Below is Mr Major’s Commons statement made in tribute to John Smith, the Leader of the Opposition, who had died that morning, 12th May 1994.
The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major): I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn.
When I heard the tragic news of John Smith this morning, I thought it right that the House should meet this afternoon to pay tribute to a distinguished parliamentarian and then adjourn. I do not believe that there would have been the stomach for any other business in the House today.
I know that the whole House would wish me first to express my deep and warm sympathy for Mrs. Smith and for John Smith's family, his wife and his daughters. In the House, we have lost a formidable senior Member of very rare ability.
To the Labour party also, I offer my deep sympathy. After some serious hammer blows that they have faced among their colleagues in recent months, they have lost a leader and, I know, for many of them a deep and close friend of many years' standing. But above all, Elizabeth Smith, Sarah, Jane and Catherine have lost a husband, a father and a part of their lives which can never be replaced. John Smith was one of the outstanding parliamentarians of modern politics. He was skilled in the procedures of this House, skilled in upholding its traditions, a fair-
Over recent years, both as Prime Minister and as Chancellor of the Exchequer, I had the pleasure and the privilege of facing John Smith across this Dispatch Box. I learned on those occasions to acknowledge the skill and the wit with which he mastered his arguments. He had that rare ability to switch with speed from irony to sarcasm to invective and to fact, and sometimes, in the heat of parliamentary debate, to half fact, on every occasion knowing exactly how and when to move from one mood to the other for maximum parliamentary and political effect. Those are formidable skills, they are rare skills and, even for those against whom those skills were deployed, it is hard to bear that we will never see or hear those skills in this House again.
He had no malice. There were things that he cared for passionately. He lived for them; he fought for them; he cared for them. But he carried his fight fairly, without malice, without nastiness. The bruises that existed soon faded after a dispute with John Smith. In our parliamentary democracy, it is the fate of party leaders to dispute, to scorn, to disagree. We have an adversarial system of politics-
Inevitably, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have to conduct business in private and on confidential matters. Whenever we did, I always found him courteous, fair minded and constructive, but also tough for what he was seeking and what he believed in. We would share a drink-
Under our constitution, the role of the Leader of the Opposition is unique. It is a vital role-
Political differences are not the be-
Let me end where I began. In the weeks that lie immediately ahead, John's family will need all their courage. Let us show by what we say and do today that, while we cannot bear for them their pain, we can offer them the comfort of shared respect and shared grief.