Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference at the National Press Club in Ottawa

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: National Press Building, Ottawa
Source: Thatcher Archive: transcript
Editorial comments: 1650-1720. The Press Conference was chaired by John Ferguson, President of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3808
Themes: Autobiographical comments, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Industry, Foreign policy (Americas excluding USA), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Foreign policy (International organizations), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Media, Northern Ireland, Terrorism, Transport

Ladies and gentlemen, the Prime Minister's press conference will last 30 minutes. Mrs. Thatcher will have some brief opening remarks and then I will take questions from the floor.

Mrs. Thatcher

I thought it might be as well if I were just to make a few brief opening remarks, although, as you know, I have had a very full day, starting with television interviews this morning, going to the office of the British High Commission to meet the staff and then to the British Council, some two hours' talks with Mr. Trudeau and with his Cabinet, followed by lunch at which talks were continued. I met Mr Mulroney, the leader of the opposition, at the British residency, and then the speech in Parliament, and now we are going on to Toronto. I think that the talks we had covered all of the subjects which you would expect—NATO, the stationing of INF, the new initiative at Geneva proposed by President Reagan. We discussed the Korean airliner. We discussed many, many bi-lateral things between Canada and Britain. We came to the conclusion that now the constitution has been repatriated, it would be better to have more bi-lateral visits between ministers than we have had in the past. I think some of our colleagues here feel that we meet many European ministers frequently and discuss naturally and detailed issues of the day but we don't have so much opportunity to discuss them between our ministers and Canadian ministers and so would hope to step up the numbers of bi-lateral visits. We are also very anxious to have more trade and more investment between the two countries. As you know we import rather more from Canada than Canada does from us but everyone has to win their customers. We would hope that we can both of us have more trade and more investment between us. I think my general views on the big East-West problems of the day were set out in the parliamentary speech. I have a very, very full programme in Canada. I wanted to use the time at my disposal as well as I possibly could and do as much as I possibly could. We are now going on to Toronto and later on in the week to Edmonton, to be my first visit to that province and to that city. Now, shall we have questions: [end p1]

1. Jim Munson, CTV

Prime Minister, this question deals with the Williamsburg summit. It has been said that you described Prime Minister Trudeau as all wrong in stating that we should be working harder for peace or words to that effect, instead of agreeing to a Western military build-up as advocated by President Reagan and yourself. Did you find in your talks to-day that the Prime Minister has changed his attitude or does his attitude need to be changed?


No, I find that I don't recognise your description of Williamsburg. We work very, very hard for peace, very, very hard. We work hard in two ways; one by being members of NATO and having the capacity to deter any aggressor and the will to do it, and secondly, by striving to be able to keep our security at a lower level of armaments, and that's what the INF negotiations are all about, what the SALT negotiations were all about, or the mutual balance forced reductions in Vienna are all about, so we work hard for peace in the two ways which I have indicated and we were discussing at Williamsburg exactly the negotiations that are taking place in Geneva. So we do not disagree.

Jim Munson

So you do not recognise those words at all?


I didn't recognize your description in any way, but that is not an unusual phenomenon for me not to recognize questions which are put to me.

2. Aubrey Bell, Infocom Media Services

If you would allow me a question about Hong Kong, of all things. The apparent lack of progress in the British talks with the Chinese over the future of Hong Kong has apparently, according to the press reports, resulted in a crisis of confidence. How would you describe the state of negotiations with the Chinese? [end p2]


We have had a number of talks and we have fixed dates for further talks. They are based upon a communique agreed between myself and Mr. Deng Xiao-Ping and Mr. Zhao Jiyang the Prime Minister when I visited there. We are both anxious to maintain the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong. The talks have been conducted in confidence and we shall go into a further round of talks. I need hardly say that what is happening in Hong Kong is a source of very great concern and I think that the government of Hong Kong has taken certain action to try to help to restore the position of the Hong Kong dollar. Basically, the people of Hong Kong worried about uncertainty and it is political uncertainty which is their concern.

3. Paul Majendie, Reuters

I was returning very much to the same questions of Mr. Munson. It was widely reported that you and Prime Minister Trudeau did have a spirited exchange and had a different philosophical approach to the question of disarmament. Did those differences show again today?


