Government Publicity (Cost)

Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 4:21 pm on 16th May 1989.

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Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 4:21 pm, 16th May 1989

I beg to move, That this House deplores the soaring cost of the Government's publicity machine; and calls for an end to its deployment for party political purposes.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I must announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

There is widespread and growing concern about the scale, propriety and timing of much Government publicity and advertising. It is an issue that goes to the heart of the relationship between political parties, the people, public servants and the state. In 1985 the Government acknowledged that in their evidence to the Widdicombe inquiry when they said: The unregulated use by any public authority of highly developed media techniques, particularly for persuasive purposes with a strong political undertone, is perceived as a dangerous trend in a democratic society. At the time the Government were talking about local authorities. Since that statement, spending on Government publicity has soared. The regulations laid down to minimise the party political content in Government publicity have been partly ignored and secretly relaxed. It has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between Government publicity and Tory propaganda, in terms both of the content and of the personnel and agencies producing it.

Since that statement was made, without the benefit of statute, industries owned by the public have run privatisation advertising campaigns co-ordinated with those of Government Departments and the Tory party. The only good feature of that is the growing public revulsion against some of the more patronising claptrap that they see on television. People believe that this has gone too far. In particular, they object to the £30 million of their money that is being spent on advertising by the water industry which has a monopoly product that none of us can do without. As The Economist asked last week: Who benefits from the campaign? The ten authorities' tied customers will not get cleaner or cheaper water, merely bigger bills. The authorities themselves can hardly increase their sales or market share. Indeed, after the dry winter, some of them might be glad to be asked to supply less, not more, water. That advertising appears to have been counter productive because after the milk float water advertisement, some people thought that privatised water would be sold by the bottle. That may turn out to be right.

Spending on Government publicity has continued to soar, and that fact cannot be disputed. Publicity spending by public bodies controlled by the Government will this year total well over £220 million. That is a lot of money. To give only one example, it would pay for building four big new district hospitals. Instead of that, it is all going on paper and television.

About £120 million of that massive sum will be spent by Government Departments, and the rest by the armed forces, Government agencies and the water and electricity industries. The £120 million spending by Government Departments is a sixfold increase on the £20 million publicity spending by Government Departments in 1979. No wonder the taxpayers are beginning to think that it has all gone too far.

In 1987, according to The Daily Telegraph, the Government overtook Unilever as Britain's biggest spender on advertising. Strange to think that a Government who proclaim that they want to roll back the frontiers of the state insist that their propaganda rolls into the front room of every family in the land. The Government now spend so much on TV advertising that they get a special discount rate from the TV companies.

In March of this year, the top five spenders on advertising were B and Q, £3·6 million; Renault, £2·2 million; the Department of Trade and Industry, £2·1 million; Midland bank, £2·1 million; and the water industry, £1·98 million. The Government Departments that spend most taxpayers' money on publicity include the Department of Employment, with £17 million, and the Department of Social Security, with £16 million.

The Department of Social Security should spend money on publicity in an effort to raise the appalling take-up level of some benefits. It is trying to spend money now to increase the take-up that its incompetent advertising in the past failed to raise.

This year, though, the star spender is the Department of Health, the spending of which is set to soar from about £10 million to about £19 million, an increase of 87 per cent. At the same time, the Department has given the National Health Service just 5 per cent. to cope with inflation. Yet the Secretary of State for Health has had the gall to go around the country complaining about the money that doctors are spending to campaign against the NHS review. The doctors have one singular merit that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not have: they are spending their own money.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin , West Derbyshire

I could not understand from what the hon. Gentleman said whether he welcomed the increase in expenditure on advertising by the Department of Social Services.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

There is no Department of Social Services in national Government. There is a Department of Social Security, which has misspent money on pathetic, rather trendy advertising that did not work. It is now halving to spend more money. It would be better, of course, if we saved the money now spent on advertising and gave people benefits which were easy to take up and were not dependent on advertising to get them taken up in the first place.

The other big spender is the Department of Trade and Industry, headed by Lord Young, who is supposed to be the apostle of Government advertising. I suppose that that is because, being in the House of Lords, he is sure that, however much is spent on Government advertising, none of it will go on his election expenses. Wherever he goes, Government publicity expenditure soars. As the amendment refers to value for money, I suggest that the Government look closely at spending by the Department of Trade and Industry, because it is clear from the figures that the more that Department spends on advertising, the worse our balance of trade gets.

It is not just the scale of the publicity machine that has changed; it has become much more party political. So much so that in 1988 The Daily Telegraph, describing what had happened in election year 1987, referred to what it called the Government's lavish publicity campaigns on such issues as job training and health education … little more than an expensive vote-catching exercise. You will note, Mr. Speaker, that the expense was borne by the taxpayer; the vote catching was to the benefit of the Tory party.

But it is not just that the old regulatory arrangements are being ignored; they have been relaxed, and they have been relaxed furtively and in some cases secretly.

The director of the Central Office of Information used to be the head of profession for Government information officers, the person to whom civil servants in information departments could turn if they had doubts about the propriety of what they were being asked to do. Earlier this year that role was handed over to Mr. Bernard Ingham, of whose relationship with professional propriety I shall say no more than that it was amply demonstrated in the Westland affair.

Photo of Mr Tristan Garel-Jones Mr Tristan Garel-Jones , Watford

What does the hon. Gentleman know about it?

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

The non-silent Whip the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) asks what I know about it. I read it in the report of the Defence Select Committee, on which there is a majority of his hon. Friends.

Until recently the Central Office of Information had what was called a central role in advising on the propriety of Government publicity. In a change made early last year the Central Office of Information lost that central role in advising on propriety and it was handed over to, of all people, the Cabinet Office, the organisation which gave the world the phrase "economical with the truth". The change was kept secret from the Treasury Select Committee, which was then looking into the Central Office of Information. It was not even disclosed in the Treasury response to the Select Committee report when it was published in February this year.

Finally, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, we now understand, has been given a special role as a ministerial point of reference on publicity matters. He will advise on propriety. This would clearly be a difficult role for any Minister to fulfil. Obviously, it could not be carried out by anyone who was vindictive, petty minded or highly partisan. Instead, such a role, as we all realise, would require someone with breadth of vision and a willingness to respect the points of view and sensitivities of political opponents; a person capable of distinguishing between the interests of his party and the interests of the country as a whole. In other words, someone who likes mixing it could not possibly properly carry out that job. Hon. Members will be able to judge from his speech today the extent to which the present Chief Secretary meets these not particularly demanding criteria.

Time after time Ministers, including the Prime Minister, have referred to the conventions published in 1985, but it took a series of questions before the Prime Minister eventually revealed two weeks ago that the conventions had been reviewed at the beginning of last year. Nobody had been told about that—at least, no one outside Government information offices. Notwithstanding those recent changes, the Government conventions on publicity are still supposed to apply to advertising and press notices and other similar material. Section 4(ii) reads: Content, tone and presentation should not be party political. The treatment should be as objective as possible, should not be personalised, should avoid political slogans and should not directly attack the policies and opinions of Opposition parties or groups. Those conventions were designed to protect the taxpayer and the public and to protect the integrity of public officials who may be asked from time to time to carry out party political tasks in the name of their ministerial masters or mistresses.

Photo of Mr Philip Oppenheim Mr Philip Oppenheim , Amber Valley

Relaxed though the hon. Gentleman considers those regulations to be, does he think that those relaxed limitations should be applied to local government?

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

As the hon. Gentleman ought to know, the unrelaxed regulations are applied by law to local government and it was the suggestion of the Treasury Select Committee that they should be applied by law to central Government as well.

Photo of Mr Frank Haynes Mr Frank Haynes , Ashfield

Does my hon. Friend agree that double standards operate among Conservative Members? Is he aware that not long ago the Strathclyde local authority in Scotland distributed cards to every household so that people would know of their entitlement to social security benefits? The Government criticised it for doing so, but now we can see how they operate double standards.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

My hon. Friend is spot on, as ever. Having double standards is almost the least of the criticisms that I would make of some Conservative Members. Whenever local authorities throughout the country—mainly Labour, but not exclusively—attempt to increase the take-up of benefits by people who are badly off, they are criticised by a Government who themselves have incompetently spent millions of pounds on advertising while achieving some of the lowest take-up levels in the history of the social security system.

In 1981, when a Conservative Government were in power, the Central Office of Information published a document on the role of Government information officers marked "For official use." I do not know whether the House of Commons counts as official use but I shall still make use of that document. It states: If a Minister includes in a speech an attack on his political opponents, it would be improper for the Department to issue it as an official text or use the COI news distribution service to distribute it to Fleet Street. Such action would open the Minister and his Department to the charge of using taxpayers' money to further party political attacks. In this case the political attack would have to be omitted from an official handout, otherwise the text must be issued by the party's publicity machine. No mention is made of which party. It is rather like something from the Soviet Union in referring to the party. Official documents mean only one party—the Tory party.

Those rules are being broken. Civil servants complain that they are forced to expound half truths, produce dodgy material, and to leak in the Government's interests. We are back to No. 10 Downing street. If civil servants wish to complain about being pressurised, they can always go to No. 10 Downing street and see Mr. Ingham, the head of profession, and see what sort of change they get. Everyone knows that the rules are not observed.

Another recent example was a press release issued by the Department of Employment in September 1988 containing an attack by the Secretary of State for Employment both on the Leader of the Opposition and on the shadow Employment Secretary by name, in clear breach of the rules I have quoted.

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair , Sedgefield

Why was it not stopped?

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

Such practices are not stopped but are being encouraged.

