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First Schedule—(Supplementary Provisions As To Television Advertisement Duty)

Volume 640: debated on Monday 15 May 1961

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this be the First Schedule to the Bill.

According to paragraph 2 of the Schedule, the tax becomes payable within fifteen days of the end of the month. That is approximately the day on which the television companies are paid. It leaves no margin between their receiving the money and the tax becoming payable.

This means, I suppose, that they will in future require payment of the rates for advertising to themselves at an earlier date, which will put great inconvenience on the advertisers and the advertising agents. I think that my right hon. and learned Friend could have stuck to the practice of the trade and have given it until the end of the month instead of until the middle of the month for the payments to become due.

My second point has nothing to do with advertising or television. Paragraph 3 (c) of the Schedule says that the Commissioners may require any person having any functions in connection with broadcasting to give certain information, or to produce certain records and books, whether that information, or those records and books, are in his possession or not. I have complained before, without success, about this sort of provision, which has appeared in several Statutes and many Statutory Instruments, and perhaps I will have some success this time. This provision should impose upon a person connected with this trade an obligation to give information which is in his possession, and the obligation to produce books or accounts which are in his possession, but not a wide obligation to produce anything which the Commissioners may demand from him—may, indeed, tell him to go and get from somewhere else.

This is bad drafting. It imposes an obligation which could not be carried out in many cases, and, if the Commissioners endeavour to enforce it, it might cause considerable hardship. With these two comments, I hope my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary will look at the Schedule again to see if its drafting can be improved.

We are very anxious on this side of the Committee that if this tax is imposed it should be adequately and fully imposed. But I am bound to say that I have some sympathy with the point of view put by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). It is like having to make a sort of affidavit of broadcasting papers—he will know what I mean. It is not only a question of what is in one's control, but of what one can get hold of by hunting for—and that is perhaps going a little far when there is a penalty attached.

My point is rather similar to one which he raised. I repeat that we are only anxious to be satisfied that what is provided here is necessary. In paragraph 3 (1, b) a broadcaster has to
"keep such books, records and accounts…as the Commissioners may direct, and…preserve for six months or any longer period required by the Commissioners all books, records, accounts or documents relating to the business;".
Surely, if it is possible to limit the period over which advances of this sort are recoverable, it is equally possible to limit the period over which these rather comprehensive collections of papers may be required by the Commissioners? We can all assume that the Commissioners will be reasonable in a matter of this sort, but obviously there is no reason to give powers unless those powers must be as unlimited as the draft suggests. I see no reason why they should not have a reasonable period of limitation put on them.

10.15 p.m.

Three points have been raised—two by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) and one by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). My hon. Friend's first point concerned the provisions in paragraph 2 that the duty shall be payable within fifteen days of the end of the month. I should inform the Committee that this provision in the Schedule was based on the published practice of the programme contractors. Clause 8 of their General Terms and Conditions of Contract, the terms on which they accept advertisements for broadcasting, provides:

"Accounts are payable on the 15th of the month following the date of transmission."
One programme contractor, with Associated Television, varies that by requiring that:
"Accounts of persons other than recognised advertising agents are, in the absence of special arrangements, to be payable in advance of transmission."
But, in general, the Schedule requires the programme contractors to pay the duty at about the same time that they expect to be receiving payment inclusive of duty from their own customers.

However, I realise that there are programme contractors who do not succeed in getting payments from all their customers by the 15th of the following month. Also, of course, there are some types of advertisements which are charged for according to the size of the television audience by whom they are seen. The fifteen days might not, therefore, be appropriate in all circumstances. This matter was brought to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend by the Amendment in page 29, line 20, leave out "fifteen" and insert "thirty", in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby and we did not know until this morning, of course, that that Amendment was not to be called. However, my right hon. and learned Friend had an opportunity to consider it and he has asked me to say that, in view of the issues which that Amendment raises and which have been raised in this debate, he will consider before Report what is in my hon. Friend's mind so that we can see whether in some cases there should not be some degree of postponement.

