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1994 - Mr Major’s Edinburgh Press Conference

Below is the transcript of Mr Major’s press conference, held at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh on Tuesday 5th July 1994.


QUESTION:

[Indistinct] the King and Queen of Norway here today. Can we take it that perhaps the cost of State Visits [indistinct] well, it's rumoured that the cost of State Visits in London is prohibitively expensive. Are there going to be more coming out of London perhaps to other cities around Britain, to Edinburgh, again?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don't think cost is a material factor. Edinburgh has marvellous facilities for a State Visit. I think it's a very attractive idea to have State Visits or, indeed, other ceremonial occasions outside the capital.

QUESTION:

Can we expect to see more in the future?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I very much hope so. I think Edinburgh did a magnificent job when we had the European Summit at Holyrood House. It couldn't have been done better and I don't think anyone who saw today would suggest it could have been done better either. It's been a lovely day.

QUESTION:

You brought the European Summit to Edinburgh, Mr Major. Do you see any further role for the capital of Scotland in terms of Scottish Government?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think you know our position on that. I don't favour a devolved Parliament for reasons I've set out before. I very strongly favour the Union. I think that is very much in the interests of Scotland and I think it is very much in the interests of the United Kingdom. It's a two-way mixture. The rest of the United Kingdom needs Scotland as part of the United Kingdom as much as I believe Scotland benefits from being part of it. So, I don't favour anything that might put that at risk.

QUESTION:

Do you see the need for new policy initiatives in Scotland given your poor performance in Monklands East and in the European and Regional Elections in Scotland?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, I think it's been a very difficult time, clearly, at the end of a very long and very difficult recession for people. I think that is clear. What is becoming increasingly evident as week succeeds week is the changed economic environment. That does take a time to take roots. It takes a while before people actually feel the impact and see the impact in their own lives with falling unemployment and better job prospects.

QUESTION:

But the poorest by-election performance by the Tories for 50 years must surely cause you more than a little concern?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think you know, as well as I do, there were pretty special circumstances in the Monklands By-Election.

QUESTION:

What were the circumstances? There was a lot of criticism of how the campaign was run.

PRIME MINISTER:

I think, not our campaign there wasn't, no. There may have been a lot of criticism of the way the campaign was run between the Labour Party and the Scottish Nationalist Party. think there was a great deal of criticism about that and very probably justifiably. But what I think happened was that a large number of Conservatives voted tactically in order to keep the Labour candidate.

QUESTION:

How significant are the changes we're likely to see in you reshuffle? Is Mr Lang going to be staying put? Also the suggestion today, Mr Rifkind?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, I see all those rumours. I read them with some interest but the first people to know about the re-shuffle will be the people concerned.

QUESTION:

But, how extensive is the re-shuffle likely to be?

PRIME MINISTER:

And the first people to know how extensive it will be, will be you and your colleagues after it's announced.

QUESTION:

Do you see your own position having been strengthened in recent weeks? Do still think there's a possibility of you facing a challenge later this year, or do you think the fact that you perhaps blocked the elevation of Mr Dehaene has somehow strengthened your position?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think, as you know, I've been unperturbed about that for a long time. I'm not concerned about that. I've got a series of policies I care about. I propose to pursue those policies simply because I believe them to be right. Now, that is so whether some criticise them or some don't, so I will continue doing that.

QUESTION:

But aren't you likely to face difficulties with your European partners in the coming month? There are suggestions today, for instance, that the French are thinking in terms of blocking the import of British beef.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I think that's a mis-reporting of what's happened. I think there's a great deal of misunderstanding about the position of British beef. The first point I would make is that we are quite certain on the scientific and health advice that we are given that British beef is safe. Safe for the British and safe for others. If the Germans do proceed to block it unilaterally that will be an illegal act and I've heard today that the Commission would proceed to prosecute Germany if they decided to proceed illegally. France have not said they will do that. France have made no threat, whatsoever, to illegally block the exports of British beef. What they have said is that we have to look at the scientific evidence and that, of course, is what we're doing here.

QUESTION:

The public, Mr Major, are becoming increasingly fed-up, I think it's fair to say, with the rail strike and how it's carrying on. How would your Government solve it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, we're pretty fed-up with the rail strike. I'd like the rail strike to end. But, I don't think all those people who've helped put us back into a secure economy by taking relatively low wage settlements over the past two years or so - millions and millions of people, who will watch this interview, have taken low wage increases in the past two years - I don't believe they would think it right for Rail Track to concede an 11% increase to the signallers without any productivity improvements, without anything else at all. I just don't think that is a credible way to behave.

QUESTION:

Today, we've had David Hunt talking in terms of full employment, which seems to be going further, perhaps, than Cabinet Ministers have done in, recent months. This, according to Labour, is further proof that you're endeavouring to steal their policies. How big a battle are we going to have in the policy initiative front?

PRIME MINISTER:

How can we steal policies they don't have? It's extremely interesting to hear that. I'm not sure what the Labour Party's policies are. They haven't spelt any out. I've heard a great deal of pious platitudes but I've seen no concrete policies about how they would get people back to work. We have policies. We're quite clear that deregulation, supply side reform, and holding down the costs of employment will help get people back into work and that is why, uniquely, in Western Europe, we are now seeing quite a significant drop in unemployment and other countries are seeing it rise. If you take the nearest comparative nation in size to us - France - they have the same working population that we have; they have 12 3/4% unemployment and rising; we have 9 1/4% and falling. Now, I think you have to answer why? And the answer is the policies we're following.

QUESTION:

If it comes to a re-shuffle perhaps you could do worse than find a place in your team for Jack Charlton? [Laughter]

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, I congratulate him and the Irish team. They did very well indeed. I'm sorry they lost. They put up a very brave performance. They can be very proud of it.