More blatant than that example was the concerted effort by the Department of the Environment's press office earlier this month to back up the poll tax leaflet campaign. The Department faxed syndicated articles to at least 15 local newspapers purporting to he written by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer)—and for all I know, he did write them. Those articles had a standard content but incorporated local variations. Those sent to Nottingham newspapers contained an attack on my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen). Those sent to Leicester included an attack on the chairman of Leicester city council's finance committee. The fax sent to the Leicester Mercury clearly came from the Department of the Environment's press office and was signed by Nick Gammage. Again, that was done in clear breach of the published conventions.

Government press officers have also been pressured into what I can accurately describe as lying about statements made by my right hon. and hon. Friends and by me. On one occasion a radio reporter quite properly rang the then DHSS press office in my presence for its comments on a report that I issued. The press officer to whom the reporter spoke lied about the figures in my report. When I took the matter up with the Department's head of information, she sought to justify her colleague's lie, and no apology was forthcoming.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

My hon. Friend highlights significant abuses of Government power. Had they been perpetrated by a local authority, there would be demands for its councillors to be surcharged. Can my hon. Friend say what recourse the taxpayer has to get back from Ministers some of the money that they are clearly squandering on abusive and offensive practices?

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

The taxpayer has no redress in such matters because the Government have no statutory authority to carry out any advertising; as far as I understand, they do it under their prerogative powers. There are no statutory restraints on what they do, but they have imposed statutory restraints on everyone else who might be involved in publicity.

One recent publicity campaign cost a lot of money—more than was originally intended—broke the conventions and blurred the distinctions between the Government, the Tory party and its public relations advisers. As for value for money, which Lunderstand is the main interest of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, it was a washout. I am talking about the launch of the National Health Service review, which was more unpopular after it was launched than it had been when it was just a leak.

The campaign had no statutory backing and was scheduled to cost £1 million. It actually cost £1·4 million —a 40 per cent. overspend. Unless the parliamentary answers on the matter are misleading, the vast bulk of the money was paid to one agency. I understand that in the trade, if an agency bids to do something for £1 million and spends £1·4 million, the extra £400,000 is paid by the agency and does not come out of the funds of those for whom it is carrying out the work. But that did not apply here. The money was spent on eight tele-conferences totalling £440,000, six road shows costing £179,000, communication packs at £302,000 and videos at £174,000.

The rules say that publicity campaigns should not be personalised, but it has to be said that that campaign was heavily personalised around the Secretary of State. For example, copies of NHS Management Bulletin No. 19 were sent to all GPs. The envelopes containing the bulletin were marked in the way usually reserved by the Department of Health for letters notifying GPs of vital clinical matters such as outbreaks of infectious diseases or warnings about contaminated batches of vaccine. It may be appropriate that there was some warning, because the envelopes contained a document emblazoned with no fewer than five pictures of the Secretary of State. His name was mentioned 10 times on the first page and more than 30 times in total. However, it is a serious matter when, for the sake of trying to make sure that every doctor opened his or her bit of propaganda, the Government devalued the franking that they normally reserve for matters which are important to doctors and patients. If the Secretary of State wants to know why the doctors are so offended by what has been going on, that is one reason.

But we should consider who mounted the campaign for the Government. That substantial contract was given to a little-known company, NML Presentations Ltd. The company's accounts show that it declared no dividend in 1986 or 1987. It made a loss in 1987, but its report said 1 hat the directors expected it to be profitable in 1988. The net value of its assets excluding motor vehicles was just £7,286. On the face of it, that outfit does not seem to have very much going for it, certainly not enough to justify getting a £1 million contract that the Government considered very important. But it did have one vital asset—it had close connections with the Tory party. Its ultimate holding company was Lowe Howard Spink and Bell plc—the Bell in question being Tim Bell, who masterminded the Tory general election campaign. It is a pity that he did not do that as badly as this campaign; if he had, we would all be better off.

Many of the problems that Government Departments, some decent Ministers and a lot of decent civil servants face spring from what appears to be an increasing inability on the part of the Prime Minister to distinguish between the interests of the Tory party and the interests of the country. The motto seems to be that what is good for the Tory party is good for the country, and vice versa.

Photo of John Reid John Reid , Motherwell North

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is one of the supreme ironies of history that at the same time as the Tory Benches are praising President Gorbachev for trying to separate the party from the state, they are doing exactly the opposite in Britain? Did my hon. Friend ever think that the day would come when any political party in Britain would take lessons from the Soviet Union and would bring in corrupt practices using taxpayers' money?

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I recall as a student having to learn about the government of various overseas states. I found it difficult to unravel the relationship between the Communist party of the Soviet Union and the Soviet Government because such a close, interwoven relationship had not occurred in western democracies. My hon. Friend is right. Perhaps it is not just Mr. Gorbachev who is learning something when he comes here; the Prime Minister seems to have been learning quite a bit about how to run the state when she goes there.

The confusion between the interests of the Tory party and the state leads one to think of the one-party state which is a threat to our democracy, as the Government have said. The curious, interwoven relationship is best exemplified by the interchanges of publicity advisers between the Government, the Tory party and those industries scheduled to be privatised. As my hon. Friend the Member for—

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

The hon. Member should not lose his place.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I have not lost my place. I hesitated because I was trying to remember the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). As my hon. Friend pointed out, Mr. Brendan Bruce used to be a senior executive of D'Arcy Masius Benton and Bowles, known as DMB and B, the agency that had the contract for the present softening-up round of the water campaign. He was recently appointed director of communications at Conservative Central Office, we understand, to mastermind the party's media coverage in the run-up to the next election. DMB and B, which was responsible for the Tory party political broadcast on the Health Service—that does not say a lot for it—and for the current phase of the Department of Trade and Industry 1992 campaign—that does not say a lot for it, either—is engaged simultaneously in a bid to get the contract for the Conservative party election campaign.

Mr. Tim Bell, who has already been involved in these sordid matters, and who is a long-time image builder of the Prime Minister and the Conservative party, is now employed as a public relations adviser to Thames Water, the most profitable of the water authorities. Perhaps the Chief Secretary, when looking at getting value for public money, could tell us whether it was Mr. Tim Bell who suggested to Thames Water that it should spend some of my money as a Thames Water user to pay for a water privatisation advertisement in the booklet "Thatcher—the first 10 years" obtainable from the Tory Central Office at £1·95. I do not think that there has ever been a closer relationship between party and Government than that, even in the Soviet Union. The appointment of Mr. Bruce may eventually fulfil the headline in The Times in August 1987: Propaganda role for Tory headquarters". That rather startled some of us who wondered what else would happen while the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) was chairman of the Tory party. [HON. MEMBERS: "Winning elections."] Are Conservative Members suggesting that they had a propaganda role at the time, or that they did not? I think that that press briefing—clearly from the Tory party to The Times—suggested that the Government would have to take over the propaganda role that it had ceded substantially to the public sector and the public purse in the run-up to the 1987 general election.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I do not think that I should give way to someone to whom one of the Whips has run up and said, "Please intervene on Mr. Dobson's speech", or words to that effect.

That brings me to the question of the timing of some of this spending. During general elections, by convention, all Government advertising is suspended, in the words of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, to avoid any risk of controversy about the use of public money for electoral purposes".

Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I think that he will want to adjust this part of his speech to take account of the judgement of the High Court, delivered this afternoon, in which both judges found in favour of the Government and against the London borough of Greenwich. Furthermore, an order of costs was made against the borough. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman, who referred to the matter earlier, will now adapt his remarks to take account of his new-found friends the judges in the High Court.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I was aware of the outcome of the case of Greenwich v the Department of the Environment before the debate began. The fact is that, as every Conservative Member knows, it is extremely difficult for anyone to succeed in an action against a Government Department, even over a breach of statute and even with the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) in charge of the Department. When what is being questioned is expenditure carried out under the royal prerogative, the chances of success in the courts are fairly poor, and they were always poor in this case.

Let me point out to Conservative Members that the judge in the initial hearing said that he believed that aspects of the leaflet were capable of misleading people.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

If, as the hon. Gentleman predicted, the money of taxpayers and ratepayers of the London borough of Greenwich was so grossly wasted, why did the borough bring the action in the first place?

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I did not suggest for a moment that the action of Greenwich council was a waste of time, effort or money. What the council did was observe and then seek legal advice on the basis that aspects of the leaflet were inadequate, and that one important aspect was mentioned in the Welsh leaflet but not in the English leaflet. The borough succeeded in the courts initially; now it has failed. The odds are against success in any court case against a Government who are relying on prerogative powers, as Conservative Members know. But there is always a chance, and it was wholly proper and reasonable for Greenwich council to do what it did.

Photo of John Reid John Reid , Motherwell North

Does my hon. Friend recall the judgment by Judge McCowan some years ago, when he decreed that the interests of the state were synonymous with and identical to the interests of the Government of the day—a view also held, apparently, on the Conservative Benches? Does my hon. Friend recall that, when that judgment was put to a jury of 12 good men and true, they threw it out of court and released Clive Ponting?

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

It seemed to me at the time that any judge who, in advising a jury, came to the conclusion that the interests of the state coincided with the interests of those who, for the time being, were in government was getting on to rather dodgy ground. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, however, the common sense of the Old Bailey jury overrode the rather peculiar and absolutist advice of the judge. [Interruption.] I have now got as far as provoking the ultimate Trappist, the Government Chief Whip. He has asked me whether I was pleased with the judge's judgment. The judge made no judgment in that case: it was the jury who made the judgment. What was wrong was the judge's advice to the jury.

Photo of Mr David Waddington Mr David Waddington , Ribble Valley

I was talking about the current case.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

If the Chief Whip wants to ask me about this case he should understand, as a lawyer, that more than one judge has been involved. It was reasonable for me to assume that he was talking about the case involving only one judge.

I can sum up my response to what has happened in court today by saying that it was perfectly reasonable for Greenwich council to challenge the Government, and most people in this country will be glad that it did so. Greenwich knew, however, as we all know, that the chances of success in an action involving the prerogative powers are not very good.

