Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1987 Dec 10 Th
Margaret Thatcher

TV Interview for Thames TV This Week

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: LWT Studios, Euston Road, Central Office London
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Jonathan Dimbleby, Thames TV
Editorial comments: 1030-2100. Copyright in the broadcast from which this transcript is taken is retained by Thames Television and the transcript is reproduced by permission of Thames Television.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4527
Themes: Defence (general), Defence (arms control), Economy (general discussions), Employment, Monetary policy, Privatized & state industries, Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Health policy, Media, Security services, Famous statements by MT (discussions of)

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

Prime Minister, the summit in Washington ended not very long ago. There is no communique yet, but both leaders have given a press conference—a joint press conference. It is reported—and the news is coming in still of course—that President Reagan has talked of it as a “clear success” , “a summit lighting up the sky” ; Mr. Gorbachev has said that “On the whole the visit has justified our hopes.” It appears though, that there has been no breakthrough on an agreement to reduce strategic missiles by fifty percent and no other major move. Given the hopes that were there at the beginning, is that something of a disappointment to you?

Prime Minister

No, I do not think it is a disappointment at all. I think the summit was bound to be a success.

First, they did achieve the treaty and because they were having a summit and because one had been forecast for a long time, it made them that much more anxious to overcome the technical difficulties so they could get a treaty. That itself was a success. [end p1]

And then, I always thought that Mr. and Mrs. Gorbachev would be absolutely tremendous in Washington. It is quite different, you know, to see a personality and to feel the warmth and to feel the animation of discussion and debate and, of course, that has been a success.

And thirdly, you always create something of an atmosphere for the future in the discussions you have. You cannot put your finger on precisely what goes forward, but you know the person better and you have talked about things and you will find that after that there is a possibility that things will go forward faster.

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

Are you still hopeful it, again, has not been mentioned so far—that they will have that promised summit, that hoped-for summit, in Moscow, before the end of President Reagan 's term of office?

Prime Minister

Quite hopeful. I think they will get the agreement on strategic missiles. Again, it is quite a lot of technicalities, because there are quite a number of different ways in which you can take the reductions and, of course, it comes very difficult verifying the results if the Soviet Union keeps the mobile missiles.

But I believe that they will get it. I think it is within our grasp. [end p2]

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

Do believe that as a result of this summit we really are at the beginning of a new era in East-West relations? Is it as important and as dramatic, the process that is now taking place, in your view?

Prime Minister

I think the new era really began when Mr. Gorbachev made his famous speech, I think it was just at the beginning of this year; made it quite clear that the regime in the Soviet Union was not producing the standard of living, the standard of technology, the standard of social services, or the hopes that people had had for it over many years and that it had got to change, and then set out the kind of changes: more individual initiative, more personal responsibility, more personal involvement. This is very different from the central planning and control. That was one thing. Can I just say the other thing?

He is the sort of person who had both the vision to see this and the courage and boldness to do something about it. And the other thing: he is a quite different kind of Soviet leader from any other I have met. He discusses, ranges widely over any subject. Normally, they read out from a rather sterile brief—not so Mr. Gorbachev.

So yes, that did offer the hope of a new age. [end p3]

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

You sound as if you really do trust that man.

Prime Minister

I never accept anything on trust. I am always, if we have an agreement, trying to build-in monitoring and verification, but I do know, from having talked with Mikhail Gorbachevhim, that he can get down—as indeed I can—to the real bare bones of an argument, really get to grips with them, and everything that he promised me on certain human rights cases that he would look at and he would do his best to get families reunited, he has in fact carried through, and I have the very strong impression that if he says something he will do it and that is the first and very important step to trust and confidence.

If you are negotiating on arms, yes, it is verification that matters, but trust is building up.

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

If there is a fifty percent deal, am I right that you have not been asked at all to make any offer from Britain on the Trident case?

Prime Minister

It was made quite clear by both Ronald Reaganthe President and by Mr. Gorbachev that the British and French Independent nuclear deterrents were not in these negotiations. [end p4]

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

Is there then any stage down the road when you are prepared to put Trident on the table for negotiation?

