Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1981 Apr 9 Th
Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference for Indian journalists

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Press Conference
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1800-1930.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 5111
Themes: Autobiographical comments, Commonwealth (general), Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Employment, Industry, Energy, Trade, European Union (general), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Race, immigration, nationality

Prime Minister

Gentlemen, can I just say at the beginning that I am very much looking forward to the visit. India is so important and Mrs. Gandhi such a world statesman, that one does not need to give special reasons for visiting India. Those two are important in themselves, but there is just an extra reason: there is a tie between Britain and India. One does not analyse it or explain it; you do not need to either. It is there. I am particularly looking forward to going.

I have been fortunate enough to meet Mrs. Gandhi before. I visited India when I was Secretary of State for Education, in 1973. We had a very happy visit, and I had long talks with Mrs. Gandhi then, and I well remember the press conference we had there, where there were between about 250 and 300, and they asked all kinds of questions and we all enjoyed it very much indeed.

But I also remember, of course, the visits around Delhi, to a village outside Delhi, and we went up to [end p1] Chandigar (phon.) and up to Agra and also to see Fataporsequi (phon.)

I went again as Leader of the Opposition and also saw Mrs. Gandhi. She was in power, and we had, again, wonderful talks and she was kind enough to entertain me to lunch in her home. It was a special privilege, because it is a special privilege to see someone in their home background and to feel the warmth and affection that surrounded her and the universal love and admiration which everyone had for her.

Then, she came to visit this country and I was Leader of the Opposition and also saw her then. So this will be the fourth time.

I believe that you have seen the programme. We have tried to have as interesting a programme as possible, and see as many people. Just a little sightseeing, because I am always anxious to enlarge my knowledge and personal experience of a country and shall, too, be going to Bombay and hoping to do a number of things there.

The Parliament have very kindly asked me to speak to them and I am very sensible of the honour that they do me I think it will be, for me, a very big occasion and I am also looking forward to that.

It should, I hope, be a wonderful experience and I hope that we are, in our own way, trying to give an [end p2] outward demonstration of the tremendous importance we attach to India. She is, as I said, important obviously as being not only a big country, but an influential country, a member of the Non-Aligned Movement and you had that wonderful conference a short time ago; but also because of the bilateral reasons which are there and I hope will always remain there.

Now, Gentlemen, can I leave you to ask questions? [end p3]

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, you are not visiting Taj Mahal.

Prime Minister

I cannot visit everywhere!

Question

You have been there before? I mean Taj Mahal.

Prime Minister

Yes, I have. When I said I had been to Agra. I would gladly go. It is, I think, the most beautiful place I have ever been to and it is even more beautiful when you see it than any picture. It is absolutely beautiful. I went very early in the morning last time. I would love to go again, but time does not permit. It is exquisite; that is the only word I can use. Absolutely exquisite.

When we went, we must have gone to a fort quite a long way away—not Fantaposeki (phon.)—where the person who built the tomb was imprisoned by his son, a small gable round, and he was kept there the Agra Fort, that is, [end p4] and he was not allowed, actually, to look across to the Taj Mahal. There is a small little mirror in which he could look, yes, and he saw the reflection. It sounds a very cruel and unkind story!

They did not build a separate tomb for him, but his son said that he could be buried in the same tomb.

I have been—and remembered!

Question

India is much worried about arming of Pakistan, so if Mrs. Gandhi requests you to press upon the President of the United States not to arm Pakistan, how will you react to that question?

Prime Minister

I will, of course, listen to anything and everything that is said to me about Pakistan. I do think though we just have to realise the difficult situation which she is in, next door to Afghanistan, and we must all realise that. We just have to try to realise one another's problems as if we were in that country. She is in a difficult situation, being on the borders of Afghanistan and having a large number of refugees, well over a million, which have poured across [end p5] the border from Afghanistan to Pakistan, and naturally, Pakistan is worried about her own future under those circumstances, so of course one listens to representations. But I do think we must try to put ourselves in other people's shoes and realise how they feel under those circumstances.

Question (very faint)

Madam, would the British Government, who is supporting some sort of rapid deployment force, adopt measures not only to reassure countries like Pakistan and others, would the British Government also join in and aid Pakistan militarily?

Prime Minister

I cannot give you a reply.

Question

But that is a question which you will be asked, you see.

Prime Minister

It will be a question asked. Well, perhaps we shall have to discuss these matters. [end p6]

Question

Well, it goes along with the policy you have stated of helping America in building up a barrier against Soviet expansion.

