maximum of party advantage can be extracted. A party in office cannot afford such luxuries. It must face the facts of the world and shape its policies to meet them. You have made it clear this week that that is what you expect us to do, and that is what we are doing.

The European Economic Community is one of the facts of the modern world. It is there, and its very existence must cause profound changes, and that is just as true whether we go in or whether we stay out.

We in the Cabinet have given long and anxious thought to every aspect of this problem. It has been our duty to weigh up the balance between all the dangers and all the opportunities of alternative courses of action. Throughout we have applied one single test - what will be in the best long-term interests of our country and of those beyond our shores with whom we have such special ties and for whose welfare we have such special responsibilities.

To have gone full speed ahead and hustled into Europe without counting the cost, as the Liberals would have had us do - would have been wrong - utterly wrong. It would have been equally wrong to drag our feet and adopt the dilatory, hesitant advice of Mr. Gaitskell. He says in effect that a few more years will not matter. But, time does not stand still, Europe is not standing still. The Six are developing their arrangements both economic and political. To wait indefinitely would be to forfeit the chance of influencing events.

The European Community is not a static but a growing and dynamic body. In many respects its policies and future have still to be worked out. If we wait too long it will be too late. Now is the opportunity and we must seize it.

That is why we decided in July last year to open formal negotiations for our entry into the European system. We put down a formal motion asking Parliament to approve our actions. What did the Socialists do? They would not actually disapprove what we were doing. That might subject their pliant leader to pressure from one side. They would not approve, for that would make him the victim of pressure from the other side. So what did they do? They solemnly asked Parliament not to approve or disapprove, but to take note of our decision. Perhaps some of the older ones among you may remember that popular song, I think recently revived: ‘She didn’t say “yes,” she didn’t say “no,” She didn’t say “stay,” she didn’t say “go.” She wanted to climb but she dreaded to fall, so she bided her time and clung to the wall.’

Still, we got the approval of Parliament and accordingly negotiations actually began in October last year. Much progress has been made since then - progress which I reported at the recent Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference. The negotiations are now being resumed to deal with the many points still outstanding, and you will, I know, wish all success in this assignment to Mr. Heath and those who work with him. We intend to continue our efforts to secure satisfactory arrangements for the interests of the Commonwealth, our own agriculture and our EFTA partners. The massive vote you gave on Thursday shows that the party is solidly behind us in these efforts. When the negotiations are concluded it will be the duty of the Government to make their considered recommendations to Parliament. I cannot tell you today what will be the final outcome. All I can say is this. It is our sincere hope - which I know you overwhelmingly share - that these negotiations may be successful. In spite of carefully chosen phrases inserted here and there into his Brighton speech, I cannot help wondering whether success would be as gratifying to Mr. Gaitskell as failure. At any rate, as you know, Mr. Khrushchev is against the whole thing.

Inside Western Europe a complete transformation has taken place since 1945, both politically and economically. At that time Europe, devastated by the most destructive war in history and by the breakdown of the internal regime in almost every country, appeared almost finished as a force in the world. But Western Europe has achieved a remarkable recovery. It is on its way to forming an economic and - in one form or another - a political unity which could, in terms of population, skill and resources, rival the United States or the Soviet Union. It is fifteen years since Sir Winston Churchill in two remarkable speeches, one at Zurich and the other at Fulton, with characteristic vision saw the possibilities of a new Europe arising from the ashes of the old. Thus was born the Council of Europe, from which stemmed the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation, the European Payments Union, Western European Union and many other constructive developments. Thanks to the statesmanship of Ernest Bevin, the Labour Government and most of the Labour Party overcame their reluctance to these ideas and, indeed, played a considerable part in furthering them. That has remained firm British policy ever since, with the broad assent of the British people outside the ranks of the Communists, semi-Communists and fellow travellers.

But the urge for unity in Europe has not been satisfied by the establishment of these institutions. The European movement has caught the imagination of the young; it has transcended party politics and national barriers. Its impact has not been limited to economic affairs. With the development of the European idea there has come a resurgence and a new vigour in all aspects of European life, in sport, in the arts, in science and in industry. There is something here of that release of the spirit which lifted Europe out of the mediaeval twilight into the brilliance of the Renaissance and the modern world. Europe is once more on the move.

