HC Deb 30 July 1963 vol 682 cc346-50

Lords Amendment: In page 6, line 5, at end insert: (3A) Before appointing a person to be the chairman of the said committee, the Authority shall satisfy themselves that that person—

  1. (a) will have no financial or other interest in any advertising agency, and
  2. (b) will have no such other financial or other interest in advertising as is in the opinion of the Authority likely to prejudice his independence as chairman;
and the Authority shall also satisfy themselves from time to time that the chairman of the said committee has no such interest as is described in paragraph (a) or (b) of this subsection.

Mr. Bevins

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

The Amendment was tabled in another place to fulfil an undertaking that I gave to the House earlier that the Government would try to find a form of words which would make the independence from advertising of the Chairman of the Authority's Advertising Advisory Committee a statutory obligation. I hope that the House will feel that the form of words we have improvised is as satisfactory as it can be made.

9.0 p.m.

Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)

The Postmaster-General has gone a long way towards meeting the points raised in Committee and he appears to have fulfilled the pledge which he gave. However, I am not altogether satisfied that he has gone as far as we expected.

It must be remembered that we are concerned with the chairman of the Advertising Advisory Committee. It was originally the intention that he should be completely impartial or that, if he had any partiality, it would be in favour of the public interest and not with the interests of either advertisers or programme contractors. In view of the new duties that have been placed on this Committee—the introduction of a new code, the watching of the times of advertising, its limit, nature and so on—it is important that its chairman should be completely impartial and divorced from all advertising interests.

The Amendment states that …the authority shall satisfy themselves that that person— (a) will have no financial or other interest in any advertising agency… This shows that an advertising agent as such is excluded. In sub-paragraph (b), however, there is a clarification of this, for we read: …will have no such other financial or other interest in advertising as is in the opinion of the Authority likely to prejudice his independence as chairman. The two sub-paragraphs appear to be somewhat contradictory. We learn, first, that he can be engaged in advertising, but not as an advertising agent—although how he can be engaged in some form of advertising without being an advertising agent mystifies me—while in the second paragraph we learn that he must …have no such other financial or other interest in advertising as is in the opinion of the Authority likely to prejudice his independence as chairman. We want it made clear that the person to be the chairman will be neither an advertising agent nor have any interest in advertising as such. It is for this reason that I would like the Postmaster-General to clarify the distinction that appears to exist between sub-paragraphs (a) and (b).

Mr. W. R. Williams

I do not see in the Amendment some of the difficulties envisaged by my right hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards). The Amendment is designed to make perfectly sure that the chairman has no direct or indirect interest in advertising. I am assuming that that means exactly what it says—that another place and the Postmaster-General have gone to some trouble to ensure that there is no escape Clause for the chairman and that he must be completely neutral and unbiased; and not only be so, but appear to be so.

We are glad that the proposed committee is to be appointed. There is good reason for it to be established in its proposed form because we want advertising to be added to the interest of television—for it to be good in substance and in form, to be honest and for there to be integrity between the sellers and consumers of goods. We are satisfied that with the conflicting interests that are bound to arise between consumers and advertisers, it is essential that the chairman should be above suspicion and out of any battle, so to speak, that he should be outside the ring of controversy and that his neutrality should be manifest throughout the committee.

This is a move in the right direction. The main objective of the chairman should be to make sure that advertising adds to the interest and entertainment of television and not, as has so often happened in the past, distract from its value and put over to viewers things that are, and can be proved to be, absolutely dishonest and untrue. We therefore hope that the chairman will be a strong-minded man who will ensure that there is a distinct improvement in advertising.

Just as a little dig at the Postmaster-General, I would say that had we known that an Amendment was to be moved calling for a supremely unbiased, unattached chairman, we on this side might have put down a similar Amendment to make sure that we got the same type of chairman for the I.T.A.

Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)

Subject to what the Postmaster-General may say, I warmly welcome the Amendment. I was one of those in the Committee who pressed for this provision, and we are very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I know that the Advertising Inquiry Council, with which I am associated and which made representations to the right hon. Gentleman, will also be very grateful.

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can tell us whether, under the new chairman, it is intended to reconstitute the Advertising Advisory Committee and, perhaps, remove some of the doctors who might more suitably be on the medical panel rather than on the main body. Some anxiety was expressed in Committee about the composition of the new committee and the fact that the right hon. Gentleman had not gone far enough to make clear by the wording of the Bill that the committee was to be representative of the public as consumers. We are very glad that the new director of the Consumer Council is to be a member of the committee—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but this Amendment deals only with the chairman.

Mr. G. Roberts

I support the request made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) for clarification of a point that is troubling one or two of us. Paragraph (a), which states that the chairman …will have no financial or other interests in any advertising agency… seems to us to be an absolute restriction, but we think that paragraph (b), which states that he …will have no such other financial or other interest in advertising as is in the opinion of the Authority likely to prejudice… is a qualified restriction.

We feel that there should in this paragraph be the same absolute restriction as there is in (a), and that, to make absolutely sure that the chairman will be the independent person necessary for this work, he should be drawn from outside the advertising world altogether.

Mr. Bevins

By leave of the House, the first leg of the Amendment makes quite clear that the chairman of the committee is not to have any interest of any kind in an advertising agency. I quite agree that the second leg is not quite as explicit and clear but that is in the nature of the case, because it is difficult to be completely specific about other aspects of advertising.

For example, a gentleman who was eminently suitable for this post might have limited investments in a bank or an insurance company which had a small number of shares in the advertisingworld—a very tenuous connection with it—and to impose a legal ban on anything other than an advertising agency is not, I should have thought, really workable. There might be a first-class person whose firm was engaged to some very marginal extent in advertising—probably through a financial interest—and it would be a pity to rule him out automatically if, on other grounds, he was the right person. But if at the same time a man who had no interest in an advertising agency were connected with a large firm which advertised extensively on television, like the Beecham Group or Hedley's, then quite clearly the intention here is that he would be ruled out.

The broad intention of the Government and of the Amendment is that the chairman should be a man who would not be swayed in his views by any personal interest in the advertising world. That is the criterion which we are asking the Authority to adopt. The Authority has already given me a very firm assurance that its intention is that the chairman of this important committee should be absolutely independent.

Question put and agreed to.