Prime Minister

I do not see that we would necessarily withhold some equipment from Pakistan but, you see, we have a rule in this country, which means that I cannot give you a specific answer, because each request we deal with individually when it comes. So I could not give you an answer, except to say that we do deal with a request as and when it comes and look at all the circumstances.

Question

Prime Minister, when you consider that request, experience has shown that all the arms given to Pakistan have been used in the past against India—this time also. Our fear—India's fear—is that arms given to Pakistan will be used against India. In that case, what guarantee will you give to India?

Prime Minister

I can always understand fears of that kind, but I had [end p7] hoped that the relationship between India and Pakistan would steadily improve. Each country has so many problems to solve in raising the standard of living of their peoples, and I am sure that that is foremost in the minds of the government of each country. I am certain it is what is foremost in the mind of Mrs. Gandhi, how to raise the standard of living of the people of India. I do think, however, we must take into account this new factor which there has not been before, which is of course the occupation of Afghanistan, the enormous numbers of refugees who have flooded across the border and, of course, some of them are ethnic groupings who have been used to going across the border from one country to another, and one cannot deny that when they have not necessarily observed the boundaries.

So I think that is a fact that we would have to take into account in any request that came.

Question

Do you really see that by arming Pakistan—I must say that you are seeing that as a potential situation—that the Russians will withdraw from Afghanistan? [end p8]

Prime Minister

I think it is a question of every country having the right to defend its own territorial integrity. That, basically of course, is the purpose of defence of any country, to defend their own territorial integrity and, infact, by having defence, to see that your own territorial integrity is never invaded. So that, really, is the purpose.

Question

But would that mean, also, that…   .I mean, Pakistan alone cannot defend, or Afghanistan alone, cannot defend against Soviet might. Would that also mean then the West will come to Pakistan's help wholeheartedly and it may turn into a regional…   .

Prime Minister

You are asking a question to which I cannot give you an answer. We tried to influence the Soviet Union in every possible way, by saying: “Look, there will be no security for any of us in the world, if either non-aligned countries or any other country, are subject to invasion and holding down by force.” After all, if it were going to happen to one country after another, what security would there be for any of us? I made our position on Afghanistan extremely clear, [end p9] and likewise on Poland, but I think you are asking about things which I…   .

Question

No, I am asking things which are the concern of the Pakistanis themselves. Would the West really stand by them if a situation like this arises?

Prime Minister

Let me put it another way. We try to do everything to see that it does not happen, because what you are suggesting would be one of the most devastating developments in international affairs, were it to happen, and it is the whole of our strategy and tactics to prevent it from happening. Indeed, it would alter the whole of the international scene, were it to happen, and be not just a matter for the West, but very much a matter for India and all countries of the Gulf. It would alter the whole international scene. It would not be a question for one country to decide what we should have to do. We would all have to get together in the United Nations. [end p10]

Question

Perhaps that leads on to the next question.

Given the obvious divergence of your views on Afghanistan and Mrs. Gandhi 's, do you see any consensus emerging at the talks on this issue of vital international interest?

Prime Minister

I think Mrs. Gandhi would take the same view: that no nation should be held down by force, or no government should be kept in power by the armed might of the troops of another country and there are, what, 85,000 to 90,000 Soviet troops in Afghanistan, and all of us—including very much the non-aligned movement—are most concerned and most condemnatory of such things, and all of us would say that any country which is occupied, we must do everything we can and not cease until the occupation troops have withdrawn, because countries must be allowed to determine their own destiny in their own way. Not for us to say what they should choose to do, and very much for us to say that they must be allowed to choose it themselves.

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, you are quite aware that Mrs. Gandhi also [end p11] shares your views that no country should be kept down by force and also, she expressed the desire that this conflict should not be spread all over the world. You also expressed this point of view.

Prime Minister

We all say that we want peace and stability, so that we can develop our own economies and our people can work to their own advantage and not have to spend so much on armaments. But we live in a very dangerous world, and we have seen the number of conflicts which have broken out right across the world, and therefore, I think each and every government says: “Well, I have a duty to defend my own country” and we have to keep quite a lot of expenditure going on defence, but it is something that you cannot suddenly do. You have to have the equipment, the training, the material, and that does mean that there is quite a long period before you can develop defences and it means you have to keep them up the whole time.

In the end, each of us has to say that we have to rely in the last resort upon our own defence for our own security. Of course, if we could all agree to reduce the level of armaments, we in the West would be the first to agree to it, provided we can be certain that those levels [end p12] are true and are properly monitored and can be verified. But we, all of us, want to spend less on armaments.

