Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1985 Apr 12 Fr
Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference in Sri Lanka

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Press Conference
Venue: Presidential residence, Kandy, Sri Lanka
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1445-1600.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3623
Themes: Commonwealth (general), Conservatism, Defence (general), General Elections, Privatized & state industries, Foreign policy (general discussions), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Foreign policy (International organizations), Leadership, Media, Race, immigration, nationality, Terrorism, Strikes & other union action

Prime Minister

May I say that it was a great privilege today to have the honour to join in the ceremonial commissioning of the Victoria Dam Hydro-electric Scheme. This makes my first visit to Sri Lanka a truly historic and memorable one, because I know how much it means to Sri Lanka's future development; and I am also proud that Britain has played such an important role in the project, both in terms of our £130 million aid and through the participation of British companies, Balfour Beatty, Nuttall & Wessell (phon.) and the Consultants, Alexander Gibb and Preece Cardew & Ryder. This underlines the immense role that Britain can play in helping the emerging countries to realise their ambitions for their people.

I shall never forget the tremendously colourful spectacle which was laid on this morning for the commissioning, and I am sure it gave as much pleasure to those taking part as the thousands of spectators, as the dam will bring new life and prosperity to Sri Lanka.

As you know, I have still well over half my programme in Sri Lanka to complete, including the state banquet this evening; my Address to Parliament tomorrow, followed by the opening ceremony of the Mahaweli Centre. But already I feel I have got off to a most useful start, both by setting [end p1] the seal on the largest single overseas aid project ever undertaken by Overseas Development Administration, and second, by getting a largely bird's eye view of your lovely land: third, through the friendly and constructive talks with President Jayewardene, which have yet to be completed.

Once again, I have seen a beautiful country of great potential. Britain would like to play an even bigger part in realising that potential. [end p2]

Question (Level very low. PM Requested Roving Microphone)

Madam Prime Minister, a defence agreement between Sri Lanka and Britain is still in existence … is still in operation …

Prime Minister

Which agreement are we talking about, because we are obviously considering the future aid programme and announcements will be made about that in due course.

Question (same man)

My question is whether the defence agreement between Sri Lanka and Britain is still in operation.

Prime Minister

Lady Young indicated to the Junius JayewardenePresident the view that we took about that when she came here, and I would not wish to put a gloss upon what she said.

Question (Sri Lanka Television)

Madam Prime Minister, despite international pressures from countries, including Great Britain, for Sri Lanka to find a political solution to its ethnic problem, the Sri Lankan Government has taken the stand now that it will not talk for a political solution until the terrorists stop their violent activities.

Now, as the leader of a nation which itself is locked in a prolonged struggle with …   . forces in Northern Ireland, what is your opinion on Sri Lanka's present stance? [end p3]

Prime Minister

The matter of the Tamils is a matter for the Sri Lankan Government.

With regard to my own view about terrorism, it has not varied and will not vary. Terrorism must never be seen to win. If it does, it is the end of democracy. There is a democracy in Sri Lanka and I believe that, as in Britain, the problems must be solved through democracy—at any rate by all who believe in democracy.

Question

I am from the …   . What I wanted to know was whether you foresee a military solution or a political solution to the problem. Do you think that the solution to the Tamil problem should be militarily or politically achieved?

Prime Minister

Democracy is wide enough to see a solution by democratic means for all of those who believe in democracy. I do not believe that terrorism should ever be allowed to win. Terrorism is the negation of democracy.

Question

Is it true that your government has refused to cooperate with us in eradicating terrorism in Sri Lanka? [end p4]

Prime Minister

We try to tackle terrorism the world over, because we do not think that it should win; but when it comes to supplying arms, that is a matter which is dealt with according to each issue and we do not give details ever.

Question (Newspaper in Colombo)

Tomorrow, you will be flying to New Delhi to meet the Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi. What kind of priority would you give to discuss the Sri Lankan issue with Mr. Gandhi if you were giving such priorities?

Prime Minister

It obviously is an important issue and one would expect to discuss it with Mr. Gandhi.

Question (same person)

What kind of discussion do you propose to have tomorrow with Mr. Gandhi?

