HC Deb 15 December 1958 vol 597 cc758-60
23. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs how many official spokesmen are employed by his Department to make statements on foreign policy.

24. Mr. V. Yates

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs how many Government servants employed in the Foreign Office are authorised to make official statements to the Press.

Commander Noble

Eight officials are employed in the News Department of the Foreign Office to deal with inquiries made by the Press.

Mr. Hughes

Would not the Minister agree that it is very wrong to embroil civil servants in the maelstrom of controversial politics, as was done in this case? If the Foreign Secretary wished to attack Mr. Randolph Churchill, why did he not have the courage to do it himself? Is any of these eight spokesmen qualified to contradict the statement made in the Sunday Express yesterday by an hon. Member on his own side, the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Viscount Lambton), who said that the Foreign Secretary had told New York journalists that there were blunders at Suez? If there were blunders at Suez, could not the right hon. and gallant Gentleman tell the Foreign Secretary to resign?

Commander Noble

I do not know whether the hon. Member knows what happens at Press conferences. A Press conference is held in the Foreign Office every day at 12.30 p.m., when the Foreign Office spokesman, to whom the hon. Member has referred, is bombarded by questions from representatives of the Press, the B.B.C. and other media. The Press seems to like it, and, on balance, I think that it is a good thing.

Mr. Yates

In view of the fact that one of the eight spokesmen has made statements in respect of matters the accuracy of which I understand hon. Members are unable to verify by way of Questions, does not this establish a very serious precedent? That would appear to be the case if Press spokesmen of Government Departments are entitled to make statements which hon. Members cannot question with any expectation of an answer.

Commander Noble

Hon. Members have full opportunities of questioning.

Mr. H. Morrison

As one who knows what happens at Foreign Office Press conferences, I am always amazed that the spokesmen do not get into more trouble than they do. I think that they are very clever at keeping clear of trouble. In the circumstances of this case, have Mr. Randolph Churchill and the Daily Express made a contribution towards the Government expense of running the News Department of the Foreign Office, in view of the first-class publicity that the Foreign Office has given to the newspaper and its contributor?

Commander Noble

I am most grateful to the right hon. Member for the first part of his statement.

Mr. Bevan

In view of the paucity of the information and the fact that we get nothing at all from the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, will he consider inviting hon. Members to these Press conferences?

Commander Noble

No doubt they could attend, representing any newspaper they may work for.