The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1995Prime Minister (1990-1997)

PMQT – 19 October 1995

Below is the text of Prime Minister’s Question Time from 19th October 1995.



Lichfield (Anniversaries)

Q1. Mr. Fabricant: To ask the Prime Minister when he plans to visit the celebrations of the 800th anniversary of the completion of the present cathedral and the 500th anniversary of the King Edward VI school being held this year in the city of Lichfield.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major): I warmly congratulate the citizens of Lichfield on these anniversaries. Unfortunately, I shall not on this occasion be able to visit during them.

Mr. Fabricant: If my right hon. Friend is able to visit next year, not only could he join in the celebrations of the 801st anniversary of the cathedral but he could see our brand new anti-crime closed circuit television system in the centre of Lichfield and use the opportunity to speak to the people of the city of Lichfield, who will tell him that what we need is not do-gooders but more people like our Home Secretary, who are tough on crime and robust on punishment.

The Prime Minister: My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary richly deserves and gets my full support in his fight against crime. It is a fight in which he has engaged with great success without a great deal of support from Opposition Members. Closed circuit television has had a dramatic effect in catching criminals and deterring crime, and over the next three years we anticipate installing a further 10,000 new cameras up and down the country.



Q2. Mr. Clapham: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 19 October.

The Prime Minister: 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. Clapham: Despite the Government’s obsession with privatisation over the past 16 years, will the Prime Minister share the view of Dame Vera Lynn, the people of Dover and the Labour party and ensure that Dover and its white cliffs remain British for ever?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes a compelling case and, as we look at plans ahead, I shall certainly bear it in mind.

Mr. French: Is my right hon. Friend aware that the official solicitor is reported to have done a deal whereby the so-called memoirs of my late constituent, Mr. Fred West, are to be sold for £1 million? Does my right hon. Friend not find such a deal extremely distasteful? But, if it is to go ahead, does he agree that that sum should go not to members of the West family but to the families of the alleged victims?

The Prime Minister: When I saw some of the earlier reports on this matter in the media, there was an implication that the Government were involved in the sale of the rights to Mr. West’s papers. That is, of course, emphatically not the case. The official solicitor who has made the sale is a lawyer independent of Government and he has made that decision on his judgment of what is right for the estate. Personally, I share my hon. Friend’s feelings about this matter.

Mr. Blair: Can we have clear answers now to the two points of fact at the heart of the dispute between the Home Secretary and Mr. Lewis? At the meeting of 10 January, first, did the Home Secretary say that the governor of Parkhurst prison should be suspended–a disciplinary matter–rather than merely transferred to other duties, and, secondly, was it the Home Secretary, not Mr. Lewis, who demanded that any action taken be taken that day immediately so that he could announce it to the House of Commons?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. and learned Friend will deal with these matters in detail this afternoon. But let me say further to the right hon. Gentleman that the leading questions that he put to me on Tuesday in an attempt to discredit my right hon. and learned Friend were wrong. I have now had the documentary evidence examined which shows conclusively that the decision to move the governor of Parkhurst prison was the director general’s. My right hon. and learned Friend will be releasing that evidence later today. I hope, therefore, that before the Leader of the Opposition repeats unjust allegations, before he states new unjust allegations, he will withdraw the old unjust allegations and apologise for them. [Interruption.]

Dr. Spink: The right hon. Gentleman should withdraw his false questions.

Madam Speaker: Order. Dr. Spink will come to order.

Mr. Blair: We certainly do not withdraw those allegations and we shall make them good during the debate. What is more, I note that the Prime Minister did not answer either of the two points that I put to him. Let me make this clear to Conservative Members. This is not just Mr. Lewis’s word against that of the Home Secretary, although let me point out that he was the senior civil servant. The Government appointed Mr. Lewis and renewed his contract. May I tell the Prime Minister– [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. This is Question Time and we are to have a debate on the matter in a short time.

Mr. Blair: May I remind the Prime Minister that those now lined up against the Home Secretary on this issue are the chairman of the board of visitors of Parkhurst, the chairman of the Association of Members of Boards of Visitors, the chief inspector of prisons– [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. This is Question Time and I insist that questions are put to the Prime Minister for reply.

Mr. Blair: Will the Prime Minister now release Philippa Drew, John Marriott and other civil servants connected with this matter from their obligations of confidentiality on this limited issue so that they can give their version of events and we can see who is telling the truth?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is very reckless with his facts and very fancy-free with his allegations. He was wrong on Tuesday and the House will notice that he did not apologise for his error. My right hon. and learned Friend will deal with all these matters this afternoon and I have every confidence that he will reveal Labour’s smears for what they are. I have one further point for the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman is keen to lecture people on moral responsibility. Perhaps he should reflect that a high moral tone is inconsistent with peddling allegations that he knows are untrue.

