Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Foreign Press Association

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Savoy Hotel, central London
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments: A lunchtime engagement. A question and answer session followed the speech.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 4957
Themes: Agriculture, Civil liberties, Commonwealth (South Africa), Defence (general), Industry, Trade, European Union (general), European Union Budget, Economic, monetary & political union, Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Foreign policy (development, aid, etc), Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Media

Prime Minister

Mr. President

First, thank you very much for those gifts. I always like receiving gifts, but it is particularly kind before I have spoken! That is very much appreciated indeed!

May I congratulate you, Mr. President, on this Association reaching its hundred years. One of the contributors to your Centenary Handbook is clearly astounded that you have made it, since he writes: “I could not believe media people anywhere could keep an organisation going for a century without tearing it apart!” Well, you succeeded in doing it, and it is clearly thanks to some exceptionally diplomatic Presidents and some resourceful and indefatigable Secretaries that you have got through to celebrate this day.

The Government, as you have indicated, of course does its best to help you and I would like to thank you for your generous tributes to the Foreign Office and the Central Office of Information and, as you say, Mr. President, since the War you have had a most distinguished address in Carlton House Terrace, for nearly twenty years the home of Mr. Gladstone—a four-term prime minister! (applause).

Among your former neighbours was the great Lord Curzon. He took a bus only once in his life and had this to say:

“This omnibus business is not what it is reported to be. I hailed one at the bottom of Whitehall and told the man to take me to Carlton House Terrace, but the fellow flatly refused!”

How times have changed!

I am sure we British would have been enormously entertained had we been able to see the reports of your members to the readers back home after the last hundred years. A particular one which intrigues me is a best-seller by one of your Dutch members, Dr. G. J. Renier called: “The English—Are They Human?” More seriously, one of your Chinese members, Mr. Chung Kexiong, has written perceptively of your role as foreign correspondents resident in London. He sees himself and you as a bridge and he adds:

“It is not an easy task to be a bridge between different races, societies and cultures to carry the traffic of mutual understanding.”

Indeed it is not, but we know of your great endeavours and we thank you for them.

We have, I hope, given you quite a lot to write about in the last few years and that leads me to my first subject—East-West relations.

There is no doubt that the last twelve months have seen some very important progress in improving these relations, but we always need to bear in mind two things:

First, why this happened and second, how far there is still to go.

On why it happened, we must give due credit to Mr. Gorbachev. He is a man of remarkable energy and boldness. He clearly sees the need for change in the Soviet Union if it is to be a successful society, measured not just in ability to send men into space and to devise the most modern weapons, but in all other aspects of life. Whether his colleagues really appreciate the scale and scope of change which is needed, I am more sceptical, but that question is perhaps secondary to whether he or indeed anyone can limit change once it starts. If we believe that the human spirit's deepest urge is for [end p1] freedom, then we have to believe too that the more freedom is granted, the more it will be wanted, and this convinces me that I am right to be giving full support to the policies of perestroika and glasnost—in other words, policies of the greater personal involvement of the people of the Soviet Union. If these policies succeed, as I sincerely hope they will, the Soviet Union will be a very different society in which individuals will matter more than they do now. If they fail, then the whole world will see that the Soviet Union has turned its back on the basic values of freedom and justice—and without the one you cannot have the other—and will draw the appropriate conclusions about the nature of the Soviet system.

The other reason for the changes taking place in the Soviet Union is, we must never forget, the West's own success. There is no doubt that our democratic free enterprise system has shown itself superior in the standard of life and quality of life which it has offered to our peoples. The changes which Mr. Gorbachev seeks in the Soviet Union are a tacit admission of that. It is the western democratic model which is showing itself both resilient and attractive while socialism is in retreat worldwide because it has been found wanting. But it has also been our persistence and our resolve in defending our way of life which has led the Soviet Union and other communist societies to realise that they will not succeed in weakening us from within, nor in wearing us down from without. We shall need that resolve, Mr. President, more than ever in the new period of negotiations which we are entering. We must not relax at the crucial moment.

I shall not be surprised if we again people beginning to talk about the convergence of the communist and the capitalist systems. Now that is a notion which I can never accept, because it implies that you can compromise on the basic values of western democracy or that human rights are something which are measured out by governments, like doctors measure out medicine.

Human rights transcend governments, although many refuse to recognise that fundamental principle, so while we welcome changes inside the Soviet Union we also want to see corresponding change in the Soviet Union's external policies, and that is one reason why I stress so much the necessity of a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, and while there are some signs that this goal may be nearer, we must ensure that the transitional arrangements for withdrawal do not undermine those who have staunchly and rightly resisted the occupation of their country.

