HC Deb 11 April 1972 vol 834 cc1201-15


The following subsection shall be inserted after subsection (8) of section 7 of the principal Act:— 'Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (6) of this section, the Minister may in respect of local sound broadcasting only, and after consultation with the Authority, allow an advertiser to present and pay for a programme providing that such programme is of a musical and/or entertainment character only and is approved as such by the Authority and providing that not more than one such programme shall be approved for broadcasting by any station on any day and provided also that the provisions of Schedule 2 to this Act shall be fully observed, and provided also that such programme shall have been especially made for broadcasting in the United Kingdom.'—[Mr. Hugh Jenkins.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time. This is in the nature of a probe. The Bill is unpopular generally, or at least there is no considerable sign of popularity at the moment. It is not popular on this side, and on the other side this is a routine carrying out of an election promise to make up for all those which have not been carried or have been reversed.

That is what the Government are seeking to do in introducing this Bill but, whether we like it or not, at this stage, unless during this part of the proceedings or on Third Reading we can defeat the Government, we find ourselves faced with something none of us want and also with something about which those who have been enthusiastic to support it speak with remarkably different voices. There are those who are keen to get in on the act and who think they will make a great deal of money out of it, and although it will not be as much a licence to print money as television, it is is sufficiently lucrative to attract their interest.

There are others, however, who take the view that at least in the first instance it will not be so, and that the Minister or the Authority might have difficulty in finding suitable contractors in some areas of the country. Among these prophets of gloom rather than doom is of course Mr. Hughie Green who believes that unless something which he calls patronage is introduced, the whole thing will be an exercise in disaster.

I do not go along with this proposal and I certainly do not go along with the distinction Mr. Green makes between patronage and sponsorship. One is another name for the same thing.

There is a case for consideration that in some areas in the first instance it might be that programmes will be of poor quality and will have no live element unless some special attempt is made to see that there is a possibility of programmes of high quality of some kind which will provide employment for musicians and actors. The object of the new Clause is to examine this possibility.

The Clause suggests to the Government that there should be inserted into the principal Act a provision that the Minister may, in respect of local sound broadcasting programmes only, and then after consultation with the Authority, allow an advertiser to present and pay for a programme with a proviso that such a programme is of a musical or entertainment character only, and is approved as such by the Authority. It makes a further proviso that not more than one such programme shall be approved by the Authority in any day, and that the provisions of Schedule 2 of the parent Act shall be observed.

12 midnight.

Section 7(6) of the principal Act places heavy restrictions upon the nature of the advertising and the circumstances in which it may be broadcast. It says: …nothing shall be included in any programmes broadcast by the Authority, whether in an advertisement or not, which states, suggests or implies, or could reasonably be taken to state, suggest or imply, that any part of any programme broadcast by the Authority which is not an advertisement has been supplied or suggested by any advertiser…". Broadly, it seeks to prevent what is known in America as "sponsorship".

The Clause provides for a possible exception to that. The argument against it is that it might be regarded as the thin end of the wedge and that once one admitted the notion of sponsorship at any point, one might move into an undesirable area. However, the Clause is closely worded to ensure that there is no general exception. It provides that Schedule 2 of the principal Act shall continue to apply, and that lays down rigid provisions relating to advertisements.

Schedule 2 provides: (1) The advertisements must be clearly distinguishable as such and recognisably separate from the rest of the programme. That ensures that there is no sponsoring running through a programme. It goes on: (2) Successive advertisements must be recognisably separate. (3) Advertisements must not be arranged or presented in such a way that any separate advertisement appears to be part of a continuous feature.

Those provisions in the main Act are to remain. All that is allowed, with the consent of the Minister and the authority, is the occasional presentation of entertainment or musical programmes as special exceptions which can be provided in circumstances in which perhaps the station would not get off the ground or would fail to function profitably unless special action of this sort were taken.

I seek to get the reaction of the right hon. Gentleman to this proposal. Without some such proposal, the Minister would be unable to assist a local station in this manner, even if he wished to do so. Assuming that we are to have commercial radio, I suggest that some good may arise from a provision of this sort. Certainly no harm will result from it. I should like to hear the Minister's views.

