Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1983 May 27 Fr
Margaret Thatcher

General Election Press Conference

Document type: speeches
Document kind: Press Conference
Venue: Conservative Central Office, Smith Square, Westminster
Source: Conservative Party Archive: transcript
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 0930-1000. Poor sound quality meant that several of the questions were not transcribed, including one from a journalist who asked MT if she felt in any way intimidated by the latest IRA assassinations. Her answer was simply, "No" (BBC Television Archive).
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 5032
Themes: Conservative Party (organization), Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Defence (Falklands War, 1982), Employment, General Elections, Trade, Foreign policy (USA), Northern Ireland

(Beginning of tape inaudible. It starts with the Prime Minister and then goes into William Whitelaw.

The Rt Hon William Whitelaw Home Secretary

… the Government has taken over the last four years, but I think it would be right to say that we now do see the start of some encouraging signs. That what we have been doing is on the right lines, and that's very important. But the figures for the first quarter of 1983 in the Metropolitan Police district which is one of the most highly charged, naturally, show a drop of three per cent in offences of serious crime recorded and a rise of three per cent in the number of crimes solved over the corresponding period to 1982. That's only a start, but it is an encouraging start and I believe it shows we're on the right lines. Let me then remind you of the massive response which we have made because they are very important. First of all we have built up in the last four years the strongest and best equipped police service this country has ever had. We are giving much more attention to training recruits. We have been able, because we have many more policemen, to put bobbies back on the beat. I am interested that this is one of the proposals that the Labour Party now have, but of course it was them during the 1970s, under Mr. Jenkins, who decided that because they hadn't got the policemen they had to put them into the Panda cars and take them off the beat. I'm glad they have been converted to our view, but I have to point out that if it hadn't been for our action in getting more policemen it wouldn't be possible to produce that policy. We have also built up considerable co-operation with the community, that is crucially important, and policemen are being trained to that effect. We passed the Criminal Justice Act which many of whose measures come into effect this week, which has given stronger powers to the Judges and magistrates, a wider range of non-custodial sentences, and has for example made parents more financially liable for the offences commited by their children. That Act is extremely important. We have instituted a large number of Attendence Centres, both for 17 to 21 year olds and for younger to deal with the prospect of getting hooligans off the streets during their prime leisure time and particularly the football hooligans. We have set up the largest prison building programme in this century with two new prisons started each year, so that we can make sure that there will be places in our prisons for all those whom the Judges and magistrates decide to send there. We have also increased the number of prison officers, which again is crucially important. For the future, we will reintroduce the Police Bill. I would just like to remind everyone of some, of one of the policies which in that particular Act when it was going through Parliament was attacked. This was the question of stopping and searching for offensive weapons. The critics do not seem to have remembered that this power was instituted in Scotland, has been working in Scotland for two years with the same sort, with exactly the same sort of safeguards that we have proposed for England and Wales. It has been a remarkable success in Scotland. I really must ask those who criticise it, and those like the Labour Party who oppose it, what on earth is the reason why the police in England and Wales shouldn't have the same powers which the police in Scotland have, which have been working very well? There are two other parts to the Police Bill, which are important, first of all tape recording. The Bill allows for tape recording, and we have already started pilot schemes for tape recording, you cannot get it working successfully without trying it and that is the purpose of the pilot project. We have also agreed that we will move towards an independent [end p1] prosecuting system, and we have set up a working party to that end. It is something which is not easy, and there are many problems which the Attorney, the Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary have to work out together. We have of course, also realised the importance of violence on our screems and the problems which affect the home and the discipline in the schools, all of which contribute to crime in a modern society. That is why we have said we will legislate about video cassettes, which I think are violent, do encourage violence and give great offence to many families for their children seeing them. I think this is extremely important. Could I end by two points about what the Labour Party are putting forward? One of the main propositions they have is that there should be political control of police forces throughout the country. There is all the difference in the world between influence. That is a Police Authority discussing the plans with the Chief Constable, while the Chief Constable is responsible operationally, but discusses with his Police Authority, influence with the community, that is crucially important. But control by political councils would be doing something which we have never had in this country. It would undermine the independence of the system of justice in this country and that could be very damaging indeed, both for the police and indeed for the whole future of the Criminal Justice system. And I believe that is something we should set our minds against, very properly, and very firmly indeed. Lastly, of course, the Labour Party consistently now have decided to oppose the Prevention of Terrorist Act. We have said we will institute one on a limited basis and we will have a new one in the early part of the next Parliament, at once. I believe there can be on doubt over recent years, and after all I have had the responsibility for it for four years, that the value of the Prevention of Terrorism Act in dealing with terrorism in this country has been absolutely crucial. To do away with it, I have to say, would be an act of the most gross irresponsibility.