Did we have a spirited exchange? Yes. We don't get through a summit if you're really dealing with real issues without having spirited exchanges. So please don't regard that as anything unusual. And if we merely met like a set of suet pudding sitting around the table, there wouldn't be much point in having a summit. We do have spirited exchanges, that is what they're for, but you saw the agreed communique which came out and the communique was hammered out in spirited exchanges. There's nothing unusual in that. If every time we have a spirited exchange in the summit it's going to be great news, well, as I say, the next thing is you say that we couldn't pull the skin off a rice pudding … [end p3]

4. Jack Best, Canada World News

Prime Minister, did you and Mr. Trudeau have the chance to compare notes on the respective anti-Cruise missile demonstrations in your countries—in the two countries and how to handle them, and if so what conclusions did you arrive at?


No, I did not go into details about our demonstrators, nor did Mr Trudeau. We are aware there will be demonstrations: it is a part of a free society but the demonstrators do not determine policy nor, I believe, do they reflect the overall opinion in the country.

4a supplementary—Jack Best

Are you yourself personally bothered by the effect of these demonstrations (unintelligible) possibility at all that they could alter or delay the deployment schedule for the end of the year?



5 Richard Gwynn, Toronto Star syndicated columnist

Mrs. Thatcher in your speech in Parliament you used the phrase “it's time for freedom to take the offensive” . What did you mean by that? Do you mean some new policy or programme of trying to sell Western ideas in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union?


I think that we have not been very vigilant in proclaiming our ideals to others. We've taken them for granted ourselves. We have been very receptive to the ideas of others but without putting the virtues of freedom and justice in giving you political freedom, personal freedom, economic freedom and prosperity and they are all indivisible, and I believe that we do not proclaim our philosophy enough. We don't talk about it enough. I hope we'll be more forthright in talking about it over the radio networks. And that we have, BBC World Service is famed the world over. As you know it's totally independent of government and that is one of its great strengths, but I just feel that the other side often put their views, we don't put ours vigorously enough. We report theirs but no one is putting ours vigorously enough, and if the third world is met with with a barrage of propaganda, a lot of it falls from the Soviets. And nothing like the true picture from us that we should be giving of the benefits and advantages of our kind of society, and I don't know quite how they are able to judge unless they come and see us. [end p4]

6. Brian Kelleher, CBC Radio News

I would like to return one more time please to the philosophical differences that apparently exist between yourself and Mr Trudeau, which were evident again in the speeches today, where you talked about tests of nerves and our arms deployment, he on the other hand emphasized that part of the communique emphasizing the need to reduce tensions. Now would you say “philosophical differences” is an accurate way of portraying the attitude between yourself and Mr Trudeau and if those kinds of differences exist, as they apparently do, what effect does that have on NATO strategy?


You're struggling to find differences. I'm telling you there's no story. There's no story that 1979 NATO decision was a decision of all NATO countries. In 1979, in December 1979, there's nothing new about the decision. It was a decision to modernize the intermediate nuclear missiles because the Soviet Union had modernized hers and stationed SS20's. It was also a decision to enter into disarmament talks with a view to reducing the number of weapons that need be deployed. There is nothing new about either of these things. There's nothing new about the negotiations and if there have been tensions it is not because the West has failed to put proposals on the table, it is because we have not found a serious and ready response at the negotiating table in Geneva. The tensions are not our fault, the deployment need not take place if the Soviet Union agreed on zero option. If they do not agree then we have to deploy in order to have the deterrent opposite their SS20's. Now all of that is NATO agreement. The first deployment on the timetable, the NATO timetable, are Germany and Britain, then I think Italy comes next and Italy is also firm, and then Holland comes on later, I think in about 1986. But this was a NATO decision. [end p5]

Courtney Tower, Reader's Digest

Prime Minister, Mr Trudeau, I don't have the text of his speech but I think he said something like this, that world leaders must have greater courage and even audacity in seeking out new ways, that the public didn't want familiar nostrums, they wanted greater flexibility in finding new solutions to the tensions that he seems to think are greater than they've been since 1945. Did he propose any new ways, is he likely—did you and he discuss anything other than defending against the Soviet threat?


