Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1986 Nov 21 Fr
Margaret Thatcher

Interview for Le Point Magazine

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Interview
Venue: Paris
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: The first part of the interview takes the form of written questions and answers, followed by the transcript of an oral interview. The exact time and place of the latter have not been traced. MT left Heathrow for Paris at 0837 and returned to Northolt at 2125. The whole interview was embargoed until 3 December 1986. The interview was published also in Le Soir (Brussels) and Le Suisse (Geneva), the centrepiece of a special UK supplement dated 1 December.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 5567
Themes: Agriculture, Commonwealth (South Africa), Conservatism, Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Defence (Falklands War, 1982), Economy (general discussions), Industry, Monetary policy, Energy, Trade, European Union (general), European Union Budget, Economic, monetary & political union, European Union Single Market, Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Health policy, Private health care, Social security & welfare, Terrorism, Transport
(1) Written Interview:

Q1. Terrorism

As the Syrian affair has highlighted, how can one achieve a united front among the Twelve, countries which have different interests and responses in the Middle East?

A.

The Twelve have demonstrated that they can reach a wide measure of agreement over the specific action necessary to combat terrorism. We have done so in the case of both Libya and Syria. Taken together, the various statements and measures to which the Twelve have subscribed in the past year should leave no-one in doubt of their joint commitment to deal firmly with the threat presented by terrorism—nor their commitment to use their combined influence to work for wider peace in the Middle East. The important point is that these two goals are not incompatible.

Q2. EEC

European consolidation is by nature a slow process. With again so disparate interests, what should be the main impetus for speeding up this progress?

A.

My test is that European countries should do together the things that can be done better and more effectively together than individually. For instance, problems like terrorism and drugs can be tackled more effectively if there is solidarity and co-operation between the member states of the European Community. The same principle applies to meeting the technological challenge from Japan and the United States, and to making it possible for our economies to compete more effectively by establishing a real common market in Europe. These are the stimuli which will lead us to work more closely together. [end p1]

Q3. EEC

The building of the “internal market” for 1992 is a case in point. Everyone seems to agree, but we haven't got anywhere.

A.

You are not quite right. We have made more progress in 1986 under the Dutch and United Kingdom Presidencies, which have given the internal market high priority, than in any previous year. We have reached important agreements in the last few months, notably one on standards for direct broadcasting by satellite. But it is true that progress in some areas has been laborious, with individual member states sometimes defending sectoral interests and not seeing that our overall interest lies in expanding enterprise in the Community as a whole. I hope that agreement will shortly be reached on cheaper air services in Europe. That would be of real and practical benefit to the people in all our countries.

Q4. EEC

By keeping the European budget limited, as Britain is insisting, aren't we limiting the chances of Europe's future development?

A.

The Community's own resources have just been increased, last January, from one per cent to 1.4 per cent of VAT, precisely to allow room for the development of policies which require extra resources. And this at a time when, in both Britain and France, we are striving in our national budgets to cut taxes, rather than increase them. At the moment more than half the total Community budget is spent on the storage and disposal of agricultural surpluses. That does crowd out expenditure on other policies. We are all committed to supporting the farming community. But farm incomes have decreased while the budgetary costs increase, precisely because the CAP is not the most effective way of channelling aid to them. Much of the benefit goes to traders and those who operate cold storage facilities. This is a problem for the whole Community and no one now thinks that it can be solved by spending more money. [end p2]

Q5. Channel Tunnel

The problems encountered in the City by the Euro-tunnel to raise the capital. Doesn't this demonstrate that there is still a resistance in this country to commit yourself wholly to Europe?

A.

Not at all. Euro-tunnel have been attempting to raise a substantial amount of money on the international financial markets for one of the largest civil engineering projects ever undertaken and the return for investors will be long-term rather than immediate. It is not surprising that the financial institutions—which are, after all, responsible for investing other people's money—wanted to be sure of their ground before backing the project. It is actually a considerable achievement for Euro-tunnel to have succeeded in raising the necessary capital. That they did so is evidence that the project is sound and the concept behind it is right, that the private sector has a vital role to play in European projects.

I see the Channel Tunnel as both a physical and a psychological symbol of Britain's commitment to Europe.

