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1996 - Mr Major’s Comments on Pairing Arrangements

Below is the text of Mr Major’s comments on pairing arrangements in the House of Commons, made during an interview held in London on Friday 20th December 1996..


QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if the good economic figures were overshadowed by pairing disputes in the House of Commons].

PRIME MINISTER:

I hope they weren’t overshadowed because the economic statistics we’ve seen this week are perhaps the most relevant thing that has happened during the whole year. The relationship of what happens in the economy to people’s prosperity is absolute and what we have seen is not just the Government saying the British economy is doing well - we have been saying that for some time - but I think people like dispassionate evidence of that. Here, we have had this week from the OECD, a report saying not only have we had the highest growth for the last couple of years in Europe but we will this year, next year and the year after, and inflation will stay low and unemployment will fall and the unemployment fall, of course, was spectacular this year, larger than we anticipated, but very welcome.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked about the pairing row].

PRIME MINISTER:

It is rather an arcane dispute this. To try and put it in context, pairing arrangements generally are personal arrangements though sometimes they are conducted on a different level. Quite what misunderstandings occurred here I don’t know but there were two separate things.

Firstly, this was a Take Note motion; secondly, the Government would clearly have won quite comfortably even without whatever misunderstanding happened.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if the whips knew who was going to win in advance].

PRIME MINISTER:

You don’t know precisely what the whips know and neither, frankly, do I, about who was going to vote where but I think this is a pretty arcane matter.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if it made politicians look dishonourable].

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, of course it does if that is what people think, but I don’t think that is the case. We have more checks and balances in the British constitutional system than any other nation and to give you a wider example, European Councils are often fairly rough affairs, there are agreements hammered out some of which you like, some of which you don’t, some of which you can block, some of which you don’t, you have to strike a proper balance on what is overall in the British interest.

Almost uniquely amongst Europe, the British Prime Minister than has to come back, make a full-scale statement to Parliament, answer questions for about an hour, explain himself and answer questions often on very technical and detailed matters. I hear often this talk about the British political system in one form or another. It has its faults, it has its defects and so do politicians, they are human and they are fallible but overall the checks and balances in the British political system - it is a rough, tough adversarial system - are the best that I know anywhere in the world and it does show the fallibility of politicians, I agree with that, but I think it is very much in the interest that we maintain that system.