Yes, I said that we would firmly engage in the battle of ideas. It's important not only to those peoples who are unfree to know that we are prepared not only to defend ourselves but to engage in the battle of ideas, it's important also from the viewpoint of the third world. They are properly able to compare the performance of the free countries compared with the Soviet Union. Both in the personal liberty and way of life of their peoples and in the standard of prosperity, and in the way in which these marvellous fora we have where we can work out our conflicts and differences within parliamentary fora.

You take all of those for granted. I think they are of immeasurable value and you know there aren't really very many new ideas in the world, there are no nuances and certainly we always in negotiations are looking for new nuances, new proposals—there have just been three new proposals which you've heard about today from President Reagan, three more new ones to be negotiated at the inf negotiations table, so there are new detailed proposals going on the whole time. But if in fact you are able to conserve that which is the best in your society then steadily improved, it really is a better way of going about things than any other I know. [end p6]

7a Courtney Tower, supplementary

Persuading the third world of the greatness of your cause is a very long term view, was any decision on other more shorter more immediate overtures that might be made?


You think it may be a long term view. I think it's probably very necessary to put our case to the third world, but I think they are already beginning to see it. They know that aid which is practical, civilian aid, comes from the West. They know that Moscow gives quite a bit of military aid, but if people get embroiled with military aid and advisers it's not easy to get them out. But if you look to see where the ordinary civil aid comes from, the help with food, the help with equipment and materials, the help with investment programmes, it comes from the West. You'll find that years ago the Soviet Union used to say to the third world, look it's Britain and America who are the colonial powers and they posed as if the Soviet Union were the anti-colonionalists. What the third world have seen over these years is Britain give up her colonial territories and put them right through to independence and at the same time they see the new colonial imperialistic power is the Soviet Union acquiring territories. Now all of this is putting one's case and steadily saying to those third world countries that look, don't get too closely embroiled with Communism unless you want to give up all your independence, and if you take in the military aid and military advisers it will be very, very difficult to get them out. I would say that some of that is immediate because there are people already who are in need of advice and in need of help.

8. Geoff Robertson, BBC World Service

I could ask you presumably you knew in advance of your speech about President Reagan 's new proposals at Geneva, and I wondered why you hadn't chosen to mention those proposals in your speech.


President Reagan spoke about them this morning. There are detailed proposals. I saw no need to repeat his proposals in my speech. I said that we had put new proposals on the table. We have been putting new proposals on the table, the United States has on behalf of NATO. I see no reason to repeat them. Do you want to know what they are or do you know? [end p7]

Geoff Robertson

We do know what they are, Prime Minister.


The World Service will but I just wondered if you wanted me to repeat them. No, they are proposals that I indicated to help agreement on a number of balanced, a balanced number of weapons less then full deployment and they are designed to come to agreement, but they are technical, as you know.

Geoff Robertson

We wondered if they might have softened the tone of your speech a little bit.


I didn't think it was hard, it was realistic.

9. Patrick Best, freelance

Mrs. Thatcher, I noted a comment of yours to this effect, that now that the constitution has been repatriated there will be more bi-lateral meetings between the two leaders. This suggests that perhaps the repatriation of the constitution has brought some sort of a change in the relationship between the two countries, that perhaps Canada could be regarded as more of an equal than it was a year ago. Would you comment on that?


I think it was that during that period, which as you will recall went on quite a long time, this particular matter really absorbed a great deal of parliamentary time over here and with us, and which overrode a number of the other things which you would normally have talked about, and therefore it was because that took such big priority, that we did not have so many bi-lateral meetings during that time by other ministers. We met in international fora—you probably noticed that since that particular matter has satisfactorily been dealt with we are restoring a rather larger number of bi-lateral meetings. It is not the repatriation itself but the procedural fact that it absorbs so much time on both sides of the Atlantic and rather tended to overshadow other things that otherwise would have been having bi-lateral contacts about. It's no more than that. [end p8]

9. Korean journalist

Prime Minister, when we have to characterize both countries Britain and Canada, traditionaly foreign policy principles they can be characterized as follows: both are mostly humanistic, neutral, religious, willing to play a moderator's role between the two super powers and most of peace creating. If you agree in principal to my characterization of our traditional foreign policy principles then my first question is this:


I would very much like to see it in writing first, if I could. Then if you would very kindly read out the first question I'll just have a quick look at the principles …   . Korean journalist hands paper to P.M.


