Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1988 Jul 11 Mo
Margaret Thatcher

Radio Interview for BBC Russian Service (phone-in questions from Russian listeners)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: BBC Bush House, Aldwych, central London
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript (THCR5/2/304)
Journalist: Diran Meghreblian, BBC External Services
Editorial comments:

Between 1700 and 1840.

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4547
Themes: Trade, Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Commonwealth (South Africa), British Constitution (general discussions), Monarchy, Judiciary, Parliament, Civil liberties, Race, immigration, nationality, Religion & morality, Autobiographical comments


Good evening Prime Minister and welcome to the Russian Service.

Prime Minister

Good evening, I am very happy to be with you and looking forward to the questions.


What is your assessment of the recent Soviet Communist Party Conferences?

Prime Minister

We found it a very exciting conference indeed. Quite a lot of it was shown on our television. We were delighted with the informality in that people came up to the platform to speak, that they didn't always speak from fixed notes but sometimes they spoke [end p1] just as they felt. We thought that it was a milestone in freedom for discussion and we were very very pleased indeed. Your Ambassador, the Soviet Ambassador, came in today because he was at the Conference and he gave me a full account and report of what had happened and I told him just exactly what I have said to you, how pleased we were at the new freedom of debate and discussion and how good everyone is at that.


On the question of the shooting down of the Iranian Airbus, have you changed your mind since the Sunday Times yesterday revealed that the airbus was not off course and could not be regarded as suspicious, apparently the Sunday Times published a secret British Intelligence Report, according to which this is the case?

Prime Minister

May I just read you out a sentence of the statement which I made after I have said that this has been a tragedy for all concerned. I went on to say we understand that in the course of an engagement following an Iranian attack on the United States Forces, warnings were given to an unidentified aircraft apparently closing with the United States warship. These warnings received no response. I went on to say we fully accept the right of Forces, engaged in such hostilities, to defend themselves. [end p2]

May I perhaps add this? What happened will be analysed for days, for weeks, for months. If you put yourself into the position of a Commander there, there were hostilities taking place. His Forces had been attacked, he saw an unidentified aircraft on his radar, he had to make a decision within two or three minutes. As I indicated, he tried in fact to find out what kind of aircraft it was but it was getting nearer to the ship, of which he was in command. Put yourself into the position of someone whose duty is to defend his ship and the rest of the ships there who are there to protect their own shipping, and sometimes neutral shipping, he had to make a very quick decision. He tried to find out, he tried to find out twice, he got no response, and then of course weapons these days have to be fired long before you can actually see the aircraft.

That is very different from those who will analyse later information in great detail afterwards. And speaking as a Prime Minister, you cannot put your Armed Forces into the waterways of the world where there may be hostilities, where they are there to defend themselves and other people against attack, without them having the right to defend themselves.

Yes, there will be times when they make a mistake and this tragic accident, as I concluded, underlines the need for an early and to the Iran/Iraq conflict, including an end to all attacks on shipping by both sides. [end p3]


The caller is saying the airbus was still going according to its schedule, and the caller is surprised that the radars on the American ship could not tell the difference between that particular passenger aircraft and say an F14.

Prime Minister

Can I just repeat what I said? This ship had been in an engagement following an Iranian attack on United States Forces, then he saw something on his radar, he tried to find out what it was, he tried twice to warn whatever the aircraft was, but our information was that he received no response.

Now as I say, you will know many many things now that were not known to that Captain. But there is no way in which you can put, whether it's Army, Navy or Air Force, into the field to defend shipping unless you give them a fundamental right to defend themselves when they believe or have reason to believe that they are under attack. They had been under attack and they saw an aircraft coming close towards them, that is the circumstances with which that Commander was faced.

I would like to make clear that it was nevertheless a tragic accident and a terrible tragedy for all of those who had relatives on the aircraft and also for those on the ship which did the firing. [end p4]


Why is it that you speak out so firmly and with great conviction about the need for reunification of individual families divided between East and West and not so firmly when you speak generally about Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union and the caller says you did not speak out firmly enough when you were on a visit to the Soviet Union with Sir Geoffrey Howe?