We in Britain cannot stand aside from all this. Although in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the first half of this century, we have sometimes tried to ignore the Continent, we have never really been able to insulate ourselves from what happens only twenty miles away.

What, after all, is the story of this island since the end of the Middle Ages and the rise of nation states? Successive British Monarchs and Governments have been concerned to preserve in changing conditions the liberty and independence of our country. This has involved using all our efforts to prevent the domination of Europe, then co-terminus with the civilised world, by a single power. This was our story in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Sometimes war was our instrument, sometimes diplomacy. What we could never rely on was our sheer size. In point of numbers we are and always have been a relatively weak country, not to be matched with the giants of Europe in the old days or with the giants of the world now. How presumptuous it must have seemed to the great conquerors and rulers in Europe - Philip II, Louis XIV, Napoleon - yes, and even Hitler. This tiny island defying their embattled might. And in a sense they were right. Alone we should have had but little chance and that is why all through history we have sought allies and sought them well. Our great leader, who cheered us on when we had to stand alone, devoted his energies to getting us allies - bringing in the Americans, helping to revive France, encouraging the Italians when they freed themselves from the dictator’s grip, welcoming the Soviet alliance when Russia was attacked. This was Sir Winston’s method and well he justified it. We were perhaps never so proud as when we stood alone in 1940. But in the end it was the enemy who stood alone and that is how we won.

The instrument of coalition, of alliance, is one which we have always used in war. In peace perhaps we have used it less; but anyone who looks honestly at the history of the first half of this century cannot help feeling that the prospects of peace might have been better if we had played in peacetime as large a part in the affairs of Europe as we - and our Commonwealth partners too - have in war. For this hesitation we have paid a heavy price. Is not that, perhaps the lesson learned from the battlefields we remember, and the comrades we mourn?

In considering what are the interests not only of this country but of our Commonwealth partners, let us never forget that for all of us far the greatest interest is the preservation of world peace and freedom.

Therefore we must welcome the determination of our neighbours in Europe to seek to bury for good their age-old conflicts. A new bond of common purpose has united our old ally, France, with our former enemy, Germany. This in itself has greatly strengthened the prospects for peace. Britain and France have long forgotten the centuries of conflict which divided us; we have stood together so often in adversity that the old rivalry has been replaced by a lasting friendship and a deep consciousness of common purpose. We have a great opportunity to renew and strengthen these bonds with France and to link them with a closer relationship with Germany.

There is also our longstanding friendship with Italy - now happily restored - and with our ancient allies in the Low Countries and Scandinavia. If we can build on these foundations a united Europe, then together we can face the future with confidence and strength. Already the European Economic Community is beginning to pursue common economic policies towards the outside world, and soon it may begin to do so in foreign affairs. It will do that whether we join it or whether we do not. But it is of the greatest importance to all of us in Britain and the Commonwealth that the policies which it pursues should take full account of the wider needs of the rest of the world. In isolation from the European scene we cannot expect to have any steady influence on the formulation of policy. I believe that in the long run the isolation of Britain from the centres of European power would be damaging for us all, as well as for Europe itself. Inside the Community, British influence would be important and could be decisive.

There has been a wide and perhaps natural concern with what is called the question of sovereignty and this has been reflected in your Conference. Going in must involve some pooling of national freedom of action. Nobody denies that. Of course, within the sphere covered by the Treaty of Rome, which is essentially an economic Treaty, we agree to the rules of the club. That is true of all the clubs to which we belong: to GATT on the economic side, and far more formidable and far-reaching NATO on the defence side. Remember that under the terms of the NATO Treaty, we are pledged to go to the aid of any one of fourteen other countries if they are attacked. In terms of the totality of modern war, this is indeed a tremendous pledge. It may not involve our formal sovereignty, but it does involve our physical survival.