Mr. Blair: If the Prime Minister says that they are untrue, will he allow those civil servants who know the truth directly to give evidence as to their version of events? Now, yes or no to that question?

The Prime Minister: I made the point in my first answer that my right hon. and learned Friend will be releasing the evidence this afternoon about the decision on Parkhurst prison. As to the other matters, my right hon. and learned Friend will make the matter crystal clear this afternoon. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to retain any credibility in the country, he should acknowledge that he is wrong and apologise for unjust allegations.

Mr. Waterson: Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity during his busy week to consider the findings of the European Court, which has said that positive discrimination in employment is unlawful? Will he confirm that the full facilities of the Equal Opportunities Commission will be made available for the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham)?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an extremely intriguing point, and also touches on elections elsewhere that have been of interest to the House in the past day or so. I have no doubt that the departure of the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) and the arrival of the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) constitute a case of constructive dismissal and destructive appointment.

Mr. Ashdown: With the Home Secretary now facing his eighth appearance before the courts, how does the Prime Minister justify a policy of “two strikes and you’re out” for a criminal? The Home Secretary has had seven strikes against him, and he is still in.

The Prime Minister: I think that the right hon. Gentleman ought to understand that there is strong support in the country for the law and order policies of my right hon. and learned Friend. Time after time, my right hon. and learned Friend and his predecessors have set out strong anti-criminal measures; time after time, the right hon. Gentleman and the Leader of the Opposition have voted for the soft option. They voted against raising the maximum sentences for serious crimes: they are against that. They were against giving the Attorney-General the right of appeal against lenient sentences: they want lenient sentences. They were against strengthening police powers to stop and search criminals, against giving the police more powers to deal with disorder on the streets and against making parents more responsible for their children. They do not like it, but that is their record on crime. The only message that the Liberal and Labour parties send to criminals is that they would be soft on them.

Mr. Wilshire: Turning to Northern Ireland, may I ask my right hon. Friend to confirm that it remains the Government’s policy to exclude from all-party talks all those who retain guns and explosives?

The Prime Minister: I can confirm that there has been absolutely no change in the Government’s position. That will be clear to anyone who studies the full text of the remarks made the other day by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.


Q3. Mr. Mullin: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 19 October.

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

Mr. Mullin: Does the Prime Minister recall the occasion on which a man was found in the Queen’s bedroom? Does he also recall–[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. We have a very full day today. Come on, get on with it.

Mr. Mullin: Does the Prime Minister also recall that the then Home Secretary, Lord Whitelaw–who I think we can all agree was a gentleman of the old school–immediately offered his resignation? Was Lord Whitelaw wrong? Should he have said that it was an operational matter, and none of his business?

The Prime Minister: If the hon. Gentleman were familiar with the framework document under which Mr. Lewis was working, he would see the clear distinction between policy and operational matters.


Q4. Mr. Butler: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 19 October.

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

Mr. Butler: Is my right hon. Friend aware that grant-maintained schools are proving more and more popular with parents–so much so that a school in the constituency of the Leader of the Opposition is now balloting for grant-maintained status?

The Prime Minister: I did not know that, but I congratulate the parents of Sedgefield on considering it, and I very much hope that they will vote in favour. I hope that, if they do, the Labour leader will have the chance to tell his constituents about the benefits of grant-maintained schools, which he so obviously values. When he does so, perhaps he can explain why Labour’s education policy is to enjoy those advantages–quite rightly–for its own children, but to deprive other people’s children of the same opportunity.


Q5. Miss Hoey: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 19 October.

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

Miss Hoey: Does the Prime Minister share my concern at the failure of training and enterprise councils across the country to meet their targets for special needs? Does he realise that, in the meantime, projects such as Roots and Shoots in Kennington in my constituency are facing closure from underfunding, despite having a wonderful success rate in terms of employment? What action will he take on that?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me notice of the detailed question that she proposed to ask. I understand that she had a useful meeting this morning with the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice). I understand that Roots and Shoots has signed a contract with the Central London TEC. My hon. Friend has made it clear that the TEC is willing to discuss the terms of the contract and the costs involved by Roots and Shoots in an effort to ensure that provision is continued. As I am sure the hon. Lady is also aware, my hon. Friend has written to every TEC to urge it to pass on the substantial premium that the Government pay to special needs training. My hon. Friend will of course pursue that vigorously.