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1997 - Mr Major’s Briefing en route to Calcutta

Below is the text of Mr Major’s on the record briefing en route to Calcutta, on Wednesday 8th January 1997.


PRIME MINISTER:

I don't want to take your time for more than a second. Just really to say that I hope you will enjoy the trip, you know where we are going, I think Jonathan has taken you in detail through the agenda, so I won't traipse through all that again.

The genesis of this visit was a meeting I had with the Confederation of Indian Industry at Downing Street last summer, June/July, I forget precisely when it was, it was the day that Ganguly was taking a very large 100 off England at Lords, I can tell you that, but I can't remember the exact date. And they invited me to come and address their main event of the year, which will be their seminar on Thursday afternoon, when I hope to deliver a fairly substantial speech, largely about international trade, markets and business-related matters.

When they invited me to come, and I accepted, it seemed a suitable opportunity to bring with us a business delegation and I think you have seen the size and composition of the business delegation.

It isn't the biggest ever to leave the United Kingdom, but it is probably as high powered as any that has ever left the United Kingdom, I think Ian Lang and Michael Heseltine have both taken larger numbers of businessmen but I don't think there has been a better quality in terms of seniority of British businessmen travelling abroad on a single trip in the past.

This isn't a trip to look for short term contracts. There will be quite a few contracts signed when we first get there, but they are not the product particularly of this visit, they are the product of a great deal of work over the last few months. The businessmen who are here are largely here looking for long term contracts. The Indians are extremely good to do business with, but contracts don't get signed and sealed in a day, so they will be here as part of a long term relationship with India and I hope we will be able to open a few doors for them that otherwise might have remained closed. Certainly we are discussing with some of the businessmen the sort of things that we can do that might be helpful for them.

While we are here also we will take an opportunity of looking at some of the aid projects. We want to look at some of the drug liaison effort that is going on, that is one of the principal reasons for going to the Khyber Pass, apart from its historical significance, and a chance for seeing the Khyber Rifles. So hope it will be both a worthwhile and an interesting trip.

We are going on also to Bangladesh, I have never visited Bangladesh before, and on to Pakistan. In each of the three countries the purpose of the visit is predominantly trade, perhaps a little less so in Bangladesh, but certainly a trade interest in Bangladesh as well.

I don't think there is really much more I wish to say at the outset. If you have any questions on business-related matters, or the visit, I will happily try and answer them, or pass them on to Ian if they fall into his bailiwick.

What I would just suggest in conclusion, if it appeals to any of you. I suggest when we have finished this brief discussion that we might go a little back in the plane and have a glass of champagne, or two, and we will try and persuade the businessmen to come and join us and you will be able to get a feel perhaps from them if you wish to of the advantages that they see of the visit.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION:

There were a couple of pieces in the paper today about how tense the situation is in Pakistan. Is it your plan to see Benazir Bhutto and obviously people are going to ask would you be willing to meet Imran Khan if he was available?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't think there are any plans for me to meet Imran Khan, though I have met him before in the past of course. I know Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto quite well, we have met many times in the past, and I think it is highly likely I will see both of them. I should add that I don't intend to get involved in internal Pakistani domestic politics, but I have known both of them of old, it would be extremely odd if I didn't meet them.

QUESTION:

A few question marks have been raised about the fact that you should be going abroad when there is so much happening at home and the election campaign is under way. Do you think that it is a bit odd to leave things without you in charge while so much is going on?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think helping our trade effort abroad is quite important as well. The election is important when it comes in due course but the normal activities of government have to go on in the interim. And here we have the 50th anniversary of Independence in India, I think that is a pretty significant event in India and it is a pretty significant event as far as the United Kingdom are concerned too, so I certainly wish to mark the beginning of that with a visit, and of course the trading interest which continues.

So I think it is quite right. Government and the normal activities of government have to proceed. The election is important, it will come in due course, but it doesn't dominate or eliminate all other activities in government, I think it is quite right to come.