Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Diplomatic and Commonwealth Writers Association

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: New Zealand House, London
Source: Thatcher Archive: press release; see also THCR 1/17/79 (speaking text)
Editorial comments: Embargoed until 2100. Marked "Please check against delivery". Sections of the text have been checked against BBC Radio News Report 0700 9 April 1981. On p1 of the speaking text, MT wrote: "N.B. Foreign Press Assn SUBSIDISED by F.O. !!!?"
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 2607
Themes: Commonwealth (general), Defence (general), Energy, Trade, European Union (general), European Union Budget, Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Media

Mr. President, your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.

When I first heard that you had been kind enough to invite me to speak here this evening, I asked what exactly the Diplomatic and Commonwealth Writers Association did. I know what you do individually—only too well in some cases! But what was the Association's function?

I was told that its purpose was to “promote the professional interests of those engaged in the reporting of Diplomatic and Commonwealth affairs for news organisations whose head offices are in London.” I must say that it sounded then as though you needed not me but Len Murray or Clive Jenkins.

Nonetheless I asked someone to find out what this weighty formula meant. Back came the answer, “Actually they organise lunches and dinners.” I was greatly reassured. [end p1]

But I did ask my staff one other question. “Which members of the Government have already addressed the Association?” “Lord Carrington, Lord Soames and the Lord Privy Seal” I was told. I had to admit that since you had finally asked a commoner, it would be churlish not to put in an appearance.

(I hope that did not have too dry a flavour.)

What clinched my decision to come tonight was the discovery that I would have Robin Day sitting on my side of the table. Far from asking me what I meant, he was going to have to tell us all what he meant. It was a pleasure not to be forgone.

So here I am—and delighted to have the opportunity to congratulate you on your 21st Anniversary. Your establishment and my arrival in the House of Commons took place at more or less the same time. I hope we can all agree that we have put the intervening years to good use. [end p2]

But there are substantial reasons why 1981 is an appropriate year for me to be speaking here. International affairs are taking up a large part of my time this year. In February I visited President Reagan in Washington.

(And let me say at once how appalled I was by last week's assassination attempt, and how relieved I am at the President's escape. The only mitigating feature has been the opportunity to observe and admire the President's extraordinary courage and resilience—as well as his no less admirable humour. I wish him, once again, and I know you will all join me in this, an early and complete recovery.)

Two weeks ago I was in the Netherlands for a European Council Meeting. Next week I leave for a visit to India. From there I am going on to Saudi Arabia and some of the Gulf States, the first British Prime Minister in office to have visited that vitally important region.

On 1 July, the United Kingdom takes over the Presidency of the European Community for six months. Later that month I will be attending the Economic Summit in Ottawa. In September I go to Melbourne for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, and in October I hope to take part in the North/South Summit in Mexico.

My 1981 programme may be unusually heavy but it does bear witness to the degree of involvement of a modern British Prime Minister in international affairs. It is not a trailer for this evening's speech. If I was to attempt to cover the whole field, I should far exceed the time allotted to me and probably deprive us all of the pleasure of hearing Robin Day 's speech. Instead, after a word about Europe, I should like to look forward [end p3] to next week's visits and say something about our relations with India and the Gulf. But first, of course, I must speak about Poland.


In recent days the world has learned with deep anxiety of the greater Soviet military activity around Poland. That activity has been more intense than at any time since the Odnowa—or internal Renewal—began in Poland eight months ago. We have also studied with concern what has been said in Prague.

The British Government, with our partners in the European Community and our allies in NATO, have made clear from the start that we regard the events in Poland as a purely Polish concern. We have said that we would not interfere in any way. We have not done so. Suggestions that we have are absurd and dangerous. We have helped Poland—and are continuing to help her—with supplies of food, with the rescheduling of debts and with other economic aid. But all this has been done in response to requests from the Polish Government.

We continue to hope that the brave people of Poland will be given the chance to find the path which they seek to a future of their own choosing. For them these are difficult days in which they will need to exercise wisdom, steadiness and realism. But let us be clear: there must be no use of force from any quarter.

An external intervention in Poland would be a disaster for Poland, for Europe, for East/West relations, and for all peoples.

