HC Deb 27 November 1950 vol 481 cc779-81
48. Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison

asked the Prime Minister whether he will consider extending the rule he announced to the House on the 29th January, 1947, so as to prevent Ministers from granting interviews to the foreign Press on matters not connected with the work of their own Department.

49. Mr. Profumo

asked the Prime Minister whether he will consider issuing general instructions to Ministers that it is undesirable in the national interest that they should, either officially or unofficially, discuss matters of major Government policy with representatives of the Press, giving their own individual views on such matters, except in so far as they come within their own Departmental responsibility.

The Prime Minister

The obligations arising from the collective responsibility of Ministers are well known, and I think it would be a mistake to lay down hard and fast rules governing their application to such matters as contacts with representatives of the Press.

Colonel Hutchison

Will not the right hon. Gentleman agree that a Press interview can amount to practically the same thing as an article, and that the very sensible rule which he laid down in 1947 might well apply to these Press interviews as well? Is he aware that the recent one gave the impression to United States of America that, if we were not dragging our feet, we were, at any rate, dragging the Minister of Health?

The Prime Minister

This was not a Press interview at all. As I understand it, it was a friendly luncheon with certain Press representatives at which there was conversation entirely off the record, and by some mistake—I think on the other side of the Atlantic—these matters were published. We want to be careful not to hedge Ministers about so that they never meet anybody in case anything they may say may be misunderstood. After all, I understand that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite stand for "Let us be free."

Mr. Profumo

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the very deep concern which is felt all over the country—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."]—irrespective of political allegiance, that at this pleasant luncheon the Minister of Health committed a major indiscretion—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—which may have very serious repercussions on the associations between this country and America?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend did not commit any indiscretion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] The remarks which he made in the course of conversation were misunderstood and the matter was taken up in certain sections of the Press quite unnecessarily.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

Is the Prime Minister now accusing the Press representatives in question of dishonourable conduct? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If he is not doing that, is he denying that his right hon. Friend said what he is alleged to have said, and, if that is the case, should not his right hon. Friend be taught the use of the English language?

The Prime Minister

I have not said anything of the sort. I have not accused anyone of dishonourable conduct. What I said—and perhaps the hon. Gentleman heard what I said—was that it was misunderstood. It is quite easy to misunderstand a conversation. This was an entirely "off the record" occasion in which the Minister of Health was meeting in a friendly way, and talking with, members of the Press. Every now and again something of the kind may come up and a false emphasis be given, but unless people are to be precluded altogether from meeting the Press, such things are bound to happen from time to time.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter.