Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1986 Dec 9 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

TV Interview for Channel 4 News (visiting Strasbourg)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: TV Interview
Venue: Strasbourg
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Peter Sissons, Channel 4
Editorial comments: The interview was due to begin at 1450.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4791
Themes: Agriculture, Autobiographical comments, British Constitution (general discussions), Executive, Defence (general), Employment, General Elections, European Union (general), European Union Budget, European Union Single Market, Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Labour Party & socialism, Law & order, Northern Ireland, Security services, Terrorism

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

Prime Minister, the beginning of your speech was interrupted by Mr. Paisley today.

Would you regard that as a legitimate protest against your policies towards Ireland?

Prime Minister

Not legitimate, but typical of Mr. Paisley. We are used to it.

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

You referred in your speech and later to the enormous cost of the Common Agricultural Policy; half the budget going on storing these massive surpluses.

Why did you not use your Presidency to do something about it?

Prime Minister

One tried to. One tried to get something in the final communique, much more modest than that, about [end p1] agriculture, because of an agricultural meeting yesterday and today. We were not able to, because I think we are prepared to face up to the problem and have been showing that by what we have done about prices and about quotas, but others still are not prepared to face the problem that although the production is down, it is still in surplus and I think the only way is to drive them to a position under which the finances will not pay for everything produced. Then they will have to do something about it.

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

And have you driven them towards that position during your Presidency?

Prime Minister

I was absolutely astonished to learn that people were already talking about supplementary budgets and more money.

When we went up to 1.4%; Added Value Tax last year, we did it for expansion of the Community, that is Spain and Portugal, and to do it for extra things like research and development.

As a matter of fact, most of it has gone on surpluses and they still have not got enough money for research and development and other things, and it is because Agricultural Ministers together will not face up to the problems, although I think our farmers will. [end p2] What our farmers want is a fair deal and they want to have time to adapt to the change in policy. They are becoming much more realistic than the politics of some of the countries who say: ‘Well, we cannot do this because of the farming vote!’ and we say: ‘Look! We have had to adapt on steel; we have had to adapt on coal; we are adapting on shipbuilding; we are adapting on overmanning; we must adapt on farming. We know we have to do it at a fair speed, but we simply cannot run away from the problem any longer!’ That is not a view they all share.

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

What do you say to the view that was expressed in the debate today that the unity you got at the Summit was a spurious unity; the issues were selected so that you could get a sort of specious harmony to enhance the re-election prospects, someone said, of Chancellor Kohl?

Prime Minister

I do not think that is right. Let me put it this way. I think Chancellor Kohl has a very very good chance in any event, and whatever had happened at the European Council, I think he has a good chance because of internal reasons, but that is not for me to judge.

What we did was try to fasten on problems which worry us, which worry every other Head of Government, and which worry our citizens. Now, chief among those [end p3] is how to tackle the unemployment problem. We are, most of us, creating jobs, but many of them are coming in part-time work, many of them are married women coming back to work, and who am I to complain about that? And at the same rate at which we are creating jobs they are not going to reduce the unemployment register. And at the same time, we have got jobs we cannot fill because people have not got the skills, and it does not make sense, so we said: ‘All right! Let us get it all together. New jobs come from new small business, so we have got to have a look at that and encourage that. We have got to have a look at the long-term unemployed’, because if they have been out of a job for a long time you have somehow got to get them back both into the habit of work and with the will to go to work, and so you have to counsel them, train them, and see what special jobs there are for them. And young people, we are desperately anxious, should never get on to the unemployment market.

So we all addressed those problems. Yes, it was popular. Yes, it was relevant. Yes, it was direct.

We addressed terrorist problems. That is direct to us all.

Drugs—so many parents are worried about that—and other things.

And then we said: ‘Look! Years and years after the Treaty of Rome, there are still people with protectionist barriers within Europe, wanting protection [end p4] for one particular country against the efficiency of another. Let us get those down!’ so because we were practical, we did meet with a good deal of success, but not 100%;, because there are still some people who say; ‘Look! If we have to compete with you, we are not good enough!’ That is what they say.

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

Let me approach it a slightly different way

Here is Margaret Thatcher, in the past the Hammer of Europe, the woman who had given them all a really rough time.

