Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1979 Apr 24 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

TV Interview for Thames TV TV Eye

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: TV Interview
Venue: Thames Television Studios, central London
Source: Thatcher Archive: Thames TV transcript
Journalist: Denis Tuohy, Thames TV
Editorial comments: MT was to be at the studios 1730-1815; broadcast 2030-2100. Copyright in the broadcast from which this transcript is taken is retained by Thames Television and the transcript is reproduced by permission of Thames Television.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4829
Themes: Civil liberties, Conservative Party (organization), Conservative Party (history), Industry, General Elections, Privatized & state industries, Pay, Public spending & borrowing, Taxation, Housing, Labour Party & socialism, Law & order, Local government, Media, Race, immigration, nationality, Social security & welfare, Trade unions, Trade union law reform, Strikes & other union action

DT

Mrs. Thatcher, in a recent interview with The Observer, you said that previously: “At election time each party seems to be competing with the other in promising what we can do for you. I'm not participating in that kind of competition” . How do you reconcile that view with the Conservative manifesto, ah, in which cutting taxes is one of the most important things that you are promising to do for people?

Mrs. T.

But that's not what I am promising to do for them. That's allowing them to keep more of the results of their own earnings. Hitherto governments have taken away too much in earnings. They've talked about government expenditure, public expenditure. Governments have no money; it's taxpayers' money. So I am saying to people: You should be allowed to keep more of your own earnings. I think for three—three reasons really. First, people feel very very resentful that if they work hard, too much is taken away in tax. And then, you know, industry won't really keep going unless the people who are highly skilled feel that the skill pays in their net take-home pay. And it doesn't. [end p1]

And the third reason is this, we're not going to get more jobs for young people, genuine jobs, unless we can have more small businesses, more new small businesses and more small businesses growing. So they too have to have incentives.

DT

Now in terms of incentives, isn't there a danger though that if people in fact keep more of what they're earning, that they'll be more content with their present lot, instead of striving—as you want them to do—to do better?

Mrs. T.

No, I don't think so. I think there are many, many people for whom the main driving force in life is that they want a better deal for their children; they want to do more things for their children. And I think that that is a tremendous incentive, and they will go on and earn more for a better life for them. After all, don't forget, a lot of our people now go overseas, they see how our European neighbours live, they see that job for job they have a very much higher standard of living. And they don't like the idea—quite rightly they don't like the idea—that Britain's falling behind. And Britain is declining, compared to our competitors. [end p2]

DT

It's been assumed, it's been reckoned that to make a real impact the cuts that you have in mind would include reducing the top rate of tax from eighty-three per cent to around sixty-five, taking around 3p off the standard rate, raising thresholds generally. Is that roughly what it means?

Mrs. T.

Ah, the precise calculations I cannot give you, and I think we shouldn't get into the state when you think: Threepence off here means so much lost to the Exchequer. One of the purposes of reducing tax on the pay packet is to persuade people to earn more so that by—they have more pounds and by taking less out of more pounds, you can still sometimes get the extra yield. For example, on the top rate I don't think we shall lose any yield at all. I think it'll bring back some people to this country who've gone away, and they will provide quite a driving force, a new driving force for British industry. So you mustn't ever—if I might say so—look at the British economy as if we produce a fixed amount and no more. The object of this is to start to grow again. I hope it will succeed. We can put the ball at people's feet—some of them will kick it. [end p3]

DT

What about the people below the top rate tax-payers, not the people you feel might come back to the country, but the majority of the people who would be affected by the standard rate being changed, to what extent of what they're going to get by the reduced, ah, standard rates, what—to what extent's that going to be offset by increase in prices due to VAT increases or whatever, the retail prices?

Mrs. T.

Well, do you know, Mr. Healey, in his very first Budget put up the cost of living by three point seven five per cent. He also put up tax at the same time by threepence in the pound. He's done it both ways. He's put up the cost of living more than any previous Chancellor in history, and he put up tax as well. Now he put it up from where we left it. We didn't have nearly such a bad record on prices, and we left the standard rate of tax at thirty pence. The increases in Value Added Tax will be comparatively small; they will in fact enable us to get at people who don't return some of their cash income. You know, the Inland Revenue suggested recently that something like eight thousand million pounds in what they call the cash economy not returned for tax. [end p4]

The only way we can get at that is by putting a little more on spending taxes, but the object still is to increase the amount we produce—and if you've got the money in your pocket, you can choose whether you spend it on things which attract Value Added Tax, or not. And the main necessities don't.

