HC Deb 30 January 1957 vol 563 cc995-8
46. Mr. G. M. Thomson

asked the Prime Minister to what extent the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is to assume the responsibilities of Her Majesty's Government in respect of the British Broadcasting Corporation.

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)

I have been asked to reply. Ministerial responsibility in respect of the British Broadcasting Corporation is unaltered.

Mr. Thomson

In view of the various suspicions which have been aroused about the appointment of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, can the Lord Privy Seal give a categorical undertaking that his right hon. Friend will in no way be used to bring Governmental pressure to bear on the B.B.C. either in respect of its home services or in relation to its overseas services?

Mr. Butler

The first point I would make is that there is no change in the statutory responsibilities of the Postmaster-General in relation to both the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. under the Charter and Licence and the Independent Television Act, respectively. In answer to the second part of the question, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy is responsible for co-ordinating information services as a whole and there is no question of his adopting any attitude such as the hon. Member suggests. He is simply there to assist to the best of his ability in the task allotted to him.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Is it clear from the right hon. Gentleman's answer that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will have no authority whatsoever to intervene in regard to broadcasting questions?

Mr. Butler

I do not know what is meant by the word "intervene". If my right hon. Friend is to co-ordinate information services as a whole, to say that he will take no part in broadcasting would be quite untrue. Of course, he will take an interest in broadcasting—

Mr. Hamilton

He always does.

Mr. Butler

—but he will not take the place of the Postmaster-General in his statutory responsibilities. He will take an interest in Government publicity services generally.

Mr. Ness Edwards

Does the right hon. Gentleman's answer mean that the Chancellor of the Duchy will form a new association or have a new relationship with the B.B.C. and the I.T.A.?

Mr. Butler

No, Sir. I think he will form a very helpful link with them.

Mr. Ross

The missing link.

Mr. Wade

Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify two points? Is the Chancellor of the Duchy concerned with co-ordinating information at home as well as overseas? As far as overseas information is concerned, is it his duty merely to co-ordinate factual statements or is he concerned with the presentation of views and news, which may be a matter of very high Government policy and may have very far-reaching consequences?

Mr. Butler

I ascertained this before answering the Question so as to be quite clear. Overseas Ministers will remain responsible for prescribing the services to be broadcast in the B.B.C. external services, but not, of course, for the content of the broadcasts. All that my right hon. Friend will do is to supply the necessary co-ordination as between home matters and foreign matters, which very often overlap for the very good reason that home matters are frequently referred to in foreign broadcasts.

Mr. Callaghan

The right hon. Gentleman said that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was to be a link. Are there, then, to be two links between the B.B.C. and the Government, one through the Postmaster-General and the other through the Chancellor? If so, what is the division of function between the two?

Mr. Butler

All the statutory functions will be performed by my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General, and there will be nothing—I do not doubt that the B.B.C. and the I.T.A. will wish to know this—to alter the statutory relationship of the Postmaster-General to these authorities. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy will perform duties not dissimilar to those previously performed by Ministers both in the last Government and in the Government before it, and in the Labour Government, namely, for information services generally. I remember that there was an arrangement under the Labour Government which seemed to work perfectly well. My right hon. Friend is carrying on broadly on the same lines.

Mr. J. Griffiths

In view of the confusion that has arisen after the right hon. Gentleman's replies last week and this week, will he undertake to issue a very full statement stating precisely the functions and powers of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster?

Mr. Butler

No, Sir. I will not absolutely refuse to consider the request made by the deputy Leader of the Opposition, because this is a matter into which the greatest clarity should be brought. I am certain that the activities of my right hon. Friend will redound to the credit of Her Majesty's Government and their great success.