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Second Schedule—(Rules As To Advertisements)

Volume 531: debated on Tuesday 27 July 1954

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Lords Amendment: In page 19, leave out lines 21 to 31 and insert:

"rules (to be agreed upon from time to time between the Authority and the Postmaster-General, or settled by the Postmaster-Genera/ in default of such agreement) shall he observed—
  • (a) as to the interval which must elapse between any two periods given over to advertisements;
  • (b) as to the classes of broadcasts (which shall in particular include the broadcast of any religious service) in which advertisements may not be inserted, and the interval which must elapse between any such broadcast and any previous or subsequent period given over to advertisements."
  • Read a Second time.

    This Lords Amendment must be divided. There is an Amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) to the second half of the Amendment which proposes to insert words. The House must first agree to leave out lines 21 to 31.

    So much of the Lords Amendment as proposes to leave out lines 21 to 31, agreed to.

    10.30 p.m.

    I beg to move, as an Amendment to the words proposed to be inserted by the Lords, in line 8. after "service," to insert:

    "or of any matter intended for children or young persons."
    I think it would not be altogether irrelevant if I referred to a rumour that is spreading that J. Fred Muggs has descended on Paris. He realises that this Bill is reaching its last stages, and he is no doubt interested in the provisions that will be made in it for children's programmes. If the Amendment I am moving is inserted at the right place, the effect would be to keep advertisements out of the programmes intended for children.

    I was glad to see the way in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary stood up bravely against the attacks from his flank about the protection of children's programme in the matter of hours and duration of broadcasts. Therefore, I am confident that he will accept the Amendment which has the same purpose, namely, to protect the children in regard to the content of the programme and not merely the duration and the timing. I think the Home Secretary will agree that this is in no way out of accord with the last Amendment. This Amendment is an important one.

    I would draw the attention of the House to the fact that in paragraph (b) the reference is to "classes" in the plural. It says:
    " …. the classes of broadcasts … in which advertisements may not be inserted …."
    So there are to be classes of programmes, and one that is specified appears in the last Lords Amendment which we approved. It is firmly the intention of the Bill that there will be others as well as religion, and, if that is so, what better class to safeguard from advertisements than children's programmes. It is a tradition in this country that we take steps to protect our children. We have special certificates for films and all sorts of things like that, and, in fact, we do not allow the full play of private enterprise to work where our children and their interests are concerned.

    Children are going to be extremely important in this matter, because they are an extremely important market from the point of view of the advertisers. It has been discovered that one of the best ways of selling goods is to incite the children to want them and then they will pester their parents to get them. That is what has happened in the United States, and it will happen here.

    In the United States—and I do not see why it should not happen here—there has been a tendency for these programmes to deteriorate, and programmes which are supposed to be attractive to children concentrate on murders and brutalities. I was reading in a newspaper the other day that in one town in America things were so bad that the parents banded together and set up a voluntary panel to count the number of murders that occurred in one week's broadcast. They found some fantastic figure and they made representations about it.

    I only hope that they will not advertise any gin in the children's programmes.

    That is an uncalled for remark. My hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) made a perfectly legitimate interruption about which there was nothing objectionable. It concerned Ali Baba and the 40 thieves, and I think if the sort of the remark used by the right hon. Gentleman for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) in reply is going to be hurled across the Floor of the House, there are wounding observations which we on this side of the House can use about hon. Members opposite.

    I thought for a moment that the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) was in the Chair and was controlling what it was right and proper to say in this debate.

    The hon. Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Philip Bell) used an argument which I knew was coming. He asked why we did not let the parents control what their children should hear. In an earlier debate the hon. Member suggested that we should provide locks on television sets so that parents should lock them up. Why should this extra burden be placed upon parents? Nobody says that television sets should be locked up now, and certainly the risk of advertising does not now exist.

    I hope that in this connection we shall not hear the argument that we should not tie the I.T.A. That argument cannot be used with any logic against our Amendment to the Lords Amendment, because the I.T.A. is already being tied as regards religious programmes. In other words, we are not trusting the programme contractors with religious programmes and therefore we have made a special provision in respect of those programmes. We are tying the discretion of the I.T.A. in that respect and giving it instructions. Therefore, it cannot be said that we should not do this for the children, on the ground that we should not tie the I.T.A. If we are not to trust the programme contractors with religious programmes and services, we should not trust them with advertisements in children's programmes. One cannot have it both ways.

    The right hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) set himself up before the House in his last few minutes as a censor of taste. He did so after displaying one of the grossest pieces of discourtesy and bad taste. Later, he refused to give way. Furthermore, he said that as this was not a question of order he did not think that I had any reason to comment upon it. He said that he thought that Mr. Deputy-Speaker was in the Chair looking after matters of order and not myself. I do not deny that or demur from it in the least, but if everything was to get past except what is ruled out of order by the Chair this place would be a very much poorer debating Chamber.

    On a point of order. Do I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is raising a point of order, or is he participating in this debate? Up to the moment, all that the right hon. Gentleman has done has been to attack my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker).

    The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) was not rising to a point of order. I called him and I was hoping that he would come to the Amendment to the Lords Amendment very soon.

    I was coming very closely to the point. The right hon. Member for Smethwick set himself up as a censor of taste. That was the burden of his speech, and, of course, hon. Gentlemen opposite object to the cut and thrust of debate. We need not be surprised at that. They cannot take it, they are only interested in handing it out.

    On a point of order. How long is a right hon. Gentleman allowed to continue when he loses his temper and does not come to the point?

    We will leave the question of losing one's temper to the hon. and learned Member, whose temper is not always of the most controlled.

    The right hon. Gentleman has invalidated the whole case which he put to the House by the argument which he used to support it. If there is anyone who is capable of advancing arguments about taste it is not the right hon. Gentleman, judging by the taste of his speech. Does the right hon. Gentleman wish to interrupt? If he does, I will gladly give way.

    I was not setting myself up as an arbiter of taste. I was hoping that the I.T.A. would be set up as an arbiter of taste.

    The right hon. Gentleman complained that those who would have the operation of these facilities would not come up to his high and exacting standard of taste. I say that, judged by the high and exacting standard of taste set by the right hon. Gentleman tonight, I hope that the ordinary programme contractor, the ordinary advertiser, the ordinary adviser, will be able to come up to and surpass that standard of taste. I have no doubt whatever that they will be able to do so.

    My right hon. Friend moved the Amendment in moderate terms, and I should like to say a few words in support of what he said. One of the most unattractive features of the Government's conduct in the whole controversy has been the way in which, from beginning to end, they have accepted the right of commercial advertisers to advertise direct to children. We are not concerned here with advertising to adults, with advertising to parents; the result of the Amendment would be to prohibit direct advertising to children on television by commercial advertisers.

    My right hon. Friend has indicated the pressure which children can bring on their parents, and I want to suggest that another reason that the advertisers are so keen to obtain this right is the susceptibility of children to entertainment of this kind. That seems to me to be the reason that commercial interests are pressing for this right to advertise to children and the reason that the Government are refusing to accept our Amendment. Children are easy meat for commercial advertisers. I suggest that those who can believe in Santa Claus can also believe in the fairy stories of commercial advertisers very easily.

    Is it the hon. Gentleman's view—perhaps it is his experience —that parents are easy meat for their children?

    I certainly agree that they are.

    As my right hon. Friend said, part of the purpose of advertising on children's programmes is not only to advertise to admittedly the most susceptible people—the children themselves—but also to get at parents through their children, as is done all over the United States today. Children are particularly susceptible—and, again, commercial advertisers know this—to pictures; by pictures rather than by words is the way to persuade a child, and television therefore gives the advertisers an opportunity which they have not had before of selling their goods and of persuading children by means of the television screen.

    In my view, the use of television for commercial advertisers to squeeze pennies out of children is a contemptible thing. That is not what television is for. For the Government to put this forward betrays a terrible lack of a sense of values. In America today we find not only the innocence of children exploited in this way; the advertisers also make a study of the psychological characteristics of children so as to make their advertising appeal more effective. For example, everybody knows that children like collecting, so the American advertisers—and the British advertisers will follow suit—gear their advertising appeal to children in order to exploit this characteristic. When they invite children to collect the tops of Coca-Cola bottles in the United States it is not because they know that the children will enjoy collecting them; this is a way devised by hard-headed business men to stop those children from drinking ginger beer. That is what is behind it.

    10.45 p.m.

    To calculate the characteristics of children and to use them in order to sell commercial goods is a misuse of television. I therefore ask the Government to accept our Amendment. Maybe they will lose a little revenue; maybe the advertising contractors and the programme companies will suffer a little, but at least it will mean that we are getting what the British public asks for, and that is that the programmes should be as British in type as possible.

    It is a little surprising, although apparently the Government see nothing wrong in it, that the right hon. Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) should have sunk to the level he has reached tonight. Since 1951, when he was not given an office, and he has had to perform a begging trick, there has been no Privy Councillor in this House who has abused his position more than the right hon. Member. Hon. Members, one after another, have suffered—and I am one of them, although I have not complained but am giving it back tonight —by his using his position as a Privy Councillor and getting up immediately after they have spoken—

    I would remind the hon. Member that the Chair is responsible for calling upon an hon. or right hon. Member to speak.

    You may be responsible for calling upon an hon. Member, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but the right hon. Member is alone responsible for what he says, and once again tonight he has got up and given the sort of stock performance to which we have become accustomed. He has far too good a mind, and once upon a time, he was far too good a man, to allow himself to indulge in the sort of speech he has made tonight. But now he is acting merely as an apologist for an unspeakable and disreputable lot —

    I cannot link any of this to the Amendment which is before the House.

    The real reason for his performance is, without doubt, that there is one certain vacancy in the Government, and we are told that there is another one to come. What he thinks—

    I think that we have had enough of this. I have stopped the hon. Member before, and he must get back to the Amendment.

    I am endeavouring to get back to it. What it is about is the use of commercial television so as to persuade little children to part with their pennies. The right hon. Member does not object to that because he has managed to swallow a good many things in the past three years; but tonight he has reached absolute bottom.

    I hope that, after that performance, the House will forgive me if I deal with the Amendment to the Lords Amendment. There are two categories with which we are concerned. The first category is the broadcast for schools, and I cannot imagine advertisers being associated with such broadcasts. For one thing, before the broadcast to a school can be arranged, it will be necessary for the school authorities to agree to such a broadcast, and I do not imagine that they would want advertisers concerned in such a programme.

    Furthermore, the school broadcasts will be of that class for which my right hon. Friend has particular responsibility, and I do not imagine that he would be prepared to allow a broadcast for schools in such circumstances. Then there is the school programme which is not so much for education as for entertainment, and, as I said during the Committee stage of the Bill, I do not see anything basically wrong in having selected advertisements at the beginning and the end of a children's programme. That is the view the Government hold.

    The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) took the attitude that all advertisements for children are bad. I would ask the House to have some sense of proportion and a sense of realism in considering this matter. For example, the "Children's Newspaper" which, we all agree, is a good one, has advertisements. I see in the edition this week that there are advertisements for pencil boxes, stamps, cheese labels—whatever they may be—razor blade knives, tents, telescopes; and there is a large advertisement for bubblegum. The B.B.C. apparently sees nothing basically wrong—

    I was under the impression that religious newspapers also contained advertisements. Am I wrong?

    The right hon. Gentleman must wait and listen. I am dealing with the B.B.C. at the moment. The B.B.C. sees nothing wrong in having in the "Radio Times" advertisements on the same pages as those setting out the children's programmes. If hon. Members like to look at this week's "Radio Times" they will see advertised on the same page with the children's programme for one day a great many things ending with Bemax for breakfast. The children's papers, "Eagle" and "Girl," which are, I think, highly esteemed, and, I believe, edited by a clergyman, have advertisements for chewing gum, sweets, and harmonicas; and there is a give-away competition by Kellogg's for a 'bicycle. Therefore, we cannot possibly agree with the basic proposition of the hon. Member for Woolwich, East that advertisements are bad basically for children.

    Our attitude is that the advertisements have to be selected advertisements, that they have to be under some sort of control—

    I hope the hon. Gentleman will deal with advertising in religious newspapers, because advertisements are forbidden in religious programmes. If he does not deal with that point, all that he has said so far will be irrelevant.

    There is a great difference between religious newspapers and religious services.

    Religious newspapers are published by sects to advertise those sects—or most of them are. They publish them for propaganda. There is nothing wrong in that, but basically there is a difference between reading a religious newspaper and attending a religious service.