Prime Minister

When I was on that visit to the Soviet Union, we asked come of the Jewish people to the Embassy and we met them at breakfast, they were not all able to come but the ones that came were all Jewish and I spoke to them and I have been very very active in trying to get more and more people out of the Soviet Union, as it is their wish to come, and have been very active too with Mr. Gorbachev and the Soviet Government and they have responded when we have given them individual cases.

As you know, many many more people have been coming out and indeed the other day I met in Number 10 Downing Street one of the people whom we had asked to come, a Mrs Ida Nudal (phon)., her sister I had met in Jerusalem. Now that is a practical case and of course I met Scharansky and Mrs Yofez (phon) is out, Mr Begun is out, many many people.

But we did not stop at that and it is my belief that most Jewish people will wish to stay in the Soviet Union, that is their home, they have spent their lives there, their families are there. [end p5] They want to have much more freedom of worship, they want to be able to go to synagogues, they want to have all the equipment that Jewish people have to carry out their religion and we spoke up about that too.

I assure you that we were, I think, one of the first foreign visitors when we were in Moscow to ask those people to come to our Embassy and to see them and to speak to them and I found it a very inspiring and deeply emotional occasion.


The caller wonders whether the Vietnamese refugees who are hoping to find a new home in Hong Kong would experience the same kind of difficulties as say people from Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union when they would say try to enter Great Britain?

Prime Minister

People are coming out of Vietnam in very very large numbers and they have started that process once again. In the year when I was first Prime Minister, hundreds of thousands of people left Vietnam and they were taken into Hong Kong and we managed, through the United Nations, to get most of them placed in countries around the world. But it was the sudden emigration of so many of them, in boats that were scarcely seaworthy. We took some here, the United States took many, and I think most countries took some. [end p6]

They are now in Hong Kong, quite a number still, who haven't any place to go and Hong Kong just now cannot take them all. When people leave Eastern Europe, we find they usually have relatives or a place to go to and they usually come out individually. In Vietnam they just leave en masse which does make it very much more difficult, but we do our best to get them placed around the world. But we cannot go on indefinitely taking them, particularly Hong Kong, which is about the most densely populated place in the world.


Let us put politics aside for the moment, we would like to know how you do your housework, who prepares the food in the Thatcher household, etc?

Prime Minister

I have some help in the house, no-one living in, we have not had that, but I have a lady who comes into help every morning and who gets our flat, our apartment flat which we have at the top of Number 10, back in order for the day. If then we have a meal indoors, which we may although we are both of us out on official duties very often, then I will just cook something very simply but we don't have complicated meals. Denis ThatcherMy husband and I tend to be out during the day. We may have official luncheons to attend to, or he goes to work and will not be back. I may have to make a speech. [end p7]

Twice a week I am answering questions in the House of Commons, that is on Tuesday afternoon and on Thursday afternoon and before I answer those questions, I don't really want anything to eat so I do the simple meals but on many occasions we are out for meals.


Do you consider the changes which have already occurred in the Soviet Union are significant, and what are the prospects for more changes in the future?

Prime Minister

I think that they are not only significant, they are historic. I think it remarkable that after seventy years of what I might call the old fashioned kind of communism, that is the one that you are trying to get away from, that Mr Gorbachev should have been able to see that it was not producing either the standard of living that people wanted or the standard of social services nor the standard of technological development. Not only that he should see that, but he should have the courage to say so and say then this is not good enough, we must not rely only on military strength for our place in the world. People of the Soviet Union deserve more, and we must change the system to see if we can get more. [end p8]

And then I was very interested in the way in which he started to do the changes. First to get much much more freedom of discussion and that I think people thoroughly enjoy and are very appreciative of and that brings forth ideas. It will take quite a time to turn round the economy. But when you are embarked on great endeavours, as you are, it is necessary to persevere because the end is worth attaining.

And so it is exciting. I think in future, in say twenty years or perhaps before that, the Soviet Union will be able to say we are not only strong because we are strong militarily, we are strong because our people have a higher standard of living, a much greater standard of freedom and something much more close to a democracy. That will not only be good for the people in the Soviet Union, it will be good for their neighbours and indeed for the cause of human rights, freedom and democracy the world over.