Prime Minister

Well, they did not get a terribly easy time today, because they did not give me a very easy time, and I thought what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Here goes!

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

I will come to that in a moment.

Prime Minister

Good!

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

You had now, by failing to tackle the pending bankruptcy of the Community when you were in charge, [end p5] when you had a chance, you enable your critics to say: ‘It was all wind—paper tiger!’

Prime Minister

Nonsense! Let me say this—and I had to drive them to it—the first time possible for Heads of Government to consider an increase in the budget by treaty is 1 January 1988—a long way away—and I was not going to give them any aid and comfort by encouraging them to come along for more money now.

I said ‘No! We have put the income you have got up from 1%; of our Value Added Tax to 1.4%;. That is enough. If you cannot live with that income, you will not live within a bigger income, and you know you are spending money, not on going to farmers' incomes, but on surpluses, so you have got to tackle that!’ And, on the contrary, I did tackle it by saying: ‘Do not think you are going to get my agreement to increase money now. You are not! We have to live within our income and you must live within yours!’ and you know, I sometimes think the only way which will bring them to their senses is to say: ‘No more money! You must live within that and you must condition your policies accordingly!’

Yes, they did want to come and they wanted more money now. No. There is a limit to what you can demand of the tax-payer, especially when the Community is not spending it well. [end p6]

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

Now let me come to what you said today about terrorism, because when you referred to measures against terrorism you were interrupted by a shout of ‘Tell that to Reagan!’ and there was critical reference along those lines in some of the speeches too.

Do you have any doubts, in the light of recent developments, about the United States’ fitness to occupy the moral high ground on terrorism?

Prime Minister

Look! Our policy has been, and remains, absolutely clear. We do not bargain with terrorists for the release of hostages.

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

By ‘us’ you mean?

Prime Minister

Britain. Absolutely clear! I know. I have had to operate it under very difficult circumstances. Even last time I was in the States, I saw Mrs. Collett; her husband is still a hostage. He also has British citizenship. And there are times when people come up to you and say: ‘Look! My husband, my brother, my father, is a hostage!’ or he is in prison over there and they want the release of a much worse prisoner over here—someone who has committed a really big crime—they [end p7] want the release of someone who has got technical currency offences, for a murderer with a life sentence—and I have had to go on saying ‘No! No! No!’ and I had to say it to the relatives, and yes, they may go away and think that I am hard, so I know what it is like to have to be firm about this, because I had to do it. But I do it, because in the long run it is best.

Most other countries in Europe have come to agree that our way is best.

President Reagan said in his speech that they do not bargain directly for hostages. They have got into other problems. They are very sad and difficult, those other problems. I am not going to add to them. I just hope they come through them quickly.

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

But my question was, can you see the argument of those people who were addressing you today and even shouting and heckling you today who feel that because the United States Administration has supplied arms to a suspected sponsor of terrorism and used the proceeds in finance armed men who are trying to bring down an elected government in another part of the world, that somehow the Americans are no longer fitted to talk the same sort of language as you about terrorism? [end p8]

Prime Minister

Well, I am not going to get involved in that. They will have to sort that out themselves. I hope they sort it out soon.

Whatever has happened cannot be altered, but there is great work for America to do in common defence of the Free World.

We have never faltered in our policy and I hope that, as a result of our not faltering and that is seen to be right, and what else has happened, that people will reaffirm our policy that although it is difficult, we have no truck with terrorists; we have no truck with bargaining for bostages, because if you do, you might get someone out who has been totally unjustly treated, but very shortly, half a dozen, ten, twenty more will be taken in as the terrorists wanted to bargain with someone else.

So we are firm and I hope that our firmness has given a leadership to the rest of the world. [end p9]

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

Before I close or leave that topic could I just ask you whether from what is starting to come out in the congressional committees and so on—whether you still believe President Reagan's hands are clean?

Prime Minister

Look, the Ronald ReaganPresident is an honest man, he is a very honest straightforward man and I am not going to depart from that.

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

Now in your speech there seemed to be a part where you were suggesting that you give Europe more of a lead in foreign policy particularly in the Middle East, you came back to that in your reply. Do you see a vacuum left by what appears to many people to be the temporary paralysis of foreign policy in the United States?

