I recently visited the United Kingdom for the first time since I went there as Foreign Minister five years ago, in January 2000.
One aim of the trip was to join the delegation of the Japanese-British Parliamentary Group, led by Mr Tadamori Oshima, in visiting the UK for a meeting with their British counterparts. The funding to enable all-party parliamentary groups to make such visits had been obtained through the vigorous efforts of Mr Tamisuke Watanuki, who preceded me as Speaker of the House of Representatives, and after I took over from him it was determined that the United Kingdom should be the first country to receive a delegation.
We arrived in London on the evening of 10th January. On the following morning, the 11th , we met the members of the British-Japanese Parliamentary Group, headed by Mr Roger Godsiff MP. We spent five hours over two days engaged in a lively exchange of views on a number of important issues including the economy, education and Iraq.
Our delegation had the memorable experience of witnessing Prime Minister's Question Time in the House of Commons, during which Members of the Opposition posed questions to Prime Minister Tony Blair. In fact, the parliamentary question time introduced to the Japanese Diet five years ago was modelled on the British system. As part of that process Diet Members and officials made numerous visits to the United Kingdom to study the system there. That is why it was so useful for members of our delegation to observe this process at first hand.
I was also able to meet former British Foreign Secretary Lord Hurd, the last Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and Chris Patten, former External Relations Commissioner of the European Commission, who had been my counterparts during my days as Foreign Minister. As well as renewing acquaintances with them, I had the opportunity to exchange views with them on the international situation, including of course Japan-British and Japan-EU relations.
Another of my aims in visiting the United Kingdom was to meet, in my capacity as Speaker of the House of Representatives, Speaker of the House of Commons Michael Martin. We met at his official residence on 12 th January, where we discussed matters related to his official role, such as the way he approaches his duties and the limits of his authority. My talks with Mr Martin, who strictly adheres to neutrality in his official role, were most instructive and enlightening.
The three days and four nights spent in the United Kingdom were very hectic. During a visit to Regents Park between sessions, we were able to unwind in the company of numerous birds and squirrels.
On 13th January I left the United Kingdom for Cairo in response to an invitation from the Egyptian Parliament. After taking part in discussions with President Hosny Mubarak and Dr Ahmed Fathi Surour, Speaker of the People's Assembly, I left for Japan on 18th January.
This July the United Kingdom will host the G8 Summit at Gleneagles. Although not much publicised, a meeting of parliamentary speakers from the G8 countries will also take place in the United Kingdom. The fourth so far, it is scheduled for Mr Martin's hometown, Glasgow, in September. While I do not yet know the timing of the Autumn session of the House of Representatives, I would be delighted to return to the Untied Kingdom at that time.
Related link: Japanese-British Parliamentary Group visits the UK