The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1994Prime Minister (1990-1997)

PMQT – 18 October 1994

Below is the text of Prime Minister’s Question Time from 18th October 1994.




Q1. Mrs. Anne Campbell: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 October.

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.

Mrs. Campbell: Did the Prime Minister’s predecessor break the code of conduct for Ministers when her son, Mark Thatcher, made £12 million from the Al-Yamamah arms negotiations?

The Prime Minister: I have no doubt that my right hon. and noble Friend acted with complete propriety throughout her long and distinguished period as Prime Minister of this country. If the hon. Lady has any evidence to the contrary, I hope that she will produce it rather than peddling remarks like that.


Q2. Mr. Devlin: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 October.

The Prime Minister: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Devlin: Does my right hon. Friend agree that yesterday’s announcement that Samsung is to bring 3,500 jobs to Stockton-on-Tees will be very welcome in the town, where we have long had high unemployment? Will he confirm the Government’s continuing commitment to the sort of regional policies that have brought that about?

The Prime Minister: I very much welcome the announcement by Samsung. It is extremely good news for the north-east. Throughout much of the past 30 years, there have been very high levels of unemployment in the north- east and everyone will recognise the importance of that substantial investment. I know that my hon. Friend has campaigned for Cleveland for a long time and will be very pleased by it. It follows a series of other welcome investments–Motorola, Digital and NEC–none of which would have come to this country but for the economic policies that we have followed, the fact that we are not part of the social chapter and the fact that we are members of the European Union.

Mr. Blair: Since this is our first chance after the recess, may I say how much we welcome the further moves towards peace in Northern Ireland and assure the Prime Minister of our continued support in achieving that peace.

Last Thursday on BBC television, the Chancellor of the Exchequer specifically ruled out a referendum on a single currency. Did he speak for the Government?

The Prime Minister: First, may I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his new position. It carries with it very great responsibilities, and I wish him well in those responsibilities for as long as he holds them.

On Northern Ireland, I am grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman had to say. It is and has been an intractable problem for many years. We have made some progress. There is no certainty that we shall be able to carry the process through successfully to a conclusion. I believe that there is a chance–perhaps a better chance than we have known at any time in the past quarter of a century. I intend to take the opportunities that exist, but I hope that I shall carry the House with me in saying that we must take them with care, with caution and in our own time. I believe that that is the only way in which we shall carry with us all the people of Northern Ireland, without which we shall not be able to carry the matter through to a satisfactory conclusion.

As for the right hon. Gentleman’s substantive question, at the moment no one knows what may be at issue in the intergovernmental conference in 1996. The question of a referendum on any issue does not arise and very probably will not arise.

Mr. Blair: With all due respect, the Chancellor specifically ruled it out and therefore he thought that it did arise. Is not that the problem: that the Chancellor takes one view on Europe, the Employment Secretary takes another view and the Prime Minister hovers between the two? Does he– [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. The House will come to order.

Mr. Blair: I repeat: he hovers between the two. Does he agree that a divided Government is a weak Government, and a weak Government is no good for Britain?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman has already said that, were he to form a Government, it would be a weak Government, and that is precisely because he said that his Government would not be isolated in Europe. Irrespective of the issue, irrespective of the British interest, irrespective of the views of the House or the Members of the House, and irrespective of the views of his colleagues below the Gangway, the right hon. Gentleman would follow slavishly whatever Europe says. That is not a credible position for any Government in this country.

We will judge issues on their merits as they arise.

Sir James Kilfedder: May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on being the first Prime Minister in more than half a century to achieve the cessation of terrorism in Northern Ireland? Is he aware that the people of Northern Ireland fully endorse his careful and cautious approach because, as he realises, until the terrorists hand over their dumps of Semtex explosives and arms, there is the real danger that they or a breakaway group could easily use them on some pretext, saying that the British Government had failed to deliver their promises?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend speaks with a great deal of knowledge of the situation in Northern Ireland for many years, and has had to live through many tragedies affecting his constituents. I listen, therefore, very carefully to what he has to say about Northern Ireland.

As I said a moment ago, we shall continue to be cautious. Armaments– especially Semtex and detonators, perhaps more than guns–are a crucial issue that will have to be dealt with as we advance the process.


Q3. Mr. Pike: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 October.

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

Mr. Pike: Recognising the Prime Minister’s commitment to the national health service, as restated last week, will he understand the worry that exists at national blood transfusion service centres under threat of closure, such as Lancaster and Liverpool, where the staff are drawing attention to the dangers of reduction in service if those centres are allowed to close? Will he intervene now and say that those centres must be kept open to maintain the level of service?

The Prime Minister: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important to have a proper blood service in all parts of the country. I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health examines in detail the remarks that he made this afternoon.