Prime Minister

There has been a vacuum in the Middle East for some time and we have been active trying to get it filled. That problem has been there for a very long time and just when you have, you know the Iran/Iraq problem has been going on now since what, 1980, Afghanistan for seven years, the occupation. We have some very good people who I think are willing to negotiate in Israel. I think Mr Peres is quite outstanding, he is now Foreign Minister. It so happens he and I get on extremely well together; I understand his problems and I think that he has been very courageous in wanting to negotiate with King Hussein and [end p10] some Palestinians all against an international background. So we have got Mr. Peres in a coalition government, we have got King Hussein whose very name is synonymous with courage and guts. And while you have got two such very good people and while you have got a background of people like Britain, like the community and in the United States saying let us get some negotiations started, we really ought to seize the opportunity. I think next year is the twentieth year since the occupation of the West Bank and it cannot go on forever so while you have got good people, try to negotiate. The obstacles are the same as they were two years ago. King hussein must have Palestinians negotiating with him who truly represent the Palestinian people otherwise there would be no point. Every time we try to name suitable people we have not been able to get agreement; that is either King Hussein, Mr. Peres or the United States, but it should not be beyond the wit of man to do it. We could get three or four who would be acceptable to all the sides. I think we should make a new strenuous effort to get that and then the question is: what kind of international background do you have? Because they should not have a veto but they should just be there to say “Look when this negotiation is complete, this gives it international credence” , and therefore it has a better chance of coming through to success and I feel very strongly that we cannot move without the United States helping to influence Israel in that way. We have got nearly two years left of President Reagan 's presidency and I hope most earnestly that it will be [end p11] used for that purpose and if I might just say one thing more: the problems we have had throughout the Middle East make the negotiations even more urgent, as one of the world's post-war problems to be tackled.

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

Let me bring you closer to home. On TV AM this morning, they revealed the results of a Harris poll which put the Conservatives six points ahead and linked that to Labour's failure to sell their defence policy. What is your reaction to that?

Prime Minister

Well it is very nice when the polls are with you and it is very hard when they are against you. I think as things come up closer to an election—and please I have not made up my mind when there should be an election …

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

I have not asked you.

Prime Minister

No, no, no, but please do not because I have not made up my mind. Obviously as they come up more closely to an election I think people look at the fundamental problems. Now there is a whole two or three generations who are immensely grateful that we have had peace over forty years. If you think of the first half of this century as a matter of history you had two of the bloodiest battles, bloodiest wars in the world's history and an astonishingly short distance between the 1914–18 war, the 1939–45, and in the second half of the century we are almost coming to take peace for granted. We [end p12] should not; we keep it, not by for taking it for granted but by staying strong.

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

But what you have accused the opposition of doing is abandoning a traditional bipartisan approach on defence.

Prime Minister

On defence, look, I remember the time, on defence now when it was Mr Gaitskell who said to the Labour party that he would fight, fight and fight again to maintain the nuclear deterrent. Now it is Mr Kinnock who is fight, fighting and fighting again to get rid of it, so it is a total break with all previous Labour Prime Ministers. When it comes to internal security I can quote and do quote in Parliament many things from previous Prime Ministers who said “We do not discuss these matters” , it is one of those things where you have got to have security services for the safety of democracy and people have got to trust those in charge. We trusted Merlyn Rees when he was Home Secretary, we went in to support him in the Lobby although he was a Labour Home Secretary when his own left-wing voted against him. So yes there are certain levels of responsibility whether you are in Government or in Opposition which you expect people never to play party politics with—we did not.

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

Now in the House of Commons you said you wholeheartedly agreed when you were urged to have no truck with Mr Kinnock in discussing national security. [end p13] A couple of days later you said “The normal courtesies would prevail” , Was that a climbdown?

Prime Minister

No, the normal courtesies do prevail. There are certain things upon which you inform the Neil KinnockLeader of the Opposition and those normal courtesies will still obtain.

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

In the traditional way?

Prime Minister

Those normal courtesies still obtain—that is the way certain things are done.

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

And no change in the type of material you would be prepared to discuss with him?

Prime Minister

No, there are not that number of occasions.

