Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1987 Jun 5 Fr
Margaret Thatcher

General Election Press Conference (Foreign affairs and defence)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Press Conference
Venue: Conservative Central Office, Smith Square, Westminster
Source: Conservative Party Archive: transcript
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 0930-1000. Norman Tebbit, Sir Geoffrey Howe, George Younger and Chris Patten shared the platform with MT.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3670
Themes: Executive, Defence (general), Economy (general discussions), General Elections, Taxation, Economic, monetary & political union, European Union Single Market, Foreign policy (general discussions), Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Foreign policy (USA), Labour Party & socialism, Leadership, Northern Ireland, Terrorism

Q

What are the circumstances in which you would like to see Europe a nuclear-free zone? Are there any?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It is difficult to foresee them. What I have said on many occasions is that if trust between East and West were to grow and blossom on a scale far beyond what it is at present, we might be able to move in that direction, but not at the present time. The Soviet Union makes very clear her determination to base her defence on her possession of the deterrent nuclear weapon, and it would be folly in the extreme for us to discard it in those circumstances.

Q

Prime Minister, George Younger on the television on Sunday indicated that if there were a deal between the super-powers, we would be prepared to look at any proposals submitted to NATO for installing yet more American nuclear weapons in this country. Why do not you come clean and tell the British people that any deal would not remove nuclear weapons from this country, but increase them?

Mr George Younger

On Sunday, I said that if, as we very much hope, there is a deal this Autumn which removes the intermediate nuclear weapons from Europe—zero on both sides—and if that happens and when that has happened, NATO will have to look at whether what is left in our armoury of responses is complete. NATO will have to look at that; it cannot do so until the deal is there and when it does, we will play our part.

Q (Mr Bevins)

Can the Prime Minister tell us under what circumstances she would nuke Moscow? Can she also tell us why we need an independent nuclear deterrent, and does that now show a lack of faith in NATO nuclear protection?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We need our deterrent ability precisely to prevent the prospect of war involving anyone being nuked [end p1] ever coming about. The purpose of nuclear deterrence is to preserve the peace, as it has done for the past 40 years. The purpose of our independent deterrent, alongside that of France and the United States within NATO, is to ensure that we have a diversity of responses available to us to increase the uncertainty facing the Soviet Union, and to enhance the deterrent capacity of the Alliance as a whole.

Q

Can the Prime Minister tell us under what circumstances she would nuke Moscow?

Prime Minister

The Foreign Secretary has given the answer. The nuclear deterrent is a deterrent. It has been the best peace policy for 40 years. As Winston Churchill warned, “Don't ever give up the automatic weapon until you are absolutely certain you have got something better to preserve peace” . That is a very famous quotation of Winston Churchill 's. I used it before the American Congress; it is very sound advice. We believe that a nuclear deterrent policy has been the best peace policy. That is why we will continue to have it.

Mr Norman Tebbit

I think that those answers would have been the same answers that would have been given by Attlee, Wilson and Callaghan.

Mr Younger

We do not say anything about any specific target. The only point of a deterrent is that it should be clearly able, and that our adversaries should realise that it is capable of making a quite unacceptable response to them. We say nothing about any particular target.

Q

Denzil Davies claims that all British strike and battlefield nuclear weapons are American-controlled. But is it not a fact that you have in your independent nuclear armoury free-falling atom bombs and other totally British-developed equipment, such as bastlefield mines and nuclear depth charges?

Mr Younger

Yes. He made that remark in a television interview and, unfortunately, I was not able to get back to correct it. It is not correct that British forces in the [end p2] NATO forces have only got American nuclear weapons. We have our own dual capable aircraft etc. So that was an incorrect statement and I would have corrected it had I had the time.

Q (Andrew Roth)

Will you say something which is very difficult for you to say, where the Labour Party has an advantage over you because you have not been able to say it. It is difficult for you, but one reason why you want the independent British nuclear deterrent is that you do not actually want to be totally dependent on whoever gets elected into the White House at any given time, and under any given circumstances.

Prime Minister

The independent nuclear deterrent has always had a last resort feature about it in defence of this country. It is also, as you know, seconded to NATO, so it is part of NATO's nuclear deterrence, but it always has a last resort feature about it. And that is not the first time I have said it, Mr Roth.

