The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1996Prime Minister (1990-1997)

PMQT – 21 May 1996

Below is the text of Prime Minister’s Question Time from 21st May 1996.




Q1. Mr. Davidson: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 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. Davidson: Will the Prime Minister tell the House about the foreign policy implications, and the implications for our troops on the ground, of the governing party’s decision to accept lots and lots of Bosnian Serb money? Does he accept that our troops cannot be seen as impartial when their commanders at home have accepted money from a–

Madam Speaker: Order. Let me put the hon. Gentleman straight. The Prime Minister has no ministerial responsibility whatever for any funding for his party. [Interruption.] Order. If the hon. Gentleman is talking about troops, that is an entirely different matter. Let me make it clear, in case any hon. Member wishes to ask the same question later, that the Prime Minister has no ministerial responsibility for money that goes to the Conservative party. Now, put the question properly and correctly.

Mr. Davidson: Does the Prime Minister accept that there are foreign policy implications, and implications for our troops on the ground, in the position that the governing party has adopted with regard to Bosnian Serb money?

The Prime Minister: Nothing ever stands in the way of the interests of British troops as far as the Government are concerned.

Sir Alan Haselhurst: Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity today to take note of the report of the Transport Select Committee on airport capacity? Will he undertake to give serious consideration to the formulation of a long-term framework for airport policy, possibly including the provision of an estuarial airport, so that there may be environmental relief for the existing London airports?

The Prime Minister: I shall certainly look carefully at the report to which my hon. Friend refers.

Mr. Blair: In the light of the concern expressed even in Government circles about the funding of political parties, is not the right, fair and honourable thing to do to widen the remit of the Nolan committee so that the funding of all political parties could be looked at in a proper and impartial manner?

The Prime Minister: No. I do not believe that that is the right way to proceed. Party funding has been investigated by the Home Affairs Select Committee, which made a number of recommendations on the openness of party accounts. The Conservative party accepted all those recommendations: the Labour party has not accepted all those recommendations. If the Labour leader is concerned about the matter, perhaps he will now commit himself to do so.

Mr. Blair: If the Prime Minister has allegations to make about any party’s political funding, is not the proper and reasonable thing to do to refer the matter to the Nolan committee so that it can consider it impartially? If the governing party does not accept that, the inevitable question that everyone will ask is what it has got to hide.

The Prime Minister: The leader of the Labour party may not have heard in the hubbub, but I answered his second question–since it was the same as his first question–a few moments ago. I will repeat it for him. The matter has been investigated by the Home Affairs Select Committee. We follow the remit it set out: the Labour party does not.

Several hon. Members rose–

Madam Speaker: Does Mr. Blair wish to come back?

Mr. Blair: I do. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. [Interruption.] Be quiet.

Mr. Blair: I rise by popular request. When gifts are disguised as loans and money is accepted from foreigners, most people in this country would think–would they not?–that the best thing would be to have the Nolan committee consider party funding, so that justice could be done and be seen to be done and not covered up and hidden by the Conservative party.

The Prime Minister: It is really no use the leader of the Labour party flying into a tantrum. It is only in the Labour party that donations and money buy influence. In the Labour party, the trade unions provide the funds in return for votes at Labour’s party conference and the party’s trade union paymasters still have a say in Labour’s election manifesto. That is the real scandal in party funding and the Labour leader cannot duck it.

Mr. Jessel: Here is a popular matter. Is my right hon. Friend aware that, this morning, the National Heritage Select Committee reported on the national lottery? It said that the national lottery is a huge success. It is twice the success hoped for by the most optimistic optimists.

The Prime Minister: It is undoubtedly a great success and is raising huge sums of money for good causes. I am especially pleased to note that the fears expressed by so many people some months ago that charitable donations would fall are now shown to be wrong. In addition to the fact that donations have risen, a substantial amount from the lottery fund also goes to charities.

Mr. Ashdown: Has the Prime Minister ever discussed with Government officials donations from Serb sources to the Conservative party?

The Prime Minister: I do not discuss donations to the Conservative party with civil servants, nor have I. The right hon. Gentleman should know–it was pointed out to the House some time ago–that I devolved any responsibility whatever for party fund raising more than three years ago to avoid any possible conflict of interest. I did that not recently, but several years ago.

Mr. Day: Will my right hon. Friend take note of the efforts of Mr. Gerry Adams to try to distance Sinn Fein from the IRA? Will my right hon. Friend remember that, when Mr. Adams tells us that he has consulted the IRA, he has merely looked in his bathroom mirror?

