Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Interview for Hindustan Times

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript and text
Journalist: Mr Dua, Hindustan Times
Editorial comments:

0945-1015; published 6 April 1990. MT gave a written interview as well as speaking face to face. By oversight the written interview was omitted from the Oxford CD-ROM of MT's complete public statements.

Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 2856
Themes: Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Foreign policy (Western Europe - non-EU), Foreign policy (Asia), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Community charge ("poll tax"), Law & order, Conservative Party (organization), Leadership, Autobiographical comments

(1) Oral interview transcript

Interviewer

You had a long conversation with President Gorbachev the other day - forty minutes I am told. What did you talk about on the telephone?

Prime Minister

We were talking just quickly about the general situation in the Soviet Union and Lithuania and reaffirming what President Bush and I and I think other European leaders have said: “Look! This must be settled peacefully! Sometimes, feelings run high, but it must be settled peacefully. There is a way through peacefully!” and we have done everything possible to stress that both with this country, with Bush and with the European Community and, I think, other people as well.

The thing is when you get feelings running high, everyone must make their views quite clear: “Settle it by dialogue and discussion!”

And then, of course, there was German unification and the general situation as well. [end p1]

Interviewer

What is the current position on the demand for independence by Lithuania?

Prime Minister

I expressed it in the House several times: that we have never recognised the illegal annexation of Lithuania. It was recognised de facto in the Helsinki Accords which we have all signed, which also says that any changes must come about peacefully.

Interviewer

What about other Baltic Republics? Do you favour independence for the other Baltic Republics?

Prime Minister

Lithuania, Lativa, Estonia are different because they were part of the Hitler&slash;Stalin pact and quite different from the others, so that we have never recognised their illegal annexation and have no representation there.

Interviewer

Madam Prime Minister, the demand for Lithuania's independence if it is accepted can continue; other Republics of the Soviet Union can also demand independence. [end p2]

Prime Minister

This is not a matter for me. It is up to us to do everything we can to see that any of these problems are solved by dialogue and discussion but there are, as you know, laws going through the Soviet Plenum at the moment whereby they are trying to make new arrangements between the centre and the separate states leading up to secession in the final analysis.

Interviewer

Surely you will not be wanting the crack-up of the Soviet Union?

Prime Minister

This is not a matter for me. It is a matter for the Soviet Union to decide its own and its relationship between the Central Government and the states and they have now more democracy than they have had ever before. They are making a lot of new laws; they have given a lot of new freedoms which have not obtained before, and that is a great advance and it is up to them - to their newly elected Plenum - as to how in fact they deal with this matter, but we do say it must be dealt with peacefully. [end p3]

Interviewer

Madam Prime Minister, you have some sort of dilemma here or probably the entire West has and Britain has: on one side, you like to encourage democracy everywhere; on the other side you would like President Gorbachev to survive politically in the Soviet Union.

If he gives independence to Lithuania, for instance, the conservatives get an upper hand and Mr. Gorbachev's political future may be in jeopardy.

Prime Minister

It is not for me to say what will happen within the politics of the Soviet Union. It is, I think, for us to say that many of the new freedoms would never have come about but for Mr. Gorbachev's courage and vision and for that, not only the people of the Soviet Union but Eastern Europe, and I think the world should be extremely grateful.

Interviewer

Supposing there is violence … by the Soviet Government to check Lithuania's secession of independence, would it affect the flow of aid and technology to the Soviet Union? [end p4]

Prime Minister

We should have to consider each matter as it arose. For example, there were problems in Azerbaijan and Armenia and it looked at one stage as if there could almost have been a civil war and then I think no-one complained that the troops had to be put in there because that was the kind of situation that we all understood.

Interviewer

Apparently your conversations with Chancellor Kohl go very well?

Prime Minister

Very well. Were you at the Press Conference?

Interviewer

No.

Prime Minister

It was a very good Press Conference.