… reading—when we characterize both countries' different foreign policy principles they are characterized as follows: both of us are most humanistic, neutral, religious, willing to play a moderator's role between the two super powers and most peace-creating. A moderator's role between the two super powers—NATO is a unity on its own, it is an alliance, it is an alliance. We often act as NATO together. So it isn't that we are playing a role between the two super powers, it's that we are on the side of NATO and both members of NATO, slightly different from the way you put it, but now go onto your question.


I'm sorry, but are you not used to directly dealing with politicians or perhaps not used to the directness with which it comes as second nature.

Korean journalist

My first question is this, if you are given the specific and matured opportunity to demonstrate such traditional roles, would you be personally interested in assuming such a role in achieving your personal goals and mostly successful loving mother in the world today and Prime Minister of great Britain? if your answer is affirmative …   . [end p9]


You're very kind. I realize that you are taking an enormous amount of time and effort to work out your questions which I am deeply appreciative. I would do what I could. I do believe in certain things very strongly. I never hesitate to say them. I never hesitate to try to influence other people by expressing my ideas and even arguing with them. I think the answer would be yes, to the first one, then you went on and (could he just have the second question—I think he has worked so hard on this).


Well, all right, we'll let him have one (unintelligible) but make it very short because we have to get out of here early, I am told.


Yes—and then we'll go on.


Could you read my statement …   .


Reading—because of KAL's recent human tragedy, most world leaders, such as Mr Reagan, Mr Andropov and particular Premier Kim Il-Sung and President Chun are anxiously looking for specific ways to prevent such incredible and (god-ignoring?) human tragedy, and also to re-establish our intellectual standard which we have lost for a long, long time” . Now it was a terrible tragedy and it shocked the world. I think the reaction of the world itself should have been a grave lesson to the Soviet leaders, but we want what you want, to ensure that it doesn't happen again, and those negotiations I think must take place in the international civil airline organization so that we all know that there is a particular sequence of events which, should an airliner stray into other people's air space, it's followed rigorously and this must never happen again. We will do all we can but I do think that you had rightly enormous support. That is the whole of humanity cried out against that terrible atrocity. [end p10]


We have one final question from the Washington Post.

Washington Post

I wish to ask you, madam Prime Minister, about …   . if you would assess for us the significance of the Maze escape and what that does for the Northern Ireland situation, please?


It is a very, very grave incident indeed, the most serious in our prison history. The Secretary of State, Jim Prior, has set up an inquiry immediately and I think we must await the result of that inquiry, in the meantime everything is being done to try to find the escaped prisoners and return them to prison. I don't think you'll find that it will basically alter the fundamental problems of Northern Ireland, which have, of course, been going on for a very long time, which is the majority of the people of Northern Ireland wish to stay as part of the United Kingdom, that everyone in Northern Ireland has a vote. They can vote to be represented at the Stormont assembly in Northern Ireland, they vote to be represented in Westminister so they all have the same vote, it is that some people do not like the result of that ballot and resort to terrorism. This must be overcome. [end p11]

Clyde Sanger, stringer, The Guardian

Mrs. Thatcher, did you and Mr Trudeau talk about the Law of the Sea Treaty which Canada has signed and you haven't, and is your government prepared to sign it now that the second meeting of the preparatory commission on the seabed authorities have a successful meeting in jamaica?


No. We didn't talk about the law of the sea. Our position on the Law of the Sea Treaty remains the same, that the arrangements for the mining of the seabed would, if believe overall be harmful to some of our industries and we wanted a fundamental change in those arrangements. Also, as you know, it is an enormously expensive organization that they have set up, one which could involve also quite considerable technology transfer and certain things over which we have no control, and we and a number of other countries, certainly ourselves, I think the United States and Germany are perhaps those most interested in mining the seabed. It's manganese granuals, isn't it—yes, manganese nodules that are the main thing—still remain very concerned about those provisions in that Law of the Sea Treaty.

Andre Pratte, telemedia

Prime Minister, what importance did your government attach to the Canadian government's decision to accept the testing of the Cruise missile in its air space—was that an important decision as far as you were concerned?


I think it shows the unity of NATO, and therefore was an important decision on Canada's part, but as I said, it was a NATO decision to go ahead and each of us should in fact do our part in seeing that that decision goes ahead effectively, but at the same time trying to negotiate disarmament deals. So yes, it was a significant decision. Thank you very much …