HC Deb 14 June 1955 vol 542 cc548-58

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. R. Thompson.]

10.0 p.m.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

I want to ask the Assistant Postmaster-General some questions about advertising periods on commercial television. I think we agree that what may be termed the gestation period of commercial television is now well advanced, and that we may confidently expect to see the first programmes on the air by the early autumn.

During the passage of the Television Act, 1954, through the House, hon. Members on both sides questioned the wisdom of introducing commercial television into this country, but when our deliberations had concluded the fear of many had been completely removed and others were satisfied that a very reasonable compromise had been reached. Long, and sometimes heated, discussions ranged around the type and quality of the programmes that we were likely to have and the manner in which advertising matter should be controlled, both as to the time allowed and the method by which it was to be introduced into the commercial television programmes. Every effort was made to remove what we in this country believe to be the least desirable features of commercial television as it is practised abroad.

I believe we have succeeded in that aim. I am convinced that as a result of our efforts we shall have a wide variety of balanced programmes which will cater for all tastes. We know that they will include light entertainment, sporting events, drama, music and educational subjects.

Mr. C. R. Hobson (Keighley)

And advertising.

Mr. Burden

I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will learn a lot about that before the evening is out if he will listen, and I hope he will be very well satisfied.

There will also be documentaries and shoppers' guides. I believe that the programmes will be wide in scope and variety and of a quality which will certainly bear comparison with those offered at present by the B.B.C.

I think we should welcome the fact that the I.T.A. will ensure that religious services and royal occasions are viewed by this new medium. It says much for the wisdom of right hon. and hon. Members that their sense of compromise has been able to create a situation whereby these programmes will be produced in such a way that proper dignity and good taste will be preserved.

Contrary to what some hon. Members opposite may think, I believe that the Act will ensure that commercial television will stay in this country. I go further than that. I think that commercial television here may well prove to be of such a standard that it will set the standard for commercial television throughout the world.

However, I am a little concerned about one aspect. I know that both sides of the House made very valiant efforts to ensure that the best interests of the viewing public would be protected. I hope that we have also ensured that the operating companies are given every reasonable chance to pay their way. I hope that in our zeal we have not hemmed in the programme companies with restrictions and rules that will deny to them the revenue that is essential if they are to produce the high quality programmes we desire. Obviously, rules have had to be laid down with the I.T.A. and the programme companies as indicated in the Act under which the companies will now operate.

Mr. Hobson

Will the hon. Member tell us what regulations have been laid down?

Mr. Burden

I suggest that the hon. Member, who has shown such interest in this matter, should read the Act. If he will listen for a little while, he will find that the Second Schedule does, in fact, lay down certain restrictions and rules. I have no doubt but that when my hon. Friend replies to the debate he will give the hon. Member a little more enlightenment on that.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General will indicate that the rules and restrictions are reasonable and have been interpreted by the Postmaster-General with the I.T.A. and the latter with the companies in such a way as to show that they are reasonable and not excessive. Quite contrary to the hon. Member for Keighley, I believe that these rules and restrictions are very real. If he does not think they are, that says very little for the long debates that took place and the very many strong criticisms and Amendments that were put forward by the Party opposite. I do not believe that the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Hobson) believes that all that work on the part of his Party bore no fruit whatsoever.

These restrictions are quite real and, if the hon. Member will listen for a moment, I may be able to indicate one or two of them now. There is to be no advertising during, immediately before, or after religious services, and I do not think that anyone will quarrel with that. Similar restrictions on advertising will apply when Royal occasions are televised and paragraph 3 of the Second Schedule further provides: Advertisements shall not be inserted otherwise than at the beginning or the end of the programme or in natural breaks therein, and rules (to be agreed upon from time to time between the Authority and the Postmaster-General, or settled by the Postmaster-General in default of such agreement) shall be observed—

  1. (a) as to the interval which must elapse between any two periods given over to advertisements;
  2. 551
  3. (b) as to the classes of broadcasts (which shall in particular include the broadcast of any religious service) in which advertisements may not be inserted, and the interval which must elapse between any such broadcast and any previous or subsequent period given over to advertisements."
The Television Act requires that the Postmaster-General shall see that the Independent Television Authority is acquainted with the requirements of Parliament.

It is quite obvious, therefore, that in the period between the passing of the Act and the present time the Postmaster-General, in order to ensure this, has been in consultation with the Independent Television Authority. Equally, of course, it is obvious that if the I.T.A. has carried out its duty, it has passed that information to the programme companies and so ensured that they will abide by the rules set down in the Act.

It would be helpful if the Minister would put us all a little more fully in the picture as to the conversations that have taken place and the interpretation of the rules arrived at between the Postmaster-General, the I.T.A. and the programme companies, because many people are anxious to be assured that while all the necessary safeguards are effected the programme companies will still be given sufficient advertising time and flexibility to pay their way.

Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

Who is worried about that?

Mr. Hobson

On a point of order. I would draw your attention, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to the statement made on 23rd March by the Economic Secretary, speaking on behalf of the Assistant Postmaster-General, who was then ill. In reply to a Question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) the Economic Secretary stated quite categorically that: The Television Act lays downs that advertisements may … be inserted at the beginning or end of the programme or in natural breaks." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd March, 1955; Vol. 538, c. 2056.] I suggest that the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) is asking for an alteration in legislation, which is out of order upon the Adjournment.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

I did not understand that the hon. Member was asking for an alteration of legislation, but if he were he would be out of order.

Mr. Burden

I am not asking for any alteration in legislation. I am asking for elucidation. It is obvious that further conversations have gone on between the Postmaster-General and the authorities concerned, and I want to know what is happening. I hope that the hon. Member for Keighley will find nothing wrong in that desire on my part.

We must bear in mind that programme companies will have to provide well-balanced programmes and these should, from time to time, contain substantial periods in which no advertisements are allowed. Is the Minister assured that, in those circumstances, the rules are not too rigid?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That would require legislation.

Mr. Burden

Then I shall leave that point, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

I am asking the Assistant Postmaster-General whether he is convinced that they are too rigid. I do not think that that is asking him to change the law. He is quite entitled to express a point of view. If the programme companies are to pay their way they might well be forced to reduce the number or duration of the programmes in which advertisements are not permitted, in order to increase the revenue from other programmes.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That would require legislation.

Mr. Burden

Not necessarily, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. They are not bound to broadcast more than a very limited number of religious and other programmes in which there are no advertisements.

I want to know whether arrangements can be made to provide flexibility, so that the advertising periods can make up in some way for the loss that may be sustained by programme companies in broadcasting royal occasions, religious services and other very desirable programmes.

I do not profess to be an expert upon the finance of programme companies, but although we should take every practicable step to protect the viewing public I also believe that we should realise that the companies concerned must be given every reasonable chance of making a success of what I am sure will turn out to be an admirable venture.

10.15 p.m.

The Assistant Postmaster-General (Mr. David Gammans)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) for raising this matter as it will give me an opportunity to explain to the House, as he has asked me to explain, the arrangements which have been made by or agreed with the I.T.A. with regard to advertisements in their programmes. As the House may well imagine, a good deal of thought has been given to this matter as we are dealing with problems which have not previously arisen in television in this country.

The House is, no doubt, aware that some of these matters are left to the discretion of the I.T.A. under paragraph 2 of the Second Schedule to the Television Act. This paragraph links up with Section 4 (3) of the Act which lays upon the Authority the duty to see that the provisions of the Second Schedule are complied with in respect of all advertisements which are broadcast by it. The particular responsibility which rests upon the Authority under paragraph 2 is to see that the time given to advertising does not detract from the value of the programme as a medium of entertainment, instruction and information.

