Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1987 Sep 23 We
Margaret Thatcher

Interview for Woman's Own ("no such thing as society")

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Interview
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive (THCR 5/2/262): COI transcript
Journalist: Douglas Keay, Woman's Own
Editorial comments: 1600-1720. An edited version of the interview was published on 31 October 1987 (under the title "Aids, education and the year 2000!"), pp8-10. Douglas Keay faithfully reproduced MT's reflections on society, although in the transcript the phrase "There is no such thing as society" occurs a few paragraphs below its position in the published text. Most unusually a statement elucidating the remark was issued by No.10, at the request of the Sunday Times and published on 10 July 1988 in the "Atticus" column: it is transcribed from the newspaper and follows the interview transcript.
Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 9686
Themes: Education, Health policy, Social security & welfare, Society, Voluntary sector & charity, Family, Employment, Environment, Housing, Media, General Elections, British Constitution (general discussions), Executive, Executive (appointments), Race, immigration, nationality, Conservatism, Leadership, Religion & morality, Autobiographical comments, Autobiography (marriage & children), Famous statements by MT, Famous statements by MT (discussions of)
Douglas Keay , Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] May I begin with belated congratulations on winning third term? Prime Minister

Congratulations are always welcome, even though they are belated! Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] Sincere! Has it sunk in because it is history. You are not just a prime minister or a politician. You are now a statesperson in the history books. Prime Minister

No, it does [?not] really sink in, because to me it is almost a continuum being here because there is still so much to do. There is so much work to do, and one is constantly thinking of getting on into the future, and the fascinating thing to me is that the longer you are here and the more mature in experience you become, the more and more and more you think about the future.

So yes, third term, and people said it was a tremendous victory and it was a tremendous achievement. To me, it is just all in the course of a day's work, but I am very very grateful that it has happened because I know that the whole essence of democracy is that you submit yourself to the people and it is from the people that your only authority comes. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] Some have said it is a shame the majority was so large. Prime Minister

No, it is not. No, it is not. It is very very good and particularly is it good at this time, because there are various governments in Europe that are coalitions, some made up of many parties, some made up of a few and yet there are very important decisions to be taken.

Now, if you have a coalition government, it takes them much longer to make those decisions. They will negotiate the conclusions one with another. They may say: “If we agree to what you want, we want something else in exchange!” Now to me, that is no way to make these very very important judgements on political questions, but we are the one country in Europe among those that who were involved in the last war who have a clear government policy and a clear majority and can negotiate with that clearly in mind, and therefore we can make our decisions much more quickly. All right! It was we who went first to send the minesweepers to the Gulf. Others followed but we had a clear majority and therefore we were able to make decisions knowing that we would have the majority in Parliament behind us. And, of course, you are coming up to a time as well when you are going into an unknown because we do not know what the result of the French elections will be—they come up in May next year. We are going into an uncertain period in the United States because they will have presidential elections coming up. So it is extremely good that we had a good majority here and that we are able to use it, and if we had not had it, then I think that they might have looked at it with rather different eyes and suggested that: “Ah well, Britain is retreating from the things that she has been achieving in the recent past!” Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] In a year or so you will be the undisputed western leader - the western leader with the most experience. Prime Minister

Certainly the one with the longest experience. Sometimes now, you know, you will say: “Oh yes, I remember when that came up before!” or you will remember the origin of some arguments or some agreements. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] A majority of over a hundred means you push ahead and do not worry too much about comments or criticisms? Prime Minister

You worry about people's comments. “Worry” is not quite the word. You listen to people's comments, you ponder them, you consider them according to whether you think there is something in what they say.

I mean, it does not matter what your majority is. If there is something in what people say that you have not taken account of, you have got to take account of it.

In other words, as far as I am concerned, I look at the comments on whether they have merit and if there is something in them, then of course we take them into account and may alter what we do or the way we do things. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] People say you never listen, so give an example please. Prime Minister

The Prime Minister does listen and listen a very great deal. Now I have to think of an example of that.

For example, when I went to Middlesbrough, one of the young people there said to me: “Look! You have your advertisements for enterprise allowance on the television!”

The enterprise allowance is for young people who want to start up on their own, have been on the unemployment register, and we recognise—I must tell you this as the background—that having got the income from unemployment benefit and social security, you cannot expect them to take the leap into self-employment with all its uncertainties unless you help them across that gap, and so three or four years ago, we devised a method: “If you want to start up on your own, we will guarantee you for a year an income of £40 a week, so that you know that you have got that coming in, but in order to get the enterprise allowance, to show that you have something to start off with, because you usually need a little bit of capital, you do have to raise somehow £1000!” A lot of people do it. It is astonishing how many find that their families, from their savings, will give them £1000.