Q

I meant about the increasing looking towards California——

Prime Minister

That is not the first time that I have said it; it is just precisely the same now as it has always been.

Q

I understand that Sir Geoffrey said something this morning about Terry Waite on Radio Kent. Am I right? Have we any news about him?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I talked about Mr Waite in the interview that I gave to Radio Kent yesterday. I expressed our continuing concern for his safety as for the safety of the other British citizens who are held against their wills in circumstances in the Middle East. We have no further news at all about him, although we remain continually concerned to find out.

Q

Do we know if he is alive? [end p3]

Sir Geoffrey Howe

There is no evidence to suggest that he is not. As you know, the reports come in almost daily suggesting sometimes that freedom is on the verge of happening and sometimes that he has been killed. It is a period of massive agony for his family, and we sympathise with them deeply. But there is no reason to suppose that he is not alive.

Q (Mr John Cole)

I ask Chris Patten to remind us what the United Nations target for aid for countries is and how well the United Kingdom is standing up to that? Are the Government really responding to the moods shown by individuals in contributions to Oxfam, Christian Aid and the various Bob Geldof things. Are the Government really living up to the kind of mood of the people in respect of aid?

Mr Chris Patten

The UN target for official development assistance is 0.7 per cent., of GNP. Four countries in the world hit that target; none of them has an aid programme as large as ours. Our aid programme is the third largest in Europe, the fifth largest in the world and we are spending £1.3 billion on aid. Our aid programme has gone up in real terms since the last election, and that increase has been secured in real terms for the next three years. In terms of quality and effectiveness, our aid programme is as good, or better, than anyones.

Q

0.7 per cent. What is the actual figure?

Mr Patten

The figure for last year was 0.33 per cent. It is about the same as the average for other OECD countries. Where we do better than most is that 80 per cent. of our aid programme goes to the poorest countries, as opposed to under 60 per cent. for the average of other OECD countries.

Q (Ian Waller)

Prime Minister, you are quoted in the papers this morning as saying that in the event of losing your majority——

Prime Minister

We are on defence and foreign affairs [end p4] questions at the moment. It did not sound to have a defence or foreigns sort of quality to is.

Q

… the Labour Party is claiming that your policy on Trident will crucify those industries. They quote particularly the orders for Westland, which have been insufficient to stop that company shedding a further 2,200 jobs. Is it not the case that your policies in backing Trident will cost West Country defence industries jobs?

Mr Younger

That is not the case. The Westland orders which we have been able to help with by having a new version of the EH101—putting orders for that—and also some more Lynx helicopters has given Westland an absolutely huge order book. There is a gap between now and when it gets underway, but the Lynx orders will help to bridge that.

As far as Trident is concerned, it remains a very small proportion of the defence budget; 3 per cent. over the life of the project—3 per cent. of the defence budget. Therefore, it is not a dominating factor in the defence budget. A much bigger factor is the Tornado programme or the BAOR. So any idea from the Labour Party that this inhibits the conventional defence spending is not true. Conventional spending has had 95 per cent. of the increase in defence spending over the past eight years, and that increase is about 23 per cent. in real terms. So this case simply does not begin to carry any credibility at all.

Mr Tebbit

Westland's problems spring, of course, partly from the disappointing sales performance of their civil helicopter—the WG30—in overseas markets.

Q

I represent a Brazilian television network. In your third Administration, will you pursue the same policies that you have already outlined concerning the Third World debt crisis—the international debt crisis?

Prime Minister

The Chancellor of the Exchequer took an initiative at the last INF meeting to write-off, in particular, the Sub-Saharan African debt. It so happens that we, ourselves, have written-off quite a large part of the [end p5] debt owed from those countries to Britain. Obviously, it would be enormously helpful if other countries did the same. We shall be pursuing that at the Venice Summit. That was his specific initiative.

Our own banks have, for quite some time, been able to make reserves against debts owed by Sovereign states. Our tax laws permit them to put a certain amount into a reserve, and because we are cautious people and our banking is cautious, we have been doing that for some time. So I do not think that there is anything different to report at the moment.