Prime Minister

I never say what I am going to say to leaders before I say it, and after I have said it I regard the talks as confidential. Otherwise, we can never have the kind of frank and constructive discussions we do. [end p5]

Question

Madam Prime Minister, what are your views on the Indian Ocean peace zone move which was approved by the United Nations?

Prime Minister

I do not believe it is possible to have a zone of peace. I believe that each nation must make preparations to defend its own security and enter into alliances for the same. The only true security you have is the security which you yourselves create, coupled with the alliances you fashion.

The trouble with zones of peace is that they tend not to be honoured by potential aggressors.

Charles Reiss (The “Standard” )

I do not know if you are aware that there is a Labour M.P. here as a guest of the Sri Lankan Government, Miss Betty Boothroyd, who said this morning that although you said you signed the agreement on the dam, the go-ahead was given by the last Labour Government, and she says, and I quote: “Mrs. Thatcher is taking credit for something that is not hers” and she uses the word “cheek!” . I wondered what your reaction was.

Prime Minister

I can assure you that it was our decision. Every single thing we looked at afresh when we came into government and one of the things we looked at afresh was the question of this Victoria Dam, which previously the Labour Government had indicated it would think should go ahead, but the actual decision [end p6] about whether it should go ahead was indeed ours. I remember it vividly.

I remember two things from the Lusaka Conference: one, that we managed to bring Zimbabwe to independence; and two, that Mr. Premadasa asked me “Are you going ahead with the dam?” , that I consulted back home and you will find the evidence that I wrote down to him and you will find that as part of the history of the dam. That is fact, not opinion. That is fact, not opinion. You will find it. It is in one of the booklets of the dam. You will find a small card—I had no idea he was going to keep it—on which I wrote to Mr. Premadasa that we intended to go ahead.

Do not forget it was a five-year programme and we came in, as you will recall, in 1979, and we decided that we would go ahead with that.

Certainly, as far as I am aware, the Labour Government had also decided to go ahead, but the actual decision to make the money available over the five years and to go ahead with it was ours.

Question

Madam Prime Minister, a former Sri Lankan Tamil leader said some ten years ago that one of the biggest mistakes that the Tamils here made was in not insisting on a federal set-up when we regained independence in 1948. Would you care to comment on that in view of the deepening ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka? [end p7]

Prime Minister

No, that is a matter for the Junius JayewardenePresident of Sri Lanka. I made my own views abundantly clear. I do not believe that terrorism should ever win.

We fight terrorism within the United Kingdom and I do not believe that it should win and, indeed, if it did, that really would be the end of democracy.

Question (Carol [Surname missing], The “Observer” )

Madam Prime Minister, I believe your government wants to reduce the number of immigrants—Asian immigrants—to the United States [sic]. How will this affect Sri Lankan professionals who want to seek jobs in England?

Prime Minister

We laid down a policy on immigration when we came into power. As you know, we have a very very densely populated country and we have not wavered from that policy, and we shall not waver from it.

Yes, we did intend to reduce the number of immigrants into Britain and they have in fact been reduced, and that policy will continue.

Question

Madam Prime Minister, recent public opinion polls in Britain have put the Labour Party ahead of your Conservative Party. Do you feel that is a fair assessment of the current political mood in Britain and what are your views on the forthcoming Local Government elections and the position of your party? [end p8]

Prime Minister

We are about seven points ahead of where we were about this time during the last electoral period. If we continue to keep that seven points better than we were then right up to the next election, I shall be very pleased.

Question (Ceylon “Daily News” )

Your Government has already given this country considerable aid. Would you consider giving us any further assistance either for Mahaweli or any other project areas?

Prime Minister

We are considering the future aid programme and announcements will be made in due course.

Question

Madam Prime Minister, is there a valid reason for increasing the terrorist activities all over the world?

Prime Minister

No, there is never a valid reason for terrorism, certainly not in democratic countries, and you will usually find that dissident movements in non-democratic countries do not practise violence and they usually make a point of not practising violence. [end p9]

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, the Commonwealth and its role in modern politics has come into question, as you noticed throughout the South Asian tour. What do you see as the role the Commonwealth should play in today's world?