It is true that the Governments of the Six are anxious to move forward from an economic to some form of political union, and we want to play our part in devising these new arrangements. But so far there is no agreement as to the form which they should take. Mr. Gaitskell now prattles about our being reduced to the status of Texas or California. What nonsense. But in any case, if he really believes that then, he should surely be against the whole thing, root and branch, not just wondering whether we are getting sufficiently profitable terms. Certainly if I believed that I would not touch it on any terms. The approach of the six existing members of the Community is gradual and pragmatic as our own has been on constitutional developments. In any case, any agreements reached in his field must be by unanimous consent. There can be no question therefore of Britain being outvoted into some arrangement which we found incompatible with our own needs and responsibilities and traditions. That is the position today. But if we delay indefinitely, as Mr. Gaitskell seems to want us to do, we might eventually be confronted with a different and a much less formative situation. By then a European structure might have taken more definite shape and we would have had no part in shaping it.

Meanwhile, the Treaty of Rome is an economic treaty with its own rules and its own system of voting unanimously on some things, by majorities on others. It has its political implications; but while close co-operation is involved there is no question of our being asked or expected to accept any system of a federal character involving the sovereignty, in the true sense of the word, of the Crown and Government and people of these islands.

While the political development of Europe lies in the future, the economic consequences can already plainly be seen. What do they mean to us at home and to the Commonwealth?

If we go in, we shall have wider economic opportunities. We shall be part of, and have free access to, a home market of 250 million people instead of 50 million people - five times the size. This will transform our industrial situation. It will make possible specialisation and mass production and the introduction of techniques like automation which can be developed only on the basis of a large home market.

The whole trend of modern industry is towards a larger, unified market. In fact, modern technology is making these large economic units essential in the newest industries, and it is in developing these new industries that Britain’s future lies. British industry will have to concentrate more and more on the complicated, sophisticated, specialised goods. Not just the things which are relatively simple to make, but the difficult things which need great precision and great skill. If we can obtain proper terms and go into Europe to seize these new opportunities, I am convinced that it will be in the best interests of the Commonwealth as well as ourselves. Both as buyers of their goods and as suppliers of the capital they need for their development, our value to the Commonwealth depends not just on sentiment or on goodwill, important as they are; it depends on the economic strength and prosperity of Britain. So much for that.

But beyond that, Britain’s entry into the Community would almost certainly be only the first step in a fundamental re-shaping of the framework of world trade. The possibilities of moving at last towards worldwide agreements on foodstuffs and raw materials would be greatly improved. We believe that our entry into the Community would decisively strengthen the outward-looking forces already at work in Europe. The Community, in co-operation with the United States, would then be able to carry further the processes of freeing world trade. President Kennedy’s bold and sweeping proposals for further tariff negotiations have now been passed through Congress. We can therefore expect the opening of these negotiations to follow quickly after our entry into the Community. Both the United States and the Six have made it clear that they are willing to consider constructively the negotiation of worldwide agreements on trade in agricultural products. These could be of decisive importance in themselves, and at the same time, economic growth coming from reduced trade barriers should also facilitate the proposals now being canvassed, which would promote the disposal of food surpluses through aid programmes to developing and, let us not forget it, sometimes to hungry countries.

All these, of course, are complicated problems. Yet even the prospect of our joining the Community has been a powerful stimulus to new ideas. The Commonwealth is not and does not expect to be an economic unit. Nor is it any longer the close-knit military and political alliance between countries of similar origins and all owing allegiance to the Crown, which we knew so well during two World Wars. The Commonwealth today is remarkable for its diversity, which is widespread. Indeed its diversity is its greatest strength. This unique and free association, embracing every creed and race, stretched over five continents and comprising a quarter of the globe’s population, is at once an influence and an example of the possibilities of co-operation throughout the world. Its value to peace is incalculable, but I am persuaded that it is complementary and not alternative to the consolidation of Europe.

Now for my other question: how do all these changes affect us here at home?

