Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1988 Dec 5 Mo
Margaret Thatcher

Interview for Times of India

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Interview
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Dr Chandan Mitra, Times of India
Editorial comments: 1600-1635. It appears that written questions were submitted in advance of the interview, but there is no trace of written answers from MT, though her comments during the interview itself suggests that some were prepared.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2807
Themes: Foreign policy (Asia), Terrorism, Law & order, Northern Ireland, Media, Industry, Conservatism, Race, immigration, nationality

Interviewer

You were quoted in yesterday's papers as saying: “I am not concerned with diplomacy, I am concerned with fighting terrorism. That is my duty to the people of Britain.” But you have not taken the same kind of stringent action against the advocates of Khalistan as you have against Irish terrorists. Why does your government appear to make a distinction in this regard, in practice even if not in precept?

Prime Minister

When you are Irish terrorists or terrorists fighting for Khalistan, if you fall foul of our law then you will come before our courts, if we can bring you before our courts, and as you know some of the people who for Khalistan have committed offences under our law have been tried and given very severe sentences, life sentences. I have referred to some of them in one of my Questions. [end p1]

So there is no difference in the way we treat terrorists. I think the only possible one you might be referring to is the support organisation for the IRA which is Sinn Fein which supports violence as a way of furthering its aims, although at the same time it uses the democratic process.

We have a particular problem with those. It is that after there has been a terrible IRA atrocity some people from Sinn Fein were given time on television to gloat over the dreadful things that have happened and you can imagine that that caused grievous offence among our people so we said that they could not appear on television in that way.

We brought our law into line with the law in the Republic. What they say can be reported, it can be reported both in the press and it can be reported on television and television can flash up a picture of them and then say what they said. But we do not see things which are grievously offensive to our people following these atrocities, we do not see them actually being interviewed.

We have had no such problem with the Khalistan Movement. I cannot remember having had such a problem.

Interviewer

Mr Jahan came on television once. [end p2]

Prime Minister

Indeed and since then I remember very vividly we made our views so well known, and as you know I am just in the same position as Mr Gandhi, I have no control over the BBC or ITV, and since that time I do not think we have had anything like it and I hope we shall not again because we were all as shocked as you were, condemned it very very firmly, but we have had many many things since then with the IRA. I need not enumerate them, you know them.

And so at last we really took the view that we had to take this extra step.

Interviewer

In the answers that you have given, I see that you have made a distinction between the peaceful advocacy of secession which you say is not a crime in itself and inflammatory statements to which you say you are totally opposed. Where exactly do you draw a line between these because a number of terrorist groups, in their own language newspapers and magazines have been making inflammatory statements?

Prime Minister

I think it is for the courts to draw the line. If you get incitement to violence that would be a matter for the courts. If you get a peaceful demonstration for secession we may not agree with it, we may not like it but then freedom of speech is freedom to say things which the government of the country does not like. [end p3]

So long as they do it peacefully but if they incite to violence then it could become a crime and that would be a matter for the police and prosecuting authorities.

But whoever you are, if you incite to violence, the same consequences should flow. You have in fact to get the evidence and the witnesses obviously.

Interviewer

But it is my understanding that some of these magazines have in fact made a lot of inflammatory statements?

Prime Minister

The question is whether they amount to incitement to violence isn't it? That would not be for me to decide, it would be for the prosecuting authorities, who you know are not politicians, to decide whether those fall on the wrong side of the law and therefore whether to have action taken either against the editor or the person who has made them. It would have to be against the person who has made them because there is no vicarious responsibility for a criminal offence obviously.

Interviewer

I think this is what really causes some of the misunderstanding or at least had been causing some misunderstanding, [end p4] it is because people in India sometimes do not understand some of these problems, for instance the role of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the role of the Charity Commissioner?

Prime Minister

Is your prosecuting authority not independent of the state?

Interviewer

No it is not independent, it is for the government to initiate prosecution in such matters.

Prime Minister

But do you not separate the duties very clearly? We have an Attorney General, now he is not the prosecuting authority but under certain circumstances his consent has to be obtained. Do you mean to say that a Minister can institute a prosecution?

Interviewer

No, not a Minister but the Government of the State can institute criminal proceedings.

