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1996 - PMQT 14th March 1996

Below is the text of Prime Minister's Question Time from 14th March 1996.

PRIME MINISTER:

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Booth: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 March.

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major): This morning, I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Booth: Will my right hon. Friend join me and others in the House in expressing our outrage and horror at the appalling deaths and killings in Dunblane yesterday?

The Prime Minister: Yesterday was an event of almost unimaginable horror. We can only begin to guess at the impact it will have upon the families and the whole community. I know that the whole House will wish to join me in extending our sympathy to the families of the children and their teacher who were killed and to the children and the other teachers who were injured in yesterday's attack. Many questions will have to be addressed and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will make a fuller statement at the end of Question Time.

Mr. Blair: May I agree with what the Prime Minister has said and simply add this: Britain today is a nation in mourning. Our senses are in a state of shock, bewildered at the sheer horror of what happened. Not war, nor a catastrophe of nature, nor human error was this, but a massacre of innocents without cause and without reason. How many parents last night will have clutched their own children to them, looking at them differently and imagining the pain which, for others, is all too real?

Politics is silent today. We grieve. We hope that this dark shadow can in time be lifted. We stand in solidarity with the community of Dunblane and we pay our respects.

The Prime Minister: Sometimes, after a tragedy, there is little we can say that we feel will bring comfort to the people concerned. After yesterday's tragedy, I believe that that is a feeling that everyone in this House will understand. Words seem inadequate; I feel that today.

The right hon. Gentleman's words will find a echo in the heart of every parent in the House and right across the country. What happened yesterday cannot be understood and must not be forgotten. It was an act of wickedness beyond imagination and I do not believe that anyone can be unmoved by that, either now or at any time in the future. What we must now do is look to the interests of the children, their families and the others who were injured and see what external help can be given--perhaps by this House, but by others as well--to try to play some part in putting that community together again.


Q2. Mr. Evennett: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 March.

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

Mr. Evennett: In the wake of the appalling tragedy in Dunblane yesterday, will my right hon. Friend urge the media to exercise the maximum possible restraint to allow that community to grieve in private?

The Prime Minister: I certainly join my hon. Friend in that request. There is a code of practice on privacy for such occasions. I hope very much that that code of practice will be rigorously observed on this occasion.


Q3. Mr. Wigley: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 March.

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

Mr. Wigley: As someone who, before entering the House, lived in the borough of Merthyr Tydfil not far from Aberfan, may I convey the sympathy of Wales to the people of Dunblane and to all the families who have suffered loss? Does the Prime Minister accept that playing with guns can at times mean playing with lives? It should always be a certainty that neither personal indulgences nor vested interests come before assuring the safety of communities and the avoiding of tragedies such as the tragedy that happened yesterday.

The Prime Minister: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's early words will be well received everywhere. On the subject of gun control, clearly my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will wish to consider the implications of the incident for any future changes in firearms control. There is of course a Firearms Consultative Committee that, as a statutory body, constantly keeps legislation under review. Its purpose is to review the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988. I know that it issued a statement this morning saying that it does not propose to express a view on the matter in advance of the conclusions of the fatal accident inquiry, but that it will want to consider the implications for future firearms legislation or practice.


Q4. Mr. Patrick Thompson: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 March.

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

Mr. Thompson: Speaking as a former teacher and in the aftermath of the awful tragedy yesterday, may I ask my right hon. Friend to reinforce the tributes that are rightly paid to head teachers and teachers who put the welfare and safety of their children above all else?

The Prime Minister: It is not very many weeks ago that the House and the country were mourning the death of another teacher, Mr. Lawrence, who was murdered outside his school by being stabbed to death. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has told me, both last night and this morning, of the courage of teachers at the school. I particularly single out the courage and performance of the headmaster, Mr. Taylor, who had appalling circumstances to deal with yesterday, but, I am informed, dealt with them with the greatest possible courage in every respect. I am happy to join my hon. Friend, himself a former head teacher, in that tribute.

Mrs. Bridget Prentice: Dunblane is a small, close-knit community and no doubt that closeness will stand it in good stead as it grieves over the appalling slaughter of innocent children and their dedicated teacher. Will the Prime Minister convey to the people of Dunblane that their grieving is shared by the whole country; every parent in the land is grieving with them? In particular, will he convey to the people of Dunblane the horror and sadness of my constituents and Londoners across our capital city who feel today that they are part of that small, close-knit community?

