Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1987 May 22 Fr
Margaret Thatcher

General Election Press Conference

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Press Conference
Venue: Conservative Central Office, Smith Square, Westminster
Source: (1) Thatcher Archive: CCOPR 344/87 (2) Thatcher Archive: transcript (extract)
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 0930-1000. George Younger made the opening statement. The transcript confines itself to the question of education; the quality is poor, probably because it was made at speed. A note in the Thatcher Archive forwarding the transcript to Stephen Sherbourne records that "As from Monday there will be a proper transcripter [sic] doing the tapes of the press conferences". Norman Tebbit and Geoffrey Howe also joined MT on the platform. The Independent, 23 May 1987, reported further material, but says no more than that MT was "put on to the defensive" over the community charge. "She told yesterday’s press conference that there would be assistance for those on supplementary benefit".
Importance ranking: Key
Word count: 4052
Themes: Education, Private education, Secondary education, General Elections, Family, Religion & morality, Community charge ("poll tax")
(1) Thatcher Archive: CCOPR 344/87

Statement by George Younger TD, Secretary of State for Defence:

At this General Election, only the Conservative Party offers the British people a sound defence policy.

As an important member of Nato, we have lived up to our commitment to the defence of Western Europe. We are modernising Britain's independent nuclear deterrent, and we are continuing to strengthen our conventional forces across the board. We—like the British people—understand that a strong defence policy is also the best peace policy.

Strong defence—based upon nuclear deterrence—has not only preserved peace in Europe for 40 years; it has also brought us to the brink of an historic arms reduction agreement.

Labour would put all this at risk by dismantling Britain's defences. Their policy—to abandon Nato's strategy of nuclear deterrence and to demand the removal of the United States' nuclear weapons from Britain—strikes at the very heart of Western defence.

Labour know this. They also know that their policies are deeply unpopular with the British people. But rather than change the policies, their Manifesto tries to fudge the issues. Their Manifesto launch was a case of the dogs that did not bark.

They will allow Cruise missiles to stay while the arms talks continue. Incredibly, having now accepted that one-sided disarmament could upset the arms control process, Labour are still committed to the removal of Cruise missiles come what may. That is no way to negotiate.

They offer to make the future of American bases in this country subject to consultation. This offer is not worth the paper it is written on. For Labour are not prepared to discuss whether those bases should be removed, only how. The damage to Nato would be immediate whatever talks Mr Healey thinks would take place.

The electorate can have little more confidence in the defence policies of the Liberals and the SDP. Dr Owen 's sensitivity on the subject is understandable, given the desperate attempts of the Alliance to patch up an agreed defence policy.

The Liberal and SDP Manifesto states ‘we would cancel Trident’ but they cannot agree what to put in its place.

Now the SDP is wobbling on the issue of Trident. Incredibly four days after their Manifesto was published, the defence policy of the Liberals and SDP is even more confused than ever.

And even if the ‘Alliance’ could agree on a replacement for Polaris, it would be too little too late.

Too little, because the Liberals and SDP are prepared to accept a nuclear deterrent too weak to deter.

Too late, because a decision on a replacement for Polaris needed to be taken nearly seven years ago. And it was. The Trident programme is now well advanced, with nearly a third of the expenditure already committed.

If Labour would give away Britain's nuclear deterrent, the SDP and the Liberals would allow it to fade away. Like Labour their's is a policy of one-sided nuclear disarmament. Today only the Conservative Party can be trusted to maintain the policies which have kept the peace.

(2) Thatcher Archive: transcript Transcript begins at first question of education Question

Ask PM about schools which are to be exempted from the local authorities. Can she explain rather more clearly than the Secretary of State last night on Question Time how exactly children will be selected? MT

Schools which will be exempted? Which schools are you talking about—are we talking about the schools which will be able to opt out of control by the local authority because that will be decided? Question

Yes. MT

It is the school that opts out and the school has pupils already. I suppose if some of those pupils did not wish to opt out undoubtedly their parents would put them in a different school in the same local authority which is easier in the cities. It is the school that opts out and the parents and governors of that school who decide whether they will opt out. It does not seem to be a question which arises very much. On the City Technology Colleges, I imagine when they are set up they will be inundated with applications. There will be no difficulty about filling those schools. The point of the thing is to give parents more effective choice. At the moment they have a paper entitlement to choose a school to which their children go. Sometimes that entitlement cannot be carried out and this is to make the entitlement more effective than it has been. Question

