Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1987 Jul 24 Fr
Margaret Thatcher

TV Interview for BBC1 One O’clock News

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: BBC Television Centre, Shepherds Bush, West London
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Martyn Lewis, BBC
Editorial comments:

1300 onwards, broadcast live.

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3079
Themes: Transport, Foreign policy (Middle East), Defence (arms control), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Trade, Monetary policy, Community charge ("poll tax"), Executive, Industry, Housing, Security services, Media, Parliament, Conservatism, Leadership

Martyn Lewis, BBC

First, as MPs begin their summer break, the Prime Minister, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, is in the studio to talk about some of the issues that are in their minds and which will dominate the next session of Parliament.

Prime Minister, does the Government, first of all, intend to take any action in the wake of the Zeebrugge Report which came out this morning?

Prime Minister

I have not yet seen the full Report. Paul Channon will be making a statement in the House at half-past two, but if there is anything that we can do or that we are asked to do, we will endeavour to do it with all possible speed.

I think the important thing is that whatever the judge has said and whatever measures he has addressed to the various parties, [end p1] whether it is the management or the people on the ship or the Government, we must do it as soon as we can. It is urgent. The ferries are still running and people's confidence in them must be restored.

Martyn Lewis, BBC

We have had more news this morning that the tanker being escorted by American frigates in the Gulf has struck a mine.

How do you think America should respond to that?

Prime Minister

I think very calmly. The important thing in the Gulf now is to see that we protect the vessels that are going up and to keep very calm and not to react suddenly. The whole strategy is to de-escalate things in the Gulf and to keep freedom of navigation going. It is serious that there was a mine there - we thought they had all been swept - but you know it is very difficult to ensure that every mine has gone and I understand that might have been an area that we had not anticipated. They, I am afraid, do not stay where they are intended to be.

Martyn Lewis, BBC

Moving on to the arms control talks, they appear to be deadlocked over the issue of these seventy-two Pershing A's stationed in West Germany. If President Reagan or Chancellor Kohl were to call you this afternoon and say: “Should we give in on this?”, what would your advice be? [end p2]

Prime Minister

I obviously cannot say that on this programme, but first I think that Mr. Gorbachev's acceptance of the global zero is very welcome indeed. We have been working for it and we are very pleased that he has now decided to put those proposals on the table in Geneva.

I think that both he and President Reagan want an arms control agreement, but I think they need to take time to make certain that it is a good one and that we have got all the details properly sorted out.

Now, the Pershing 1's: we just have to remember that West Germany is in a very special position, she is on the front line - it is our frontier of freedom as well - and that any short-range missiles would be likely to fall on her. But that really is a matter, as far as the Pershing 1's are concerned, between her and the United States. It is a bilateral arrangement.

Of course, it does affect us. We have 66,000 troops - army and air force - on the front line. The United States has some 330,000 of her troops, together with families, right up front. That is more than we have got in the whole of our armed forces.

So it is something that affects all of us, but this particular thing was a bilateral agreement and I think that they will work out a satisfactory solution. I do not think you will find that they will let that matter block an agreement which we all want. [end p3]

Martyn Lewis, BBC

Is there a difference of emphasis between you and President Reagan in that you seem to have warmed rather more to Mr. Gorbachev than he has?

Prime Minister

I do not know that that is correct.

I think Mr. Gorbachev is doing historic things in the Soviet Union. It is remarkable, you know, to get a leader who has come to power - this is the seventieth year of the Communist Revolution - has looked at the results and said: “Look! This system is not producing results worthy of our people. We are not giving them the standard of living that they want; it is not giving us either the prosperity or a little bit more freedom that we seek!” and I stress “only a little bit more freedom”. But that is very courageous and I think he should be supported in the efforts he is making.

Also, I find that he is a very vigorous debater - so am I - so of course we get on together, but the important thing is we each respect the other's views, we will test the other's views, and then say: “In spite of our different views, there are certain things which is in the interest both of the Russian people and the British people and to all peoples in the Free World!” and it is very much yes, that we do get on together, but we do it from the basis of mutual respect and pretty detailed discussions. [end p4]

Martyn Lewis, BBC

Are you concerned that the Soviets appear to be making all the running and coming up with new initiatives and that on the PR front the West is not really doing as well as it might?

Prime Minister

I think, you know, that we do tend to give them rather more credit than we give our own spokesmen. After all, the original zero-zero proposal came from the United States, but do not forget, we would not even be talking about intermediate nuclear weapons unless the Soviet Union had first stationed them, and went on stationing them, and went on again. It was they, in fact, who stationed them, and we had to react, and they have taken a very long time to come to the point which they could have reached had they taken them down eight years ago.

Martyn Lewis, BBC

In your view, are we still on course for an arms control agreement by the end of the year?

