Jump to content

Speech Archive

Leader's speech, Brighton 1979

James Callaghan (Labour)

Location: Brighton


This conference was the first since Labour’s defeat in the general election of May 1979. In his speech, Callaghan outlined some of his government’s achievements during its time in office – notably the Employment Protection Act, the Sex Discrimination Act, and the creation of the Price Commission and the NEB – and accused the Conservatives of undermining them. He also argued that the Conservatives’ economic policies would result in high inflation and unemployment, and criticised their decision to reduce public spending. Other key issues at the time were the visit of the South African rugby team to Britain, Rhodesia, Northern Ireland and the forthcoming Middle East peace talks.

Mr. Chairman, I know you were correct in your rul­ing a minute ago about, I think, the delegate from Thanet who wanted to move a motion of no confidence, but he should not feel too lonely in that, there are a lot of other people who want to do the same. He will get his chance, I am sure, in due course. There is no reason why special privileges in this Party of ours should be afforded to any one person to do a job that other people want to do.

This Parliamentary report is divided into two parts. First of all, the period up to 3rd May, when we were the Labour Government, and, second­ly, the period since then. And I want to deal first, and clearly, with the part of the record that runs from the date of the last Conference up till 3rd May. I also want to review in general what hap­pened in the period of the Labour Government from 1974 to 1979 in order that we can all examine as fairly and as dispassionately as pos­sible how true is the charge that the Labour Government and the Parliamentary Labour Party failed to carry out the Manifesto or ignored the policies put forward by Conference and by the National Executive Committee. I wish to put the record straight. No one need think that the Parliamentary Labour Party, or myself, comes here in any apologetic mood this morning about our work from ’74 to ’79. (Applause) We not only carried out much of the Manifesto, we carried out much of it without a majority in Parliament. (Applause)

Let me remind you of some of the matters. You asked that North Sea oil should be brought under public ownership and control: we did it, and now the Tories are fooling around trying to dispose of it. You asked that the Price Commis­sion should be set up: it was, and consumers were saved hundreds of millions of pounds in higher prices and now the Tories are abolishing it. You asked that there should be a National Enterprise Board to stimulate British industry with new capital, new management and now the Tories are fettering it. You asked for Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies: they were set up. Ask Scotland and Wales. They safeguarded old jobs, they developed new jobs, they built new factories and now the Tories are reducing the resources that were devoted to them.

Reference has been made to the Employment Protection Act. Was that not worthwhile, giving greater security to men and women in jobs and now the Tories are seriously weakening and undermining it. The aircraft industry, the ship­building industry, both nationalised and nationalised with a majority of one - and now the Tories are trying to sell them or shut them down. I say to Conference, with the benefit of 34 years’ experience in Parliament - and there are now only a dozen of us who are left from that great 1945 victory - I say to you that those two Acts of Parliament got through by the Parliamen­tary Labour Party represented a vast parliamen­tary effort by every member that compares in intensity and in devotion, because of the fierce­ness of the Tory opposition, because of our slen­der majority, that intensity of effort compares with any Act that was put through by the ’45 to ’51 Government when they had a majority of 100. (Applause) We only had a majority of one.

Women’s rights were established more firmly by legislation; legislation against discrimination against women in employment and in housing and now the Tories are undermining those rights. The improvement of the real standard of life for the pensioner by linking their pension increases to wage earners’ pay increases - not worthwhile? Well, the Tories think it was; they are now abandoning it and every pensioner will suffer as a result. Eighty-three per cent of chil­dren at the end of our period of office in com­prehensive schools, and now the Tories are try­ing to reverse that.

And what about the other achievements? Legislation for a new Race Relations Act. The effective ending of the agricultural tied cottage. New benefits for the disabled. The highest number of doctors and nurses ever; 45,000 more nurses when we left office than when we came in; 5,800 more doctors. The largest number of teachers ever. Is that not Socialism in action? And so I could go on. (Applause) The Devolu­tion Bills, the Mobility Allowances for the dis­abled, the child allowances, invalid in-care, and I have left out a score of others.