What this young man said to me was: “Look! You put enterprise allowance, apply your local employment office, but you must have £1000 to start with!” and he said: “There are an awful lot of people like me who are absolutely put off by that, because I have no way of raising £1000 and I do not think a bank, without anything behind me, would have helped me and unless I had met someone who said—you know there are various trusts that will help you—I might not have come along!” So I immediately come back and say: “Will you please look at these advertisements! We really put the very people off whom we are trying to help!” because if you are going to say you need £1000, what you simply must say is that there are many organisations who will help you to raise this, which we will tell you about when you come to the employment office, and that is an immediate very practical example that I got when going out.

We do find that we do a lot and people just do not know and so now and then we just have to find new ways of letting them know.

That is the one that is very much foremost in my mind. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] When people say you do not consult enough or employ “yes”—men and —women, that diminishes your strength? Prime Minister

I have never wanted “yes”—men or —women, but it also known that we do have very big discussions and debates within Cabinet and the two accusations are really totally contradictory. You cannot have very vigorous discussions and debates within Cabinet and have “yes”—men and women! Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] And people resign from Cabinet.

The last time we talked you said one of most difficult parts of your job—if not the most difficult— was having to ask somebody to make way for somebody else. Prime Minister

Yes, it is, and they look at you and they say: “But I have done my job well!” and you say: “Yes, you have, but just as someone had to make way for you to come into that job, so we have got a lot of new young people and we have got quite a number who have been in the House for some time who have never had the chance to come into government. Some of them are very talented, and just as someone had to make way for you, I am asking you to make way for someone else!”

The real difficulty is that whatever I say to the newspapers or to television, the headlines will be: “So and So sacked!” and it is very hurtful and it is very hurtful to their families and it is not necessary. If only they said: “So and So resigned” or “New people coming in, though of course, people have to go out!”

It is not only that. First, there is that prestige problem and you know, we are all hurt. I do not know of anyone, even some of the people whom the public think are the toughest people, who is not hurt by these things. In addition to that hurt to your pride, they come into that door there and they have got prestige; they have a car which helps them in their duties and they have a salary. They go out, a blow to their prestige which they could not possibly have known about when they came in; their car is taken away and of course they go back then to driving themselves; and, of course, they will still have many public engagements to go to and obviously they will miss the car.

But also there is one other thing which has bothered me such a great deal. It is the only job, I think in the United Kingdom, under which you do not get any severance pay or notice at all. I must say I find this inhuman, and having been here for quite a time now, I must be in a position to try to do something about it. It is inhuman, because many people, if you have got a much better income your expenditure has gone up from your last salary and as you go out, I know what they are worried about as well as the blow to their pride: they are going to get some quite big bills coming in for a long time, bigger than their reduced income might warrant. If they are in the House of Lords, they have no parliamentary salary to fall back on, so they are entitled to three months pay, but in the House of Commons they have to go straight back to a parliamentary salary, and it is this transition which I really think we are not … Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] You might be hoping to do something about? Prime Minister

I could not do it without referring it to one of the salary review bodies, because it would have to be agreed, and you know, in this hard world in which I live, someone will say: “What! Is she going to sack so many that we have got to have a bridging?”

It would be totally wrong, because I know just exactly how I would feel and I know how their wives will feel. Perhaps it takes you time to adjust to a different level of income. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] When they talk of coming in and going out the door, have you ever been close to calling them back or is decision final? Prime Minister

No, because I have to think about it very carefully and decide who shall go this time and I always—but always—see them first, because I am not entitled to offer their job to anyone else until I have seen them and one does not call them back because one has agonised over it before, really agonised over it, and of course, the ones who come in afterwards they are absolutely thrilled and then one does sometimes say: “Well now, look! I think you would be very well advised to go and have a word with your predecessor who I am sure will be generous enough to advise you of things that are waiting to be decided!”

There is something else too: we all take pride in our job, great pride, and we all hope and believe that we have made some contribution by the way in which we did it, and then all of a sudden …   . they say to me, as I would say … I think I have only ever lost my job through an election … I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions … and instantly you think of all of those questions which have been before you, that you were considering, and you were deciding which way to go. All of a sudden they will go in front of someone else. That really is quite a shaking thought. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] A long time from now, hopefully, but will you feel the same about leaving No.10? Prime Minister

I think everyone who leaves here, and people who work here, we all know that if we work here we are immensely privileged. We all feel that, and we have parties for people who leave to retire and they are all very sad and thought the day would never come somehow. Well, they knew it would come, but did not realise it would be so sad. So everyone who leaves here with a mixture of feelings: immense privilege to have been involved in some way with this very great house of influence and history, No. 10; and it has been your life to walk in through that front door—because we all come in through the front door, there is not a back door … there are back doors, but we all come in through the front door and we go out through the front door—and everyone is sad. They knew it had to come, but everyone is sad.

It is not only that you are losing your job; you are also losing a lot of friends. It is not only the work you do; it is the day-to-day contact with your colleagues, and so often your colleagues are your friends.