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

Can I put it more bluntly? Mr. Kinnock may one day become Prime Minister of this country. Is he or is he not, in your judgement fit to be trusted with the security of the nation?

Prime Minister

What happens to Mr. Kinnock is a matter for the British people. I would not presume upon their choice. I would put all the reasons why our stewardship on defence, on internal security, why we believe it right that a person who has been an employee of the security services should not be able to sell his information for money and put all of that—and I would be quite proud [end p14] to put our stewardship of these matters to the people but democracy.

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

But you did not tell me whether you thought Mr. Kinnock was the man to be trusted with National Security.

Prime Minister

Well, I am not going to, it is not for me to say, it is for the British people to say. I put our case: I am a positive constructive politician. It is the positive constructive things, which ever since the day I was a Parliamentary Secretary to Pensions and National Insurance in 1961, it was the future that always interested me. It was taking the basic things and getting them right and I have never been able to stand people who play party politics with things which are deeper than that. Defence is deeper, internal security is deeper and every bit as important as Parliamentary democracy to freedom is upholding the rule of law and I have always been passionately interested about those things. I cannot stand violence or intimidation as a means of influencing people, but the people must judge: that is what democracy is.

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

Well, talking of the people in democracy, I, like millions of other people know nothing about the business of national security. You know everything or, at least, are entitled to know everything. You will not answer to Parliament about security matters and you are not alone in that—it has been the tradition. But how can I and [end p15] everyone else and the people who cast the votes be assured that the Prime Minister of the day is doing a good job in heading our security services?

Prime Minister

Because there are certain directives which have to be honoured and there is a security commission which has to be, certain things have to be referred to and also we have now about telephone tapping and we have a judge to go in and see that any authorisation for telephone tapping have been properly and effectively carried out and he has to make a report, so we have in fact had quite a number of changes and let me just return to the thing that when I was Leader of the Opposition, the Home Secretary of the day, Labour Home Secretary, Merlyn Rees did a deportation order against journalists Agee and Hosenball without giving any reason and I and Willy Whitelaw who was my deputy at that time and Reggie Maudling who was shadow spokesman made a speech supporting him saying “Look we know what the rules are, we trust the Home Secretary to operate them meticulously” , and therefore we know that secret services have to be secret—it is one of the paradoxes—and we went in to support him when thirty-four of his own left wing just did not—they voted against him and I feel now that too many people on the other side have thrown, are pitching their tent with the left wing instead of what I call the old orthodox Labour party which is totally different from the Labour party we know today, in our view. [end p16]

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

The Alliance argue for a Standing Parliamentary Commission—they did in the debate last week—to scrutinise the work of the security services. What is wrong with that?

Prime Minister

Ministers are responsible. Fundamentally, your Home Secretary, your Foreign Secretary and your Prime Minister are responsible.

If you have a Standing Parliamentary Commission, what are you going to say? That they are going to oust ministerial responsibility? That they cannot do. They never put it up when they were in office for that very good reason.

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

But most European and NATO countries have parliamentary scrutiny of this kind, do they not?

Prime Minister

Not, I believe, of the kind that they were proposing.

We have always had the tradition that Ministers are responsible.

When Dr. Owen, Merlyn Rees and Mr. Callaghan were [end p17] Ministers, they accepted that they were responsible and we in Opposition accepted that in a democracy they would never try to abuse those services. We accepted that. We backed them.

Because of this fundamental paragraph which I referred to before, in a democracy you want everything to be as open as possible, but your security services cannot, by definition, be open; they work under certain rules and it is up to Ministers to see those rules are observed, and I trusted Merlyn Rees, I trusted Dr. Owen and I trusted Jim Callaghan to see that those rules were observed, because that would have crossed Party lines and I was not going to accuse them of anything else. I believe they were to be trusted.

You cannot oust the responsibility of Ministers by any device.

You can have arrangements like a Security Commission, like a judge seeing that any telephone tapping has been properly authorised. That is enabling Ministers the better to carry out their fundamental responsibility and yet keeping the secrecy of the service. After all, other countries have their services secret and that must continue.

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

Are we not a bit obsessive about secrecy in Britain? Roy Jenkins, in the House the other day, [end p18] said that the British Government—and he meant any British government—tries to maintain far too many secrets. He said it is the most secretive in the western world. We even deny the existence of our security services by name.