Q6. The Economy

In Britain, there is a widening gap between rich and poor regions. That kind of situation surely proves that across-the-board liberal economic policies are not working.

A.

I disagree. There have always been regional disparities, in the UK as in many other countries, and the pattern is much the same now as when we took office. Our economic policies are bringing benefits to all regions. Inflation is now down to 3 per cent, whereas it was in double figures and rising when we took office. A million new jobs have been created since 1983 and all regions have shared in that. And the recent signs on unemployment are more promising: it is now on a downward trend, and the North of England with Wales, has done better than any other region in [end p3] the last year.

Q7. The Economy

Unlike Germany, Britain has benefited from North Sea oil revenues. So far the economic results are disappointing compared to West Germany, which without oil has a very healthy economy.

A.

Since 1981 we have, on average, grown faster than West Germany, Italy and France, despite the coal strike, whereas over the previous decade the UK was the slowest growing economy in the EC.

North Sea revenues have been put to good use. We have taken advantage of the years of high government oil revenues to reduce public sector borrowing significantly—from 5½ per cent of GDP in 1978–79 to 1½ per cent in 1985–86—while still being able to reduce the burden of income tax. Through lower borrowing we released resources for private investment. And as a nation we have, very wisely, saved a significant part of the revenue from the North Sea by building up our stock of net overseas assets, from £12 billion at the end of 1978 to £80 billion (22 per cent of GDP)—far more than any other European country—at the end of 1985. The earnings from these assets now amount to over £4 billion a year and they will continue in the future as oil production declines.

The importance of North Sea oil is often exaggerated. At its peak—in 1985—it accounted for only about 5 per cent of Gross National Product and 8½ per cent of government tax and national insurance receipts. These proportions will be lower in 1986, because of the oil price collapse. But we have been able to take this shock in our stride. The prospects are for continued growth next year—the sixth successive year of steady growth at an average of close to 3 per cent. [end p4]

Q8. The Economy

If the economy is as strong as the Chancellor is saying, why is the pound so low?

A.

The sharp fall in the price of oil meant that an adjustment in sterling's exchange rate was both inevitable and necessary. The consequence is that UK firms are now well-placed competitively to take advantage of the opportunities which exist for exports and for import substitution.

Q9. The Big Bang

Does the Big Bang show that government is putting all its hopes in the financial services to the detriment of industry?

A.

There is no conflict between a thriving financial sector and a thriving industrial economy—indeed, the two can and do reinforce each other. The Big Bang will help London to retain its position as one of the world's three great financial centres, with New York and Tokyo. But the improvements in financial markets will also help industry through increased market liquidity and lower costs for raising finance.

Q10. Social

How far can the dismantling of social welfare system be allowed to go? Can people take part of social security in their own hands (private pensions, medicine)?

A.

The value of nearly all major social security benefits have been protected or increased since this government came to office in 1979. Recent reforms continue to give priority to helping those people in the greatest need. We aim to tackle poverty and unemployment traps, to help families with children, single parents and the disabled, and to ensure that pensions are soundly based. This is quite consistent with our belief that those people who are able to should make provision for their own financial support in the future. [end p5]

We remain firmly committed to the National Health Service (NHS), and stand by the principle that adequate health care should be provided for all regardless of their ability to pay. Since we took office spending on the NHS has increased by more than 24 per cent beyond the amount needed to compensate for rising prices. At the same time, we believe it is a fundamental principle of a free society that people should have the right to spend their money on private medicine if they choose to.

Q11. International

Your government has always insisted on political co-operation progress in the EEC. Why has it not been achieved, (South Africa, terrorism …) under this British Presidency of the Community?

Contrary to what you suggest, there have been some very important achievements in Political Co-operation under the British Presidency. Close cohesion among the Twelve played an important part in the successful outcome of the CDE in Stockholm. We are working well together in the CSCE follow-up meeting in Vienna. We have taken a firm collective stand on terrorism. We have a common position on South Africa based on our determination to encourage a process of fundamental but non-violent change.

Q12. International

Is it also because on so many recent issues, (Westland, UNESCO, SDI, South Africa …), Britain has always aligned itself with the United States?

A.