The Prime Minister: I shall happily convey the hon. Lady's thoughts when I have the opportunity of visiting Dunblane tomorrow. She speaks for the attitude of every parent in the country. For a small number of parents, yesterday was a day of horror that they could never have imagined. The thought has flitted across the minds of every other parent in the country that it might have been their son or their daughter on that occasion.


Q5. Mr. Butler: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 March.

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

Mr. Butler: In common with many colleagues in the House, I went home last night to see my own children for exactly the reasons given by the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). I associate myself with everything that has been said. May I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on his sense of priorities, which led him to take a day out this week to attend the conference against terrorism in Egypt? Terrorism so often--and deliberately--causes the sort of grief, slaughter and horror that was caused by one evil mad man yesterday. May I urge my right hon. Friend to do all that he can to play a full part in the international war against that most evil of activities?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I think that the summit in Sharm el-Sheikh was a very useful and worthwhile occasion. It was the first time that I can recall when so many Heads of Government from different parts of the world met specifically to deal with the problems of terrorism and how to curtail and defeat it. The summit not only condemned terrorism in very strong terms but, more practically, laid the foundations for a programme of international co-operation in anti-terrorist activities. I think that everyone will welcome that.

The first meeting to follow yesterday's summit will take place within the next fortnight, and I hope that we shall see practical and worthwhile co-operation that will make the terrorist's life much more difficult than it has been hitherto. That is the determination of the Governments who met yesterday, and I look forward to seeing it carried into practice.


Q6. Rev. Martin Smyth: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 14 March.

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

Rev. Martin Smyth: Further to the Prime Minister's answer to a previous question, I too share the grief of the mourning families in Dunblane. Does he share my concern that journalists and other pundits have spent much time, recently, blaming Israel for its attitude to the Hamas terrorists, just as they blamed the Prime Minister for holding back the peace in Northern Ireland, when they should put responsibility on the terrorists who continue the terror?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I agree, without qualification, with everything that he has said.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the rule of law should always prevail in a democracy? On this day, above all others, as we discuss the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989, does he agree that the House should agree unanimously to the measures? Does he agree also that terrorism and violence by the gun or by the bomb should be rooted out wherever they occur?

The Prime Minister: I think that that would be the unanimous view in dealing very severely with terrorists. The Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 has proved indispensable as part of our armoury against terrorism. It is vital that its powers are continued by the House.

Mr. Norman Hogg: The Prime Minister's decision to visit Dunblane will be deeply appreciated by everyone in Scotland. Does he accept my assurance that we shall all co-operate to give the fullest support to that community in whatever action is necessary in view of this tragic and terrible event?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those remarks. I hope that everyone will understand that I visit Dunblane as a representative of the House: it is in that spirit that I conduct my visit.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the terrible tragedy will focus the prayers of the nation on mothering Sunday this weekend? Does he agree that it would be a proper mark of respect if people observed a period of silence on Sunday to remember the children and their teacher and to pray together as a nation?

The Prime Minister: I believe that, now and up to and beyond Sunday, many people will remember the events at Dunblane. Perhaps it would be particularly appropriate if the churches were just a little more crowded on Sunday.

Sir David Steel: As one who was married in Dunblane cathedral and who therefore regards it as a place of particular happiness and serenity cruelly shattered, I support the Prime Minister's decision to visit Dunblane tomorrow on behalf of the House. I add the thanks of the House to the Secretary of State for Scotland and the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), for the way in which they represented the interests of the House yesterday to that grieving community.

Although I do not suggest that anything could have prevented the madness of yesterday, will the Prime Minister ask his relevant ministerial colleagues to look again at the report of the Firearms Consultative Committee and see whether further steps can be taken in response to its recommendations without relating it to yesterday's episode?

The Prime Minister: As to the right hon. Gentleman's second point, those matters will need to be examined, and I assure him that we shall do so with an open mind. On his first point, I echo the tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) who, together, visited Dunblane yesterday. That was appropriate, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he did on that occasion.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: While we contemplate this horror, is it not wonderful that the love of children has brought the House together? I pray that it will do so more often.

The Prime Minister: Sometimes our political disputes, whether they involve great or small matters, seem very petty beside human matters. I think that this is one such occasion.