India is a peace-loving country; we are a peace-loving country; but the fact is that, unfortunately, not every country takes the same view, and I think one of the depressing things in the last few years has been the terrifying hostilities which have broken out and the way in which some peoples have suffered. Cambodia has almost been forgotten by the rest of the world. Perhaps not forgotten, but we tend to push it out of the forefront of our minds and yet the way in which the people there are suffering is dreadful.

Question

(inaudible) …   .but you also support the United States on the rapid deployment force and perhaps yours is at variance because it is thought that you have come to some kind of agreement with Saudi Arabia and some of the Gulf States or are in the process of coming to a military agreement.

Prime Minister

I just do not quite see the difficulty. Indeed, it ties in with what I have been saying. Every nation has to depend in the first instance on its own preparations [end p13] for defence, for her own security. That is so in each and every nation.

The States of the Gulf are getting together to cooperate in the security of the Gulf and you know they recently had a conference to that end. We welcome that very much. So they are providing individually for their own security and then collectively for their own security and when they seek help or advice or training or equipment, obviously we, between us, supply it and as you know, we do supply training facilities and sometimes have loaned service personnel out there to help.

That is the first line of defence.

Now, it has been suggested—and I must say that I think it is a very good idea—that because we do not know where troubles may break out in the world, what the West should have is a rapid deployment force. No-one said it should be stationed in the Gulf; no-one said it should go there without being requested. It would be a good idea, because we do not know where trouble may break out, if the United States pursued its idea of a rapid deployment force.

If she did, we would wish to make a modest contribution to it. If it is there, it is available should other people request it. When trouble breaks out quickly, it could be moved quickly. If it does not exist, then no-one could request it and we could not perhaps help, and so it [end p14] would seem a reasonable insurance policy to have one, if other people anywhere in the world should request it. There is no question of stationing it in the Gulf; no question of it going, unless it was asked for.

Question

But would it not be based somewhere close?

Prime Minister

Well it would not necessarily be based. It could consist of special training, special provision, and then could be detached from the normal places where the armed forces serve. It could be detached quickly to be put to other duties. But after all, it has not yet been formed. It is still an idea, and I think it is a little bit soon to get into too much detail when as yet it is still an idea.

What I am saying is that in strategic terms I think it is basically a good idea. In these matters, you always have to be prepared for what may happen, and if you had one which could move anywhere quickly if requested then it could go.

But you know, look at the things that we never expected to happen that have happened in the last two years. The occupation of Afghanistan was one. The Iran-Iraq war was another. These things have happened. All right, no request [end p15] was ever made, but just supposing something happened and someone turned round to the West and said: “Well, look! Can you help?” and there was no force we could move quickly. Then there would be nothing we could do about it. Of course, you can always help by detaching some of your existing forces, but we thought it would be better to have so somebody trained to move quickly, if it was required.

Question (very faint)

Would this be an extension…   .something had happened in Poland?

Prime Minister

No, I doubt whether it would be an extension of NATO command. NATO cannot operate, by definition, outside the NATO area. Because she cannot operate outside the NATO area, it would be possible for a number of nations belonging to NATO to have arrangements, but not under NATO command. NATO command can only operate within the NATO area.

Question

Prime Minister, you have had talks with King Hussein yesterday and there are certain policy differences within [end p16] the EEC governments about the Camp David initiative and the Camp David process. Would you like to comment on the present British position in view of recent discussions the Foreign Secretary has had with various Middle East countries as well as you had with King Hussein?

Prime Minister

I am a little bit puzzled, because there is no difference within Europe about the European initiative. It was never meant to be in competition with that of the United States, never. It was meant to be complementary to it.

Question

But there has been an expression on the part of the Reagan Administration that the European initiative should not be pursued till the Camp David process has been fully worked out.

Prime Minister

I am sorry. I misunderstood you. I thought you said there had been a difference among the nations of Europe. What I am saying is I know of no such difference between the nations of Europe, because we had that same communique and it has been consistently followed up as a European initiative, [end p17] and the talks continue, and one of its purposes is to try to define more closely what is meant by some of the phrases and expressions we use. You know, “self-determination” , “a homeland or national entity for the Palestian people” , “secure borders for Israel to live within” , the precise defining of those secure borders and how you get from where you are now to where you want to be. The Palestian people are spread rather widely over the region—not necessarily in the West Bank—who would have a say in these matters? It is really to try to elucidate some of these things that the European initiative continues.