Interviewer

I am told so but you have some reservations with German unification at least about external aspects? [end p5]

Prime Minister

Yes. I thought that we had also to settle all of the external aspects because unification of the two parts of Germany affects not only Germany - it affects NATO, it affects the European Community and of course it also affects the Helsinki Accords where it is said that these things can only come about peacefully.

In NATO, of course, everything has not yet been sorted out - it will take some time and the European Community too, but it looks as if they are slowing down the process of German unification now. You need a transition to sort these things out and we are now starting to get them sorted out.

Interviewer

When do you think the two Germanies will unite now?

Prime Minister

They have put forward all sorts of different time-tables. Obviously the monetary unification will come about first but they have not yet decided precisely on that as you know from this morning's news.

Interviewer

Will a united Germany be more effective in Europe? It will be a major economic power. [end p6]

Prime Minister

Yes it will but obviously they will have enormous problems to sort out in Eastern Germany to modernise their industries and, of course, they have terrible environmental problems as well. And, of course, we have to sort out with the Community the effect on our agricultural policy and the effect on trading policy because this is not a free-enterprise society, as you know, and therefore we shall have to have derogations and a transition period.

Interviewer

With the flow of aid and British technology to countries in Eastern Europe who are giving up Communism for a sort of democratic set-up, are you going to launch some …

Prime Minister

It is not a political democracy. A political democracy is really only backed up by a liberal market economy and, as you know, it is very difficult to change from a totally centrally-controlled economy to a liberal market economy when you have not got the legal structures, the structures of company law, such as contract law, and it is, I think, a much bigger change than most people realise.

In Czechoslovakia and possibly in Hungary, you still have some people who remember and were arsquouainted with those structures and I hope they might find it easier than others to return to them, but it is a bigger change in highly sophisticated economies than has really ever been tackled, even bigger of course in the Soviet Union. [end p7]

It is not just a question of saying: “Well, now you are responsible for your own enterprise!” You have got to have a whole company structure within which to operate so that people who take orders from it know full well that if they do not get their money for it there is certain action they can take.

It is a very big job - I do not think we should under-estimate it.

Interviewer

Are you going to coordinate with other Western countries?

Prime Minister

Yes. We have a big Know-How Fund and so do other countries. We need to try to bring people over here to teach them how it is done and to help them with setting up structures over there and this is what they are asking for. But even so, it is not easy to go in with a different method of thought and work into people who have only known what to do because they have been instructed from the centre and you also have to build up whole new administrative structures because they have not got the kind of local government that you have and we have, which has been elected. It has, after all, mostly been done through the Communist Party.

So the problems are massive, absolutely massive and of course inflation. Some of them have currency which they cannot use to buy goods because there are not any goods to buy so there is a potential inflation there which is very difficult. [end p8]

Interviewer

I would like to come, it I may, to the domestic questions of British politics.

I have been here for the last four or five days and I find there has been some excitement in the Conservative Party. You have spoken about “gallant colonels” and “there is no vacancy at 10 Downing Street!” Do you think there is unrest in the Conservative Party at the moment?

Prime Minister

No. We have a very good majority and obviously, on the main principles we all fundamentally agree. Of course, in a party as large as ours, you will have people whose views differ as each particular matter comes up - it would be very surprising if that were not so - but on the fundamental differences between ourselves and Socialism if it comes to an election, there is no difference between us in the Conservative Party about the the fundamental differences between ourselves and Socialism, none at all.

Interviewer

But you had to make a statement that there was no vacancy. Was there need for such a statement that there was no vacancy at No. 10 Downing Street? [end p9]

Prime Minister

Obviously, when you have been here ten or eleven years, people say: “Well, when are you going?” so we just said we were not going.

Interviewer

When are you going to &dubellip; in your rating?

Prime Minister

Well, you are asking me the same question. I gave you the answer in Cheltenham.

Interviewer

Surely you will going into the next election I suppose?

Prime Minister

I expect to fight the next election, yes.

Interviewer

Were you surprised about the violence and the events that took place in Trafalgar Square last week-end?