Prime Minister

I believe we are and I believe that the acceptance of the global zero means that the Soviet Union too would like one by the end of the year. We still have to get the details of checking worked out, but I believe that the will is there and it can be done. [end p5]

Martyn Lewis, BBC

Moving on, Prime Minister, to the economy, we have had a rather bad set of trade figures this week. Bank lending appears to be producing a few flashing warning lights.

Are you at all concerned that the economy might be in danger of overheating?

Prime Minister

No. We are watching out for that very carefully. If you take the trade figures from the beginning of the year to now, we are actually in surplus. We had four very very good months and then we have had one bad month and obviously we are going to watch it carefully. But we are still in surplus. Actually, we expect it to be in slight deficit this year, but there are quite a few months to go - but not a serious deficit, rather less than last year.

You look at bank lending: yes, bank lending is comparatively high, but let us look at the whole lending in the economy: Government borrowing has gone down, right down, to less than 1&pcnt; of our national income. That has left room for borrowing in the private sector for investment, for people to purchase their homes, to be more capitalistic in all of their transactions; it has left room for that. It was intended to. But if you take the whole of the lending, both to Government and to the private sector, you will find that, taken as a whole, it is slightly down. [end p6]

Martyn Lewis, BBC

Now, the flagship of the Government's legislative programme is the community charge, the poll tax, as your critics call it, and yet it seems there are signs of considerable opposition within Conservative ranks.

If you have trouble convincing your own troops, what chance do you have of convincing the country?

Prime Minister

I think it is a typical thing that we have always found with rates. They are grossly unfair. There are 36 million adults in this country - only 12 million pay rates in full. It is grossly unfair that one house, say, with a widow or a single person in it, should pay the same rates as a house next door with four or five income-earners in it, particularly when local services are services to the person and not to the property. So everyone accepts that it is unfair.

There has always been a difference of opinion as to what should replace it and that is why it took us so long.

Martyn Lewis, BBC

You see, Prime Minister, Labour says that it would be equally unfair to make an average household in Greenwich - and this is what they say would happen under the community charge - pay 146&pcnt; more in rates, or the equivalent, while in South Buckinghamshire they would end up paying 50&pcnt; less, so there is an inherent unfairness in the community charge. [end p7]

Prime Minister

Well look! I think that there is an inherent unfairness in rates and there are going to be fewer unfairness in the community charge.

Second, the whole thing is being geared so that if you get the same level of services at the same level of efficiency in different places you will get the same level of community charge. If you are not getting the same level, either you are getting more services or extravagant services or inefficient services, so you will have a much better monitor.

The other thing that you have to remember is that that the community charge only meets less than a quarter of local authority expenditure and the tax-payer still pays far more than the community-charge-payer, so the higher rate tax-payer will still be making a much bigger contribution to local authority expenditure than the community-charge-payer.

Martyn Lewis, BBC

Do you anticipate having to make any concessions in order to get the Bill through?

Prime Minister

No, not major concessions. It is suggested that because we are having a transition period that that is a concession, but you know that was right in the Green Paper that we put out at the [end p8] beginning. Where you are making a major change it is best to do it in easy stages by a transition period and that is what we are doing - both for business charges - and business charges will be much much more beneficial for the North because they will be down, and that is really where we want some extra jobs to go to.

Martyn Lewis, BBC

Another major plank of the Government's programme is the bid to revive the inner cities and I understand that there are at least six major Government Departments involved in that.

Can I put to you what a Conservative MP said this morning?

He said there are so many Government Departments involved that it is a sure recipe for bureaucratic log-rolling, delay, compromise, inaction and frustration.

Have you not had to bang a few heads together and should you not bang a few more heads together to sort that out?

Prime Minister

Yes. I do not know who the MP was who said it. It sounds good. It is not very constructive. It does not help to get the problem solved, and that is one of the things you notice when you are in Government: you get people lashing out, but they are not very constructive and in the end we have to pick up the pieces.

I have taken over the chairmanship of that Committee.

Yes, you are quite right. One of the things is to get Departments to cooperative together and that is why I have taken [end p9] it over. There are a number of policies and they have got to work together.

There is education. The opting out is really to give hope to some of the people in the inner cities, enabling some people not to be under the local authority landlord but to opt out, say, to a housing association, just to help to bring help to them.

Concentrating on the dereliction grants, to get rid of some of the dereliction areas.

The community charge itself, because some of those inner cities put up their rates so high that small businesses cannot start and therefore they send away the very people they need and let me say this, because I am very keen on it; you never really solve a problem just by putting more money in. You have got to get the local people with you. They have got to be involved, because it is their city and they have got to have a part in rebuilding it.

Martyn Lewis, BBC

How do you do that without putting more Government money in to actually give them a pump-primer if you like?