At the last Reagan-Gorbachev Summit an agreement was reached for exchanges between schoolchildren and students of those two countries and she wonders whether a similar kind of agreement is in the offing between Britain and the Soviet Union and if so she says myself and my family will be delighted to receive people of say thirteen years? [end p9]

Prime Minister

We have certainly had some in the past and we would like a lot more in the future. I remember on my first visit to the Soviet Union in 1969 in Leningrad I went to what I think they called the English School where they did a lot of teaching in English and it was very impressive.

Since my second visit when I came last year we have had back into Number 10 Downing Street many teachers who came from Tibilisi in Georgia and they came to see me and that was very exciting. So yes there will be school exchanges between the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom and I must just make enquiries due to your telephone call to see that they are going well.

You will be very welcome in our country, we should love to see you and will do our best to give you a marvellous time.

I think there is something else I should say to you. When Mrs Gorbachev came with Mr Gorbachev on their way to the United States she went to visit one of our schools and she had a marvellous time and they loved seeing her. Thank you very much for that phone call and I will follow it up.


Marsha heard that answer and she wants to invite again British school children from Britain to the Soviet Union. [end p10]

Prime Minister

That's lovely, look if she comes over, Marsha if you come over and your school comes over I will ask our Ambassador to let me know because I would like to see you and perhaps you can come to Number 10 Downing Street, where I live, we look forward to a visit.

[Editorial note: caller was Masha Kuznetsova from Leningrad]


This caller represents one of the new informal groups that have mushroomed in the Soviet Union and goes on to say that you have a reputation of a Stateswoman who can get on and work with all sorts of people, difficult people as well, and reminds you of the Yeltsin business of losing his job because he was so outspoken and he asks whether you can give any advice to Mr Gorbachev about how he should tackle a difficult person such as Mr Yeltsin?

Prime Minister

Don't let me say which characters are difficult and which are not. I have a great admiration for Mr Gorbachev, whom I know, of his tremendous personality and for the vigour with which he is pursuing his objectives. But I thought that Mr Gorbachev at the end of the Conference which we have recently had invited Mr Yeltsin to give his view to the Party Conference and that that was greatly appreciated. I think that is right.

If there are differences of opinion, the thing to do is to argue them out, discuss them, so that everyone understands. [end p11]

What I suspect is the problem is that you all want to go in the same direction, greater freedom of discussion, which is obviously already happening, greater personal responsibility, a higher standard of living and the argument is not about that, it's about how fast you are able to go and to achieve it. But if you have got a difference, then discuss it, and that's what a Parliament is for. In our language, the word Parliament comes from to speak, to speak together about things and to argue out the issues.

So I do that almost every day of my life.


How do you get on with Queen Elizabeth II because you are two outstanding women?

Prime Minister

The duty of the Prime Minister of the day is to be answerable to Parliament and to get our policies through Parliament and then every week I have the chance to see The Queen and I report to her about what is happening both at home and also on what is happening overseas and what we are doing about various things. So it is quite a long time, about an hour to an hour and a half, and I am able, therefore, to give a full account of not only what we are doing, but how we see things developing. [end p12]

That is a very private conversation but it is absolutely vital to our whole Constitution that the Prime Minister, who is the Head of Government, reports to Her Majesty The Queen, who is Head of State.


The caller would like to thank you for all you have done in the sphere of human rights in the Soviet Union and he would like to know what is your attitude towards the Hare Krishna religion, of which he is a member, and if you think there is sufficient religious freedom in the Soviet Union?

Prime Minister

We think that there is gradually becoming more religious freedom in the Soviet Union, as witnessed by the celebration of the thousand years of Christianity first coming to the Soviet Union. We believe that human rights are fundamental rights which every human being has. They are not given to you by the State, but they are given to you because you are a human being and we believe that the religion that has most to do with dignifying the individual is first the Old Testament, the Jewish religion, followed by the New Testament. [end p13]

So we don't think that any government is entitled to take away certain human rights, among which are freedom of religion and freedom of speech. And because you have both those, you have to be responsible about everything you do.

