HC Deb 17 November 1964 vol 702 cc189-91
22. Mr. Dempsey

asked the Postmaster-General if he will use his powers under Section 14(4) of the Licence and Agreement to direct the British Broadcasting Corporation to refrain in future from sending the Royal Command Variety Performance on the evening of Armistice Sunday.

42. Mr. Prior

asked the Postmaster-General if he will use his powers under Section 14(4) of the Licence and Agreement to prevent the broadcasting of programmes similar to the British Broad-casting Corporation's television farming programme of 8th November, 1964.

Mr. Benn

No, Sir.

Mr. Dempsey

Is not the Minister aware that through the excellent efforts of the British Legion in many towns and cities on Armistice evening these festivals are held in order to commemorate the names of those who died that we might live? Is it not a cynical disregard of the feelings of relatives that such a star attraction should be presented on Armistice evening, especially when it could be presented on one of the other 364 evenings of the year, reserving Armistice evening for more appropriate material? Will he consider this question and realise the feelings of those left behind?

Mr. Benn

No, Sir, I will not, for the reason that I gave earlier, namely, that if I were to accept responsibility for this it would become my duty—for which I would become increasingly responsible to the House—to observe every single piece of programme planning on all three television and all three sound programmes in order to satisfy myself that it did not clash with any other attraction of the kind that my hon. Friend has mentioned. Such a task would be totally impossible and totally unacceptable to Ministers of either party. I hope that hon. Members will not continue to table Questions of this kind—[Interruption.]—to which there can be only one answer.

Mr. Jennings

Is the right hon. Gentleman completely disclaiming any responsibility at all for the good or bad taste of broadcast programmes?

Mr. Benn

The hon. Member must understand that the principles embodied in the Answers that I have given have been accepted by the whole House and all Governments since broadcasting began, namely, that whereas reserve powers are vested in the Postmaster-General, for reasons which the House laid down in Act of Parliament, he does not exercise them for the purposes for which these Questions have been tabled. It is in order for any hon. Member to put down a Question—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—but the Answer which I will give, and which has been given by successive Postmasters-General, quite rightly in my submission, will follow the pattern that I have given in reply to the hon. Member and my hon. Friend.

Mr. Bellenger

Although we understand perfectly well that the Postmaster-General is not expected to take up censorship powers, nevertheless, when he is convinced that there is a very strong body of opinion, especially in this House, with definite views on a subject, cannot he himself make representations?

Mr. Benn

No, Sir. I will not make representations on behalf of hon. Members, since Members of this House can make representations as individuals, or pass a Resolution which can be drawn to the attention of the B.B.C.

Mr. Hogg

If the right hon. Gentleman is not going to censor broadcast programmes, will he also undertake not to try to censor Questions by hon. Members?

Mr. Benn

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows very well, I make no attempt to censor Questions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] What I said was that Questions which were put down asking me to use my powers to censor B.B.C. and I.T.A. programmes would meet with the same response, and I asked hon. Members not to put down Questions in the hope that I would vary that decision. This principle has been accepted by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's colleagues, as well as by my colleagues, for a long period, and it is one from which he himself would not for a moment dissent.

Mr. Shinwell

May I ask my right hon. Friend to understand that we thoroughly understood what he meant? May I further ask him not to pay the slightest attention to "bonkers" from the other side?

Forward to