The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1996Prime Minister (1990-1997)

PMQT – 16 July 1996

Below is the text of Prime Minister’s Question Time from 16th July 1996.




Q1. Mrs. Jane Kennedy: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 July.

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.

Mrs. Kennedy: Today marks the launch of the Gun Control Network by the families of the victims of Hungerford and Dunblane. Will the Prime Minister acknowledge the strength of the case against the private ownership of handguns? Will he accept that such a measure to ban them would receive the support of the overwhelming majority of the British people?

The Prime Minister: I am, of course, aware of the strength of feeling on this issue and of the recent petition calling for strengthened control over firearms. As the hon. Lady knows, the Government have been careful to consult the Opposition parties on this issue from the outset, and I am delighted that, thus far, we have received their firm support for the way in which we are proceeding. Since 1979, we have strengthened firearms controls. As soon as we receive the report from Lord Cullen, we will consider it with great care. I am happy to reiterate to the House that, in the event it is needed, we have preserved a legislative slot to take any action that is required.


Q2. Mrs. Lait: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 July.

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

Mrs. Lait: In the light of the great news that Lite-On and LG are bringing thousands of new jobs to Scotland and Wales, does my right hon. Friend agree that breaking up the United Kingdom, creating an extra tier of regional government, surrounding it all in bureaucracy and making the Scots pay more tax is likely to scare away potential new investors? Is this not new Labour being new danger?

The Prime Minister: I am delighted to welcome these substantial new investments to Scotland and Wales. They are the latest of a large number of inward investments that we have seen not only in Scotland and Wales but in other parts of the United Kingdom. I certainly hope that we shall get more. They are coming here predominantly because of the economic environment–[Interruption.]–because this country is an economic success story–[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) is chuntering in the back row. He seems to forget that they have been coming here for 15 years under Conservative policies, because we have created a combination of lower inflation, lower taxes and lower costs. That is attractive not just to companies in this country but to world investors seeking the right country in which to place their money. I am delighted that they place it here. It would be a tragedy if policies were followed that would prevent them from doing so in future.

Mr. Blair: Does the Prime Minister recall promising the country at the previous general election that he would balance the budget? How does he square that with today’s further disastrous borrowing figures which show that, leaving aside privatisation moneys, the Government’s overdraft this year is running at a higher level than at the same time last year?

The Prime Minister: If the right hon. Gentleman would look carefully at today’s borrowing figures, he would see that they are entirely consistent with the economic forecast and that they confirm the excellent state of the economy–sustainable growth, low inflation and falling Government borrowing. As for comparatives, since 1979, average borrowing as a proportion of gross domestic product has been just under one half as much as under the previous Labour Government.

Mr. Blair: Perhaps the Prime Minister will just confirm that this Conservative Government have received more in North sea oil revenues and from privatising the nation’s assets than the borrowing requirement under the last Labour Government. That is what his Government have had. Is it not also a fact that, under his prime ministership, the public debt has doubled? Will he confirm this statistic and answer this question directly: is it not the case that, as a result of his Government’s borrowing policies, every family in this country now pays £1,000 a year in tax, not for better services in respect of health, education and law and order but just to service the debt that he has created? Is that right or is it wrong?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is completely misleading the House. He knows what resources have been spent in recent years. I will tell him where they have gone–they have gone on health, education, defence and public services. The right hon. Gentleman is the man who says that he wants to keep taxes down, yet he wants to put public expenditure up. The reality is that, whereas he may play games in opposition, we have to deal with the realities of producing a successful economy, as we have done in recent years and as we will do in the years to come.

Mr. Blair: Not a single one of those figures did the Prime Minister dispute–£1,000 a year in tax just to service the debt. Let me tell the Prime Minister that, if he wants to have a better balance in public spending, why not tackle the problems of long-term unemployment which have put up the bills for people in this country? Is it not the truth–[Interruption.] That is the party that has spent on welfare and unemployment but lowered spending on investment for the country’s future. Will the Prime Minister confirm that, if an ordinary member of the public had run an overdraft as large as this, he would have been told that his time was up and his home should be repossessed? Is that not the fate so richly deserved by this Government and this Prime Minister?

The Prime Minister: Dear, oh dear. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about success in dealing with unemployment, perhaps he would care to acknowledge that we have the lowest rate of unemployment of any significant nation in western Europe; that unemployment has been falling for three years, which it has not been doing anywhere else; that every single Labour Government we have ever been cursed with have increased unemployment dramatically; that he has policies that would increase the costs of employers, which would create unemployment; and that one of his unions is asking for a minimum wage of £6.03 an hour, which would cost an enormous amount in unemployment.

While the right hon. Gentleman is concerned about economic performance, let me mention the things that he neglected to mention: the lowest level of inflation for 50 years; the lowest mortgage rates for 30 years–[Hon. Members: “More.”]–four years of falling unemployment and increasing employment–[Hon. Members: “More.”]–the lowest rate of basic tax for 50 years–[Hon. Members: “More.”]–disposable income rising way above inflation–[Hon. Members: “More.”]–No. 1 in Europe for investment–[Hon. Members: “More.”]–in the interests of other questioners, I shall stop there, but there is far more to the success of the Government’s policies.


Q3. Mr. Amess: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 July.

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

Mr. Amess: Does my right hon. Friend agree that no responsible Prime Minister would weaken Britain’s veto in Europe by giving Brussels more powers to determine matters that should be voted on and discussed in the House? Does not new Labour wish to surrender Britain’s veto in Europe? Does not new, phoney Labour mean new, real danger for residents in Basildon, Southend and the whole country?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend should not suggest that the dangers from those policies are in only Basildon and Southend. They are in every constituency around the land. He is quite right.

The Government are not prepared to see our veto eroded, as the Labour party apparently is. On issues of national and constitutional significance, any Government should be prepared to protect British interests, if necessary by using the veto and saying no. I regret that the Opposition are committed to undermining the veto. If they say that they are never going to be isolated in Europe, what they are saying is that they would never use the veto whether it was in this country’s interests or not. They would follow the line determined by our European partners. That is their policy out of their own mouths, and upon that let them be judged.

Mr. Ashdown: But Britain’s national debt has doubled since the Prime Minister took office. Britain’s annual debt has doubled against what the Prime Minister said that it would be two years ago. Is the Prime Minister prepared to confirm the words of his own Chancellor of the Exchequer in spring this year when he said that, when public borrowing was around £30 billion a year, tax cuts were irresponsible?

The Prime Minister: As to the Budget, the right hon. Gentleman will have to wait and see. It is some months away. We will deal prudently, as we have always done, with that aspect.

I seem to remember the right hon. Gentleman’s party supporting the largest public borrowing that we have ever seen at any stage in this country. Under this Government, the economy has gone from strength to strength to strength. If the right hon. Gentleman is concerned about public borrowing, as I am, I invite him and the leader of the Labour party to support the Government in the public expenditure decisions that we will have to take in the forthcoming public expenditure round. We will judge by their words whether they support the decisions that we will take in the public spending round. If they support restraint, it will be the first time that they have done so.

Sir John Gorst: In view of the industrial relations unrest in the Post Office, will my right hon. Friend give consideration not merely to the suspension of the monopoly but to the application of a law of contract to all parties in the Post Office?

The Prime Minister: I thoroughly agree with my hon. Friend about the likely dangers of a Post Office strike. As he knows, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is giving consideration to suspension of the monopoly, and I shall certainly consider my hon. Friend’s further point.


Q4. Mr. Hall: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 July.

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

Mr. Hall: The Prime Minister will be aware that last year’s tax revenue fell short by a staggering £7 billion. Likewise, last year’s public sector borrowing requirement was £10 billion greater than forecast 16 months previously. Does he agree that, if a managing director in the private sector made such an overestimate of a company’s income and plunged it into such huge debt, he would be sacked? What is the Prime Minister going to do about it?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman knows very well the degrees of difficulty in determining tax revenue. Of course, his way of determining tax revenue would be to support his leader in increasing taxes, with the large range of extra taxes that the Labour party is already planning. He might as well admit it.


Q5. Mr. Brazier: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 July.

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

Mr. Brazier: In considering the very sad events in Ulster and welcoming the deployment of extra troops there, I should like to ask whether my right hon. Friend agrees that the overwhelming priority must be the restoration of security, which must involve whatever resources and legal powers the security forces require.

The Prime Minister: Self-evidently, the overwhelming need is to restore normal law and order to the Province so that problems are solved by dialogue and not by violence and confrontation. We must continue to do whatever we can to ensure that the bomb in Enniskillen–whoever turns out to be responsible for it–does not relaunch the cycle of violence that has so scarred life in Northern Ireland in recent years. I particularly welcome the restraint that has been shown by loyalist groups and I very much hope that they will continue to show that restraint in future. The security forces have our full support. They will continue to have our full support in the Province and in the rest of the United Kingdom.


Q6. Mrs. Roche: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 16 July.

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

Mrs. Roche: Given that 21 Conservative Back Benchers have signed an early-day motion expressing serious concern about the sale of Ministry of Defence homes and that one of them described it as a half-baked scheme, deeply upsetting to service families, how do the Prime Minister and the Government justify the sale and the £900 million a year rent bill to the British public?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady is mistaken in what she says and in her judgment. The service chiefs support the sale. They have recognised and said publicly that it will raise £1.5 billion in public revenue. The Labour party has said a great deal about public borrowing. Will they vote against the £1.5 billion that the sale will bring into the public revenue and cut borrowing, or will it be another occasion when the leader of the Labour party says one thing and votes in a quite different way?