The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1994Prime Minister (1990-1997)

PMQT – 24 May 1994

Below is the text of Prime Minister’s Question Time from 24th May 1994.




Q1. Dr. Wright : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 24 May.

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

Dr. Wright : What does the Prime Minister say to the woman in my constituency who phoned my office the other day to thank me for taking up her husband’s case in relation to the Child Support Agency, but who said that I could close the file–the file that I have here–because her husband had just killed himself? Has not the time come when it is no longer enough to say that we all support the principle of the agency–which we do–or that it is being kept under continuing review–which it no doubt is ? Has not it become a monstrous and inhuman shambles that has to be changed and changed now?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman knows what I had to say about that recently. I have nothing to add to that today. On the personal circumstances that he mentioned, neither he nor I can know all the circumstances behind that tragedy. On reflection, he may think that it was unwise to raise it in that fashion.

Sir Cranley Onslow : As the British electorate clearly cannot expect Opposition Members to spell out the full horrors of the sort of centralised and federal European Union for which they want people to vote on 9 June, will my right hon. Friend consider inviting Mr. Delors to come over here and do the job for them?

The Prime Minister : The President of the Commission is welcome here in the United Kingdom at any time. I hope that when he comes, if he comes, he will spell out yet again that he believes that the fact that we are not part of the social chapter will make us a great magnet for external investment–I am sure that he is right about that.

Mrs. Beckett : Does the Prime Minister recall what his party promised the British people in its last Euro-manifesto? It included the promise that the Conservatives would not put value added tax on gas and electricity, saying :

“We stand by that pledge; we will honour it”.

Has not it become clear that the Government are incapable of honouring any pledge?

The Prime Minister : It is not remotely clear. Like every Government, we have to respond to the reality of events in the interests of the people of this country. The right hon. Lady should bear in mind some of the contradictions in what she and her colleagues have said and done. On one day they attack our tax proposals and on the next day they propose a string of new taxes. They then ask for fresh expenditure, but the shadow Chancellor says that there is no commitment. There is no consistency whatsoever in any of their policies.

Mrs. Beckett : If that is the Prime Minister’s answer to why the Government broke the promises in their last Euro-manifesto, will he explain why, at the general election in 1992, he and his party promised not to extend or increase VAT, not to increase national insurance contributions and not to impose any other taxes and charges, and even promised tax cuts year on year? Why is it that, in manifesto after manifesto, the Government make promises that they then betray?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Lady is misquoting and misunderstanding. If she wants to talk about movements away from manifestos, she might look at the distinctions between the European socialist manifesto to which the Labour party is committed and the domestic Labour party manifesto for the European elections. She might then explain to the British people why, in this election, what it is saying domestically is not what it has agreed to internationally.

Mrs. Beckett : Did not the Government prove at the last Euro- election and general election that they will say and do anything to get elected? The people now know that after the broken promises of the Euro- election and general election campaigns. Why should anyone trust the Government ever again?

The Prime Minister : The right hon. Lady will also know that we made it clear that we would create the right circumstances for growth, and we have; that we would bring unemployment down, and we are ; that we would get interest rates down, and we have ; and that we would create the conditions for sustained growth without inflation, and we have.

Only a few weeks ago, the Labour party was signing up to promises in Europe to which it dare not admit domestically in the current election. If the right hon. Lady will not admit to that, she will find that, throughout the campaign, quote after quote after quote of what the Labour party has signed up to not long ago will be brought up. The Labour party is now trying to duck, dodge and weave around those promises because it knows that the British people will not stand for its policies on Europe.

Mr. Dykes : I thank my right hon. Friend for yesterday reminding the British public yet again that we gain enormously in real sovereignty and strength in Europe by working closely, harmoniously and positively with the other member countries.

The Prime Minister : As I said last night in my speech, which I know that my hon. Friend will have read, our policy is to make a success of the European Community and to make sure that it regains the affection of people, not only in this country, but right across Europe. That is the policy of the Government, and I set out a range of ways in which we believe that that can and must be brought about. It is essential to the future well-being of the country that we are able to ensure not only that the European Union is accepted by the people but that it continues successfully for many years to come.