If either of these categories of schools are extremely popular, as one might expect, how will they choose which pupils are to go to them? MT

The matter is for the school to choose as it has always been for direct grant schools, and for some voluntary aided schools, to choose the pupils who go, who are admitted to them. It is not a matter for government. If the school goes independent and becomes a direct grant school then that is up to the school to pursue their own admissions policy. If the school which opts out is a secondary modern, one would expect it to stay a secondary modern. Because it becomes independent under a trust the money is supplied, still by the taxpayer, direct from the Department of Education and Science. It will be free to choose, provided it continues to come up to certain educational standards and therefore will be open to inspection. Question

Does that not simply mean that instead of extending parents' choice you are going back to selection if the school is able to reject people? MT

But already parents have a choice as to which school their child goes to. There are some grammar schools, thank goodness, but the tone of your voice sounded as if it was appalling every [?even] to have a school to which children were admitted by reference to their aptitude or ability. Already there are a lot of schools which are grammar schools. They are particularly popular in inner cities. There is a [?great] demand for them. The City Technological Colleges will probably choose pupils of all levels of ability but who might be able to profit particularly from that kind of education. The idea that there is no selection by ability or aptitude is to you horrific [sic]. It is not horrific to me. Question

The manifesto said it was parent choice. That was the whole emphasis. It does not appear from your answer that it is parent choice if the choice is available in that particular locality. MT

No you are quite wrong. It is parents and governors to choose whether they opt out of the local education authority. Norman Tebbit

I think the point which John Cole is missing is that if a school has a particularly strong department of music the parents of children who have an aptitude for music and those interested in music would be most likely to want their children to go to that school. It really rather makes sense if they did. It would not have been much use sending me to such a school, let me put it that way for a start. Equally, if the school has a particularly strong department in vocational training again it would make sense for children to go to such a school. That is the essence of parent choice. Parent choice is exercised at the moment for a minority of parents because they can afford to move and buy houses near the school they would like their children to go to. And so parent choice in that sense, and there is a degree of selection, which exists at the moment—our proposals would widen that and not limit it simply to parents who could afford to buy houses near to the schools and within the catchment areas of the school they want their children to go to. Question ( Michael Brunson ?)

If you had a situation where one of the opted out schools was offering a thousand places, for example, and you had 6,000 children, through their parents, trying to get into that school, how would that selection be done? Would there not have to be something like written exam or 11 plus? MT

No. People are in charge of that school, as now, with some of the voluntary aided schools, and some of the old direct grant schools, decide their admissions policy and would continue to decide their admissions policy, as an independent school. The moneys would come from the Department of Education and Science. So I think you will get quite a wide variety of schools. If a school opts out the pupils are already in it and the pupils will presumably continue to stay there unless parents took them away because they are already pupils of that school. What we are trying to do is enlarge the choice. I think what some of you are trying to say is that it will go only to children of high ability. I do not believe that is so. I think you will find that some of the parents most anxious for their school to opt out, are some of the schools in real inner city areas who do not like the way the local education authority is running the education. Parents in Brent, in Haringey, are longing to opt out and we are going to give them a chance to try. Question ( Michael Brunson ?)

What is puzzling a lot of us is the actual mechanics of that selection. Would it not have to be a written exam of … MT

No. Why in the world do you say that? What makes you say that? Question ( Michael Brunson ?)

I cannot see how else you could do it. Norman Tebbit ??

It might be that the school was popular because it offered high standards of discipline and therefore one would want to make sure that parents wanted their children to go to a school where there was a high standard of discipline. It might not be one which taught Latin, or physics or something of that kind. There would be a great variety of things that would attract particular parents to particular schools. If it was found in the local area that one school was very popular, because it offered a high standard of discipline one would assume that other schools seeking to attract pupils would also smarten up their standard of discipline and one could just imagine that there would be an overall raising of standards sought to compete for pupils as well as pupils for schools. Question

What is still left unanswered is what are the mechanics of selection. Mr Baker last night seemed to suggest that there was some very complicated formula which he certainly did not explain a satisfactorily last night as to how the schools would pick the kids. [sic] MT

But some schools already do. The former direct grant schools are very used to this. Some of the voluntary aided schools are very used to doing this already. It is done. These enormous problems to which you refer do not arise. You will have by the time we have in a national core curriculum and standards of attainment, parents and teachers will know just how pupils are progressing so they will already have a pretty good knowledge of the aptitude and ability of the child and whether it is doing well in one subject or another. [sic] Is it impossible to have what we used to have years ago, interviews? It is already done by schools and they do not seem to find the difficulty which you are creating. Question