The Chairman yesterday gave a list of some of the things we did not do, and I readily acknowledge that this is so. But, if we are going to have a balance sheet, let us have both sides of it. (Applause) Indeed, he could have added a cou­ple. He could have said we did not introduce a Freedom of Information Bill, and we did not, although we tried to make more information available. He could have said that we did not introduce a Wealth Tax, that we introduced a Capital Transfer Tax. He would have been right and he knows, and we all know, the reasons for some of these difficulties. But I claim, and I claim without apology, I claim proudly, that any fair-minded member of the Party who looks at the balance sheet reads a fine record of Manifesto achievements carried out by a minority Government. (Applause) Every constituency delegate and every trade unionist is entitled to be proud of it, and, indeed, you were proud of it when you went on the doorsteps before May 3rd.

The Government’s troubles and differences, especially with the National Executive Commit­tee, came over some aspects of economic policy. That is where the troubles were. Let me remind you, therefore, what the position was when the Labour Government began office. Let me remind you what the Manifesto said. The most serious statement in the Manifesto of 1974, which was the backcloth to everything we had to undertake, was that - and here I quote - Bri­tain faces its most dangerous crisis since the war for years. I need not remind you of that back­ground: the three-day week, the balance of pay­ments deficit, rapidly increasing inflation, money supply out of control. Harold Wilson came to this Conference just after the General Election of 1974 and he said to you, at the very beginning of the 1974 Government, that Britain would have to wait for improvements in our standard of life for at least two years or more. You applauded him, and it was true. And then, last year, the improvement came. He said two years or more, perhaps a year out, but the improve­ment came and last year the Chancellor, Denis Healey, was able to say that there had been the biggest improvement in the previous months, in the previous twelve months, in our standard of life for many years, and it was true. And we met the difficulties and thanks to the co-operation of the trade union movement we overcame them. But way back in ’74, and that is where we start from, you know, on this record, it was inflation that was the overriding preoccupation of the nation. To the housewives it was undermining their daily lives, it was making long-term economic decisions about new jobs and new investment almost impossible and the policies that we followed, with full co-operation, were successful in reducing the inflation, the major problem that the country felt.

So, when we met a year ago we were reporting that the rate of increase had gone down from 25 per cent a year to under 8 per cent a year; nearly double again now. And we had an objective agreed with the trade unions to try and bring it even lower to 5 per cent or thereabouts. And we achieved what we did when we got to the lowest figure of 7.4 per cent a year ago because of the close co-operation, because we worked out agreements between the Government and the trade union movement on the broad ranges of social and economic policies, including the yearly level of earnings.

Last autumn was the worst testing time, as those who were here a year ago and remember the dates will recall. But I was very sorry to hear repeated in authoritative quarters yesterday in this Conference, the myth repeated that the Labour Government took no notice of our Con­ference discussion last year on pay. That is sim­ply untrue and Michael Foot gave the real account in his great speech yesterday afternoon. (Applause) If there is still any slight dubiety remaining let me then underline and comment on one or two of the things he said.

This time a year ago, presenting this very report, I undertook, in the light of the discussion we had had on the Monday afternoon, that we would make arrangements for further talks. Those talks, Mr Chairman, were actually arranged whilst delegates were sitting in this Conference, during Conference week. They actually began on the Tuesday after Conference - that is to say, as it were, Tuesday of next week. And they began between representatives of the General Council and Labour Ministers. How can it be said we took no notice? There was a series of meetings that went on for three weeks. Intensive negotiations took place. Has it all been forgotten? At the end of it we reached a new agreement between the representatives of the trade union movement and the Labour Ministers.

When the Ministers came to me, I put it on the Cabinet Agenda on Thursday, November 9, five weeks after the last Conference, and the Labour Cabinet on that morning agreed that new understanding. That was what I did in the way of responding to the Conference discussions. Do not let anybody dare say we did nothing about it. (Applause) It was a great blow to me personally, and to the Government, when the news reached us on November 14 - six weeks after Confer­ence - that opinion was equally divided in the TUC and so the agreement could not come into effect. I offer no criticism of that. These approaches were made in good faith. The dis­cussions took place in good faith. It was not possible to reach an agreement, but do not let anybody say we did not try. We tried our damn­edest and we nearly succeeded. (Applause)

I have always taken the view that unless there is agreement with the trade unions a Labour Government cannot, in the long run, survive. And four months later we fell. I cannot say I saw it coming in the actual way it did, but I knew that there was little hope, once that second major effort had broken down. So, what I have said supplements the account that Michael gave yesterday. Let the myth be destroyed once and for all, that after last year’s Conference we took no notice of what was said.

