Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1989 Oct 24 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

Radio Interview for BBC (Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Summit)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: Radio Interview
Venue: Commonwealth Conference Centre, Kuala Lumpur
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Paul Reynolds, BBC
Editorial comments: Between 0900 and lunch.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1584
Themes: Foreign policy (Africa), Commonwealth (South Africa), Trade, Commonwealth (general), Law & order, Northern Ireland, Terrorism

Interviewer

Prime Minister, there has been a lot of criticism of the statement you issued here. Mr Hawke said it was not the way to do business, Mr Mulroney said you had repudiated the main document and Mr Mugabe said it was despicable and reneging on the document. How do you respond to these criticisms?

Prime Minister

They are nonsense. The communique itself pointed out the four real major things where Britain differed from the rest and it said so but nowhere did it set out Britain's view. One could have come and done a press conference and set it out also that there was no doubt whatsoever what our view was to put it down in writing. That is what we did.

It must be the first time in history that people who value freedom of speech for themselves attempt to deny it to others. [end p1]

Interviewer

But the tone and force of your statement certainly implies rejection of the main document which you criticise very strongly in your statement. Is repudiation not, therefore, a fair word?

Prime Minister

No it is not, at the beginning of our statement we set out three things with which we were particularly pleased the document recognised. One of them of course is that sanctions should not be punitive, although as we point out later they can only operate by being punitive. The second is that they reckon that when we are getting further advances in Africa under what we have said in the main session that there should be carrots as well as sticks, they are always wielding big sticks and always new threats. Never, never, never have they suggested before that there should be encouragement when South Africa is going the right way. I put that in my own speech and there is some suggestion of it in the document and so that too we applaud.

So there are some things in the document which are clearly agreed and some things which the document expressly says: “Britain disagrees”.

Interviewer

You are not seriously suggesting are you that people here do not believe in free speech? [end p2]

Prime Minister

I am seriously suggesting that they object when we set out our beliefs in writing so that no-one can disagree with them. They may disagree with the content but they have them accurately there for them to see and it seems to me astonishing that they should have double-standards, free speech for them but not for us.

Interviewer

Did you know, you must have known it would cause a stir?

Prime Minister

No. As you know I am not one of the Heads of Government that dashes across to make a statement to the press. This is the first time I have been in the Press Centre during the entire Conference. I do not do that, I give our views and my Bernard InghamPress Officer does the briefing. Others, as I have seen from television, have been here quite frequently.

So I did want our views set out clearly and in writing and what they are objecting to is that it is a very effective statement and a very effective document.

Interviewer

I think what they are also saying is that it has undermined the greater unity which was achieved in the Foreign Ministers' document. [end p3]

Prime Minister

That is absolute nonsense. The document, on the face of it, is disunited in four main big paragraphs and policies.

Interviewer

In your statement you speak vigorously against sanctions. In fact you say they bear hardest on the poorest and weakest in the black population. Why did you therefore agree to the continuation of sanctions for the time being in the main statement?

Prime Minister

Because there are very few sanctions that we are all agreed to. One of the mandatory sanctions, which are nothing to do with the Commonwealth but with the United Nations, and that is on armaments because where there is any kind of repression by a government over people or part of the people you never, never supply arms. That is from 1977.

Then there are other much much smaller, what we call gesture sanctions which we agreed at Nassau, but no-one can say that they are vigorous sanctions in any way.

Ordinary people have themselves either chosen to buy South African things or not to. In the United States and Canada they have put on some agricultural sanctions and as I in fact said in my speech, I gave them the specific example of one particular factory which has been making losses because it cans pineapple, because in Canada and the United States they no longer buy that, and 1100 black people have last week been laid off and are now without jobs, [end p4] without means of support and without social security. So whether they are voluntary sanctions or national sanctions, of which there are very very few indeed, they only operate by punishing the weakest and you have heard me say many many times in these conferences, I find it utterly repugnant that we should sit round a table and want to decide how many more people should be put into poverty and made jobless.

Interviewer

So why did you sign up on the continuation of sanctions in the main document?

Prime Minister

Because as I have just indicated, there are precious few national sanctions, that you do not deal with gold coins, that you do not promote tourism, etc, there are precious few national sanctions. They do a lot of talking about them, there is nothing to stop many of them from putting them on but they have not, that is the acid test.

Interviewer

What about the role of your new Foreign Secretary here? [end p5]

Prime Minister

Absolutely outstanding, quite outstanding as a negotiator, extremely clear in everything John Majorhe says, absolutely outstanding, respected by all immediately.

Interviewer

So talk in the London papers of a rift between you and him …?

Prime Minister

Absolute poppycock, as usual!

Interviewer

What has this conference really achieved therefore Prime Minister?

Prime Minister

The same as every other Commonwealth Conference. I remember when I first arrived at Lusaka I had the sort of reception you are giving me now. They were wrong of course then, they have been wrong ever since.

The Commonwealth is based on democracy, some of its countries do not practise democracy but we have to see them through periods of difficulty, the principles were set out at Singapore. We exist, members girdle the world and we have extremely valuable discussions about the world economy, about world affairs. [end p6]

It is interesting that we had a great discussions about East-West affairs and of course we never isolated the Soviet Union and look what that has done by keeping in constant contact. It is a pity we isolated South Africa. We might have got changes much more quickly if we had not pursued that policy. They know that we are one of the few countries that has some influence with South Africa and frequently many of them will come up and discuss things with oneself and they want some influence to be exerted with various different countries round the globe. They know we have it because we fearlessly say what we believe.

And I might say this to you, not one single Head of Government came up to me after that statement was issued and complained to me.

Interviewer

They complained at the meeting though.

Prime Minister

Mr Hawke and Mr Mulroney complained at the meeting, they had neither complained to me beforehand. When Mahathir bin Mohamadthe Chairman said: “Any further comments?” there was not a single other person who complained either at the meeting or to me. So it is a great big storm in a teacup. [end p7]

Interviewer

Could I finally just ask you a question on a domestic issue which has exercised people at home a lot, this is the case of the Guildford Four. Without getting into the legalities of this, on the question of the death penalty, does the miscarriage of justice in that case lessen your faith in the death penalty?

Prime Minister

Not in any way. I am for the death penalty but I do not wish to make it mandatory. Previously when we had the death penalty it was mandatory. I have never been for a mandatory death penalty but for having the death penalty available for the court but for particular terrible cases.

Interviewer

But they surely would have been hung, these four?

Prime Minister

That would have been a matter for the court, not for me. Two thousand people have been murdered during the troubles, we should never forget that.

Interviewer

But that has nothing to do with these four people. [end p8]

Prime Minister

No that has nothing to do, but two thousand people have been murdered and some of them in the most hideous and appalling way. I believe that the death penalty should be available for the court to decide. It should not be mandatory but it should be available. I continue to have that view.

Interviewer

But is it not worrying if four people spend time in jail and one thinks they might have been hung …?

Prime Minister

Very worrying indeed, very worrying indeed, but it does not undermine the fundamental rightness of making the death penalty available to the court for cases in which the court judges it should be used.