Let me repeat what I said earlier, as it was shouted down before. During general elections, by convention, all Government advertising is suspended, in the words of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, to avoid any risk of controversy about the use of public money for electoral purposes. I have been in touch with the IBA to find out whether it proposes to stop the Government and public bodies from advertising on television during the forthcoming European elections. The IBA tells me that that is a matter for the Government rather than for it.

The convention that Government advertising stops during a general election is, of course, only a convention; it has no statutory authority, just as there is no statutory authority for the general conventions on Government advertising. Nor, for that matter, is there any statutory authority for the Government to advertise in the first place. The Government acted to restrict by law the use of publicity by local councils, and we believe that whatever restrictions are applied by law to local councils should be applied by law to Government Departments. We now call on the Government to cease their advertising and publicity throughout the period of the European election campaign, following precedents set in previous general elections. If the Government refuse to do that, we call on the IBA—in observance of its own code of advertising standards and practice, which states that no advertisement may be directed towards any political end—to prevent the showing of privatisation and other Government advertising during the European elections, because we are convinced that it is impossible to look on any such advertising as not being directed to a political end.

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney , Makerfield

My hon. Friend should refer to the six-week run-up to the local government election campaign, when £8 million was spent on advertising the privatisation of the water industry, which was a major issue in the elections. If the Government are prepared to spend that kind of money to promote themselves for local government, how much will be spent to paper up the cracks between the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and the Prime Minister over European issues?

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend about water advertising. However, it so irritates people that it is probably counter productive for the water industry and for the Government.

In the longer term, the Government should give statutory force to the conventions governing Government publicity. In the meantime, they should change their behaviour and ensure that the existing conventions are enforced. They should reinstate the Central Office of Information as the centre of advice on propriety. They should publish full details of all publicity campaigns that they intend to mount. The contracts for Government publicity campaigns should be awarded only on the basis of open and competitive tenders. Above all, the Government should stop using taxpayers' money to promote party interests. Finally, they should direct the water and electricity industries to desist from their profligate and preposterous campaigns.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

What about Greenwich?

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. If the hon. Lady wants to make an intervention, perhaps she will say so.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

The hon. Gentleman referred to taxpayers' money. Taxpayers contribute money to the borough of Greenwich, which spent money on a fruitless exercise.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

Greenwich council is perfectly entitled to bring legal actions within the statutes, just as Governments are entitled to appeal against judgments—although it was not an appeal in this case. If we were to suggest that public authorities could not bring legal actions, we would apply that not only to local authorities, but to Governments. However, we are saying, in short, that publicity at public expense has gone too far and it is about time it stopped.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon 5:01 pm, 16th May 1989

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: recognises the responsibility of Government to provide advice and information to the public; and commends the Government's firm adherence to the long standing conventions governing propriety and value for money. Let me make it clear to the House at the outset that I reject without qualification the criticisms made this afternoon by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). The worst thing that I can say, having heard his speech, is that the speech was worthy of him. In recent weeks, the hon. Gentleman has been engaged in what one can only call a campaign of misinformation and misrepresentation on a scale that merits parliamentary rebuttal. I am pleased, therefore, that he has at last brought his campaign to the House, so that it can be examined—pleased, but a little surprised that the Opposition regard this subject as more important than defence, when they have a brand-new review about which they want to talk. To express a concern about political propaganda and then to seek to avoid discussing their defence policy seems very odd.

I am surprised, too, that this artificial debate is more important than parading their new tax and public spending policies about which they have been boasting, or explaining their new policy of "activity funding" for the National Health Service, which caused such mirth in the House last week. If misleading propaganda concerns them, they might have brought those matters before the House, rather than the trivial conspiracy theories the hon. Gentleman has described.

This debate was clearly timed to coincide with the court case brought by Greenwich council over the community charge leaflet issued by the Department of the Environment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) has already told the House, judgment has been delivered this afternoon. I understand that both judges gave unqualified support to the Government. The Government have always believed that the leaflet was clear, concise and accurate and we are pleased by the vindication of our position in the High Court. It is highly desirable that the public should have early information about the community charge and we are anxious to resume distribution of the leaflet. However, despite the fact that we are now entirely free to do so, as a result of the court's decision, we have given an undertaking not to resume distribution before tomorrow, during which time Greenwich council will consider whether to appeal. If it does appeal, we shall not resume distribution until the Court of Appeal has decided the case, provided that the appeal can be heard within the next few days. I am pleased to see that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is here with us this afternoon while the House is informed that he and his Department have acted wholly properly.

It has long been accepted by successive Governments that they have a responsibility to ensure that members of the public are properly and fully informed about their rights, entitlements, responsibilities and duties. One way of achieving that has been to use publicity and advertising in the press, on television and through leaflets. That responsibility has led to campaigns on matters such as crime prevention and benefit entitlements, which have run throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The hon. Gentleman seemed to oppose the advertising of benefit entitlement, although I recall many of his hon. Friends suggesting that the campaign might have been extended. There is nothing new about such campaigns and I trust that they are not a matter of contention today—indeed, we are often asked to increase them.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

Before my right hon. Friend leaves the subject of the leaflet, will he accept that it is urgent for delivery to be resumed as soon as possible as an honest means of countering the highly mendacious leaflets about the community charge put out by many Labour authorities at huge cost to taxpayers and ratepayers?

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

Greenwich and Ealing in particular.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I remind all right hon. and hon. Members that the motion and the amendment relate not to local authorities, but to the Government's publicity machine and cash.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I take your point, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I will not read the long list of Labour local authorities that have provided misleading information about the community charge. However, I accept without qualification what my hon. Friend had to say.

Photo of John Reid John Reid , Motherwell North

Will the Chief Secretary accept that no Opposition Member is opposed to supplying information, especially on benefits, although I am surprised that he should cite that example? As my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) pointed out earlier, when Strathclyde regional council issued information on benefits, the Government were the first to criticise.

Can the Chief Secretary tell us what information or useful function is provided by the large billboard hoardings we see throughout the country advertising the employment training scheme? Can he tell us why every firm used in the advertisements is also a huge financial benefactor to the Conservative party?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

It must be clear even to the hon. Gentleman that the purpose of those advertisements was to bring the scheme to the attention of those who might benefit from it. The hon. Gentleman should welcome that advertising.

Some elements of advertising have long been accepted and are not parti pris or contentious and nor are many other large areas of publicity. The Government have a clear responsibility to promote health education and safety campaigns and the extensive AIDS campaign is an example of that. Energy conservation and training programmes are further examples of the Government's responsible use of publicity, both to inform and influence behaviour. Other examples of more general information campaigns are those on road safety, Government recruitment and the statutory advertising that all Governments are obliged to carry out.

The misinformation we have heard in recent weeks has been of two kinds. First, there have been comments about the propriety of expenditure and, secondly, about its cost.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

If energy conservation is so important, why has spending on publicity by the Department of Energy—excluding expenditure on privatisation—been reduced?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

The hon. Gentleman cannot play it both ways. He cannot on one hand complain about levels of expenditure and on the other hand ask for more. However, he has drawn attention to a point that needs to be clearly understood. The advertising in which the Government are engaged is legitimate, proper, necessary and serves a good and useful purpose.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I will give way a little later.

I want to turn to the matter of propriety, because the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras made some contentious comments about it. He told the House that the conventions on Government publicity had been secretly relaxed. I must tell him that they have not been, nor will they be. The basic conventions applied by successive Governments for many years have remained in place and their operation has been tightened up. The conventions have a clear purpose—to ensure that public funds are not used to finance publicity for improper or party political purposes. We are firmly committed to those conventions and observe them strictly on all occasions.

Nor do Ministers act without professional, independent advice from the Civil Service on propriety. Until July 1988, advice on propriety was the responsibility of the Central Office of Information. That responsibility was removed from the COI solely because of the changing nature of the COI's business relationship with Departments. The more contractual basis on which COI now operates made it inappropriate for it to act as an authoritative and final source of advice on propriety. The responsibility for this advice was therefore transferred to the Cabinet Office, which has traditionally been the source of advice in Government on other questions of propriety.

That has been the case for many years under many Governments. The responsibility is not located where the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras suggested. The responsibility is located in the machinery of Government division, within the Office of the Minister for the Civil Service, under the ultimate direction of the Cabinet Secretary, the head of the Home Civil Service. That is where the responsibility lies.

The established conventions governing Government publicity remain unchanged, and publicity campaigns must continue to meet important tests. First, they must deal with a subject for which the Government are responsible and on which they need to communicate with the public. Secondly, they must provide good value for money. Thirdly, they must not be open to question that the primary purpose, or principal incidental purpose, of a campaign is party political advantage.

The primary responsibility for ensuring that the conventions on propriety are observed, and that value for money is being achieved, rests with Ministers and their Departments. All Governments have accepted that. In the light of the strengthened guidance we have given, most issues under the conventions will in practice be sorted out in Departments, or between them and the COI. There will be a residual category of cases, not many, on which Departments look either to the Cabinet Office or to the Treasury.

As the hon. Gentleman trailed, at ministerial level I have been asked to act as a point of reference on Government publicity matters, and am responsible for the adjudication of conflicting departmental approaches to the presentation of Government publicity. My services in that respect are seldom required but, if and when they are, I look to the machinery of Government division for advice on propriety, and to my Treasury officials on value for money. I should make it clear to Opposition Members that when I have been asked to make a ruling I have not hesitated to turn down a proposal which seemed possibly inconsistent with the guidelines. I or my successors with that responsibility will no doubt continue to do so if it seems appropriate.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I give way to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell).