Prime Minister

Well, the Commonwealth, in fact, does play a very good role. We both consult and meet together; a Commonwealth Conference on alternate years. It is the only international conference at which we can all converse together without what we say having to be translated, so it is a much more genuine debate than any other that we have. We also meet regionally; we also make a point of giving technical cooperation one to another; and in general, the Commonwealth girdles the world—I think it is one of the few organisations that does—and I think it is extremely useful and will continue to have a useful role to play, both in determining world opinion and in technical cooperation, particularly between member states.

Question (Inaudible)

Prime Minister

I doubt very much whether the Commonwealth, as such, will be able to do that. I think that is mainly a problem for Sri Lanka herself. [end p10]

Question (Associated Newspapers)

You said your government is considering some aid to Sri Lanka. Do you hope to finance another Mahaweli project?

Prime Minister

I have indicated that we are considering the aid programme for the future and an announcement will be made in due course. I have no announcement to make today. I heard the question; that is the fourth time, and I have given the same answer.

Question

What is the future of Hong Kong after Britain leaves that colony?

Prime Minister

Well, we have a very detailed agreement with China and it is all set out in very detailed Annexes and it has been signed by China and by the United Kingdom. China has ratified it and the whole thing should be ratified by the end of June, but what will happen is set out there in considerable detail. It is one of the most detailed arrangements I think ever made.

Question (same man)

There may be some people who would not like to merge with mainland China. They would like to get out. What would be their position? [end p11]

Prime Minister

But, unfortunately for those people, there is a lease. The lease extends to 92%; of the territory. The terminal date of the lease is 1997, so had we done nothing, that territory in any event would have returned to China, and we should not have been able to get an agreement about the kind of way of life afterwards that we have unless we had negotiated.

Question

Mrs. Thatcher, will future aid to Sri Lanka be influenced by the human rights record of this government?

Prime Minister

We try to give as much aid as we can to Sri Lanka, as indicated by this dam, and we shall continue to give some aid—the precise amount has yet to be determined.

Michael Hamlin ( “The Times” )

Sri Lankan government officials have indicated their concern about the activities of Tamil extremists based in London, particularly in buying arms and military supplies to support the terrorism in the north of the island here. I wondered whether there was anything that you felt the UK Government could do to clamp down on this activity.

Prime Minister

We do everything possible to stop the purchase of arms for such a purpose and that will not surprise you, because as you know, I asked the United States Government to do everything [end p12] possible to prevent the purchase of arms for the IRA through NORAID, and we do everything possible to see that no such arms are purchased.

Question

Madam Prime Minister, at the United Nations, the power of veto is limited to only five powers. That was decided upon some decades ago. The political situation has changed in the world. Is there any possibility of increasing the number holding the power of veto at the United Nations?

Prime Minister

Well, it is not whether I consider changing it. It is the United Nations Charter and the United Nations Charter could only be changed with the agreement of all members of the United Nations.

I must say that I do not see the likelihood of any change in the United Nations Charter.

Question ( “Financial Times” )

Do you have a view of the Sri Lankan government …   . people in Tamil areas?

Prime Minister

No, that is a matter for the Sri Lankan Government. I do not interfere in the internal affairs of another State. [end p13]

Patrick Bishop

Prime Minister, can you tell us what you think you have achieved by your tour to date, in political and trade and economic terms?

Prime Minister

A very great deal. First, the countries which we visited were very anxious to have a visit from a prime minister of the United Kingdom, because they felt that they were not being given sufficient attention, and I think in many ways they were right.

I hope that we managed to deal with any outstanding problems in Malaysia. Of course, we had no bilateral problems in Hong Kong [sic]. I hope we will have more scientific and technological cooperation with Indonesia, and there are, of course, a number of orders which I hope will be in the pipeline.

I came here for this dam in particular. As you know, it is the biggest single aid we have ever given to any one project and, of course, one does have discussions wherever one goes politically.

I think it is true to say that most of you would think that it is as well that heads of government meet with other heads of government to converse quite freely. We meet three times a year in Europe; we meet once, alternate years only, in the Commonwealth; and we meet once a year in the Seven Nations for the Economic Summit. Unless you make strenuous efforts with the other governments, we do not in fact know their views [end p14] or have as much cooperation with them as we should.