DT

You—you say a little on Value Added Tax, and you also say that you can't give the figures on, ah, the standard rate of income tax reduction. You said indeed before now that you haven't looked at the books yet. If you haven't looked at the books, how do you know that you can implement the strategy that you have in mind, that you can make the tax cuts you talk of?

Mrs. T.

Let me give you an example. When one company takes over another, another one that's been doing very badly, it cannot tell you exactly what economies it's going to make in each department—it just can't…   .

DT

Can it tell you that it will be able to make any? [end p5]

Mrs. T.

Yes, it can tell you that the strategy of that company has been fundamentally wrong, that it has not been producing the results, and in fact that if it was run differently, it could produce better results, and the reason it has that confidence is because the company that wants to take over the other one has performed better. If you look at our performance—which is all I'm asking you to do—you will find that we performed very much better in office on tax; we were very much more successful on keeping down inflation. So it's that which gives us the confidence for the future.

DT

However you effect the redistribution, isn't it bound to penalise the less well off in our society—not just the pensioners, there's been talk of pensioners—but low level wage-earners who don't come in to, don't go over the thresholds which qualify for tax, but will be affected (Yes …) by retail price increases?

Mrs. T.

But do you know, we were the first party to help those by giving them a Family Income Supplement. Now that was one thing that Keith Joseph did. You hear a tremendous lot about Keith. People forget that he was one of the best Ministers of [end p6] Social Services this country's ever had …   .

DT

That's one kind of public spending replacing …

Mrs. T.

Yes, but one moment, he—yes—but it, it's selective. The point is it's selective. It goes to those people who need it. We've always thought it was very much better for people on low wages to have the dignity of their pay packet, their own pay packet and to have a Family Income Supplement so they could be looked after. Now most people on low wages spend most of their money on necessities—and necessities just don't attract VAT. There's no Value Added Tax on food; there's no Value Added Tax on fuel; no Value Added Tax on public transport, none on housing …

DT

What about people who are trying to furnish their house—trying to furnish their house?

Mrs. T.

… none … well, none on, ah, no Value Added Tax on children's clothes or children's shoes. And the vast majority of their income, if it's a low income, will in fact be spent on those. Furnishing your house, yes that does have some—have, have, ah, some Value Added Tax on it. [end p7]

I don't shy away from saying: You have to get the tax from somewhere …

DT

You're making …

Mrs. T.

… but after all it's better to give the person the choice on what they spend it on than to take it away from them and give them no choice at all. And you know, furnishing your house doesn't come very often in your lifetime. You re-do it now and then, but it's not your weekly expenditure. It's that which is so expensive.

DT

What about being able to have a house or a home? And here again you talk about choice, you want to give people the choice to buy council houses in which they live in, on rent. Again, ah, if this is made of avail—avail—made,—ah, if it's availed of by people, and they may well not respond to the opportunity, isn't it bound to decrease the stock of rented accommodation which is desperately and urgently needed throughout the country? [end p8]

Mrs. T.

Well now, just let me take two points. Do you know there are I think more boarded-up empty houses at the moment than there are homeless people? And there are more empty properties because people daren't rent them, because of the effect of some of the rent restriction Acts—they daren't rent them because of the difficulty of getting out a very unsatisfactory tenant. This is a thing that we must think about—there's no question of taking off rent control or fair rents or security of tenure, but there are a lot of empty properties boarded-up; there are a lot of empty flats because the landlord daren't let them. But the second point is this, people who are going to be offered the council houses at very, um, um, favourable prices, are those who are in them. They're going to stay in them. They're not people who are going to move and vacate that flat and leave it open for other people. They're going to occupy it. They might just as well have the chance to buy it when they're comparatively young, and then they'll know that after twenty-five years or so, they won't have to pay any more rent—and it helps the local authority: they get more money back. That means it helps them to keep the rent down of other properties …   . [end p9]

DT

But how does the local …   .

Mrs. T.

… It's valuable all round.

DT

… how does a local authority bridge the gap between what, ah, it gets for a house, ah, which in fact is let's say, twenty years old, and what it has to pay to build a new one? How does it bridge that gap without actually raising rents for other people?

Mrs. T.

But it will get for a house (CLEARS THROAT) a proportion of the market value. Now I must say that I'm very very much against councils like Camden, who have spent three million pounds of taxpayers' and ratepayers' money on building forty-two houses. That means the ratepayers and taxpayers are going to have to subsidise them to the tune of a hundred and fifty pounds a week. Wouldn't it have been very much better to lend a little bit of help to young people wanting to buy their own homes, because private enterprise could have built that property very much more cheaply? Again, I think one's thought must not be confined to the present pattern. Other countries have a far higher proportion of owner-occupation. We want to see it. [end p10]

And there are a large number of council tenants who want the opportunity. We're giving them the opportunity, and I hope they'll take it.