Now that's absolutely in the heart of our Constitution. Not all countries have those human rights, indeed there are many that don't. But gradually we work for more and more to have them and we are very pleased that there seems now to be much greater freedom of worship in the Soviet Union, which we see as a fundamental human right, and infinitely greater freedom of speech and we shall go on working for that. [end p14]


I was just saying, Prime Minister, that we received - because we made the announcement about your programme today - many letters from people, in particular about the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, this enclave of Armenians within Azerbaijan and I would like, on behalf of all the people who have written to us, to ask this question:

What do you think the situation is like? What is the significance of it and what is the way out?

Prime Minister

I think within the Soviet Union you have many different peoples with their own history and their own culture and obviously, they will wish to express their own history and their own culture in their way of life.

So are there many different peoples in the United States, but their loyalty is to the United States of America. [end p15]

In the United Kingdom or Great Britain as you know it, there are Scottish people, Welsh people, English people, Irish people and many other minorities, but we all owe our patriotism and our loyalty to the United Kingdom, so I do not find it strange that you have a lot of minorities. I do not find it strange that they want to live with their own religion or their own culture.

My message to you is this: In a free society, you will be able to do that and I have known many many cultures flourishing and have seen some of them flourish in the Soviet Union, and I think that when you get that full freedom of worship, the freedom of culture and you are certain of it - more confident of it - then I think it will strengthen the idea of the Soviet Union as a nation of people all loyal to the Soviet Union.

May I give you one other example?

There are many different peoples in big countries like Nigeria, many different minorities, but it does not alter their loyalty to their country once they are able to live in freedom and in democracy, and I hope with all my heart that that is the way that things will go in the Soviet Union - variety, differences of culture, freedom of speech, freedom of worship, responsibility for those freedoms.

Thank you! [end p16]


A questioner from the city of Gorki by the name of Sergei Gygaskin (phon) would like to know why your government is unwilling to apply sanctions against the South African Government and he says is it not contrary, against the interests of the peoples of the African continent?

Prime Minister

No, for the reason which I will give you:

As far as supplying armaments is concerned, we have an absolute sanction on that under the United Nations. We do not supply armaments to South Africa.

We have one or two comparatively small other sanctions. We do not import certain things, but they are comparatively of little importance, but that is to indicate our fundamental disapproval of the system of apartheid.

We think apartheid is totally wrong, but we do not think that applying economic sanctions would help. It would only make matters a lot worse.

There are millions and millions of black African people who would be in dire poverty and even in starvation if sanctions were applied. If you add poverty and starvation to men, women and children that does not solve anything; it makes it much more difficult. [end p17]

We go about things in a much more practical way.

We have allocated a considerable sum of money to educating black South Africans and they can come out of black South Africa through something we call “The British Council” to be educated in Britain. We have done that for quite a time and we have increased the amount of money available.

We help each of the countries which border South Africa. We give them aid; we try to help them to build roads and ports so that they can send their goods not through South Africa to get to the sea, but through different routes so they do not depend on South Africa; and we train their military people - we train them in Zimbabwe where we have some of our armed forces - so that they can defend themselves if they are attacked.

So you see I do not believe in making people hungry, poverty-stricken. I do not believe that will solve any problems. What I do believe is in spending more money to educate black South Africans and to help peoples in adjacent territories. That is much more constructive than merely getting up on a platform and saying: “Sanctions against South Africans!” quite without regard to the consequences. [end p18]


We now have a caller from a callbox, funnily enough, in the city of Perm (phon).

I think we lost him, Prime Minister.

Let us answer the question, because other people can hear the answer if they heard the question.


I am afraid I did not even hear the question. He only began his question and then was cut off.

Prime Minister

What was it about?


I am not sure what it was about.

What is the highest legislative organ or body in Britain?

Prime Minister

Parliament makes the laws. That is to say, the House of Commons, which consists of elected representatives elected at least once every five years. I have to be elected at least once every five years. [end p19]

Then it goes up to a higher group of people known as the House of Lords. Some of those are hereditary and some of them are appointed for life. They, in fact, do quite a lot of detail of the legislation, but they leave the fundamental principles to the elected House, the House of Commons. That is for making the laws.