It is work—and this is the tragedy about unemployment—work is not only a means of earning your income; it is the whole social life, and so yes, it will be sad, and the longer you are here the sadder it will be because the longer you are here, the more it has become a part of your habit of life. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] We are same age—your age is published—and you are still stimulated by thought of what remains to do? Prime Minister

I am immensely stimulated by what I have to do. But do not forget this one big problem which you and my age group faces. Again, we are immensely privileged. We hope to be alive at the turn of the century, which is the turn of the thousand years. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] Seems a long way away! Prime Minister

Yes, of course it is something which is really special because you wish to mark that event in some way. Already one is beginning to think: “Now, what ought we to be preparing to do to have something really rather special?” and it will take a long time to work up to it, but you do not want to start too soon. You want to have something very special for 2000 years, and internationally as well. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] Would you like to be PM in year 2000? Prime Minister

I do not somehow think I shall be! One's thoughts are moving in certain directions about things that maybe we ought to do or targets which we ought to have achieved … if you are very keen, as I am, on planting trees and shrubs and beautifying Britain, which would involve everyone, whether it is in a village or town or countryside or the urban environment. We simply must be soon starting to get it and get rid of the dereliction. We must soon have some targets, but they have to be targets and they have to be objectives which involve everyone. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] Only twelve years away, unbelievable! Prime Minister

Yes. Twelve, thirteen years away. It is not quite time to start, but it is time to be thinking about it.

So you see, that focuses your mind on the future. You are not only beginning another century, you are beginning another thousand years! You know, “A thousand ages in Thy sight are like an evening gone!” immediately comes back from that fantastic hymn “Oh God our Help in Ages Past”. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] You will get there! Prime Minister

It is a bit special, isn't it? The last time it was one thousand years and my goodness me, it was totally different. Even two hundred years ago was a totally different world. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] People argue which is the beginning of the new century, 2000 or 2001. Prime Minister

I know. Which is the beginning of a new decade? Which is the beginning of a new century? Which is the beginning of a new millenium? Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] You can sort that out for us. Prime Minister

Well, you can sort it out but really, the thing is I think that people expect when it comes to the end of the year 1999 that it will be a very special New Year's Eve. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] Next question is education morality; we have touched on this already.

There has been so much talk in the last month or so and it will continue: one, about national curriculum, two, about this very human problem of mixed racial schools and how we are going to solve that and also for parents, what is going to happen to their children? Are they going to have a choice? How is it going to work? Prime Minister

Let us start with the actual curriculum.

As one goes around, talking both to employers and to young people, and on the Youth Training Scheme, you will find that some of the young people who are in difficulty with getting jobs are in that difficulty because they found they are not very articulate, they find it difficult to express their thoughts. They are not very good at writing a letter. They are not always very good at reading and their idea of arithmetic and their idea of how to go to an interview and their ideas of what is wanted of them—that they must turn up on time and that they must be part of a team and so on. They have not got the normal grounding in those things that one would expect them to have, and so you find that there are a number of schemes now to give them that grounding and I can only say that I have seen some of them and the confidence that comes with it is a joy to behold.

I am overwhelmed with two thoughts: how is that these young people have had eleven years of compulsory education, but at no stage in their development did someone say: “Look! By the time they are about eight or nine, they ought to be reading. Even a late learner ought to be reading. They ought by that time to know the essence of writing a letter and they ought to have had the basic tables and the basic elements of arithmetic!” and if you do not get it into them then, then of course, when they go to secondary schools they are frightened because if you have not got the basic reading, there is an awful lot you cannot learn later.

When I was at school, part of our education and training from the very good teachers we had was to teach you to express your own views and you were always talked to and you always took part. Sometimes, you know, children are not talked to at home as much in the days of television as we were, and so I think: “Well, how come? They have had all that eleven years and this is an automatic part and how can you let them go on? It is not fair to them”.

And then you think in some very difficult areas where sometimes teachers have very difficult children and they are always playing truant it is very very difficult for a teacher sometimes to get the best out of a class and to put her whole heart and soul in it if you have constantly got to be looking at children whose behaviour is very difficult. So the teachers will say: “Well really, some of these things ought also to be sorted out at home!”

Some of those children really ought to go into a much smaller class where, if you have got to get them up to a standard which they ought to have got up to long ago, you have really got to give them special attention. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] So they do not hold back … Prime Minister

So that they do not hold back the others, but also to try to get them up to standard, but because of this experience, I really began to think that it is our job as Government to see to it that these children do get that basic education.

We do not want to dictate the total of education to the teachers, but it really is a core curriculum. Not in every subject, but a core curriculum, and to work out a syllabus in certain fundamental subjects: your arithmetic, your English—the spoken, the written word and some of the literature—and basic science because you really need the kind of literacy in science these days; and then going on to a kind of basic geography and history. This ought to be a part of the education of every child, and parents are all for it because they want their children to be taught. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] What has gone wrong in last few years? Prime Minister

Where has it gone wrong?

