Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech to Inter-Parliamentary Union (Centenary Conference)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre, Westminster, London
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Editorial comments:

1430-1500. MT spoke from autocue - see THCR 5/1/5/660 f57 on for the top copy of the autocue text.

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2587
Themes: Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Americas excluding USA), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Environment, Judiciary, Parliament, Civil liberties, Law & order

Mr Chairman, Mr President, Parliamentary colleagues and friends.

First may I say how pleased we are that this Conference is being held in London. We hope you will enjoy your stay and feel at home here with us. And may I add my congratulations to the many you will already have received on the IPU's successful completion of its first 100 years.

It is a great occasion for the IPU and for all of us who believe in Parliamentary democracy. We in Britain feel a particular pride.

Westminster has traditionally been regarded as the mother of Parliaments. The Great Hall of Westminster, where Her Majesty opened this Conference with its 900 years of history, represents the continuity of our Parliamentary tradition.

Our peaceful constitutional revolution of 1688 formally established Parliament's rights and privileges. In the language of the Bill of Rights of 1689 “the freedom of speech and debate and proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place outside of Parliament” .

Since that time Parliament's sovereignty has been firmly established and it has been central to the life of our country. As Prime Minister, I answer questions in the House twice a week on the whole range of business for which the Government is responsible. I am a whole-hearted supporter of this system, noisy though it may be sometimes. The very detailed preparation which is necessary before each Question Time means that I find out a great deal of what is going on in departments which might otherwise not reach my ears.

But the institution of democracy alone is not enough. Liberty can only flourish under a rule of law. Our freedom is rooted not just in Parliament but in the development of the common law and the law of equity, a rule of law administered strictly and impartially by independent judges.

Now the essence of a rule of law is, first, that it applies to governments just as much as to the individual citizen, and second, that it is founded on certain fundamental human rights.

A challenge to the rule of law, any effort to replace it by rule of force, is an attempt to overthrow both democracy and liberty. That is what we are witnessing at present in Colombia and we should all make clear our support for President Barco 's and for Colombia's Judges and security forces in their fight against the drug barons. Their courage is remarkable and they deserve all the moral and practical help we can give them.

Those who produce and those who sell drugs are waging war against the young people of all our countries and we must do everything we can to stop this evil trade.

The full moral authority of the international community should be brought to bear against them and I congratulate President Bush on the practical lead which the United States is giving in response to President Barco's request. [end p1]

Mr Chairman, we take great pride in the fact that Britain was one of the founding members of the IPU in 1889. That was a time when governments in Britain tended to change rather often, quite unlike today.

It was a British Parliamentarian, Lord Stansgate, who took the lead in reviving the IPU in the years after World War II. From the original 9 countries you have gone from strength to strength with members attending this Conference from 112 countries in every part of the world.

That underlines the tremendous strides that Parliamentary democracy has made, particularly in these last few years. It is our pride that India, with nearly 800 million people, is a democracy thus proving that however large, a country will choose and maintain democracy when its people are freely allowed to do so.

Many of you will have watched with fascination the televised proceedings of the Congress of the People's Deputies in the Soviet Union. What a milestone it was, with unprecedented public debate and questioning of government Ministers and Party Leaders. It was a triumph for President Gorbachev 's policies of glasnost and perestroika.

It also showed that an absolutely essential point is now understood in the Soviet Union, that people will not be persuaded to make the sacrifices necessary for economic reform to succeed unless they are given their political rights and the opportunity to take part in decisions affecting their future.

They also recognise the need to provide a proper rule of law which gives citizens real rights—quite a revolutionary concept for people who have hitherto been ruled by the diktat of a Communist Party.

As one commentator recently said: “The adoption of the concept marks a considerable step forward in the advancement of the role of law even if there does not yet exist in practice a fully fledged rule of law.”

May I just add that we in Britain were among the first outside the Soviet Union to recognise that Mr Gorbachev was an entirely new kind of Soviet leader and it is largely thanks to the IPU that we were able to do so because his very successful first visit here in 1984, before he became General Secretary, was under IPU auspices. It is one more example of the excellent contribution which the IPU makes, working together with governments.

