Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to the Sri Lankan Parliament

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Colombo, Sri Lanka
Source: (1) Thatcher Archive: speaking text (2) BBC Radio News Report 0700 13 April 1985
Journalist: Mark Tully, BBC, reporting
Editorial comments:

MT began speaking at 0900. She experienced some difficulty delivering the speech (due to a sore throat, according to the BBC) and broke off to ask for some water. The incident received significantly more publicity than the speech itself.

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2721
Themes: Economic policy - theory and process, Trade, Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Foreign policy (International organizations), Commonwealth (general), Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Defence (Falklands), Terrorism


There are few privileges for a British Prime Minister to rival that of being invited to address the Legislature of a fellow Commonwealth country. I thank you for the honour which you do me and, through me, the people and Parliament of the United Kingdom.

Over the years I have enjoyed many contacts with members both of Government and Opposition in Sri Lanka.

Last year we had the particular pleasure of receiving your Junius JayewardenePresident on a visit to London. I was pleased also to welcome your Prime Minister, Mr. Premadasa, whom I first met in [end p1] 1975, and Mr. Anura Bandaranaike, Leader of the Opposition, whom I see here today.

It is for me a crowning of those contacts stretching back over thirty years and a fulfilment of a dream to be able to visit your country and speak to you in this Chamber.

Sri Lanka

Already over three hundred years ago, a sturdy British traveller Peter Mundy, wrote that Sri Lanka was “the fruitfullest, the most pleasant, and the most delicious island, that is in all these parts of the world”.

Even my brief visit has shown me enough to [end p2] know how well this verdict still stands.

You are representatives of a country and a people with a long and proud history.

The remains of an ancient civilisation are visible in many parts of your island.

Two thousand years ago your irrigation system far exceeded in scale and sophistication anything existing in Europe.

That great chronicle, The Mahavamsa, has passed down to us the story of your island's development.

Your history brought you into contact with Portugal, with the Netherlands and, finally, with Britain. [end p3] It is a source of pride to us that today so many of your institutions and so much of your legal system are fashioned on those of the United Kingdom.

Democratic Traditions

You were the first of the Asian countries associated with Britain to arsquouire a legislative council with non-official members.

Thus, some 150 years ago in 1833, began the tradition of representative, democratic government which continues today and which this splendid building symbolises.

Thirty years later you were the first country in Asia to select those who were to govern [end p4] your chief towns.

And in 1931, you were the first country with British administration to obtain universal adult suffrage.

Democracy has deep roots here and I know you are committed to preserving them.

I welcome also your recognition that these principles are universal.

That was made explicit in your support for the Falkland Islanders after the Argentine invasion in 1982.

Your support has made a deep and marked impression in Britain. [end p5]

Economic Freedom

There is no more satisfying experience than to travel round the world breathing the air of freedom in different climates.

My visits over these past few days to the flourishing and vibrant states of South East Asia and now to Sri Lanka, have given me that experience.

They have proved, too - if proof were needed - that democracy and economic freedom go hand in hand.

There can be no more convincing demonstration of the success of that partnership than the [end p6] amazing examples of economic growth which I have witnessed during my travels of the past week.

Democracy is the foundation on which enterprise can build and innovation flourish.

I admire the bold policies to sustain an open economy which you are pursuing and which enjoy wide support.

I recall the speech by your Ranasinghe PremadasaPrime Minister in which he said: “we believe in the enterprise of free men and our economic policies are fashioned on this premise that the State [end p7] should provide the opportunity and the framework through which man can earn his due reward through his own toil and labour.”

We welcome your readiness to open your markets to productive investment.

We respect the courage and resolve with which you have undertaken responsible policies of economic adjustment.

In 1977 you took the difficult decision to float the rupee.

You relaxed trade restrictions.

And you established the Greater Colombo Economic Commission to develop Investment Protection Zones offering substantial [end p8] attractions to foreign investors.

Like you, we in Britain are seeking growth through relaxation of Government controls, through the stimulation provided by market forces, by reducing the role of the State in the lives of individuals.


We admire too the ambitious development objectives which you have set yourselves.

The harnessing of the Mahaweli Ganga for the development of new agricultural lands and hydroelectric power.

The imaginative programmes, with which I know [end p9] your Ranasinghe PremadasaPrime Minister is particularly associated, to improve urban and rural housing, in particular through self help and direct popular participation.

We also recognise our duty to help - help in that First we must keep our markets open to your trade despite the difficulties in which this can often place some sectors of our economy.

I believe our record is a good one.

