HC Deb 11 April 1972 vol 834 cc1187-92


Section 3(4) of the principal Act shall be amended by the insertion at the end of that subsection of the following words:—

'Provided that for purposes of local sound broadcasting to which this subsection applies only, the maximum value of a prize to be offered in any programme shall be £25'.—[Mr. Charles R. Morris.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. Charles R. Morris

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

With this new Clause it might be for the convenience of the House to discuss new Clause 6, "Value of prizes in local sound broadcasts".

Section 6(1) of the principal Act shall be amended by the insertion at the end of that subsection of the following words:— 'Provided that, for purposes of local sound broadcasting only, the maximum value of a prize to be offered in any programme shall be £25'. The intention of new Clauses 5 and 6 is to amend Section 3(4) of the Television Act, 1964, relating to the provision of prizes. That Section provides: Nothing shall be included in any programme broadcast by the Authority, whether in an advertisement or not, which offers any prize of significant value, whether competed for or not, or any gift of significant value, being a prize or gift which is available only to persons receiving that programme, or in relation to which any advantage is given to such persons. It will be observed that the subsection rests on the phrase, any prize of significant value". Many people are asking whether the interpretation placed on that subsection by the television authorities is being observed as it affects programmes such as "The Sky's the Limit" and "Golden Shot". Indeed, are round-the-world trips prizes of significant value?

The intention of the new Clause is to establish a reasonable criteria for prizes by indicating a not unreasonable sum of £25. I recognise that many members of the public receive pleasure from participating in broadcast programmes which offer financial inducements for individual participation.

The principal Act, because it remains silent, has been interpreted in a way which I believe was never intended, because prizes of significant value are given on the programmes which I have illustrated. Acceptance of new Clause 5 would provide a standard for the new authorities in the establishment of local commercial broadcasting stations.

Mr. Chataway

I appreciate the concern of the hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Charles R. Morris), but I think that he has misinterpreted Section 3(4) of the parent Act. What that subsection is intended to exclude is the prize that is given to the viewer. When the Bill was being considered, there was concern that there should not in this country be large inducements to viewers to watch one programme rather than another. I speculate, but I imagine that one of the major concerns was to ensure that there was not unfair competition for the B.B.C. by wealthy contractors offering lottery prizes to attract viewers to their programmes. The parent Act forbids that, and I am not aware that it has been done in television. I do not think that it will be done in radio. However, if there were insignificant things that viewers or listeners received as a result of viewing or listening, nobody would wish to stop that.

Section 6 of the parent Act bears principally upon the point with which the hon. Gentleman is concerned. It requires that the authority must approve in advance the size of prizes. There is, therefore, that safeguard, and if members of the public or Members of Parliament feel that prizes are becoming too large and thus distorting the nature of the programmes representations can be made to the Authority. On balance, I think that it is right that it should be the Authority that judges the matter, rather than that we should attempt to lay down some figure in the Bill.

I do not feel that £25 is particularly low. There will not be the same sums involved anyway, but it would be a little arbitrary to fix a figure in the Bill. I hope, therefore, that on looking again at the terms of Section 6 of the Television Act, 1964, the hon. Gentleman might feel that it will do for radio as well, and will leave it to the Authority to ensure that the practice of giving prizes with programmes does not get out of bounds.

Mr. Golding

I am not certain that there are not any incidents under Section 3(4) of the parent Act, because there has been a tendency for the producers of programmes which offer money prizes to invite people to write in to apply to take part in the programmes.

Mr. Charles R. Morris

Or to make the request by telephone.

Mr. Golding

Or to do so by telephone, as my hon. Friend says, although that is not a practice which I should normally wish to discourage.

There has been a tendency for this practice to grow and people are attracted to a programme because a prize is offered. This tendency is spreading to sporting programmes; programmes to which one would not think it was necessary to attract viewers. People are asked to use their skill to place in order of merit goals scored and shown on television during a previous period. They are sometimes asked to watch the finish of a race and to determine from their recollection of what they saw on a previous occasion which horses were concerned in the race. There is a tendency to award prizes for things which follow to a certain extent from watching television.