Afghanistan is different in kind, but there are many other countries where we have to watch Soviet activities very carefully: Angola, Cambodia, Nicaragua. We have to watch, too, their practice of taking action through surrogates and by the use of subversion.

Until we see evidence of fundamental change in their external policies and in honouring their undertakings under the Helsinki Accords, we must—as I said in my speech at the Lord Mayor's Banquet—be guided by Lord Salisbury 's sage advice: “Trust not in the rightness of your cause, but in a sure defence!”

Mr. President, Europe's defence has been built successfully around NATO for some forty years and I am all in favour of European countries increasing their cooperation in defence, but it must be in support of NATO and contribute to the defence of Europe as a whole. Bilateral defence cooperation has a useful part to play, whether it is between France and Germany or France and Britain, provided that its clear and demonstrable effect is to strengthen NATO and not to erode or undermine its unity, and I would hope, therefore, that those NATO members who are not part of NATO's integrated military structure will extend their practical military cooperation with NATO allies.

I shall be paying a visit to NATO headquarters in February, and I would also support the idea of a full-scale NATO summit in the first part of 1988, before President Reagan goes to Moscow for his next meeting with Mr. Gorbachev, if such a summit can be arranged.

It is of the highest importance, particularly in an election year in the United States, that we should emphasise the unity and solidarity of the NATO Alliance. [end p2]

So, Mr. President, we enter 1988 fully aware of the dangers, fully aware of the nature of the system we are negotiating with, but I believe there are real prospects for progress in 1988 and that the world can be a safer place by the end of the year.

This will also be a critical year for the European Community, because we still have to bring discipline to its finances and reform to its Common Agricultural Policy.

The problems of agricultural surpluses and overspending have dogged the Community for years and affect many other countries as well. Let me just remind you very briefly of some of the figures, to underline my point:

Seventy percent of the entire Community budget goes on agricultural support.

Half the total Community budget goes on storage and disposal of agricultural surpluses.

Since the Fontainbleau meeting in 1984, when we sought to tackle these problems, the cost of the CAP—since 1984 when we were trying to get it down—has risen from £9 billion to £19 billion and the subsidy for every cow in the Community is more than the personal income of half the people of the world.

If we could release some of the funds which go to subsidising agriculture (we had chicken for lunch didn't we? Yes!) which means, of course, persuading the United States and Japan, whose record is no better, to reduce the support they give to their farmers, then those resources could be switched to other sectors.

We in Britain are ready to work for agreement at the European Council in Brussels next month. Most of the elements for agreement were available at Copenhagen and they need only the political will to see them adopted—but it is quite a big “only” . But it is more important to get the right solutions than quick solutions.

Europe needs to show political leadership in the world, but we shall do so only when we can demonstrate success in running our own affairs in a way which increases Europe's standing and strength.

May I also mention, Mr. President, briefly, the Middle East.

It is a disappointment that the terms of office of the coalition government in Israel and President Reagan 's presidency seem likely to pass without any major advance towards a solution of the Arab-Israel problem. The recent unrest in Gaza and the West Bank, born out of frustration at lack of progress, only underlines the need to work for something which can offer hope to the Palestinian people and indeed, all people of the region.

King Hussein and Mr. Peres have signalled a possible way ahead in the form of an international conference, to act as a framework for bilateral negotiations, and I am convinced that remains the most promising way forward and that we must step up our efforts to achieve it, because time is running out even faster than we thought.

You will expect me to say something about my recent visit to Africa. It was, first of all, a thoroughly interesting and stimulating experience. I was received very kindly in both countries and the welcome from ordinary people exceeded all expectations.

One purpose of my visit was to emphasise that there was no difference between us over the aim of getting rid of apartheid—only over the method by which that aim can best be achieved.

The idea that the collapse of apartheid can be achieved by a concerted push from outside to destroy the South African economy is, I believe, an illusion. Punitive sanctions would make the problems worse and do untold damage to black South Africans and their children as well as to South Africa's neighbouring states and their peoples. Moreover, it is progressive foreign companies in South Africa which have been in the forefront of dismantling apartheid. It would be a tragedy to prevent them from continuing what they do in this respect. I believe that the path mapped out by the [end p3] Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group offers the best prospect of progress towards negotiations between all groups in South Africa, against the background of a suspension of violence on all sides.

