HL Deb 02 May 2001 vol 625 cc696-8

2.59 p.m.

The Earl of Courtown asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the current levels of expenditure on government advertising represent value for money for the taxpayer.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

My Lords, government advertising is the responsibility of individual departments. It is subject to strict guidelines published by the Cabinet Office. Those state that it is essential to conduct a rigorous value-for-money examination for all publicity proposals, including advertising.

The Earl of Courtown

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Can he tell me where Her Majesty's Government draw the line between advertising a government initiative and the promotion of new Labour?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I have indicated that a rigorous approach to value for money is taken. The reference to advertising expenditure in the past three months includes such matters as £2.1 million for police recruitment; £2.1 million for blood donation; £3.2 million for nursing recruitment; and £1.9 million for Royal Navy recruitment. Those seem to us to be appropriate matters on which to spend such sums.

Lord Lipsey

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that we would be helped by guidance from those who are questioning that expenditure on where they would like the cuts to fall? Are they just against money being spent on informing people of the areas to which they should not go in order to avoid spreading foot and mouth across their land, or do they also want the Government to stop telling people who are poor where they may get the benefits to which they are entitled?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I agree that it would be helpful to know where those raising this question suggest that the line should be cut. I cannot help but refer to an article in a publication called Campaign, written by Mr Michael Ancram, chairman of the Conservative Party, which begins by stating: The Conservative Party is to block the Government's recruitment campaigns for police and nurses", when Tony Blair announces that a general election is expected in June.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, I rise in an effort to be helpful on behalf of the Cross Benches. Does the Minister not agree that in the Printed Paper Office is a large glossy document headed with words to the effect, "The Government's Achievements". Subsequent paragraphs then discuss future government achievements. Will the Minister take on board the fact that there may not be total unanimity on the degree to which the items listed are achievements?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I have no idea what document the noble Lord is referring to. The question raised by the noble Earl concerns government advertising. I am trying to stress that the advertising referred to is for the recruitment of nurses, police officers and so forth, which I regard as a good thing.

Baroness Buscombe

My Lords, perhaps the question can be put another way. Can the Minister tell us what testing of the concept of any campaign was carried out before its release to ensure that the advertisements did not convey a party political point? If the Government budgeted for such campaigns to run for six months, one year or two years, as is normal, why has expenditure shot up in the past four months?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the campaigns have nothing to do with politics. The recruitment of police officers and nurses is something which all parties across any political divide would wish to encourage. I am amazed that the Conservative Party is to stop the recruitment of police officers and nurses. The expenditure for advertising this year has risen to levels comparable to those in 1986 and 1987. Between 1992 and 1997 there was a substantial drop in advertising. Was that because the Government were doing nothing during that period?

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that at a time of massively increased job availability, it has been vital to advertise to promote applications for jobs in essential public services? Further, given the improvements in the wide range of welfare benefits, does he agree that it is perfectly reasonable to advertise to ensure that people are aware of their entitlements and rights?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I agree entirely with both premises. I particularly emphasise the fact that the Armed Forces have made clear that campaigning should be consistent throughout the year. That is what we have done. There is not much point in having a working families' tax credit unless people know about it. It is appropriate for a Government to take steps to that effect.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords—

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, perhaps I may return to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. Would the Minister explore the precincts to see whether he can find the document to which the noble Lord referred? It is at least possible that the Minister might then conclude that it is a rather sombre example of the incredible being offered to the incredulous.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the Question asked by the noble Earl concerns government advertising. I do not know what the document is but it does not seem to fall within that rubric.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords,—

Lord Gordon of Strathblane

My Lords, I shall be brief in the hope that the noble Lord is able to intervene subsequently. The noble Baroness has had a distinguished career in the advertising industry. She will know that the industry has moved on a long way since the days of Lord Leverhulme, who said that he knew that half his advertising worked but he did not know which half. Does the Minister agree that officials at the COI and the CIGS are rigorous in ensuring a distinction between party politics and government information? Further, they have been in the vanguard of pressing for what is known in the industry as "media auditing"; that is, ensuring that the client receives value for his advertising pound.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I agree that government officials involved in such matters as advertising, recruitment drives and the promotion of benefits available to people as a result of government initiatives are utterly rigorous in ensuring that they are effective. They have also been in the lead in ensuring that there is an appropriate media audit.

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