I sometimes think …   . there was an educational view that children will learn when they are ready and I think sometimes there was a view that they have to be taught individually and there was not perhaps enough group teaching, because you know, you learn from one another. Children learn very much from one another.

But we have not, in fact, had control over the curriculum. We do not want to take over the total curriculum, but we have a duty to say: “These things must be taught and they must be taught for a certain number of hours during the week!”, to give guidelines and other subjects. You really must also teach, for example, physical education. Religious education is compulsory, although my goodness me, it is very varied.

So this is really how we have come it it.

It also, I think, has another advantage. Some children will move. They will move from north to south, move from south to north, in the middle of their education. They will go to different schools, and it will be very much easier for the teachers where they go if they know that by the time they are at a certain standard they ought to be up to a certain level in those subjects. That will be a great help to teachers if they are. Also an enormous help to the children as they move about from one place to another.

And so this is why we have come to this core curriculum, so that it will help the general education of most children.

Now choice in schools. We are finding a number of things happen. Many MPs, certainly those who think the same as I do, will have found it in their constituencies. Often, you will find people very keen on church schools—schools which are run by the church although they get the money from the tax-payer. The property is owned by the church and they are voluntary-aided schools so they choose their own teachers and decide their own curriculum. You will find that many many parents want their children to go to a church school. They may not themselves go to church, but it means that they recognise that if you go to a church school, the chances are you are going to be taught things that are good. They really like to have that extra assurance.

It sometimes might be a Roman Catholic school and they are not Roman Catholics. Never mind! It is a church school and they want to go there. Sometimes it will be a Church of England school. It sometimes might be a Jewish school. It would never surprise me if some people said: “All right, well we have a particular religion!” Some of the Moslem or Hindu will want their girls to go to a girls school.

Coming always to this: “Please, I want my child to go to a church school!” and you say: “But look! The church schools have much bigger classes because so many parents want their children to go to it, but there is another school down the road where they only have classes with sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen to a teacher!” “Never mind!” the parent will say: “I would rather my child went to a school with thirty-six in the class where I know that they will get a very good education and the reputation of that school, than to the other one!”

This is, of course, giving problems and so some local authorities were restricting the amount that a popular school could take and saying that they must go to others.

We are going to do away with that in the coming Bill, because we believe that so long as there are spaces in a popular school, then the parents should have their right to send them to that school. What we had been going to do was to say that that certainly must be so for the secondary school, and this is a primary school in Dewsbury and I think we now have to consider that.

I do not think that I would take the Dewsbury school as ethnic problems at all. I think it is a practical problem and you see that some of the Indian families are really keen on their children getting on, and what you find is that the parents want their children to go to schools where they will get on, but if you have a considerable proportion of children who have got a language problem, that is why I think you come across this particular matter in Dewsbury. It is not a matter of colour or ethnic grouping at all. Parents want their children to get on and we are going to free it up when it comes to the new legislation, but we cannot do it at the moment because you have to have the powers to do so. It was in our manifesto. We were going to do it for secondary schools and now we have to see whether we do it for primary schools.

Incidentally, there is another point about the curriculum which I was searching in my mind. Just let me answer it now.

You have a large number of primary schools going to one secondary school. The primary schools may well have been taught many in a different way and their mathematics differently, their English different, they may be at different stages. It is going to help everyone if, when primary school pupils go to a secondary school it is known that they have got to have reached a certain standard, or should have reached a certain standard and should have been taught in a certain way certain subjects, so the secondary school teachers know where they are.

So that is the core curriculum one and the choice. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] My family experience is that there are parents and children desperately keen to get on and work hard at school and quite a large number of parents who are not very interested in their children and how they get on, so the children therefore are not very interested. Are you not going to put all the bright and ambitious ones into one school? Prime Minister

No, I am not. In my way of thinking, every child will have some talents. It is our job both as Government, as Local Government, as teachers as well as parents, to try to bring out whatever talents there are.

One is not trying to force a child. We are trying to bring out the best, and the child has got to have some kind of challenge to bring out the best, just as you have some kind of challenge in getting someone who is interested in sports getting up to slightly better than they could do alone.

No. There are very many different talents and you need it in a school, and it has always been part, I think, of the British educational system that education is not just a forcing house. It is that you try to bring out the things of character in them, you really do and every teacher will know you have a prize for the child who has made the most progress, you have a prize for a child who is perhaps most helpful in school, because there are some qualities—a quality of getting on with other people, a quality of being able to get people to get together—you can see straightaway some children have got it. You can see through life that there are some people who do extremely well in life, who are not the people who do best at school, but somehow we have not necessarily brought out those qualities in them.