The lesson I draw is the lesson I have always drawn, consistently uttered and tried to follow, that a Labour Government’s economic policy will only succeed when we work in close con­junction with the Trades Union Congress. If I thought our present Prime Minister would listen to me, I would offer a word of advice to her, that as soon as she ends her arms length hostility to the trade unions, the better it will be for this country. Let her swallow her prejudices about this.

We all know the consequences of last winter’s breakdown. We are going to live, the people of this country, with a Tory Government this wint­er. David Basnett in ten minutes yesterday gave a devastating exposure of the effect of Tory Party policies, the Government’s policies, and I do not intend to take your time by repeating it this morning. Every delegate knows where their policies are leading. Every trade unionist is already feeling it. Every local councillor is aware of it and the public are becoming conscious of it. This winter the housewife, the wage earner, the industrialist will live with a rate of inflation that has been doubled; industry starved of cash; more bankruptcies; even higher unemployment, and an international forecast that in 1980 Tory Britain will have a higher rate of inflation and the lowest rate of economic activity of any industrialised country in the world. Put that up against those 48-sheet posters that we saw displayed on every hoarding during the General Election – ‘Don’t just hope for a better life,’ they said, ‘Vote for one.’ I wonder how many of the people who took that slogan seriously now repent and regret that they did.

Mr Chairman, I have every faith that our Labour Party will win the next election, but it will not be enough to win it by default. I think we will all agree about that. It will not be enough to win it just because people are disillusioned with the Conservatives. If we do, we shall be back in the same trouble that we were in last time. We must make sure that the next Labour Govern­ment starts with a clear mandate and agreement of what it will do, and that means that we should now embark - and I know we intend to do so - on a period of lively discussion and argument. I have no objection to that. I have taken part in many of them in my time. I dare say I will con­tinue to do so. There is nothing new in it. There has always been intense discussion in this Party. We are a Party of protest as well as being a Party of government and there is a genuine reason for the present discussion. Perhaps some people have different motives, I do not know. I am not here to attack peoples’ motives, but there is a genuine reason why we should have this discus­sion and try to be willing to learn the lessons from our defeat.

There are many delegates, good delegates to our General Management Committees, many trade unionists who are genuinely concerned because of the way in which the Labour Government’s efforts finally came to an end. So, there is widespread agreement on the need for a full inquiry and we must examine carefully the argument that is put forward. I do not wholly accept it myself, but it is put forward and it must be examined - that it was the structural relationships between the various parts of the Party, especially the Parliamentary Labour Party and the National Executive Committee and the Con­ference, which were the cause of our defeat. Yes, let us examine it.

I heard the Chairman yesterday say he was not looking for new policies, he wanted existing policies to be implemented, but, as every dele­gate knows, there is a world of difference bet­ween us passing a Resolution at this Conference and facing the task of translating that into legislation and action by a Labour Government. (Applause) There is nothing new about this prob­lem. Our old friend, Manny Shinwell, was telling me on Sunday that he himself raised the issue, before he got into Parliament when he was a young delegate at a Conference in the early part of the 20th century, 1907 I believe, 60 or 70 years ago; he said he was given a severe ticking-off. He was told there could be no outside interference with the Parliamentary Labour Party. Since then, the issue has been raised from time to time. The last time I can trace there was a serious debate in the Conference about it was in 1960, when the independence of the Parliamentary Party was once again affirmed. But now 20 or more years have gone by since 1960. There is no reason, when you are convinced of the strength of your case, why you should not be willing to sit down and examine the matter again, no reason at all; let everybody do so. Labour Members of Parliament and a Labour Government - and I state this as a principle before we begin the dis­cussion - are bound, both in duty and in consci­ence, to pay the closest attention to what Con­ference decides and any Member of Parliament who did not accept that obligation would not be worthy of his responsibilities.

