Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1989 Oct 24 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

TV Interview for ITN (Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Summit)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: TV Interview
Venue: Commonwealth Conference Centre, Kuala Lumpur
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Peter Allen, ITN
Editorial comments: Between 0900 and lunch.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1273
Themes: Commonwealth (general), Commonwealth (South Africa), Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Asia), Law & order, Northern Ireland, Race, immigration, nationality, Terrorism

Interviewer

Were you really astounded by the Commonwealth reaction to the fact that you put out a second statement on South Africa?

Prime Minister

Yes, I was. They do not hesitate to give their views and we have to sit and listen to them. I was absolutely astounded.

Interviewer

But it did seem to undermine everything you had just signed?

Prime Minister

Absolute poppycock! That communique stated quite clearly in four different places: “Britain disagrees” , “Britain has another view” , “With the exception of Britain” , but nowhere did it set out Britain's views. [end p1]

And so I thought it right that Britain's views should be set out not just by coming and talking at the Press Centre but actually clearly in a document so that they are on-the-record for all time and we started that document by saying the things we were very pleased with in the communique, which we agreed, and then explaining the differences.

Interviewer

What it John Major 's fault for agreeing such a rotten agreement in the first place?

Prime Minister

Certainly not, it was not a rotten communique. We have always disagreed and had to say we disagreed but hitherto there has been nothing on-the-record which has made it quite clear what our views were and I think what they are complaining about is that it is a clear, concise and effective document. That is what they really do not like.

Interviewer

Are you getting a bit tired about talking to the Commonwealth about South Africa? [end p2]

Prime Minister

I shall be very glad when it is sorted out and it will be. I am just as much against apartheid as they are but when we do get another government without any apartheid in it that government will inherit the strongest economy in Africa and the reason it will do so has nothing to do with the Commonwealth who, had they had their way, would have put on comprehensive sanctions and destroyed it and made the people there poverty-stricken.

When that new government eventually takes over they will inherit a strong economy and they will have Great Britain to thank for that. I do not expect them to thank us but at least we will know that we have had the satisfaction of seeing that the economy is sound.

Interviewer

Do you think by the time of the next Commonwealth Conference it will still be an issue or do you think by then apartheid will effectively have been ended in South Africa?

Prime Minister

I think, I do not know quite how far it will have got, they obviously will have to enter into negotiations, I think that those negotiations will take quite a long time because I doubt very much whether black South Africans will have the same view as to the kind of government they should have in the end. There are many disparate views in South Africa because there are different nations and different tribes and because of the homelands, which are not [end p3] recognised, but the fact is that the people who govern those homelands have been used to wielding power and they do not want to give it up.

But I am certain that it will be very much further on the way to getting rid of apartheid than it is now. But for the first time we have got recognition that as well as the Commonwealth wielding the big stick which is what it always wants to do, sticks and carrots really are a better way and encouragement, when it is going in the right way, often does more than more threats.

Interviewer

On the Vietnamese boat people you are going to issue a communique later, clearly we want most of those Vietnamese boat people returned and it seems we are told that if necessary they will be forced to return. Is that the situation?

Prime Minister

Look, we put back illegal immigrants over the Chinese border almost every day of the year because they come over and Hong Kong cannot take any more so they go straight back over the border. Almost every country in the world puts back illegal immigrants. The United States does to Mexico and also to Haiti. It is the refugees which you never send back, the genuine refugees, because they are political refugees and they could encounter acute difficulty if they go back. [end p4]

There are 13,000 refugees among the Vietnamese boat people and each one that arrives is properly interviewed to see whether they are political refugees or whether they have just come for a better job. Hong Kong cannot go on taking them at the rate of about 300–350 a day and those people who criticise about the possibility that some of the economic refugees, illegal immigrants, may have to be returned, it would be very much more constructive if they would say, if they object to them being returned, that they would take so many themselves. They are not saying that, they are just saying Hong Kong must grin and bear it. They do not grin and bear it themselves in their own countries and they cannot leave Hong Kong to do just that.

Interviewer

But you do confirm that if necessary a large number of people could be sent back?

Prime Minister

We have not yet done so but the impact on Hong Kong and the impact of fighting in those camps is intolerable and you must also consider the people in Hong Kong and you must also consider how many other countries, if they talk about it being wrong, are prepared to take themselves, because they must have some sympathy with Hong Kong. [end p5]

Some countries push off the boats, we have never done that, they will not let them land, we have never done that. But you cannot just say. “Well never mind, Hong Kong must go on taking more” and we do nothing about it and then say: “No, illegal immigrants must not be sent back” . They just had better get their practicalities right.

Interviewer

There has been a lot of publicity at home about the Guildford Four, the fact that they might well have been hanged had the death penalty been in existence and the question is does that in any way change your views on capital punishment?

Prime Minister

The old death penalty was mandatory. I have never been for a mandatory death penalty. I have always been and remain for the courts having the power to have the death penalty and to use it at their discretion for particularly bad cases. I still think that is correct. I would still vote for the death penalty.

I think it totally and utterly wrong that people, and do not forget two thousand have been murdered since the start of the troubles, they should be able to go out, use guns, use explosives, to use all sorts of terrible aideous weapons and torture on other people and know that their lives are never forfeited. [end p6]

Interviewer

Nevertheless, these four people would have been hanged?

Prime Minister

I do not know whether they would or not and neither do you, and neither do you.

Interviewer

The Commonwealth, another week spent arguing about South Africa, do you think it is still worthwhile?

Prime Minister

Yes of course it is, this is just ritual, we go through it and afterwards we talk and they come up and they most of them, I think there are thirty countries in which our Armed Forces give military training to others, they want their military training to continue, they want the aid to continue, they may have difficulty with an adjacent country, they know that we have influence, they know that we have influence in South Africa, far more than they do, but not because we utter threats but because we use our diplomatic powers and skills and reasonableness. And that is the real work of the Commonwealth, the other is just ritual.