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1995 - Mr Major’s Press Conference in Halifax

Below is the text of Mr Major’s press conference in Halifax, held on Saturday 17th June 1995.


PRIME MINISTER:

Let me, before I talk about the conference, express my thanks to the Prime Minister for the organisation of the conference, but perhaps even more than that, to the people of Halifax who have been extraordinarily warm in their reception right the way through this G7. I have attended quite a number of G7s now, I cannot recall one where people were so friendly. Perhaps in a smaller town than we sometimes visit, the sight of limousines clocking up the road for ordinary people going around their work is not quite so frustrating, but whatever the reason, the reception here has been extraordinarily warm. I felt that and I think all my colleagues did as well. And I would like to express my thanks to the people of Halifax for that.

In the summit over the last day or so, we have had the opportunity of looking at some long term problems and also addressing some of the problems that lie immediately ahead of us. A number of decisions have been taken, you will have seen the communiques no doubt but I will elaborate them for you briefly.

We agreed last year that we would have a look, on this occasion, at the international institutions and come forward with some proposals for their reform. We cannot impose that reform of course, we can make suggestions, particularly as far as the United Nations and the IFIs are concerned, and we have honoured that commitment. I hope we will now be able to take those suggestions forward.

In particular we have agreed 12 proposals to strengthen the effectiveness of the international financial institutions. I have no intention of running through all of them but I think the determination to improve IMF surveillance on the back of the difficulties that one saw in Mexico recently is self-evidently of importance and so is handling financial crises generally.

We have also put forward a number of proposals for strengthening the United Nations and they focus essentially on eliminating duplication, eliminating waste, increasing efficiency, as well as reviewing the method of contributions to the United Nations to put its finances on a sounder basis for the 1990s and the turn of the century.

We will now carry this forward with our personal representatives and try and persuade the rest of the United Nations membership of the merits of our approach. I stress that because this is emphatically not something that the G7 either could, or should, seek to impose upon the United Nations and we will be in the business of persuading people that it is right to proceed with these reforms.

We have also looked, yet again, at the nature of the G7 itself. Over the last few years we have managed to cut down on much of the pomp and ceremony that has attended these meetings. A great deal of the fat was taken away at Naples last year and Prime Minister Chretien has taken that process of reform towards making it a better structured working meeting a good deal further this year. I congratulate him on that and I look forward to Jacques Chirac taking it even further next year. We may not get there immediately, but I think the goal is to move much more towards the sort of original intent of these summits, a relatively small gathering in which matters can be discussed both formally and informally and without the inevitable necessity for the communiques that I know so many people have been so interested in in the last couple of days.

We have also given quite a strong push to liberalising world trade. The Uruguay Round was very welcome, it carried matters a good deal forward but it by no means left us with a liberal world trading system. There is a great deal more to be done, a great deal of unfinished business as well as new areas to be tackled. Amongst the new areas of course, non-tariff barriers of various kinds, investment, government procurement and a range of related matters.

I think that is important not just because I support free trade, but if one is concerned about the position of many of the less well off, some of the downright poor nations of the world, the greater the extent that the world's markets are open to their products, the greater I think they will begin to have a capacity to deal with some of the appalling problems that many of them face.

Allied to that, we have also taken some further steps to look at how we might relieve the debt of the very poorest countries, a matter that the United Kingdom has been leading really for the last 8 or 9 years as a matter of extreme importance.

I hope as a result of the discussions we have had that we will soon be in the position where the IMF will be prepared to pledge some of its gold, and eventually perhaps even gold sales, to assist some of the very poorest countries.

We also agreed that we would repeat the Detroit Job Summit, not in Detroit but in France at some date yet to be specified but probably in the first half of next year. The strategy and purpose of that is as it was before. There was a welcome reaffirmation again that the way to create jobs was by having a more flexible labour market, up-grading skills, deregulation. And no-one was talking of large artificial short-term expenditure packages that put a burden on the budget, create jobs in the short term and probably lead to inflation and more difficulties in the medium and longer term.

Much of the agenda in the early part of this conference, unsurprising to some of us that it turned out this way, was that much of the agenda was seized by events in Bosnia. I don't think there is any doubt that events there have taken a turn for the worst over the last few days. There has also been some confusion publicly over the role and purpose of the Rapid Reaction Force. Let me say firstly that I am delighted that the Rapid Reaction Force got unanimous support from our partners here in Halifax, unanimous and very warm support from all our partners in Halifax.