Mr. O'Malley

I have no desire to see in this country a system of sponsorship like that which exists in some other parts of the world. In supporting the new Clause, I have to put a proposition not only to the Minister but also to my own Front Bench. Both sides of the House are wary of the dangers of sponsorship as we see it exercised in commercial broadcasting systems outside this country.

The Minister has said that he wants his commercial broadcasting system to provide a high quality programme. As a member of the Musicians Union I am interested in the employment prospects for musicians. My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) wants to see opportunities for the acting profession's aspirations, which I think would be shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House who are interested in the cultural life pattern and resources of the country. We are therefore proposing this new Clause in an exploratory spirit.

The Minister faces the difficulty that we on this side of the House, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Putney and myself, in the context of this Bill are worried because of the structure which is being proposed. In spite of any aspirations he has for high quality programming, the money will not be there for some of the local commercial radio stations.

We have all seen the B.B.C. operating local radio stations. We all remember the magic figure of £50,000 which was used and discussed at the time they were set up. I am not inordinately fond of local radio and I was never a supporter of it. I prefer viable regional radio to local radio. The fact is that those B.B.C. local radio stations have been operating on a shoestring. I am not criticising the quality or the type of their programming, but we all know the difficulties they have had. Until recently there has been little or no employment for members of the musical or acting professions. There has been a slight improvement. I do not blame anyone for the situation we found with the B.B.C. local radio stations. Anyone who looked at their finances when they were set up would realise that this sort of problem was bound to plague us.

Looking at the estimates which have been made by Mr. Hughie Green, to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Putney referred, and by a number of other organisations interested in commercial radio, it is perfectly clear when we move out of the major conurbations—London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow—that on all the figures—I can only base my assumptions on the estimates that we have made—there are not vast sums of money available for programming.

The Minister knows that the union to which I belong—I am sure that it is right—feels that if its work on records is to be used, from which the people who do the recordings get virtually nothing—the Minister knows there are some payments into the Musicians' Union's funds which seeks to promote activities which secure live music in concerts, dances, and so on—there should be some guarantee of a reasonable level of employment for the people who make local radio, commercial or otherwise, possible. They all use recorded music to a large extent. This includes the B.B.C. as well as the type of commercial radio which the Minister is envisaging.

It is reasonable to expect some employment for musicians and actors on commercial radio in just the same way as the B.B.C. has recognised its responsibilities throughout its period of existence in specific terms during recent years.

The difficulty is that on the kind of income which many commercial radio stations will have they will be unable to provide a reasonable level of employment for actors and musicians, and this is a threat to the standards which the Minister himself wants. Therefore, it is neither doctrinaire nor unreasonable to ask the question: if this is likely to be the case, or if there is even the possibility that this is likely to be the case, are there any ways in which we can secure opportunities for employment prospects for the professions and also a higher standard of programming than would otherwise be obtainable with the financial resources which these commercial radio stations are likely to have on the basis of the calculations which we have seen?

My hon. Friend the Member for Putney and I are not proposing that such form of patronage or sponsorship should run any further than programmes of a musical and/or entertainment character". I do not want any news programmes, news features or discussion programmes containing political or industrial controversy or relating to current public policy to be permitted to be sponsored or patronised in this way. It would be entirely wrong if the sponsor or patron had any control over programme content. Such sponsored programmes should be produced only by station operators licensed by the I.B.A.

I want even further protection. I should regard with horror any suggestion that, for example, a Horlicks type programme should say, "This programme is brought to you by the makers of Horlicks", Nescafe or Oval tine, and that there should be interruptions in the middle of the programme reminding people of that. This is one of the worst features of sponsorship which we find abroad.

It is not unreasonable to ask the Minister—I hope that as we are on Report he has not closed his mind to this proposal—whether it would be helpful, either by this new Clause or even on the Bill as it stands, to have an arrangement whereby a programme producer produces a programme and sells it to Horlicks, Ovaltine, or some chocolate company, on the strict understanding that there is no possibility of advertisements for Horlicks or Ovaltine appearing in the middle of the programme, but that, when the programme is used, advertisements could appear at the beginning and the end of the programme without specifically stipulating, "This programme was brought to you by permission of A, B or C."