The Prime Minister: There is no doubt that Sinn Fein and the IRA are two sides of the same coin. That point is well known to every right hon. and hon. Member. We believe that it is extremely important that the talks on Northern Ireland are successful. The only way in which Sinn Fein will find itself a part of those talks is if there is a clear-cut, unequivocal ceasefire by the IRA. In the absence of that, Sinn Fein will not be part of the talks. I hope that that is entirely clear to Sinn Fein, to the IRA and to every hon. Member.


Q2. Mrs. Bridget Prentice: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 May.

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

Mrs. Prentice: Given the respective states of their finances this time last year, can the Prime Minister tell the House why his Government are still massively in debt but his party, all of a sudden, is not?

The Prime Minister: If the hon. Lady looks at the figures, she will see a substantial reduction in the fiscal deficit; the figure has been falling for some time and will go on falling. I am sure that she will be pleased about that.


Q3. Mr. Sumberg: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 May.

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

Mr. Sumberg: Is my right hon. Friend aware that hundreds of thousands of families have cause to be grateful to him for his introduction, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, of the tax-exempt special savings account? Is that not the right way to create a real stakeholder society, rather than abolishing child benefit and imposing new taxes on cars, which one half of the Labour party wishes to do and the other half does not?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is entirely right in both aspects of his question. TESSAs have proved a huge success. Literally billions of pounds have been saved by families in TESSAs; many of them are now coming to maturity, and a large proportion of that matured sum is now being reinvested. I believe that that is the right way to encourage wealth, for the determination of individual purchases and to pass on between generations. We believe in the acquisition of wealth–[Hon. Members: “Oh.”] I am pleased to hear that the Opposition do not believe in that. It explains their proposal for a tartan tax, and the shadow transport spokesman’s desire to tax people more often; it explains their proposal to tax families with youngsters going through A-levels and their proposal to tax everything that they can possibly lay their hands on to fund their expenditure plans. I am happy to set out the clear difference between our party and the Labour party on spending and taxes.

Mr. Fatchett: Has the Prime Minister seen the report on Yorkshire Water’s failure last summer to deliver a regular and uninterrupted water supply to the people of west Yorkshire? Does he recognise that that privatised company failed in its obligations to the people of west Yorkshire and in its obligation not to put at risk the health and economic activity of those people? Does the Prime Minister agree that it is time that the people of west Yorkshire benefited from Yorkshire Water and had a reduction in their water bills? Can the Prime Minister explain why he is the only person in the country who now seems prepared to defend the privatised Yorkshire Water?

The Prime Minister: I am interested to note that the hon. Gentleman still has such innate hostility to private ownership. I am delighted to say that large numbers of people yesterday showed no innate hostility to buying Railtrack when, once again, we had a privatisation that was massively over-subscribed.

I made it perfectly clear that we want Yorkshire Water to consider and to take action, as the commissioners have recommended that it should. It has begun to do so. It has completed a £100 million programme of pipeline and pumping station construction and this year it has made a £12 million investment in leakage reduction. Those are the measures that we expect it to take so that it can provide the service that consumers in Yorkshire expect and deserve.


Q4. Mr. Wilkinson: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 21 May.

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

Mr. Wilkinson: Will my right hon. Friend find time today to endorse the timely and apposite speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary at the European Research Group last Friday? May I especially draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the Home Secretary’s suggestion that some states in a flexible Europe should be able to repatriate powers from Brussels? In that regard, could not Her Majesty’s Government give notice at the intergovernmental conference that we intend to repatriate to our country control over our own agriculture and fisheries, and make British laws superior to European laws?

The Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend knows, I first raised the question of what subsequently became called variable geometry in Europe well over two years ago, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd) when he was Foreign Secretary. We have no doubt that that is the direction in which the European Union must develop as it enlarges in future. In relation to fisheries, as I have said to the House before, we shall be seeking changes in the common fisheries policy in the intergovernmental conference.

Madam Speaker: Rev. Martin Smyth.

Mr. Faulds: On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker: I will take the point of order after questions and statements.

Rev. Martin Smyth: While I welcome the Prime Minister’s earlier response, does he accept that it is not enough for Sinn Fein to say, “We are no longer part of the IRA” when, through its leadership, it has at no time condemned the atrocities and bombings of the IRA? It would be only in that context that anyone could have confidence in it as a qualified political party.

The Prime Minister: I hope that everyone would condemn terrorist outrages. There can be no justification for them. As we have made clear, we expect every party that is eligible to take part in the talks that will take place after 10 June to accept at the outset, without equivocation, each and every aspect of the Mitchell principles. That is an essential prerequisite to taking part in the talks.

Mr. Faulds: On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker: I have to remind the hon. Gentleman that points of order are taken after statements, of which there are two today. The first is from the Prime Minister.