You will have a business flair which often we somehow do not bring out at school because perhaps we are not sufficiently in touch with the local businesses, and we are trying to do more about that now, because business flair is very important.

A person who is very considerate of others automatically and thoughtful will probably get on very well in industrial relations, very well in commerce, very well in business, so I am not just looking for an academic forcing house. That is not our educational system, but I do think we are letting children down unless we are living up to the best which they can give. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] Is standard of teachers and teaching as good as it was twenty or thirty years ago … Prime Minister

I think the standard of some teaching is very very good indeed, very good indeed, and when you are looking at the things that are going wrong one forgets the enormous number of achievements that teachers have with their pupils. It is very good and there are some children who somehow are not benefiting as they should, and it is those that we have to look at. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] Teachers' fault or that of parents or children? Prime Minister

Look! Sometimes the children are not being taught the right subjects in the right way, but because of that, you do not condemn all teachers—very far from it!

Sometimes some of the teachers who want to teach all that is best, who want to bring out the best in children, say: “Look! I have got a real star pupil there. This is what I have worked for half my life. This child may go on and become a great scientist, may become a great musician!” Yes, it is your job to do the high flyers, to do the average and to bring out the best in a child who may be a slow learner, but whose contribution to the process of life may be great—but different. It is all equally important, but all different, and you have got to identify the talents and bring out each.

But if you are not what is called stretching the minds of children, if you are not doing that, then you are not doing justice by their education.

If you are teaching them either a language or arithmetic or mathematics in a way that they do not understand and in a way that makes them frightened, then you are not really elucidating the subject for them, because I do not believe there is anything fundamentally difficult, certainly in the early days, of mathematics or arithmetic. It is difficult for them to understand you have got to know certain things to get through life, so constantly one is looking at ways that they must be taught certain subjects, a certain syllabus, get a certain kind of level of understanding of them, and most parents might not know a great deal about education, but I remember people saying to me when I was Secretary of State for Education: “They are not getting the best out of John or James or William. They are not getting the best out of them!” That is what the parents were worried about, and others saying: “Look! I do not mind which school they go to, even if we are not religious, but I want them to be taught everything that is good!” and sometimes, you know, there is far too little discussion between parents and children in the days of television. Now television has opened up enormous vistas to our lives. Sometimes we know more of what is going on the other side of the world, more of what is going on there than we do in our neighbourhood!

It gives us a chance to listen to lovely music; the films of the sea around us, the world around us, the wildlife, I think are fantastic—or the skies. It gives us a chance to see marvellous plays wonderfully produced and it gives us the chance to hear about things we never hear about, but also, if people become television addicts, you have to look and see what television stops and if, because mother is very busy, a child comes home from school and mother says: “Here is tea!” and sometimes they are set down in front of the television and, you know, families seem to watch about four hours a day some of them, and they are not discriminating about what they watch. Then, the kind of family life which we regarded as our birthright, namely that you went home and yes, you would talk in the evenings to your parents about what happened at school during the day and your worries, and you know, I think the worries that children have,—tiny to us but enormous in their minds, are often bigger in their minds compared with their capacity to cope—than our much bigger worries are compared with our much bigger capacity. We used to talk about those problems and then you would ask parents about things that were going on. What is it? Why?

Yes, of course children ask the reason why, particularly when they are young and you must never say: “Do as I say because I say it!” Never! You say: “Look! This is the reason why we ask you to be polite and courteous; because if everyone is polite and courteous, it is a very much better way to live. It is very much more thoughtful for the town and the village and the school in which we live and it is part of life that you should do to others as you would they would do to you! That is the reason for it!” And if we say: “You must be in at a certain time at night!” there is a reason for it. “First, it is better if you are brought up healthy, but secondly, there are certain temptations which it is much better for you not to come up against until you are older and you can cope with them! And this has been so throughout the years. It is freer than it used to be in some ways, but it is better for you and sometimes it is better that when you have teenage parties that there should be some adults about so that if you want some kind of protection there is someone for you to go to!” Always the reason why. The reason why for children, the reason why in politics, always. And a lot of that kind of discussion between the generations is stopped by television and it is stopped sometimes by something else.

I always think families are very lucky if there is a grandma who lives not far away, or we often had maiden aunts, for the most tragic of reasons—because we lost so many people in the First World War. You know, a family is not only mother and father and children—it is grandparents, it is aunts. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] Moving around the country has split up families in many ways. Prime Minister