Let me make a couple of things clear again about the Rapid Reaction Force. The purpose of it is essentially twofold: firstly to enable the protection forces to carry out their existing mandate more effectively; and secondly to improve the protection forces' ability to protect themselves whenever and wherever that may be necessary. The force will be part of the United Nations protection forces and it will be under United Nations command, and that means the French General, General Janvier, and Rupert Smith, the British General, commanding there.

On Friday morning, early in the morning, the Security Council passed resolution 998 which gave the formal authority that was necessary to the despatch of the Rapid Reaction Force to Bosnia. Because of the difficulties that the American President has with the Republican leadership in Congress, the details of the question of paying for the force, reluctantly it has been necessary to put that to one side for the time being. It will need to be sorted out quickly, and I believe it will be, and our American friends are well aware of this. When I saw President Clinton yesterday he acknowledged the problems that he faces with Congress at present, but he reiterated the pledge that he had made at dinner on Thursday night that the United States would take its share of the cost. That is also the view of all the other Heads of Government gathered here, that their countries also would take their share of the cost.

That is by no means an exhaustive account of the issues we have tackled, we made a considerable amount of progress on the environment, in looking at international crime and terrorism. It was extremely helpful to have Boris Yeltsin arrive last evening for discussions over dinner and more discussions this morning, and I think that underlines yet again the importance of the Russian political contribution which I hope and expect will be further developed in the G7 next year. We had a good discussion of Chechnya and of what can be done to promote a peaceful solution there.

We also agreed, following President Yeltsin's arrival, that we would have a summit in Moscow, on a date yet to be determined but in the first half of next year, to discuss various aspects of nuclear safety. There is a big agenda there. It is I think entirely appropriate for the members of the G8 to get together, possibly with others as well, still to be determined, in order to discuss what really is a very wide agenda. And we will be putting some experts together to look in detail at the matters we might productively discuss in Moscow next year.

And President Yeltsin also took the opportunity to advise us of the up-to-date position in the south of Russia with the difficulties they face at the moment with the hostages. This is a frightful tragedy already and potentially, unless we are fortunate, the most serious terrorist incident that anybody will be able to remember. So there was a great deal of sympathy for the hostages there and for the dreadful situation and the predicament that President Yeltsin found himself in.

I will not expand on these points any further at the moment but I will endeavour to take questions. If we could deal with questions for some time on the conference I think that would be helpful, there may be one or two others, we will take those later, but let us deal with matters to do with the conference.


QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

QUESTION (Mark Pinder, AFX News):

Prime Minister, given your push to liberalise world trade, how would you deal with criticism that this multilateral summit has been mostly silent on the US unilateral threat of sanctions against Japan?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are in favour of multilateralism rather than bilateralism, and that is known both to the United States and it is known to Japan. But at the moment both Japan and the United States are inhibited in discussing that matter with others because they are reaching towards their own conclusion to this, I think everybody accepted that and honoured the fact that that was the case. But the point was made that we believe in multilateral solutions to world trading problems and not bilateral solutions, and I think that was acknowledged and understood.

QUESTION (David Boyle, New Economics Magazine):

President Chirac described currency speculation yesterday as the Aids of the world economy, if that is the way he feels why does the summit fail to discuss the ... levy at all and why does it simply call for the encouragement of the removal of capital market restrictions further?

PRIME MINISTER:

President Chirac expressed a view, he also agreed to the summit communique, we discussed all that. I think many people have a distaste for currency speculation. But of course we have to look at what in reality it is practical to do. If you were to take the sum total of all the foreign exchange reserved of all the G7 nations gathered around the table, you would find they would be but a portion of the movement over the New York exchanges on a daily basis. So clearly artificial means to curb currency speculation, I think from time to time at the fringes there are certain things one can do, I won't say there is nothing that can be done, but I think the work that can be done in that fashion is very much on the margins of events. What really we were concentrating on rather more than that was the determination to try and remove the causes that generated currency instability, and that of course is a theme that I think the G7 have been following for some considerable time.