The Prime Minister

Thank you very much. Michael HaversAttorney.

Sir Michael Havers—Attorney General

Well Prime Minister, the increase in crime has of course, greatly increased the number of criminal trials. Between 1979 there has 50,000, in 1982 67,000. But the Lord Chancellor has managed to cut down the waiting time remarkably. It is down nationally by about 15 per cent that the time awaiting trial. And in London, which has always been very bad, it's down now by 22 per cent. This is partly because of forty extra Courts, about 10 per cent increase in Judges and there are going to be 50 more Crown Courts built over the next five years. I have also tried to stop unnecessary prosecutions, by giving guidelines to all the prosecutors so that they will all work in the same way. And we have also sought to speed up trials by cutting out unnecessary trials, trying to cut down the number of defendants, particularly in big fraud cases.

The Prime Minister

Thank you. Now can we have questions first directly to this subject. Yes.

Question

(inaudible).

The Rt Hon William Whitelaw—Home Secretary

No, because you have misunderstood what I have said, if I may say so. I differentiated between influence and control. Influence the Police Authority has. Influence I have with the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. Quite rightly and quite properly. [end p2] But I do not have control over the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, nor Police Authorities have control over their Chief Constables. They don't decide for example, who the Police,—I don't decide in London. It would be a disaster if any politician did—who the Police should decide to put charges against and seek to prosecute. That is something which must be independent of politicians. And if once you have Party political control of the police operation, that independence of who is to prosecute, whether the police are going to prosecute would be gone, and that is what I mean when I say you would change the whole independence of our judicial system in this country and the police independence from Party political control.

The Prime Minister

Next question.

Question

… Northumbria had a fifteen per cent increase in crime. Why last week did you turn down the Northumbria Police authority's …

The Rt Hon William Whitelaw—Home Secretary

Because we have to decide on the establishments in the country—don't forget the policemen are very properly now and expensive resource [sic] and both the central Government and the local Government, central Government pays 50 per cent and we have to decide where the police are most needed in the country. And we also have to—which the Inspectors of Constabulary do—look into what particular actions various Police Authorities have taken. Have they used more civilians instead of policemen for various jobs that civilians can do? Have they used it enough? We have to make these judgements, we have overall in the country to decide what extra policemen, where they should go. We have given, of course, considerable priority and indeed in the future years the Metropolitan Police. And I don't think that anyone, seeing the problems of London, would deny that that was the place to put the major priority. We have and we will consider increases in establishment in other counties. Northumbria is one which didn't get any this year, but certainly we are always considering increases in establishment all over the country in the future.

The Prime Minister

Thank you.

Question

On the question of unnecessary prosecutions, homosexuals … suffer particularly severe legal handicaps. The Conservative Party is the only Party which now has no official party policy on this question. Why is that?

Sir Michael Havers—Attorney General

Well, if consenting adults in private, there's no prosecution, there's no criminal offence.

Question

There is.

Sir Michael Havers—Attorney General

Certainly not.

Question

Adults are eighteen.

Sir Michael Havers—Attorney General

No, over 21. There's no prosecution there.

The Prime Minister

Yes.

Question

(inaudible). [end p3]

The Rt Hon William Whitelaw—Home Secretary

Because we are still, we have said all along that we would assess the results over a period, and we are now preparing statistics and they will be ready later this year. The answer is, we have two junior detention centres and two senior ones. We have in fact had considerable successes in both regimes. What I would like to say is that we have not been able until the Criminal Justice Act to bring down the shortest sentence. I believe it's crucially important for first offenders, I want to see a very short sentence, so that you get the impact of it and do not give the offender the chance to get together with others and learn more criminal ways. In the Criminal Justice Act we have brought down the shortest sentences available to the magistrates and judges to three weeks, and we think that that is more important and will have more effect in these particularly strong detention centres.

The Prime Minister

Question at the back.

Question

(inaudible).

The Rt Hon William Whitelaw—Home Secretary

Well, the statistics are still being prepared and they will be published later this year. They will not be published until we are fully clear of what they are, what is going to come out … we have a fair and proper result, we must have a fair and proper result, which is exactly what has happened with these conviction rates.