And also, you know, in the days where there was no television, you used to bring your fellow children home. “Come to tea with us today!” or you went to tea with someone else. A lot of it obviously still goes on, particularly in smaller towns, but I think that children, young people, today are longing for some standards by which to live. You have got to have rules by which to live. If you live totally isolated and alone like Diogenes in the tub, maybe it does not mind (sic) but the moment you live in a community, you have got to have some rules by which to live. You have got to say: “These are the rules and we have to live by them!” Of course they will be broken from time to time, but that is quite different from there not being any rules. I mean, you could not begin to play any of the games—this is how I want mostly to explain this to children—how could you play a game unless there were certain rules to it? Our life is more important than the game. There are certain rules by which to live, and I think they want them and I think they want objective rules as they get older. Yes, they will break them, but the business of life is that everyone accepts that there are certain things which are done, certain things which you should think about, certain courtesies, certain conventions, certain generosities to other people. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] When I first interviewed you six or seven years ago you used almost the same words. Government statistics show divorce rate under 35 is nearly 50%, abortions have nearly doubled. We seem to have more violence, we have the yuppies of the City sort of violent with money. We have competition and free enterprise and it seems somehow to go together with greed. Prime Minister

No, it does not go with greed at all.

Most of us work so that our children can have a better life than we do. Most of us work so that if grandma needs help we can have something in our pockets ready to help or to give them a treat they might not otherwise have. I remember going round a housing association for older folk and going into a room. It looked absolutely lovely and I said: “Oh!” and she said: “Look! I have got fitted carpets throughout my small flat!” She said: “My son is doing very well. He treated me to them!” Another said: “My son is doing very well. He paid for me to go overseas! Aren't I lucky” they said “to have such good families!

Now, they could not have done it unless they had worked hard for a higher salary and, yes, for money. There is nothing wrong with doing that. That is the great driving engine, the driving force of life. There is nothing wrong with having a lot more money. Every church which needs to be cleaned will have to appeal for money. If it needs its roof replaced, every historic building will have to appeal for money. You want to help some children to do things they might not otherwise do, you appeal for money. It is not the fact of having money. It is whether it becomes the sole or only thing in your life and you want money because it is money.

The exercise of the spirit and the inspiration is what you do with that money. There is nothing wrong in wanting more. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] … in deterioration …   . [mistranscription?] Prime Minister

What is wrong with the deterioration? [mistranscription?] I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand “I have a problem, it is the Government's job to cope with it!” or “I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!” “I am homeless, the Government must house me!” and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour and life is a reciprocal business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations, because there is no such thing as an entitlement unless someone has first met an obligation and it is, I think, one of the tragedies in which many of the benefits we give, which were meant to reassure people that if they were sick or ill there was a safety net and there was help, that many of the benefits which were meant to help people who were unfortunate—“It is all right. We joined together and we have these insurance schemes to look after it”. That was the objective, but somehow there are some people who have been manipulating the system and so some of those help and benefits that were meant to say to people: “All right, if you cannot get a job, you shall have a basic standard of living!” but when people come and say: “But what is the point of working? I can get as much on the dole!” You say: “Look! It is not from the dole. It is your neighbour who is supplying it and if you can earn your own living then really you have a duty to do it and you will feel very much better!”

There is also something else I should say to them: “If that does not give you a basic standard, you know, there are ways in which we top up the standard. You can get your housing benefit.”

But it went too far. If children have a problem, it is society that is at fault. There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate. And the worst things we have in life, in my view, are where children who are a great privilege and a trust—they are the fundamental great trust, but they do not ask to come into the world, we bring them into the world, they are a miracle, there is nothing like the miracle of life—we have these little innocents and the worst crime in life is when those children, who would naturally have the right to look to their parents for help, for comfort, not only just for the food and shelter but for the time, for the understanding, turn round and not only is that help not forthcoming, but they get either neglect or worse than that, cruelty.

How do you set about teaching a child religion at school, God is like a father, and she thinks “like someone who has been cruel to them?” It is those children you cannot … you just have to try to say they can only learn from school or we as their neighbour have to try in some way to compensate. This is why my foremost charity has always been the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, because over a century ago when it was started, it was hoped that the need for it would dwindle to nothing and over a hundred years later the need for it is greater, because we now realise that the great problems in life are not those of housing and food and standard of living. When we have got all of those, when we have got reasonable housing when you compare us with other countries, when you have got a reasonable standard of living and you have got no-one who is hungry or need be hungry, when you have got an education system that teaches everyone—not as good as we would wish—you are left with what? You are left with the problems of human nature, and a child who has not had what we and many of your readers would regard as their birthright—a good home—it is those that we have to get out and help, and you know, it is not only a question of money as everyone will tell you; not your background in society. It is a question of human nature and for those children it is difficult to say: “You are responsible for your behaviour!” because they just have not had a chance and so I think that is one of the biggest problems and I think it is the greatest sin. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] Divorce and break-up of family, the increase in that, does not make you think? Prime Minister

In general no. Again let me say this: I have known families, both professionally as a lawyer, as a member of Parliament, and personally, where it was very much better that the family broke up because there was a streak of violence, there was constant rowing, and where the children have been better when it has broken up, and those things happen. It is no good saying they do not—they do—and of course there has to be divorce and provision for that to happen.