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

Before we leave the question ofpropriety, does the Chief Secretary believe that his predecessor, Sir Leon Brittan[Interruption.] I am asking a factual question. Does the Chief Secretary believe Sir Leon Brittan when he said that approval was given by Mr. Powell and Mr. Ingham for the improper disclosure of a Law Officer's letter? Does the Chief Secretary believe Sir Leon?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

The hon. Gentleman raises this matter repeatedly but it is not within this debate and I have no intention of getting involved in that debate.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland

Although the right hon. Gentleman was not the Chief Secretary at the time, he may recall that shortly before the last general election the Ministry of Defence issued a video and a publicity pack that not only argued why Britain should have an independent deterrent, but stated why it should be Trident as opposed to any other possible deterrent. Clearly that was politically contentious, no matter what the rights and wrongs of the matter were. What was the need for that information to be imparted to members of the public?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

If the hon. Gentleman wants to run that sort of argument, I shall ask why, in the past, his party supported the publicity produced by Labour Governments on, for example, a new deal in Europe, on devolution—which is hardly uncontentious—and on the attack on inflation—"A Policy for Survival". The hon. Gentleman has wholly misunderstood the conventions and he is wholly and entirely wrong.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) is not a member of the Labour party.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

In early 1988—[Interruption.] Hon. Members may shout "Don't bring in the Labour party," but I do not need to bring in the Labour party and nor will the electorate for many years—if ever.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

I realise that the Minister is getting a bit hysterical, but I did not say, "Don't bring in the Labour party," I said that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland who was accused of being a member of the Labour party has never been a member of the Labour party.

However, since the Minister has graciously given way, will he tell me what recourse the taxpayer has if he believes that money has been spent on something that is essentially party political advertising? In local government such people can go to the district auditor, so what is the machinery that allows the taxpayer to make a formal complaint? Finally—I know that the Minister will never give way to me again—why do all these Government publications have to include a picture of the Minister concerned?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

On the central point in the hon. Gentleman's question, the recourse is the recourse that we are exercising this afternoon—the fact that Ministers are answerable to this House and to Members of Parliament. That is the central recourse and that is the distinction between central and local government—

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman later if he can contain himself for a moment.

On the first of the three points to which the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) referred in his intervention, I was referring to the period of the Lib-Lab pact, and on his third point, as many of my right hon. and hon. Friends are highly photogenic, it seems entirely reasonable that their photographs should be on such publications.

Photo of Mr Bruce Grocott Mr Bruce Grocott , The Wrekin

Which does the Minister think is the most effective sanction—having to appear before this House in a debate or being bankrupted by surcharges?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

If one appears before the House in such a debate or, in case of need, before the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service and other Committees of the House, that is a significant sanction that cannot be beaten anywhere. It is a sanction that no Member of the House would overlook at any stage or would treat lightly.

In early 1988, the Government reviewed the arrangements needed to ensure the compliance of Government publicity campaigns with the accepted conventions, as well as the role of the COI in those matters which I have already mentioned.

The review confirmed that the conventions had stood the test of time well, and led to strengthened and tighter guidance to Departments. This covered the interpretation and operation of the conventions such as the use of public relations consultants and direct marketing, and the need for professionalism, both of presentation, and in making sure that publicity expenditure provided value for money. This covers aims, the means used, the cost proposed, and proper measurement of the results. The guidance was widely circulated to heads of Departments and Ministers and is available in the Library.

The reality, therefore, is that the principles of propriety and value for money on which we operate are unchanged and fully observed—I repeat to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras that the principles are unchanged and fully observed—notwithstanding the general background of rapidly developing publicity techniques and the fact that the Government need to compete for attention with a vast array of messages from others. We have also clarified and tightened up the operation of these conventions and set new machinery in place to ensure compliance, both in terms of propriety and value for money. Nothing that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras has pointed to or can point to can shake that fact.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

Why did it take the passage of 14 months and some questions from me before the fact that the review had taken place was disclosed and the document published?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

There was nothing whatsoever secret about the review, which was predominantly about the internal workings of the COI and other bodies. The moment that the matter was raised, the documents were made fully available. Although I accept that in retrospect it might have been better if the Government had unilaterally produced them before the hon. Gentleman asked his question, the reality is that the moment the question was asked, the information was made available. However, it was essentially an internal review, predominantly about the role of Government Departments rather than necessarily about the conventions which remain unchanged.

As the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras mentioned the codes of conduct for local authorities under the Local Government Act 1986, he should put that in proper perspective. Indeed, if the rules and conventions that govern central Government operations had been observed as closely and honourably in local government, there would have been no need for the Widdicombe report and the subsequent legislation, but they were not observed.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras mentioned publicity by local government on benefit entitlement. The reality is that Widdicombe was needed to correct abuse of the ratepayers by local authorities—predominately Labour—on a monumental scale. Quite apart from extravagance and inefficiencies, many Labour local authorities had also badly misused public money for advertising. Lambeth council spent thousands of pounds of ratepayers' money on anti-Government propaganda, and Haringey council ran an advertisement out of ratepayers' money that said that it would campaign for the next Labour Government to repeal all privatisation laws. The next Labour Government, mark you! So it was not even campaigning against Government policy. It was using ratepayers' money to campaign against Labour policy.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I must remind the Chief Secretary and other hon. Members that I have already put down a marker that the debate concerns the Government publicity organisation machine and does not refer to local government.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

Of course, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I shall obey that injunction. I am happy to concede to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras that I obey it reluctantly in essence, because the amount of information, which indicates clearly the way in which Labour local authorities have behaved in recent years, is massive and deeply embarrassing for them. However, in any event, there is plainly no need for statutory control of Government publicity, because Ministers are firmly committed to the conventions, which have been fully published so that the House can always call on Ministers to justify their actions. That discipline cannot be applied to local government, and that is why legislation was necessary to deal with local authority abuses.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras made much of the increase in expenditure since 1979. But he is neither making sensible comparisons over time nor dealing with the merits of the expenditure. In cash terms, of course, he is right. Expenditure on behalf of Departments by the COI has moved from £35·4 million in 1978–79 to £151·6 million, including flotations, in 1988–89. There are good reasons for that increase. The elements that must be taken into account include general inflation over the period, the introduction of VAT on press advertising, and an even more substantial rise in the cost of buying time on television and radio and space in newspapers and magazines. For television, for example, which is increasingly important in effectively communicating to the public, that increase is estimated at up to two and a half times the general rate of inflation. In addition, there is included in those figures the new item of flotation advertising in pursuit of privatisations.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras and some of his hon. Friends have referred to the water authorities' current campaign as being "propaganda for privatisation". That attack is nonsense, and the water authorities have made clear that it is nonsense. We should be clear, too. The water authorities, like other nationalised industries, must make their own commercial judgment about corporate advertising within overall levels of finance set by Government. The present corporate campaign is run by the water authorities, and they pay for it.

The water authorities have made clear that the purpose of their campaign is to improve consumer awareness of the industry and the industry's image. Of course, it is true that, in planning it, the industry recognises that the circumstances in which it operates will change radically. It knows—subject to Parliament's approval—that it will be privatised and that its efficiency and standards of service will come under close scrutiny by consumers. Of course, it knows that. But, irrespective of that, it knows that the environmental concerns of the public are growing, and that it will have to meet those concerns. It knows, too, that a great deal of attention has been focused on the water industry in recent months and a great deal of nonsense has been talked about it and the services that it provides—often by the Opposition. It is its judgment that the current campaign will go some way to improving customers' knowledge of the industry and the Government share that view. The Opposition criticise the corporate campaign on entirely false grounds. The only reason that they do so is that they are opposed to the Government's policy towards the water industry.

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney , Makerfield

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. This is a brief debate and I have given way on a number of occasions. I hope that on this occasion hon. Members will excuse me.

Opposition Members, of course, dislike denationalisation—as I prefer to call privatisation—as a principle. We understand that. They prefer state ownership with rigid control. We understand that, too. That is the nature of their philosophy. That is why they have been critical of the spending on flotation advertising that has accompanied privatisation. I cannot agree with them about that. Flotation advertising campaigns are designed to publicise a forthcoming offer for sale, and convey information about the availability of prospectuses and the application procedures. The Government believe that it is important that the opportunity to gain a direct and personal stake in the future of British industry is given to all investors, large and small alike. It must, therefore, be brought to everyone's attention and not just to the attention of the large institutions, and those familiar with the markets. Indeed if it were not, the Opposition could rightly criticise us for that. But advertising on flotations is undertaken only after Parliament has approved the policy and in order to carry it out successfully.

It is also eminently justifiable expenditure. All costs incurred by Government in relation to a privatisation, including advertising costs, are netted off against the proceeds that advertising the sale brings in. Nor is the advertising excessive. The overall Government cost of those advertising campaigns has represented only a small percentage of those proceeds—0·3 per cent. for British Telecom, 0·4 per cent. for British Gas, British Airports Authority and British Petroleum. They help the Government to get a good price for the sale and represent, therefore, a very good bargain for the taxpayer, and a popular one, too. More than 2 million people bought shares in British Telecom and around 5 million in British Gas, and the number of shareholders has tripled, largely due to the privatisation programme.

Of course, some justified publicity takes place in areas of political contention, as the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras said. That is not new or unique to the Government. What is new, and I hope will be unique, is the hon. Gentleman's argument that, because he does not like the Government's policies, publicity for them is wrong. Provided the conventions are observed, that is not so. But, if we take his line, we find that the 1974–79 Labour Government, with its Liberal support, must have had some difficulty with the conventions. I wonder on the hon. Gentleman's argument whether their publicity on counter-inflation or selective price control would have passed a value for money test. I very much doubt it. Would their material on devolution for Scotland and Wales have got very far? I doubt it; that was hardly uncontentious then or now. The hon. Gentleman would have to argue that the European Economic Community referendum was done in order to get that Government out of a party political hole. That is the result of the hon. Gentleman's logic when applied to his own party when in government. However, I do not take that view. I exonerate the Labour Government of impropriety. The better view is the one that we hold. They took their responsibilies for the conventions on Government publicity expenditure seriously and responsibly, just as we do, and they took advice, just as we do, on propriety. The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

The right hon. Gentleman should concede that, both in the case of the money spent on the European referendum campaign and on the national devolution referendum campaigns in Wales and Scotland, money was provided for both sides to put their cases. In the document published in 1981, the then Government justified the Labour Government's expenditure on the counter-inflation campaign, because a very big majority of supporters of all the main political parties agreed with the points made in the advertisements. That does not apply to the contentious political advertising of this Government.

Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon

I think that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras has missed the point of what I was saying, which was specifically to exonerate the then Labour Government from impropriety in those advertising campaigns. That is what I expressly said just a few moments ago. What I said was that, if the hon. Gentleman criticises us now, he should have condemned the last Labour Government even more roundly. If he does so, in the spirit of Robespierre-like purity I can tell him that he was wrong about them then just as he is wrong about us now.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras set out a number of criticisms. None is justified. All should be rejected. Our systems ensure that spending must come from within departmental budgets, and that it meets strict tests of value for money and cost-effectiveness. All publicity expenditure is also subject to the scrutiny of the House, of the Treasury Select Committee, and of the Comptroller General in the National Audit Office. We welcome that, and, of course, that scrutiny will continue.

In addition, the Government not only support the traditional principles of propriety and strictly observe them, but in recent months they have strengthened their operation and published the guidelines implementing them. The controls are rigorous and the propriety is absolute. The Opposition's criticisms are baseless, they are shallow, and I invite my hon. Friends to reject them.

Photo of Mr Brian Sedgemore Mr Brian Sedgemore , Hackney South and Shoreditch 5:29 pm, 16th May 1989

The Minister presented his case today with a grace and charm that few hon. Members can rival. He is more confident at the Dispatch Box than he is when he answers questions to the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee, of which I am a member. I remember him telling me two years ago that he had had a hard life, with no education and that he was ignorant on complicated matters such as economics. Having heard him today, nor does he seem to know how to bring the Government's publicity machine under control.

The Minister said a lot about water, but, if he will allow me, I shall make that my last point. My first point is that many years ago Bertrand Russell, the philosopher, wrote a prophetic book on the Government's attitudes on expenditure and publicity. The book was called "Mysticism and Logic". In it Bertrand Russell said: Better the world should perish than that I or any other human being should believe a lie…that is the religion of thought in whose scorching flames the dross of the world is being burnt away. Today's debate is about the Government's rejection of Russell's rationalist creed.

Much later Gerald Kersh, in a book called "Night and the City", caught the flavour of the Government's unacceptable treatment of and expenditure on propaganda and publicity when he said: The habitual liar always imagines that his lie rings true. No miracle of belief can equal the childlike faith in the credulity of the people who listen to him: and so it comes to pass that he fools nobody as completely as he fools himself. Which Minister, I ask myself, will step forward today and admit to being Kersh's habitual liar? If truth prevails, there will be a positive stampede from the Government Benches.

As I look at the huge and burgeoning amount of money spent on publicity by the Government, I am reminded of Swift's aphorism that All political parties die of swallowing their own lies. But, of course, I try to be fair minded. I try to give the Government the benefit of the doubt. God knows, I try. But every time that I pick up a Government leaflet or see a television advertisement on a controversial issue, my mind turns first to she who is in charge at Downing street, and then to Somerset Maugham, who said of the constant wife: She's too crafty a woman to invent a new lie when an old one will do. Then, as images of the villain of the piece—the Secretary of State for the Environment—whom people have tried to exonerate today, I am reminded of Harry S. Truman who, in an ugly mood, said of Richard Nixon: I don't think the son-of-a-bitch knows the difference between truth and lying. We are told that the Secretary of State has been exonerated by the courts today. As a barrister, my advice to Greenwich would be that it should appeal. With the greatest respect, I say to m'luds that they have forgotten Robert Louis Stevenson's perceptive aphorism: The cruellest lies are often told in silence. It is basically the omissions from that pamphlet to which m'luds have not properly directed themselves today and to which I imagine the Court of Appeal will direct itself shortly if Greenwich has the money to appeal.

I want to intervene briefly, but let me give one example of what I consider to be expenditure on publicity that has got completely out of hand. It relates to the Government and the water industry. We all know that the same Minister is involved. I was in my car today—a Vauxhall Cavalier—coming in from Hackney, when I saw a little crowd in Kingsland road looking at a poster that was 50 ft high and about 105 ft across about water privatisation. I thought that I would make some inquiries today and find out exactly how that poster got up there and how the Government, or the water industry, or both, or the Conservative party, or all three of them, justify its existence. I shall not say now what is in it; I shall keep that for the moment.

I do not want to give away confidences, but I understand that the water industry employed an advertising agency which gave the job to two of its crack whizzkids, people with the finest intellects in the land, whom I shall call Jeremy and Nigel because all whizzkids in the advertising industry are Jeremies or Nigels. Jeremy and Nigel met together and they had with them the Cabinet Office guidelines. Jeremy was sitting over the table with his head in his hands looking pig sick. He was trying to think what advertisement he could do for the privatisation of the water industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) quoted the annexe of those guidelines, but paragraph 2 says that the advertisement must be relevant to Government responsibility, objective and explanatory and should be produced and distributed in an economic and relevant way having regard to the need to justify the cost as expenditure of public funds.

Then Jeremy turned to paragraph 5 and he thought, "Oh my God, what am I going to do?" That paragraph says that Government publicity should always be objective and should be directed at informing the public even where it also has the objective of influencing the behaviour of individuals and particular groups. Jeremy did not know how he was to inform the public. What was he to inform them of about the Water Bill? He had in front of him a series of tables on the test discount rate and the real discount rate in the water industry; diagrams of sewage works and chemical formulas for purifying water. He had everything, but, as he said to Nigel, "There's no buzz in this, Nigel." A good advertisement needs buzz and it needs information.

Then—I have not yet said what is in the advertisement —a flicker came into Jeremy's eye, a smile came across his face, and he started to jump up and down excitedly. He said, "I've got it. I've done it. It's brilliant. It's super." He hugged Nigel and there were tears streaming down his face because that is the way that genius works in the advertising world. It was extraordinary. He said, "We'll tell the public that water comes from rain". And so it is that in Kingsland road and in every borough in the land we can look up and see these posters. This is not a joke. Those posters have nothing other than a picture of a cloud. The whole thing is one picture of a cloud and underneath it says, "This is the beginning of our production line." Millions of pounds of taxpayers' money, our money, is being spent on telling the public that water comes from rain—can anyone believe the perceptive abilities, the limits of human intellect?—and that rain comes from clouds. Surely that is the grossest example of waste in the history of the world. I defy the Minister to tell us what that is about when he replies.

I have one last brief point which refers to the letters that my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras has written to the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee about the fact that we were grotesquely misled. Civil servants from the Central Office of Information gave evidence to the Select Committee and referred to the 1985 guidelines. They made no mention of the fact that new and more extensive guidelines were published in 1988 concerned with all kinds of new advertising which opened up a hornet's nest of questions which would have embarrassed the Government. The Government's response also referred to the 1985 guidelines and made no mention of the fact that those guidelines were no longer in force but had been replaced by the 1988 guidelines.

I want to he fair. I do not think that that was a cock-up or a cover-up; I think that it was a nasty conspiracy on the part of the Executive to deceive Parliament. We shall call those Ministers and civil servants to account, bring them back in Committee, and challenge them in the Lobby tonight.

Photo of Mr Philip Oppenheim Mr Philip Oppenheim , Amber Valley 5:39 pm, 16th May 1989

I know that Conservative Members will stand up one by one during the debate and bitterly criticise the Opposition's attitude and their calling of this debate. They would be wrong to do so. Conservative Members should welcome the Opposition calling this debate. They should certainly welcome their new-found vigilance on behalf of the taxpayer. It is right that Opposition Members should be vigilant on behalf of the taxpayer, although there are few of them here to support their Front Bench spokesmen. However, it is a shame that the Opposition's vigilance slips a bit on local authority spending. I can see the Opposition Front Bench spokesmen twitching at the very thought that the subject of local government's high spending on publicity will be raised.

I hope that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, will not rule me out of order if I mention the fact that the Department of the Environment decided to issue this leaflet partly to counter the smears and misinformation about the community charge that were being put out by local government. Strictly in that context, I shall point out that, over the past couple of years, Derbyshire county council has spent huge, almost unaccountable sums of money on criticising the Government about the community charge.

So-called free newspapers contain headlines such as "Your privacy invaded—poll tax threat". That sort of expensive misinformation has not been considered a suitable subject for the Opposition's new-found vigilance over the spending of public money on so-called political publicity. On one occasion, when Derbyshire county council spent more than £1 million on a television publicity campaign, the county council's leader said that that was a "mere pin-prick."

Photo of Mr Joe Ashton Mr Joe Ashton , Bassetlaw

Is not the difference that the national Government virtually tell the newspapers what to print and do not need to buy adverts for their policy, whereas Labour councils, which are in an overwhelming minority and face a predominantly Tory press, even in the regional newspapers, not to mention the national newspapers, have no option but to buy advertising?

Photo of Mr Philip Oppenheim Mr Philip Oppenheim , Amber Valley

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman raised that point. In our county of Derbyshire, much of the local press toes the council's party line. I and many other people in Derbyshire believe that one reason for that is that certain newspapers in Derbyshire receive huge sums in advertising revenue from the county council, which encourages them to toe the line of the council's ruling group.