The Prime Minister

One at the back, one here and one here.

Question

(inaudible).

The Rt Hon William Whitelaw—Home Secretary

Well, in more or less exactly the same form, but that must be a matter for the new Government and the new Parliament, but more or less in exactly the same form as it was in the House of Commons when it left and was going to the House of Lords.

Question

(inaudible).

The Rt Hon William Whitelaw—Home Secretary

We believe it right that those who apply for British Nationality should pay a fair cost of their fees. We have looked into what the Select Committee says, but we will consider whether the level of the fees is right, have looked at what the Select Committee says. We believed it was but we will consider it again as a result of the Select Committee.

Question

Can I ask Mr. Whitelaw, if, as it now seems probable, the Conservatives get a very large majority in this election, and that large majority is likely to include many people, many Conservative MPs who favour the reintroduction of capital punishment, what will you feel about that when the new Parliament … for the reintroduction of hanging?

The Rt Hon William Whitelaw—Home Secretary

Well, I very much hope you are right as to the very large Conservative majority we're going to get after this Election. That is what I would love to see, and I hope you're right in saying you think we'll get it. As for how that will have an effect on a debate on Capital Punishment, no one can tell. There will be a free vote, as has been in the past. I have always said that my views [end p4] —and they are well known, but if the free vote came out in favour of it, very well, and if I was in charge of the responsibility, I would of course carry it out fully and take exactly the responsibilities that Parliament decided the Home Secretary should take.

The Prime Minister

Yes.

Question

(inaudible).

The Rt Hon William Whitelaw—Home Secretary

Well, you couldn't relate it to my experience of the last four years because of course we haven't had hanging in the last four years. So on that basis I couldn't say. I've made my views [known?] on hanging, but I'm only one individual, and I don't think I could express a view on what the impact would be, it would be a very brave, and probably a very unwise person who would, because there are many different individual views about it.

Question

(inaudible).

The Rt Hon William Whitelaw—Home Secretary

Well, certainly that is an argument. I asked the new Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to look at the organisation. He has already made various changes in the basic organisation and he is looking at further ones. Personally I think problem is that if you were to split up the Metropolitan Police Area, you would find you would create very great difficulties. I think it would be a mistake, but I do recognise that it is a very large force to deal with and it does have problems. If you do split it up, how you would do it is the great problem. He believes he is doing the right course with more de-centralisation, and I think he is.

The Prime Minister

Any other questions on this subject? There's one at the back.

Question

(inaudible).

The Rt Hon William Whitelaw—Home Secretary

No, I saw him at the time when he put forward his Bill. I explained why it was, why I did not think his Bill would be suitable in the circumstances, he accepted it was more suitable to have a Government Bill based on more research before we introduced the Bill. It is not an easy subject to deal with and it would be difficult to legislate on. I believe it is a Government duty to do it and he agreed with me and that is what we intend to do.

The Prime Minister

Yes, still on this subject and then we'll open it up.

Question

(inaudible).

The Rt Hon William Whitelaw—Home Secretary

Well, it does of course, because we believe that for the protection of the public it is right that there should be places in our prisons for all those people the judges and magistrates think it is essential to put there, and if anybody would wish to challenge that view, then they had better talk to the citizens who wish to see themselves protected. I have always taken the view that that is what the prisons have got to do. I recognise the problems that [end p5] are faced in our prisons, the prison officers have in fact done a very remarkable job in very difficult circumstances. But the prisons are there as part of the criminal justice system, to play its part, it contains all those people who it is believed by those who dispense justice should be sent there. It is a crucial part of the criminal justice system, it is an absolutely crucial part of the response to crime, and it is only a pity that this country did not do, what we have done in the last four years in the prisons, a very long time ago.

Question

(inaudible).

The Rt Hon William Whitelaw—Home Secretary

No, it does not. What it does mean is that in a free society, where crime is rising, as of course it is rising in every free society in the world, you have got to make a proper response to it and part of that proper response is in fact to have a large number of places in your prisons so that those who commit crimes can be properly dealt with and the protection of the public can be looked after.

The Prime Minister

Thank you. Shall we open up questions now? I'm not stopping those on this subject. I'm taking those along with those you may wish to ask.

Question

(inaudible).

The Prime Minister

No, no.

Question

(Something about Northern Ireland.)

