HC Deb 12 May 1988 vol 133 cc453-4
5. Mr. Tony Banks

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what steps he takes to ensure that advertising expenditure by Government Departments is kept under control.

16. Mr. Home Robertson

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how Her Majesty's Treasury monitors the public expenditure of Government Departments on advertising.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. John Major)

The cost of advertising is found from departmental spending programmes, as published in the public expenditure White Paper. The Treasury does not monitor and control it separately.

Mr. Banks

Is the Chief Secretary aware that Government expenditure on advertising has gone up fivefold since 1979, and, in the current year, is estimated to be £88 million? I realise, of course, that rotten products take a lot of advertising to sell, and nothing comes more rotten than Government policies. However, as many of the policies on which the taxpayers' money is spent are controversial, does the Chief Secretary agree that, rather than the taxpayer funding party political advertising by the Conservative party, Conservative Central Office should make a substantial contribution?

Mr. Major

The underlying premise of the hon. Gentleman's question is entirely wrong. In fact, the percentage of Central Office of Information expenditure on advertising is not materially different in the current year from that of 1978–79. On advertising generally, it is in everyone's interest to know about policies and new schemes and to receive advice on such matters as health and safety, and that is precisely what the Government are determined to do. They stick strictly by proprietorial rules that have existed for many years.

Mr. McCrindle

Would it not save the necessity for Government expenditure on advertising if my right hon. Friend were to take this opportunity to tell us what Conservative Members particularly wish to know, namely, that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has no intention of resigning—or is that a hypothetical question?

Mr. Major

I can certainly express a strong preference for my right hon. Friend remaining Chancellor for a considerable period. The evidence of his time as Chancellor is that he has produced a remarkably successful British economy.

Mr. Rees

The Chief Secretary referred to costs. Whose job is it in the COI to decide whether advertising has crossed the boundary into being party political?

Mr. Major

The role of the COI is to advise the Government on matters of propriety in relation to advertising. The COI is, of course, responsible to my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury. The final decision on advertising is a matter for the departmental Minister, but the Government are bound to accept the rules presented to the Widdicombe committee, and do so.

Mr. Curry

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the money being spent by the Department of Trade and Industry on advertising to encourage companies to take advantage of the single market is money well spent, but that if companies are to observe this exhortation they must be endowed with a stable and sustainable rate of exchange against the deutschmark?

Mr. Major

I believe that advertising designed to advise people of the merits and desirability of the single market is money well spent. It represents an extraordinary opportunity for British industry, and we wish to see it taken.

Mr. Nicholas Brown

The House was interested to hear the Chief Secretary confirm that responsibility for the COI within the Government Treasury team has slid from the Paymaster General to the Economic Secretary. Will he confirm that the reason that that change was slipped through, without a great blaze of publicity, was the clear conflict of interest between the Paymaster General's duties to the Government's Treasury team and his duties as chairman of the Conservative party?

Mr. Major

There can be no conflict of interest in that respect. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor passed the responsibilities for the COI to my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to ensure that there was no such conflict, and he did that before there was a single representation from the Opposition to the effect that that change was needed.