QUESTION (Robert Chope, FT):

Have you been disappointed by the reaction to the gold sales proposal which now appears to have been pushed further back and we are left with pledging as an alternative, do you think that is a practical alternative that would be as effective?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it will be effective, yes. Not everyone is undilutedly keen even to mention the wicked word gold in this context, but since the IMF has no other resources, it is gold we are talking about. From my point of view it doesn't really matter whether it is pledged in order to raise resources or whether it is sold. The original proposition, one of the propositions for selling the gold, was simply to raise the capital, to maintain the capital of course but to use the interest on the capital. I think that can be done the same way in terms of pledging. What matters is the end product for the countries who will receive assistance and I am confident as a result of the discussions we have had that we will make progress on that.

QUESTION (Nicholas Witchell, BBC):

There is no reference to Chechnya in the Chairman's statement, is that out of deference to Mr Yeltsin's presence here? And on Bosnia, has Mr Yeltsin produced some new ideas on settling the conflict there?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't think there are any new ideas on settling the conflict there. Whenever necessary, President Yeltsin has used his influence with Belgrade and encouraged Belgrade to use their influence with Parle. That has been the case in the past and he reiterated this morning that he would do that whenever it was necessary. And of course there has been a very constructive part played in the Contact Group by Andrei Kozyrev and very close relationships with the Russians. Indeed if you go back just a few years, it would have been almost inconceivable to imagine the degree of political cooperation that has taken place between the Western nations and Russia over Bosnia, and that will continue. But neither President Yeltsin, nor frankly, Nicholas, anyone else, has a simple and ready made off the shelf solution to the nightmare of Bosnia at present.

Chechnya was not included, you are quite right, I am sure people will be asked questions about that, it was not included. It was not a subject of great discussion. We asked what the present situation was. Most people had their mind pitched more immediately upon the problems of the hostages and I think that is probably the principal reason why there was no specific mention. Though I think you will find that the Chairman of the meeting will probably mention it, will no doubt by now have done so, in his press conference.

QUESTION (Harold Freedman, IHT):

On Chechnya we have heard that at dinner last night a number of G7 leaders, including yourself, delivered a fairly stern lecture to Mr Yeltsin saying that if he had done more talking and less military action then he would not find himself in the predicament he is in right now with the hostages. Could you comment on that, is that true? Secondly, from your talks with US and Japanese counterparts are you optimistic or pessimistic about a resolution of the US/Japanese car dispute?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't know whether I would categorise it as a stern lecture. There was some discussion of the matter, that is certainly true, but stern lecture is not really in the nature of these rather intimate round table discussions and neither would it really be very productive. I think from time to time people seem inclined to read a stern lecture to my country, I don't think I would respond very happily to that on these occasions and I don't think it would be a very productive way for people to behave. And far be it for me to put thoughts in President Yeltsin's mind, but I think he would probably react the same way. So discussion, yes; stern lecture, I don't think I would have called it a stern lecture.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER:

I think there was a general discussion, I don't want to go into the details of precisely who said what at the meeting.

On your second question, I very much hope they are going to be able to settle the problems with US/Japan, they certainly believe they are making progress but that was not a substantive matter for discussion at the dinner last night, there was a passing reference to it. There was discussion during the day yesterday on the subject of US/Japan, but reverting to the point I made earlier and the point that we believe these things should be settled on a multilateral rather than a bilateral basis, the feeling was that progress was being made, that special circumstances did apply, we were reliably informed, but our view was that muItilateralism should generally prevail.

QUESTION (George Jones, Daily Telegraph):

If I could just pick up on your concern and the concern the Foreign Secretary has expressed about Bosnia and the upsurge in fighting around Sarajevo. There is a report in the Financial Times today that if there has to be a sort of enforced withdrawal of the peacekeeping forces there it would take another 20,000 British troops there to ensure that that happened. Is that a realistic estimate of your contingency plans?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am not going to go into the contingency plans except to say we have contingency plans for every foreseeable circumstance, at least every foreseeable circumstance that we have envisaged. But I think when one comes to that numbers game you can almost pay your own money and take your own choice, it depends what set of difficulties you stand up against the likely withdrawal. Whatever you put into the assessment on one side would lead to a difference in numbers on the other side, but I am not going to confirm that figure.