Q

Could you tell me what you have done about the leaking of an official paper, which suggests that Labour's policy to decommission Polaris would cost £2 billion?

Mr Younger

There is no document of any kind in my knowledge. But I understand that it is a normal practice during elections for the Civil Service, independent of the Government in power, to look at the possible programmes of possible incoming Governments. This may, or may not, have something to do it—I do not know. What I read in the papers does not surprise me. I have always thought that any calculations the Labour Party has made about the likely costs of abandoning Trident in the middle of the programme, and the decommissioning costs etc, would probably prove very much more severe than they thought. But this leak, if it is a leak, is nothing to do with me or the Government.

Q

Surely it has something to do with the Government; it is a Civil Service paper.

Prime Minister

I find that an astonishing accusation. When an election starts, I write to the Leaders of the other main parties giving them the customary facilities for access to the Civil Service for their programmes. That is absolutely customary. If you run later than four years, the custom is that within six months of the time when there must be an election, then the Opposition Parties are offered those facilities. We took an election just at four years. Therefore, the customary facilities were offered to them from the beginning of the election campaign. It is not a matter for us at all. [end p6]

Q (Sunday Tribune, Dublin)

Would the Prime Minister's Government in a third term consider joining the European monetary system. Would she also accept that the plans, under the European Act, for harmonisation on taxation, specifically on VAT, would inevitably lead to VAT on food and other zero-rated items?

Prime Minister

The position on EMS is as it has always been. It is our intention one day, when the time is right, to go in. We keep the matter under review. With regard to harmonisation of taxation, right from the beginning we have never taken the view that that is necessary for the completion of the internal market, and it is important to get down the other barriers for the internal market. We were absolutely clear when we amended the Treaty that any changes in the tax position in the Treaty would have to be by unanimous vote. That leaves us absolutely free to use our veto, so that we can still, in fact, keep control under our taxation policies.

We were not alone in that view. There were a number of others. It came up at Milan first, I think. There were a number of other colleagues who said that they would not have the EEC determine their taxation policies. If you question your own Government, you will find that they were as adamant on this subject as we were. That was in Garret Fiztgerald's day, but I do not imagine that the position will have changed. It is rather fundamental to a number of countries.

Q

Yesterday, the New Zealand passed their anti-nuclear legislation. Can you give your view on that, and say what effect, if any, it has on the Western Alliance generally?

Prime Minister

I am quite happy to answer the question, but you (Sir Geoffrey Howe) are not here very often, so I think you should do it.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Moreover, I was in New Zealand not many weeks ago. We made it clear the extent to which we regret that, as a consequence of the New Zealand Government's change of policy, it has not been possible for us to continue Royal Naval ship visits on the basis that is acceptable very [end p7] widely round the rest of the world. We still cherish the hope that there will be a change in the policy of the New Zealand Government in that respect, although the enactment of the legislation makes that less likely for the moment.

So far as we are concerned, we intend to maintain our relations with New Zealand as closely as we can despite that one fact. But it is a matter of regret, because it does, to some extent, call into question to coherence of Western defence.

Q

Prime Minister, there are growing doubts about the SDI in the United States. Are you as enthusiastic as ever on the project?

Prime Minister

I am not sure that I accept your assertion about growing doubts about SDI in the United States. I remain enthusiastic. It is absolutely vital for the free world to stay ahead on the latest research and technology. That, in itself, carries its own deterrent. Had we not adopted that view during the last war and kept ahead on the atomic weapon, we might not be here today. Therefore, I have taken a much wider view on SDI than the view that others take. In a free society, it is easier to keep further ahead in research on science and technology because of the freedom of discussion, the interplay of ideas and so on. It is absolutely vital that we keep ahead on it. Therefore, I remain both a supporter of SDI and a supporter of the wider concept for its own deterrent value.

