Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Press Conference visiting Norway

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Assembly Room, Chancery, British Residence, Oslo
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments: 1545-1615.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3714
Themes: Executive (appointments), Commonwealth (South Africa), Defence (general), General Elections, Energy, Environment, Trade, Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Health policy, Women

Prime Minister

I will try and be brief, because you are busy and I have another engagement.

This is my first visit to Norway. I am delighted to have brought such marvellous weather. I had not expected it to be sunny and so warm in Oslo.

I think it is remarkable that for such close allies as Norway and Britain, this is only the second visit by a British prime minister and the first for more than twenty-five years. It has, however, been a thoroughly enjoyable visit, because Mrs. Brundtland and I have got on extremely well from our very first meeting yesterday. We have had a lot of discussions on our tours. As you know, we came down together in the plane yesterday—two hours' flight—and again this morning.

Our talks have been conducted in a very free, very open, very friendly atmosphere; in the kind of way that allies and [end p1] friends should be able to discuss together.

Before I tell you about our talks, I want to make the point that my main purpose in coming to Norway, apart from to meet Mrs. Brundtland and see some of the country, was to demonstrate our commitment to the defence of the north—a most important sector of the NATO shield—and that is why I went to Tromso yesterday and why I have been at Afnorth (phon.) today. I am sure that this demonstration of our commitment to the defence of the north is much appreciated by the Norwegian Government and people.

Turning now to my talks with Mrs. Brundtland, they have ranged very widely. There has been a very wide measure of agreement between us and, of course, some differences of view as you would expect.

We covered East-West relations, the international economic situation, including the oil market, the European-Norwegian-EFTA relations, closer cooperation on terrorism, the need to have another round of GATT, and we are very much against protectionism in international trade. Of course, we have talked about the environment, in which Norway and Mrs. Brundtland have a very special interest, and of course, we have talked about South Africa.

So far as acid rain and the lakes and freshwaters are concerned, Mrs. Brundtland expressed appreciation for the moves we announced yesterday and which I regard as a very big step on our part. Of course, the Norwegian Government would like us to go further, but I should point out that we are not the only source of pollution and that since 1970 we have made very substantial progress in reducing the amount of sulphur going into the atmosphere and this year that the steps I announced [end p2] yesterday indicate that we intend to go further.

On oil, I told Mrs. Brundtland that we both have our own policies and our respective interests differ in oil. Of course, Norway has much much bigger oil reserves and resources than we have and her oil production can go on increasing for some considerable time. That is not the case with us.

On South Africa, I explained the attitude the Government which I lead takes towards sanctions and why we do not believe they would work. I set out our position very fully indeed and I am sure that Mrs. Brundtland thoroughly appreciates our arguments. I should say, however, that we are absolutely at one in agreeing that apartheid is unacceptable and we wish to do everything possible to bring it to an end.

We are also agreed on the need for a Summit between President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev this year, which we hope will take place; on the need to maintain the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in the context of our discussions on SDI; on the need for greater cooperation between the European Community and EFTA, including the reduction of trade barriers; on the need for more international cooperation in the fight against terrorism; and the need for a new GATT round which covers services and agriculture as well as trade in goods.

It has been a very very enjoyable and valuable two days. I am immensely glad that I came. One gets a much deeper impression from being in a country from feeling the sense of its people and from talking to its politicians on their home ground—a much deeper sense than you could ever get by reading a pile of papers and knowing all the facts and figures, and for that reason alone it was good to come and I have had an extremely good visit, for which I thank you. Now ladies and gentlemen, your questions.

[end p3]

Question (Swedish Television)

Mrs. Thatcher, your proposals yesterday to combat air pollution in England. Is that a proposal made out of political pressure or a true conviction that British air pollutants destroy nature in Scandinavia?

Prime Minister

No. It is made because the evidence is growing that the sulphur dioxide is a real potent factor in the situation that you are now finding and we are beginning to find in some of our lakes, of increased acidity. Increased acidity means that more aluminium is retained and that has a deadly effect upon the life in the lakes. That is beginning to affect us. It has been affecting you. It is much more evident now, cause and effect.

I am sure you know that the Royal Society and the Swedish and Norwegian Academies have a research project on. Its results are due to come out shortly, but already there is a good indication of what those results will be. Lord Marshall, who is the Chairman of Central Electricity Generating Board, believes now that there is serious evidence of the cause and effect and therefore put a proposal to the British Government about what the Central Electricity Generating Board should do about it. We accepted that proposal, as indicated in the statement we made yesterday.