The General Secretary said yesterday in words that I wrote down at the time that it was the duty of the Parliamentary Party - I quote – ‘to take serious note of those policies.’ Is that what is being demanded? If it is, then we can have the discussion very easily. Or, is it more? I agree that that is the duty and the conscious responsibility of the Parliamentary Party to do that and every one of us must take it seriously, and I believe that in general we try to do so. But I affirm the independence of the Parliamentary Party and of the Labour Government - at the end of the day they must take the decisions, they are responsible. They have the responsibility of facing the electorate. They have the responsibil­ity of arguing for their policies before they can be elected, not by Conference but by the people of this country. I say to you that this Conference will settle nothing today if it passes the resolutions that are on the Agenda that Members of Parliament should have no part in deciding the Manifesto on which they fight except, yes, they will be consulted, they will be asked about it, and that the decisions should be left solely to the National Executive Committee - well, that is the decision you are being asked to take today. That is the one. And the situation, even if the Motions were passed, would not endure. A Labour Government would always be faced with the practical problems that do not obtrude them­selves when we are passing Resolutions at Con­ference.

Now, this has a relation in some way, you know, to this question of reselection. I have not joined in this debate so far on reselection of Members - (Laughter) - no, as a matter of fact, I have not. It is one on which I have kept quiet. But, you know, it has got a bearing on it. Perhaps I have not played as much part as I should have done because, who knows how interested I shall be in ten years’ time. But what I have noticed - and here I place my experience before Conference - is that over the many years that I have been in Parliament that Members of Parliament have become more independently minded than they were when I first entered. They want to play a greater part in checking Government. We had trouble in the last Parliament with some of our own Members who sat on the Select Com­mittees because they wanted to go against the policy of the Government, and my colleagues will remember it, but they were sitting on a Select Committee and they said, ‘We are inde­pendently minded; we want to reach our own conclusions,’ and they did, and we are seeing further evidence of this change in the attitude of Members of Parliament of all parties, not just the Labour Party, of all parties - the Conservatives are moving in the same direction - by the setting up of these 12 departmental committees that are going to monitor and check on the work of Ministers in 12 separate departments.

And another change. Being a Member of Par­liament is becoming much more of a full-time occupation for Members than it was when I first entered the House. That is something that you should applaud. I do not take all the arguments that are put forward on this mandatory business about the consequences that are going to follow. I do not believe it is going to have too much effect on the security of sitting Members of Par­liament. It may have some effect in a small number of cases, but I think in the great majority of cases it will not have that effect because in the overwhelming majority where there is a sitting Member of Parliament he has a good relationship with his General Management Committee. That is the truth of the matter and we all know it and those of us who go regularly to our GMCs - and allow me to have a modest boast; I am a delegate from my own ward and branch to my own GMC, as I have been for many years - those of us who go regularly know that Members of Parliament and their GMCs work for the most part very closely in harmony.

No, I do not care for it, but we have got the new rule already. That, I think, is a compromise that Members of Parliament thought should be accepted, but this new one that is going much further, in which you are going, apparently, to have a continuous process of reselection in between Parliaments during the lifetime of Parliaments, I think my worry about it would be not the loss of security - I think most Members of Parliament will win the day - but I think it will mean that GMCs will be much more divided; it will make it much easier for carpet-baggers and factions to grow up. It will be up to the Member of Parliament and the GMC to try to settle that sort of thing. (Applause) 

Having disposed of what I regard as the sec­urity argument, although I accept fully the words of my shop steward, Joe Ashton, that he uttered last year. Let me say to those who advocate it - and I understand that they advocate it on the grounds that it will make Members of Parliament become more responsive  to their constituencies - they had better face the possibility that if Members of Parliament become more responsive to their constituencies they may become less responsive to the Whip in the House of Commons and even to the National Executive Committee. (Applause) If the Parliamentary Labour Party or the National Executive Committee, when it assumes full authority over us all, if it seeks to secure a common line of action, I tell you you have got a second think coming because my view is, and I am looking at this as objectively as I can - my view is that because you are strengthening - (Laughter) - well, I have no vested interest in it, whatever some of the young members may have - my view is that the effect of what you propose to do - and I gather the votes are in the bag, well, good luck to you - but the effect of what you are going to do will be to strengthen local Party control and weaken central Party control.