Prime Minister

We have never excluded it completely, but certainly, even at a reduction of fifty percent in strategic missiles, Trident is still such a small proportion of what the Soviet Union would have left that there would be no need to negotiate on ours.

There is a second and even more important point than that, which I put to Mr. Gorbachev very recently:

Our independent deterrent is really an irreducible minimum. We have only four nuclear submarines. You must always have two on station to be certain, because otherwise you have also got one being maintained and sometimes the missiles being maintained. You cannot really go any lower than four submarines.

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

Would you be prepared to cut the warheads though?

Prime Minister

Now it is possible in the future that if strategic missiles get very very much further reduced, then we might bring some of the warheads into negotiations. I do not see that stage coming yet for a very long time. [end p5]

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

Do you look forward to or do you fear the day when the world leaders who possess nuclear weapons sit down and together sign a treaty abolishing—eliminating—the very last ones on earth?

Prime Minister

How could you possibly know that you had eliminated the last ones on earth?

How could you possibly know that some nations which had been trying hard to produce nuclear weapons did not actually get the breakthrough technically? It is known how in theory to do it.

You cannot be sure, and because you cannot be sure then you do still need a minimum nuclear deterrent yourself. You cannot dis-invent the knowledge; you cannot dis-invent the information.

I am not so much interested in a nuclear-free world—I do not think it is attainable—but I am interested in a war-free world, particularly a war-free Europe, where the last two World Wars have started. To keep a war-free Europe you need, I believe, to keep a nuclear deterrent.

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

In Europe, as a result of the INF deal, the Pershings and the Cruise are now going to go. You have said that in the meantime, until there is agreement on conventional weapons and chemical warfare, we have to maintain and modernise the nuclear weapons that are left. [end p6]

Given that that is the case, can you say whether you would encourage or not the decision or the idea of bringing Cruise missiles on aeroplanes—launchable from bombers—into Europe, to compensate for the departure of Cruise and Pershing?

Prime Minister

Let me put it this way:

That treaty is absolute on intermediate, land-based, nuclear missiles. It must be honoured by both sides. Both sides will honour it. Both sides have other nuclear weapons. Both sides will modernise their other nuclear weapons.

If you are responsible for the defence of a country, that defence must be such as to deter and it must be effective. Therefore, you must continue to modernise weapons so they continue to be effective. Both sides will do that.

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

Does that mean that you do not rule out air-launched Cruise missiles in Europe, which is the one issue which the Russians say would undermine the treaty, although formally the treaty permits it?

Prime Minister

I have not in fact ever heard the Russians say that it would undermine the treaty. What I do know is that the Russians are working very hard on Cruise missiles of all kinds. [end p7]

At the moment, we have in our air-launched intermediate weapons, the free-falling nuclear bomb. Yes, there comes a time when that will have to be modernised, because your aircraft may not get through. So yes, you do have to consider that weapon. The Russians will be doing it; they will expect us to do the same thing.

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

Can I just say on that that, in fact, Mr. Gerasimov last week on this programme said that—and I am quoting exactly—that to bring in air-launched Cruise missiles to Europe would undermine the treaty— “ruin the whole treaty” were his words.

Now you are saying: “Nonetheless, I am going to reserve the right to do that!”

Prime Minister

I am sorry, Gennady Gerasimovhe is not correct.

The Intermediate Nuclear Weapons Treaty is about land-based, nuclear, intermediate weapons. That is what both sides have agreed shall be eliminated.

Both sides have other air-launched nuclear weapons.

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

Would it not undermine the spirit of the treaty, though, Prime Minister? [end p8]

Prime Minister

I am concerned to keep our safeguard, to keep our defences sure.

I expect the Soviet Union will honour that agreement to the letter—so shall we.

I expect them to modernise their other weapons unless we get further agreements but as you know, I think the further agreements that are needed are on conventional and on the elimination of chemical.

