HC Deb 26 November 1973 vol 865 cc5-6
4. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications if he will list the occasions on which he has exercised his powers under Section 13(3) of the BBC Licence and Agreement.

Sir J. Eden

None, Sir.

Mr. Whitehead

In that case, will the Minister say whether the imposition by the Government on the BBC of a party political broadcast, ostensibly in reply to an "Open Door" programme by the London Trade Unions and Old-Age Pensioners Committee, was done under the threat of Section 13 powers? Is he aware that it is one thing for bodies like the Law Society to attempt to censor "Open Door" programmes but that it is quite another matter for the Government to foist additional party political programmes on the BBC? Is not this a shocking interference with the independence of broadcasting?

Sir J. Eden

That is a total distortion of what took place. This had nothing whatsoever to do with the Government. It was wholly within the decision and responsibility of the BBC. The hon. Gentleman, who has always advocated a greater degree of participation, must realise that "Open Door" programmes of this kind do not provide for the same tightness of editorial control as do other programmes.

Mr. John Grant

Why does not the Minister come clean and admit that the Government manipulated the BBC and misused the terms of the BBC Licence in this so-called right of reply, which was in fact a party political broadcast timed to coincide with the by-elections? Does it not contrast oddly with the Prime Minister's presidential-style Press conference in which he denies the right of reply to the Opposition? Is it not time that the Government stopped cheating?

Sir J. Eden

The hon. Gentleman's statement is totally unfounded, his accusation is totally without justification and his interpretation of the facts is totally false. This was a reply allowed by the BBC to a particular programme which had been broadcast in its "Open Door" series by the London Trade Unions and Old-Age Pensioners Committee which some people thought was a total distortion of the truth and to which they claimed their right to reply.

Mr. Milne

Is the Minister aware that he is perhaps protesting a little too much through having a guilty conscience on several issues? Will he examine interference of this description by outside bodies and report to the House at the earliest possible moment?

Sir J. Eden

No, Sir. That is a much more general question. The Question concerns the BBC's discretion to allow a right of reply to those who feel that they have been offended by a programme in the "Open Door" series. It is absolutely right that that right of reply should exist.