Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 7th April 1998.

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Photo of Michael Howard Michael Howard Shadow Secretary of State 3:30 pm, 7th April 1998

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Faber), the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett), said that it was the Opposition's policy to scrap all licences for the export of defence equipment. There is no basis for that statement, and the Minister of State knows that there is no basis for that statement. Will you now give him the opportunity to withdraw it?

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

That is not a point of order for me, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman must be aware that it is not. It is a question of argument. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wishes to table another question to the Foreign Office Minister, he is at liberty to do so, but it is not a point of order at this stage.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In answer to my question, the Foreign Secretary said that he was not making a statement on his visit to the middle east because the visit did not involve any change of policy. He was seeking to justify not making a statement on the ground—

Hon. Members:

Order.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I will hear points of order and make up my own mind whether they are valid. Mr. Hogg, I will hear you out.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

The Foreign Secretary was seeking to justify not making a statement on the ground that his visit to the middle east did not involve a change of policy. Will you please confirm, Madam Speaker, that, for very many years, Foreign Secretaries, other Foreign Ministers and, indeed, other Ministers have reported to the House on their overseas visits, notwithstanding the fact that those visits did not involve a change of policy? Will you also confirm that the Foreign Secretary's statement involves a change in practice which is very undesirable because it diminishes the accountability of Ministers?

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

I heard the exchange, and I wholly understand the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point of order. It is true that ministerial statements need not be confined to changes of Government policy. There are many occasions when senior Ministers have made a visit abroad, and when the House has had a right to expect a statement on their return.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Minister (Constitutional Affairs)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In spite of the concern expressed in all quarters of the House, and in spite of the representations made in debate and by letter, the BBC is persisting with its plans to change the broadcasting of Parliament. I know that you have written on behalf of the whole House on this issue. Is your correspondence in the Library? If not, would you be good enough to place it there?

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

On the same point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it not obvious that the BBC has shown total contempt for the views that have been expressed in the House and by many people outside, and for the representations that have been made, including, of course, by you? Should we not make it clear to the BBC that we are not simply concerned with the recording of our debates, but that we feel that people who want to listen—and listen on the most convenient channel—should be able to do so and should not be dictated to by the BBC? What sort of freedom would the BBC have if parliamentary democracy did not exist?

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

What is important to me is that the reporting of Parliament is available to as wide a listening audience as possible. On the BBC's own admission, the listening audience for "Yesterday in Parliament" and "The Week in Westminster" will be halved once the changes are made. I talked recently to the BBC chairman. The correspondence following that meeting is available to all hon. Members in the Library.