Do not believe that all the constituencies have the same views about policy, especially where there are sitting Members of Parliament. Look, be serious for a moment. We are a party of change, and a party of change by its very nature requires common, concerted action, and such a party should consider very carefully before it fractionalises into 635 pieces. The central thrust that comes from common action, so the result may not be what the movers of these proposals think it may be.

I think that if the votes go through, and I understand they are already in the bag, it will throw an even heavier responsibility on that committee of enquiry that we have agreed to set up to look at all these factors and see what you want to do about it. Of course, if any of you want to recall your delegations during the lunchtime and think again, I shall feel this speech has been worthwhile. (Applause) And when the enquiry report comes back, then I hope Conference will consider what I have said and also what the enquiry report itself will say.

Now, I am glad that on the question of the Manifesto the National Executive Committee went part way to meet me and others on Sunday by deciding to withdraw their own proposal. That would have been an intolerable proposal, trying to push it through this week without any discussion with the Parliamentary Party and they saw the wisdom, or the unwisdom, of doing that and so they withdrew by a majority. So, they have come some way to meet the objec­tions. But, you know, there are similar resolu­tions on the same subject today which they are ready to accept, so it was a tactical withdrawal and not a strategic withdrawal. What they would have the effect of doing would be that these changes would come into force in 12 months time instead of coming into force immediately.

I repeat on this issue, to pass these resolutions will not settle the issue and I assume that is what we want to do. We have to sit down together, the National Executive Committee, the Parliamen­tary Committee and the trades unions and con­sider seriously the nature of the relationship that should exist between us. This is the fundamental issue and I believe, having settled that relation­ship once again, having looked at it and decided what it should be. What is the role of the National Executive? What is the role of the Par­liamentary Party? What is the role of Confer­ence? Having settled that, I believe, you are more likely to get agreement after you have had discussion and these other questions that you are so anxious to vote on today, they will begin to solve themselves automatically because you will have settled the fundamental question. So, first, let us settle by agreement the nature of the relationship between the various parts of the Party, then we can settle for some years to come these questions about election of leaders, con­trol of the Manifesto, reselection, and so on.

These questions are important, but it is illogi­cal, in my view, to take the decisions first and then ask a committee of enquiry to look into them afterwards. (Applause) That is why I believe the Trade Union Committee for Labour Victory were right when they asked the Execu­tive to request that these matters should be remitted; not to sweep them under the carpet, not to get rid of them but in order that there should be a proper and serious discussion. Then you will carry people by agreement, because I promise you, in this Party you will not carry them by anything else.

The enquiry committee will also have other things to look at; issues like membership and finance and structure and organisation of the Party. I hope they will look at some of the other matters that were raised here yesterday morning in the debate on the result of the General Election. What about the regional pattern of our vot­ing? Why did we do so well in Scotland and yet, as was pointed out by the candidate for New­bury, we won only 11 seats out of 161 in the South of England. We had first class candidates in both areas: what cost us seats in the industrial Midlands? I wonder whether it was because there was no agreement about what the place of the low-paid worker should be against the place of skilled worker? (Applause)

Let them inquire into why so many women, especially young women, did not vote for the Party. I can understand young women voting, perhaps, for others rather than me, but I think there may be more fundamental reasons. There was a poll taken during the General Election that, I must say, I found profoundly disturbing. It said - taken in the month of April - it said that the Tory Party was regarded as having more concern for ordinary people than the Labour Party. Well, we know what we think about that, but it is not what we think about ourselves, it is what other people perceive about us. That is the problem.

