1997 Onwards -
Below is the text of Sir John Major’s speech at the Chartered Insurance Institute President’s Dinner, held at the Guildhall in London on Tuesday 4th March 2008.
SIR JOHN MAJOR:
Aldermen, My Lord President, Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen.
There is a European debate in the House of Commons tonight -
When your President invited me to join you this evening, it was an easy decision. Easy, because of the reputation of the Institute; and easier still, because David Hunt has been a colleague and a true friend for very many years. When he left Government, it was at his request and to my regret. You are very lucky to have him as your President. From what I hear he is doing a superb job.
Because David worked with me in Government for so long, his invitation to speak "on any subject” of my choosing was irresistible and it encouraged me to take a reflective look at my old profession. I do so, of course, conscious of the mistakes made during my own years in Government.
It is now eleven years since I left Number 10 at the request of the electorate, and seven years since I left the Commons -
It is not always easy to speak your mind as freely as you wish and even for the most frank politicians.
In the last decade, the environment of politics has changed. In some ways, government has become more difficult. The free market has widened many of the prerogatives of Government have been diminished.
The style of politics has changed, too. Brutal truths are out. Gentle reassurances are in. Now I’m not sure I wholly like this. Frankly, I don't need someone to "feel my pain". I much prefer them to remove it. And -
Because Government is a serious business -
Many years ago, Francis Pym spoke of the democratic disadvantage of any Government having too large a majority. Now I agree with that, with one caveat: having led a Government with a tiny majority and a large number of irreconcilables, I am no great fan of minority government either.
Now one of the proudest boasts of this country has always been that we’re the oldest democracy in the world -
The invasion of Iraq was justified initially by over-
But the case was then embellished by linking the Iraqi regime to the 9/11 attacks on New York, for which there is not a shred of evidence. That misinformation was compounded by the implication that Iraq was a clear and present danger to the UK, which plainly it was not -
We need to know how and why that happened.
We have had Inquiries, four I think so far, of course, but all of them were circumscribed: none I think were on the essential question of how the decision to go to war was made and for the sake of future decision-
For the moment, the Government dismisses criticism with the response that it neither regrets, nor apologises for, the fact that Saddam has gone. Neither do I. Nor does anyone else, but that is not the point. One might as well say one does not regret an earthquake, because it helped bring down some old buildings. So it might have been, but what of the wider damage?
Because, the damage is wider.
Overseas, it is to our reputation. And, at home -
We now know that -
Now, although the intent -
Nor can any sacrifice of due process be justified by national self-
And that is no longer theoretical: we now have home-
The Government has introduced a series of measures to protect against terror. These seem to me to go beyond anything contemplated when Britain faced far more regular assaults on our mainland from the IRA.
Two years ago, following the London terrorist attacks, Parliament doubled the time suspects could be held without charge from 14 days to 28 days. I agree that was justified. I supported that change and still do. But -
Yet there is no proof such an extended detention period would have prevented past atrocities. There is no evidence it would prevent future atrocities. No example of which I am aware has yet been given of why the Police need more than 28 days to frame a charge. Now this is a slippery slope. The argument that it "might be useful" in unspecified future circumstances simply will not do. Assertions are cheap: and assertions are worthless if we are to curtail liberty of the individual, we need more certainty than that.
We need to be careful. I cannot believe any Parliamentarian would willingly relish a society in which suspects are detained for long periods without charge; in which excessive security impedes the flow of normal life; and in which border checks frequently verge on the frenetic. I fear such a policy -
Nor do I welcome identity cards, likely to be expensive and ineffective. I certainly do not welcome a national register containing the DNA of many thousands of people who have never been charged with an offence.
Now I understand the concerns the Government has -
A free and open society is worth a certain amount of risk. A siege society is alien to our instincts and -
I suspect one reason for over-
Now, of course, much of this revolves around too much legislation -
I could illustrate this unappealing trend in many ways: one will do. The public are worried about crime -
So, each year, we have a Criminal Justice Bill: often containing a lot of sensible policy -
Meanwhile, crime still rises, the prisons overflow and the Justice Minister -
The "tough on crime" sound-
After the experience of how sound-
Mr President, I have focused on short-
Throughout the last ten years, I've travelled constantly around the world. If that has given a degree of perspective to my criticisms -
Over many decades, successive Governments have presided over a growth in personal and national well-
And here -