I hope that the Soviet leaders realise that intervention would be a disaster for the Soviet Union too. They know what the occupation of Afghanistan has done for the international reputation of their country. They know what the effects of a new arms race would be for their country and their people. [end p4] The world looks to the Soviet Union to respect the will of the Polish people and their right to express it.


In the face of the developing situation in Eastern Europe the free world must stand together. The members of the North Atlantic Alliance have been consulting together for many months. If we are called on to react we will do so, I believe, far more quickly, effectively and appropriately than after Afghanistan. I believe that other countries too would react strongly. I welcome this.

The Polish crisis affects the European Community more immediately than any group of nations apart from the Warsaw Pact. It demands that we really do co-ordinate our foreign policy—in deeds and in words. We must both be resolute and be seen to be resolute.

Of course European co-operation on foreign policy is built on the foundation provided by the common policies of the Community. If the Community is to be a viable and worthwhile organisation, those policies must be applied in a balanced way and its members must be prepared to take a balanced view of each others problems.

I am not sure that this has always been so of late. [Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 0700 9 April 1981:] There's been too much depression, and too little hope; too much questioning of each others motives. Too much questioning of each others good faith.

The fact is that people in other member countries are no more entitled to query our commitment to the Community than we are to query theirs. The same rules and principles apply to them as apply to us. Our commitment is just as firm as theirs. But it's no more blind or uncritical than theirs. [End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 0700 9 April 1981.] We are no less determined than they to ensure that when Community policies are negotiated our interests, like theirs, are properly served. [end p5]

On a number of issues—the structure of the Budget and the future development of agricultural policy in particular—the Community is at a crossroads. We need a joint effort to solve these fundamental problems. It is now clear, for instance, that Britain and Germany were the only net contributors to the Community's budget last year. The other seven countries were all, in greater or less degree, net beneficiaries. The same pattern is likely this year. It cannot be a healthy basis for long-term development.

I want to tackle these issues in a way which will result in a strengthened Community, with a budget system fair to all the partners. I want a Community in which each and every Member State will accept its responsibilities towards the others secure in the knowledge that its own interests will be respected. To work for a better balance of policies, a fairer share of the burdens and benefits, is not to undermine the Community. It is to rise to the challenge of membership. [end p6]

Policy Outside Europe

Europe, may be central to our foreign policy but it is very far from being the whole of that policy. We have made it clear to our partners that we do not see the Community as just another regional organisation. At the same time we have devoted much effort to demonstrating to our friends outside the Community that neither we, nor for that matter the Community, have turned our back on them.

I believe that we have carried conviction in this effort. My visit to the United States in February brought out clearly the special ties that, now as in the past, bind our two countries. The value we attach to our links with Commonwealth countries, with the other developing countries and with the Gulf will be emphasised next week and, later, in Melbourne and Mexico. Our membership of the Community, the world's largest trading group and greatest provider of aid funds for developing countries, is a help rather than a hindrance in developing these relationships.


In India, one of the most important of the Commonwealth countries and a leading member of the Non-Aligned Movement, I look forward to discussing with Mrs. Gandhi the whole range of international problems. Our two countries have a distinctive contribution to make to the solution of many of them.

But at the heart of this visit will be the relationship between Britain and India. I have been to India twice before. I am equally drawn to the country's marvellous cultural heritage and to the India of today. I admire the way the future is being built there. For India is a place of enormous potential, the scene of one of the most exciting of all stories of national development.

Naturally she faces problems. But to read some accounts you would think there were problems and nothing else. If we in Europe are to understand India, we must start by trying to appreciate the difficulties of governing an area which is a continent rather than a country; an area which contains both sophisticated modern industry and the most acute rural and urban poverty. [end p7]

Preconceptions based too closely on our own experience can be misleading. The disturbances which sometimes capture the headlines certainly happen. But are there fewer in other areas of similar size and population? And they have to be set against remarkable achievements. India is making great strides in science, agriculture and industry. And there is the enormously important fact that, in spite of all the odds, Parliamentary democracy has been sustained and flourishes. To grasp this is to begin to see India in perspective. I hope that my visit will also help to give India a better perspective on contemporary Britain. —I shall aim to convey direct to the Government of India the realities of our political and economic circumstances. —I shall tell them of our efforts to develop here a soundly-based and prosperous society in which all our citizens, of whatever background, can live together in harmony. —I shall emphasise the scope for collaboration in industrial and scientific fields. We are already working together both in our own countries and in third countries. The harnessing of British technology and skills to India's development needs benefits both countries.