If it were possible to bring money into a local commercial radio network in this way, it would be helpful as it would not only provide opportunities for live employment prospects, but would raise the general standards of the programmes.

I am not a highbrow—I was brought up in the dance band business—but I like a Mantovani type programme. I suppose that one has to be middle aged, or on the verge of middle age, to want that kind of entertainment nowadays. However, I do not envisage the possibility of a programme like Mantovani and his orchestra—which is really Mantovani plus a large number of expensive session musicians—on local commercial radio unless there are arrangements of the kind which I am suggesting.

12.15 a.m.

I said at the beginning that I was not asking the Minister to introduce the type of sponsorship that we have seen abroad. That kind is offensive. I do not want to hear local radio saying, "We are bringing you this programme by permission of Horlicks "or Ovaltine, Cadbury's Drinking Chocolate, or anything like that, but I do not see anything wrong, provided that it is properly controlled, in a major company which is interested in projecting its products through advertising paying for a programme, on the understanding that its advertisements, without relating to the contents of the programme at all, will appear at a particular time, that is, at the beginning and end of the programme.

The Minister may say that the new Clause goes further than that. If that is the case, I shall be happy if he will say that he will consider the matter before the Bill goes to another place. I am not putting forward my suggestion in any aggressive spirit. It may be that as the Bill stands a programme producer would be able to do what I have in mind. I have looked at the Bill, but I am not a lawyer, and I do not see any reason why what I have suggested should not be possible, because this is not sponsorship as it is understood in the Television Act, and as it is understood generally.

If the Minister cannot accept the new Clause—and I should understand if he were not able to do so, because it may go wider than that proposition which my hon. Friend and I have been discussing—I hope that in the interests of providing some opportunities for employment of the people who make the whole thing possible, and also in the interests of making it possible to provide a standard of programme which it might not otherwise be possible to get, he will find some way of doing what we want.

The situation could arise in which a half-hour programme of this type could be made available to some of the smaller local radio stations. If that were done, it could improve the quality of programme put out by the stations. It would also provide opportunities for employment in the entertainment professions, but it would not lay our system open to the worst evils of sponsorship that one finds in some countries. It is not the intention of my hon. Friend and myself to lay commercial radio open to influences of that kind. We feel that our proposal will provide a better standard of programme.

If the Minister feels unable to accept the new Clause, I hope that he will at least agree to consider the general proposition that we have put forward before the Bill goes to another place. My hon. Friend and I both dislike the Government's proposals but, if we are to have the Bill, we may as well try to get as high a standard of programming as possible. What we have suggested may provide one way of achieving that. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will accept the new Clause.

Mr. Richard

I must tell my hon. Friends that I could not accept the new Clause. I am sorry that I was not here to hear the whole of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) but, having discussed this point with him in the past, I think that I have got the flavour of argument that he put to the House. I am sure that I caught not merely the flavour but the whole bouquet of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley).

The great danger of sponsorship is not that if there are one or two sponsored programmes, or even one a day, it is not possible to provide adequate safeguards. Of course one could provide those safeguards, and my hon. Friend spelled out some of the safeguards which he wished to provide. The great danger is that once the principle has been admitted in respect of one programme it is extraordinarily difficult to say that the same principle should not be admissible for more than one programme on more than one day. Once the principle has been admitted to that extent in commercial radio it is absolutely impossible to say that a similar principle, with all of the necessary safeguards, should not be admitted into television. The reasons why all parties have set their faces firmly against the idea of sponsorship in commercial radio or commercial television have been the extent to which, once sponsorship is admitted as part of the normal financing of communications, it quickly gets out of control and how abysmal an effect it has upon the quality of programmes.

Let us take the example given by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham of "Horlick's Half Hour." Not that it would be called that—it would be "Mantovani's Half Hour", with Horlick's advertisements at the beginning and end. Let us assume that the directors of this desirable bed-time drink, which I am happy to say I do not think I have ever tasted—[Interruption.] I do not think it could be said that I have suffered from night starvation for many years.