It should be recognised throughout the House and beyond that there is no one in the House who does not share an affection for the national health service, who does not wish to see it built up– [Interruption.] Many of the Opposition Members who are muttering sat in the House when the last Labour Government cut the hospital programme by a third. They should know that there are now 20,000 more doctors, an extra 3,000 patients treated every day, and one large increase in facilities costing more than £1 million for every eight days throughout the 15 years that the Conservative party has been in power. That is a formidable commitment to the national health service, and it is the commitment of this Government.


Q4. Mr. Nigel Evans: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 October.

The Prime Minister: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Evans: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the recent news that there is to be a central computer for organ donors is welcome, not only to the 5,000-plus people awaiting organ transplants, but to their families?

Can he assure us that when the scheme starts it will be given as much publicity as possible to entice as many millions of people as possible to register?

The Prime Minister: I will certainly look at what my hon. Friend has to say. There is no doubt that a central register will help hospitals and bring a great deal of new hope to the people waiting for life-saving operations. We will, therefore, examine the issue of publicity and see that the scheme gets as much as possible.


Q5. Mr. Clelland: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 October.

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

Mr. Clelland: When millions of British families are suffering mass unemployment, poverty, a deteriorating environment and rampaging crime, is it right that so much attention should be focused on the marital problems of one very rich family?

The Prime Minister: I have no intention of commenting on the subject to which the hon. Gentleman clearly refers.

On the subject of employment and unemployment, the hon. Gentleman might welcome, with me, the fact that unemployment has now been falling consistently, in large numbers, for getting on for two years–including a further fall of 28,000 just a few days ago. That trend looks as though it will continue; it is a trend that has come about because we have now returned to a position of low inflation and high growth. Indeed, for one of the very few periods in the past 50 years or so, growth now exceeds inflation. That is the best guarantee, not only of more jobs, but of ensuring that those with jobs retain secure jobs in future.


Q6. Mr. Bellingham: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 October.

The Prime Minister: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Bellingham: Is my right hon. Friend aware that, on the subject of grant-maintained schools, Norfolk is in the lead? In those schools morale is high and, above all, there is overwhelming parental support. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he will not return those grant-maintained schools to local authority control–unlike the Leader of the Opposition, who wants to turn the education clock back to the failed policies of the 1960s and 1970s?

The Prime Minister: I certainly can offer my hon. Friend the reassurance that he seeks. The development of grant-maintained schools has been a great success. It has tremendous support from well over 1 million parents. [Interruption.] I think that the Opposition are saying that it is a disaster that 1 million parents are now getting what they want for their children. The Government do not regard that as a disaster; the Government regard that as choice, which I thought was now one of the mantras of the new Labour party.


Q7. Mr. Tyler: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 October.

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

Mr. Tyler: In the light of his previous answer, can the Prime Minister reassure the House that his Administration is now a sleaze-free zone?

The Prime Minister: I am as concerned as any Member in the House or any person in this country that we should have the highest standards in public life. I approve of corruption no more than I assume does the hon. Gentleman, and I will not accept it. Our public servants and our public institutions are acknowledged to be among the best in the world. In order to maintain that reputation in administration and in politics, wrongdoing will have to be rooted out wherever it is, and I shall seek to ensure that it is.

Sir Anthony Durant: I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his skill in dealing with the situation in Northern Ireland. We strongly support the caution that he is exerting in the negotiations. Meanwhile, will he ensure that there are enough troops on the streets of Northern Ireland to reassure the people of Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister: I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. The details of policing on the streets are properly a matter for the General Officer Commanding and the Chief Constable, not for direct political decision. But for as long as it is necessary for the police, the RUC or troops to be on the streets of Northern Ireland to protect all its people, whichever part of Northern Ireland they come from, they will be made available.


Q8. Mr. McFall: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 October.

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

Mr. McFall: Does the Prime Minister agree that his noble Friend Lord Archer owes the public an explanation as to his share dealings? Will he therefore authorise a DTI report on those share dealings?

The Prime Minister: I welcome the opportunity that the hon. Gentleman has given me to make the position entirely clear; I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is appropriate that I should do so. There are clear statutory procedures surrounding investigations of the sort that concern Lord Archer. When concern first arose about the Anglia TV share dealings, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade appointed independent inspectors to investigate the circumstances surrounding dealings in Anglia Television shares–

Mr. Campbell-Savours: Why did they not publish?

The Prime Minister: If the hon. Gentleman will wait a while the whole House will be able to hear the answer that his hon. Friend has requested.

When the inspectors’ report was received, my right hon. Friend the President also took independent legal advice on their conclusions. It was therefore on the basis of the inspectors’ conclusions and of the legal advice that my right hon. Friend sought that he decided that there was no further action to be taken under the insider dealing legislation. If there had been, action would have been taken. If I may deal now with the question shouted by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), there is no provision in the Financial Services Act 1986 for inspectors’ reports to be published. Indeed, when the Bill was considered before Parliament it was made clear that inspectors’ reports would not be published. Investigations are undertaken on that basis; evidence is given on that basis; and it would not be right to change the position retrospectively.