We are urging the South African Government to take this course, but we are doing a lot more besides in terms of positive and practical action. Let me tell you just one or two things we are doing.

We are spending an additional £20 million over the next five years to help black people in South Africa to get education and training.

We are helping the front-line states to reduce their dependence on South Africa by committing over one billion dollars in aid to them over the last five years. This is now being spent among other things on diversifying their transport routes and outlets to the sea.

We are providing assistance with military training to Zimbabwe and Mozambique to strengthen their capacity to defend themselves, and we are providing very substantial help of some £35 million pounds to Mozambique to overcome its problems of famine and civil war.

Those are some of the things we are doing practically, and I think that our practical policy has been too little known and too little recognised, and I hope my visit to Africa has helped to put the record straight. I believe it is the right way forward. It is the course in which we shall persist until apartheid is no more.

There are many other subjects which I might mention, but I wish to leave plenty of time for questions and I will therefore just conclude these remarks with two thoughts:

First, 1988 promises to be an exceptionally busy year in international affairs. We have a whole range of international meetings: three European Councils, one Economic Summit, probably a NATO Summit, another meeting between President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev leading, we hope, to further arms control agreements.

For my part, I have just come back from Africa and I shall be visiting Turkey, Poland and Australia this year.

All these meetings offer opportunities to make real progress in some sphere—arms control, the world economy, problems of agricultural surpluses—if we have the skill and energy and inventiveness to take them.

Second, I believe Britain's role and standing in the world have increased immeasurably as we have succeeded in overcoming our problems at home, getting our economy right and proving ourselves a staunch ally.

We are now able once again to exercise the leadership and the influence which we have historically shown and in the process I am sure we shall give you plenty to occupy your thoughts and fill your pages (applause).


Question (Israel)

Prime Minister, would you kindly define the relationship between the United Kingdom and Israel this week, stressing the visit that took place to the Middle East and facing it politically, did Mr. Mellor contribute to the good relationship or deter it?

Prime Minister

Mr. President, the questioner will recall that I made a very successful visit to Israel. I am very disturbed about the troubles that are taking place now; I believe those troubles underline what we have been saying for a very long and I have tried to bring about.

We believe in a framework international conference as a way of getting going bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Arab countries, between representatives of Israel and King Hussein and true representatives of the Palestinian people which are acceptable in the negotiations. [end p4]

I believe that the disturbances and troubles have shown that time is running out faster than we think. As I indicated in the speech, I am somewhat dismayed that we have had a whole presidency in the United States pass without making substantial progress and a whole coalition government in Israel similarly pass.

I think there is still time to get something going, but I think that a framework international conference is the best way—not using it as a mediator, not using it as having any veto, but using it as a way of the world saying: “Look! We believe that the time has come for the two sides to get together and to sort out this problem and the framework conference is an earnest of the world's belief that the time has come and our goodwill in those bilateral negotiations!”

Michael Morris (Argus South African Newspapers)

Prime Minister, do you intend to visit South Africa within the next two years and if so, what do you hope to achieve?

Prime Minister

At the moment, I have no plans to visit South Africa because I do not believe that I could take things forward by such a visit and therefore I do not think that such a visit is opportune.

I have a very busy programme this year and I do not look beyond that, but there would be no point in my going unless I felt that it could make a positive contribution to solving some of the problems which we wish to see solved. So in the meantime, we shall continue in the way I indicated in my own speech.

Mr. Jaffa (BBC Arabic Service)

Prime Minister, do you foresee any possible role for the PLO in a possible future peace conference on the Middle East?

Prime Minister

We have not changed in our view towards the PLO.

I personally would not accept representatives of the PLO unless and until they accept United Nations Resolution 242 and renounce violence as a way of reaching their objective. Once they do that, then all kinds of things become possible and the whole situation is altered.

We also believe that all states—including Israel—have a right to dwell securely in the Middle East and we believe of course in the self-determination of the Palestinian peoples. We believe that would perhaps best be exercised as a federation with Jordan.

Question (South African Broadcasting Corporation)

Prime Minister, you have just said that you have no intention of visiting South Africa within the next two years.

Should there be more political and constitutional development in South Africa to want you to go to South Africa?

Prime Minister

What I had said is that I am not going this year because my programme is already full and I would not intend to go unless I saw some hope of moving the situation in the direction I wish it to be moved and that that were visible to people as the reason for going.