Your question suggests that agreement with the United States prevents progress in EPC, which is absurd. I prefer to think in terms of Europe on both sides of the Atlantic. We have never taken the view that Europe has to prove itself by deliberately adopting different policies to those of the [end p6] United States. The security of the free world is only preserved when Europe and the United States work closely together.

Q13. South Africa

Does your hostility to sanctions stem from your disappointment at the development of the Rhodesian independence into a one party state in the Zimbabwe?

A.

My opposition to general economic sanctions against South Africa stems from a belief that it does not make any practical or moral sense to deprive black people in South Africa—and indeed in neighbouring countries—of their jobs and livelihood. Because that is what the effect of comprehensive sanctions would be. Moreover, as we have already seen, punitive sanctions only make the South African government more stubborn and difficult. Change in South Africa will come in the end from within. I am confident it will come one day. Meanwhile, our job is to persuade the South African government, and black opposition groups, of the need to start a genuine dialogue while there is still time for change to come peacefully.

Q14. Defence

Is the present rapprochement with France over nuclear defence an attempt to undercut or discredit the Labour unilateralist stance which has considerable public support?

A.

I am not aware that our relations on these matters are any different from before. As Europe's two nuclear powers, we have regular discussions on the full range of arms control and defence issues. British nuclear forces remain entirely independent. Final decisions on operational use rest with Her Majesty's Government alone. Our deterrent force is committed to NATO, except where supreme national interests otherwise require. Our policy of maintaining an independent British nuclear deterrent has very wide public support as the last election demonstrated—and I am sure the next one will. Written Interview Ends. [end p7]

(2) Oral Interview Begins:

Interviewer

Prime Minister, after your meeting with President Reagan in Camp David, are you convinced that there is an evolution in the American position on strategic matters, on strategic missiles, short-range missiles, an evolution since Reykjavik?

Prime Minister

Yes, I think there has been because I think they understand better some of Europe's needs which might, in some respects, not be wholly identical with the United States, although we are all part of the same alliance. But let me make this clear: nothing actually happened at Reykjavik, except proposals; those were all linked to SDI, so nothing actually happened there and some proposals were on the table at Geneva. You can only negotiate arms things in detail, at the negotiating table, not at summits at that level, but I am very happy that at Camp David we sorted out the priorities; we made it totally clear that security is a total concept; you cannot start altering one part of it without looking at the relation to the other part and also be seeing that at each and every day you are properly, securely protected. So we set out our priorities, looked at all the other range of security as in conventional [end p8] and as in chemical, the Independent Nuclear Deterrent will continue to be Trident which will modernise with that, and the United States will also modernise with Trident.

Interviewer

Even if there was only proposals, do you not think that those proposals, for instance on ban nuclear strategic missiles were dangerous for Europe as far as difference of the work is concerned? (Strong french accent, hard to understand).

Prime Minister

I think it was the second part of the 50%; which gave us some cause for concern because we do not, although President Reagan was adamant that there must be a nuclear deterrent in NATO and that it is a cornerstone of NATO strategy and that deterrent must consist of a mix of nuclear weapons—it would seem, nevertheless, they were thinking of the mix as being of Cruise missiles and bombers and we do not think that that mix would be enough and I notice, I think that there have been indications since that they would think there would also have to be some strategic ballistic missiles because the others would not have the range that the others do; they do not penetrate as well, they would not be as effective so I think that we have put up a number of effective points which have made it clear that we should need strategic ballistic missiles as well.

Interviewer

Do you think that the Americans are superior to … (inaudible), as we Europeans can be about the short-range missile? [end p9]

Prime Minister

We also made a very strong point of that because both France and ourselves are within reach of the short-range missiles and as President Mitterrand said at the conference we have just attended, and I have said previously, it is something you do not necessarily classify as long-range, medium-range, short-range, if you are within range it is something that can hit you and cause immense harm and you simply cannot look at the intermediate range missiles without, at the same time and conditional, on agreement dealing with the short-range ones as well.

Interviewer

It seems that the Americans agree with the fact that there will be no discretion on British and French … (inaudible) forces until a reduction of strategic weapons will be obtained as far as the strategic missiles of the Soviets and Americans are concerned.