David Smeeton, BBC

Prime Minister, a question on defence. During your visit to Norway, allied marines, including 4,000 royal marines, [end p4] have been landing in amphibious operations in southern Norway. The British commanders of the UK and NL marine force, the C-in-C of NATO North and General Bernard Rogers have all emphasised the importance of this force for protecting Norway and the northern flank, and they have also stressed the need for more purpose-built assault craft to replace the ferries and merchantmen that are largely non-specialist. Given Britain's unshakeable commitment to Norway's defence and the northern flank, can you say if the amphibious force will be maintained at its present effective level and will perhaps be given modern ships to replace ‘Bulwark’ and ‘Hermes’ that have been pensioned off?

Prime Minister

Ah well, ‘Hermes’ is an aircraft carrier. If you are talking about amphibious, I think you are on ‘Fearless’ and ‘Intrepid’—they are our two amphibious …

David Smeeton

… but they have only got two helicopter spots as opposed to twelve for putting marines ashore.

Prime Minister

Yes, but indeed, we have now got other aircraft carriers, ‘Invincible’ and ‘Illustrious’.

David Smeeton

Not in the amphibious force. [end p5]

Prime Minister

Well no. Neither was ‘Hermes’ in the amphibious force. ‘Hermes’ was our biggest aircraft carrier, not in the same class as ‘Invincible’ and ‘Illustrious’ both of which are in the same class. Our real amphibious force is ‘Fearless’ and ‘Intrepid’. They are due to come to the end of their service and we have in the defence budget a provision to replace that amphibious force. How precisely it will be replaced, will be a decision taken nearer the time, because obviously you do not now decide to reproduce precisely what you had. You look at the possibilities. But the point is that we have made provision within our defence budget for the amphibious force and we are very much aware of its importance.

Jonathan Steel (The Guardian)

Mrs. Thatcher, why have you appointed so few women to your various Cabinets, in fact, I believe not a single one?

Prime Minister

Lady Young was in my Cabinet for a considerable time. She is not now in the Cabinet. We have, unfortunately, very very few women in Parliament, very few, and we have no custom such as you have that you appoint people outside Parliament to Cabinet jobs. All our Cabinet Ministers are members either of the House of Commons or of the House of Lords. I think possibly you will find that we have a bigger proportion of women Members of Parliament in the Government than we have of men Members of Parliament in the Government. So we do not have your system or the French system under which a government can [end p6] go outside and ask people to become Cabinet Ministers, although they are not Members of Parliament. All our Cabinet Ministers are members either of the House of Commons or of the House of Lords and the numbers from the House of Lords are extremely limited because it is not an elected House. We have only Lord Whitelaw who is Leader of the House of Lords, the Lord HailshamLord Chancellor who is the Chairman, as it were, of the House of Lords and Head of the Judiciary, and one other. All the rest of our Cabinet have to be members of the House of Commons, so it is a much more limiting factor, and I think in the House of Commons, out of 650 members, even on all sides in all parties, we only have about twenty-five women MPs and we are doing our level best to get more selected.

Hans Schulder (German Radio & Television)

I wonder Bernie Rogers, being in Norway, said that he would like to decrease the number of nuclear warheads both in Great Britain and in Germany. I wonder, you spoke very strongly about being an ally with Norway. Norway is rejecting the use of nuclear weaponry during peacetime. What kind of ally is that to leave the nuclear burden to your country and to other countries in NATO?

Prime Minister

Well, you are asking me to criticise the Norwegian Government. I would not dream of doing so as a guest in their country. Norway came into NATO under very specific conditions one of which, of course, was that foreign troops be not placed on Norway's soil and later they had a very particular position with regard to nuclear weapons. Now, that position is not [end p7] one which I share for my country and Norway accepts the nuclear umbrella, as you indicate, for NATO, because I think we would all—at least I hope most of us would—accept that if you have a potential enemy that has nuclear weapons, you really cannot fight unless you too have nuclear weapons and you would not have an effective deterrent unless your weapons, including nuclear, were as effective as theirs. That is the general view which I take. I think it is a general view which most people take.

