HC Deb 28 July 1997 vol 299 cc21-3 3.31 pm
Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Foreign Secretary has just answered a written question setting out the criteria that will be used in considering licence applications for the export of conventional arms. As you are aware, it is a matter of considerable importance, which has already been the subject of two speeches by the Foreign Secretary outside the House. Was it right for the right hon. Gentleman to announce a change of policy in that way? Is not it yet another example of the Government's contempt for Parliament? Is not smuggling the statement out three days before the recess just a crude attempt to deny the House an opportunity to question the Foreign Secretary on its content? Are you, too, powerless in the face of this further display of arrogance by this high-handed Government?

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Having seen the press reports on that matter, particularly about third-world sales, I wanted to question the Foreign Secretary, not least because of the Indonesian situation, when the previous Government—

Madam Speaker

Order. I am interested not in speeches nor in issues of policy but in the point of order to me.

Mr. Alan Clark (Kensington and Chelsea)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. This subject was discussed at discursive length this morning in the comfortable ambience of the "Today" programme, whereas hon. Members on both sides of the House would like to question the Foreign Secretary on the economic, industrial and diplomatic consequences of a drastic change in policy, as this apparently is. Having inquired at the Foreign Office, we were told that no review was to be announced on the Floor of the House; we had to go to the Vote Office and get a copy of a written question—presumably written by the Foreign Office, but it was signed by the hon. Member for East Ham (Mr. Timms) and answered in a written text.

Several hon.Members


Madam Speaker

Order. I am ready to respond to those points of order. First, however, I should like to hear what one or two other hon. Members have to say; I shall not hear points of order from throughout the House. I shall take two more points of order from the Labour Benches.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Further to the point of order of the former Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the Chamber is becoming like an echo chamber, Madam Speaker. I used to make such points when the previous Government were in power. I, too, deplore the use of the media to get a message across, but I had a maxim about that. I used to say that if a Government spokesman announced a fresh policy on "Today" and repeated it on "Newsnight" the same night, it was policy.

Madam Speaker

I will take one more point of order from the Government side.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Having been in opposition for so long, we sympathise with the members of the former Government, who are finding the painful experience of opposition so difficult. We indeed need statements from the Government, especially on the decision of the House of Lords last week, which again found that the former Home Secretary had broken the law. His comments must be treated as those of a recidivist.

Madam Speaker

Order. I am seriously interested in the two points of order that were raised originally. As the House knows, that is not a matter for the Speaker. When a Minister has information to give to the House, that is done by means of an oral statement or by means of a written answer to a question. The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark), who raised the matter with me originally, were both senior Ministers in a former Government and know full well what the procedure is.

I mean to be helpful in the matter, in which I know that there is considerable interest. I remind the House that we have three hours on Wednesday morning for an Adjournment debate in which such matters can be raised, providing that Members are here and keen enough to do so.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will recall exchanges about "Yesterday in Parliament". You informed the House that you intended to write to the BBC. Obviously, you did so, but I do not expect that you received a positive response, bearing in mind the way in which the BBC is being run at present. Will you be good enough to tell us whether you have received a reply?

Madam Speaker

I have received a reply. I make no comment on it, but I have put copies of the correspondence in the Commons Library for hon. Members to see for themselves.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not know whether you saw the weekend papers or listened to the radio this morning. Announcements have been made in the press over the weekend, on the radio this morning and by way of a written answer to a parliamentary question, stating that Government policy on the roads programme has been changed, without a statement being made to the House. Have you received any approaches from the Government to make a statement about the points that have already been leaked to the media?

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) is right. The Minister's office told hon. Members whose constituencies were affected that a package would be available in the Vote Office at 3.30 pm, and that hon. Members concerned would have letters on the Board at 3.30 pm. That has not happened, yet the press is in possession of the facts. Have you had any requests for a statement to be made on the matter?

Madam Speaker

I have had no requests for a statement to be made on the matter, but I know that there has been rather a full written answer, which presumably is now available. I understand that hon. Members whose constituencies are geographically linked with the areas in question will have all the information. If that is not the case, I shall see to it as soon as I leave the Chair.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

I cannot take the matter any further.

Mr. Chope

I have just been outside the Vote Office, trying to get information about the matter. Even a Labour Member who is extremely concerned about the decision on the Birmingham northern relief road cannot get access to his own Government's plans.

Madam Speaker

I have just said that as soon as I leave the Chair, I will make inquiries. It is my understanding that letters are available. I have another hour's duty to do in the Chair, but perhaps someone in authority will go and find out on my behalf precisely what the position is and report to me; otherwise I shall do so myself.