Apart from this obligation which has been placed on the Authority, paragraph 3 of the Second Schedule lays down that rules have to be agreed between the Authority and the Postmaster-General, and in default of such agreement they have to be settled by the Postmaster-General himself. These rules are, firstly, the interval which must elapse between any two periods given over to advertising; and, secondly, the special classes of broadcasts, including religious services, in which advertisements may not be inserted, and the interval which must elapse between any such broadcasts and the advertisements immediately preceding or following them. I am glad to be able to tell the House that there has been no disagreement whatever between the I.T.A. and the Postmaster-General, and therefore it has not been necessary for my right hon. Friend to exercise any of the powers given to him under the Act ruling against the Authority in any way whatsoever.

The first point I want to deal with is the amount of time given to advertising. As the House is aware, the I.T.A. has decided that apart from shoppers' guides and advertising documentaries, the time given to advertising shall not be more than six minutes an hour. That fact has been given in answer to a Parliamentary Question.

Mr. Hobson

On 23rd March.

Mr. Gammans

The House may remember that when we debated this matter I was asked what, in my opinion, would be the time allotted to advertising. I then suggested that it might be of the order of 10 per cent. of the total time, and I am glad to say that the I.T.A., after very careful consideration, has come to the same conclusion. The shoppers' guides and the advertising documentaries are, of course, in a class by themselves; and incidentally, I may tell the House that the I.T.A. has decided to call these particular items "advertising magazines" and "advertising features."

Subject to the overriding limitation that advertisements may be inserted only in natural breaks in a programme, and also subject to the maximum total time of six minutes' advertising per hour, there must not be more than six advertising periods per hour. But it is obvious—and this is the point which I think my hon. Friend had in mind—that this rule must be interpreted in a way which permits of good programming, as otherwise we might have a very unsatisfactory state of affairs which would detract from the value of these programmes to the public as a whole.

It will all depend on the nature of the programme. For example, it would be hopeless to apply a rigid rule of six advertising periods an hour to a football match which lasts one-and-a-half hours, with only one break in it. On the other hand, if there were an hour's boxing there would be a natural break at the end of every round of three minutes or so, and it would be possible to insert a larger number of advertisements than in the ease of a football match.

The same difficulty arises when we consider plays. The last thing we want to do is to put our playwrights and producers in a position in which we call upon them to tailor their plays so that a rigid number of six breaks per hour can be included. If we did that we should certainly not get good plays. A play might continue for an hour or more with perhaps only one interval, if there were an interval at all. In an athletics meeting, on the other hand, a number of events might last no more than a few minutes. If we take as an example an athletics meeting in which the mile is being run, that is now a matter of four minutes, while the hundred yards event would be over in a fraction of a minute.

I give these examples only to make it clear that this rule that the number of advertising periods shall not exceed six per hour must be averaged over the day's programme as a whole and not over any specific programme of one hour.

Mr. Hobson

I am pleased to have an assurance that the six-minute breaks are to be spread, if necessary, over a longer period and averaged out. The hon. Gentleman mentioned shoppers' guides which could be given in the form of documentary films. Is such a film to be classified as one of these periods of six minutes per hour or is it entirely independent of the amount of time which was laid down in the House on 23rd March, when it was stated that the limit should be six minutes?

Mr. Gammans

It has always been understood and stated that shoppers' guides are in a category by themselves.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton


Mr. Gammans


To sum up, if we take the programme provided by a given programme contractor on any particular day, the amount of time given to advertisements will not exceed six minutes per hour and the number of periods of advertising will not exceed six per hour, averaged in both cases over the total broadcasting time that day, excluding from the calculation advertising magazines, advertising features, test transmissions and programmes from which advertisements are banned altogether. Furthermore, however short an item in any programme may be, as, for example, a short swimming race, in no circumstances will the interval between advertising periods be less than three minutes.

Now let me deal with the special types of broadcast which are mentioned in paragraph 3 (b) of the Second Schedule. The three types of broadcast which we had in mind were, firstly, religious services; secondly, any formal Royal occasion or ceremony; and, thirdly, any appearance of Her Majesty or a member of the Royal Family in the course of an event in which such appearance is only incidental to the occasion, as, for example, the F.A. Cup Final.