Now, that is an insult to the intelligence of the average voter these days, is it not?

Prime Minister

What a pity Roy Jenkinshe did not say it when he was Home Secretary and act upon it, isn't it? Don't you think it was because there was a good reason?

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

Your opponents—and some of your friends—perceive that one of the victims of events this year is the authority of the Attorney General.

I am not talking about more recent events, but I am talking about the Westland affair when his advice to Ministers was leaked; and recently, his personal authority seems wrongly to have been put behind the Australian case and had to be retracted in court.

Have you diminished the traditional role of the Attorney in your Government? [end p19]

Prime Minister

The traditional role of the Attorney remains constitutionally the same and is upheld meticulously, and will continue to be.

I have great confidence in the present Sir Patrick MayhewAttorney General and I have indicated that.

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

You do not fear that he might be the third Minister you would lose this year?

Prime Minister

I have great confidence in the Attorney General and in the great office which he upholds. It is a constitutional office. What it has to do is lay down strictly constitutionally and it is absolutely critical that no Government Minister can have anything to do or anything to decide about who is prosecuted. That cannot be decided by any Minister. It is a matter for the Attorney in his legal capacity, together with the DPP, and there are certain other matters in the public interest, whether certain actions should be brought, which are for him to decide, upon which he can take advice, but the decision is his.

When it comes to certain other civil cases, it is a decision of the Government, including the Attorney [end p20] General, but the constitutional position is clearly laid down and it is and must continue to be observed, and I have great confidence in our present Sir Patrick MayhewAttorney General—and in the Sir Nicholas LyellSolicitor General.

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

When it comes to enforcing the confidentiality which people who work for the security services are obliged to, for their lifelong confidentiality, do you intend at any stage to explain the seeming inconsistencies in the Government's approach to who should be prosecuted, who should not?

Prime Minister

Who should be prosecuted or not—prosecution is a matter for the Attorney General and the Sir Thomas HetheringtonDirector of Public Prosecutions. It is not a matter for the Government and must never be.

The day a political Minister can say who should be prosecuted and who should not, that day the rule of law dies!

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

But when it comes to civil actions, of course, it is a bit more complicated? [end p21]

Prime Minister

Civil actions are not prosecution. Civil actions are injunction or sometimes a Minister being taken to court on judicial review and you have to defend that.

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

And that is a political decision?

Prime Minister

Yes. Whether or not you go for an injunction and whether or not you defend an attack is a civil decision and if you think you are going to court, obviously you take the Attorney's advice.

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

People like Mr. Steel are asking you to say why is Peter Wright being pursued in the Australian courts and Chapman Pincher was not pursued here.

Prime Minister

You are getting into the bounds of a case in Australia. You know I can say nothing about that. Government is a plaintiff in the courts in Australia and if I or anyone else were to say anything about it, it could be a matter of contempt of court. [end p22]

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

Do you foresee a time when you will be able to answer questions about it?

Prime Minister

When I was tackled in the House, I said when the case is over I will look at questions I am asked and decide whether or not I answer them in accordance with the customs and conventions. That is as far as I can go.

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

One final point—about Lord Rothschild.

He asked you for the incontrovertible evidence that he was not a Soviet agent and some people remarked that you did not go quite as far as he appeared to be asking you to go.

Was he asking the impossible?

Prime Minister

Why do you press that point? I made it quite clear. I am advised that there is no evidence that Lord Rothschild was ever a Soviet agent. To me, that is an end of the matter. That is that. Why do you try to cast doubt upon it? [end p23]

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

I do not. I am simply reflecting the views in the House of Commons and in the country at large.

Prime Minister

Excellent! Excellent! You do not cast doubt upon it; neither do I!

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

I do not cast doubt upon your explanation. I am simply saying that other people cast doubt upon it.

Prime Minister

I think that that is an innuendo in itself and I totally and utterly condemn that innuendo.

Peter Sissons, Channel Four

The final word. Is it your personal view that he has always been a loyal citizen?

Prime Minister

I said precisely what I have indicated, precisely. I stand absolutely by that. I said that as Prime Minister. I cannot say it in a higher capacity.