DT

Well, let's not be confined then to housing. Let's move to public spending cuts generally, and it's been estimated you're going to have to save about two and a half billion pounds here. You've excluded defence and law and order, which you wish to expand, so where will the major cuts be? Will they be in health, in education, social security?

Mrs. T.

Now let's again start off with one thing. You make it sound as if that were totally impossible. You know when the IMF came in and looked at Mr. Healey's profligate spending, they said: Mr. Healey, if you want to borrow money from the IMF, you've got to cut spending, and you've got to cut it by something between two billion and three billion. And he did. One moment …

DT

People want to know how you'll do it.

Mrs. T.

…   .one moment. So there is evidence that is not impossible. He was—did it when he was told to. [end p11] We told him he should have done it before. Now let's go and have a look at some of the things. This particular government has increased the amount available to the National Enterprise Board, from one billion to four and a half billion. We think that's for back-door nationalisation. They haven't put in their manifesto one thousand million pounds to four and a half thousand million. That's a colossal increase. Far more than your sick industries need. Far more—we think that's available for back-door nationalisation. That will be cut very seriously indeed …   .

DT

Why are you so hostile …   .

Mrs. T.

… We shall cut …   .

DT

… to the National Enterprise Board?

Mrs. T.

… well, can I just answer?

DT

Well, the National Enterprise Board is an important point here, because every country in Western Europe has got some form of holding company, finds it necessary to secure continued [end p12] investment, especially in long term projects which risk capital. Otherwise it doesn't have anybody to go to.

Mrs. T.

Yes indeed, but you'll have seen from what, ah, Sir Harold Wilson found with the City, there's no shortage of money for investment—none. Do you know …

DT

But it won't go into …   .

Mrs. T.

One moment …   .

DT

… the projects that are longer-term.

Mrs. T.

… one moment. The difficulty and the difference between this country and others is in this country you do not get the return on investment. Look, The Times newspaper has all the latest equipment and machinery. Two things, first because of restrictive practices, the unions won't operate it; two, because where it is operated—and in some companies, take ICI, kept up investment tremendously well. Guest Keen & Nettlefold, your big companies. [end p13]

But if they do do well, this government clobbers them. You're not allowed to get a good return on your money. If you do, they cut down the profits, they put the Prices Commission in and they'll put a tremendous control on dividends. You cannot have it all ways. If you want the investment, if you want the risk, you've got to get a good return on it. There is plenty of money available in this country for investment. At the moment it's all going in to government stock, instead of—I agree with you, it should be going into productive investment. But the government's taking too much of it.

DT

Much of the money that, ah, comes from public spending in fact does go into the private sector—much of the private sector depends very much whether it be by way of regional aid and various grants to certain areas, certain kinds of innovation aids …

Mrs. T.

Which particular—yes, well, very very little on innovation aid. You would have to aircraft engines; you would of course have some launching aid to this. [end p14]

But the vast majority of your investment in this country comes from two sources: one from profits—so if you don't make profits you don't get the investment; and secondly, from—by raising on your funds and people who are willing to save and put it into investment. That's where the vast majority comes from. You asked me about the National Enterprise Board. It has holdings in eleven hundred companies, I understand. I see no reason at all why taxpayers' money—taxpayers' money—should be available to the National Enterprise Board to buy into profit-making companies. One other thing: the National Enterprise Board will not open its books to the watchdog committee on public expenditure in the House of Commons. It's one of the few things that won't, and we haven't been able to persuade the government to let it. The Scottish Development Agency does. We can't get at the National Enterprise Board spending, but it's your money and mine they're spending, and I think that the amounts they're dealing with, we could do with more of that and we could spend it much better. [end p15]

DT

Let's talk about other kinds of money, let's talk about pay. In your manifesto you say that pay bargaining in the private sector should be left to the companies and the workers concerned. You're reported as saying yesterday that you couldn't rule out a pay freeze. Might you introduce a pay freeze and how reconcile it with the manifesto?

Mrs. T.

I've no intention at the moment of introducing a pay freeze. But it would be a very very irresponsible politician who faced with the question: Do you rule out a pay freeze? said yes. Very irresponsible indeed. And so when asked: Do I rule out a pay freeze, of course I don't rule out a pay freeze. It is something that any government may have to introduce for a limited time. Now what was the next question?

