The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1996Prime Minister (1990-1997)

PMQT – 13 June 1996

Below is the text of Prime Minister’s Question Time from 13th June 1996.




Q1. Mr. Jacques Arnold: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 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.

Mr. Arnold: Is it not increasingly clear that the Government’s firm and resolute management of the British economy has created the best performing economy in Europe? Would it not be a crying tragedy if that were thrown away by tying up British industry in red tape and by transferring our monetary policy–and, indeed, our gold reserves–to Frankfurt, which is what would follow a Labour Government’s subscription to the social chapter and a single currency?

The Prime Minister: The economy is doing very well. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend’s analysis of the impact of the Labour party’s alternative policies. In the past few days, we have had two separate illustrations of how well the economy is doing: first, the excellent news about jobs; secondly, the excellent news about inflation. We are now in the fifth year of steady growth, and that is what will deliver continuing prosperity.

Mr. Blair: Will the Prime Minister confirm the following? Is it true that two of his Back Benchers gave the Government an ultimatum on Monday that, unless they received firm assurances that the accident and emergency department at Edgware hospital would be replaced by a full emergency unit, they would withdraw support from the Government; secondly, that the ultimatum was to expire last night; thirdly, that they then met the Health Secretary; and, fourthly, that they now say that they have been given those assurances and have withdrawn the ultimatum? Is that substantially true? If it is, is it not a disreputable way in which to run a Government?

The Prime Minister: No, it is not substantially true, and I have to say that there is no possibility of the Government responding to approaches of that sort from any hon. Member. We do not respond to such activities and we will not respond to such activities. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is reassured.

Mr. Blair: No, Madam Speaker, I am not reassured. Which of the facts that I have just listed does the right hon. Gentleman dispute? We know that the ultimatum was given. That is a matter of record. We know that the ultimatum was withdrawn, and the two Conservative Members concerned say that they have been given the assurance that the full emergency unit will now be given. What are we to make of this? Was it one of life’s happy coincidences?

I would like to ask the Prime Minister, specifically, were those Conservative Members given the assurance that they say they were given by the Secretary of State for Health–that the accident and emergency department would be replaced with full emergency cover, details to be announced later? Were they given that assurance by the Secretary of State for Health or not?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is distorting and misunderstanding, and I shall try to explain it to him. A lot of people have made representations about Edgware–local medical people, local churches, my hon. Friends and many others. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has listened carefully, but he has made it clear that we will not retain the accident and emergency department at Edgware hospital. We will not retain it, and it is the gravamen of the charge that that is what he was asked to do. The policy that we are following is the policy that we have been pursuing for some time.

Mr. Mackinlay: Closing hospitals.

The Prime Minister: Not closing hospitals; providing better facilities–[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) must come to order.

The Prime Minister: –for hospitals in London and elsewhere; facilities utterly run down when the Government took power in 1979.

Mr. Blair: The Prime Minister has not answered the question about whether such an assurance has been given. [Interruption.] He has not answered it. When he gets to his feet again, let him say, yes or no, whether such an assurance was given. [Interruption.] Have Conservative Members any idea of the anger that people feel at the way in which decisions are taken when such closures are happening all round the country? [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold), along with other hon. Members, must come to order. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) must also come to order.

Mr. Harry Greenway: What about the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay)?

Madam Speaker: Order. I have just called the hon. Member for Thurrock to order.

Mr. Blair: I think that most people know that the way to save the health service is not to have Back-Bench Tory Members of Parliament pressuring a weak Government, but the election of a Government committed to the NHS.

I repeat: will the Prime Minister answer that question? Is he aware of the contempt that people feel for a Government whose policies now seem to be determined solely by the imprint of the last person who sat on him? Will not they conclude that this is a Government with no thought for the national interest and no purpose but survival?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman’s cheap insults do not provide arguments or enlightenment. I answered the question earlier. The problem for the right hon. Gentleman is that he did not get the answer that he wanted.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health announced as long ago as last December that he was discussing the nature of the casualty service. He has not given an assurance to retain the accident and emergency department at Edgware and the right hon. Gentleman knows that.

The Government’s spending on the national health service is at a record level–£116 million every day, £5 million every hour, £81,000 every minute. That is a commitment of which to be proud, and it will be retained by this Government in this Parliament–and in the next.


Q2. Mrs. Peacock: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 June.

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

Mrs. Peacock: In view of the disturbing and increasing number of child abuse cases, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will do all within his power to get to the root of the problem, thereby to prevent such tragedies from happening in future?