Prime Minister

As you know, we had a full statement in the House about that yesterday. [end p10]

Interviewer

Was that not unprecedented for Britain? I have seen demonstrations becoming violent in India and other countries but in Britain I thought this was something totally unthinkable.

Prime Minister

I thought it was appalling. They were demonstrating in a city which has the lowest community charge in Britain.

There is a right of peaceful demonstration, as you know. I am afraid that sometimes, when you have these big demonstrations organised, there are groups who come determined to do violence and they did. Appalling!

Interviewer

Did you anticipate that the poll tax or community charge would have so unpopular a reaction?

Prime Minister

There is no excuse in a democracy for violence of any kind, no excuse at all. We have vigorous debates in Parliament - that is what a Parliament is for. There is no excuse for it.

These people want to tear down democracy. The weapon they use to get their own way is intimidation and violence. There is no place for that in a democracy and I hope that they will be brought to court and there will be some pretty stiff sentences passed. [end p11]

Interviewer

Do you fear such violence again in the near future?

Prime Minister

I would not like to say we fear such violence. I think the police will have learned a great deal from it. I think it came upon them very suddenly. We have had it before. Do not forget, we had violence on the picket lines many times before.

It is the violence that is wrong. It is people who are trying to impose their will by harming others, by being brutal to others.

Interviewer

I am sorry to persist with the same question, but the way the poll tax is becoming unpopular, are you likely to have another look at it or withdraw it or modify it?

Prime Minister

We are not likely to withdraw it. It much fairer than the tax it replaced, much fairer, and of course, when you change a tax you will obviously learn as you go and make any modifications that are needed. The real difficulty is not in the structure of the charge but in overspending by some authorities and we would have thought that they would have thought a bit more about their own constituents, about their own electorate - not a bit of it! All that talk about compassion! [end p12]

Interviewer

Would the poll tax affect the Conservative Party's chances at the election?

Prime Minister

I think that when it is in and when it has been working for some time - and we will make the requisite modifications - then I think that it will work well.

Interviewer

How do you look back at this momentous eleven years in which you have led your country, achievements and some minor points also?

Prime Minister

The country really has been transformed from a country in decline to a growing and prosperous country once again, to a country of influence and a country which is a staunch ally.

Interviewer

Some of the minus points you must have noticed in eleven years?

Prime Minister

Yes. I think there are plenty of the press looking for minus points without me! [end p13]

Interviewer

You have dealt with a large number of world leaders during this eleven years. Who would you say are the two or three leaders who have really commanded your admiration?

Prime Minister

President Reagan gave confidence back to America and was absolutely staunch on defence. That really was vital for the whole of the Free World.

Secretary-General Gorbachev, as he then was - President Gorbachev - in fact had the vision and courage to see that Communism would not work.

I think those perhaps are the two most powerful ones during my time, influential ones who actually had a more far-reaching effect.

Interviewer

What made you join politics?

Prime Minister

Sheer fascination with the subject.

Interviewer

Surely you have not regretted the decision to join politics? [end p14]

Prime Minister

I never regretted the decision, no. I was a scientist and I felt that though I enjoyed my science, I wanted to have something much more to do with people and then I took a law degree, as you know, and it seemed a very good training for politics.

Interviewer

What is the secret of such a long tenure at 10 Downing Street?

Prime Minister

But is is not such a long tenure really, is it? How long was Mrs. Gandhi in power?

Interviewer

Seventeen years.

Prime Minister

Seventeen years! So it is not really so long. And she had some hard times to go through and a tragic end, she really did.

Interviewer

She was a friend of yours?

Prime Minister

We were mutual friends. [end p15]

Interviewer

What do you do in your spare time?

Prime Minister

I do not have very much spare time, I really do not. I read, I listen to music, now and then we go to a theatre or to the opera.

Interviewer

What kind of reading do you like to do if you have time?