Mr. Ashdown : The Prime Minister will be aware that, for as long as he continues to hold firmly to the view that there will be no question of negotiation with the men of murder in Northern Ireland for as long as they continue with violence and unless and until they renounce it permanently, he will continue to enjoy the full support of the vast majority of this House and, I believe, the majority of the country. However, is he aware of just how much the momentum for peace in Northern Ireland is now evaporating? Does he accept that it is urgent and important that the British and Irish Governments should now put forward joint proposals based on the joint declaration through the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland, if the high hopes for peace which we enjoyed at Christmas are not to be killed off by the new wave of terrorism being implemented by both sides?

The Prime Minister : I think that the whole House will share the right hon. Gentleman’s wish to see an end to violence. Where I would take issue with him is in his assertion that there is an evaporation of the movement toward peace in Ireland, both north and south of the border. I do not believe that that is the case, and it is not the information which comes to me.

After what has happened in recent weeks, but one question remains to be answered : when will the IRA give up violence? There never has been any justification–now, clearly and undoubtedly, there is not a single shred of justification in anyone’s mind–for its barbaric murders. It is losing support on all sides and becoming increasingly isolated. We should stick with the joint declaration and pursue the discussions that we are having with the constitutional parties and with the Government of the Republic of Ireland. We should also pursue the mechanism that we have been following for the past two years, which is bringing us nearer to peace than we have been for many years.

Mr. Kynoch : Will my right hon. Friend take time to consider what would be the impact on traditional British interests were we to forgo completely the national veto in Europe, as urged by the sell-out Liberal Democrats?

The Prime Minister : I think that it is

Mr. Skinner : It is that lot behind me.

The Prime Minister : Tempting though it is to respond to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), I shall respond first to my hon. Friend.

It is inconceivable that any responsible party would wish completely to eliminate the national veto or dilute it in any way. On vital issues, it is important that that national veto remain. I shall give just one example. Had we had no national veto at Edinburgh, where we discussed future financing, under qualified majority voting we could have lost our rebate of £3 billion a year, which was so hard-fought for by my predecessor and retained in those discussions.


Q3. Mr. Ainger : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 24 May.

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

Mr. Ainger : The Prime Minister will be aware–it is now a matter of public record–that, on 20 April, the Minister for Social Security and Disabled

Madam Speaker : Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will put a direct question to the Prime Minister.

Mr. Ainger : Is the Prime Minister aware that, on 20 April, the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People instructed his civil servants to produce amendments designed to ensure that the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill would be talked out? Is he also aware–I am sure that he is–that, only 16 days later, the same Minister denied to the House that he gave those instructions? Will the Prime Minister now do the honourable thing and, first, apologise to the 6.5 million disabled people for the deceitful and shabby way in which they have been treated and, secondly, sack the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People for misleading the House, the disabled and the country?

The Prime Minister : The answer to the direct questions is certainly not.

The Government’s record on assisting people who are disabled is very good. We have made it perfectly clear that, over the next few months, we shall consult to try to find a Bill that will achieve assistance for disabled people, but not a Bill with a cost of £17 billion. Until and unless the Opposition say that they are prepared to impose costs of £17 billion on private industry, their attitude over the Bill is utterly and totally bogus.

Mr. Allason : Tonight, the House will be asked to review the provisions of the prevention of terrorism order. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is high time that the abuse of the broadcasting ban, which is so widely circumvented by all the broadcasting media, should be reviewed so as to prevent known terrorists from appearing on television and having their voices dubbed by out-of-work actors from Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister : I understand the frustration that my hon. Friend feels about that matter. A number of complex matters are involved, but I will certainly discuss them with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage.


Q4. Mrs. Bridget Prentice : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 24 May.

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

Mrs. Prentice : Why do so many people believe that foreign millionaires can queue jump their way into Britain? Can they do that because they give substantial donations to the Conservative party?

The Prime Minister : I do not think that the hon. Lady quite understands the immigration rules, which are very complex. If she did, she would know that for a long time–even under the last Labour Government and I believe since 1970 or before–the immigration rules have allowed people of independent means to come to the United Kingdom. That has been the position for a very long time.

Mr. Bill Walker : During his very busy day, will my right hon. Friend consider having a wee dram to celebrate the fact that the Scotch whisky industry is now in its 500th year? Is he aware that that industry provides massive employment in Scotland, provides export earnings of £2,000 million and brings pleasure to many?

The Prime Minister : I am more amenable to the suggestion that I might have a wee dram than I am to many that I get these days, and I would be happy to take up that suggestion. I am happy to join my hon. Friend in his congratulations to the Scotch whisky industry, which has been a huge success. It is increasing its exports of a product which is enjoyed in every part of the world.