The British market is open to the world. [end p10] 80 per cent of our imported goods enter duty free.

Less than 7 per cent are subject to non-tariff restraints.

During my recent visit to the United States, I urged the Congress of that great country to resist pressures for protectionist measures and recalled that we could not preach economic adjustment for the developing countries while refusing to practice it at home.

That is why we support moves for a new round [end p11] of multilateral trade negotiations in the GATT: the momentum of trade liberalisation must be sustained and extended into new fields.

I have heard it said that the developing countries do not want a new Round because there would be nothing in it for them. Mr. Speaker, I profoundly disagree. A new Round must address the major pre-occupations of all the members of the GATT.

I hope the developing countries will say clearly which items they want to pursue. Like the previous Rounds of negotiations which have done so much to free world trade and [end p12] spread prosperity, a new Round must be a process of give and take.

We are ready for some “giving” as well as some “taking” as part of a balanced outcome.

British Aid

Secondly, we in Britain are proud of our aid programme.

Since 1977 it has helped Sri Lanka to the tune of over £150 million.

Yesterday I was at the inauguration of the Victoria Dam which lies at the heart of the great Mahaweli scheme.

Seven centuries ago, a Sri Lankan King, [end p13] Parakarambahu, said no drop of water should be allowed to reach the ocean without profitting man.

The Victoria Dam is the expression in concrete and steel of that idea.

Not only is it a construction which will bring vast benefits to your farmers.

It is also a monument to our peoples' concern for the future well being of Sri Lanka and to the ability of British firms to contribute to the development of your economy.

Our contribution of over £100 million is clear proof of our belief in the potential of your economy.

It is particularly rewarding that Britons and [end p14] Sri Lankans have worked side-by-side to achieve this bold and enduring development.

I am delighted to announce today that my Government has decided to offer Sri Lanka further aid of £20 million.

This grant will be used over the coming years to strengthen Sri Lanka's economy for the benefit of all your people.

I am also happy to say that Britain will provide special aid to the Save the Children Fund to help those who have suffered from your recent troubles. [end p15]

UK/Sri Lanka Links

Sri Lanka has long been a warm and sincere friend of Britain.

There is much that unites us.

Our common commitment to an equitable and just system of law helps underpin the democracy our peoples enjoy.

These traditions must be maintained, whatever the difficulties and stresses that sometimes confront our societies.

We, like you, enjoy the cut and thrust of debate whether in the law courts or in Parliament.

This shared tradition of peaceful rivalry [end p16] extends to cricket.

We have paid dearly on the pitch for your new-won Test Match status, but it was as welcome to me as I am sure it was to Mr. Dissanayake. (Chairman, Sri Lankan Test Cricket Board, & Minister in attendance on the Prime Minister).

The English language itself provides another bond. Your President has suggested that English should be given the status of an official language in Sri Lanka.

The British Council, which is celebrating its [end p17] fiftieth year in your island, is delighted to help by expanding its English teaching programme at your President's express request.

We are linked too through the Commonwealth, and what Harold Macmillan called, during his visit here in 1958, “the golden thread of tradition binding its members”.

Central to that tradition is our shared commitment to democracy.

Democratic values cannot be taken for granted.

Sri Lanka's problems

Both our countries have been the victims of terrorist violence, the virulent disease which afflicts [end p18] so many countries today. So I can sympathise with your efforts to combat terrorism here in Sri Lanka.

A firm response to those who use violence, who try to achieve with the bullet what they cannot do through the ballot, is vital.

Freedom, Mr. Speaker, means more than freedom just to argue and disagree.

If it were only that, we should have neither stability, nor nationhood, nor justice, nor progress.

Freedom carries with it a responsibility to assert and champion those great values that are the sinews of parliamentary democracy and [end p19] which enable us to live in harmony with one another.

But governments must stand ready to work with those in minority communities who are willing to argue their cause peacefully and democratically.

I followed the All-Party Conference last year with close attention.

I shared the widespread regret in your country that it was unable to reach agreement on the basis of the proposals made by your Junius JayewardenePresident

I firmly believe that the complex problems that arise [end p20] between communities can only be settled through consultation and reconciliation. Democracy depends on the resolution of issues, however difficult, through debate and recognition of the interests of all those involved.

In democracy all have a right to be heard, but then fair decisions have to be made and upheld.

I am glad to have been given an opportunity during my brief visit to meet representatives of all the parties and of your many communities.

I believe I now understand more clearly the [end p21] problems which confront you and those whom you represent.