My task as Prime Minister is to keep Britain's and NATO's defences sure and secure—and I shall!

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

Prime Minister, can we move on to the state of the world economy today?

It has been reported that the United States has the biggest trade deficit it has ever had; the stock markets have not yet recovered.

Do you fear now that we are likely to get into a world recession?

Prime Minister

I think that the rate of growth might slow a little. That, I think, is very different from a deep recession.

I think the psychological effect of the drop is bound to be that some people will spend a little less than they otherwise [end p9] would because there is a new degree of uncertainty.

On the other hand, one has to point out that interest rates have fallen and that will compensate to some extent for the fall in the stock market. The interest rates are reflationary, the fall in the stock market is deflationary, but I hope the one will compensate for the other. But I would nevertheless expect a little slowing of the growth rate, particularly when, as you have here—we have over 4 percent. There would, I think, be a little slowing of it.

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

Does that mean that the consequence here at home, if there is such a slowing, will be the end of the fall in the jobless total?

Prime Minister

I would hope not. That would depend how much it did slow and what was the mix of manufacturing and services and so on.

We are doing very well with reducing unemployment at the moment and a lot depends upon how far we can keep up the rate of growth, but we can still reduce unemployment at a little bit less than the 4 percent rate of growth, but to some extent, it will depend upon the mix of jobs that there are available.

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

Would you like to see the Americans do more to cut their deficit? [end p10]

Prime Minister

Oh yes, I would, but right now we are waiting for what Congress is going to do to honour the agreement between Ronald Reaganthe President and Congress.

You know, for quite a long time now, some politicians have said to me: “Look! America is reducing her unemployment by having a big deficit and spending more, living beyond her means. Why can't you?” and I said: “But of course we cannot. America is the biggest country in the world and the dollar often is the currency which people will put their money into, but there will come a time when not even the great United States can go on living beyond its means!” and they looked at me in astonishment. One knew that time would come and we never did it in this country—well not in my time—and it has caught up with them, and that is one of the reasons—one of the main reasons—why we have come to such difficulties.

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

But your message to the President is: “Please cut more!” ?

Prime Minister

My message to the President and Congress is: “First, honour the cuts and the decisions you have taken; honour them as effectively as you can by taxation and by real cuts and not creative accounting, and then consider very carefully whether you can go any further!” [end p11]

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

The effect, of course, of all this on popular capitalism has been very considerable already.

Should a responsible government not have made it much clearer, before the sale of BP for instance, that to invest in the stock market is a risk, it is a gamble, it is a roller-coaster, it is not a safe form of investment? Should not all those advertisements sponsored by the Government have carried some kind of health warning?

Prime Minister

That would have been very patronising, wouldn't it?

People are much more intelligent than you think. They know the stock market goes up and down, of course they do!

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

What about the 270,000 who bought at the offer price which was way above the market price?

Prime Minister

Yes, indeed, but they know the stock market goes up and down too.

The astonishing thing, according to some of the commentators, during the fall in the stock market, has been how steady the small investor has been. The small investor buys not really to sell the next day, the next week, the next month, the next year. Most of [end p12] them buy to put it, as we would say, in the bottom drawer, to give an investment for the future and yes it will. They know that it may come down. They believe it will get back up again in time—so do I. They believe that the companies in which they have bought are sound. Their profits are good, their record is good, and they have got good growth potential—and there is a lot more common sense in our people than you give them credit for!

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

You do not think that the slogan now sounds rather tattered— “popular capitalism” ?

Prime Minister

Not at all! Not at all! The stock market is down to where it was something like fifteen months ago. No, that slogan is not tattered. We shall go on expanding and extending popular capitalism and it will give many many people an extra income when they retire and something to hand on to their children.

Look at the results that are coming now! You want me to stop! The results are good!

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

It is always interesting to hear you going on, Prime Minister, but I want to move on actually to the next subject if we can, the Health Service. [end p13]

Prime Minister

But you do not want me to go on and on! I understand!

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

That is extremely good of you!

