The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1995Prime Minister (1990-1997)

PMQT – 22 June 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister’s Question Time from 22nd June 1995.




Q1. Ms Janet Anderson: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 June.

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.

Ms Anderson: Is the Prime Minister aware that Labour’s proposals for tough and effective action against criminal and anti-social neighbours have been widely welcomed as a sensible attempt to tackle a problem which causes misery to thousands of people? Given the failure of the Government’s policies on law and order, will the Prime Minister now adopt our policies?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady right touches on a problem which concerns many people. As she will know, we have taken action on that problem. Nothing in the proposals from the Labour party adds to that action; they are merely window dressing on Labour’s part.

Sir Donald Thompson: Will my right hon. Friend today consider Gerry Adams’s prediction of the increase in terrorism and Shell Oil’s capitulation to terrorism?

The Prime Minister: I think that in whatever form it manifests itself terrorism is unpleasant and should be resisted.

Mr. Blair: Does the Prime Minister agree with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that there are those within the Conservative party who are destabilising the Government and damaging the country?

The Prime Minister: When we were discussing Question Time I made a prediction–and I am usually right–that on this occasion the right hon. Gentleman would not pick this subject. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is an honourable friend in every sense of the word. His letter shows that few men are blessed with better personal friends than he is to me. I am immensely grateful for his continued support. His letter also shows that he is deeply concerned for the Northern Ireland peace process, to which he has contributed a very great deal.

Mr. Blair: If the questions are occasionally predictable, it is because the targets are also so predictable. It surely comes to something, does it not, when a Cabinet Minister is driven to writing to The Times about divisions in the Government without even telling the Prime Minister? If even Cabinet Ministers decide that the bitter in-fighting is damaging the national interest, will not the people of Britain conclude that the Conservative party is no longer fit to govern the country?

The Prime Minister: I seem to have noticed today that the former deputy leader of the Labour party had a little bit of bitter in-fighting of his own about the right hon. Gentleman’s education policy. I also seem to recall that there was rather more in-fighting. Labour’s education spokesman wrote to his colleagues at the end of last year:

“We are opposed to schools opting out . . . nor is there any intention that GM status should continue.”

There seems to be some confusion–perhaps a touch of bitter in-fighting.

Mr. Michael Brown: Does my right hon. Friend remember the massive battles that we had in the House some 15 years ago when we first removed the subsidies from British Steel? Does he also remember the massive opposition from Labour Members when we privatised British Steel? Is it not as a result of privatisation that we are today in a position in which British Steel can turn in £500 million of profits and export a product throughout the world against the toughest competition in the world? Should not Labour Members hang their heads in shame for opposing one of the most important policies for British industry?

The Prime Minister: I seem to recall some very rich opposition–not least, as I recall, from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar)–to the proposal to privatise British Steel. The general proposition put forward by the Opposition was that it was totally irrelevant to the future of British Steel, that it was produced entirely for ideological reasons and that it would do no good. From an industry which was collapsing, it is now one of the most successful industries in this country and in Europe. That has happened because of privatisation and our determination to ensure that industry is in private hands and efficient.


Q2. Sir David Steel: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 June.

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

Sir David Steel: Is the Prime Minister aware that next month is supposed to see the end of six years house arrest for the democratically elected leader of Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi? Is he further aware that last week her British husband was refused a visa to go there and join in her 50th birthday celebrations? Will the Prime Minister make it unmistakably clear to the military rulers of Burma that trade with this country cannot flourish so long as there is such a basic denial of human and democratic rights?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Most people will have their own very crisp views of the present regime in Burma. It is unacceptable, and so is its behaviour. I warmly commend the right hon. Gentleman’s efforts and support for the former Burmese Prime Minister, which is richly merited. Six years’ detention is indefensible by any yardstick whatever and an offence against her human rights. We have made that crystal clear to the Burmese and will continue to do so.


Q3. Mr. Elletson: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 June.

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

Mr. Elletson: Does my right hon. Friend agree that under a Conservative Government parents have been given the right to choose where to educate their children? Will he therefore congratulate all those parents in the Labour party who have been courageous enough to choose grant-maintained or selective schools even though Labour’s bogus education policy would destroy them?

The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend. Like him, I support the right of every parent in the country to choose the appropriate school for their child. I just wish that some of those who exercise the choice themselves would ensure that it remains equally free for every other parent in the land. The proposals that the Labour party produced today are very badly named–“Hypocrisy and Mediocrity” should have been the title of its plans.