Regional Co-operation

Co-operation between neighbours through regional organisations and associations has an ever greater contribution to make to stability and to economic progress.

That has been our experience in Europe despite many difficulties.

I admire the imaginative effort which has brought together your country and the six other members of the South Asian Regional Co-operation forum, which I understand is to meet at Heads of Government level later this [end p22] year.

We wish you well.

East/West relations

Mr. Speaker, that same spirit of good-neighbourliness is needed in greater measure than ever if we are to secure a more stable world in which individual countries can concentrate on their development free from the fear of conflict.

You, here in Sri Lanka, no less than we in Britain, have an interest in efforts to reduce tension between East and West.

In today's world no country can insulate itself entirely from the consequences of the competition between East and West, [end p23] between tyranny and democracy.

It is up to every democratic country to decide how it can most effectively contribute to the defence of freedom and justice and to helping those who know neither to achieve them.

For some, like Britain, it is by joining an alliance of like-minded nations. For others it can be through speaking up at the United Nations and other international organisations for those principles. [end p24] This Sri Lanka does in ample measure and we, your friends, are grateful for it.

Junius JayewardeneMr. President, yesterday you said that you wanted &oq;peace’. So do I - but not peace at any price - not peace by sacrificing freedom and justice and everything which contributes to the dignity of man.

In the past few months before coming to speak to you, I have held two long meetings with Britain's great friend and ally, President Reagan, and another meeting with the new leader of the Soviet Union, Mr. Gorbachev. [end p25] The United States and the Soviet Union are now meeting in Geneva in an effort to reach agreement on the reduction of nuclear weapons and a consequent reduction in the burden of expenditure on arms, thus freeing more resources for the well-being of their people.

It will be a long process and a difficult one. We should not expect any early results.

I know from my talks that both leaders are convinced that another world war, nuclear or conventional, must never take place.

I believe, too, that a basis could be found to assure the security of both sides at a lower level of armaments.

But we must guard against facile assumptions [end p26] that nuclear weapons are uniquely evil and threatening.

Deterrence based upon them has worked for the last forty years and they have played an important part in maintaining peace in Europe.

Nor must we assume that a world without nuclear weapons would be more peaceful.

After all conventional wars have killed ten million people throughout the world since 1945.

It is not the existence of weapons which have caused these wars but readiness to resort to force: and that is the fundamental problem which has to be tackled and brought under [end p27] control.


Mr. Speaker, here in your Parliament much is familiar to a visitor from Westminster.

It is this sense of familiarity and of ready understanding which is fundamental to the trust and friendship between us.

It therefore gives me great pleasure, as one Parliamentarian to another to bring you the greetings of the British Parliament at Westminster, so distant yet so close in spirit.

We salute you as one democracy to another.

We look forward with you to a future in which [end p28] a united Sri Lanka grows steadily in peace and prosperity, with your many peoples living together in harmony.

President Jayewardene during his visit to London last year quoted movingly from Shakespeare's Hamlet: “those friends thou hast and their adoption tried, grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel”.

Those present will never forget the way he said it; he struck a chord in our hearts, for emotions are always deeper than thoughts.

It is my earnest hope that my visit has placed another hoop of steel around the special friendship between Britain and Sri Lanka.

[end p29] (2) BBC Radio News Report 0700 13 April 1985:

Mrs. Thatcher has ended her brief visit to Sri Lanka by addressing the island's parliament. She has a cold, and was also troubled by a persistent cough. At one point - when she was talking about the Victoria Dam which she inaugurated yesterday - Mrs. Thatcher had to break off her speech to ask for a drink of water. But the strain on her voice was still evident: [end p30]

Mark Tully

Mrs Thatcher sympathised with Sri Lanka's efforts to combat Tamil terrorism, which she described as “a virulent disease”. She also said that governments must stand ready to work with those in minority communities who were willing to argue their cause peacefully and democratically. Just before going to Parliament, Mrs Thatcher met a member of the main Tamil political party who blamed the breakdown of last year's negotiations on the government. The Prime Minister is suffering from a cough and a cold. She had to break off her speech at one stage and ask for a drink when she was describing the importance of the Victoria dam which she commissioned yesterday:

Mrs Thatcher

I am so sorry. The combination of your climate and your air-conditioning … (Act: Laughter while PM coughs) … is strange to our throats! I was talking about the Victoria dam and the idea that no drop of water … (coughs again) … should be allowed to reach the ocean without profiting man.

Mark Tully

But, in spite of her cold, Mrs Thatcher walked in her usual resolute and appeared well able to continue with the last two stages of her gruelling tour.