My hon. Friend's second point was concerned with paragraph 3 (2). He is concerned that a person might be required to give information which was not within his knowledge, or to provide books which he was not able to make available. I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the case of the Commissioners of Customs and Excise against Ingram, 2KB, 1949, p. 103, which was concerned with the interpretation of Section 20 (3) of the Finance Act, 1946, which, deleting certain words which do not matter, says:
"Every person concerned with the purchase or importation of goods…shall furnish to the Commissioners within such time and in such form as they may require information relating to the goods or to the purchase or importation thereof…or to dealings therewith as they may specify."
It was held in that case that
"the court on such an application as the present can and should make such an order as, on the one hand, will make reasonably clear to the defendant what he is called on to do and, on the other, will not impose on the defendant obligations which are beyond his power to discharge."
I should have thought that in the light of that judgment it was clear that no court would convict a person for failing to give information which he had no power to give. Also, and I hope that this will go some way to satisfy the concern expressed by my hon. Friend, the Customs Department of Customs and Excise would never take legal proceedings against anyone for failure to comply with paragraph 3 (2) of the Schedule unless there was reason to believe that he had information or that he had records which he could make available, but which he would not make available.

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that it is sometimes preferable to say clearly what one means rather than to leave it to the courts to make the appropriate order in all the circumstances?

I do not know. I seem to have heard the hon. and learned Gentleman advance arguments the other way on occasion. When the conjoined effect of an Act of Parliament and a case in court is clear, I think that there is a lot to be said for leaving things as they are.

On the point raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman on paragraph 3 (1, b), I will look into this matter again, but I think that this is common form and follows the provisions which relate to the Pool Betting Duty which I think he will agree are equally apposite in this case. I have in mind what was said, and I hope that the Committee will let us have the Schedule.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule agreed to.

I beg to move, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

We have had a long and stimulating day on Clause 1. We have not got as far as we would like to have gone, and I hope that tomorrow we shall make more rapid progress. Nevertheless, it being twenty minutes past ten, I ask that you report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

I think that this Motion will receive more universal commendation from both sides of the Committee than anything the Chancellor said earlier in the day's proceedings. It is a wise proposal. I know that he is a little disappointed that we have not made progress with the Bill, and so am I in some ways, but I think he will agree—[Laughter.]—I am surprised that the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) should laugh. Surely he is aware that we spent by far the greater part of the day debating Amendments moved by his hon. Friends and not Amendments moved from this side of the Committee? This is becoming rather common form in latter-day Finance Bills. We shall have to see what can be done about it.

I think that the Chancellor and the Committee will agree that we have had a very interesting debate today. We have seen the power, eloquence and occasional smoothness of the advertising lobby on the benches opposite. That has been very revealing to some of us.

We have also seen some of the humbug any hypocrisy that has been put forward by the lobby outside the House. I would not suggest that hon. Members have been guilty of purveying humbug and hypocrisy—not much anyway. We have heard some of that humbug and hypocrisy subjected to a devastating analysis by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew), and I am sure that the country will in consequence have noted some of the "phoney" characters of the kind of society which is being built up as a result of this over-dependence on advertising.

Nevertheless, I think that the Chancellor was right to suggest that we should break off at this point, the more so because I think that the next Amendment to be called will be one of great importance to hon. Members on both sides, dealing as it does with agriculture and the effect on it of the Chancellor's proposals. I think that it is better that we should start that discussion at a more reasonable hour in the afternoon when I am sure that hon. Members on both sides will want to contribute to the debate.

There are other important matters that we shall want to deal with tomorrow, and I echo the Chancellor's hope that, in statistical terms of the number of Clauses dealt with, we might make more progress tomorrow than we have made today. That is not a reflection on any hon. Member who has taken part in the debate. I am sure that the Patronage Secretary will be glad to see more progress chalked up, if we are able to do that tomorrow, as I am sure we shall.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.