It is the first time in the history of politics in this country that I have known such a result. So, let us all examine ourselves, everybody, and see what reasons we give for these things. After all, everybody wants a Labour Government to suc­ceed; we are all united in that, so let us avoid a lot of internal party-bashing among each other and let us have a bit of Tory-bashing for a change. (Applause)

We fought on the slogan that ‘The Labour Way is the Better Way’ and I challenge anybody in this hall - and everybody agrees with me - to say that that is totally and absolutely accurate. It was the better way. It would have been the better way, and our major task in the next 12 months is to rebuild our action programme, to reorganise and mobilise support against the Government backed by their big money, by their obedient press and by their cynical advertising. Let this Conference, by its decisions, show that our unity is together, that we mount the great fight back our people need - and that they expect from us. We fight for the housewives and for the families, for the pensioners, against the increase in the VAT and the decreases in benefits; for the children and their schooling, for the sick and their proper care; to shield the reg­ions of England and Scotland and Wales against the cutbacks in public expenditure that are so damaging to our society. 

I challenge the Tories. Let them name any­thing that is as important as a National Health Service in which we can all take pride. Let them name anything that is as important as a fair deal for our pensioners.

Let them name anything as important as giv­ing the child the maximum opportunity for its future. Let them name anything as important as giving the young training and skills for the new technology. That is what public spending is about, and a Labour movement must call upon the nation with a united front not to pit prejudice against prejudice, but to fight by strong and hon­est argument, to fight the Conservative assault on essential community services and to fight until we drive home the truth to every man and woman in this country right through the armour plating of Conservative prejudice.

How dare the Government tell these groups - the children, the pensioners, the sick - come back in two generations; the money supply is more important than you. (Applause) Conserva­tive idea of values is to stick a price tag on everything. Some things and some values cannot be priced. People do expect community support. They do expect the Government to bring for­ward programmes of action to protect our basic rights. The Government is neglecting that responsibility today and it is our duty to take up the challenge.

I do not pretend that every problem can be solved by throwing money at it, but we do know that these problems will not be solved by the undermining of our essential services that is tak­ing place.

Mr Chairman, there are many other problems that I would like to discuss but time is going by, so perhaps you will allow me a few more minutes to bring up one or two other matters that I believe to be of importance.

Let me begin with the problem of South Africa’s apartheid that has been thrown into promi­nence by the arrival of the South African rugby team here this week. We are against this tour. Ted Rowlands and Dennis Howell together vis­ited the Foreign Office to tell them of our opposi­tion. Then, at the National Executive Committee meeting on Friday, we unanimously agreed a statement condemning the visit. The Tory Sports Minister, Hector Munro, has advised against the visit. Lord Carrington appears to be against the visit. The French Government has banned the tour. The Irish Government has ban­ned the tour and the team is still coming to Bri­tain. The powers are there: why do not the Gov­ernment use them? (Applause) Why do they now show the same ruthlessness in banning this tour as they can show when they dismiss an area health authority or close an old peoples’ home? (Applause)

Conference will make clear its views. Change comes in South Africa only when it is put under pressure politically, economically, culturally and in sport.

I must also now quickly pass on to the ques­tion of the whole future of Zimbabwe Rhodesia. It will not be enough for the Government to get agreement on a new constitution - an important advance, but not enough. If peace is to come with majority rule and the security of all races - yes, we care about the white people there as well as the black people - if security is to come to all of them and to be guaranteed at the Lancaster House conference, then it must settle other major questions: the structure and powers of the transitional government that will lead to full majority rule; devise the arrangements for supervising the election; arrange the conditions for a cease-fire and agree the main principles which will merge and integrate the armed forces, three armed forces, that are now operating inside and outside that country. These problems are extremely difficult. Many attempts have been made and have failed.

There is a prospect of success now. I have spoken personally and privately with all the leaders attending this conference and I say to you that given the follow-up to the initiative that began at the recent Commonwealth Conference, these problems are not insoluble.

Mr. Chairman, the Parliamentary Labour Party will be ready to vote for a continuation of sanctions if they cannot be achieved, but we would prefer and will much more welcome our ability to support a just settlement that is agreed on these matters.