The Prime Minister

We are governed by the existing law, which as you know, there can be no change in the Constitutional arrangements of Northern Ireland without the consent of the Northern Irish people. May I put it more positively? Unless the majority of the Northern Irish people wish there to be a change. I do not believe the majority of Northern Ireland people wish there to be a change. I believe they wish to stay part of the United Kingdom.

Question

(inaudible).

The Prime Minister

I thought I gave you the answer to the question yesterday. The T. M. Finnegancandidate produced an excellent statement. I hope that in a free country people are allowed to change their mind, they are allowed to say where they think their previous allegiance had been totally and utterly wrong, where that allegiance would be utterly repugnant to them now, and I think that if you are going to say that no one is ever in entitled to change his mind, but no one is ever entitled to fight for a cause in which he now whole-heartedly believes, and over which he has worked for some time, then I think you are putting a total restriction on democracy which I would not accept.

Question

(inaudible).

The Prime Minister

I have not heard that anyone has successfully challenged the facts which Mr. Heseltine gave.

Question

(Something about the candidate for Stockton.) [end p6]

The Prime Minister

One moment, have you seen the statement which the candidate put out? I may say I think you're being very, very unjust. I thought he put out a very, very good statement yesterday, I have it here, I believe in which he made his position perfectly clear. I will read it. ‘I am deeply distressed at the embarrassment I caused my Association and am very grateful to Sir Keith Joseph, who in the knowledge of the fact is coming to Stockton to support me. For my part I want to make it clear that I deeply regret my former association with the National Front which ended eight years ago. I realise that their policies are totally wrong-minded and repugnant to all decent people. This is an episode in my political life which I deeply regret and I have worked very hard to rehabilitate myself politically. The policies which I now support whole-heartedly are those set out in the Conservative Party manifesto, which says “we are thoroughly opposed to racial discrimination wherever it occurs and are determined to see that there is real equality of opportunity. The Conservative Party is, and always has been strongly opposed to unfairness, harassment and persecution that has been inspired by racial, religious or ideological motives” . I now realise that it was wrong of me not to tell the Association what I thought everybody knew'. May I say that if you are going to sit in judgement and say that a person can never change their minds, then I must say to you, that I think that you are totally harsh, callous and wrong.

Question

… Mr. Finnegan was still writing for the National Front newspaper ‘Searchlight’ a preface in 1977, two years after he said he'd left.

The Prime Minister

I have—I am standing upon his statement. Any accusations which you'd make, perhaps you'd very kindly put in writing and let us have them.

Question

(inaudible).

The Prime Minister

Well I entirely agree. People are allowed in a democratic country to change their minds, they are allowed, thank goodness, to turn round and totally and utterly condemn their former allegiance. The point is that this person has. If people wish similarly from Communism, and many, many have, then I totally agree. We accept them.

Question

(inaudible).

The Prime Minister

But I have not necessarily seen, I do not know whether any candidates have issued, whether any people have issued statements of that kind. They are perfectly entitled to do exactly the same as that candidate has done. But I am utterly amazed that we have in the middle of an Election, which is about people changing their minds, accusations that some people actually might change their minds.

Question

Isn't it unusual to have an approved candidate that two members of your Cabinet wouldn't be seen dead with?

The Prime Minister

But they are not asked to be seen dead with them, they're asked to be seen alive with him.

Question

… publicly in front of the television cameras. [end p7]

The Prime Minister

I am, …   . do I understand that you wish to go on and on about this? I have read, very well, then I shall go on and on reading out the statement which I thought was a very good statement. Now which paragraph do you wish me to read out again? Do you wish me to read out the bit in which he says that he finds the policies totally and utterly repugnant? And may I said that if he didn't, he would not be standing for us. He says he finds the policies of the National Front, ‘totally and utterly repugnant’ and so do I. And he would not be a candidate for the Conservative Party unless he did find them utterly repugnant. Can I make that absolutely clear? Now, can I have the next question please?

Question

Sir Keith Joseph and Mr. Wilson do not find that statement of his sufficient.

The Prime Minister

Sir Keith Joseph went up to Stockton.

Question

And down from the platform.

The Prime Minister

I am very sorry but I am told that is Keith JosephKeith's habit. I think you're being if I may say, just a little bit trivial and a little bit unjust. Sir Keith went to support that candidate, it would be and was in the knowledge of that statement which was made before Keith went. Sir Keith Joseph is just about one of the most superb people in politics, in any Party, in any country. And I am only too delighted to hear that you are supporting Keith fully. But Keith was up there supporting the Conservative candidate in the election, who finds National Front policies totally and utterly repugnant. So do I. Now any other questions?