Prime Minister

We have put a lot of Government money in and we have not got the results out. That is why we are taking different legislative powers on housing and education and on community charge at the moment, because the answer is not only in more money - it is [end p10] seeing that is spent well, it is seeing that it gets to the people who need it. Sometimes, you see, you will find the money is always spent and sometimes on the outer suburbs. Sometimes you will find, as indeed I did in Liverpool when I was Education Secretary, I opened a big new comprehensive school just on the outskirts of Liverpool, to a great big new block of flats. Do you know, when they did that great big new block of flats they had not thought about putting shops in or anything other than flats and it has been vandalised. The money was not well spent.

We have got to think of different ways of spending that money to get a very much better living environment for the people who live there.

Martyn Lewis, BBC

Prime Minister, moving on to another problem in the inner cities: is there anything you can do about the alarming gap between house prices in the North and the South? It decreases the mobility of labour, stops people moving South from unemployment black spots of the North.

Prime Minister

It is a problem isn't it, but there is only one thing that you can do when the demand is greater than the supply: it is try to get more houses built, not on green field sites, but sometimes on the derelict sites in cities, so that you bring up the supply to be equal to the demand, in particular for young people. [end p11]

Now, we are doing that, of course, in London Dockland. That is one of the tremendous successes. But where you have a tremendous demand, you cannot get the prices down to what they are in an area where there is less demand. I mean, I sometimes think - and I think it is happening now - that a number of companies are looking at the excellent houses there are in places like Leeds, on the outskirts of Sheffield, Bradford, in the whole north area. Much much cheaper than here. They are thinking: “Well, would that not be really a great attraction for the young executives if we were to move some of our operations up there and therefore to provide more jobs?” You look at the houses; there are lovely houses in Bradford at a fraction of the price in London. That means the same salary will give you a very much better standard of living and you will find the thing you are expressing will be the thing which persuades more companies to move north.

Martyn Lewis, BBC

Can I move on now to the M15 case, Prime Minister, which I know is a particular concern of yours?

Is it not increasingly ludicrous that a book that is published in America and which is now available in this country should be banned from publication here?

Prime Minister

Can I tell you why? You know, I cannot say anything about that particular case because it is still to be heard in the Court [end p12] of Appeal in Australia and the Government is a party.

Let me tell you what I believe the Government's duty is, and I do this bearing in mind that this case was one which was all over &dubellip; Peter Wrightthe person concerned left the Service long before I was Prime Minister, so I am defending a point of principle, and this is the point of principle:

The security services are vital to our security. If we leave it such that any person in the security services can reveal any secrets, can say anything about any people formerly in the security service or anyone else which may put them or their families' lives in danger, may say anything about people long dead whose relatives now have no case for libel, because you can libel the dead, can say anything however wounding, however damaging, however damaging to our country, and they can do that without Government trying to stop them, we are going to have no security services and it is going to be deeply damaging to the people of this country, and all our people, understand. That is the point we are trying to defend.

Martyn Lewis, BBC

Prime Minister, there is one more point I would like to put to you before the end of this interview.

There are suggestions that you have been having some slight second thoughts on televising of Parliament, which you have opposed up to now. It is coming up to the vote again in November. Will you be changing your mind, do you think? [end p13]

Prime Minister

I do not think I will change my mind. I have thought about it very deeply.

The House of Commons is a small, intimate chamber. It does not seat all Members. Those heavy lights, the heat, I think would be dreadful. Also, I do not think that the House of Commons has improved since it was sound-broadcast. Indeed, I think if anything the Rules of Order have been even more difficult for the Speaker to implement.

The other thing is this: the moment television cameras come in, you do not televise what is there, you change it because you are there and I, at the moment, unless they are under very very strict rules, would still I think vote against.

Martyn Lewis, BBC

Very quickly, Prime Minister, because we are running out of time …

Prime Minister

I am sorry!

Martyn Lewis, BBC

Not your fault, I assure you, but there is a suggestion that after two years you will have completed the “Thatcherisation” of British society that you began in 1979.

It may seem a contradiction, but do you want to stay on as Prime Minister in what would be a post-Thatcher era? [end p14]

Prime Minister

No, I shall not have completed it. You see, we have to go on with the policy of spreading property ownership, share ownership, everything, more widely. We have to tackle this within the legislation for a whole Parliament and after that there will still be other things to do.

No, “Thatcherism” will not be over in the next two years, nor will it be complete. It is a continuous process. I will not be there for ever. Thank Goodness - and other people will say that too - but there is still a great deal more to be done, and other people in other countries are following our example, and that is exciting!

Martyn Lewis, BBC

Prime Minister, thank you very much indeed!

Prime Minister

Thank you. My pleasure!