I speak about Northern Ireland. I do not think that any of us have become inured or insensitive to the continuance of death and violence in Northern Ireland, nor do we forget the long-term impact that living in the midst of it must have on the young minds of those whose childhood is spent in such surroundings - ten years now in which it has been going on. But if anyone had forgotten, surely that powerful and moving plea and appeal by the Pope last weekend would have stirred us all again.

During the last General Election, when I was asked questions on this, or, more frequently, shouted at, I said that despite the many attempts made by Merlyn Rees and Roy Mason, and their disappointments in trying to bring the political parties of the province together, a Labour Gov­ernment after the General Election would make a renewed effort. And let me now pay tribute to the work of Merlyn Rees and Roy Mason and to their courage, and, indeed, to all others - (Applause) - and, indeed, to all others who, in the pursuance of their public duty, take their lives in their hands.

Well, we tried. I said we would do it. Unfortu­nately, it is not now in our power as a Govern­ment to do it and since the present Government took office we have, up till the moment, seen few signs or clear statements of their political inten­tions. The National Executive Committee has tried in the past to produce a properly thought out policy. We did not find it easy for there are no blueprints waiting for someone to pick up. Quite separately from the efforts by Labour Ministers during the period of the Government, the Executive took its own initiative, set up a special study group which we welcomed, visited Ireland, both North and South, saw representatives from the trade unions and from the political parties, but at the end of the day I have to record - and the Executive Committee has indicated that they wish me to say a word about this - I have to record that we were not able to come forward with an agreed statement. The Execu­tive Committee decided last Friday to talk once again to the parties involved so that we make a new effort to prepare a comprehensive policy. We must work closely with all concerned and it is the duty of the Government itself to make a renewed effort, and I call on them to do so and to consult once again; not only with all the parties but to maintain close contacts with the Govern­ment of Ireland, the Irish Government.

I know there are some who hold this view - I heard it many times during the Election cam­paign - that a solution will come when British troops leave Northern Ireland. It is a view that is expressed by American politicians too. But at the present time, both they and the police are playing an indispensable role and it would be irresponsible for our Government, or for this Government, to abdicate its responsibilities for the lives of its citizens. We pay our sincere thanks to our soldiers and to the police, and to all others, for their efforts, which will be made all the more successful with full co-operation from the South. But none of us believes that there can be a military solution in Northern Ireland. We all know that the overwhelming majority of people, both North and South, wish nothing more than to live in peace. If a working agreement could be reached, and this I think is the task to which the Government must now apply itself, if a working agreement could be reached between the politi­cal parties it would enable the people as a whole to share some common ground in the immediate future that lies ahead; it would be the greatest blessing for them.

We call on the Government and the Northern Ireland parties to come together for meaningful talks about the future and we, for our part, will continue to support all efforts to reduce the level of violence and to come forward with positive and constructive proposals in due course. 

Mr. Chairman, I should have liked a discus­sion about the Middle East, where next week I shall be visiting for talks with President Sadat, Prime Minister Begin and King Hussein of Jor­dan. We welcome and we support the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel as an important beginning for a new settlement that will cover a wider area, especially the future of the Palesti­nian people. (Applause) President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin, by their imaginative actions, brought about a potentially more hope­ful situation than we have known since the foun­dation of the State of Israel in the Middle East, and so let me add - especially in view of the attacks that are made on him at the present time - and so, let me add, without the patient deter­mination of President Carter whose great efforts on this part I applaud, this process, I doubt, would have gone so far. But what has been shown, and this is important for all of us - this is not just some issue that is extraneous to us - what has been shown by this peace agreement is that negotiations can yield results in the Middle East and I hope that lesson will not be lost on the Palestinian people or their leaders, whose legitimate desire to choose their own future must be subject only to one main condition, that the final arrangements must not thereby endanger the security of the other states in the area.

I hope the Conference will allow me to carry that message in my discussions next week, for we are directly concerned with peace in the Middle East, not only for its own sake, not only for its effects on those who live there, but also a direct concern because of the impact of war in that area on the industrial economies of the West, including our own.