And I am very pleased that as has just been announced, I shall soon be meeting President Gorbachev once again in Moscow later this month.

We can also draw great encouragement from what is happening in parts of Eastern Europe. In Poland, the appointment of a Solidarity Tadeusz MazowieckiPrime Minister after the freest elections for 40 years has been a landmark on the road to full Parliamentary democracy.

Solidarity's victory has been a reward for the courage, vision and tenacity of Lech Walesa and we wish the new government every success. Let us also pay tribute to President Jaruzelski for his patriotic and dignified handling of these remarkable events.

In Hungary we have seen electors offered a genuine choice of candidates and the first opposition representative elected to Parliament for over 40 years. Steps of this magnitude towards democracy in Poland and Hungary would have seemed inconceivable only a short time ago.

Now it is up to us, the democratic countries, to come forward with the necessary practical support to match and sustain the vision of the brave men and women who have fought so long for their beliefs.

What is happening, and in particular in Poland, is an experiment which must not fail. Upon its success so much of the future depends.

It is not only in some of the communist countries, but much more widely that we are seeing principles of Parliamentary democracy spread and take root. [end p2]

In this past year we have seen democracy restored in Pakistan. We are moving towards the first free elections in Namibia under United Nations supervision. In Latin America over threequarters of the population now live in countries committed to democratic principles compared with only one-third a decade or so ago.

A glaring exception to the advance of democracy throughout Latin America is Panama where the will of the people, expressed in the election of 7 May, is still being ignored. The time has come, indeed much more than come, for General Noriega and his cronies to accept the verdict of the people and stand aside.

In Hong Kong, we are seeing the steady development of representative government so that as 1997 draws closer, democratic institutions will be firmly established and in accordance with the Joint Declaration between China and the United Kingdom, continue for at least another fifty years.

Mr. Chairman, Abraham Lincoln once said: “No man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent!” (applause). That is the principle which lies at the heart of parliamentary democracy. There can be no more encouraging news for all of us in the IPU in this centenary year than to see that principle observed more widely and to witness this great resurgence of democracy and demand for political openness and participation.

I congratulate the IPU on the important and influential part which it has itself played, strengthening parliamentary institutions worldwide through its various activities and international meetings.

But you are not here just to celebrate. The IPU undertakes a tremendous amount of practical work and it is good that you are paying such attention to the environment. It is an issue of great concern, especially to young people. Your Nairobi conference in 1984 on the environment gave great prominence to precisely those problems which are now accepted as among the greatest challenges which are facing mankind and your decision earlier this year to set up an ad hoc committee on the environment to encourage action by parliaments and governments is very welcome indeed because this is going to be one of the major issues in the years ahead and it affects and involves us all.

The achievement of Voyager 2's remarkable 12-year flight through the solar system to Neptune and beyond and the pictures it sent back of arid, lifeless planets and moons reminds us that our planet has the unique privilege of life. It is our bounden duty to conserve the systems which support that life and try to correct the damage that has been done to our environment while there is still time.

It is not our purpose to restrain progress or limit the ambitions of those who have yet to enjoy a higher standard of living, but we must see that industrial and agricultural development is carried through in ways that do not damage the global atmosphere. Although our scientific [end p3] knowledge is far from complete, we know that certain things do immense damage and therefore require urgent action—for example, to cut the emissions of various gases which damage the ozone layer and contribute to the greenhouse effect. It is true, of course, that Man would not be here but for the existence of the greenhouse effect. It represents the difference between the Moon's lack of atmosphere and the moist atmosphere which sustains life here on Earth, but like so much else in Nature we need the greenhouse effect—but only in the right proportions.

As well as global systems, we also have to deal with the regional and local sources of pollution: contamination of the seas, acid rain, nitrate pollution. Young people are passionately interested in a clean atmosphere, clean rivers, clean seas and they want to see governments and parliaments concerning themselves with them.