I cannot go beyond that, because I do not know how the situation will develop. [end p5]

I have indicated how we see the way forward and what we shall try to do to bring an end to apartheid. It is not easy at the moment to see the speed with which it will occur. I believe myself that it will take, for various reasons, quite a long time but we shall persist in the way I have indicated and obviously, from time to time I shall review the position as to whether it would be helpful to go.

Question (Lady from Turkish Newspaper)

Could you please tell us what is the purpose of your visit to Turkey and when will it take place?

Prime Minister

It will take place in the first half of the year.

Your Prime Minister has been here on a very successful visit and invited me to go back to Turkey. For very obvious reasons, one wished to wait until certain elections were over. They are over and I think the way is now clear to go.

Turkey is a very important part of the NATO Alliance and I hope to go and visit it for that and trading reasons and just because we are part also of the same Western Europe.

Question (Lady—French)

After nine years at No. 10 Downing Street, do you feel more or less European?

Prime Minister

Precisely the same as I have always felt—thoroughly British with an enormous contribution to make the world over!

Question (Surakia (Phon))

Prime Minister, rumours in London have spread recently saying that British Airways have been permitted access in Syrian air space.

Now, if this is true does that mean that there are some indications that relations between Great Britain and Syria will ascend (phon) shortly?

Prime Minister

I have nothing further to say about relations between Britain and Syria. You know the reasons why they were broken off and there were very good reasons and valid reasons for that. We shall review them from time to time. I am not ready at the moment to say anything more about them. Do not take that one way or the other. Do not try to read in it something that is not there!

Eddy Iro ( “The Guardian” , Lagos, Nigeria)

Because of the disproportionate emphasis given to the crowd control incident in Kano, one is not quite sure whether beyond the Southern African question, you made any substantial achievement in your discussions with Nigerian leaders, especially in the area of trade, the economy and debt resettling. Could you enlighten on …

Prime Minister

I am not responsible for the emphasis lent by the media to one very minor incident in Kano. Bernard InghamBernard is fit and well (applause).

It was a tremendously successful visit. I had long talks with President Babangida. We got on very well. They were very constructive. Yes, they involved trade. Yes, they involved debt problems. Yes, they involved the world economy. Yes, they involved oil. Part involved South Africa—not an unduly disproportionate part. It was a very good visit. It was a very friendly visit and I was very pleased with it in every way and noone would have known about that tiny incident but for the press—but then, they would not have known about a lot more besides, so have a look at the “besides” , not the incident. [end p6]

Question (Polish Press Agency)

Prime Minister, you were kind to mention your forthcoming visit to Poland. Could you disclose what you will taking in your diplomatic luggage to Warsaw?

Prime Minister

My usual sense of firmness, combined with sweet reasonableness, but not too reasonable! (laughter)

Question (From Japan)

Sir Geoffrey Howe is presently in Japan stressing the increasing importance of Anglo-Japanese relations and I wonder, Prime Minister, if you still see anything like a problem in our bilateral relations where some particular improvements should be or can be made.

Prime Minister

I think I got you correctly. Do I see any change?

Same Man

Given the record that you addressed yourself very strongly on the issue of access to the Japanese markets.

Prime Minister

Yes, I do feel very strongly. I shall continue to feel very strongly on the issue of access to the Japanese markets, because you know, you really have some remarkable ways of keeping goods out, which do not necessarily qualify as tariff barriers and we really must deal with that.

But nevertheless, our exports are going up. I think we are making slow progress but, you know, if you live as Japan does by exporting successfully your goods to the rest of the world, you really must pursue both an economic and a cultural policy which has the same openness and one does need, as you know, to have a look at some of those barriers. I mean, the skis were the classic one, when it was said that Japanese snow was different from other people's snow and therefore the skis would not do! You know, a whole list of some of these barriers, and they really must come down! So they are coming down and we shall keep on.

But you know, we welcome Japanese companies here, we really do, and we buy a lot of Japanese goods. We think our goods are very good and we hope that they will meet with an equally open approach in the Japanese market. (applause)

Donald Ford (Reuters)

Prime Minister, I would also like to ask about Poland. Will you meet … Walesa when you go there and can you say what you hope to achieve by your visit? Is there any hope of Britain extending fresh credits towards Poland?

Prime Minister

It is understood that I shall meet Mr. Walesa when I go there. I hope that the people of Poland will perhaps take a little comfort from my visit knowing that I am perhaps, together with President Reagan, one of the staunchest believers and defenders of liberty and justice in the Free World and I will always staunchly defend that and therefore keep a beacon alight for some of the people who do not yet enjoy those things that we take for granted.

