Following his Monday night speech on constitutional reform, the Labour leader said that if Mr Major believed in giving the individual more choice and power, why did he oppose freedom of information legislation?
The Prime Minister replied: 'Because we're extending freedom of information in practical ways, unlike (Mr Smith), who would not give information to parents about schools, or users of the health service about hospitals. That is the sort of information that people in the country want; not the sort of information (he) concerns himself about.'
Mr Smith then offered a test of Mr Major's commitment to open government, asking: 'How many billions of pounds were lost in the currency dealings of the fiasco of Black Wednesday?'
He was told that as a former shadow Chancellor, he should know that nobody would know the answer to that 'until these things are unwound'.
Mr Smith observed: 'Isn't it abundantly clear that the Prime Minister either doesn't know how many billions of pounds were lost, or he's unwilling to tell us? Does he not understand that there is a crucial difference between the national interest and covering up the incompetence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer?'
Mr Major said the Government was dealing with the national interest every day of the week - with no help from Mr Smith.
The Prime Minister caused some surprise on the Opposition benches later when he was asked by Clive Soley, Labour MP for Hammersmith: 'Can the Prime Minister tell us whether it is his policy to achieve full employment?' Mr Major said: 'Every prime minister wishes to achieve full employment.'
While there was a post-war political consensus on full employment, Margaret Thatcher dropped it as an objective and the Labour leadership only recently reinstated it as a policy aim, when Gordon Brown, the shadow Chancellor, said on 17 February that Labour wanted to create a 'full employment society' in which 'the concept of permanent redundancy should be abolished'.
Mr Soley last night tabled a follow-up question, asking Mr Major if he would 'define the full employment he seeks to achieve?'Reuse content