—I shall stress that British industry and commerce is alive to the possibilities and anxious to exploit them when given the opportunity. Our firms are well aware that we export twice as much to India as to China and nearly as much as we do to Japan and that the trend is upwards.

The enormous crowds who turned out to welcome the Prince of Wales when he visited India last autumn demonstrated something that we thought we knew but now know we know: that there is an immense reservoir of affection and goodwill for Britain among ordinary Indians. This goodwill is reciprocated here—and not just by Britons who knew the old India. Young Britons who have [end p8] come to know contemporary India also feel it. It is the soundest possible basis for the fruitful relations we already have, and on which I want to build for the 1980s and beyond.

The Gulf

My visit to the Gulf will be the first made by a British Prime Minister. When I discovered this fact I found it surprising. It made me even more eager to go. For the countries of the Gulf are linked to Britain not only by many ties of traditional friendship—but also by the needs of the present. I want my visit to give our friendship a new and more dynamic content.

When we withdrew our forces from the Gulf in 1971 many in the region thought that we were turning our back on them. Indeed there was a period when we were not as active as we should have been. [Beginning of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 0700 9 April 1981:] Perhaps we took old friends too much for granted. Perhaps old friends thought that we were exhausted and interested only in our past. Whatever the reason, that period is over now, and we are making a fresh start in the Gulf. We're once again active and energetic here—on the lookout for new fields in which we can co-operate with old friends. [End of section checked against BBC Radio News Report 0700 9 April 1981.]

Britain does not depend for oil on anyone—but we want to go on importing large quantities of crude from the Gulf to match the needs of our refineries. This makes us true partners in trade.

Britain does not seek to reintroduce troops into the Gulf—but we warmly welcome the steps which the Gulf states are now taking to consolidate their own policies. It is for them, not us, to assess their security needs. Where they decide that they need help with equipment, with technical advice, with training or the sharing of information then we are glad to offer that help. Our technology is second to none, and they know that we are reliable suppliers. [end p9]

The story of the Gulf in the last three decades has been amazing. Never, I suppose, have societies transformed themselves with such speed. They have moved from the age of sail to the age of the supersonic jet in two generations. This has been achieved with much skill and wisdom. We must be glad, for example, of the helpful way in which oil production has been maintained in recent months despite the Iran-Iraq war. We understand the preoccupations of our friends in today's uncertain and dangerous world.

We know how important to them is a just settlement of the Arab-Israel dispute. This is not a problem which can be set on one side. It is central to the relationship between the Arab and the Western world. That is why with our European partners we have been active in helping forward the peace process. We shall continue as we began, not contradicting but complementing from our own standpoint the work of our friends in the United States.

We know that the Gulf States do not wish to see confrontation between the Super Powers within the Gulf. Nor indeed do we. That is why it is so important that the story of Afghanistan does not repeat itself. That is why we must find effective ways of deterring the Soviet Union from further acts of aggression in the Third World.

I visit the Gulf to learn—but also to help forward Britain's partnership with the Gulf States. We have much more to offer one another than phrases about past friendship. The mutual trust inherited from the past is indeed important; we shall use it to build a more extensive and effective framework of co-operation in the future. [end p10]


My programme of travel this year symbolises Britain's varied role in the world. It also confirms that the role remains world-wide. On that stage the Government will continue to work to strengthen security, to extend liberty, and to promote prosperity. We do so in co-operation with our partners in the Community, with our allies in NATO, and with many countries in other continents. It is an uphill task, with reverses being almost as frequent as successes.

And in that task, the role of the Diplomatic Writers and Correspondents, is not without significance. After all, but for you we might not know which were the reverses and which the successes! I would like therefore to offer a toast to the “Diplomatic and Commonwealth Writers Association” : may it have many more anniversaries.