I think all of us recognise that you cannot possibly solve the Middle Eastern question without the United States, and we all recognise that the United States is going through a period when she is consulting widely with countries in the Middle East and with countries in Europe about how she should best… what steps she should take next to try to solve this problem, which is undoubtedly an enormous cause of tension within the Middle East, at a time when we really want to diminish tension and not to have continuing sources of tension in the world.

So continue with trying to clarify what is meant by these things. In the meantime, United States is very wisely consulting widely before she reaches decisions on what do do [end p18] next and I do not think you will find very much difference.

And, of course, there are elections in Israel and of course, the result of those will doubtless have a considerable effect upon the next stage.

Question

What is your opinion about the Indian Ocean as a peace zone?

Prime Minister

Everyone wants a peace zone. The fact is each and everyone has really to be prepared to defend themselves and I do not see the circumstances are such that that can be a peace zone at the moment, because the circumstances just are not there, at a time when you have got the forces of the Soviet Union within such a short distance of the Straits of Hormos which is where all the oil comes through to supply so many countries, and we must, I think, have the right to defend ships of our own countries getting goods which are absolutely vital to the life blood of both the agriculture and industry of many countries which depend upon oil for their future.

Question

But the Soviet Union is already asking for the Indian [end p19] Ocean as a peace zone.

Prime Minister

But you see, it really would help if the Soviet Union were not in occupation in Afghanistan. When someone who is occupying and holding a country down by force asks for a peace zone, the two things do not really quite add up!

Question

…   .(inaudible)…   .would this in any way come between the close relations we have with the British Government and India?

Prime Minister

No. If you have a great friendship with one nation, as we have with India, you do not try to determine what friends India should have. That is a matter for India. Because we are great friends with another country, you do not try to lay down conditions about the friends which they shall have.

Question

Prime Minister, Lord Carrington must be back from his tour of Pakistan. [end p20]

Prime Minister

Yes, he is back, very late last night.

Question

Please tell us what he discussed with President Zia of Pakistan.

Prime Minister

Well, I am sorry, but I cannot. I have not even had the time to see Lord Carrington long enough but, of course, his discussions would have an element of confidentiality, but Lord Carrington will have been doing everything to try to help in view of the Afghanistan situation and recognising the difficult situation in which Pakistan finds herself on the borders of that country.

Question

Prime Minister, may I ask why this is the first time a British Prime Minister is going to India and not visiting Pakistan? What is the reason?

Prime Minister

Oh dear! I shall be in great trouble! Well one day [end p21] I shall go and visit Pakistan, obviously, but Lord Carrington has been there and that is very important too.

Question

I heard you last night at the Diplomatic and Commonwealth Press Correspondents Dinner and I never heard a statement by a British Prime Minister showing so much understanding towards my country. I hope I am right in saying that, with respect. Now, do you feel it reflects a new reality in the relations between these two countries which have been founded on sentimental and other intangible areas; do you think it is the beginning of a new concretisation in economic terms of this old tie?

Prime Minister

I hope that perhaps it may be. It is certainly the view which I take.

Certainly, the historical ties bind us but it is a lot more than that. It is a feeling as well. But also, what I was trying to show there was that I think there has not been a sufficiently deep understanding of first, the problems of India, governing a country of that size. There are so many different languages, so many different peoples, so many different provinces. This is something of which we have no experience, of how to have democratic government in a [end p22] country of that size, of that variety, and of that difference. And to pay tribute to the immense achievement of keeping democracy in India. I cannot stress too much what a great achievement that is, and it could only have been achieved through the deep feeling of the people of India, that this is what they want, this is right for them, that they really do value it and exercise their democratic rights.

And I feel that we must understand the problems. You know, we all say that our press friends do not speak enough about the achievements of a country. There are enormous achievements in India, if I might very respectfully say so. As I say, both in agriculture and science, in technology and engineering, enormous achievements. And I was trying to say: please, I understand the problems and I applaud and proclaim the achievements, and on that basis, on the basis of mutual understanding, there is a great deal that Britain and India can do together and I think that we might talk about that when we go there.

Question

Madam, there is a growing feeling in India about tariff protection and the tariff barriers imposed against manufactured Indian products like garments and textiles, etc. We in India do realise that there are recessionary conditions [end p23] here, but it will help a great deal if there was a better scope of trade and in the way of lifting the tariff barriers and removing some of the these impediments to let the trade grow instead of aid coming in. Well now, what would you comment on that?

