HC Deb 21 January 1959 vol 598 cc180-3
13. Mr. Mayhew

asked the Postmaster-General if he is aware that in the Independent Television Authority programme, "This Week," broadcast on 1st January, the remarks of the Chairman of the Federation of Wholesale and Multiple Bakers were interrupted in mid-sentence for the purpose of inserting advertisements; and if he will consult with the Independent Television Authority under Section 4 of the Television Act in order to devise methods of preventing the interruption of programmes by advertisements.

Mr. K. Thompson

The Authority tells me that there was no question of this speaker being interrupted in order to insert advertisements. On the other point raised by the hon. Member, my right hon. Friend sees no reason to intervene.

Mr. Mayhew

Is the hon. Member aware that the Authority's opinion is not shared by the victim himself who states —and many viewers agree—that he was interrupted on the word "and" in order to allow advertisements to be shown? Will the Minister say why this was? What is gained by allowing serious programmes of this kind to be interrupted in this way? It is not necessary for economic reasons. What is gained by it?

Mr. Thompson

I have been advised that Mr. Curtis, the gentleman in question, had no complaint to make at the time, that he had finished the sentence on which he was engaged and that he was at a point at which the programme interviewer thought it right to pass on to the next subject. In those circumstances, I do not think that the hon. Member's judgment is necessarily the right one.

Mr. Hale

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that I, having for the first time been able to pay a week's instalment on a television set, saw I.T.V. for the first time in the last few days and thought that the advertisements, although not very good, were quite the best part of the programme?

14. Mr. Mayhew

asked the Postmaster-General if he is aware that the broadcasting of the play, "The Bridge of San Luis Rey", on the Independent Television Authority programme on 6th January was twice interrupted, and then prematurely ended, by advertisements; and what arrangements he has made in his Department to ensure that the rules agreed by him with the Independent Television Authority in accordance with Schedule 2 of the Television Act are properly observed.

Mr. K. Thompson

The Authority tells me that the abrupt transition to advertisements at the end of the play, which was not itself prematurely ended, was due to an error of judgment, which is much regretted. It has been the subject of detailed investigation with a view to preventing any similar occurrence. Two stations only were concerned: the others cut out advertisements or faded out naturally. As regards advertisements during the play, the Authority is satisfied that these were inserted in natural breaks in accordance with the Second Schedule of the Television Act.

Mr. Mayhew

Is the Minister aware that this is the same kind of answer as we have been given to similar Questions of this kind on many previous occasions? Since the Authority shows itself quite incapable of exercising authority on this or other matters over the programme contractors, will he intervene and stiffen them up a little?

Mr. Thompson

Wild generalisations of that kind do not carry serious discussion of this matter any further. To some extent this is a matter of opinion as to what is or is not a natural break.

That is not in dispute at all. But I repeat what I said before: it is not necessarily the case that the hon. Member's opinion is the right one.

Mr. C. R. Hobson

Is the Minister aware that these are not wild accusations at all, that evidence has been laid before both the I.T.A. and himself and that, despite this, there is still no action taken against these breaches of the Act? Will he do something about it?

Mr. Thompson

If the hon. Member's question is designed to confine this discussion to the accusations which have been made in detail, such as that dealt with in the Question, the fact of the matter is that they number very few indeed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The hon. Member and his hon. Friends will have opportunities of checking on them in the future. The fact is that about 600 advertisements are sent out everyday and, out of that total, it is very rare indeed that we get this kind of specific complaint. When it happens, the Authority takes the kind of action which I have described.

16 and 17. Mr. Chapman

asked the Postmaster-General (1) whether, under Section 4 (4) of the Television Act, he will issue regulations defining more clearly the natural breaks which may be used for advertising;

(2) what consultation he has had with the Independent Television Authority under Section 4 (4) of the Television Act recently about definition of natural breaks which may be used for advertising.

Mr. K. Thompson

My right hon. Friend is not convinced that there is need at present to use his powers to define natural breaks. The Independent Television Authority, whose duty it is to secure that advertisements shall not be inserted otherwise than at the beginning or end of a programme or in natural breaks therein, assures me that its requirements are generally closely observed and firmly enforced.

Mr. Chapman

When the Television Bill was being discussed, were we not given to understand that natural breaks would be definite intervals, such as between the rounds of a boxing match? Does the hon. Member honestly think that at the time of the discussion of the Bill anyone would have attempted to justify the kind of breaks which are used for advertising now? Is it not becoming a national scandal the way the spirit of the Act is being breached by this weak-Authority?

Mr. Thompson

I certainly cannot think that the Television Authority will be able to do its duty better by being subjected to this kind of abuse. This question was debated at great length in the House during the passage of the Television Bill, and I cannot accept any responsibility for the extent of the hon. Member's understanding.

Mr. Ness Edwards

Is not the hon. Member aware that very substantial assurances were given when we discussed this matter during the course of the Bill by the present Lord Chancellor? Is he not further aware that repeated complaints have been made on the Floor of the House? Is it not time that he told the Independent Television Authority that it is defaulting on its responsibility under the Act?

Mr. Thompson

The fact of the matter is that, apart from these occasional contributions from hon. Members opposite, the Authority itself and the Post Office receive very few complaints, if any, on this point.

Mr. Gower

Will my hon. Friend reject what is apparently the view of the Opposition—that this is the biggest single issue facing the country at present?