The Act lays down that there will be no advertising in broadcasts of that type, but what we want to do in addition is to preserve a reasonable interval between that sort of programme and any preceding or following advertisements. My right hon. Friend has, therefore, agreed with the I.T.A. that there shall be an interval of at least two minutes between the last previous period given over to advertising and the commencement of any such broadcast, with a similar period at the end. A further rule has been agreed, namely, that during these periods before and after these special types of broadcast any programme which is broadcast must be of a tone and style suitable to the special broadcast in question. Perhaps it is unnecessary for me to say that in matters of that sort in which any doubt could possibly arise, the I.T.A. will consult officials of the Royal Household.

I cannot leave the general question of advertising without saying a word about the code of television advertising drawn up by the I.T.A. and agreed to by my right hon. Friend. Under Section 8 (2, b) of the Television Act, the Advertising Committee of the I.T.A. duly presented to the Authority a code of standards of advertising for commercial television. This code also specifies the classes of goods and services which should not be advertised and the methods of advertising which should not be employed in I.T.A. programmes. The Authority accepted the recommendations of that Committee and, again, the Postmaster General, when consulted under Section 4 (5) of the Act, was able to agree fully with the proposals of the Authority. If hon. Members are interested in this, I suggest that they should read the code of principles for television advertising of which the Authority will be only too happy to provide a copy.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

Free of charge?

Mr. Gammans

Free of charge. I have put some copies in the Library.

I hope that my hon. Friend is satisfied with the explanation which I have given. We are about to start in a new sphere and must obviously be guided by experience and common sense. It is also clear that any rules that are laid down must strike a happy medium between the programmes and the advertisements, and above all that those rules must be workable.

It was the express desire of this House, when we discussed the Television Bill, that the programmes should be controlled by a competent authority in order to see that the type of programme put out was of the highest possible order and quality and in conformity with what I will term the British way of life. The Authority tells me that in its consultations with the programme contractors the latter fully accepted this general principle in their approach to the whole question and in considering the design of their programmes. I always felt that that would be the attitude of the programme contractors. Personally, I have no doubt that when the programmes start, as they will in September, they will meet with the general approval of the viewing public.

10.28 p.m.

Mr. C. R. Hobson (Keighley)

I am sure that we are grateful to the Assistant Postmaster-General for giving us what was really a Third Reading speech on the Schedules to the Act, but it was with some alarm and, indeed, despondency that we heard that not only are we to have six-minute periods for the purpose of advertising as laid down in the statement of 22nd March, but are, apparently, to be faced with shopping guides in the form of documentary films which are not to be calculated as part of the six-minute periods. We could very well have a situation not only of 10 per cent. of the hour taken for advertising but of 50 per cent. of that time—

Mr. Gammans

That would be quite impossible, because the Authority has power, under the Television Act, to insist upon a balanced programme.

Mr. Hobson

While that is perfectly true, there is nothing to prevent the Authority not using that power. It is a question entirely of judgment and, knowing the pressure groups which surround these people, I can well visualise a situation, in the circumstances outlined by the Assistant Postmaster-General, in which we could have 50 per cent. advertising in one specific hour.

We shall have to read the statement of the hon. Gentleman very carefully. I consider this to be a complete departure from: the intention and assurances given by the Home Secretary, when he spoke on behalf of the Government. It merely follows what we have always said would be the case—a "Rake's Progress"—and this is the beginning. It will be an advertising paradise. The contractors will be in a position to control the time of the programme. As is already noticeable in advertisements on the Underground and elsewhere, this is entirely a question of entertainment rather than of culture.

As to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) that the programme contractors need to earn more money to go forward, I would point out that they are already in receipt of several hundreds of thousands of pounds—

Mr. Burden

This is malicious and disgraceful—

The Question having been proposed at Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at half-past Ten o'clock.