    I hope the hon. Gentleman will be able to assure the House that the advertisements in connection with the children's programmes will not be directly linked by the new Authority with any of the children's programmes, in the same way as they are in children's magazines. For instance, in connection with a character in a story in a magazine are advertisements for toy guns or Wild West outfits, and so on. It would be thoroughly deplorable if that sort of thing were allowed in the broadcast programmes. Will the Advisory Committee censor the advertisements in the children's programmes as well as the programmes themselves?

    I must remind the hon. Member of one of the basic principles of the Bill, and that is that advertisements are kept separate from programmes. Our attitude is that there is nothing wrong in advertisements but that they should be under some sort of control and subject to some sort of advice.

    There is another side to the question that we cannot entirely ignore if we have the children's interests at heart. If programmes are not to be financed by advertising they can be paid for only out of the £750,000 voted by the House. That is not an immense sum of money, and there are many other claimants for it—for example, the religious programmes; we have been pressed to accept party political broadcasts, which would cost money; royal occasions, and so on. If we exclude advertisements from children's programmes, we might very well finish up with hardly any children's programmes at all.

    I would suggest that the position is not as the right hon. Gentleman suggested when he dragged in the United States. Always he brings in the United States when it suits his argument. he knows perfectly well the type of system we have here has not the slightest analogy to that of the United States.

    The position regarding children's programmes is well safeguarded. They are classes of programmes from which any advertisements can, if necessary, either be banned or regulated by the Postmaster-General himself. There is an advertisement advisory committee, which is mandatory, and there is now the children's advisory committee, which is also mandatory, which deals specifically with programmes designed for children.

    I suggest that any advertisement which has got through these three sieves can certainly be regarded as innocuous, and that the fears that advertisements in children's programmes can do harm are entirely illusory. For those reasons, I cannot accept the Amendment.

    I am sure that after the alarming speech of the Assistant Postmaster-General my hon. Friends will think it very desirable to press the Amendment to a Division, because the effect of what he said is that the Government are really quite anxious that this time shall be used to provide additional revenue for the advertisers.

    One of the most alarming features of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was his reference, not only to programmes of the Children's Hour type, but also to broadcasts to schools. I do not know what the Minister of Education may have to say about this, but, since she and the Assistant Postmaster-General have done their best to stop the B.B.C. from running a school television service, it is rather extraordinary to learn at this late hour that the Government are in favour of this commercial body running a school television service.

    There is certainly no safeguard whatsoever in the suggestion the Assistant Postmaster-General made that advertisements would not appear in school teleclasses because they will be made by arrangement with local authorities. As he knows very well, if school television services are arranged, they must be arranged to cover wide areas. They must be arranged, not in conjunction with specific local authorities, but by arrangements covering a whole series of programmes, covering a whole number of authorities, and once those arrangements have been made, there is nothing but this very inadequate series of sieves to which he referred to prevent advertisements being slipped into these programmes.

    The whole purpose of this Bill has been to enable the commercial advertisers to set up bill-posting sites in every drawing room, and I must say that if the Government have now aimed at setting up bill-posting sites in class rooms as well, that is going pretty far. It is bad enough when the money-grabbers push their dirty snouts into private homes, but if they are going to push their snouts into schools as well it is high time we tried to see that this matter was put under proper control. I hope we are to have this looked at again otherwise we shall see the whole thing reduced to an even more degrading process than some of us had believed.

    11.0 p.m.

    I do not propose to detain the House for more than a few minutes, but I regard the speech made by the Assistant Postmaster-General as the most discouraging of all the announcements he has made during the whole series of debates on this Bill. I should like to say why. I shall deal with the interjection by the hon. and learned Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Philip Bell), who referred to the parents and said, "Do we not trust the parents?"

    That was the burden of what he said. I will give way if he wants to challenge me.

    Before we exchange these reminiscences about what was said, let us be accurate or not refer to them at all.

    I was not proposing to exchange reminiscences. I was telling the hon. and learned Member, in the observations he made, how little he appreciated the importance of this question when he was talking about the parents and made the suggestion that we could not trust the parents in this matter. He was suggesting that if they have television by the Authority they have to sit there and switch it off if they find that there is something deleterious to their interests or those of the children. I should have thought that if television was to be of any advantage at all it was to leave the children looking at it comfortably and carry on with cooking the dinner for the old man when he comes home from the House.