Nevertheless, let me put it this way: it is of advantage to NATO to have Norway in on the terms on which she came into NATO. It is an advantage to NATO to have her in on those terms and for that we are very very close allies and very grateful that she is in and, of course, therefore we have the exercises that we have now—the need to defend Norway as part of the NATO alliance.

Nita Heiding (Phon.)

I am publisher of the largest Scandinavian health and environment magazine. I have a readership of about half a million readers.

Prime Minister

And very impressed I am, half a million readers, yes.

Nita Heiding

I am very engaged in the atomic power problems and I would like to ask you whether Great Britain is changing its atomic plant policy after Chernobyl and I would like to ask Madam Prime Minister if she would like to initiate health [end p8] statistics around the atomic plants in Great Britain, because our research shows that there is more cancer around atomic plants than under normal production.

Prime Minister

First, we are not changing our nuclear power station policy after Chernobyl. We have extremely high safety standards in our nuclear plants. We have not had any life lost as a result of nuclear power stations in Britain. The Magnox stations are excellent and the AGR stations are excellent. We have perhaps one of the best nuclear inspectorates in the world and every power station, both in design, in construction and in maintenance has to come up to their standards. We have had far more deaths from coal-mining and from gas in energy than we have from nuclear energy in our country, so I think one must start from that.

I think the next point I must make is this, and I make it in all seriousness. You are concerned about sulphur dioxide and eventually nitric oxide from fossil fuel power stations. You also tell me you are concerned about nuclear.

Now, if you say fossil fuel power stations give you cause for great concern and nuclear gives you cause for great concern, one really has to be practical about these things. People have a duty to see that the country is supplied with enough energy and we are not all fortunate enough to have hydro-electric. It would be marvellous if we were. So we do what we can, as I have indicated, about reducing the SO2 in fossil fuel, but of course, that problem would be nothing like as acute if we went to more nuclear power stations, as indeed France has done. France does not have quite such an SO2 [end p9] pollution problem as you are getting from some other countries, because she has got a much bigger proportion of her electricity generated from nuclear. She has a great deal of experience of nuclear power plants and I think that we should take that into account, and I think you will find that the Third World in particular will not be able to generate the amount of power it needs unless it has some nuclear power stations and also your fossil fuel, of course, will run out one day.

So we have got, I think, to accept nuclear power. At the moment it is a particular kind of nuclear power. France has GON, (phon.) and we have at Dounreay a pilot plant on a fast breeder reactor, so you get less fissile material in the residue from that.

By the time we get to nuclear fusion, which in my view will not be in under fifty years, of course you will not have the problems with the residue that you have now.

So you have got an interim problem on the nuclear waste which, of course, we are doing every single thing we can to solve.

The Black Report we watch, of course, with the greatest possible care, but our people round Sellafield are examined, those who work in the plant, every six months. There are some 11,000 working there, and I repeat what I said at the beginning: we have not changed our policy towards nuclear power stations, because we have taken extensive steps to see that ours are safe and, in fact, we have had more deaths in winning coal, oil and gas for the other kinds of power stations than nuclear. [end p10]

Kevin Dunn (ITN)

Can you tell me whether you have been surprised or concerned at the strength and violence of the protests that your visit has provoked in Norway?

Prime Minister

No. I am just used to demonstrations. It looked to me a very professionally organised one. I heard jungle drums at first and thought how extraordinary on the Arctic Circle. And then said why and they said that part of the demonstration was perhaps the ANC and then, fine, one understood. It is small in number compared with the total number of people in Norway.

Question (Danish Television)

Prime Minister, if I may return to your former reply concerning the British steps to fight pollution, your reply could be interpreted as if that now the pollution is showing up in your lakes you are doing something about the matter. Is that a proper interpretation?

Prime Minister

No, it is not the proper interpretation and I hope you will not take it, because I made it perfectly clear that scientific evidence shows a causal link both here between the emissions from our power stations and also at home. There was not that causal link in either place before and the fact is greater acidity causes a greater aluminium content and it is that which is the damaging thing. [end p11]

There is still a good deal of difference of opinion, for example, about the forests. As you know, there are other factors there as well.

What I do hope is that as we are taking further steps—and I understand that the evidence is of course that Norway is responsible for more of the SO2 deposits in Norway, which you would expect than Britain is so you are obviously taking very considerable steps. I hope that other nations also will take them, but the causing factor with the announcement was the fact that we have got scientific evidence of cause and effect, in our lakes very much less so far than in yours.

