The British Business Association hosts Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during her visit to Singapore

Photo: Ministry of Information and the Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore

On 8th April 1985 the BBA hosted an event at the Shanri-La Hotel with the Prime Minister. Mrs Thatcher's speech in full extracted from her archives:

Mr Chairman, members of the British Business Association, I am grateful for this chance to talk to you today.

I want to use it to tell you how I see Britain's position and prospects. As they really are. Not as they used to be or as they are sometimes reported.

Mr. Chairman, I make no bones about it. Today I am going to bang the drum for Britain. 


Mr. Chairman, in the 1970s many people in Britain and outside were worried about Britain's future. —inflation was running riot —government had abdicated its responsibilities as trade unions assumed more power over the lives of their members and the life of the nation.  —our international credit had run out.

As a result: a British government had to go to the International Monetary Fund to bail them out.

It was fashionable at home to describe Britain as “ungovernable”; it was fashionable abroad to deride Britain as “the sick man of Europe” .


Today, much has changed—our foreign debts have been halved after double in the 1970s —ours assets abroad have increased more than five-fold from £13 billion in 1979 to £70 billion now —output, investment, productivity are all at all-time records.

The UK has enjoyed steady growth for the past four years and there is every sign that healthy growth will continue throughout 1985. Britain could again show the fastest growth page [page missing from archive]


What else is changing in Britain today? —we are beginning to speak the language of enterprise rather than entitlement —we are beginning to value the salesman more than the shop steward —we are beginning, whether at home or abroad to put the customer first.  —we are beginning to free business from a surfeit of government regulation. —we have scrapped three taxes on jobs and investment completely—the National Insurance Surcharge, the Investment Income Surcharge and Development Land Tax.

And we have made Capital Gains Tax, Capital Transfer Tax, and Stamp Duty much less onerous.

It should be worth your while coming home again …   .! None of this has happened by accident.

It has happened because the British people have rejected the comfortable doctrines that have grown up in the last twenty years, that freedom and prosperity can be bought and not earned.

Comfortable while they last but of course they don't and can't last indefinitely. The myth that we can have the good life without paying for it has finally been laid to rest—and about time too. 

Mr Chairman, the defeatism which permeated our national life in the 1970s has itself been defeated. In its place is a new optimism born of the certainty that we really can and are competing. 


Mr. Chairman, I said that I was going to bang the drum for Britain. But I do not wish to drown the rest of the band.

There is still a great deal of work to be done before the performance of the British economy begins to match that of the American and Japanese economies: or indeed, before it begins to match the growth record of the Singapore economy.

If there is one message which is abundantly clear from comparisons of the performances of the major industrial countries in recent years, it is that free enterprise works. It stimulates more growth; it generates more jobs; it provides a better standard of life. And that message is not just confined to one country or even one continent: for it is through the free exchange of world trade that you get world economic growth.

But for those of you trading, manufacturing and selling in international markets, there are problems as well as opportunities. 

We are living through an epoch of currency turmoil. The rapid and prolonged rise in the dollar in recent years has brought money into the United States that could be used elsewhere. It has forced interest rates up as countries have attempted to stem the outflow.

The export salesman to the US thinks the dark cloud has a silver lining.

The borrower, the developing country, and the American exporter just hope the dark cloud doesn't become a thunderstorm.

Prime Ministers are expected—with the help of their Finance Ministers—to chart a course for their money supply and interest rates through these troubled waters.

But I am always grateful that they are under no obligation, like many of you, to hazard a guess in public on what an exchange rate might be in one year or two years' time—or even, for that matter, over the next couple of weeks.

But we do see in government the impact that the world banking troubles have had on currency markets, and on trade and currency flows around the world.

The world system has been strained by high interest rates, with banks keen to retreat from the inflationary expansion of credit of the late 1970s.

We see the way ahead through governments world-wide bringing down their requirement for borrowed money.

A government cannot live indefinitely on credit to meet its current bills.

And many governments have found their credit has become too extended.

Nor can the world's financial system go on advancing more and more money without bringing back rapid inflation.

But as those deficits are brought under control, interest rates can fall.

Then there can be some relief for the investor in the profitable and worthwhile investment project for the developing country in need of funds to expand, for the over-borrowed mid-West American farmers, and for the over-borrowed Latin American governments.

Through this process, greater stability will return to a disturbed currency and banking market.

Meanwhile, the best way forward for all of us is through ever-expanding trade. More trade brings more wealth. More wealth helps developing and developed country alike, encouraging the interchange of skills, ideas, products and necessities.

We stand for free and fair trade, for free markets, and for the free exchange of goods, ideas and people.

These are the powerful forces that can break down the barriers to greater prosperity in the world economic system.


Mr. Chairman, next year your Association will celebrate ten years of success in promoting British trade with Singapore.

It shows that British industry as a whole has learnt the lesson that if we are to succeed in the demanding markets of this region, individual companies must be present here, in touch with local conditions and needs.

It also means having a really effective Business Association on the spot—and that is what you are.

As major contributors to the South East Asia Trade Advisory Group you have an important role to play, too, within the wider context of our trade with South East Asia, particularly since so many British firms use Singapore as a springboard to other markets in the region.

There can be no better testimony to the success of your work than the fact that British exports to Singapore have doubled in the past five years.

I congratulate you on the hard work that has achieved this first-class result.


Mr. Chairman, Singapore has been a success story for many years now.

We in Britain want to have the same continuing success story.

With your help, Mr Chairman, I believe that we can and we will.