    If the hon. Gentleman believes that and he has children, what does he do with the "News of the World"?

    I have children, but I do not take the "News of the World," so that has nothing to do with it. I could suggest what I would do with the "News of the World" if I did take it, but I do not think the House would wish me to enter into that. My youngest child is 23, and is very much more competent to look after his affairs than I am, and tends to look after me.

    I know my son and the hon. and learned Gentleman does not. I suggest on this question of children's advertisements that the Assistant Postmaster-General really has been ingenuous, to put it at its least, and certainly I think he has handled the truth so lightly that it was in danger of coming to pieces in his hands, because, in the course of previous debate, when he was challenged about whether there would be religious broadcasts in children's programmes, and who would pay for them or whether they would be paid for, he said that there are other resources and advertisers who want to attract a galaxy of audiences of various types would have to pay for various types of programmes. And now, in today's debate on this Bill, he said, "Oh, well, of course it can all come out of the £750,000, which will have to come out of the advertisers."

    What the Assistant Postmaster-General means apparently is that Hopalong Cassidy will not have "Buy Bemax" or "Fried Cod" on his shirt. We shall put the advertisements at the beginning, or in the middle, or at the end, or in an interval, and advertisers are going to pay for them, and they are going to say, subject to any moral code and the views of the Postmaster-General, if he has any, that these advertisements were paid for as part of the programme. He now says the advertisers will put on the children's programme, and the advertisers will pay for it, and the advertisers will not say, "Now this is an advertisement we are putting over as part of the children's programme."

    I want to put an important point on this matter. A great many people attach a great deal more importance to paying for a television set—[Interruption.] I personally am prepared to sell my television set cheaply to anyone who wants to buy it today. [HON. MEMBERS: "How cheaply?"] I was just trying to liquidate the outstanding indebtedness of hire purchase instalments and decide whether my wife had any interest in the arrangement, and whether, in making the offer, I was not exceeding my domestic powers.

    The hon. Members must keep the advertisements distinct from the programmes.

    I am much obliged to my hon. and learned Friend. In deference to the obvious wish of the House, I will withdraw the offer. I want the House to consider this point seriously, because it is important. A great many people attach importance to television, a great many people are spending rather more than they can afford to acquire a set, a great many people will go to the extra expense of getting the alternative programme, and others will have committed themselves to spending a great deal of money, partly because they think it is good for them and good for their children and keeps people at home and because it is a medium of importance.

    I ask hon. Members to be serious about this, because we are talking about the home, about the institution which is a special foundation of our national life. What the Assistant Postmaster-General is now saying is that we shall throw open the doors of our houses, the dining rooms, the little lounges, the sitting rooms in the little houses in Oldham to a medium whereby a great deal of sales pressure can be put upon children, and with a snob bias; so that the advertiser can say, "Some children have a posh school uniform, you have not, why don't you persuade your parents to buy you one?"; so that the advertiser can say, "Some children have a really good satchel, why don't you persuade your parents to buy you one?"

    Everybody knows that this is precisely the sort of advertisement that will be put over. In the previous debate it appeared that all the advertising agents came from one side of the House, and it was suggested that all were corrupt and dishonest. Well I am about the only director of an advertising company who sits on this side of the House, and so I do not speak free from bias. I am a director of Mass Observation Limited, which has a certain social connotation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Advertising!"] I do not need to advertise it; it is a name that advertises itself. I am putting the problem fairly before the House. Only in the last 10 minutes has it been said frankly that this will happen. Until then we have had a muddled series of explanations to the effect that there will not be much advertising to children, that somehow or other it will be separated from the main programmes urging people to buy Bemax or frozen cod.

    This is a serious problem, and I warn the Assistant Postmaster-General that there will be serious repercussions if he does not try to have some sort of control which will prevent the exploitation of the privilege that is being given to the I.T.A. to walk uninvited into every house in the Kingdom and to play upon the natural desire of children to appear as well-dressed and well-equipped as their fellows, and to go to school with rulers, with compasses, with geometry sets, with all the things children like to have, and which not every child in the country can have. It is a serious matter, and we are entitled to a little more information on the point.

    Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the words proposed to be inserted by the Lords," put, and negatived.

    Lords Amendment agreed to.