And, of course, in any structure, in any society, the thing is that the overwhelming majority is the normal way of life and you marry and have a reasonable family life and you accept certain standards. When you have the overwhelming majority doing that you can always cope with the cases where things have gone wrong—and they do go wrong. I have seen them. It is much better for them to separate.

I think what is upsetting is if people go in to say: “Well, we will get married and if it does not work we can always get divorced!” because it is not that sort of commitment. It is an intention to enter into a lifetime's relationship and certainly, if you enter into it with that commitment, then when small things go wrong, you will try to overcome them and you will nevertheless try to say: “Well now, look! Can't we … it is important that the family will continue!” but if you enter into it with an idea that it is easy to get out of it, then the commitment will not be the same and I think the effort will not be quite the same. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] Since we last spoke greatest tragedy that has happened is AIDS. Has Government action been big enough and made enough impact? Prime Minister

I think it made a very very great impact and we felt we had to do it because it is a disease which is so fatal.

I think, from some of the surveys that we did, that it made a fantastic impact among young people and certainly at first it did alter the way in which they would have conducted their lives. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] At first? Prime Minister

At first. I mean, fear is a very great component.

I am not quite sure whether that is so or whether now it is: “Well, these things will not happen to me!” but I still think if they know I would think at the point when they make a decision it might …   . Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] Do you think it influences people and might change morale … Prime Minister

I think what some people have said to us and which is a criticism which certainly is so, is: “What you have been saying is: ‘Do not do that! It is dangerous!’ What you have been saying is: ‘If you do that in a certain way, you will be safe!’” Therefore, they have said: “Look! Do you not think, therefore, that it would have been better to say: ‘Do not do that at all!’?” to which one has to say: “Well, there will be some people who will get together in any event and it is our duty to tell them of the dangers if they do!” Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] Would you prefer return to … Prime Minister

But then, I think one is entitled to say to the great institutions of life, because I mean Parliament is not the only institute of life, your churches are your very great institutions, your great voluntary institutions or your great voluntary associations … you are also, I think, entitled to look to them, to say: “Look” There are certain standards, and if you undermine fundamentally these standards, you will be changing our way of life!”

It is when sometimes the authority of those institutions is undermined because they have not been so forthright that then people turn too much to the State. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] They should say more? Prime Minister

I feel so, yes. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] Should not just be Government helping? Prime Minister

That is right, but to do them justice, some of them have been very forthright about it and very forthright in their teachings and have taken up their teachings in the churches and in the synagogues. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] Could still be our greatest problem in 2000. Prime Minister

Yes it is, because although we are putting quite a lot into research, there is not a vaccine in sight that can stop it, but I think as young people come up to that age it still is a very considerable concern to them and that they will discuss it and I hope it will deter, the knowledge of what can happen will deter, and the fear that it might happen will be a very important part of the decision which they take. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] Might return through AIDS to the morality of one man and one woman. Prime Minister

They do know the risks and I hope we can get it across. The important thing is that they put it very strongly that a nation of free people will only continue to be a great nation if your family life continues and the structure of that nation is a family structure.

Now it still is, you know, in spite of everything. It still is. The overwhelming majority of people live in the traditional family. Yes, there will be problems. There always will be and there always have been in life, but the overwhelming majority of people live within the structure of the family and the family continues. That is necessary because when there are problems, and there always will be—after all, the whole of religion is that the good Lord came into the world to help those who had these great problems—most of the problems will be solved within the family structure. You have to accept that these problems will occur, but it is best to have them solved within the family structure and you are denying the solution unless the family structure continues. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] Your own family? Your husband was seventy or seventy-one I think when we last spoke. Prime Minister

Yes, Denis Thatcher he is seventy, isn't he marvellous? Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] One would not believe he was. Prime Minister

Keeps very fit, very active, enormously active. Absolutely fantastic! Lively. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] In that conversation you were worried he was looking forward to his retirement and you were not going to have enough retirement with him … Prime Minister

We have a very full life together and we are very happy with that very full life together, and the longer you go on having a very full life together, the more it seems the natural way to continue. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] No change in that direction? Prime Minister

No. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] Your children? You are still looking forward to being a grandmother? Prime Minister

We have to be very careful. I think it is very embarrassing to say to young people: “Now look! When can we expect …” You really must not. It is one of the most embarrassing things to say. Everyone hopes they will be a grandparent in due course of time. Again, it is part of the family, isn't it? Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] Very much. That is what family is about.

Is your son returning to London or going to hop backwards and forwards? Prime Minister

Oh, comes backwards and forwards. Mark Thatcher He will continue to live there but of course he comes over here I think as often as he can. His business takes him anywhere. If he will be on the continent of Europe, he will manage to come over here. We are very close as a family. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] What do you look forward to—politics aside—happening in the next thirteen years for you personally? Prime Minister

What I would look forward to?

