The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1996Prime Minister (1990-1997)

PMQT – 14 May 1996

Below is the text of Prime Minister’s Question Time from 14th May 1996.




Q1. Mr. Harry Greenway: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 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.

Mr. Greenway: Bearing in mind the eternal anguish caused to families and the British people by the murders of my constituent Philip Lawrence and of the teacher and children of Dunblane, may I have my right hon. Friend’s absolute assurance that the Government will spare no effort to ensure proper security for schools and proper gun controls?

The Prime Minister: As to school security, we have today accepted the recommendations of the working group that was set up by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment following the tragic murder of Mr. Lawrence, and we shall press on with implementing them. As to Dunblane, I have made it clear that when we have the chance to consider Lord Cullen’s recommendations and to consult other parties in the House, if legislation is found to be necessary–as I personally suspect it will–we have already set aside time in our parliamentary programme. I believe that there is a consensus in the House that schools should be secure places in which children can learn free from fear. Parents expect no less, and we will do all that we can to ensure that is the case.

Mr. Blair: I support the Prime Minister in his welcome for the report on school security. Is not it a sad but true reflection of the need for such a report that in the past year, three in five schools have been vandalised by intruders and a high degree of pupils and teachers were actually assaulted by intruders? As well as accepting the working group’s recommendations, will the Government fully fund them–if necessary from within the current financial year?

The Prime Minister: We have made it clear that there will be a Government funding programme over whatever period is necessary to follow through the recommendations. We have not yet had the chance to study the recommendations in full, cost them or determine how rapidly they can be implemented. However, we will not be seeking delay but seeking to carry out the recommendations as speedily as practicable.

Mr. Blair: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. I am sure that he knows that vandalism costs a lot of money–so the sooner that action is taken, the better financially. Will the Prime Minister agree to the working group’s request to be allowed to examine the broader problem of behaviour in schools? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the routine violence suffered by many teachers in schools is absolutely intolerable? Given that there are 11,000 school exclusions every year, which is about treble the previous number, we would co-operate fully in any legislation designed to make the time limits for exclusion more rational and to render the entire system of exclusions more acceptable.

The Prime Minister: There may be areas of agreement and I welcome the support of the right hon. Gentleman. As hon. Members will know, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment is examining this matter. It is important that we ensure proper behaviour in schools and proper sanctions by teachers. The Government would welcome support across the Chamber on this issue.


Q2. Mr. Dunn: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 May.

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

Mr. Dunn: Given that Sevenoaks district council, which is controlled by Labour and the Liberal Democrats, has just increased its council tax by a staggering and unprecedented 90 per cent.–which is a nightmare for council tax payers–does the Prime Minister agree with the maxim: “Dogs bark, cats miaow and socialists put up taxes”?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is being slightly unfair to the Liberal Democrats, who seem to have helped on this occasion with the tax raising. If one looks across local government, one sees that it is Liberal, Lib-Lab and Labour councils that ransack the pockets of council tax payers. [Interruption.] I am glad that Labour Members like extra taxes. This morning I read that the shadow Secretary for Employment wants to tax more as a sop to the trade unions.

The Government see the removal of child benefit as a teenage tax. Many Labour Members want to tax anyone who earns more than the shadow Transport Secretary. [Interruption.] Yes, there is more. In Scotland, the tartan tax is an extra tax. The Labour party wants to tax business more with a minimum wage. There are plenty of opportunities for more arguments in the shadow Cabinet about the Labour party’s tax policy.


Q3. Ms Lynne: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 May.

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

Ms Lynne: In light of the recent remarks made by leading film stars and others, does the Prime Minister agree with me and with them that violence on television and in films can lead to horrific copycat killings? Will he put whatever pressure he can on the film censor to withdraw the video certificate from “Natural Born Killers” and to persuade the BBC not to broadcast it?

The Prime Minister: I share the concern of the hon. Lady and the concern of millions of people in this country about the level of violence in feature films and, perhaps even more damaging, in videos that are readily available to young people. It is encouraging that the concerns are echoed by many people in the film industry. I have not seen “Natural Born Killers”, but everything that I have heard about it suggests that it is distasteful. I hope that the British Board of Film Classification will hear what the hon. Lady has to say, consider it with great care and act on it.

Mr. Yeo: Has my right hon. Friend seen today’s reports recommending less confrontation in Parliament? Does he agree that the quickest way to achieve this will be for the parties that claim to be against crime to vote in favour of, and not against, the Government’s increasingly successful law and order measures?

The Prime Minister rose–

Mr. Yeo: In addition, the parties that claim they want to help British men and women into jobs should join the Government in saying no to the social chapter. In short, new Labour should finally tell the truth and say that the Tories were right all along.