QUESTION (David Smith, Channel 4 News):

Nuclear and the proposed summit in Moscow, was there any discussion this morning with President Yeltsin on the nuclear programme with Iran and any evidence that he is prepared to listen more than when President Clinton raised it with him recently in Moscow?

PRIME MINISTER:

I should emphasise that we are talking of civil nuclear, in case anybody misunderstands that, we are talking about civil nuclear safety in terms of the conference next year. There was not substantive discussion about Iran, there was reference to it, most certainly, but it was really simply in the context of the matters that we might examine at the conference next year rather than a structured discussion on the particular Russian/Iranian situation.

FOREIGN SECRETARY:

Can I add a point, that the Chairman's statement does call on all states not to collaborate with Iran in any way which could help them acquire a nuclear weapons capability, and that is something of course the Russians agreed.

QUESTION (New Economics Magazine):

Considering that the appeasement of genocide in Bosnia is now threatening the whole post-European order, is it not strange that the statement this morning mentions a very strong determination of the G7 to enforce UN resolutions regarding Iraq and Libya but does not mention those regarding Bosnia, and also it mentions a very strong determination to make those accountable who were responsible for genocide in Rwanda and Burundi and mentions the international tribunal, but does not express a similar determination regarding those responsible in former Yugoslavia?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't recognise the introduction to your statement as having a great deal of connection with reality as I understand it. I don't recognise the point about appeasement in Bosnia. In terms before the United Nations protection forces went in, in the year before they went in, there was something in excess, I take the figures from memory so they may be mildly out but not much I think, something over 100,000 deaths in central Bosnia. In the year after the United Nations protection forces were there there were less than 5,000, I think less than 3,000. If by appeasement you mean the Western nations should themselves have declared war on one or both sides in Bosnia and gone in in order to keep a peace in that fashion, then I have to say to you that is not what has traditionally happened in terms of United Nations peacekeeping and neither, in the particular circumstances of Bosnia, would it be a practical proposition.

Almost the first thing I did when the Bosnian crisis broke was to actually seek military advice from our own senior military advisers in London as to how many troops would be necessary in order to prevent the fighting that was then taking place in Bosnia. I know other Heads of Government took the same sort of judgment and sought the same sort of advice. And the answer, in order to keep the parties apart, was something in the region of 400,000 NATO troops. And not only would you need to put 400,000 NATO troops in in order to keep the combatants apart, you would need to keep them there to ensure that the combatants remained apart and when at some stage in the future you left them the combatants may well start again, such is the nature of the ancient feuds there, unless there is a political settlement. And it was very much in my mind that we had had peacekeeping troops keeping combatants apart in Cyprus for 29 years and I did not think the concept of what would clearly have to be a NATO force, there would be no other show in town remotely big enough to do it, undertaking that role was ever practical. Not only was it never practical, we think, militarily, it was never practical because no country was prepared to put troops in in that scale and on those numbers.

As far as the crimes of people in Bosnia are concerned, I think the war crimes tribunal point has been mentioned on many occasions in the past. I don't see any need for me to reiterate it today.

As far as peacekeeping elsewhere is concerned, a number of the countries who contribute to Bosnia have peacekeeping troops in a large number of countries around the world, certainly that is true of the United Kingdom and it is certainly true of our hosts here in Canada who have a record in terms of peacekeeping in blue helmets that. I think is probably unmatched by anyone else.

QUESTION (Jonathan Fried, ISN TV Canada):

Prime Minister Chretien has been expressing concern that any small contribution by .Canada to the Rapid Reaction Force might not be a meaningful one. Would you agree?

PRIME MINISTER:

You ask the question at an appropriate time because I have just been saying quite gratuitously what a remarkable international record Canada has had in terms of peacekeeping. I cannot traipse on whether the Canadian Cabinet feel it right to make a further contribution to the Rapid Reaction Force, but from what I have seen of Canadian troops in the past, they have always made a positive contribution but that is not to be taken as an indication that I am especially prodding for a further contribution for Canada. Their contribution to Bosnia has been a very honourable one and to many other parts of the world as well they have done their share and more on many occasions.

QUESTION:

Would you welcome even a small contribution?