DT

But you don't get out of the—you don't get out of a pay freeze without some kind of prices and incomes policy, do you? (Well …   .) You can't suddenly stop it, and that is what you set your face against. [end p16]

Mrs. T.

No, one moment—one moment. You have a pay freeze and one phases out. You can't come out of it suddenly. It's when, ah, incomes policies, they go on and on and on with them—they crack up. They have cracked up under every government. I'm the first to admit that we've introduced them, and Labour's introduced them. They crack up, and one of the reasons why is that the money you have to pay to people you employ bears no relation to what you need to pay to them to get your skilled people. And you know the skilled people have done very very badly indeed under this government—and under incomes policies—and that's one of the reasons why we're going to find it so difficult to expand.

DT

Isn't one of the reasons you're going to find it so difficult to, ah, to make pay—make, ah, the whole area of pay negotiations work is the hostility towards you from the trade unions, ah, as exemplified by Mr. Sidney Weighell saying that a Conservative victory would lead him to tell his members to put their snouts into the trough? Isn't that a legitimate interpretation? [end p17]

Mrs. T.

Wasn't it an appalling phrase? I know so many of my …   .

DT

No, but it was, wasn't it—however inelegant a phrase—a legitimate reaction to your idea that in fact people will be free from tax and people will bargain for what they can get?

Mrs. T.

No. Phrases like that are not a re—legitimate reaction to anything. And what is more, they grievously offend many many members of trade unions. You said something to me which I would like to correct. You said hostility to me from the trade unions. The accurate thing is: hostility to me from some trade union leaders who are themselves committed Labour politicians. They're committed to the Labour movement, the Labour trade movement, for Labour victory. But this morning I've been round with Tory trade unionists for a Tory victory. And I am willing to hazard a guess that this time we shall get more votes from members of trade unions than we've ever had before. Why? Because they agree with the policies, the positive policies—and I'm one of the—the only party just about—that's concentrating on positive policies, day after day. They agree with the [end p18] positive policies we're putting forward. Tax cuts, which help the hard-working man, and differentials. Tremendous emphasis on law and order. A chance to buy your own council house. A chance for your children to go to grammar schools. Pensioners keeping up with prices. More spent on defence, because if you value your freedom, you should be prepared to defend your own …

DT

But you said before …

Mrs. T.

… Those are the policies they want. They're individuals …   .

DT

… do they want to hear you use …

Mrs. T.

… which will have more support than ever before.

DT

…   . Do they want to hear you use the kind of language that you used in the Sunday Express a few days ago, when you were talking about what you called ‘disruptive elements’ and you gave a list, which included most of the public sector workers who've been on strike in the last few months. You said you would pursue those [end p19] disruptive elements with …

Mrs. T.

With unremitting hostility. (Yes) Quite right …

DT

… and is that a word that …

Mrs. T.

You have seen destructive elements today, yesterday, on the television. One of the problems in this country is that we have a few—a comparatively few people—they could be measured in thousands—who wish to destroy the kind of society which you and I value, destroy the free society …   .

DT

You were talking about striking …   .

Mrs. T.

…   . plea—please, this is the most …   .

DT

… ambulance workers, you were talking about …

Mrs. T.

… please, this is the most …   .

DT

… ancillary workers in hospitals. [end p20]

Mrs. T.

Please, this is the most important point you have raised. There are people in this country who are the great destroyers; they wish to destroy the kind of free society we have. They wouldn't have the freedom and the kind of society they wish to impose on us. Many of those people are in the unions. Many many people in the unions do not wish to strike, and I think many of those who struck in hospitals and in the ambulance service didn't wish to. I'm not suggesting that every strike is dominated by those, but a number are. And you saw the reaction of some of the trade union members. You saw at Vauxhall, you saw the man who had almost—gathered tremendous courage to get up and say no to that strike …

DT

But I've also heard trade union leaders speak …

Mrs. T.

We have got to deal with—we have got to deal …

DT

… of chaos, Mrs. Thatcher.

Mrs. T.

Chaos caused by some of those militants. We have got to deal, all of us, with those militants. Don't underestimate the problem. I don't. But we've got to deal with them. And we shall. [end p21]

DT

When a German journalist asked you at your first press conference of the campaign whether there were enough police and troops available to face a confrontation with the unions, might he not have been accurately anticipating what may happen after the trade union reforms by law which you wish to introduce (Yes), assuming that there is resistance among certain strikers?

Mrs. T.