Prime Minister

We have the quite separate … the police used to be the prosecuting authority and then we have a Crown Prosecution Service and we have never thought it right for politicians to institute [end p5] proceedings because obviously that could be abused so it is the lawyers, the official lawyers who institute proceedings.

My goodness me, I told you, where we have evidence and brought them before the courts, some of the people who have been inciting to violence or doing violence have had very considerable sentences.

Interviewer

You have also identified certain organisations such as the International Sikh Youths Federation, the ISYF, the National Council of Khalistan and … They are obviously openly pro-Khalistan organisations but I see that all you demand of them is that: “If they are not in sympathy with violence, they should say so clearly.” Will you be prepared to take action against them, including proscription, if they fail to categorically renounce violence within a given time frame?

Prime Minister

I cannot. I cannot because they have not committed an offence. If they are violent when they demonstrate and incite to violence, that becomes an offence. I obviously still would say that any organisation that pursues its aims by demonstration should make it clear that it is not in favour of violence so that any of its people who misbehave that is not attributed to the organisation but to the people. [end p6]

But even so, to get someone before a court and to be convicted and to be sentenced, that person has to have committed what in our law is a crime and to fail to renounce violence is not a crime. To engage in violence is a crime.

Interviewer

The problem is that often, although no crime is really committed on the soil of Britain, some of these people are suspected to have plotted crimes here or are responsible for despatching funds to India with which crimes are committed in India. How exactly can this be countered because this is a major problem.?

Prime Minister

I know this causes you very great worry and it does me too. But you see I could not put you in prison because I suspect you, and you and your newspaper would be the first to scream if I did.

Equally I cannot put anyone else in prison because I suspect them, because the suspicions might be totally and utterly wrong. Of course I do not suspect you, obviously. But you see the point I am trying to make. It is not enough for me or anyone else to say: “I suspect someone”. That is not enough to put them in prison. We do not run an internment system. We have to bring evidence, or if we detain them on remand we would have to bring forward evidence to back up what we had done and to detain them further. [end p7]

So it is not the suspicion, it is the evidence. I understand your concern but you as a journalist could see what use could be made of any rule which said if you say you suspect someone you can take away their freedom.

Where we have evidence we most certainly act upon it. We are taking extra powers to follow funds through bank accounts.

Off the record material removed at this point.

Interviewer

Prime Minister, some of your recent statements have, I think, gone a long way in allaying some misgivings in India, but between 1984 until recently there were a lot of misgivings and some amount of mistrust - people in India felt that you were not being firm enough on this. Why did it take so long to really make these changes? [end p8]

Prime Minister

We do not control the media, we do not control the BBC. We were just as concerned as you were and very active about our concern.

You have only to look at some of the things that the BBC says about me to know that I am very well aware of the problems and particularly concerned if something called the British Broadcasting Company (sic!) is not very careful and very sensitive about relationships with very very friendly governments, but they are free and the fact that they are called the British Broadcasting Corporation does not mean to say that I have any influence over them at all.

Interviewer

Prime Minister, are you prepared to state that there has been a definite sort of shift in the British Government's attitude towards this kind of activity and hereafter you will be taking all possible steps to ensure that Khalistani and other terrorist organisations do not abuse British hospitality? [end p9]

Prime Minister

Anyone who commits a crime here is treated in precisely the same way, but to make any prosecution stick the courts have to have the evidence and it is the courts who say whether they are innocent or guilty and the courts which pronounce sentences.

I take exactly the same view of all terrorists, whether they are some of the terrorist organisations of the Middle East, the Irish terrorist organisations or some of the Sikh terrorist organisations. They are absolutely flatly against democracy and if they offend, then if the prosecuting authorities say so, they go before the courts.

Interviewer

Do you regard this question of terrorism to be the central issue in Indo-British relations today?

Prime Minister

I think we are both coming to understand some of the difficulties of bringing people before the courts. You are very much aware of them and I am very much aware of them, but as you know from some of the cases I have cited, when we have the evidence we do. I would just remind you we have proposed and approved extradition arrangements and I think we are awaiting a reply. These things take quite a time. [end p10]

Interviewer

Do you think if this problem of terrorism had not been there, Indo-British relations would have been much better than they are right now?