Prime Minister

Well the United States has agreed, and I think Mr Gorbachev agreed that certainly as far as the first 50%; that the British and the French Independent Nuclear Deterrents were wholly left out of account and no negotiations were made upon those. I would not necessarily assume that should the 50%; be reached, and there is a very, very long way to go before that, that you would automatically assume that the French and the British Independent Nuclear Deterrent should be brought in. Small nations have to have an Independent Nuclear Deterrent—that is the only way we can enable them to stand up to big ones. Whatever happens we must retain what we would call an irreducible, minimum nuclear deterrent; we reckon we have got that on Polaris, we have to look at [end p10] what was the irreducible minimum on Trident but we must have that, it is the only thing that enables us to stand up to a potential aggressor.

Interviewer

Prime Minister, are you more in favour, today than …   . (inaudible) about a closer cooperation between France and Great Britain on military matters, especially nuclear?

Prime Minister

We have throughout the years had meetings from time to time on military cooperation so it is not a new thing at all. France has gone a different way on nuclear than we have and as I indicated our modernisation to agree with the United States, some time ago is going to be Trident, the first Trident submarine is due to come in about 1995—I think it is just after the French ones are due in and the next ones will come in after that, so for about the next twenty to twenty-five years the modernisation of the Independent Deterrent has been determined and we do not quite know what will happen after that.

Interviewer

Prime Minister, isn't it a problem for a British leader whose compatriots are not clearly in favour of nuclear forces, for instance there is in France a large consensus on that matter. Isn't it a problem for a British leader to go to the United States and ask President Reagan not to ban all nuclear as proposed in Reykjavik?

Prime Minister

No, I do not find it a problem at all. The nuclear deterrent is the most powerful deterrent to war that the world has ever known. The nuclear deterrent has protected us, not only from nuclear war but from conventional war for over forty years. I want that state of affairs to [end p11] continue and so I do not find any difficulty, either in explaining that to our own people or in going to the United States because that is what I believe will keep us secure, and peace—not at any price—but peace with freedom, peace with justice are the most important things in the world so I am not under any difficulty. This I believe; this I do.

Interviewer

Are the British people as convinced as you are?

Prime Minister

They returned us very, very firmly in 1983, I believe that the majority of British people believe in the nuclear deterrent; our generation particularly and we can pass it onto the next generation because the next generation is the one that has not had to be called out to fight as their fathers had to and really the nuclear deterrent is most important of all for young people because of the protection it has given to them and I think you will find that a lot of young people recognise that. None of us like nuclear weapons but then none of us like conventional weapons either. Conventional war would be even more terrible today than it was last time we had a major war and I sometimes dislike intensely the feeling that conventional war is all right; it is not, it is dreadful, it is terrible; it kills millions and millions and millions and if we have got a nuclear deterrent that prevents that we hold onto it.

Interviewer

Are you convinced that the SDI will be a good umbrella for European countries as far as … (unfinished, interrupts)? [end p12]

Prime Minister

Well we do not know yet whether it is feasible and absolutely for the United States going on with its research and right up to feasibility. You have to continually research to see whether something is feasible otherwise you cannot possibly negotiate unless you know something is feasible or not and also I am very much for the West continuing its research and technology into these matters because you would not remember, but I do, the whole history of the world would be different and we should not be here now if Hitler had got the atomic weapon first. We were not terribly rich countries in the 1930's—we had great empires, yes- but the great technology has come since and the enormous increase in standards of living. Nevertheless that research on atomic work was done—it was certainly done in England, it was also done in the United States and it must have been done in some of your laboratories too—so the fundamental research went on and thank goodness we were ahead of Hitler, thank goodness our pilots had both the planes, the skills, the courage and the bravery to go and bomb those places that we knew were doing research into it and making the heavy water. Why do I mention this? It mattered to our freedom, to our security that the West had the latest research, the latest technology and that is part of your security, it is part of your deterrent and I would hope that France too could agree with that and support the United States.

Interviewer

Prime Minister, about Europe, would you agree with the idea, developed by Helmut Schmidt and President Giscard d'Estaing that there is a need for leaders, a leadership in Europe? [end p13]

Prime Minister

I think we have got quite a bit of leadership in Europe.

Interviewer

A President of Europe?

Prime Minister

No I do not think that, I do not say a President of Europe.

