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 TV-AM (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: Gerry Foley, TV-AM
Editorial comments: Between 0900 and lunch. MT’s used the phrase "advisers advise and ministers decide" two days later in the House of Commons; the later use gave it currency.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 1204
Themes: Executive, Commonwealth (general), Commonwealth (South Africa), Trade, Economic, monetary & political union, Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Asia), Race, immigration, nationality

Interviewer

Prime Minister, by issuing the separate statement, you have been accused of disloyalty, that it was an act of betrayal and that you are a friend of apartheid. What is your response?

Prime Minister

Absolute nonsense!

That document on South Africa said in four places clearly that Britain disagreed or had a different view. Nowhere was Britain's view spelt out on that document, so I filled the omission and spelt it out clearly, effectively and in writing and I spelled it out because I was afraid of just the very thing you have said—that some people might accuse us of being for apartheid. We are not! We are against it as much as anyone else.

But may I say this to you: no-one has come up and complained to me in person and when it was raised in the Conference by Mr. Hawke, by Mr. Mulroney, Mahathir bin Mohamadthe Chairman said: “Any other comments?” and there was not one. I know what they do not like! They believe they can set out their view freely and clearly but they do not like it when Britain does it and does it effectively and for the record. [end p1]

Interviewer

But the Commonwealth calls itself a family. What they seemed to be saying was that perhaps as a matter of courtesy you should have told them in advance that you were going to issue this separate statement.

Prime Minister

No, I do not think it is a matter of courtesy. Had I come across, as many other Heads of Government do, into this press centre and done a press conference and done it orally, there would have been no problem. As a matter of fact, I think I am one of the few Heads of Government who has not dashed across here. This is the first time I have been in the press centre—and it is the last day of the Conference.

Interviewer

By issuing the separate statement, do you think that you have undermined the position of the new Foreign Secretary, John Major, because after all he was involved in drafting the document?

Prime Minister

Absolute nonsense! The document says on four main things the view of Britain is different. It says it in different language— “with the exception of Britain” or “Britain disagrees” —and he specifically reserved our position and, of course, John MajorJohn was involved before we issued the document and had some say in the drafting. [end p2]

Interviewer

Prime Minister, you have now spent eight days at this Conference, which is a sizeable chunk out of your busy schedule. Do you think the Commonwealth is really worth the effort, given the fact that it leads to these kind of rows?

Prime Minister

Oh yes! You always have these. They are ritual. Every time, we get a ritual speech about Britain exploited the Colonies, etc. We just sit there and go through it, knowing full well that some time during the Conference they will come and they will want their people either to continue to have military training by the British Armed Forces or they want continuation of aid or they will want more aid, etc., etc. This is just ritual. They know full well that if they really believed in comprehensive sanctions they could have put them on. They have not and of course the Front-Line States have not. I understand that; it would ruin their economies too.

So they came here and the first argument we had about sanctions, oh yes, they were all going to have comprehensive sanctions. They went home, took advice and they said: “Look! It will not only ruin the economy of South Africa if it works and it will make people poverty-stricken there—it will also ruin the economies of the Front-Line States!” [end p3]

So there is an enormous difference between the ritual arguments and what they do, so we just go through it. In the meantime, South Africa will one day, when she has got a government that has no apartheid in it, continue to have a strong economy and there will be one country in the Commonwealth which she has got to thank for that and it will be Great Britain. I do not expect they will thank us but we shall have the satisfaction of knowing that South Africa, which is still the strongest economy in the whole of Africa, will still be strong when apartheid has gone and that is our objective.

Interviewer

On the question of Hong Kong, were you hoping for stronger backing for the Colony from the other Commonwealth countries?

Prime Minister

Obviously. In every international forum I have been in we have made a statement about Hong Kong, whether it is in Europe—Europe supported us fully and wished to support the people of Hong Kong in their present worries—and also in the Economic Summit. They wished to support the people of Hong Kong. So of course the Commonwealth will wish to say something about it too. [end p4]

Interviewer

Another problem in Hong Kong is the problem of the Vietnamese boat refugees. Has Britain taken a decision to forcibly repatriate those refugees?

Prime Minister

At the moment, we have thirteen thousand who are genuine refugees and those you never consider repatriating—they are genuine political refugees. Among the others, the overwhelming number has just come for jobs and the fact is, whatever people say, Hong Kong cannot go on taking them.

As you know, there have been fights and trouble in the camps and still they come. She cannot go on taking them. Some have been voluntarily repatriated and if nothing else happens, then we shall soon have to consider, as every other country in the world does who has illegal immigrants, insisting on them going back. We have not yet done so. We put Chinese refugees from across the Chinese border into Hong Kong back over the border. That is involuntary repatriation. The United States puts some back over Mexico, involuntary repatriation; they send some back to Haiti, involuntary repatriation of illegal immigrants. [end p5]

So those people who complain, they would be very much more constructive if they recognised that Hong Kong could not go on taking them—she has got 55,000 in camps at the moment, she is the most densely populated area in the world—and said: “All right! If we object to involuntary repatriation, we ourselves will take so many thousands of Vietnamese refugees and boat people!” They are not doing that. Some of them have in the past. They may do again. But that is the answer if they object. But you simply cannot have them arriving at 350 or so a day.

Interviewer

Prime Minister, when you head back to London, there is an important debate in the House of Commons today on the economy amidst renewed controversy over an apparent difference of emphasis between your chief economic advisers Alan Walters and Chancellor Nigel Lawson on the question of membership of the EMS. Whose side are you on?

Prime Minister

Advisers advise, Ministers decide! That is the difference. No problem except that you make one where none exists. Advisers are there to advise. We receive a great deal of advice. It is Ministers who decide the policy. The policy was laid down at Madrid. It is clear for everyone to see.