HC Deb 18 February 1964 vol 689 cc1021-3
Q3. Mr. Loughlin

asked the Prime Minister how many Departments of State employ persons to write speeches for Ministers; which Departments so employ such persons; what are the individual salaries paid; and if he will make a statement.

Q4. Mr. Bence

asked the Prime Minister what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government regarding the official employment by Departments of speech writers for Ministers.

Q9. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Prime Minister what are the qualifications of persons employed as Ministerial speech writers.

The Prime Minister

No Department employs a speech writer as such. The provision of speech material on Departmental matters is undertaken as required by civil servants at a number of salary levels. In some Departments this work is centralised in the Information Division.

Mr. Loughlin

Is the Prime Minister aware that the Lord President of the Council, Minister for Science, Minister for Sport and Minister for Education has begun—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I am interested in the fish, not the worm. Is the Prime Minister aware that his right hon. Friend has advertised for a speech writer as distinct from someone in his Department supplying him with a brief? We accept that the right hon. Gentleman needs a speech writer, but does the Prime Minister consider that, if he appoints Ministers who are so incompetent that they cannot write their own speeches, the British taxpayer should bear the additional financial burden of them?

The Prime Minister

Speech writing would be only a very small part of this gentleman's duties, but it had not occurred to me that anybody could possibly write my right hon. Friend's speeches.

Mr. Bence

Since speeches are to be written by people recruited by the Departments, are we to understand that in future the OFFICIAL REPORT will follow the practice of the B.B.C. and at the top of each speech put "Script by Denis Norden and Frank Muir"?

The Prime Minister

I should like hon. Members opposite to know that, if they want to obtain these services and know the facts on any of these matters, the Departments are only too willing to give them I sometimes wish that they would avail themselves of this opportunity.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is the Prime Minister aware that there has been considerable public interest in an article called "The men who write Sir Alec's Speeches" which appeared in a leading Conservative newspaper? It was said in this article that the phrase used about the Leader of the Opposition, that he was" a slick salesman of synthetic science", was not the Prime Minister's phrase at all but that it was supplied to him by a gentleman imported from the United States of America at considerable expense? Is the right hon. Gentleman also aware that this article refers to this speech writer as being left of centre, whereas the editor of the Spectator has described the Prime Minister as being right of centre? Are they trying to kick the ball in different directions? Does the Prime Minister realise that there is a strong demand from the spectators that the two of them should be sent off the field?

The Prime Minister

I am very interested that the hon. Member should have noticed this phrase. Has he anything better to suggest?

Mr. H. Wilson

As one who writes his own speeches, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the national—

Mr. J. Wells

On a point of order. How many rooms are available in this House to the satellites of the Labour Party to do the speech writing for the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues?

Mr. Speaker

It is hard enough to make progress with the Prime Minister's Questions without having "points of order" of that kind raised.

Mr. Wilson

I was about to ask the Prime Minister, first, whether the national interest would be better served by ceasing to import speech writers and ceasing to export scientists. Secondly, in view of the extremely grave balance of payments figures published today, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us who was responsible for writing that part of his script which said that the economic position had seldom been stronger?

The Prime Minister

On the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I think that he is going to America soon. I hope that it is not because he does not find any opportunity for his talents here.

Mr. Wilson

Yes, Sir, but will the right hon. Gentleman now answer the second part of the Question? Will he say who was the speech writer or brief writer who led him into saying that the economy had seldom been stronger when he must have known the serious trade gap figures, the most serious, I think, ever recorded in a single normal month?

The Prime Minister

The economy is certainly very strong, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman would be very rash to draw a general deduction from one set of figures.