HC Deb 15 November 1956 vol 560 cc1128-30
45. Mr. Lewis

asked the Prime Minister whether he will take the necessary action to ensure that in future radio or television broadcasts given by himself of the Government's view on the Suez Canal crisis, with particular reference to the action taken against Egypt, he will arrange for the Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition to be granted equal facilities to put the Opposition's point of view.

The Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden)

These matters are regulated by arrangements agreed between the major parties and the B.B.C., in which there is provision for Ministers to make broadcasts in the discharge of their official responsibilities and for the Opposition to claim a right of reply in certain instances. In other types of sound and television broadcasts the Opposition have broadly the same opportunities as the Government for explaining their party point of view.

Mr. Lewis

May we have an assurance that, in the event of the Prime Minister or any of his Ministers deciding to make another broadcast, equal opportunity to that which was given to the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition will be given on this occasion, so far as Suez is concerned?

The Prime Minister

The broadcasting arrangements were, I understand, agreed upon among the B.B.C., the late Labour Government and ourselves when we were the Opposition, as long ago as 1946–47. and they have been continued from year to year since. I do not think there is anything particularly new to say about that.

Sir R. Grimston

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that it is a new departure that a Prime Minister who has a majority in this House cannot broadcast to the nation at a time of crisis as Prime Minister without it being treated as a party political broadcast? Has my right hon. Friend noted that this point was raised in last night's debate, and that the way in which these matters were handled by the B.B.C. was one of the grounds upon which some of us considered that it has shown bias against the Government in recent days?

The Prime Minister

These are complicated matters which have been discussed for some time. I think the position is, broadly, that where the Opposition think that a Government broadcast is controversial, it is open to them to take the matter up through the usual channels with a view to replying. I have no complaint about it, but I hope I shall not be considered controversial if I say that the speech of the Leader of the Opposition seemed to many people more controversial than mine.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Is it not a fact that the arrangement is that if the Opposition consider that a Ministerial statement is controversial they have the right to reply, that that applied to right hon. Gentlemen now on Government benches when we were the Government, that it is an arrangement that both parties have agreed to, and that it is essential to keep it in order that the nation shall hear both sides?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that is quite fair. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman would say that when we were the Opposition we claimed that every time there was a Ministerial broadcast the Opposition should have the right to reply. [Interruption.] Certainly not. There is the opportunity for claiming a reply if there is agreement between us that there should be a reply—sometimes there is not—and if there is an admission of controversy. If there is not, in the last resort the matter is referred to the B.B.C.

Mr. Griffiths

In view of the questions put to Ministers in the debate last night, can we have an assurance that the Prime Minister does not propose unilaterally to change that arrangement?

The Prime Minister

I have not suggested that. I think the complaint last night—I have read the debate—was of a very different character from what is now being debated.

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