May I remind the hon. Gentleman that the rules on publicity which bind local government are far less strenuous, tight and onerous than the Treasury and Civil Service rules which bind the Government. That is why it would have been especially appropriate if Opposition Members had raised the subject, and were as vigilant about local government's spending on publicity as they are about the Government's spending. I would hazard a guess that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government has not received a single representation about local government spending from the Opposition.

I fully agree with the Opposition's vigilance on the spending of public money on publicity. However, I cannot agree on one point. They have persisted in mixing the spending of public money on the promoting of privatisation issues with more general spending to inform the public about the Government's policies and legislation. The money spent on privatisation issues has been recouped many times over. Opposition Members would have been the first to criticise the Government if they had not spent money on promoting those issues and, as a result, had not gained the best possible price for those issues for the taxpayer.

The attitudes of Opposition Members have also changed sharply since 1977, when they were forced by the International Monetary Fund to sell part of their stake in British Petroleum. The then Labour Government spent millions of pounds, at today's prices, promoting their forced share sale of part of their stake in British Petroleum. I ask any Opposition Member: was that Labour Government wrong to spend money on promoting the privatisation of their stake in British Petroleum in 1977? If that Labour Government were not wrong to spend the money then, why are this Government wrong to do so now?

It boils down to the fact that Opposition Members do not mind one little bit if public money is spent, as long as it is spent in propagating their point of view. However, they object vigorously, vehemently and strenuously when the Government spend money promoting information to the public about their policies and legislation. I do not criticise them for that, nor do I think it hypocritical; it is merely the stuff of politics. At the same time, it is not a matter that Conservative Members have to take seriously.

I welcome the Opposition's new-found vigilance and the calling of this debate today. The Opposition have shot themselves badly in the foot by drawing attention, not only to their double standards, but to the millions of pounds spent by Labour councils in promoting Labour policies.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland 5:47 pm, 16th May 1989

I disagree with what the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim) said about the disciplines imposed on local authorities as opposed to the Government. Government Ministers, unlike local authorities, are not surcharged if they overstep the law. One wonders if anyone might have been disciplined for the £500,000 campaign that was mounted at the end of last year to rehabilitate the egg, following some disastrous words uttered by the then Under-Secretary of State for Health. The hon. Lady might have thought twice before opening her mouth if she thought she would be surcharged for the public expenditure consequences of her mutterings.

When I intervened in the speech of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury he thought that he had scored a bull point in return when he talked about the Labour Government. However, I was not a member of that Government. He talked about two issues: the devolution referendum, which took place six months after the Lib-Lab pact, and the European referendum which took place two years before the Lib-Lab pact. As the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has already mentioned, in both those cases, both sides were given the chance to put their argument. There is no suggestion from Conservative Members that public funds will be made available to allow people up and down the country to put forward their arguments about why the poll tax is not good. In the previous cases, there was an element of fairness.

In the few moments that I have had, I have thought back, and I suspect that the last major publicity campaign mounted by a Liberal Government was that with the poster showing the face of Lord Kitchener, with the message "Your Country Needs You". I suspect that that was good value for money because we still remember Lord Kitchener. Who, in 70 years' time, will remember Sid? Given the straitened circumstances of that time, perhaps the Minister will exonerate the last Liberal Government in the way in which he has exonerated the last Labour Government.

In the past 10 years there has been a sixfold increase in the amount of money spent on Government advertising, which, by any stretch of the imagination, is a significant development. Four years ago, the Government were in tenth place in terms of general advertising spending. They are now in first place, ahead of Unilever. That has been at a time when the Government have embarked on a crusade against public expenditure.

I recall the words of Mr. Robert Harris, a journalist, who, of one of the privatisation issues, said: People are being forced to pay for adverts they do not notice in order to buy shares they do not want in an industry they already own. He could have added that they had been asked to do so with their own money. As the Government regularly tell us, it is not the Government's money but the money of the people and the taxpayers that is being used.

At the same time, there has been a whiff of hypocrisy. I shall not stray into the subject of local government, but you, Madam Deputy Speaker, have no doubt heard the comments, which are a good example of the kettle calling the pot black.

We have heard other examples of hypocrisy. The Secretary of State for Health launched an attack on the British Medical Association for trying to spell out to patients what the Government's proposals mean. It is hypocrisy for him to attack it when the mere launch of the White Paper involved more than £1 million. It involved a relay with his face being flashed up on screens across the country, a specially produced video and a video designed specifically for Scotland that featured the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth). I am told that nurses were flown in from various islands to Kirkwall in my constituency to see this. Afterwards, some of them said that they had never seen anything more like a Conservative party political broadcast; it was counter-productive, too, as the nurses also told me that it was the best recruiting advertisement for the opposition parties that they had seen in a long time. It failed to hit its target.

Increasingly glossy brochures have also been mentioned. I have here a White Paper. Once, they were really white. The Beveridge White Paper sold tens of thousands of copies, printed on ordinary white paper. Now they are all glossy and contain photographs—there is inevitably one of the Secretary of State for Scotland at the front. I remember the day when "Scottish Enterprise" was announced. I was sitting here with my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who noticed a rather nice picture of his brother's flat in the document. He did not know what relevance it had to "Enterprise Scotland", and five months later we are none the wiser. It was just another example of Government money being spent on glossy publicity.

Then there was the White Paper on the ending of the dock labour scheme. I make no bones about it: our party supports the Government on that, but to introduce a White Paper at great cost on one day and then bring in a Bill the next begs the question of what is being done with public money.

I turn next to the ministerial presentations on the inner cities initiative and on the Government response to the Settle-Carlisle line. Those glossy presentations were made at press conferences, not in the House, and should have been delivered at the Dispatch Box, from which the Ministers would have had to answer questions from hon. Members on both sides of the House. That is another abuse of publicly funded Government PR work—

Photo of Mr Joe Ashton Mr Joe Ashton , Bassetlaw

Has the hon. Gentleman forgotten the wining and dining that takes place when Ministers meet the press off the record? That is what the Secretary of State for Transport did over an expensive lunch; he gave the press a story and frantically denied it two days later. It happened again when the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave the press a briefing that was recorded on tape and then denied that the tape had been switched on. That is a mammoth waste of public money to impart a message that does not get across.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland

I share the hon. Gentleman's view, but I suggest that the lunch to which he referred was paid for by the journalists, not the Secretary of State for Transport. Whether they got value for their money is another matter.

Of course, we accept that there is a serious dividing line between genuine advice and information and what might be described as propaganda. Information advertising campaigns to bring to public attention the fact that smoking can damage people's health are, we would all agree, legitimate, as are advertising campaigns to encourage the take-up of social security benefits. I encouraged the Minister of State at the Scottish Office to advertise the availability of and opportunities under the agriculture development programme in my constituency after the storms which greatly damaged agriculture there. The Government said that there was no special scheme, but they were willing to promote the programme that already existed to help farmers. That was legitimate.

The Chief Secretary mentioned the sums spent on energy conservation, but I notice that the Department of Energy's budget for advertising has shrunk. The Government are cutting back on promoting energy conservation at a time when they claim to be concerned about the greenhouse effect. However, through their agencies, British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. and the Atomic Energy Authority, the Government are promoting day trips to Windscale, or Sellafield. That is another PR trick —when Windscale became unpopular, they changed the name to Sellafield, just as the poll tax has been changed to the community charge. All this is part of the Government's use of slick PR.

The conventions that have already been referred to state: Public funds may not, however, be used to finance publicity for party political purposes; this rule governs not only decisions about what is and what is not to be published, but also the content, style and distribution of what is published. The contents should include not only the truth, but the whole truth. I am not surprised that the judges decided the Greenwich case today as they did, but it cannot be denied that, even if there was no abuse of spending which, in their view, merited an injunction, the whole truth was not told.

As a Scottish Member of Parliament, I have witnessed in the past year the sending out of the registration forms. One aspect which especially alienated people was the statement on the forms that a person who was designated a responsible person was not liable for anyone else's poll tax. The form omitted the fact that a spouse in the house could be jointly liable for the tax. The leaflet that was the subject of the Greenwich case will misinform people in the same way.

The original GP's contract was sent out containing helpful diagrams showing what would happen to a GP's pay, especially in rural areas. The contract said that a GP with a list of 1,000 would receve an increase in pay. It was less clear that he would also suffer a drop of £10,000 in basic pay, which he would have to make up with special payments. The contract did not say, either, that the examples of special payments in the diagrams related to doctors with lists of well over 2,000. Such misinformation strays over the dividing line of legitimacy.

At present, there is a campaign in Scotland by the Scottish Office to encourage parents to stand for school boards. A lady in my constituency wrote to say: I have just watched a government advert for school boards. At one point it says 'Every parent can stand for election and every parent can vote'. I think I can vote but I have been led to believe I do not have the right to stand for my son's school board.Whalsay only has the one primary school and I teach in it, therefore I believe I do not have the same rights as my friend up the road whose son will start at the same time as my son. She is right—she does not have the same rights, but the Government advertising does not make that clear, and the letter that I sent the Minister asking him to clarify and explain remains unanswered.

Objections have been raised to advertising the privatisation of water. I am told that there is now more advertising of water than of any other product—more than of Pepsi-Cola or Nescafé. The problem is that Parliament has not yet approved the privatisation plans. They may well be Government policies but they have not been put into operation and the Bill has not completed its passage through both Houses. That is an abuse of public money.

The guidelines mention not only content but style, which I should like to examine in the context of the Department of Employment's promotion of "Action for Jobs". It is a classic example of what the Government complain about when done by local authorities. It is persuasive about controversial issues and it tends to promote the Department. What is more, it can hardly be said to be a sober presentation of factual information. The title, "Action for Jobs", was used at the same time as the "Action" slogan appeared as the theme at the Conservative party conference.

I am also advised that the Department of Trade and Industry has taken it upon itself to advertise the enterprise initiative with a soaring arrow, a logo that also appeared in a remarkably similar form in Conservative posters in the recent county elections.