Let me put it this way. In view of what you said, I am fearful of giving any sort of materialistic image.

One of the reasons why …   . we give two things … we want the spread of personal property ever wider, not only because we want the material benefits to spread further wider, but because we believe when you have that personal property you get a much greater feeling of responsibility because you have to exercise responsibility towards it. Because you respect your own you respect also other people's. Therefore, it is a way of bringing about much greater sort of personal responsibility to a society of which you are a part, and also a way of having some of the means in which you can help people who are unfortunate, or help some of the great things which you have a personal interest in. It may be music, it may be the arts, it may be the ancient churches, it may be restoring some of the rural heritage, so that is the spread of property ever more widely. It is going very well, but it has got to go much more widely.

The other thing is trying to make certain that everyone does have the opportunity to develop their talents, and this is why I speak as I do about children who do not have and why we are putting so much emphasis on education, and also we are putting a good deal more emphasis on housing, so that people who will live in rented accommodation for ever will, I hope, be able to have more choice of what landlord they shall have and I hope that we can bring more private renting back, because that really was one of the things that enabled people to move from one town to another—rent a property for a time and then buy.

It really is a mixture of spreading the outward and visible signs of success ever more widely, but you can only do it through people's own efforts. You have to inspire their own efforts and then not take so much away from them that they have not the chance to go on improving themselves and increasing their personal property to their own and family's advantage.

And the way in which you use that is really the expression of the light of the spirit and also the ever wider opportunity. You only really get a responsible nation, responsible both to your own people and to other people, when you get a nation of responsible people and this is the way we wish to go about it. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] And for you personally? Prime Minister

I am also, as I said earlier, very keen that we retain our beautiful countryside; that we really look at the skyline of our cities. I confess I loved the skyline when we saw domes and spires and I am not mad keen on too many high-rise buildings and I do not think that they are the best way in which to live. I regret that we put up so many in housing, because I do not think it is easy for mothers bringing up young children and so one is very sensitive and I am constantly saying to people who like me are keen on the environment: “Look! The best thing we can all do is not to throw down litter and keep the street in front of our shop, factory, office, home tidy ourselves. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] Saw programme in which Japanese programme schoolchildren or adoptees clean their own school, they do the desks, they clean them all before they start work. They serve meals to each other and clear up tables afterwards. Gives a sense of responsibility from early age. Prime Minister

A sense of responsibility, yes, but not only a sense of responsibility, a sense that their contribution matters. I learned from a very able teacher, again when I was Secretary of State for Education and I watched her teaching some of her other teachers to teach. “Look! Even though you are with deprived children, it is not enough just to ooze sympathy on them. Often, the way to make them feel they have some part in life is to make a demand on them, something that they can do and give them a chance to do it!” Because, as you say, when children do these things, it makes them feel they have a contribution to make, but you must never in fact use children to do the housework, if I might put it that way, and I think they can help. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] They must not be used. Prime Minister

I have come across families where the amount that a child had to do before it went to school, no wonder some of them arrived at school tired. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] I sense that when your days here are over … Prime Minister

Happiness is not doing nothing! Happiness is doing something and happiness in an adult consists of having a very full day, being absolutely exhausted at the end of it, but knowing that you have had a very full day. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] And done something with it. Prime Minister

Yes. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] Am I right that when your days here over you will move into a wider … Prime Minister

Yes, one will always do something. I cannot do nothing. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] The environment may be the area in which you will … Prime Minister

Yes, I flew some time ago over the West Midlands and we are very lucky with the amount of grass and trees and parkland that we have in our cities and squares, we really are, but you could see how much the trees and shrubs meant and where they were not there things did not look as nice and it was not quite such a …   . Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] It was not England! Prime Minister

Or Scotland or Wales. Mind you there is a beautiful rural environment in Scotland, but these things are not the hills of home, they are the Scottish hills and some of them have not got a great lot of trees on them; others have. There is a beauty of those hills …   . you get the heather on them …   . Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] You don't like tall buildings and conifers. Prime Minister

Well, a limited number of conifers, but they must be mixed with other things. Douglas Keay, Woman's Own

[Question paraphrased for reason of copyright] A tax dodge now, I am told. Prime Minister

Well, we import far too much timber and really, if Sweden and Norway can grow their own timber—they are rather more to the north of us—then we really ought to be able to grow quite a lot of our own.

[+Appendix: statement issued to Sunday Times, published 10 July 1988:]

All too often the ills of this country are passed off as those of society. Similarly, when action is required, society is called upon to act. But society as such does not exist except as a concept. Society is made up of people. It is people who have duties and beliefs and resolve. It is people who get things done. She prefers to think in terms of the acts of individuals and families as the real sinews of society rather than of society as an abstract concept. Her approach to society reflects her fundamental belief in personal responsibility and choice. To leave things to ‘society’ is to run away from the real decisions, practical responsibility and effective action.