The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1991Prime Minister (1990-1997)

PMQT – 23 July 1991

Below is the text of Prime Minister’s Question Time from 23rd July 1991.




Q1. Mr. Haynes : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 23 July.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Haynes : The Prime Minister will be aware that we came into this place together and that we have been friends ever since. However, when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked him a question yesterday on the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, I wondered where Honest John was. Will he tell me please?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct that we entered the House on the same day. I, too, am proud to have been his friend during that period and I hope that that will continue. I made it clear to his right hon. Friend yesterday that I had no knowledge of the fraud at the BCCI until 28 June. I have set up an inquiry that will have open access to all the information that is available and all the people who are concerned, up to and including Ministers and myself. When that report is concluded, I will publish it.

Mr. Dickens : Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister please confirm that it was the Conservative party which first gave parents their rights, gave trade union members their rights and gave council tenants their rights? Is it not now the Conservative party which is giving the ordinary citizens of Britain their rights and is not that to be admired under the leadership of my right hon. Friend?

The Prime Minister : I would not wish to disagree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Kinnock : Does the Prime Minister recall that he told the House on 18 January 1990 that he was aware of the reports about the banking operations of BCCI, that he said :

“I am satisfied with the supervision responsibilities and powers available to the Bank of England”–[ Official Report, 18 January 1990 ; Vol. 165, c. 402.]

and that he said that the Bank had “sufficient staff working” on what he told the House was “a serious matter”? Will he now answer the specific question which he did not answer in any way yesterday? When did he first know about the very serious and prolonged banking irregularities at the BCCI?

The Prime Minister : As I told the right hon. Gentleman, the first time that I knew of serious banking irregularities was on 28 June–last month. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made that clear to the House on Friday, I made it clear to the House on Monday and the Governor of the Bank of England made it clear in a letter to the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz). I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman, as a Privy Councillor, is unwilling or unable to accept those assurances.

Mr. Kinnock : If the Prime Minister will refresh his memory, he will discover that he made absolutely no mention whatever either yesterday or on any other occasion of serious banking irregularities. Is it not a fact that in early 1990 the Prime Minister knew about the use of BCCI by drug traffickers, and therefore clearly knew about the other grave irregularities? It is a matter of record in columns 402-3 of Hansard of 18 January 1990 that he knew about the other grave irregularities at BCCI, that he told the House that it was a “serious matter” and that he then let the matter drop, with tragic consequences for those who, in complete innocence, continued to use the BCCI. Has not he been utterly negligent? Was not his failure to act on the knowledge that he had a complete dereliction of duty?

The Prime Minister : I regret that the right hon. Gentleman continues to conduct opposition by smear. The reality of what happened all the way through, of who knew about the details of the fraud and other serious matters, will be entirely uncovered by the inquiry that I have set up. The right hon. Gentleman should wait for the results of the inquiry and, meantime, he should not continue as he is doing.

Mr. Kinnock : The Prime Minister is rightly exercised about the sovereignty of this House of Parliament. Will he answer questions to permit us to exercise the sovereignty of this House and hold the Government to account? He says that it is a matter of regret that I ask these questions. It truly is a matter of regret that 200,000 people continued to trade with the BCCI, including 60 local authorities and countless companies, in complete innocence when all the time the then Chancellor of the Exchequer knew about serious irregularities in that bank, but did nothing to warn anyone.

The Prime Minister : Those depositors are in difficulty because of the fraud perpetrated by the BCCI. I have told the right hon. Gentleman that the first knowledge that I had of that fraud was on 28 June. [Interruption.] If he is saying that I am a liar, he had better do so bluntly. [Interruption.] If he is not, he had better stop insinuating it.

Mr. Kinnock : The Prime Minister has already misled the House once today by saying that yesterday he referred to the irregularities, when it is in the recall of this House that he did not say a word about the irregularities yesterday, despite being asked about them. I have said to the Prime Minister that he knew about matters other than fraud before January this year and before June this year. Despite what he knew as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he did nothing to warn innocent people of the trap into which they were moving and of a bank that was near bankruptcy, that was giving unsecured loans and was not fit to trade. He let the bank trade.

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman has just revealed to the House why he is unfit to be in government– [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. [Hon. Members– : “Guilty !”]. Order.

Mr. Skinner : It all started when–

Mr. Speaker : Order. Let us behave like the House of Commons.

Mr. Whitney : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his excellent citizen’s charter. Does he agree that the typically churlish and sour reaction of Opposition Members demonstrates once again that, unlike the majority of the political parties in the world, they have still not understood that it is the competition and choice in the private sector which create quality of service? Does he also agree that it is the right of customers in the public sector to receive that same quality of service?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend about that. The measures in the citizen’s charter, both the large ones and the smaller ones, will be welcomed by people up and down the country. It is often the small matters that cause the greatest degree of frustration to ordinary people, and those small matters require to be dealt with. Many of the provisions of the citizen’s charter will do precisely that.

Mr. Ashdown : Further to that answer, yesterday the Prime Minister rightly said that where the authorities fail, the citizen should be compensated. Will he confirm to the House that that principle of compensation will apply if the Bingham inquiry shows that the authorities failed in the BCCI affair?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman had better wait for the result of the Bingham inquiry.

Mr. Soames : Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in more than 40 prison establishments in this country today there is a full-blown industrial dispute? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a thoroughly unsatisfactory state of affairs? Does he further agree that the Government must do something to sort out that rotten union?

The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. It is important that we address that matter.


Q2. Mr. Hinchliffe : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 23 July.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Hinchliffe : Is the Prime Minister aware that the Health Select Committee recently heard evidence that there has been a huge increase in serious infections during child birth because of the declining standards of hospital cleaning, directly arising from the privatisation process? Will he include as part of his citizens charter a commitment to return to the public sector those unsafe and unsatisfactory privatised services currently operating in the national health service?

The Prime Minister : It is a curious reality of life that all over the world different countries are moving increasingly to privatise services, including the Soviet Union which is looking to move many of its services into the private sector. Only the Labour party in this country is seeking to move back to nationalisation.

Mr. Ward : Does my right hon. Friend agree that we are less likely to have seriously ill patients turned away from hospitals and less likely to have people waiting to be buried if we continue with our privatisation scheme and eliminate the unions from the hospitals?

The Prime Minister : It is the Government’s policy to continue to improve the quantity and quality of health care in this country, as we have done in recent years. That is in the interests of patients and it is certainly what is set out in our provisions in the citizens charter. That is the policy we will follow.


Q3. Mr. McAllion : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 23 July.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. McAllion : Is the Prime Minister aware that the most important right available to citizens is the right to decide for themselves under which kind of Government they live? Since that is the very right that the Government are denying to the people of Scotland, does the right hon. Gentleman understand that his so-called citizens charter will be seen in Scotland for what it is–a fraud and a deceit? It is yet another reason for inflicting deserved electoral defeat on the Government when the Prime Minister finally finds the courage to face the citizens at the ballot box.

The Prime Minister : I sometimes wonder whether the hon. Gentleman lives in the real world.