We are told that the Scottish Office is to be given a face-lift by PR consultants to improve its image. Everyone in Scotland knows that that has much to do with the Government's need to give their party a political lift there. We need independent advice which is seen to he independent and not to come from the Government. There is a dangerous blurring of public information and party propaganda, of the state and the party. Perhaps we should not be surprised, because in 1987 the Prime Minister took about £600,000 more from the Exchequer to run her office than the Queen, and last year the gap widened to almost £1 million.

Photo of David Tredinnick David Tredinnick , Bosworth 5:58 pm, 16th May 1989

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) closed his remarks by saying, "Publicity at public expense has gone too far and should stop." I suggest that that is humbug. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) talked about the pot calling the kettle black, but the deception practised by the Opposition in this matter is more like a cauldron calling the kettle black.

The Labour party has abused public funds disgracefully to promote its political causes in the past. Perhaps the most striking example of that, as my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary mentioned, was the campaign from 1975 to 1977 under the last Labour Government. Hon. Members will recall that their economic policies were in complete disarray. They then decided to try to spend themselves out of trouble, I am not thinking of the attempt to pay the taxpayers' money in the normal sense through the Treasury; this was a new device. This was the device of the so-called counter-inflation publicity campaign. It must be one of the most disastrous publicity campaigns in the history of advertising because, of course, by 1979 inflation was running at more than 27 per cent.

It is well worth studying what the papers said of the Labour Government's campaign at the time. The Guardian said: The Government's campaign to win support for its anti-inflation policy begins officially tomorrow, when all national newspapers will carry full-page advertisements paid for by the taxpayer, and Mr. Wilson will return briefly from his Scilly Isles holiday. In The Times we read that: …the Government's anti-inflation publicity campaign, the largest since the days of Sir Stafford Cripps more than a quarter of a century ago, will enter its third phase. This is December 1975. Already £1·5 million has been spent, and the specially created counter-inflation publicity unit has another £1 million at its disposal. If that is not an instance of a Government using publicity to get their way and to get themselves out of trouble, I do not know what is. This shows quite clearly the large degree of hypocrisy among Opposition Members. In this campaign they spent £300,000 on television advertising and £800,000 on press advertising in 1975–76 alone.

Another campaign supported by the Opposition a Parliament ago was the campaign of the late, unlamented Greater London council to denigrate the police in London. I know that you do not want me to stray into local government politics, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it suited the Labour party to use the GLC to get at the Government during the presentation of the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill 1983 and the subsequent Bill, which they did by spending money on a spurious magazine, of which the name escapes me—it might have been "Policing London". They put out propaganda which was intended to prevent local groups from using the new consultative procedure Lord Scarman had suggested should be set up in his historic report into the Brixton disorders.

That was a disgraceful misuse of public funds, but perhaps it pales into insignificance when one looks at the attempt by the GLC to save its now unlamented neck by spending £12 million of the taxpayers' money, despite the fact that Londoners had voted at the previous general election to abolish the GLC. The view at county hall went blatantly against the democratically expressed wishes of the voters.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) mocked the privatisation of water. He talked about adverts for clouds. Some of us might have said that he had his head in the clouds. The whole point of the advertising campaign is to stress the purity of water. [Laughter.] Opposition Members may laugh, but they have been the first to try to make mischief by suggesting that there are problems with the purity of our water. I know that there is concern in my constituency about the purity of water, but surely it is right for the water boards, which are being privatised, to point out the good things which will happen as a result of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's policy. That seems to me perfectly reasonable.

The Government are introducing reforms in areas of life which the Labour party has never even tackled, such as moving from rates to the community charge. Are we really supposed to do that without any publicity? The pamphlet which has been so criticised says in the first paragraph: This leaflet tells you about the main points of the new community charge system. It is hardly propaganda. It is giving people an overview to counter the propaganda of the Labour party, which has frightened in particular elderly people in my constituency. The Labour propaganda makes out that everyone will pay the same, whereas we know, of course, that with the community charge there will be protection for poorer people. [Laughter.] Opposition Members may laugh but it is the truth, and it is quite right that we should make that point.

There is categorical evidence that the Labour party abused public funds during its last administration and aided and abetted local government organisations. We on the Government Benches have an absolute right and duty to present the very important reforms of our Government and party, and our constituents want to know what they are.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow 6:05 pm, 16th May 1989

I begin with what is meant to be a non-party point. When I first arrived in the House of Commons in 1962, if a motion of this sensitivity and potential importance had gone down on the Order Paper, the Prime Minister of the day would probably have been present and Hugh Gaitskell certainly would have been.

If there are to be motions like this on the Order Paper, they should be regarded, in my opinion—which may be old fashioned—with the utmost gravity, because the charge is extremely serious and this is a weighty matter. If people do not mean them, they should not put them down in the first place. [Interruption.] I said that it was a non-party point, and I was speaking, I hope, as a House of Commons man on this issue. Unless it is a major debate, I do not think that the Chief Secretary—incidentally, I do not entirely blame him for this—should feel that, having spoken, he can go off to some Cabinet Committee meeting or some other doubtless important engagement. If there is a Cabinet Committee meeting, the business of the House of Commons on an issue like this should take precedence.

On 8 May I tabled a question asking the Prime Minister to publish in the Official Report the text of Mr. Ingham's letter to Mrs. Elizabeth Jenkins on a code of ethics for Government information officers. Mrs. Jenkins is the professional civil servants' representative most concerned, and we are to understand that this was an important policy letter, inside the Civil Service at any rate. The answer was a monosyllabic "no". Letters like that should be made available to Parliament because Parliament has few more important internal matters than to reflect on the ethics of the Civil Service.

My first question to the Minister is why was this important letter not published in the Official Report, or at least put in the Library of the House? Secondly, is it true, as we read in the press, that a number of senior information officers in Whitehall—I will not name them; their names are in the press—are leaving? There may be personal reasons, it may be coincidence, but we are at least entitled to ask why so many seem to be leaving at this moment. I do not jump to conclusions about the recent appointment of Mr. Ingham in this respect because, frankly, I do not know and I do not make assertions about matters I know nothing about. This is a genuine question about why it is happening.

Thirdly, at 14 minutes past five this afternoon I interrupted the Chief Secretary. I am sorry that he is not in the Chamber. I asked whether, in the context of propriety, he believed Sir Leon Brittan when he claimed that Mr. Powell and Mr. Ingham had fully approved—I repeat the word "approved"—the improper disclosure of a Law Officer's letter in January 1986. The Chief Secretary's reply was that he had no intention of getting involved. That is often the reply that we get in one form or another from other Ministers. Hon. Members can check the actual wording in Hansard, but I do not think that I am distorting it when I say that his reply was, "I will not get involved in that."

Three or four minutes later the Chief Secretary said that the principles of propriety were unchanged and fully observed as between Governments. That is simply not so. Never before has a chief press officer or, much worse in a way, a senior private secretary to the Prime Minister authorised and approved, knowing that it was improper, the disclosure of a Law Officer's letter for the specific purpose of damaging another Cabinet Minister—in this case the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). To my knowledge, or to the knowledge of anyone I have talked to, that has never happened before.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) made his point brilliantly earlier in the debate. He is a former civil servant and a private secretary to a Minister. He nods in agreement when I say that never has a senior private secretary behaved in that way.

Such behaviour is corrupt and quite improper. I do not yah-boo the word "corrupt" across the Chamber. I stick to what I said in a lead letter to The Times some weeks ago —I never shout, bawl or interrupt from a sedentary position. However, I mean every word that I say. If Mr. Ingham and Mr. Powell behaved in that way, their behaviour was corrupt.

I gave the Chief Secretary every opportunity to say that Sir Leon Brittan was wrong, but he did not say anything of the kind. No one in a responsible position has ever said that. They might have thought that Sir Leon was a bit of a cad to do it, but they did not say that he was factually wrong. This issue touches the most sensitive and delicate areas of the propriety of the way in which 10 Downing street and the leadership of our country operate.

This matter should be cleared up, and I shall tell the House how it can be done. The Prime Minister must come to the House to do one of two things. She must explain either that Mr. Ingham and Mr. Powell did this off their own bat or they did not. I am not a man of malice or vengeance, but I say that if they did it off their own bat without telling the Prime Minister, Mr. Ingham has no right to occupy this unique position. After all, there is the issue of example and propriety.

However, if he acted on authority with the approval of the Minister responsible—and only one Minister is responsible—that Minister must come to the House and say, "Yes, Mr. Ingham and Mr. Powell kept me fully informed about the progress of my quite improper idea to get the Solicitor-General to write a letter and then leak it. Mr. Powell and Mr. Ingham kept me fully informed about the role of Sir Leon Brittan." The Prime Minister must also say to the House, "On 27 January, when I was under pressure, I told a self-preserving lie to the House of Commons." Parliament cannot operate properly if senior Ministers and the most senior Minister can get away with lying to the House on a matter of losing two Cabinet Ministers.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin , West Derbyshire 6:16 pm, 16th May 1989

I shall not try to follow the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). It was strange to hear him complain about the absence of the Chief Secretary when the lead speaker on the hon. Gentleman's own Front Bench was absent for a good part of the debate. The hon. Gentleman did not level any criticism at his hon. Friend.

I welcome the debate on the Government's publicity machine. Some of us feel that it is not the most crucial issue that our constituents write to us about. I have received no letters from my constituents complaining about the cost of the Government's publicity machine. However, I have received letters complaining about the cost of publicity. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why the Government have felt in necessary to spend a certain amount on trying to put over a particular case. I have a letter from a constituent, or from somebody whom I think is a constituent. It says: I enclose a copy of Workforce. Surely something can he done about this blatant abuse of ratepayers' money for Labour propaganda. This practice is rife. Note particularly the name on the back of this publication. I dare not reveal my name for fear of victimisation as I work for Derbyshire County Council."—[Interruption.] Opposition Members seem to find that quite funny.

