The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1996Prime Minister (1990-1997)

PMQT – 4 June 1996

Below is the text of Prime Minister’s Question Time from 4th June 1996.




Q1. Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 June.

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. Prentice: Does the Prime Minister agree that Camelot’s profits of £1 million a week, and the bonuses of £100,000 being paid to the directors, are simply unacceptable? Why can we not have a non-profit making lottery, as is generally the case in Europe? When shall we start giving money to good causes instead of lining the pockets of fat cats?

The Prime Minister: Camelot’s post-tax profits are less than 1p in the pound. Camelot has been extraordinarily successful, and the hon. Gentleman ought to be pleased about that, because his constituency has so far received £1.7 million in grants from the Sports Council, the Arts Council and the National Lottery Charities Board. The more profitable Camelot is, the more money will be available in grants for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and others.

Mr. David Hunt: Does my right hon. Friend agree that although last night’s decision on a partial lifting of the beef ban is a welcome move in the right direction, what we need is a clear framework for a total lifting of the ban?

The Prime Minister: I agree. Yesterday’s decision was a further step towards getting the ban lifted, and I am grateful to the Commission and to the increased number of member states that gave their support. We now look to the Commission to live up to its responsibilities and, by following normal procedures, lift the ban on beef derivatives. Of course, we seek not only a lifting of the ban on derivatives but a framework for a lifting of the whole ban–a ban that is not scientifically justified.

Mr. Blair: I join the Prime Minister in welcoming the lifting of the ban on derivatives, but is the clear framework for lifting the whole ban that he seeks to achieve before the Florence summit to include a time scale–a time by which the ban is to be lifted?

The Prime Minister: What we seek, what we are discussing with the Commission, and what my right hon. and learned Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food are discussing with their colleagues in Europe, is a clear and staged process towards the complete lifting of the beef ban, based on science rather than on the irrational argument that has sustained the ban thus far. We have put our ideas to the Commission, and they are now under negotiation. At this stage, I do not wish to go into the details of the negotiation; I do not believe that it would be productive or in the interests of the beef industry to do so. We are looking for a proper framework that will allow a staged complete lifting of the ban, commencing as speedily as possible.

Mr. Blair: I do not expect the Prime Minister to expose his hand on the precise time scale, but will a time scale be part of the negotiation, or not? Is that to form part of the framework, or not? Obviously the issue is when the ban will be lifted, so if a time scale is not to be part of the negotiation, what is the Prime Minister’s expectation? Are we talking about months, the end of the year or a longer time scale?

The Prime Minister: I said that it would be a staged lifting. We are certainly looking for the beginning of the staged lifting at an early date, but it will be dependent on events that are yet to be discussed with the European Union. It would not be in the interests of the agriculture industry for me to go into the details at this stage, although it is tempting. I know that the right hon. Gentleman and I appreciate that we are talking about the livelihoods of 650,000 people who are involved in the beef industry in this country, many more who are involved in the beef industry across Europe and, indeed, the basis of the European internal market. All that has been put at risk by the unjustified action of other member states. We want the ban to be lifted; we are discussing that in detail. As soon as I have more to report to the House, I shall do so.

Mr. Blair: I am not clear whether the time scale is to form part of the negotiation. We know that the cost of just the 30-month cattle slaughter policy is about £2.5 billion over the next few years and that there will be additional costs because of other measures. Will the refunding of that cost–at present only about 25 or 30 per cent. is to be refunded–be part of the clear framework that the right hon. Gentleman is seeking?

The Prime Minister: No. A refunding mechanism for the costs of slaughter has been in place for some time. We are not discussing that matter with the European Union. I am concerned about getting the ban lifted. The ban is not justified and ought to be lifted. On the basis of the science available, what the World Health Organisation has said and the information that we have already made available to our colleagues, there is not in my judgment–or in the judgment of many independent judges–a justification for the ban to continue. I am primarily concerned, as I have said, about the health and future of the British beef industry. That is the matter under negotiation with our European partners.

Mr. Batiste: My right hon. Friend will be aware of the disastrous loss earlier today of the first Ariane 5 space rocket. While it is still too early to be sure of the reasons for that loss, will he take the opportunity to confirm the Government’s support for the international collaboration that keeps so many fine British companies at the forefront of international science and technology?

The Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend says, no one is quite certain what happened in the distressing loss of the Ariane rocket. I have not had the opportunity, in the few minutes since the information came through, to determine precisely the scale of British involvement. My recollection is that our involvement in Ariane 5 is relatively modest, although I think that we sponsored one of the satellites on board which would have been lost. Certainly, whatever may have happened, there is a future for co-operation with our colleagues in Europe on that and other matters.

