HL Deb 19 January 1999 vol 596 cc470-2

2.53 p.m.

Lord Northbourne asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they intend to support the Government of Sweden in pressing the European Union for a ban on commercial advertising targeted at children.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, we are not aware of any such proposal recently by the Swedish Government. The question of the impact on minors of television advertising and teleshopping will be the subject of a study shortly to be undertaken by the European Commission. It is too early to say what action, if any, the European Commission may propose as a result of that work.

Lord Northbourne

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply, although I am rather surprised as it conflicts with information I received from the Swedish Embassy. Is the noble Lord aware of a report on family viewing, published in September by the Parenting Forum and the NSPCC, stating that 78 per cent. of respondents asked for some controls on advertising targeted at children? Does the noble Lord agree that the culture of expectation developed by advertising targeted at children impacts on the poorest families and children from the most disadvantaged families, often causing them to be bullied at school, and that they are the children who can least cope with bullying?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, so far as we are aware, the last action by the Swedish Government was in the run-up to the establishment of the Television Without Frontiers Directive in 1989. We are not aware that they have taken a position since then.

I have read the report referred to by the noble Lord. As a researcher, I am doubtful about the methods—a questionnaire published in Family Circle received only 220 responses. That does not give me great confidence. The only relevant recommendation that the report makes to government is that advertising regulations should take account of the age of the likely child audience. Advertising regulations by the ITC, the Advertising Standards Authority and the Radio Authority do just that.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, when this matter is under discussion, will my noble friend look into the related question of the growing use of children as sales people on television? Does he agree that childhood is a time for learning rather than earning?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, it would be unfortunate if children's education were seriously interrupted by taking part in advertisements. However, the use of child actors, for example, and child singers is an important part of our culture. We should not be opposed to it wholesale.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that advertising is, a fortiori, a question of subsidiarity in European politics? Consequently, is the Minister satisfied that the rules relating specifically to children under the Advertising Standards Authority's British Codes of Advertising and Sales Promotion already provides sufficient regulation for advertisers targeting children, and therefore a ban on such advertising is not necessary?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I do not know about a fortiori, but I certainly agree with the noble Lord. It is the Government's view that self-regulation by the ITC, the Advertising Standards Authority and the Radio Authority is the right approach. The codes of practice are extremely detailed. I think some noble Lords would be surprised by the extent to which they restrict advertising, including advertising that is potentially damaging to children.

Lord Chalfont

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is very difficult to distinguish between advertising on television targeted at children and that which is targeted at anyone watching television commercials?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I agree up to a point. I should have thought that very little toy advertising, for example, is generally targeted at adults.

Noble Lords


Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I acknowledge that it may be targeted at the Conservative Party. The noble Lord is right in that many clothing advertisements that appear to be directed at adults are, in fact, directed at persuading adults to buy more expensive clothes for children.

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that most advertising on television is dull, boring and noisy?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am interested in the noble Lord's last point. There have been complaints that the noise level goes up during television advertisements. I do not think that I agree, but I do not pay great attention to television advertising—I tend to go and get myself a drink during the break.