Mr. Chairman, I have spent some time on these things because we, in this Party, are the heirs to the Labour Party’s great tradition of internationalism and I wish that Conference could find more time to spend on international affairs. We might then see some of our own policies in a truer perspective, and we might also, incidentally, have a clearer idea of how we appear to the rest of the world. One thing I am certain of, whilst it is true that we have problems that are particular to ourselves, as well as advan­tages, the changing nature of world relationships means that we cannot solve all our problems by ourselves. We must co-operate fully with others. There is one attempt through the European Community.

As far as that is concerned, it will continue to be hampered by its wasteful and costly agricul­tural policy, as well as by its institutional arrangements. I said before, and I say again now, that if Britain cannot get a satisfactory new financial settlement then we should announce, this Government should announce, that we will put a net financial ceiling on our contributions, but, having said that, do not throw the baby away with the bath water: Europe shares many problems; our trade unionists know this, they see it every day in their international contacts. Many of the same problems they share with us - steel, textiles, the micro-economic revolution with its effect on jobs, all examples of issues that we will not solve by ourselves but would be better solved by co-operation.

The problems of the 1980s are before you. They are almost here now. They are almost upon us, the world. I sum up to you in six or seven words what they will be - employment, pover­ty, the use of resources yes, the Ecology Party may not score many votes but they got to the root of the problem - (Applause) - race and peace. The prospects for peace now are not as good as when we signed the Helsinki Agreement four years ago in 1975, and this movement should be taking note of this and we should be applying our minds to it.

All these problems have international dimen­sions. A start has been made in a primitive way to co-ordinate the economic policies of the major industrial nations. A kind of beginning has been made through the North/South dialogue to recon­cile the conflicting needs of the industrial nations, the developing countries and the oil powers, but we in the community of nations are still novices in the art of international survival. Some of the powers can destroy large parts of the world in minutes. Other powers are even now seeking to acquire the same deadly means. Yes, we can all make the world worse in a few moments. But to make the world measurably better will take years or decades. It cannot be right that the world should collectively spend a billion dollars a day on weapons. It cannot be right that 700 millions of our fellow human beings are suffering from malnutrition. It cannot be right that across the world each year 15 mil­lion children die under the age of five and 15 million of these tragedies occur in the poorest countries. It cannot be right that a person’s average lifespan in a poor country is 30 years shorter than in a developed nation. It cannot be right that two-thirds of the people in the poorer nations do not even enjoy fresh drinking water.

Here is the challenge for the international community for the rest of this century. Here is the challenge for international socialism. (Applause) Our task is to re-order our priorities and this is why I have ventured to spend so much time on this matter this morning, quite apart from our internal affairs which, although vital are not the only issues in the world. It is vital to re-order our priorities so that every member of the family of man can be liberated from hunger and from disease and the acute hardship that is the lot of so many.

We, I am glad to say, in our small way, thanks largely but not wholly to the insistence of Judith Hart in the Cabinet, we increased substantially our international aid and had plans to increase it by 6 per cent a year, the largest increase in our programme of any. Well, it was only a drop in the bucket but it was worth doing and I contrast it with the miserable penuriousness of the present Government, whose first act is to cut what we did. Our task is to do this, because without these basic foundations of human dignity all talk by Western leaders of democracy will sound like humbug to hungry millions of people. If we want our democratic values to triumph, and I do above all, then we must embark upon an interna­tional programme in the 1980s of partnership and sharing that has been unmatched in history. Indeed, if you will forgive the word, what we need is a new international social contract.

In the words of Hubert Humphrey, and I will end with this: ‘Our strength is not to be meas­ured by our military capacity alone, by our industry or by our technology. We will be remembered not for the power of our weapons, but for the power of our compassion and our dedication to human welfare.’ Those were his words and that, Mr Chairman, should be the true face of socialism that this Confer­ence, and we ourselves, should present to our people - (Applause) - and let me add, in this increasingly interdependent world, our compas­sion and our dedication which we should show in our own internal matters, every one of us, whenever we appear, not the arrogance of pow­er. Let us show what socialism really is about when we appear on the television or talk about our rights and what we demand; that is in this increasingly interdependent world our compas­sion and our dedication cannot stop at our own frontiers. That is our task for the 1980s.

Back to top

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