Mr. Ashdown: The Prime Minister’s policy of declaring war on Europe has resulted in the partial lifting of a ban that everybody expected to be lifted completely even before the policy was adopted. Is it not perfectly clear that nothing has been achieved by that foolish policy that could not have been achieved without it? The cost to Britain has been lost respect and lost influence abroad, and a campaign by his Back Benchers and the press at home of ugly, petty xenophobia, which insults and demeans us all.

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is just being plain silly. No one, as he so absurdly put it, has declared war on Europe. What I said when I announced the policy at this Dispatch Box was that we were not getting the co-operation in discussion on the important issue–important to the right hon. Gentleman’s constituents as well as to mine–that we had a right to expect as members of the European Union. If good will is not shown to us, people must not expect us to show it in return. I am determined that the matter be properly and speedily examined so that we may, first, get a lifting of the beef derivatives ban, which now looks probable in the very short term, and then a framework for a lifting of the complete ban. Exaggerated comments such as the right hon. Gentleman has just made achieve exactly what he accuses my hon. Friends of doing.

Mr. Butterfill: Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on his election as Prime Minister of Israel? Does he agree that, following the recent welcome discussions with Yasser Arafat and, given flexibility, good will and mutual understanding on both sides, there is no reason why the peace process should not continue?

The Prime Minister: I am happy to congratulate Mr. Netanyahu on his election. The United Kingdom has a better relationship with the state of Israel today than at any stage in the history of that state. I know that the new Prime Minister is determined that that will continue, and so am I. Since his election, the Israeli Prime Minister has made it clear publicly that he wants to continue the peace process and to honour the agreements that Israel has already reached. I welcome those objectives. The House may wish to know that I have already been in touch with the new Prime Minister and invited him to the United Kingdom.


Q2. Mrs. Roche: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 June.

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

Mrs. Roche: I am sure that the Prime Minister will share my delight that one of last Saturday’s jackpot winners is a resident of Hornsey and Wood Green. Will he encourage Camelot to give a fair share of its profits to good causes? Will he also admit that the Government were wrong to set up the lottery in such a way and that the pay of Camelot directors is another example of taking from the many and giving to the few?

The Prime Minister: Of course I congratulate the hon. Lady’s constituent and those bodies within her constituency that have benefited from the lottery. However, perhaps she has forgotten that Camelot was awarded a licence by the regulator because it convinced the regulator that it could deliver the maximum sum of money for good causes. That is the purpose of the lottery and Camelot has achieved it spectacularly well. It also makes substantial donations to charity.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: Does my right hon. Friend accept that, as the hon. Member for Macclesfield, I am very proud of the borough of Macclesfield and its achievement in the recent local elections? Will my right hon. Friend accept an invitation from me and the leader of the council, Councillor Mrs. Margaret Duddy, to visit Macclesfield, where he will receive a warm welcome for the principled leadership that he is giving the Government and the Conservative party, and where he will see how a well-run and accountable local authority is warmly and very well supported by its local electorate?

The Prime Minister: From what my hon. Friend tells us, Macclesfield is a example to us all. I certainly would be very happy to visit Macclesfield at an appropriate time, but I hope that my hon. Friend will not pin me down to a date.


Q3. Mr. MacShane: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 June.

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

Mr. MacShane: Has the Prime Minister read reports that 77 Republican Congressmen voted to support President Clinton’s move significantly to raise the minimum wage in the United States? As America has the best job creation record in the world, why will he not send Treasury Ministers to see their Republican colleagues to learn how a statutory minimum wage goes hand in hand with fair play and good job creation?

The Prime Minister: There are very few similarities between the structure in the United States to create jobs and the policies that those on the Opposition Front Bench advocate, which would destroy jobs. If the hon. Gentleman wants to see job creation, he can see it here in the United Kingdom. He will not see it in those countries nearby that have a minimum wage and adhere to the social chapter.


Q4. Sir Michael Neubert: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 4 June.

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

Sir Michael Neubert: Does my right hon. Friend agree that people who talk tough about fighting crime must understand that we need support measures to act tough? How can any party that opposes our proposals to set up secure training centres for juvenile criminals be taken seriously when talking about curbing juvenile crime?

The Prime Minister: I very much regret that our proposals for dealing with juvenile criminals did not receive the support of the Opposition, and I am sure that the electorate will have noticed it. I suppose that Labour’s recent proposals for curfews will be adopted for a short while by some Labour Members, but will be ditched after a decent interval. I am not sure that those proposals are workable, as I believe the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) has suggested. I believe that the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) has made some more scathing comments about the policy.