Q

Denis Healey has just said that the expulsion of the Iranian who was waiting for criminal charges, and he likened it to the expulsion of the murderer of Yvonne Fletcher. What is Sir Geoffrey 's reaction to that?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I did not have the privilege of hearing what Denis Healey said about this, but it sounds as though he is speaking with characteristic irresponsibility. It is most important on a matter of this kind to recognise that our judgment and decisions have had to be shaped with regard not only to securing the right response for totally unjustifiable conduct in Iran, but securing the right response to secure so [end p8] far as we can the continuing safety of British subjects—not just British diplomats—around the world.

The consequences for Iranian representation in the United Kingdom as a result of our decision are, in fact, more severe than anything Mr Ghasemi was likely to have received even had he been found guilty on all charges. And, of course, our decision goes as it should well beyond the question of his alleged offences. It is designed as a response to the intolerable conduct inflicted on our diplomat, Mr Chaplin, in Tehran last week.

Q

This morning, Mr Neil Kinnock said on the radio that you were going to the Venice Summit next week in order to get some more party political broadcast footage rather than for any other reason. What do you say to that?

Prime Minister

It really is not worthy of an answer, not of a question.

Mr Tebbit

Least of all after they have had to show again the same party political broadcast, because they dare not show the one that they had made for last night.

Prime Minister

I went to Williamsburg for rather long during the last campaign. Fortunately, Williamsburg came over the weekend and I was able to spend a little bit longer there, though not the full time. I was there for the start of the Conference and the whole of the Sunday and then flew back during the Sunday night. I am not able to stay quite as long this time, because it has come in the third week. But I simply must go to represent Britain, both at the opening dinner which is where the agenda is set and the first meeting, which is usually the only one which heads of Governments have all together on the following morning. I go to represent Britain.

I must also say that the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be there; and they will stay on. I go first and you also (Geoffrey Howe) and then the Chancellor is going just before I return, so he will be there for the Chancellors of the Exchequer' meeting. [end p9]

Q

Does it reassure you that Mr Kinnock said this morning that Labour in Government would have no talks with Sinn Fein or the IRA?

Prime Minister

No. The prospect of Labour in Government does not reassure me at all!

Q

… with the IRA and Sinn Fein?

Prime Minister

The prospect of Labour in Government does not reassure me at all. They have constantly voted against the Prevention of Terrorism Act under which the police have apprehended terrorists before they committed an Act. Labour has constantly voted against that, and did so again this year.

Q

Can the Defence Secretary say anything about the delays affecting the Trident programme at Aldermaston? If it should prove necessary, would he agree to a fourth refit for the Polaris submarine?

Mr Younger

First, the Trident programme is well up to time. There have been individual delays in some parts of it, but I think that these have now recovered. It is well up to time and it is well below cost at the moment. So that is encouraging. As far as the refit for resolution is concerned, that is not completely decided yet. It slight depends on how it runs. We expect, in fact, to have to run the Polaris fleet up to the mid-1990s. It may need a fourth refit, but we are not quite certain.

Q (Mr Waller)

You are quoted in the papers this morning——

Prime Minister

I have not yet read this morning's papers, but I will take it from you.

Q

… accurate——

Prime Minister

You are a man of faith!

Q

… that you will continue in office as a head of a minority Government. But the reality of that is that you [end p10] would have lost your majority after a highly-personalised campaign. Would you consider it to be in the interests of the party at that point to resign in order to make way for a leader to rebuild the majority?

Prime Minister

Mr Waller, you are a constant trier, aren't you? Now look, we are 10 points ahead. We hope—it is quite true—to widen the gap to more than that in the coming week. First, I do not expect a hung Parliament. Normally John Cole asks me this question. He did so last time.

Q (Mr John Cole)

I have a different one this morning!

Prime Minister

I am sorry, Mr Cole, but I have to go to another part of the BBC, not yours—without sight, fortunately, just on sound this morning. We do not expect a hung Parliament. We think that the issues are very very clear cut, and we hope and believe that we shall get a good majority. You will have noted that on previous occasions the party with the largest number of votes has actually carried on in a minority Government. That is what happened, of course, when Labour won in February 1974. So it is not unusual; it is not a situation that we anticipate. We hope and believe that the gap will increase. That you very much, Mr Waller, for letting me make that clear. Will Mr Cole kindly reserve his question for another day, but it was this week when you asked me that one last time—I remember it well?