Will it but open to the headmaster to have a written exam if he wanted? MT

A school of that kind will become a trust and will be run by the governors, as many schools are now. It will be up to the court of governors and the headmaster—a number of parents will be governors—to decide. In fact you run away from putting responsibility on where it should be—those who run the school. All schools will be subject to inspection by HMI, as independent schools are. They have to be registered, and come up to certain standards. … Question

The Minister would not say “You may not have a written exam” ? MT

No. We are not that kind of government, that dictate in those terms. Question

There can be dozens of different kinds of [one word gap in text] according to the number of [gap in text] MT

No. Question

Under the supervision of both central and local government the system of selection, which of course exists, is controlled and supervised and everybody understands it. The tenor of the question is that … Norman Tebbit ??

The parents in my constituency do not know why their children do not go to particular schools. Question

The tenor of the question is that under the new system as proposed by the Government, since it is entirely left to the board of governors and the parents, we do not know what they might apply and some of the standards they might apply to admit children into their schools may not be acceptable in the general social policy. MT

But you know, we do not dictate from central government how children shall be admitted to those schools. It has been the policy that they shall not be admitted to comprehensive schools on the basis of aptitude and ability but they are admitted to grammar schools on the basis of aptitude and ability. The point which is missing in your argument is that so much of the education, including the running of the schools, is run by local education authorities and the education they give is enormously varied and different because the charge of the curriculum is given to the local education authority and hitherto government has had nothing to do with it save there is a requirement in the 1944 Education Act that there shall be religious education. So you already have enormous variety in the way in which schools are run, in the curricula, in what they are taught, whether they are taught what might be called good education, enormous variety, and it is because people are recoiling from some of the things which they are finding in the schools under local education authorities that they do not want their children to go to that kind of school, that they are trapped, they cannot get out. We are giving them a choice, saying “You shall be able to opt out of your local education authority” . Not opt out of government. Government still allocates the taxpayers' money is all the background of the Act will continue. They will be able to opt out of that kind of education given by their local education authority and run their own schools. The voluntary aided schools have been a part of our system for years. They have powers that the ordinary, controlled schools do not. Nothing unusual in that. We ran direct grant schools for years. It was a tragedy that most of them were eliminated. They chose and actually we are going to give more power and responsibilities to parents, governors, teachers, and I am amazed that you recoil from it. Linda [unclear]

Parents are crying out for higher standards in the schools for their children and this is one way in which higher standards can be achieved. … I am quite certain … MT

I think it is very interesting that you are asking us to take powers to dictate. I hope you will not with the next breath accuse us of being arrogant. [Transcript breaks off with following note] Questions

about doctors and health service follows and on Fiji and oppression of Indians there. Howe replying. [Transcript resumes at beginning of second side of tape] MT Speaking

… There are schools which are run with taxpayers' money, which are independent of the local authority. There are some schools independent in local authorities. Question

If they were dissatisfied with the money they got from central government could they charge parents a mandatory fee to supplement their income and/or become totally financial independent? MT

You say become financially independent. They would become a different kind of school. They would become a totally independent school. They would not get a grant. They would rank then possibly to have some of the assisted places which are being increased from the numbers we have now to a higher number. We shall have to bring in the legislation. At present we are not excluding the possibility that they may raise additional sums as well. We are not excluding the possibility. Question

Question about type of education put by Labour board stating “I'm young gay and proud” . Is it the Tory position that British students should be neither young, gay nor proud, or is it the combination that is problematical? Norman Tebbit

If the questioner would read the book he would find the answer to his own question. It is not a question, not a matter we would want to restrict those who are studying to the old, to those who are miserable and who are not proud. The point is that that particular book is on the list circulated by ILEA as being suitable for children at school. We suggest that it is not, and in the view of most parents, a book that is suitable to be used in schools. When we have sent copies through the post to people who have inquired about it from us, we have wondered whether we were breaking the law on the transmission of pornography through the post. MT

You realise these are actual books, not just titles we have thought up. They are books on the book list for schools and most parents are in great revolt. Question

I have read the book but it seems to me that if the question is the contents, putting the title on a billboard, just looking at the poster, most people would not realise that it was a book. Norman Tebbit

I think most people do because this is not an issue that is entirely fresh. There are many people well aware of it already and many who would not wish to read the book, nor would they wish their children to be encouraged to read it. That is the point of the advertisement. MT

