HC Deb 14 December 1964 vol 704 cc20-2
26. Mr. Blaker

asked the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs what new arrangements have been made in the Foreign Office for the handling of news and public relations.

Mr. George Thomson

There has been no change in the machinery in the Foreign Office for handling news and public relations.

Mr. Blaker

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Prime Minister said about ten days ago that a new appointment had been made to assist the chief information officer of the Foreign Office? Is he further aware that the Plowden Report expressly supports the arrangement by which news and information work in the Foreign Service is dealt with by career members of that Service? Why does he think that a former employee of the Labour Party is better able to do it than they are?

Mr. Thomson

I am aware of the recommendation of the Plowden Report. This appointment does not affect the principle of that recommendation. It is entirely in line with similar personal appointments made by the previous Administration.

Mr. Peter Thomas

Is it a fact that a person who was a representative of the Labour Party has been appointed to this office? Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that the reputation of the information service in the Foreign Office has hitherto been extremely high and has been the envy of foreign services all over the world? Does the hon. Gentleman think it appropriate that a purely party political representative should be appointed to this information service?

Mr. Thomson

It is perhaps important that the facts of this matter be put very plainly to the House so that the kind of misrepresentations made in that supplementary question are not allowed to lie. There is no change in the machinery in relation to news and public relations in the Foreign Office. The appointment which has been made is of a special assistant to the Foreign Secretary to help with research and contacts with all sections of the British Press. Naturally, he works in close liaison with the head of the News Department and other appropriate departments of the Foreign Office. There is no change in the responsibility of the News Department for dealing with Press inquiries about Her Majesty's Government's foreign policy.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd

Is not the real purpose of this appointment suitably to present foreign affairs news to the Left wing of the Labour Party?

Mr. Thomson

As I have said, the appointment is entirely in line with previous appointments. For instance, it is very much in line with the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Egremont, then Mr. John Wyndham, who fulfilled somewhat similar functions for Mr. Harold Macmillan when he was at the Foreign Office and later at No. 10 Downing Street.

Mr. Peter Thomas

That was a quite different appointment. It has been accepted for a very long time that Prime Ministers make personal appointments of that sort. Did the hon. Gentleman say that this appointee has contact with all sections of the Press, and does he therefore disseminate information which he obtains from the Foreign Office?

Mr. Thomson

I do not accept that this appointment is any different from the precedent set by the previous Administration. The functions of the new appointee are to maintain contact with all sections of the Press, but to leave the existing relationship between the News Department and the diplomatic correspondents accredited to the Foreign Office entirely as it is at the moment.