Question

Madam Prime Minister, you have repeatedly said today that you do not think terrorism is valid, but even moderate Tamil leaders in this country have said that Tamils have taken to arms because they have not got their rights. Now, in your opinion, has the government and past governments of Sri Lanka discriminated against Tamil minority?

Prime Minister

This country is a democratic country and as far as I am aware every citizen in it has the same rights and the same right to vote.

Question (Inaudible)

Prime Minister

Perfectly all right, but I just find it a bit hot today! But we are not doing too badly, bearing in mind we find it a bit hot.

Question

Madam Prime Minister, BBC had a very popular programme called [title not transcribed] which was broadcast from London in Sinhala and it was stopped about two years ago due to the cut-down in the budget. What are the prospects of resuming this programme? [end p15]

Prime Minister

Are you asking about the Home Services or External Services?

Question (same man)

External service.

Prime Minister

Look! As you know, external services are funded directly from Government, but we do not in fact have any say over content of programmes and the BBC External Services itself decides which programmes to give priority to, according to the amount of grant which it has and according to how they see things. I am afraid many many people think that the Government controls BBC External Services—it does not.

Question

Madam Prime Minister, … felt very happy this morning at Victoria when you inaugurated the biggest multi-purpose project in this region. What were your impressions when you were at the site of the Mahaweli project being completed on schedule?

Prime Minister

It is a superb dam. It is not only superb in its function; it is very elegant in design. But what struck me most of all was the higher standard of living that such a dam must bring to many many people along the river, and also of [end p16] course beyond the river, because of the power stations.

I thought it was an excellent project in every way.

Sometimes, it is difficult to know whether you should give aid—a lot of aid—to one big project, or smaller amounts of aid to several smaller ones. Sometimes we do one, sometimes the other. In this case, I think we were right to go ahead with the large amount to one project, which will bring a much higher standard of living to many Sri Lankan people.

Question

Great Britain and Sri Lanka are only two of the countries which suffer from acts of international terrorism. Madam Prime Minister, what sort of an initiative is necessary to tackle this problem in a global context and what assistance could Great Britain render in this sphere in an international context?

Prime Minister

The way you tackle terrorism is by stepping up your law and order, as we try to do, and as I am sure everything is done here to try to stop terrorism.

Insofar as arms purchases from elsewhere or assistance is given from elsewhere, you do try to stop that too, because Sri Lanka is a democracy, the United Kingdom is a democracy, and people are only turning to the bullet because they cannot get their way by the democratic method by the ballot; and in our case, everyone in Northern Ireland has the same right to vote and I believe that everyone here has the same right to vote, and therefore terrorist movements are aimed at upsetting democracy and imposing a rule by force. That is why one must see that [end p17] terrorist movements do not succeed in democratic countries.

Countries try to help one another to see that armaments are not purchased for terrorist purposes, but each request for arms is dealt with separately. But that is normally from government to government; you have to watch to see—as far as you can—that there are not other purchases of arms made, and that you do.

Question

Madam Prime Minister, you have had many “firsts” to your credit. Could you give us some indication whether you would go for a third successive term and how you would like yourself to be remembered by future generations.

Prime Minister

I would like to go for a third successive term. I believe that we have in fact turned round attitudes in Britain. It was becoming a nation where government had enormous powers and a citizen comparatively little; it was becoming a nation where governments decided on prices and incomes and exchange policy and many many other things; and it needed freeing up. I believe that our industries are very much more efficient and competitive now, and therefore I have great confidence in commending them for any contracts that may be going. And in the end, you only build a successful country by having successful industry and commerce, and that can only be done through the system of free enterprise. [end p18]

Question

Madam Prime Minister, you have also come under criticism in this country for the manner in which you handled the coal-miners' strike in Britain and only on the eve of your visit, some twenty-one trade unions here issued a statement accusing you of being anti-working class. How do you respond to that?

Prime Minister

I have really nothing to add to the miners' strike. It is over. As I have indicated many many times, a third of the miners kept on working, despite violence, despite intimidation. We owe a very great deal to the bravery and leadership of those people.