The Prime Minister: I am glad that I made way for the second half of my hon. Friend’s question; it was well worth waiting for.

I am surprised by the apparent amusement of the Opposition about dealing with these important issues, when their policies would not deal with a single one of them. Opposition for its own sake is generally what we get from the Opposition parties; we have got used to that. If they meant what they said, they would change.


Intelligence Headquarters (Germany)

Q4. Mr. Dalyell: To ask the Prime Minister what discussions he has had with Chancellor Kohl about the arrangements made by the German intelligence chief, for showing Ali Fallahian, Iranian intelligence chief, round the Wiesbaden intelligence headquarters unit of the Verfassungschutz; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister: I have had no such discussions with Chancellor Kohl.

Mr. Dalyell: As three official documents of the German Government, brought to the attention of the British Government, confirm that Iranian-orchestrated terrorism has operated out of Germany for years, and against the background that I and Dr. Swire of the Lockerbie relatives have brought to the Government’s attention before I asked this question, will the Prime Minister reconsider responsibility for Lockerbie in the light of what he now knows?

The Prime Minister: We have very carefully examined all the documentation that has been made available to us by the hon. Gentleman and others. The alleged involvement of others in the bombing has been exhaustively investigated; nothing that has been presented to the Government has been lightly laid aside without proper examination. My noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate has concluded, on the basis of all the evidence, that there is a case for the two accused Libyans to answer and there remains no evidential basis for bringing charges against the nationals of any other country.

The case is not closed. If there is further evidence, we will of course examine it, but the evidence needs to be founded, not unfounded speculation. Any evidence of that sort should be provided to the police or the Government and it will be fully and properly examined.



Q5. Mr. Rendel: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 May.

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

Mr. Rendel: Given that about 50 councils throughout the country are now left without a single Conservative representative, and given that probably, in those areas, on average, about 20 per cent. of the electorate still supports the Conservative party and votes for it, does the Prime Minister agree that the current electoral system is very unfair to those Conservative voters, and indeed to the Conservative party, in those areas, and that therefore it would be better to replace the electoral system with a fair vote system, which would ensure proper representation on each and every council for every significant group?

The Prime Minister: First, I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for calling him an hon. Friend. I promise the House that that was not a leak suggesting that the hon. Gentleman will cross the Floor, but merely an indication that we anticipate having his seat back at the next general election.

I do not remotely agree with the hon. Gentleman’s proposals for a form of proportional voting. The only implication of a proportional voting system in this country would be that the decisions that should be made by a Government, and on which a Government should be answerable, would be made behind closed doors by Members like the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), the leader of the Liberal party, and others, and not made by the Prime Minister and Government of the day, standing at the Dispatch Box.


Q6. Mr. Jenkin: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 May.

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

Mr. Jenkin: As we await the return of the Family Law Bill to the Floor of the House, will my right hon. Friend consider a change of policy to allow for mediation and reconciliation between members of the shadow Cabinet, whose marriage of convenience appears to have been poisoned by the political gigolo from Hartlepool?

The Prime Minister: They will have ample time for mediation and conciliation–perhaps five years after the general election–in opposition.


Q7. Mr. Lewis: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 May.

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

Mr. Lewis: Does the Prime Minister accept that refusal to act on guns before Lord Cullen reports smacks of vacillation? If the right hon. Gentleman has any doubts about yardsticks for tackling gun control, will he read the report of the Adjournment debate that I initiated on 3 May 1995? He will find that during that debate I made four sensible suggestions for the control of guns. That debate took place 12 months before Dunblane.

The Prime Minister: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would have made sensible suggestions. As for vacillation, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), the shadow Home Secretary, said the other day:

“We shall . . . carefully consider all the evidence given to the Inquiry and the recommendations which Lord Cullen makes before coming to final conclusions.”

It would rather seem that the Opposition Front Bench shares the Government’s view that there should be a proper examination of Lord Cullen’s report before conclusions are reached. I am sorry that there seems to be a split between the Opposition Front Bench and the Opposition Benches below the Gangway.


Q8. Mrs. Gorman: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 14 May.

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

Mrs. Gorman: Is my right hon. Friend aware that Marks and Spencer, that pillar of the British nation, has announced that if we were to be so foolish as to go for a single currency, it would have to spend at least £100 million on converting its tills, and that everyone in the high street would end up with bills running into billions? Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should bring these matters to the attention of the President of France, Mr. Chirac, when he meets him for discussions? I understand that the gentleman is quite keen on a single currency. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that he understands that underwear prices will increase in Marks in this country as well as in Paris, Lyon and all the other Marks stores in France?

The Prime Minister: I think that my hon. Friend has brought matters effectively to the attention of many people. I am not certain whether they will directly reach President Chirac.