Question (Kuwait News Agency, London)

I wonder if the Prime Minister would be able to explain to us, coming back to the Middle East and the international conference, what Britain would do to convince Mr. Shamir to change his [end p7] mind about international conference and in the meantime to obviate the American reluctance in that respect.

Secondly, if she would be able to say anything on the international efforts undertaken to resolve the Iran-Iraq War. We believe there is a certain slackness for the time being in these efforts. What Britain would do in that respect as well, please?

Prime Minister

First, the international conference: I think it would have had much more chance of getting underway had more people, as we did, made it quite clear that they thought that that was the way forward. I think had more international politicians said that, it could have had a much bigger effect in Israel than it has.

I always dislike it intensely in international matters when we get disturbances and violence and things happen as a result of that. I think if you have got a legitimate grievance you have to try to get negotiations going so that those who are suffering from the grievance realise that there is a peaceful way forward. That is why we have been active in trying to secure an international conference and before that why we were willing to receive Palestinians who had renounced violence.

I do not think sufficient effort has yet been made. It may be that the disturbances themselves will do more than further argument, but I could wish myself that where there is a grievance maximum efforts are made by all concerned to get negotiations going.

Peter Seeger (German Foreign Trade News)

Prime Minister, we were just talking about your visions about Europe and just two questions:

As far as the EMS is concerned, the Chancellor of the Exchequer always said, “Maybe, it is not the time,” but is it the time now for Britain to join the EMS?

Secondly, about the White Paper yesterday, do the Department of Industry consider themselves so strong already that the regional grants not available for big firms any more are now given to smaller firms? Is this a sign of maturity or what is the philosophy of yesterday's White Paper? Thank you!

Prime Minister

First. No, I do not think the time is now to join the EMS and I think that the turbulence that we have been through has shown that it is not yet the time to join.

Britain is a different currency, as you know, from any other save the deutschmark—we are both reserve currencies; we are the only other big reserve currency. We are different from the deutschmark in that we are still affected as an oil currency.

Our economies with Germany at the moment are very different. We are growing very much faster than Germany and I think that past events have shown that the wise course for us, certainly to date, has been not to join the exchange rate mechanism of the European Monetary System.

The White Paper yesterday does not debar big firms from getting grants under the discretionary grant system. There have always been for the regions two systems: one, mandatory grants, which if people went there they could be automatically sure of getting; and two, special grants which we could give to make certain that people would come to Britain where otherwise they might have gone to other countries.

What we are doing is slowly cutting out the mandatory grants and putting an increased amount of money into the special grants under exactly the same pattern, exactly the same rules, that [end p8] have gone in before, but that means that we really shall be able to get firms there—large or small, including large ones—by putting more through the special grants system and seeing therefore that the firms which come there are those which we really want to have.

You see, in some cases the mandatory grant system gave quite big grants to companies who would have gone there in any case and to some extent, therefore, it was what one would call “dead money” . Really stuck in all minds is the great big oil terminal at Sullomvo (phon) which of course got a great big mandatory grant although there was no other place to put it in any event!

So we think that it is better to put a larger amount of money through the existing special grant system. A part of the money that would have been used for mandatory grants is specially being used to help small companies to expand and grow, small companies who perhaps may not have been able to employ design consultants or go in for innovation or who were not quite able to get the necessary advice.

That is a certain package for small companies, but we are not just forgetting about big ones. We want some more big ones to come into our country and to set up in the regions.

Question ( “Le Monde” )

Prime Minister, there will be a presidential election in France in April and as you have been serving since 1979 and you are the longest head of government in Europe in office, you probably know all the competitors in that way and I would ask you to assess their performance in terms of special cooperation between Britain and France and also in terms of their attitude towards the EEC and how would you describe your own preference in that way?

Prime Minister

Your question gives me an opportunity to make a great mistake. I will not take it! (applause)


Prime Minister, in the light of the incapability of the American Administration to solve the Israeli-Arab conflict and the stalemate in Israel, why won't you let 1988 be the Thatcher Year in the Middle East?

Prime Minister

Just let us see how 1988 develops!

I am doing quite a number of visits. I shall continue to put forward the policies which I have indicated in the speech I have just given you. If I see any possible opportunity to play a constructive, practical role which help with the way ahead, I shall do it, because where there are peoples with legitimate grievances, I think you have to be seen to be making efforts to meet those grievances and I believe that, whether it is the case in the Middle East or in the case with South Africa, and I have told you the way we are going to proceed in both.

If any opportunities open up, you may be sure that I would not be slow to take them.