Prime Minister

I will usually read fairly deep books. I will read some of the current history books and some of the books that are looking into the politics of our time, “The Rise and Fall of Big Empires” by Paul Kennedy; I have been looking back at some of the great histories of Germany recently, at some of the great histories of the Soviet Union, and then you try to look at some of the wider world histories.

China, of course, also affects us very much indeed and you start to look at the different way Communism has gone from that which started from the Soviet Union which had its worldwide domination, but the reforms which have taken place in the Soviet Union have affected anything else which happens from the Soviet Union like the movements in Angola they were supporting, in [end p16] Mozambique, in Nicaragua. All of those, that kind of world Communism that has come from the Soviet Union, has been affected simultaneously with Mr. Gorbachev altering things within.

They have not yet had similar success with Cambodia - there you have China and the Soviet Union involved and really a terrible and most difficult situation. We look very anxiously at Far Eastern matters - we have reason to do so.

(2) PRIME MINISTER'S WRITTEN INTERVIEW WITH THE HINDUSTAN TIMES

Interviewer

1. What kind of Europe is likely to emerge, taking into account sweeping changes in Eastern Europe and the imminent German unification?

2. Do you think that the relationship between Britain and the Continent will change in some way after the two Germanies have re-united?

Prime Minister

That depends on what we make of the changes which are taking place. But the opportunities are there to create a more democratic and more prosperous Europe than we have ever seen.

I have recently proposed that we should try to establish a great Alliance for Democracy stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals. This would mean building on the framework of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe to extend the principles of parliamentary democracy and the market economy right across Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

At the same time, we shall be completing the Single Market in the European Community, which will represent the most tremendous change in the way in which the European countries run their economies. The purpose is to establish a genuinely open market, free from barriers and subsidies of all sorts.

Our vision is of a Europe of independent sovereign countries, co-operating ever more closely but preserving their individual national characteristics and traditions - because that is what gives us our strength. [end p17]

There is a general impression that a united Germany will emerge as a major power in Europe. What implications will this have on the security situation in Europe?

Interviewer

Will this have any bearing on the future of NATO?

Prime Minister

I think a united Germany will strengthen the security and stability of Europe, provided that it is a member of NATO. That goal is accepted by all the NATO countries as well as by Chancellor Kohl and the Federal German Government. NATO has been the main pillar of Europe's defence: and although we may be able to reduce the number of forces and weapons, we must continue to co-operate for our common defence, bringing in also the United States and Canada.

Interviewer

Do you think with the possible emergence of a united Germany, it is likely to be a major economic power in Europe? In what ways can it influence the future shape of the European Economic Community?

Prime Minister

I am absolutely sure that a united Germany will be the major economic power in Europe. The Federal Republic will face considerable costs in rehabilitating the East German economy.

But I am sure this will carried through rapidly, and that a united Germany will contribute to the prosperity of Europe as a whole.

Many people have the feeling that while Britain had always supported German unification in principle, of late you seem to be worried about the prospects of a united Germany taking shape soon.

Interviewer

Is it true? What exactly are your reservations?

Prime Minister

British Governments since 1945 have supported the principle that the Germans had the right to unification, on the basis of free self-determination. Our concern was not about this principle, but rather the absence of a forum in which the important external consequences of unification for the other countries of Europe could be discussed. This was put right with [end p18] the agreement to establish a group of the two German states and the Four Powers to discuss all these issues. This group is now hard at work and we hope that it will have settled the main consequences of German unification for Europe's security by the time of the planned CSCE Summit later this year.

Interviewer

Are other European nations sharing your reservations about German unification?

Prime Minister

Yes, many had the same concerns as I did although they did not always speak up. Some of them had bitter historical experiences. But now that the consequences of unification for Germany's neighbours, for NATO and for the EC are being worked out, many of these concerns have been allayed.

Interviewer

Had you anticipated the sweeping changes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and also the pace at which these changes have been taking place?

Prime Minister

Nobody predicted or indeed could have predicted the pace and scale of the changes that have occurred. President Gorbachev had the vision to realise that sweeping economic and political reforms were essential and the determination to push these through. We fully support his courageous efforts and hope it will be possible to pursue them in a climate of stability and co-operation.