Dr. Godman: On the subject of Brent Spar, there is a good deal of speculation in Scotland concerning its eventual destination and it has been suggested that it is likely to end up on the lower Clyde. If that is so, will the Prime Minister give an assurance that all safety regulations will be adhered to during its dismantling?

The Prime Minister: First, let me say that I deeply regret Shell’s decision to cave in to misguided pressure from environmental groups and some foreign Governments. The plan for deep-sea disposal was ratified and agreed according to all the international obligations agreed with other Governments, and not a single Government objected to the plan until they succumbed to pressure from Greenpeace. I shall make it clear to my colleagues across Europe that there will almost undoubtedly be a price to pay for their weakness in this respect.

As for the subsequent disposal of Brent Spar, I have no means of knowing at present how that will eventually work out. If Shell seeks approval for onshore disposal, we shall naturally consider that request, but we are certainly not under an obligation to grant approval for a new abandonment plan. Shell will need to satisfy us on those issues which led us previously to the conclusion that deep-sea disposal was the best practicable environmental option. I think that, for the moment, that is where we should leave it.


Q4. Mr. Robert G. Hughes: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 June.

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

Mr. Hughes: In the course of his busy day, will my right hon. Friend find time to send a message of congratulation to all who, despite threats and intimidation, battled to expose the systematic abuse of power in Labour Monklands? Does he agree that now is the time for all those who have further information about what went on there–for instance, the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson)–to present that information, or are they worried about what we shall see of the tip of this very nasty Labour iceberg?

The Prime Minister: Certainly, on the basis of the Black report, a remarkable number of relatives of Monklands councillors seem to have been employed by the council. Its personnel department was more like a family planning department.


Q5. Mr. MacShane: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 June.

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

Mr. MacShane: Does the Prime Minister welcome the new right-wing Government in France and the decision of his new friend President Chirac to raise the minimum wage substantially?

The Prime Minister: The answer to the first question is yes. The answer to the second is that it is of course a mistake there, as it would be anywhere else.


Q6. Mr. Riddick: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 June.

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

Mr. Riddick: Will my right hon. Friend as the finest interpreters at Government communications headquarters to try to make sense of the contradictory gobbledegook contained in the document misleadingly entitled,

“Diversity and Excellence: a new partnership for schools”? Is it not likely that beneath the honeyed words they will find the usual socialist disdain for schools which have managed to free themselves from the bureaucracy and interference of local education authorities?

The Prime Minister: It is certainly a very unusual document in many ways. The Labour leadership has opposed each and every education reform in recent years. It was against tests, performance tables and grant-maintained schools–not just in the distant past, but recently. Only last week, Labour’s spokesman on Wales declared his opposition to grant-maintained schools. Last week it was Labour councillors penalising parents whose children are at grammar schools; today it is Lib-Lab Lincoln attacking children who win scholarships. No matter where we look, the reality is that Labour is opposed to choice, except in what it says; in what it does, there is to be no choice for anyone–except, of course, Labour Members themselves.

Mr. Salmond: Instead of the foot-stamping petulance with which, we read, the Prime Minister has greeted his humiliation over Brent Spar, will he open his mind to a constructive suggestion? As both the Government and the oil companies have a huge financial interest in deep-water disposal as opposed to onshore decommissioning, and as no one trusts either the Government or the oil companies, would it not be better to have an independent authority overseeing decommissioning of oil and gas installations? I know that the Prime Minister is somewhat embarrassed by independent inquiries, but would that not be a constructive way forward?

The Prime Minister: I am not entirely sure whether the people of Scotland will draw the conclusion that I draw–that the Scottish National party would really like the Brent Spar to be disposed of on land in Scotland at the expense of British and Scottish taxpayers. If that is the message, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take it to every household that he has deceived at recent elections.


Q7. Mr. John Marshall: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 22 June.

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

Mr. Marshall: Is my right hon. Friend aware that Hendon school in my constituency was the first grant-maintained school in London and that since then it has become oversubscribed? Does he welcome the fact that the slow learners on the Opposition Benches have suddenly realised that grant- maintained schools are successful and popular with parents?

The Prime Minister: That is certainly true, but I am afraid that time after time Labour’s leaders have voted against grant-maintained schools, Labour activists have voted campaigns against grant-maintained schools, and I doubt whether anyone will be gullible enough to believe that they can be trusted. I clearly recall the Labour education spokesman writing to his colleagues at the end of last year saying:

“We are opposed to schools opting out”.

Frankly, they could have saved a lot of paper and a lot of hot air if they had just said that in their recent document.