Well, one thing is clear. In or out of Europe, we shall have to live in a world of increasing competition. We have never been afraid of that in the past, and we need not be afraid of it in the future, either in industry or in agriculture. Our farming is efficient and well placed to meet the challenge and opportunities of the enlarged European market. Of course there will have to be changes in the methods of sustaining a healthy agriculture. But, in or out of Europe, in the years ahead changes are inescapable. Broadly speaking, if we enter Europe, we shall move towards a managed market rather than a system financed largely by the Exchequer. I am confident that these new conditions can provide a firm basis for the future development of our great agricultural industry.

If there is one thing more than anything else that has struck me in your debates, it is the way you all recognise that, inside or outside Europe, this country has got to be prepared for change. It is a job for us all over the next decade - for Government, employers, trade unions and the general public - it is our job to see that change is brought about not only with efficiency but with humanity as well. We are all more or less planners today. I was a planner thirty years ago when it was not quite so fashionable. The real difficulty about planning is not the concept but the execution. In a totalitarian State planning is simple but not necessarily effective. In a free democracy it certainly can only be effective if it is backed by the general assent of the people. During the last year, the Government have taken two important forward steps in planning – ‘Nicky,’ the National Incomes Commission, to ensure that rates of reward are both fair and an step with what we produce; and ‘Neddy,’ the National Economic Development Council, to help us produce more, and produce more efficiently, by keeping our plans in line with our resources and by removing obstacles to growth. We talk a great deal, and quite rightly about growth, but, of course, everything cannot grow at the same time or at the same rate. In reality, a growing economy means a changing economy, in which some industries will be expanding and others contracting in the light of changing demand both at home and abroad.

Efficient industries require a network of roads and railways to serve them. That is why we are concentrating so much money and effort into our railway modernisation and road-building plans: hundreds of millions of pounds over the next few years on the railways and more than thirty times as much on new roads as when we returned to power, and this road programme is steadily growing. Our essential strength today lies in our ability to stay in the front rank of scientific and technical invention. We need not be over-modest. After all, we already have many outstanding achievements to our credit - our nuclear power stations, our new types of automatic machinery and electronic devices, pre-eminence in aero engines and many aerial components, and the lead which we are giving in revolutionary new forms of transport. We have done a lot in these years since the war; but we cannot and must not relax. We have heard a lot lately about ‘a thousand years of history.’ Let us make sure we learn the right lessons from them. Surely the lesson is that in all our great periods we have been ready to accept change - nay more, to be the leaders of change.

If we are to go ahead in these fields we must make the best use of our brains and of the traditional skill of our people. That is why we are greatly expanding the opportunity for technical education. Since 1956 over £100 million worth of new building for technical education has been put in hand, and there are over 9,000 more full time teachers in this field alone than there were then. Students taking advanced courses have more than trebled in the last seven years, and the number taking courses on day releases continues to grow. Alongside this development there must be a parallel advance in training within industry in apprenticeship and the like. Many of our training schemes must be remodelled to meet the needs of today. I am glad to see that, with the help and encouragement of the Minister of Labour, there are signs of new thinking in industry about all this. No, it is not really in this field that I see our danger.

Where we are in danger of falling behind is not in the discovery of new methods but sometimes in their application. This is partly due to being a nation too set in our ways, too apt to cling to old privileges, too apt to fear new methods, often too unwilling to abandon old practices that have outlived their usefulness. This is as true, if I may say so, of the professions as of the trade unions and of management. There are too many demarcation lines, social and industrial - one might almost say a sort of caste system. Whether we are in the Common Market or not, all this has got to be changed. Of course it isn’t easy. It isn’t a technical problem so much as a psychological problem. As a matter of fact, it is much easier to change machines than it is to change people.

I said that change must be brought about with humanity. We have got to ensure that natural fears and anxieties are removed, and that people’s material problems are recognised and met.

It is in this spirit that we intend to introduce legislation in this coming Session providing for written contracts of service and minimum notice related to length of service. We hope this will provide a foundation for a voluntary move forward in pension, sickness and other schemes to ensure security and status among all employed. But, of course, the changing pattern of industry must necessarily entail movements of labour from one job to another. That involves the problems of re-training, re-housing, and the location of industry - steering expanding industries into areas where existing industries are contracting and workers and facilities are therefore available.