Let's come to—let's come to what you are saying, Mr. Tuohy. Let's come to the nub of the matter. What you are saying is that the gift of the trade unions to Britain is the end of democracy. What you are saying is that the trade union leaders are saying that the whole of this general election is a hollow mockery and a sham. If you are right, and that is what they are saying, then I am going to ask for the biggest majority any country has ever given any government, and I'm going to ask for the biggest majority from the twelve million members of trade unions. I don't think you're right.

DT

I'm simply suggesting, Mrs. Thatcher, that the way to deal with some of the malpractices, if you like, within the trade union movement is not the law, [end p22] which proved itself to be somewhat ineffective to say the least, when the Industrial Relations Act existed, that's by discussion with the trade unions—which the Labour programme intends to do by way of the concordat.

Mrs. T.

Are you suggesting, Mr. Tuohy, that there should be no law affecting trade unions?

DT

I'm affecting that—I'm suggesting that in areas in which trade unionists may well resent, and which indeed may be very difficult to operate, it might be better to discuss than to legislate.

Mrs. T.

Indeed, you're prepared to legislate and to keep legislation, if I understand you correctly, which has put trade unions above the law, regardless of the consequences. In other words, you're prepared to use the law to give trade unions privileges to put them beyond the law. You're not prepared to use the law to protect the law-abiding citizen against some of the things which should never happen. I disagree with you. [end p23]

There's so much law affecting trade unions which in fact has deprived ordinary law-abiding citizens of their right to go about their lawful business undisturbed. I am on the side of the law-abiding citizen, and it was with this in mind—and for the members of trade unions who want just to go about their business, who want just to be able to go to their place of work without being disturbed—and to do that you must change the law. You know, it would have been very very strange if Lord Shaftesbury, the great Tory reformer, looking at conditions which he saw in the mills and in the factories decades ago, had said: I'll do it by a voluntary concordat with the mill-owners. Do you think he would have got it? Of course he wouldn't. He said: there are some things which we must do by law. And then the mill-owners, and now the trade unions, must work within the framework of the law. That involves …

DT

I'm thinking of … [end p24]

Mrs. T.

…   . Can I just summarise what it involves …

DT

Very well, very briefly.

Mrs. T.

… because this is extremely important. Legislation on picketing, legislation to help individuals whose interests are damaged by the closed shop, and legislation on postal ballots. Those three are vital. We shall do them.

DT

On a question of law and order, we are all aware of the events last night in Southall, which indeed you have condemned—you've condemned the violence that took place there. Today the, ah, Police Federation chairman has said that the trouble is that the National Front are apparently allowed to hold these meetings at election time by law. They should be banned, but how that's going to happen, I don't know. What comment have you to make on that?

Mrs. T.

Ah, the National Front have put up a large number of candidates for the general election. I have no sympathy and I detest their cause—but I defend the right of candidates in elections to hold meetings and to get together and to try to put their case across. You know, we wouldn't have half the trouble we did have—and I'm the [end p25] first person to support the police and the judges in upholding the law and I always do—the police wouldn't have half the trouble they did have if people ignored the National Union [sic: National Front] meetings, if they ignored the meetings of all extremists. Let them hold their meetings. But people have—there's no need to go to them, there's no need for other extremists to go to the meetings of those whose policies they detest. That would be very much better. The police do a fantastic job …

DT

Coming …

Mrs. T.

… and we must support them in every way possible.

DT

… coming towards the end of our time, Mrs Thatcher, the last Tory government that came to power, committed to many of the things that you're committed to: to trade union reform, to cuts in taxation, to cuts in public spending, ah, two years later this had been turned round to include incomes policy, to include heavy support for industry. What guarantee has the voter got now that this government, a government led by you, would, ah, not do the same thing in [end p26] due course (Yes) in weeks or months.

Mrs. T.

It did in fact put through trade union reform, and it would have held if we'd won the last election. It did in fact cut government expenditure, and if you look at—look, it took nearly three years to get back to where it was. The curve went down like that. But it didn't go like this government, up like that. It did in fact cut tax very considerably. Tony Barber left it at a much lower level than Mr. Healey has it at now. I cannot offer you—there are no guarantees in politics. I can only put before you the things which I honestly intend to do. And say that I intend to stick to them. There is nothing more than that that I can do. But one reason why I have been very very sparse in my promises is I only made a very few, and I hope people will believe those few, and back us all the way on them.

DT

Mrs. Thatcher, thank you very much.

Mrs. T.

Thank you very much. It went quickly, didn't it?