The directors of this company would wish to put on the sort of programme which would ensure that their advertisements would be heard by the largest number of people. They would not be one stage removed from the normal commercial pressures to which advertisers are subjected. They would not even be one more stage removed than the I.B.A., and we have spent long enough tightening up the controls that the I.B.A. will be able to exercise over programme content. The general trend would be bound to be in the direction of audience maximisation, to use the ghastly jargon. The only person I know in the House and probably anywhere else who believes that not only would it be inevitable but positively desirable is the hon. Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. Proudfoot). If ever there was an audience maximisation man there he sits, and not even he, as far as I know, would be in favour of sponsorship on the lines suggested by my hon. Friend.

Mr. O'Malley

There is really nothing wrong, provided there are proper controls, in seeking to achieve audience maximisation. This is what the B.B.C. tries to do with many of its programmes. It does not do it with all, and this is what balanced programming is all about. Both the B.B.C. and I.T.V. seek programmes which will give audience maximisation, to use that dreadful expression There is nothing wrong with that.

Mr. Richard

Nothing at all, provided it is only part of a balanced radio diet. What would be dreadfully wrong would be if all the commercial pressure was going in that direction and, frankly, once the principle of sponsorship is admitted, it seems inevitable that that would be the inexorable direction in which the whole of commercial radio would be pushed. My hon. Friend and I would be against that. I felt that I ought to tell my hon. Friends that I would be very much against the introduction of sponsorship into commercial radio in any shape or form.

Mr. Chataway

I appreciate the way in which the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley) and the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) approached this matter. At the end of the day I come down on the side of the hon. and learned Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard); it would not be right to accept, even in this limited form, the introduction of sponsorship.

There is force in the argument adduced by the hon. and learned Gentleman about the principle involved here. I agree that once one breaches that principle it is difficult to be sure that the process can be halted. The major disadvantage of sponsorship is that the advertiser has control of the programme, and I entirely agree that this is more worrying in relation to news and current affairs than to music or similar programmes. One hears the argument that we do not want sponsorship in this country and one thinks of the pressures that Ed Murrow had to combat in relation to controversial programmes about which his sponsor was not happy.

I am not sure that the sponsorship proposal contained in the new Clause would serve the purpose which the hon. Member for Rotherham has in mind. I agree with him that we should try to ensure that the smaller stations are able to carry some more expensive programmes. It is also important that the new service should provide as much employment as it reasonably can for musicians, but it is doubtful whether, by introducing sponsorship, one would increase the amount of money available.

The advice I have had in recent years from a number of quarters is conflicting about this. A number of people qualified in these matters argue strongly that there is no reason to suppose that an advertiser will pay more for so many minutes around a chosen programme than he will pay for so many minutes on a spot advertisement. In recent years the number of sponsored programmes in other countries has declined rapidly, in part because such programmes are not acceptable to listeners and are therefore not commercially attractive.

The answer to the problems which the hon. Member for Rotherham posed lies more in the sort of cross-subsidisation arrangements we have been working in television being applied to radio. It will be for the Authority to ensure that the major companies, with their larger revenues, bear the burden of producing the more expensive programmes, and I do not see that one needs sponsorship to arrive at a situation in which the smaller programme companies can benefit from the larger resources available to some of the bigger ones.

There are a number of other features of the new Clause with which I would not be particularly happy, and some of these we discussed in Committee. For example, I would not wish to see the Minister involved in programme content in the way suggested.

As to whether the amount of sponsorship envisaged would be possible under the Television Act, 1964, the advice I have is that it would not. Section 7(6) of the Act prohibits the inclusion in any programme of anything …which states, suggests or implies, or could reasonably be taken to state, suggest or imply, that any part of any programme broadcast by the Authority which is not an advertisement has been supplied or suggested by any advertiser… and that would seem to more or less rule out the kind of arrangement which the hon. Member for Rotherham had in mind.

Mr. O'Malley

Section 7(6), from which the Minister has quoted, begins: Subject to subsections (7) and (8) of this section, nothing shall be included in any programmes broadcast by the Authority, whether in an advertisement or not, which states… and it goes on in the manner the Minister quoted. As I read that, if a programme was put on which neither stated, suggested nor implied that it had been paid for or provided by an advertiser, it would be possible to put on such a programme which had been paid for by the advertiser.

