Anger at Major's comments on BAe pay-off

JOHN MAJOR provoked Labour uproar and embarrassment on his own benches yesterday when he insisted that a reported pounds 10m pay- off for British Aerospace's chairman was 'not a matter for me', writes Patricia Wynn Davies.

The clash followed the disclosure that John Cahill, the BAe chief, is set to receive a pounds 9m profit on share options and pounds 1.5 in compensation when he stands down in April after two years.

Betty Boothroyd, the Speaker, struggled to keep order during Prime Minister's Questions after Mr Major's non-committal reply to a question from Lynne Jones, Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak. Some Tory backbenchers looked distinctly uncomfortable.

When Angela Eagle, Labour MP for Wallasey, pressed Mr Major again in a reference to BAe's sale of Rover to BMW, he replied: 'I'm intrigued at what you and Ms Jones say. What intervention and control would Labour propose?'

Angry Labour MPs later protested about the answers in points of order. George Foulkes, MP for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, said: 'If it is in order for the Prime Minister to answer questions about the wages of ordinary workers who are struggling to make ends meet, why is it not possible for him to answer a question about Mr Cahill?'

Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin) said Question Time was increasingly becoming a farce. Mr Major had given a detailed response to a 'planted' question about privatised British Telecom, Mr Grocott said. 'We really need to know what questions the Prime Minister is willing to answer and which he is not - because as long as he performs in the way in which he has been doing, he is bringing this place into disrepute.'

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