You have, on occasions, repeated the statistics showing that real spending in the National Health Service has risen since you have been in office. Let us take that as read. At the same time…

Prime Minister

And accept it!

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

At the same time, the eminent presidents of no less than three colleges of medicine have written to you in an unprecedented fashion saying that the Health Services in the hospitals, the hospital services, are close to breaking point.

Do you accept their judgement on that?

Prime Minister

I do not accept that the Health Service in the hospitals is close to breaking point. Let me give you some of the numbers of patients treated, because that is what we are talking about. [end p14]

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

Are they exaggerating then?

Prime Minister

Let me give you the numbers of patients treated. They have gone up considerably.

In-patients in hospital: six and a half million a year; gone up from five and a half million.

Patients who go to out-patients clinics on attendances: 38 million attendances.

Operations: the number of operations is enormous: 2,360,000, in addition to some of the acute services.

These are not the figures…

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

Prime Minister…

Prime Minister

No, please! You are challenging me and you must give me a chance to answer!

These are the actual figures.

There are more operations in heart bypass, more in cataracts, more in hip operations. These are extra patients being treated.

You cannot say the Health Service is breaking down! Of course, they want more money. There are more medical advances and everyone wants them when they come. [end p15]

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

Prime Minister!

Prime Minister

And each year they get more money.

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

Prime Minister, those figures, again, are not in themselves in dispute, but what the doctors hearing this all over the land in hospitals will be saying is: “Yes, but our wards our half-empty; our incubators cannot be used!” There are reports of children, babies, who have died because incubators were not available to them. Cancer patients having routine operations having them postponed, even though at the same time they were emergencies. The Royal Gynaecologist, Mr. Pinker, if I can just quote him—one of these eminent figures I referred to—saying this very day: “The high-ups clearly do not realise what is happening. They need a good…   .” except he said it rather more strongly than that…   . “they need a good kick up the backside!” That is what he said, Prime Minister.

Prime Minister

It is not governments that pay for the Health Service, it is people, out of tax, out of value added tax, out of income tax.

When I came into Downing Street, the average family was paying £11 every week to keep the Health Service going. After eight and a half years of Thatcher Government, they are paying [end p16] nearly £30 every week, the average family, to keep the Health Service going.

The people who have been saying they want more—and each year they have had more and this year the hospital service has had between £700 million and £800 million more—they are now saying that another £200 million would do it, but we have already arranged that next year the budget will be an extra £800 million for the hospital service, an extra £1100 million altogether for the Health Service, and that is much much more than what they say is necessary.

Ten years ago, there was an enquiry into the financing of the Health Service done by Alec Merrison when the amount of spending on it was way way below what it is now and the number of doctors was less and the number of nurses was less, and Alec Merrison, who was then Vice-Chancellor of Bristol University—he is a scientist himself, a very distinguished one—said two things:

“There is no way” —this is ten years ago— “in which the National Health Service can fulfil all the expectations placed upon us!” That was because medical science is moving so fast and he said something else;

“We had no difficulty in believing the witnesses who said the National Health Service could take the entire national income!” Now of course it cannot. People have to live within a budget.

But Mr. Dimbleby, the Health Service has been and will continue to expand; it has been and will continue to treat more patients. More babies are surviving now—I looked at the figures before I came; I gave them to the House this afternoon—3,000 more [end p17] babies survive every year now than about eight or nine years ago, because medical science has moved on. Of course they want more!

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

Prime Minister, that is certainly true, but I think what these eminent gentlemen that I have referred to and the heart surgeons from nine different areas of this country dealing with children and those who have complained to you from the intensive care units of our major hospitals would say is: “Yes, that is certainly true, but we are turning away baby patients now and we are turning them away because the facilities that we have ready to use we cannot use because we have not got the staff to staff them!” That is what they would say to you now.

Prime Minister

One moment!

There are far more paediatric doctors, paediatricians, than there were.

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

But are they lying, then, when they say this, Prime Minister? That is what I want to get at.

What do you make of what they are saying?