12.30 a.m.

Mr. Chataway

On the face of it, it would seem that if it were done in secrecy it would be permissible under that provision. If it were secretly sponsored, I imagine that the advertiser would feel that he had not had his money's worth.

Mr. O'Malley

I am not suggesting that it should be done in secrecy. In the kind of arrangement I have suggested, in which there was an advertisement at the beginning and one at the end and no mention was made that the programme was put on by Bill Smith and Company or anyone else, I cannot see that it would prejudice the provision in Section 7(6) of the 1964 Act, because there would be nothing in the programme which stated, suggested or implied that any part of the programme which was not an advertisement had been supplied or suggested by an advertiser.

Mr. Chataway

If the answer I am giving proves to be wrong, I know that my successor will ensure that a means will be used to correct it.

I believe the position to be, however, that any advertiser can book a spot at a given time and therefore an advertiser would be at liberty, once the programme had been scheduled, to say "I want this spot at 8 o'clock. I would like three minutes then and I will want three minutes earlier as well." Therefore, if he felt strongly about the programme, I think that provided he applied in time he could get his advertisements on at both ends of it.

What would be against the spirit of the present arrangements and, I suspect, against the letter of the law would be for the advertiser to come to an arrangement with the programme company about the sort of programme to be put on. I think it would be right to say that that is about as far as the law as it stands would allow one to go towards the arrangement the hon. Member has in mind.

Mr. O'Malley

I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman's successor, the new Minister, can look at this in a little more detail than the right hon. Gentleman is able to do at this hour of the night. I should be grateful if he could let me know his conclusions about it.

Mr. Chataway

My hon. Friend assures me that he will be glad to do that.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

The question is, of course, whether adequate safeguards are possible. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard) was quite right to express fear that this might be, as he suggested and as I suggested in my speech, which he was unfortunate enough not to hear—

Mr. Richard

I will read it.

Mr. Jenkins

—regarded as the thin end of the wedge. I said why I thought that the safeguards were inadequate. All legislation exists in creating safeguards to prevent things happening which one is afraid will happen without them. As my hon. and learned Friend knows, I regard advertising as a useful servant but a very bad master. I should like the Independent Broadcasting Authority to be the recipient of the revenue so as to remove the pressure even further away from the programme contractor.

What I think would be possible would be to create as it were a package provided by an advertiser which could be provided as a block or package and could be broadcast on a number of stations without the effects which my hon. and learned Friend understandably fears. However, the Minister has suggested that the end might be achieved in another way and my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley) has suggested that something of the sort might even be possible under the existing legislation.

Having regard to all that and to what the Minister has said, and to the fact that I, too, am a trifle worried about the dangers of this, much as I wish to see this service, if it has to come, being proper and reasonable, with a high standard of programme and providing some employment among musicians and performers where that employment is very necessary, if the House agrees—

Mr. O'Malley

Before my hon. Friend concludes his remarks, I should like to make clear to the House that I have similar reservations to those expressed a few moments ago by my hon. Friend about sponsorship in any form. I think he would agree that what we are doing tonight is probing to see whether we could get a high programme content without putting ourselves in any of the dangers which sponsorship in some other countries has produced.

Mr. Jenkins

I clearly have my hon. Friend's support, and that reinforces me. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Jenkins

On a point of order. I am in a little difficulty, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in relation to new Clause 21 because Amendment No. 10 in my name is to be discussed with that new Clause. Amendment No. 10 is extremely important. An undertaking concerning this was given in Committee and correspondence has passed between the Minister and myself. I believe that the Minister would share my view that a short debate upon the Amendment is very desirable. Is there anything you could say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, which would make it possible to debate Amendment No. 10 tomorrow even though, owing to the absence of the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Donald Stewart), who was to have moved new Clause 21, it cannot be debated tonight?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)

The hon. Member asks whether I have aught for his comfort to say. One cannot help but be sympathetic that his Amendment should be ditched because of the no doubt unavoidable absence of another hon. Member. Tomorrow is another day, however, and, as I would mention, Mr. Speaker's selection of Amendments is only provisional. It could be that matters will be changed tomorrow.

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