Question

Prime Minister, in view of your lead in the Opinion Polls … where do you regard yourself if anywhere most vulnerable in the next fortnight?

The Prime Minister

The election is not over, we have nearly a fortnight to go and it will be fought as vigorously in the coming fortnight by every Conservative candidate as it has been in the past fortnight. And every single candidate must to get in every vote that we can for our cause. We want to win as many seats as we can, but we also want to get every single vote that we can, because I believe that I'm cautiously optimistic about our chances of winning, but I believe that we should be able to do more in the wider world if we have the authority of a big majority and a very, very large vote. So I want not only a big majority but as many many votes to support that majority if possible.

Question

(inaudible).

The Prime Minister

I do not myself make forecasts, I notice that Nigel LawsonNigel gave the reasoning and statistical reasons for that. There are opportunities available now. Resale, retail sales are very much up as you know, that means British people are buying goods. There are opportunities there. The question is whether the opportunities and the demand both here and overseas is going to be filled by efficient, well designed British goods, or whether British people are going to use their wage packets to buy foreign goods, because some of those may be better designed or different. Now we cannot forecast that. We know the demand is there, the figures show it. We know the opportunities are there for new technology for making goods which are not yet made in this country. How far they'll be [end p8] taken advantage of, I don't know, but the figures show if we regain one per cent of our home markets, only one per cent gives eighty thousand more jobs. If you gain more than one per cent of the world markets you gain 250,00 jobs, so you can see that if you regain four or five per cent more of your home market, and the world export market, by our performance then the jobs will come. It all comes down to, can our industries and services win customers against competition? If they can we can win jobs.

Question

Prime Minister, do you expect to come back from the United States with the dual-key arrangement …?

The Prime Minister

The latest arrangement on joint decision was given in answer to a written question in the House shortly before we rose. It was this: The existing undertakings between the United Kingdom and the United States governing the use by the United States of nuclear weapons in bases in this country have been jointly reviewed in the light of the planned deployment of Cruise missiles. We are satisfied that they are effective. The arrangements will apply to the United States Cruise missiles based in the United Kingdom, whether on or off base. The effect of the understandings and arrangements for implementing them is that no nuclear weapon would be fired or launched from British territory without the agreement of the British Prime Minister.

Question

Dr. David Owen said this morning that he hoped that you would take the opportunity of your trip to America to open the dialogue with the organisation …

The Prime Minister

The Williamsburg is an economic summit. We do of course discuss major matters of importance particularly East-West relations but its main purpose is an economic summit. Doubtless we shall discuss the other matters, including some on disarmament. I do not think that is the place to raise the future of the Falklands. The place to raise the future of the Falklands, if anywhere, is with the people of the Falklands. And they have made their views very, very clear. They wish to stay British. That is British Sovereign territory, discovered by Britain, peopled by Britain, have been in continuous control for the last one hundred and fifty years. We shall defend their right to stay British. And I do ask people, who are making all sorts of comments which throw doubt upon that pledge, to consider the alarm and despair which they will be raising in the hearts of the Falkland Islanders. People who were so recently invaded by fascist Argentina. Next question.

Question

(inaudible).

The Prime Minister

No, we have in fact updated the agreement. I have read out the terms, they are absolutely clear and you will have seen that President Reagan also made some comment about them yesterday, which he referring to the arrangements said, this constitutes a sort of veto power doesn't it? We have an understanding about this that we and the United States would never act unilaterally with any of our Allies on this. The British people, he said, should rest assured that the power to fire missiles does not lie with the Americans alone. But it's all there in the reply which I gave in the House. And I expect that Cruise and Perschings will come up in the general discussion [end p9] we have about East-West and on disarmament proposals. I tried to give some attention to disarmament proposals in a speech I made last night. The difficulty is not that we're not putting up proposals, the difficulty is that the Soviet Union is not properly negotiating in Geneva or in Vienna, where we have been negotiating on conventional forces for nine years. Next question.

Question

(inaudible).

The Prime Minister

We were up in Yorkshire yesterday, we shall be in the North West of Scotland on Tuesday and then North of Scotland Wednesday morning and then we are, as we come down, going to the North West, those are our arrangements so far. But I do ask you to remember that I have as far as I am able come back to London each day to take this morning press conference which I do happen to think is rather important and which I actually really rather enjoy as well as campaigning. Thank you very much.