Interviewer

(Question inaudible)

Prime Minister

No, I have just had the most marvellous month and I have been away … (Loud laughter). I know they are single-handed people with cool surfaces and they were …

Now, where were we? No I do not, all right we have a President of Europe for six months but you know that Europe is a great big group of separate states, freely cooperating, freely entering into a European community and some states have different origins and we and France are perhaps the historic nation state and so of course is Portugal, Spain has perhaps been in and out, but we and France have traditionally been the historic nation state but each people are conscious of their own history and quite proud of it, and each have different languages. The tradition of Europe is completely different from the United States. Do not try to take it away or try to do something that somehow goes against the human nature or against the grain. Say, our great plus, our great positive thing is that as different states we come together, we meet regularly, we agree on things, keeping at all times, the interests, both of our own people, acting separately as well as the need for our own people to act together. Taken that way we get much more progress. I [end p14] think if you try to have a President in an area as big as one country, it just will not gel, it does not feel right and do not go against things; if they feel wrong, do not try to persue them.

Interviewer

Don't you think it is difficult to reach agreement on political matters inside Europe?

Prime Minister

Well you know, we have not really done too badly. I think in the last three or four years we have made remarkable progress, certainly in going forward in the Community things and we have got political cooperation, and I think cooperation is increasing. The outstanding thing about this bilateral was the measure of agreement; that we do seem to be much closer—perhaps it is because we have seen rather a lot of each other this year—because of the Channel Tunnel, it is coming. Take things forward but do not try to do something that goes against the grain.

Interviewer

For instance, on Syria, after the attitude Britain had taken about Syria, what was you impression of the two … position of the French Government in the European Council?

Prime Minister

Well, we were very aware of all the evidence in the case before the British Courts; we lived through it, we lived through the evidence day after day, we knew about it so it had become very much part of our mind, part of our knowledge, by hearing it day after day, then coming straight to Europe where it had not had such a high publicity among other nations and people who were not so aware of the full extent of the evidence, the [end p15] whole gravity of it and the depth of the implication and so it took Europe just a little bit longer to look at it, and when they did, they were marvellous, they said “Of course we must act, we must act together.” because the evidence was so strong—so strong that it could not be ignored and if we are fighting terrorism we had to take action and so we did. I think it was important to look at the results we got and really be pleased with that. Can journalists ever be pleased?

Interviewer

Yes we can be …

Prime Minister, about the Falklands, why did you refuse to negotiate any Argentinian proposals of sovereignty?

Prime Minister

Of sovereignty? Of course I did. The Falkland Islands are British, the sovereignty of it is ours, some of our people have been in and resident in the Falklands long before some of the present citizens of the Argentines. The wish of the people which is paramount, which is self-determination, is to stay British. There were no indigenous people on the Falkland Islands. There were in the Argentine. Now if you want to talk about the indigenous people in the Argentine they are not the present Argentinians, no, you know what happened? Argentine wanted the Falklands, she tried to take them by force, we threw her off and now she says, “Please, I want by negotiations what I could not get by force.” No, is anyone just going to be able put a plane on an island which happens to be in someone else's possession and say “That belongs to us, we want it, now there is a dispute about it, now you must negotiate it.”? When the United Nations merely becomes a forum in which the only thing that [end p16] matters is negotiations and principle stands for nothing, then I would wish to have nothing to do with it. I hope I make myself clear.

Interviewer

Prime Minister, about France, …   .

Prime Minister

… You understand self-determination.

Interviewer

What do you associate with France?

Prime Minister

Really a whole rush of things to an English person, really three things merge; the whole of the history which is to us a mixture of the French Revolution, of Napoleon who was really the most fantastic administrator as well as a General, all of the history in … Normandy beaches; all of that rush comes together and it is still very much a part of us as well. Secondly, a fantastic feeling of the culture of France, of the marvellous art, of the literature, of this lovely beautiful centre of this lovely city, and of course many of our people will spend their holidays elsewhere in France. It is the culture, the dynamic of the culture, including the language … and the third thing is that the France we know, the people we negotiate with and the future and really all of that merges into one and as I say I think it merges, because we know it very well, because we both had great imperial possessions, therefore we both have a world view and we are both the historic nation states in Europe. It all blends into one, you cannot take one or two things and you do not have to think about them; they all come with a great big rush. [end p17]

Interviewer

But why is it there between these two countries, the people, this historic opposition? When you speak to English people—it is my experience—they all say “We like the French very much,” but all the time there is this feeling of opposition; we are opposites?