And they would be able to opt their school out of the local education authority who puts such books on the school curriculum and makes much books available to children. Question

You said additional sums could be raised by these schools. Can you confirm that that will include a power to raise a compulsory per capita fee? MT

We shall see that the money which goes from the taxpayer to the schools is sufficient for the good education of the children. So far we have not thought to preclude those schools from raising extra sums of money and I think it would be wrong to do so. We should of course look very carefully if there is any imposition of a fee upon the children. Clearly all schools are meant to be schools where the children receive a different form of education paid for and supplied by the state. It is not out of kilter with what we believe in to stop parents from raising extra sums for that school. Question

On education again, your government's 1981 Education Act set up a very sophisticated system of local authorities to monitor help, and psychologically assess kids with behaviour problems and integrate the handicapped into schools. How will this run alongside in authorities where schools start opting out, given that this is a whole local authority service? Will they be able to refuse them? Will children who develop behaviour problems be asked to leave schools? How is it going to work? MT

As you know there are two ways of dealing with children who have behaviour problems. Either they can go to a special school and some of those, indeed most, are extremely good and many parents prefer their children to go to that kind of special school. Others, where the handicap is considerably less, prefer their children to be educated along with other children who are not handicapped. I do not imagine that there would be any great difference. I would expect that some of the schools which opt out, it would be their pride to take some children with these particular problems and to give them that opportunity, because I think you will find that schools which opt out are passionately concerned with giving a better education to all children, whatever their aptitude or ability. And those schools will receive moneys directly from the Department of Education and Science to ensure that there is a good education paid for by the taxpayer at those schools. [Unidentified Speaker]

I think you will find, from my recollection, that the City of London school is an entirely independent school with very high academic standards, and also one where the headmaster, certainly the former headmaster, a new one, he recently came in, always took a great pride in making sure there were places for boys who suffered, for example, from dyslexia or who had other learning problems. So even there, in the absolutely commercial independent sector one finds that there are heads and staff, who as one would expect have a keen social conscience and I would imagine that would continue in many, indeed all of the schools that opted out. We should not underestimate the social conscience of the staff just because they are in a school which has opted out. MT

And I make it clear these schools, though they will be run as a trust, will be schools paid for, as schools are now, by the taxpayer and by the ratepayer. So everyone will be able to have the chance to opt out, should that school wish it. They will not be precluded from going there because the amounts will come from the taxpayer. Question

Two more questions. Parents whose children cannot get into one of the voluntary trust schools, the local authority will still have a statutory authority to educate them? MT

Yes. The statutory obligation will continue. This is to get greater variety. The statutory obligation of the local education authority will continue. It must, it does, it will. This will provide a different form of education which is paid for by the taxpayer, a different form from those which are provided now. It therefore enlarges the choice available for parents and school governors to take as they wish. Question

Because it may be theoretically possible for every school to opt out of its local authority what would happen then to parents whose children got rejected by a school? Who would decide where they should go and where would they go? MT

I think you are a little optimistic about the numbers of schools that will opt out. There will always be a residual duty. The local education authorities will continue to have a considerable number of children to be educated. The local education authorities like mine also take a number of pupils from other local education authorities because the parents do not like the kind of education supplied by that local education authority. For example, we have quite a lot come to us from Brent and perhaps it is not surprising. Let us make it clear: what we are trying to do is to enlarge the choice. We are trying particularly to help the parents who do not have much actual influence in deciding the education which their children should have and that is particularly so in some of the local education authorities in the inner cities. In the 1944 Education Act the Government did not take charge over the curriculum because it was felt that there should be no possibility of ever using the schools for doctrinaire purposes. That was the right instinct but what we found was the very thing we feared, the schools being used for doctrinaire purposes, had come about in some schools in some local education authorities. Parents are recoiling from it and wished to have another choice. Parents pay for education as ratepayers and taxpayers. They must be able to get their children educated at the taxpayers' expense in a different way if we can possibly arrange it and it is to enlarge choice, still under schools' financed by the taxpayer. I shall go ahead with this and am much more confident about it because after all it is part of our belief that we did trust people to take responsibility for themselves and to make their own choice and decisions. Norman Tebbit

It is not that they are unconfident as parents. I am sure that it is that they are seeking to question us in their professional capacity as cynical journalists and good luck to them for that—as journalists they have to be to make sure that they have … [words inaudible] … in the other parties, Prime Minister. In that capacity can I offer them a further attraction to whet their editorial appetites. 11 o'clock tomorrow press conference. [Transcript ends].