These things are also affected by the natural ecology so in this country we have made great efforts to identify areas of special scientific interest because of their animal and plant life and others which are environmentally sensitive and we have taken steps to protect them.

Elsewhere, there is the special problem of destruction of the tropical forests which affects both the global atmosphere and the local climate. This has to be dealt with in a very sensitive way because it directly affects the economic interests and sovereignty of individual countries.

Britain and Brazil have recently set an example by reaching an agreement to cooperate on rain forest conservation and under this, Brazil and Britain will work together on projects concerned with the management and steady renewal of tropical rain forests. It is an example which I hope others will follow of cooperative action across frontiers to tackle environmental problems that know no frontiers.

No less sensitive is the need for renewed efforts to restrain population growth in various parts of the world. For hundreds—indeed thousands—of years, the world's population was below one billion souls. In the last 150 years, it has grown to over 5 billion people and is still rising, and it is the associated increase in agriculture, the improvements in medicine, the colossal increase in the use of fossil fuels and the widespread industrial development which have together changed life beyond recognition, in ways we never foresaw and in such a short time compared with the history of the world, so that the list of what now needs to be done is daunting: reducing the emissions of gas and other toxic substances; more efficient use of energy; reforestation; population control—all need our attention.

Contacts between parliaments and parliamentarians through the IPU can help a great deal in bringing countries together to face up to these problems and the steps needed to overcome them and in particular, to get across four important messages:

The first message: the critical importance of a sound scientific base so that we really understand the changes which are taking place and how they react with one another. That will enable us to adopt policies and remedies which will be effective. Once again, the example of Voyager 2 reminds us of the limitless opportunities which modern technology and modern machines have put at our disposal and also of the remarkable ingenuity of the human mind in both creating and using these new tools and machines.

There is a marvellous poem by Rudyard Kipling—and British colleagues will know that I so often quote Rudyard Kipling in these speeches, this one is no exception. The poem is called “The Secret of the Machines” in which he reminds us that for all their power, machines are but our creation and our invention. The poem, with the machine speaking, says this:

“Though our smoke may hide the heavens from your eyes,
[end p4]
It will vanish and the stars will shine again;
Because, for all our power and weight and size,
We are nothing more than children of your brain.”

A timely reminder that in an age of technology, it is people that count.

The second message: it is prosperity which generates the wealth we need to tackle these new problems. Economic growth and environmental protection are compatible—indeed, proper protection is not possible without adequte growth. Growth both can and should be green.

The third message: to demand a better environment means that we must accept the costs involved, and as parliamentarians I think we do.

The fourth message: climatic change and failure to address the environmental consequences of development are by no means problems which affect only the advanced industrialised countries. Indeed, such changes are likely to bear particularly heavily on zones of the Earth which are already experiencing problems either of deserts and drought at one extreme or of floods at the other. It is not a question of requiring compensation to do the right thing but of facing the dire consequences if we do not.

We need and we are shaping, through the United Nations, a vast cooperative international effort to understand, to monitor and to predict global change so that we may conserve the richness of life on this planet.

Your work at this Conference will cover many other matters—food, debt, population and outer space—and although it is not on your formal agenda, I hope you will also find time to discuss the problem of drugs which is very much at the forefront of all our minds. As President Barco has said, to stem demand for drugs would be one way to stop production and we shall be holding a major conference in London next year on demand reduction.

Mr. Chairman, those of us who spend some time attending international conferences know the enormous influence they can have and the opportunities they give to address our own particular problems in the context of a wider world. The dividing line between domestic and foreign affairs no longer has much relevance, whether it be in agriculture, trade, environment, political or human relations.

The world we shall see in the next hundred years will of necessity be very different from the one we have known this century. You are leaders and the decisions you take help to shape that world.

I hope we shall all take new inspiration and resolve from this Conference so that we may the better discharge the enormous privilege of being the elected representatives of our people, especially at a time when democracy is on the move.

I wish you every success in your great endeavours; may they help us to serve the people we represent (applause).