The Prime Minister: I can give that assurance. I am personally horrified by some of the events that have been reported. Children in residential care are self-evidently among the most vulnerable members of our society. We discussed the matter this morning at some length. My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Wales and for Health have been considering what action to take, and we agreed their proposals this morning in Cabinet. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales is finalising arrangements for an inquiry to address what happened in north Wales, under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is to invite Sir William Utting to assess whether the safeguards now in place, which have been much tightened in recent years, are adequate to protect children and are being properly enforced. My right hon. Friends will set out their detailed proposals, the terms of reference, the name of the judge and other matters in a full statement to the House early next week. I feel that the House would wish to know the direction in which the Government propose to take this matter.

Mr. Ashdown: That answer, at least, will be very welcome.

In what way is what the hon. Members for Hendon, North (Sir J. Gorst) and for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) tried to do any different from what the Euro-rebels have been allowed to do–get the Prime Minister in an armlock and get their way? Surely they should not be criticised for trying that, but the Prime Minister should be for encouraging it. Is not it perfectly clear that we have a Government whose party has been suborned by a foreign millionaire, whose decisions are daily subjected to blackmail by any passing Back Bencher, whose Prime Minister is now cooking up a fudge to cover a surrender for a European policy that has failed, and that it is an Administration that has no further purpose except to ensure, by whatever means and at whatever cost, their own limping and miserable survival?

The Prime Minister: It would be a lengthy business to refute all the nonsense that the right hon. Gentleman just uttered. I shall use just one illustration. If the Referendum Bill was designed solely as the right hon. Gentleman suggested, why did one of his hon. Friends vote for it–[Hon. Members: “Two!”] Two. That is a dangerous split in a party of that size.

The tactic, by anyone, of threatening to withhold support generally in response to a specific demand will not work. It is not acceptable. It has not worked, and it will not work now or at any stage in future. No Minister would respond to such an approach.

Sir John Gorst: Will my right hon. Friend allow me to support what he said in answer to the Leader of the Opposition? Will he confirm that the agreement that the Secretary of State for Health made between me and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) was not the retention of an accident and emergency department in its fullest extent, but an alternative that the Secretary of State has been discussing with us for the past six months with regard to a casualty unit, which instead of having nurses would have qualified doctors 24 hours a day, and that when patients were in a stable condition they might have to be moved?

The Prime Minister rose–

Hon. Members: More.

Madam Speaker: Order.

The Prime Minister: What my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has said is that the matter has been discussed with him–and, I have to say, with a large number of other groups. It has been under consideration for many months, as my right hon. Friend has made clear on a number of occasions. The demands that it is said were made were not met by the Government and would not be met by them, either in this instance or in any instance in the future. I hope that that is entirely clear to the leader of the Labour party and everyone else.


Q3. Mr. MacShane: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 13 June.

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

Mr. MacShane: Does the Prime Minister recall that, on Tuesday, he saw no problem with the financing of the anti-European campaign of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) by Sir James Goldsmith, but yesterday–Wednesday–he and the Chief Whip ordered the hon. Member for Stafford to confess the error of his ways and stop taking the money? What caused the Prime Minister to change his mind?

The Prime Minister: I think that the hon. Gentleman should see exactly what was said. It was clearly unacceptable for my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) to accept funds from the principal figure behind a list of candidates likely to stand against the Conservative party in the general election. My hon. Friend has made it clear that he will not receive any funding from that source, and I congratulate him on his decision.

Mr. King: Is my right hon. Friend aware that, last month, the British-Irish Inter-parliamentary Body met in the village of Adair in County Limerick, and that I was accompanied throughout the visit by a Garda officer, Gerry McCabe? Is he aware that, last week, in that same beautiful village, that outstanding officer was gunned down by an IRA gang? Will he join me in sending our deepest sympathy to the widow and family of Gerry McCabe, and to Commissioner Culligan and all his colleagues in the Garda Siochana?

Does this not underline the fact that violence is an evil that threatens everyone throughout the island of Ireland and throughout these islands? Should not we reaffirm our support for all who are now bravely seeking to resolve difficult issues by democratic and peaceful means?

The Prime Minister: I am sure that the whole House will wish to echo my right hon. Friend’s words about Mr. McCabe and his brutal murder. That murder, and the murder of another Garda officer–which, I understand, Sinn Fein has yet again refused to condemn–only demonstrates even more clearly precisely why Sinn Fein cannot join in the talks that are currently taking place until such time as there is a clear-cut and unequivocal ceasefire, and we can be confident that it is going to be maintained. That is the British Government’s position and the Irish Government’s position, and it will not change.