Prime Minister

We do not have many tariff barriers except the GATT ones now on textiles. We do have quotas, certainly, but on the whole, a very generous quota does come into this country. They are negotiated through the European Economic Community and, of course, I am tackled every day and every time I have questions in the House of Commons about our own textile industry. Indeed, I was tackled about it today, because we are losing an enormous number of jobs in the textile industry and obviously has a political problem in which she wishes to export textiles. We take in quite a lot. We have a political problem, because we are losing such a lot of jobs in textiles because we have so many imports and people say try to have a look at the quotas again.

So I do recognise there is a problem both ways, but please, I hope that other people will recognise ours too. In the textile industry, I think we have lost quite a lot of jobs, something like 100,000 in the last two years. At least that in [end p24] the last two years. There are often in areas where there are not other jobs. So we both have a problem and I think we must just recognize that, but we do take in quite a lot of textiles and garments from India and I would have thought that on the whole they do have a very good market here.

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, I would like to ask you a question, with this Nationality Bill, we are having great difficulty in explaining it to our readers. They are getting very much agitated over this. I wish you could say something …   .

Prime Minister

I hope they are not getting agitated. We do try to explain the true state of affairs.

As you know, we are one of the few countries which I think has never in practice defined British nationality in relation to the people who have the closest connections with this country. Almost every other country in the world defines nationality in terms of the people in its country having the closest connections with it.

Now, this is what we have now done and, of course, the nationality provision is not defined on any racial basis at all. It is defined on the basis of the people who are here, [end p25] and the laws which apply. They do not apply on a racial basis.

Now, I know that the Indian Parliament was very concerned about some things, very concerned indeed. Because of their concern and because of representations there and in this country, we made four major amendments, of which you know, which we believe met their concern. So we did in fact respond to those representations and we responded very quickly to those representations and the representations we had received here. I believe that when people realise what was done I hope they will be very pleased with it, and that it was done in response to those representations.

Question

But one thing: there are so many people holding UK…   .passport…   .in India…   .now if the Bill comes into force, they will lose their right immediately, so if you are going there, are you going there with some answer for those people?

Prime Minister

In the end we agreed, although it would take some time, to take in United Kingdom passport holders…   . [end p26]

Question

Expelled from Africa.

Prime Minister

Yes, and then they were not, but as you know, we do take some of them. I might say that I have a large number of them in my own constituency.

Question

Your speed is very slow, Madam, to bring them here, because their children becoming…   .there are difficulties to come over here.

Prime Minister

Yes, the speed certainly has been very slow and part of it as you know because of the number of people we still are taking in who are not United Kingdom passport holders. Some still come in, of course, every year.

Question

Yes, but a lot of people still holding a British passport sitting in Bombay and in Gujarat and other provinces and they are really fed up to come to British High Commission [end p27] to ask for …   . and there is a very limited quota.

Prime Minister

I cannot take everyone in straightaway for reasons you will know very well. We have two and a half million unemployed. I think we have some half a million people here who at some time in the past came from India, some of them coming through Kenya and Uganda, half a million, from India alone. It is quite a large number. I do have two and a half million unemployed and I am sure you would understand that what is absolutely vital is that I keep race relations here absolutely harmonious. This is my very very great concern.

I believe, if I might respectfully say so, we have succeeded and I do not want there to be any problem during this time of unemployment, so I cannot suddenly take in everyone and, as you know, we always said that we would take them in little by little. I do not believe that that undertaking was affected by the Nationality Bill.

Question

One solution to this problem, that if you keep the right of the UK citizen passport holders intact, then I do not think that they are in a hurry to come here. [end p28]

Prime Minister

I had not understood that it was affected in any way by the Bill, their right to come here.

Question

…   .their right will be affected, and another thing is…

Prime Minister

I am sorry, would you say that again?

Question

They will be treated as British overseas citizens and British overseas citizens…   .

Prime Minister

Yes, but their right to come here is not affected. It is regulated now, because we agreed that we could not take everyone in just like that. As you know, we had to take…   . India very kindly said she would take some, provided they still had an ultimate right to come to Britain, and as you know, we took in a tremendous number and indeed, I might say that they settled, many as you know doing extremely well [end p29] and the whole thing has gone very harmoniously and very very well indeed. My great wish—throughout what is a difficult period in the world recession and with two and a half million unemployed, is to keep things absolutely harmonious and I believe we are succeeding.

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, the lighter side of it: do you like Indian dishes? Any particular Indian dish you like and can you cook an Indian dish?

Prime Minister

I can only cook what you would call a very mild curry and I am afraid that I usually cook the Madras curry because that is the one we usually cook in this country. Yes, I like them very much indeed.

Comment

On behalf of my colleagues I would like to thank you very much for giving us the time because I can see we have passed…   .

Prime Minister

May I thank you very warmly for coming?