Prime Minister

I think the particular incident to which you referred horrified us all, particularly the great affection and esteem in which Mrs. Gandhi was held. There was no difference in that at all.

Our problem - and I suppose it is your problem too - is that there are people who know how just to keep exactly on the right side of the law by what they say, although their words sometimes give a very different impression from the actual content.

Interviewer

To move on to a somewhat different subject, what has been your reaction to Miss Benazir Bhutto coming to power in Pakistan and how do you see the situation on the sub-continent? [end p11]

Prime Minister

I met Benazir Bhuttoher, of course, when she was over here and she was a very able person then and it seems to me she won the largest number of seats, so I expected her to be made Prime Minister of Pakistan and I wish her well in all her endeavours. She has a considerable number of problems to cope with, but she has a good deal of experience and I am sure she will make strenuous efforts to tackle some of the big problems that face her and I hope she will succeed.

Interviewer

Do you have any plans of visiting India in the near future, especially during the … centenary year?

Prime Minister

I would like to see Mr. Gandhi and I would like to come to India when convenient and would be so pleased when he can find time once again to come here for a visit. We hold him in very high regard - very very high regard - and admire the way in which he is governing India.

Interviewer

What is your assessment of the state of Indo-British relations under Mr. Rajiv Gandhi? [end p12]

Prime Minister

I think you are quite right. We had these initial problems, which is not surprising. It was not the governments' fault in any way. I think they are very good now. They are good now because I think there is the will to be good on both sides and that will is greater than some of the things for which neither of us were responsible, but which deeply offended both of us and I must say there are times when I am as deeply offended by some of these things as people in India, but I do say to you: do have a look at some of the things they say about me!

Interviewer

A final question - something I mentioned in the written questions too - world capitalism is in a much more robust state of health now than it was when you came to power in 1979. What, in your opinion, has been your contribution to the revival of the capitalist world order?

Prime Minister

I think we saw that governments were taking too many powers to restrict business, which was actually restricting enterprise and actually restricting growth. We had to cut away many of those powers. [end p13]

Of course, you have to have a framework of law, you have to have regulations about health and safety and hours and so on. Of course you must have these regulations - you set the framework - but then you do not have controls over prices, controls over incomes, foreign exchange controls and so on and you try to cut the other controls down to a minimum and it takes a time for people to realise that those controls have fallen away and that they are free to go ahead. It takes a time to raise the capital. It takes a time to let them get back into the habit of enterprise, into knowing that they have to compete, keep their costs down, keep good labour relations and get people working together as a team, but the mistakes came when governments thought that they could control enterprise and knew more about it than the people who run business. They do not!

Of course, people who run businesses - and you see it in a large country like India - can respond much faster to the needs, the things which have to go through umpteen committees up to government, and so by removing so many of those controls and cutting the tax on earnings so that people had much more incentive to work, so enterprise has been restored, so we have got more growth, so we have got more prosperity, so we have got more for the social services. [end p14]

The first thing government should do is to realise its limitations. The second thing that it must know is that there are some things that only government can do - the stability of the currency, setting the framework of law, defence, public order, opportunity and education. Concentrate on those things which government should do and have the strength to leave the rest to the people to exercise their talents and ability freely to their advantage and to the advantage of the whole country.

Interviewer

Any message you would like to send across to the people of India to reassure them about your Government?

Prime Minister

Reassure them!

We shall always have a tremendous affection and feeling for the people of India.

First, because they are that kind of people.

Second, you have been speaking of one particular group of people, but may I say that most of the people we have here are very upright citizens; they give an example of how to look after families; they encourage their children; they win many prizes in [end p15] our schools because they work; they look after their older folk; they work extremely hard in businesses; and as some of them say to me: “Mrs. Thatcher, we were conservative long before there was a Conservative Party in Britain!”

So we have seen it and we also have a very great admiration for Mr. Gandhi and whatever the problems, the way in which he so courageously tackles them.

So it is just a message of goodwill, good wishes for the wellbeing of the people of your country and whatever problems we have - and we both have problems - I think that there is far more goodness and decency and honourableness in people as a whole than there is evil and it is that goodness and decency and honourableness and integrity that we rely on working together to overcome the other things.