Question (Morgen …   .)

You have said that you are willing to take a third term as Prime Minister of Britain, but the opinion polls at present do not look too bright. What political issues do you believe will give you that third term?

Prime Minister

I think that when you come up to a general election then and only then you have to look at the whole policies of the parties which are contending in the election to govern the country for a third term. Strangely enough, very few people are arguing against the wisdom of the policies we are pursuing and I think that the wisdom of those policies will become more apparent when people come up to choose which government, which philosophy, which policies shall govern for a third term.

We have been through this before and we got back with a larger majority in 1983.

[end p12]

Question (Same Man)

On education and health, do you have any new initiatives before the next general election that could persuade the voters?

Prime Minister

We shall in fact come out, I hope, with bold manifestos on both. I think we shall try to point out to the voters perhaps more effectively than we have been able to do at the moment that there have only been two years in the National Health Service in the last twenty-five years when the actual monies to the National Health Service in real terms have been cut—both of those years were under a Labour Government.

Question (Nordic News Agency)

Madam Prime Minister, do you think that Norway's decision to reduce its sale of oil has placed more pressure on the British Government in this respect and would you have preferred the Norwegians to consult more closely with your Government before taking that decision?

Prime Minister

No, I think it was two days ago your Oil Minister saw Mr. Peter Walker and he came across indicating the decision which Norway is entitled to take. Norway has not, as I understand it, cut her production of oil for a period of two months. She has retained her production but cut her export. The difference between them is being made up by stockpiling, which obviously is a policy of limited duration. We do not interfere with the amount taken from the North Sea by our [end p13] companies and so we have no change in policy whatsoever.

As I indicated, there are differences between the situation in which Norway finds herself and ours. You have enormous reserves and some of the biggest reserves in the world per capita of your population and your production will go on rising and rising. Ours, we believe, is on peak this year and thereafter will probably go on falling, so we shall have a falling amount in the world's oil markets, a situation is not similar to that of Norway and therefore it perhaps explains why Norway has taken a different policy in the interim. She presumably will have to decide at the end of the two months or so how she is going to continue. For that I have not the slightest shadow of doubt she will look at the state of the market when the time comes. You cannot say what that will be.

Question (Norwegian Broadcasting)

Prime Minister, has this visit in any way, in any area, changed some of your political viewpoints?

Prime Minister

No, Sir. I wonder if I have changed anyone else's? I have no idea.

Question (Swedish Television)

Mrs. Wilson said today that she has no hope that Great Britain will go in for a Security Council decision about binding sanctions towards South Africa. What can she hope for from Great Britain about sanctions? [end p14]

Prime Minister

The question is that there is no evidence whatsoever that sanctions would have any effect whatsoever in bringing an end to apartheid—no evidence whatsoever.

When I first came to my job, it had mandatory Security Council sanctions on Rhodesia for fifteen years and the industries of Rhodesia flourished and indeed they had to be very much more self-reliant and self-supporting than they were before and, of course, the goods were getting through as they do. There have been mandatory defence sanctions against South Africa since 1977. We have honoured them. Nevertheless, quite a number of things are getting through, quite apart from the fact that sanctions are not effective in themselves and could not be effective with the coast-line of South Africa. There would be no way of enforcing them.

Quite apart from that, there would be no evidence that they would help to bring to an end apartheid, and they could have the opposite effect by having a strong reaction from the South African Government.

Let me put it this way: insofar as sanctions did work, they would work by bringing about starvation and unemployment and greater misery amongst the immense black South African population. There is therefore little wonder that many black South Africans, including Chief Buthelezi King of the seven million Zulus, and people like Mbusa, who is Chief of the South African Swazis, speak out against them. So insofar as they did work, they would work only by starvation, misery and greater unemployment, and I find it morally repugnant to sit here or anywhere else and say that we decide that should be brought about. [end p15]

Insofar as they did not work, they would not have any material significant economic effect or any decisive economic effect, but in either case, I do not think they would be effective to bring about the end of apartheid and I think that the present Botha Government could react very sharply and make the reforms which we wish to see go not faster, but slower.


You being an Anglican Christian, have you any comment on the words of Bishop Tutu, an Anglican bishop, by saying to the West ‘Go to Hell’?

Prime Minister

Bishop Tutu is entitled to say just exactly what he wishes. So am I. I shall be more circumspect than Bishop Tutu.