Prime Minister

Well, you can be great friends and great rivals you know as well. One does not obscure the other. We wish you spoke English, you wish we spoke French.

Interviewer

I want to ask you one more question about terrorism: it seems that the French Government makes distinction in the ‘weeklies’ between some Syrians and the state of Syria; what is your reaction?

Prime Minister

I cannot speak for France. We took the view that this was the action of Syria, the evidence that you heard that this was the action of Syria. We would find it difficult to believe that kind of action was taken from the Embassy without instructions from Syria but on the wider question, you can take action very strongly against terrorism; that does not preclude you from other parts of the Middle East, trying to find a settlement to that fundamental problem which is still there waiting to be settled and which is so difficult to get a negotiation going which has momentum and which is likely to produce some lasting result. It would make such a difference to the whole world if we actually sorted it out.

Interviewer

Are you satisfied at the moment with cooperation on terrorism? [end p18]

Prime Minister

Yes, it has been getting closer and closer, and sometimes I wonder “Goodness me, is there anything else we can do that we are not doing?” I think that the terrible experiences we have all had and the way terrorism moves from one country to another; you know, Germany has experienced it, Italy has experienced it, France experienced it, Britain has experienced it, Spain has experienced it and of course Holland and from time to time Belgium. We do not know quite where it is going to strike next and this has given you, as often happens, an extra special closeness as when you have all suffered the same thing and it means we now cooperate, knowing that it may hit any of us but we now know how the other one will react and we can, being part of a community, expect action from the other eleven and that I think is the lesson of the Syrian matter and when France was in difficulty because she had had a series of things here and of course the latest, over M. Besse is terrible. Immediately M. Chirac was on the telephone to me, immediately we got cooperation going, immediately we called a meeting for the President … of all Home or Interior Ministers and immediately we were seen to be strong and taking action. Now that matters and it makes it more difficult for the terrorist because all our services are on the lookout for them, and of course we are getting the cooperation.

Interviewer

Do you think that the raid on Libya was as productive as President Reagan thought it would be?

Prime Minister

I think we took the right decision on the raid on Libya. You know, if you have a terrorist state, and that was a terrorist state with the [end p19] Muammar Gaddafihead of the state proclaiming, as no other state does, his intentions, and boasting about them and so on, and if you say “We will never defend ourselves,” even though the position gets worse, he is going to win. Western people do not take easily to force, they do not take a decision like that lightly and that is right. That is why the decision was not taken lightly, it was taken in the knowledge that terrorists must know that you will, in the end, defend yourself against him and that I believe is effective.

Interviewer

Prime Minister, the last question: if you had to say what your biggest achievement was on the internal scene what would it be?

Prime Minister

I think it really has been an enormous transformation in attitude in Britain which has come about because of the policies we have persued. The finance is run soundly, has been run soundly for seven and a half years, including low inflation, and everyone knows that the financial position will never get out of hand … so that is one thing and the standard of living is higher than it has ever been. We have transformed industrial relations by really giving more powers to individual members of unions with secret ballots—the first time they have had it—the Tory Government took away the powers from Trade Union bosses, the chance from Defence [sic], we firmly backed up the police and were caught in Law and Order, as we have had a massive programme of privatisation, accompanied by a programme of enormous spread of ownership among people. There is, in the three countries, a fundamental right to property and just as in the last century, the great movement was for everyone to become a voter so in this century the great movement is for everyone to become an [end p20] owner. We have got this massive spread of ownership now, of houses, a quarter of a million more people own their own houses …   . about twice the number of shareholders, every time we do a privatisation we give preference to the people who are working in the streets. We really are giving a terrific spread of ownership accompanying the …   .

Interviewer

And if you are elected for …   .

Prime Minister

We will continue with that and of course we have run the welfare state very much better so it has been done by a series of very tough, determined, sometimes hard decisions, but it is beginning to work. We need more jobs; we have had a million more jobs in the last three years, the population of working age is still rising and so we need even more but they are coming.