Interviewer

Do you think President Gorbachev had anticipated or wanted the changes to be at such a fast pace?

Prime Minister

You cannot control a revolution. But it was very clearly President Gorbachev who set the direction in which the refond process is moving. [end p19]

Interviewer

Is there a danger of a conservative backlash which could threaten President Gorbachev's position as well as political reforms in the Soviet Union? Now when President Gorbachev has acquired more powers, will he go ahead with the reforms or will he slow down?

Prime Minister

It is always possible that rapid change in any country will lead to what you describe as a backlash. But no-one has come forward with a coherent alternative to perestroika. Mv own view is that the pace of reform will become even faster.

Interviewer

With so much unrest prevailing in its republics, do youthink the Soviet Union will crack up as a united country?

Prime Minister

There are obviously great difficulties. But President Gorbachev is carrying through constitutional reforms which will give the individual republics a far greater degree of sovereignty, and the right to secede through constitutional procedures.

Interviewer

Will a united Germany guarantee peaceful borders with its neighbours, particularly Poland?

Are Britain and other allied powers going to insist on a treaty on the sanctity of these borders or will the question be allowed to remain open?

Prime Minister

I made clear when Polish Prime Minister Mazowiecki visited London recently that I fully supported Poland's wishes for its border with a united Germany to be guaranteed by a Treaty. I was therefore very pleased when the Federal German Parliament adopted a resolution, brought forward by the governing coalition, which confirmed that there would be such a Treaty with Poland after unification, and added that the Germans had no territorial claims on Poland. [end p20]

Interviewer

Is Britain likely to take up the question of Berlin before the two Germanies unite?

Prime Minister

We shall be discussing the future of Berlin in the Two plus Four Group I mentioned before. It is clearly a complex issue, but the aim is that our riahts and responsibilities there should be wound up at the same time as the two German states unite - although I would not exclude the possibility that some Allied forces would remain there, if that is what a united Germany itself wished.

Interviewer

With East Europe opening up as a market, will Britain and other European nations dilute the flow of investment aid and technology to other countries - say in Asia?

Prime Minister

No. We take a very close interest in developments in Eastern Europe. But the aid we are directing there, both bilateral and Community, is new money to be disbursed entirely separately from traditional aid programmes, to which we remain fully committed. Inevitably, businessmen will decide on where to invest, with commercial considerations in mind. It is more important than ever to make investment attractive to foreign companies, and to compete effectively for it.

Interviewer

How do you view Indo-British relations at this time?

Prime Minister

They are excellent, as the State Visit by President Venkataraman shows. We have much to share, and welcome the broadest possible exchanges with India, as a leading member both of the Commonwealth and of the developing world. [end p21] There is some uncertainty about the fate of 5,000 people of Indian origin who are likely to be stateless after Hong Kona has gone to China. Is Britain finding any solution to this problem? We recognise the particular concern of the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, and we have already taken steps to reassure them about their position after 1997. We have made provision for the children and grandchildren of former British Dependent Territory Citizens born after 1997 to acquire British Overseas Citizenship if they would otherwise be stateless. We have in Parliament said that if, against all expectations, the ethnic minorities came under pressure to leave Hong Kong in the future, we would expect the Government of the day to consider their case for admission here with considerable and particular sympathy. We stand by that undertaking.

Interviewer

Is Britain feeling concerned more about human rights in China than political stability in that country? Have the events in Tiananmen Square last June affected Britain's attitude to the Chinese Government?

Prime Minister

We are concerned about lack of respect for human rights anywhere. We made clear to the Chinese government our views about the tragic events in Peking last year. With our European partners, we brought in a number of measures designed to underline our concern. But we have no wish to isolate China. That would help nobody. We wish nothing but good to the Chinese people. We need to use our contacts to encourage the Chinese to return to policies of genuine reform. And of course we need to maintain our co-operation with the Chinese Government over important Hong Kong issues.