The important thing about Britain is that when it comes to going to court and saying: “Please! I have a right and someone else has not let me have my right!” - a Government Department, for example, has been wrong in what it has done, or another citizen has been violent towards me or taking my things, you go to a law court, and let me make this quite clear: the law courts and the judges who preside over those are totally impartial. Parliament could only remove a judge - whether it liked what he said or not, whether it liked the sentence he passed or not - by both Houses, the House of Commons and the House of Lords, having a debate on it, both of them, and voting by a majority to remove a judge. It has never happened in my lifetime and that is the assurance of liberty: that your rights will be heard by someone totally independent of politicians and you know, I often say that that independence of the law is as much responsible for the freedom of the people of this country as is democracy itself - very important! [end p20]


Prime Minister, we have a call from two people - I think husband and wife - Margarita NinakovMargarita and Alexander Ninakov (phon) from Leningrad and she says:

We hear a lot about increasing and deepening contacts between the two countries on a sort of government level and she would very much like to take part in this movement, as it were, of more and greater contacts between people of Britain and the Soviet Union and she is actually requesting your help so that she herself and her husband could do something more in this, perhaps by inviting some British families to the Soviet Union.

Prime Minister

Or by bringing a group of people over here.

Would she very kindly contact our embassy in Moscow and we will try to follow that up?

There are many groups of young people who go from here, many schools now, who go to the Soviet Union. They are very anxious to learn more, and there are many groups of your people who come over to us.

You are quite right! I see some of the people at the top level. I have seen recently Professor Marchuk (phon) of your Academy of Sciences and talked to him with some of our scientists. I have seen your professor who runs the economy, Professor Aganbegian (phon). I have seen Madame Teschko (phon) - it was [end p21] absolutely delightful to see her. I have been to a concert of the Red Army Choir. I have seen teachers from Tibilisi and I make a point of personal contact.

If you would very kindly write to our ambassador in Moscow, we will try to follow that up.

Thank you for the offer.


A questioner from Kaunas, which is a town in Lithuania, wants to know whether you do not think the processes that are happening in the Soviet Union at present are inevitable in some senses? That changes will continue to occur even if Mr. Gorbachev were to not be in power?

Prime Minister

I think that once you have tasted the increasing freedom of speech and discussion, the liveliness of debate that you are having now, then I think that it would be very difficult to reverse that and I would hope that it could not be reversed.

It will take longer to get the economy producing the number of goods you want it to produce in a much freer society, so I think that some things are irreversible, but I do not think that they would go forward with anything like the same momentum if Mr. Gorbachev were not there. [end p22]

I have met politicians the world over and I recognise someone who is bold and courageous when I see them, and I recognise someone who has a vision for the future and believes in it so strongly that they will go on and on until the goal is attained.

In a way, I felt like that myself when I became Prime Minister of my country and, you know, people who really believe in the things they are doing - really believe in the direction they are going - will in fact take the process forward much faster than anyone who is just doing it as a matter of administration.

So, yes, I hope it is irreversible. Yes, I hope you will achieve your vision and you will persist until the task is well and truly completed.


Here is what I am afraid will have to be the last question today, Prime Minister, and this was asked by the fellow from the telephone box whom we lost.

Prime Minister

Oh, he is back! Good! [end p23]


He is not back in voice, but we can still ask his question for him.

Are you not a prisoner, Prime Minister, of certain stereotype ideas of the Soviet Union? That is the question.

Prime Minister

I do not think I am a prisoner of any particular ideas of the Soviet Union. I have read about the Soviet Union for many many years - read as much as I possibly could.

What I think we are very conscious of is that your freedoms are far more limited than ours are and that you want to enlarge them and that is good for all mankind for the reasons which I gave recently in one of my recent replies.

We try to read as much as we possibly can and shall continue to do so and we now see it on our television as well, and I have loved having this opportunity to talk to you. [end p24]


I am afraid I am going to have to stop here.

Prime Minister

What a pity! We are just getting going!


Thank you very much for agreeing to come and finding the time to come and talk to our listeners.