Prime Minister

Could I get a word in edgeways? [end p18]

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

Of course you can, Prime Minister.

Prime Minister

No, of course they are not.

If you were a doctor or nurse working in the Health Service, of course you would want more. My point is: yes, they have had more; yes, they are doing more; yes, they will continue to do more. There are more paediatricians and there are more paediatric nurses. There are more particularly in intensive care. It takes quite a long time to train them.

Extra money has been made available and is continuing to be made available, but just remember what they said ten years ago. “We had no difficulty in believing the National Health Service could take up the whole of the national income.” Of course it cannot.

I find people in hospitals very much more satisfied. They were saying to me in the House this afternoon: “We need two hundred more million!” and what was my reply? “But next year… you have seen the budget…I have arranged that the taxpayer will pay—because that is the person who pays—eleven hundred more million…

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

All the polls suggest, Prime Minister, that taxpayers would be delighted to pay rather more for a Health Service and for hospitals that provide a better service, including all the improvements that you have made. [end p19]

Prime Minister

Because when you ask them a question much more intimately connected with their future and how much they want left in their own pockets of their own money, to spend in their own way, you get a very very different answer, and I will not forget the Wednesday before the Election on the Thursday, when I was doing a phone-in programme, a nurse telephoned me. She said that her net take-home pay—I think she was a very young nurse—was £80 a week. She said: “My pay is £80 a week!” I said: but you are quoting your net take-home pay, aren't you?” She said: “Yes!” . I said: “You are telling me you are already paying too much tax, aren't you?” She said: “Yes!” . I said: “Yes, but I am on your side, because I think people at your level of income are paying too much!” and I said: “Where do you come from?” She said: “Mold” . I said: “I know Mold. You have got a big, new, National Health Service hospital there, haven't you?”

So there we had what I get wherever I go, even where we have big new hospitals created by the taxpayer on a capital budget that has gone up 42%; since I have been in, even where we have nurses' pay very much up, even where we have more of them. Of course people still want more. The Health Service is an expanding service.

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

And you still believe it is safe in your hands? [end p20]

Prime Minister

My goodness me! Look at the extra patients that have been treated, the extra operations, the extra money.

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

As you were saying before. I accept that…   .

Prime Minister

It required …   .

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

I accept your point…

Prime Minister

…a Conservative Government to create that wealth, to give that extra service and it is safe. I think it is safe only in our hands.

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

I want to move very briefly on to a final area and ask you what prompted the Government a few days ago to intervene in the making of a BBC programme through the courts to stop it? It was about the role of the secret service. Why did you do that? [end p21]

Prime Minister

You constantly try to ask about security and intelligence services.

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

That is a question I have never asked you about, Prime Minister.

Prime Minister

The media constantly try to ask.

You know full well that is one of the things that by their very nature they are to remain secret and there have been times in the House of Commons when, understanding the nature of the services, and I was in Opposition, I went into the House of Commons to support Merlyn Rees in his decisions as Home Secretary on the security services because he could not, I knew, get the full support of some of his own backbenchers who were left-wing.

It is tricky. Of course, it is tricky in an open democracy, the people want to know more and yet you have to have security and intelligence services and that is why successive governments, knowing their importance, do not discuss them. [end p22]

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

Is it your intention, using the confidentiality rule as it applies to the contract of civil servants, that no civil servants—past or present—should talk about any aspect of security services and indeed in other departments about any aspect of their work in public, to take part in debate on such matters, to give information about wrongdoings that they may have uncovered in their view—that there should be a gag through that; is that your plan?

Prime Minister

Gag! I know that it is vital for the security of our country and so we may be able to resolve many crimes, that people who work in those services should be capable of keeping their own information and not talking. In other words, they have a duty of confidentiality not merely to governments, but to the security of the country and the security of the system of democracy. They understand that, most of them, and so do ordinary people.

Jonathan Dimbleby, LWT

There is lots more I would like to be able to talk to you about—I may not. Prime Minister, thank you very much.

Prime Minister

My pleasure!