HC Deb 12 March 1963 vol 673 cc1165-7
29. Mr. Webster

asked the Postmaster-General if, under Section 15 (4) of the Licence and Agreement, he will require the British Broadcasting Corporation to refrain from sending broadcasts by illegal immigrants.

35. Sir W. Teeling

asked the Postmaster-General why he did not use his powers under Section 15 (4) of the Licence and Agreement to require the British Broadcasting Corporation to refrain from including the interview with Monsieur Bidault in the programme, "Panorama", on Monday, 4th March; and what machinery he possesses for noting advertisements on the air and in the Press about forthcoming programmes in regard to cosideration of the exercise of his powers under Section 15 (4).

Mr. Bevins

I am not prepared to issue a direction under Section 15 (4) to the B.B.C. I did not consider the use of my powers under this Section in the instance referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Sir W. Teeling). Such a direction would have infringed the independence of the B.B.C. in matters of programming. There is no machinery within the Post Office for the checking of forthcoming programmes.

Mr. Webster

If it is correct to say that M. Bidault is an illegal immigrant, is it not a fact that it was a grave error of judgment to allow him to broadcast in "Panorama"? Is it not also the case that if he was an illegal immigrant this broadcast was conniving at a breach of the law, and that this is not only a very serious legal matter but a grave error of judgment?

Mr. Bevins

Whether or not M. Bidault is an illegal immigrant is not a matter for me. The power which I have under Section 15 (4) of the Licence and Agreement is a reserve power and has always been so regarded by my predecessors and myself. Since the beginning of 1962 I have been asked to exercise this power to ban programmes presenting violence, to ban politically biassed programmes, to ban broadcasts to schools on the Common Market, to ban satirical programmes—and others. I do not want to be a censor of the B.B.C. or of the I.T.A.

Sir W. Teeling

Why was it that the Foreign Office approached the B.B.C. and did not approach the Postmaster-General? Is my right hon. Friend quite certain that his public relations department is sufficiently in touch with other public relations departments in order to make them understand that he is responsible for anything that should be done with the B.B.C.?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The second part of that Question is out of order. The Postmaster-General cannot answer for the activities of the Foreign Office.

Mr. W. R. Williams

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that on balance we on this side of the House approve his endorsement of the view he has accepted with regard to the independence of the B.B.C. in this matter? However, having regard to the importance of this subject, can he say whether the B.B.C. consulted him in the first place?

Mr. Bevins

As I think the House knows, the Government were aware of this intended broadcast. I think, therefore, it must be assumed that Members of the Government were aware of it.

Mr. Wade

Is it not better to err on the side of freedom rather than on the side of censorship?

Mr. Ellis Smith

Except on the working man.

Mr. Wade

While not approving the views or activities of M. Bidault, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, if at any time in the future General de Gaulle finds himself in this country under similar circumstances, he might not well be offered the same facility?

Mr. Speaker

Might that not be hypothetical in its entirety?

Mr. Warbey

Does the Postmaster-General consider it to be in the national interest that the B.B.C. should be allowed to contribute from public funds to a person and an organisation who have been engaged in indiscriminate murder, who are plotting the assassination of French political leaders and the overthrow of the French Government by violence and the establishment of a Fascist military dictatorship in a friendly country?

Mr. Bevins

It is a matter of judgment, but for my part I always lean in the direction of allowing independence to the broadcasting authorities, and I think that that is right.

Mr. Webster

Is it not a grave error that the B.B.C. should have connived at this breach of the law?

Mr. Gordon Walker

While we agree with the general proposition that the B.B.C. should be left independent, may I probe what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the Government being aware that this programme was to be screened? Am I right in taking it that the B.B.C. consulted the Government and that the Government themselves are to some extent implicated, at any rate in the timing of the programme? This seems to be a quite different question from that of the independence of the B.B.C.

Mr. Bevins

I think it is already clear to the House that the Government were informed by B.B.C. of its intentions.

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