§ Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I seek your guidance on the Prime Minister's failure to make a statement on his recent visit to the middle east? When the Foreign Secretary similarly failed to make a statement a short while ago, you will recall that he sought to justify that on the basis that there had been no change of policy. When my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) raised a point of order on that occasion and observed that there was no basis for that assertion, you robustly agreed with him, Madam Speaker.
Is it not the case that, on all precedent, after a visit of such importance, the Prime Minister should come to the House to account to it for the outcome of that visit? Is it not the case also that his failure to do so, particularly after the copious press briefing that has taken place, illustrates yet again the Prime Minister's utter contempt for Parliament?
§ Madam Speaker
Order. I have a hunch—usually I do not work on hunches—that there will be several points of order on this matter. I shall take them one after another and then deal with them all at the same time.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)
Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I support my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) by making a further suggestion. It is clearly a problem that the House is not having Ministers before it to account for their overseas visits. One must assume that that is deliberate Government policy. One way in which you could deal with the problem, Madam Speaker, is to convene a Speaker's Conference, so that we might determine the criteria that should govern the making of statements to the House.
§ Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)
Further to the point of order, Madam Speaker. It is on the same subject. It was clear that the Prime Minister wanted to get some soundbites across on the middle east peace process today. You will have noticed that three questions were asked by Labour Members. Two of them were laboriously read out and the third was slightly more spontaneous. Those questions enabled the Prime Minister to make some comments on the middle east peace process. Do you not agree that the House deserves a full and proper statement rather than soundbites and detailed press briefings?
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
Further to the point of order, Madam Speaker. May I support the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) in his wish that there had been a statement, as if there had been such a statement, it would have enabled the House to bestow on my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister the praise that is appropriate for his superb statesmanship?
§ Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)
Further to the point of order, Madam Speaker. In the light of everything that you 829 have already heard, could you give an idea whether, if I and other colleagues tabled a private notice question on this matter for tomorrow, that PNQ would be accepted, so as to help the Prime Minister's office?
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Further to the point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it not a fact that over the years that you have been in the Chair as Speaker, and before that as Deputy Speaker, there have been many occasions when hon. Members such as myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), when sitting on Opposition Benches, have demanded that the Prime Minister of the day, the Tory Prime Minister, make a statement about this, that and the other? We were flattened by the Tory Government and told to mind our own business.
The truth is that there is a bout of hypocrisy on this matter on the Tory Benches. If there had been a statement, I do not think that there is any doubt what the outcome would have been. If I had been Prime Minister, I would have had a statement. I would have allowed hon. Members to congratulate me on walking on water. All that my right hon. Friend has done is to save some parliamentary time, to get the Northern Ireland peace agreement through the House, for which he had some responsibility as well. He could have had a statement about Northern Ireland. The truth is that the Tory representatives are full of hypocrisy. It is time that they went into the Library and checked the record.
§ Madam Speaker
The House is well aware that it is for Ministers and not for the Speaker to determine whether a statement should be made. Of course, major developments in Government policy should always be reported to the House first, and there will be many occasions when it will be appropriate for Ministers to make statements following a visit overseas. In the latter case, it is for the Minister to decide whether, in all the circumstances, a statement is appropriate.
I do not believe that a precedent has been created by not making a statement today. On this occasion, the Prime Minister decided not to make a statement, and he was entitled to take that decision. The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) asked me to call a Speaker's Conference. The Speaker does not call such a conference: it is the Prime Minister who does that. I hope that the House is now properly informed on that procedure. I was also asked about a private notice question. I do not give hostages to fortune. Hon. Members should try me out.