PRIME MINISTER:

We would welcome contributions from anywhere where they are professional soldiers, as they are from Canada. But I think one mustn't ask too much of any individual nation state. Canada must make that decision, if Canada decides to send a small number I personally will be very pleased, I think they will be able to make the warm contribution that Canadian soldiers always do. If they decide against it, I don't think that is a cause for criticism of Canada with its record in Bosnia now and in many other places both at the moment and in the past.

QUESTION (Bill Keegan):

The Group of 7 have been involved for some years now with the reform process in Russia, was there any indication in the discussions with President Yeltsin that the precipitous decline in output there had reached bottom and was there any kind of discussion of further financial help or rescheduling of debt?

PRIME MINISTER:

There were no further requests for financial help. As to whether the Russian economy has bottomed out, we did discuss the Russian economy and President Yeltsin said over dinner last night that he expected the economy to grow, very modestly perhaps, around 1 percent this year. The implication was that there was bottoming out. There is also no doubt I think in the Russian economy that many of the reforms have begun to take root. Anyone who went to Russia 15 years or 20 years ago and was familiar with Moscow then, and who was to go back to Moscow today, would see a very remarkable difference. Of course from the point of view of the reformers it is sometimes a good deal slower than they would wish, they would like more dramatic improvement. But that a free enterprise democratic system has put down fairly healthy roots in Russia, I am absolutely confident. It will be a long period, this reform process. Anyone who thinks they are going to wake up this time next year or the year after and find that reform has been wholly completed in Russia I suggest should emulate Rip Van Winkle and sleep a little longer because that certainly will not be the case. But that they are making progress is certain, difficult and painful. I doubt many people would have imagined the progress on public expenditure that Chernomyrdin has made, it has been a good deal better than many imagined. Inflation was at outrageous levels, it is still very very high, but it has come down quite remarkably. So I think there is progress and if President Yeltsin's assessment that there may be growth in the Russian economy this year is right, then I think that is an extremely good sign.

QUESTION (CNBC TV):

To what degree was there tension or frustration at the table over the US not being able to commit troops to Bosnia and President Clinton not being able to fully guarantee US payment for its share for the troops in Bosnia; and also about the French nuclear testing, to what degree was there tension or frustration at the table?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't believe there was tension or frustration around the table. The French nuclear testing matter was not mentioned at all. And on the earlier point, I think the position was well understood and has been well understood for some time. As far as the payment is concerned, I think there was an acknowledgment that the President would wish to pay assessed contributions, indeed he has said so repeatedly over the last few days and I think practising politicians sitting around the table sometimes acknowledge that there are frustrations that inhibit them from doing what they would most wish to do. So I don't think there was a special frustration. We look forward to the President finding a way through it.

QUESTION (Adam Boulton, Sky):

Throughout this summit you have made it clear that in your view you have a clear policy agenda which you don't intend to be deflected from by the Conservative Party, can I therefore ask you why you don't actually go ahead now and seek an early leadership election so that you can clear the air and then carry on?

PRIME MINISTER:

You have been reading your competitors' newspapers, Adam. I have certainly said that I have set out a clear agenda, and when you say the Conservative Party you might perhaps say some members of the Conservative Party rather than speak in a generality. We have a system for electing the leader of the Conservative Party, but that system is in the hands of the Conservative Party, not in the hands of the leader of the Conservative Party. We have a system, it is there, if people choose to use that system, that is a matter for them and not me. Every member of the party accepts that that is the right way to proceed and I see no signs of anyone wishing to change that.

QUESTION:

You have spent the week here discussing the future of world institutions, there are stories at home that you are going to spend this weekend contemplating your own future as Party leader and Prime Minister. Is there any question of your contemplating stepping down?

PRIME MINISTER:

If you promise not to tell anyone, in the intimacy of this meeting I will tell you that I intend to spend my weekend in very deep contemplation over whether the United Kingdom will manage to win their rugby match in South Africa tomorrow. When I say the United Kingdom winning, we have had four teams there, we have one left - England - and it has a very tough battle against our friends from New Zealand and I very much look forward to seeing that game and I very much hope that the games lives up to the remarkable game against Australia last week. But if you wish to know what is on my mind at this moment, and over this weekend, it will be England's performance and England's fate against New Zealand.