Let me take one practical example - the railways. I think that the country as a whole accepts the necessity for reorganising and modernising the railways. It indeed would be remarkable if a railway network developed in the days of the stagecoach was still ideally suited to the needs of a country in which one family in three owns a motor car. But all of us equally recognise the very real difficulties which this causes men who have given their working lives to the railways.

We all sincerely hope that these matters will be solved sensibly and amicably with the co-operation of all concerned. But solved and settled they must be. The first industrial revolution was on the whole efficient. It was certainly dynamic. It placed Britain in the forefront of the world for a century. Its faults lay in its inhumanity. Even today we are still faced, as you emphasised in your debates, with its physical legacy of slums and its psychological legacy of poisoned industrial and social relations. As a party and as a Government we are determined to see that our new industrial revolution, far from being marred in any of these ways, makes its own contribution to human betterment. In the last decade we have made - and no fair-minded person can deny it - immense improvements in all our social services, in pensions for the old and education for the young. In hospitals and health services. In slum clearance, housing, and home ownership. I am glad you are going on about home ownership. Today two houses in every five are owner-occupied. That was not so, if I remember rightly, some years ago. Yes, and they have done this before they knew what we were going to do about Schedule A. In the course of this Conference you have heard from active and enthusiastic Ministers about their further plans in all these fields. You have certainly not tried to keep them back. You have spurred them on, and rightly, for you know how much more there is to do. But let us never forget that the foundation for what we have done and what we are going to do rests upon our economic strength and competence as a nation. If we fail there we fail everywhere. Just as we are boldly stepping into the international future, determined to play our part to the full, so at home we recognise the same need for a modern, progressive and practical approach. We cannot cling to the methods of the past if we want to win the prizes of the future. We are indeed well based for this new leap forward. Thanks to the work of the last eleven years there has been an increase in the general standard of living, greater than in the whole of the first half of this century. Everyone knows that the life of the people is better, much of the old class division has gone. Everyone knows that there is a greater sense of opportunity in every field. Upon that foundation, then, let us build and build still better.

Throughout this Conference, two great subjects have occupied your minds. First, the place of Britain in the modern world, with its new balance of power and the new groupings that have come into being. Secondly, the decision not merely to accept in our minds the need for great changes as a new industrial system develops, but positively in our hearts to welcome the opportunity which change presents. Our task is to overcome the obstacles in the way and to guide this great flood of invention through well-planned channels so that it may make the land fertile and fruitful. If, as I trust, we are able as the result of further negotiations to make the great decision to enter Europe, Britain in Europe will be economically stronger. Britain in Europe will have a double influence, both as a European country and one of worldwide interests. Britain’s power and value to the other Commonwealth countries, old and new, will be greatly enhanced. And we can hope that our European associates will share with us that outward looking view by which alone the prosperity and so the peace of the world can be secured.

At the same time, we must begin to build the new Britain, on the sound foundations of the progress we have made in the last decade, accepting and applying change and innovation at every point. That means not only materially in our plants and techniques; but humanly in the better training of our youth, better apprentice systems, better technological education, and accepting and applying change and innovation individually and nationally. If, at the same time, while respecting financial integrity, we can devote ever increasing resources to the education of youth and the comfort of old age, if we can thus in a new industrial revolution carry forward all that is good and remedy all that was bad - why then, on these two great issues, separate yet intertwined, we can surely move confidently to the future.

This is a great moment of history. The decisions we have to take in both these fields will be dramatic and perhaps decisive. In our appeal today, as so often before, we can look not merely to the support of our own Party but to the great mass of people, especially I think, young people, who are determined that our country shall not rest upon its achievements, great as they have been. We can look to all those who are determined to read aright the lessons of the past and who are inspired by the daring as well as by the prudence of our forebears to move forward and seize the opportunities that lie ahead.

So from this historic Conference and this great meeting let this message go out. We are determined as a Party, and I believe as a people, to rise to the challenge of the hour.

Back to top

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