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Oral Answers to Questions — B.B.C. Governors (Chairman)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th July 1952.

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Photo of Mr Norman Dodds Mr Norman Dodds , Dartford 12:00 am, 30th July 1952

asked the Prime Minister the special qualifications possessed by Sir Alexander Cadogan which led Her Majesty's Government to recommend him for the post of Chairman of the British Broadcasting Corporation's Governors.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Woodford

I was anxious that the responsibility for choosing the Governors of the B.B.C. should be shared with Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition, and two judges of the High Court. This offer was refused. Therefore, the entire responsibility was cast upon me. I am quite willing to bear it, but not to argue about it.

Photo of Mr Norman Dodds Mr Norman Dodds , Dartford

But, Mr. Speaker, is this very poor democrat unaware—

Hon. Members:

Withdraw.

Mr. Speaker:

The hon. Member must keep insinuations out of his supplementary questions.

Photo of Mr Norman Dodds Mr Norman Dodds , Dartford

Mr. Speaker, may I have your guidance before I ask my supplementary? I took it that I was entitled to ask a Question in this House and that the Prime Minister was incorrect when he said he would not argue or answer that Question. If he makes that statement, am I not correct in stating that he is a poor democrat?

Mr. Speaker:

No, what the Prime Minister said does not really justify that remark.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

While expressing no opinion about the appointment of this gentleman, might I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he is really serious in suggesting to the House when a Question is put to him on an appointment made by himself personally as the head of the Government, that he is not expected to answer the Question, and even subject himself to further interrogation on a matter of this sort?

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Woodford

I did answer the question—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I did answer the question but, considering the very exceptional procedure the House took in casting all this burden especially on me, I think it is a rather poor performance to barrack the umpire.

Photo of Mr Herbert Morrison Mr Herbert Morrison , Lewisham South

Was not the whole point of the previous discussion that these appointments should be made on Ministerial responsibility rather than by a committee? Therefore, when the Government gave way they accepted—maybe under duress, but they accepted—Ministerial responsibility. Is it a defiance —[Laughter.]—it is—of the fundamentals of British Parliamentary and constitutional practice when, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dodds), the Prime Minister flatly refuses in a sulky mood to accept Ministerial responsibility for his own action?

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Woodford

No constitutional or democratic principle with which I am acquainted compels a Minister of the Crown to argue. He may be tempted to do so, but he cannot be compelled.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

On a point of order. The right hon. Gentleman has just said that there is no constitutional obligation upon him to argue with hon. Members about Questions which they put down. What Question No. 47 on the Order Paper asks the Prime Minister is: what are the special qualifications possessed and so on. The right hon. Gentleman, in answer to that Question, said he refused to argue. Is not that a breach of the rule of the House that a Minister, if he answers a Question, should answer it properly and efficiently?

Mr. Speaker:

I do not think a point of order arises. According to the practice of the House there is no obligation on a Minister to give an answer unless he wants to. I cannot force him to give an answer and I have frequently found, on both sides of the House, that hon. Members have been dissatisfied with the answers they have received from Ministers. I cannot guarantee that that will not continue to be the case.

Photo of Sir Austen Albu Sir Austen Albu , Edmonton

Does the Prime Minister think that a distinguished career in the public service, the Civil Service, is the best qualification for a post which requires complete independence of the Government of the day—and that a career in the Foreign Service in particular—is likely to make its occupant the most suitable person to interpret the wishes and views of people at home?

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Woodford

The House confided this matter to my charge and I have exercised my judgment to the best possible ability.

Photo of Mr Norman Dodds Mr Norman Dodds , Dartford

As the Prime Minister has accepted sole responsibility, is he unaware that many people are surprised at the appointment of a man who states that he knows nothing about broadcasting, he has never seen British television, he rarely listens to sound broadcasts and that a very poor view is taken of the point that, because he has not a television set, he should be given a free one from Broadcasting House? Is this satisfactory?

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Woodford

I do not want to be drawn into argument. It is only a general principle that I will state—the fact that many difficult questions are best approached with a fresh mind.

Photo of Colonel Ralph Glyn Colonel Ralph Glyn , Abingdon

Would not the Prime Minister say that this distinguished public servant has always been successful in any enterprise for which he has been responsible?

Mr. Speaker:

We cannot go on with this.