HC Deb 21 January 1965 vol 705 cc400-2
Q7. Mr. Eldon Griffiths

asked the Prime Minister what plans he now has for appointing an Ombudsman.

The Prime Minister

I am not yet ready to make any further statement on this matter.

Mr. Griffiths

Before the Prime Minister comes to a decision, would he also consider appointing a Parliamentary Ombudsman so that hon. Members can present their grievances against Ministers who say one thing to the House and something else to the Press?

The Prime Minister

I thought for one moment, obviously rashly, that the hon. Member's Question was a serious one. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is."] I mean the Question on the Order Paper, because obviously this whole issue which raises a large number of important questions including, of course, Parliamentary control of the Parliamentary Commission, and the rest, is of great concern to those who in the kind of civilisation in which we are living, under any Government and any party, may wish to have grievances investigated. I hope that the hon. Member will address himself some time to this important question. When in due course legislation is introduced he will have the chance of doing so and he will realise that a question of this kind is too important for a rather silly supplementary question.

Mr. Maudling

Will the right hon. Gentleman take note of the real concern felt at the effect upon the House of the misuse of channels of information which, however legitimate in themselves, can be badly misused?

The Prime Minister

If the right hon. Gentleman wants to take any particular point I should be glad to deal with the subject with him, but he knows perfectly well, as do all those who sit beside him, that it has been a regular custom over a long period of years for Ministers to meet groups of journalists on an off-the-record basis. Recently there have been one or two examples, for which as far as I am concerned there have not been precedents, in which innocuous statements not going beyond what was said in the House have been printed not by the journalist concerned but by others to whom they were passed and garbled in the process. I feel, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman recognises, that unless we are to stop the whole business of meeting journalists on an off-the-record basis there are problems to be solved and we would be glad to talk about them, particularly to the right hon. Gentleman if he has any suggestions for dealing with them from his very long experience in these matters.

Mr. Maudling

That is why I referred to channels of information legitimate in themselves. There is some concern that these channels can easily be misused with damage to all concerned.

The Prime Minister

I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman will tell us whether he ever met a group of City. editors when he was Chancellor to whom he communicated information for guidance different in kind from what had been given in the House and whether as long as this happens there is not always this particular danger? This has been a long practice of many Governments for many years. The right hon. Gentleman knows the value of this procedure. He also recognises the difficulties, and there have been one or two difficulties—I do not deny this—and it raises the question of the circumstances in which in the future information of this kind, or guidance, can be given.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd—business question.