There has been the introduction of advertising in sport by the back door in the B.B.C, and in the same way there has been the introduction of prizes offered to viewers of I.T.V. It could be argued that the prizes offered on sports programmes are not of significant value. I challenge the Minister when he says that we should leave this to the I.T.A. I would be happier if the I.T.A. ever made declarations of policy on such matters. If we knew what prize levels were we would be happier. We have only to look at such programmes as "Sale of the Century", "The Sky's the Limit", "Golden Shot", and so on, to realise that we are talking about the lowest level of television. The programmes are in the worst possible taste and are declining in quality for two reasons.

The first is the growth of the practice of displaying situations in which people have to make a choice which will mean them either taking away very little or a great deal. People enjoy the suspense of watching others going through the agonies of such decision-making. This is in poor taste. I am not taking a moral position on gambling, that is quite a different subject. I object to the public spectacle of people being asked to choose in this way, particularly when, because prizes are so big, there is great disappointment among those not so well off. These programmes play upon the basest instincts of those watching if not participating. They could be brought under control by reducing the level of prizes because there would not then be the same degree of disappointment and anguish. The Minister said £25 would be a lot for radio. It would be a good thing if prize levels were drastically reduced. The I.T.A. does not appear to have had any policy covering prize money.

11.15 p.m.

There is no doubt that prizes are increasing in value all the time and I fear that this provision will prove to be an escalation Clause in this respect. So long as prizes remain no higher than they are at present, all will be well, but will they not continue to increase in value, perhaps slowly, with the agreement of the Authority?

With programmes like "Golden Shot" prizes seem to get more and more valuable all the time. More is given away and this tendency feeds on itself. Once one begins to give away bigger prizes, one must, to maintain the interest of the public, add to their value. Then, to avoid giving too much away, one must increase the element of chance, and perhaps give more people blank envelopes or keys which will not open winning locks. There is great disappointment on one hand as one gives away more with the other.

It is important for us to take steps to deal with this matter. We may have to wait until 1976 to do it for television, but we can do it for radio now. More people will be watching and listening in the hope of winning a fiver or tenner, or perhaps £50 or £100. We do not want the indignity of watching people suffering the embarrassment of winning or losing in public.

Mr. Gregor Mackenzie

The Minister will agree that my hon. Friends have made a serious point which is worthy of careful consideration by him and his successor. It is to be hoped that their remarks will be borne in mind by the television and radio contractors.

Like many others, I have spent some time watching television and listening to the radio in the United States. I have been particularly troubled by the state of radio in that country. The programmes seem to be nothing but repetitious quiz and chat shows and they bored me to tears. My fear is that if some potential contractors get their way, we shall have the same type of shows here, and that will not make for the best use of the frequencies which we are granting them.

Many of the so-called large-scale shows which I have seen on television have in my view been cheap and shoddy and have in no way entertained the public. Nor have they done anything to provide work for those who are concerned with providing us with entertainment.

The Minister hoped that we would have the good sense to leave the precise figures to the Authority. I do not think it does any harm for hon. Members occasionally to comment on this subject. It is to be hoped that the chairman of the I.B.A. will note our remarks especially as many of us feel that the sort of programmes that are being presented and the prizes being offered on television are distorting the whole nature of the medium.

The right hon. Gentleman says that it is difficult to be precise in putting down a figure. I suggest that his successor should look at the Betting and Gaming Acts prepared by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) and his noble Friend the Lord Chancellor, in which they wrote in some very precise figures.

It is not my function to moralise. Contrary to what the Minister may sometimes believe, I am not a Calvinistic Puritan and an authoritarian. That is the province of his hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray), who represents the "wee frees", whereas I represent the much more liberal attitude of the broader movement of the Church of Scotland. There is, however, a point to be taken from what my hon. Friends have said. There is no reason why we should not indicate our strong views to the right hon. Gentleman and we hope that he will communicate this point of view to the Chairman of the I.B.A. and his colleagues.

Mr. Chataway

I appreciate the strength of feeling expressed by hon. Members who have spoken. I am sure that my successor will take note of their views and that they will be heard by the Authority. In view, however, of the provision in Section 6 of the 1964 Act, and in view of the clear responsibility which the Authority has, I hope that hon. Members may feel that they have succeeded in making their point on these new Clauses and will not wish to press them.

Question put and negatived.

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