When the Education Reform Bill was passing through the House a leaflet was issued by the county council and shortly after that the Government issued a booklet on the Education Reform Act 1988. The council leaflets were distributed in schools and children were asked to take them home to their parents. The use of pupils in such an outrageous way should be wholly condemned. It is noticeable that the Labour party, deliberately and perhaps understandably, tries to distance itself from some of the things that Labour local authorities have done and the way in which ratepayers' money has been spent.

My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim) has adequately listed some of the abuses relating to the community charge. I do not want to go over that ground again because the argument has been ably advanced. I asked the Library for some figures about the amounts spent on Government publicity over the past three years, and I asked about the increase between 1986–87 and 1988–89. I was slightly surprised to find that during that period there was not an increase but a reduction of 10·4 per cent. That did not compare favourably with financial assistance to Opposition parties, commonly known as the Short money. From 1986–87 to 1989–90 that amount has increased by 54 per cent. In other words, the provision for Opposition parties increased from £632,000 in 1986–87 to £1,164,000 in 1989–90. So the idea that the Government have not been assisting Opposition parties, or that those parties do not now have their own vastly increased finances, is a strange idea to put about.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin , West Derbyshire

I will not give way because time is short and a number of hon. Members still wish to take part in the debate.

It is interesting to consider some of the leaflets that were put out by previous Governments. I, too, have examined the document: Britain's new deal in Europe —and whatever might be said about money having been provided for the opposite view to be put, nothing could have been more blatant than that pamphlet. Lord Wilson, who was then Prime Minister, stated on the front of that document: Her Majesty's Government have decided to recommend to the British people to vote for staying in the Community. On the final page appeared this absolutely misleading statement, about which we have heard nothing in the debate: When the Government came to power in February 1974 they promised that you, the British voter, should have the right to decide—for continued membership of the European Community…or against. That gave the impression that the referendum was to decide whether or not we stayed in the Community. That was nonsense; at the end of the day no referendum could tell Parliament what it was or was not going to do—[Interruption.] That pamphlet stated at the beginning: The Labour Party manifesto in the election made it clear that Labour rejected the terms under which Britain's entry into the Common Market had been negotiated, and promised that, if returned to power, they would set out to get better terms. That clearly said that the document was part of the Labour party's pledges.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin , West Derbyshire

I will not give way in view of the shortage of time. In any event, the hon. Gentleman spent far too long at the beginning of the debate giving his side of the story. He can now listen to what others have to say.

I regard that document as a blatant use of Government money. The Chief Secretary was generous in his remarks not to say that he found some of the wording in that document open to question, to put the matter no higher. I regard as wholly right the Government's use of taxpayers' money to put over factual matter concerning legislation, particularly in view of some of the propaganda put out by Labour local authorities which has been blatantly untrue and which has stirred up worries and fears which people need not have.

I understand that under the rules by which the Government are bound, they can spend money on legislation only once it has become law. While prospective legislation is going through its Committee and other stages in Parliament, literature explaining it to the public cannot be put out. I regret that, and suggest that in future we should pay more attention to putting forward the reasons why we are making some quite radical changes.

I refer again to the letter which accompanied the leaflet on education that I cited earlier. It said: this Bill will not deliver the improvements needed and I hope this short document will illustrate some of the problems." That was clearly party political. It was paid for by the ratepayers of Derbyshire. The document was even printed in the Labour party colours of the time, although Labour seems to change its colours quite regularly these days. The Government have nothing for which to apologise. Indeed, we have strong grounds for saying that the money we have spent has gone some way to counter the false claims that have been made by some local authorities. We should be proud of the radical reforms that we are making, and at the same time we should be explaining fully to the public what we are doing.

Photo of Thomas McAvoy Thomas McAvoy , Glasgow Rutherglen 6:24 pm, 16th May 1989

My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) outlined the Opposition case extremely well. I shall expand only on the Scottish dimension of the issue.

I wish at the outset to hark back to the atmosphere that previously existed between Government and Opposition in matters such as we are discussing today. At the time of the February 1974 general election, the "Switch Off Something" campaign was allowed to continue under an agreement between the Government and the then Labour Chief Whip. That contrasts starkly with the current situation and illustrates how dramatically it has changed. I fear that that change has been to the detriment to standards of conduct in public life.

The Chief Secretary referred to civil servants. I feel duty bound to state that when Labour is next in government, I shall press for an inquiry to be conducted into the behaviour of Ministers now in office, and civil servants, to discover how they conducted various negotiations in the sphere of publicity, particularly from the point of view of public propriety. I promise them that it will be no excuse for them to say in the future, as they have said in the past, that they were only carrying out orders. We will get to the bottom of how the Government and their Ministers have brought down standards in public life.

When we look at the Scottish scene, it is interesting to peruse a document issued by the Scottish Office. It refers to the activities of that Department and states: One of the objectives of the new Government advertising campaign in Scotland is to publicise Ministers by showing how services in Scotland derive from the Scottish Office under the direction of the Secretary of State and his Ministers. It goes on: The aim is to show how the work of Scottish Office agencies reflects the policies and decisions of the Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues in the Scottish Office. It adds: It is the wish of Ministers that the benefits of Government action in Scotland should be more clearly attributed. I assure the Government that they do not need an advertising campaign to put that point across. We know the details only too well.

Scottish Ministers are now clearly crossing the dividing line between publicising Scotland and advertising themselves. They are no longer just imparting facts but are pushing out propaganda about themselves. The new campaign clearly breaches the rules set out in central Government conventions, which tell us that the achievement of Government policy issues should not be personalised and that the presentation of publicity, as well as the concept and tone of it, should not be party political.

The present purely party political use of Government money in Scotland—this has a bearing on the inquiries that we will institute when Labour is in government—is confirmed by the fact that a Government Minister, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), led the briefings of an advertising agency on a publicity job that he wanted done. It was not left to civil servants to tell the advertising agents what was required. A Minister chaired the meeting and made sure that the agency was well aware of what he —a politician and a Minister—wanted to achieve.

The figures were made clear on 15 March 1989 when we were informed—the details appear at column 226 of the Official Report for that date—that the budget for the Scottish Office for information campaigns had been £2·1 million in 1988–89 and was £2·9 million for 1989–90, an increase of £800,000. I suppose that one must bear in mind the information about the poll tax that the Government have been putting out. I assure them that it has all been to no avail. We in Scotland know who to blame for the poll tax. We do not want it. As soon as Labour takes office, we will get rid of it.

The Scottish Office asked a consultancy to carry out the survey of parents' views on skill education. According to a written answer, the consultancy is due to report in June 1989. Therefore, it will be reporting after the Self-Governing Schools etc. Bill has been initiated by the Government. The Opposition therefore believe that the survey has been commissioned for political reasons. Comments and submissions to the survey will be selectively quoted and misinterpreted to give retrospective justification for the schools legislation. This is quite clearly political use on the Government's part.

It seems to be common knowledge that senior Scottish Office civil servants are becoming increasingly concerned that the boundary between Government and party propaganda is being eroded rapidly, especially since the appointment of the hon. Member for Stirling as a Scottish Office Minister. According to the central Government conventions, publicity and advertising should not be personalised, but the hon. Member for Stirling is constantly to the fore in these surveys I should have thought that the Secretary of State for Scotland would be extremely wary of allowing his hon. Friend any scope for personal publicity, because it is clear that the hon. Member for Stirling is determined to replace the Secretary of State irrespective of whether the Secretary of State finds another post.

In the Glasgow Herald of 14 March 1989 there was an article which I have not seen denied by any Government source, although I am ready to be corrected on this point. The article quotes a senior civil servant in the Scottish Office as saying: My impression is that there has been more use of public funds for things like publicity and polls than was the case in the recent past. The consciences of some senior civil servants are being tested more than has ever been the case previously. To my knowledge, that has never been refuted by any Minister. It is a serious situation when senior civil servants go to the press and make statements such as that.

I heard the Chief Secretary to the Treasury being magnanimous and exonerating the past Labour Government from any misspending or abuse. If that attitude has been genuine, bearing in mind the delicate nature of this subject, there would have been consultation between those on the Front Benches, taking in the minority parties, too. That did not happen. They tried to keep it quiet and it was only through the persistent pursuing by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras that this was exposed publicly.

The Government are treading a dangerous path. They are abusing their power in a classic illustration of elective dictatorship. It seems to us that there are no voices of fairness and sanity on the Government side to call a halt to this business of politics on the taxes. One would have thought that, merely in the interests of self-preservation, the Conservatives would call a halt, because there is no doubt that they have initiated a course of action that contains the seeds of their own doom. The Government have demeaned the standards of public life and have added to the list of their squalid actions, cutting corners and sailing close to the wind. All these actions combine to expose this Government as one of the seediest in the western world. It is that aura of shadiness and shiftiness that will ultimately lead to a Conservative defeat in the next general election.

Photo of Mr Irvine Patnick Mr Irvine Patnick , Sheffield, Hallam 6:32 pm, 16th May 1989

It is a fact that some of the Government publicity is born out of the activities of Labour councillors. I had expected the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) to draw attention to, dissociate himself from and condemn the councillors responsible for this misinformation and propaganda that is being pushed out.

Photo of Mr Irvine Patnick Mr Irvine Patnick , Sheffield, Hallam

I have five minutes. With the greatest—

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

I know something about liberty—

Photo of Mr Irvine Patnick Mr Irvine Patnick , Sheffield, Hallam

The only liberty the hon. Member knows is the statue of liberty.

I had expected the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras to notice the real scandal of the gross abuse of ratepayers' money being perpetrated by members of his own party.

I welcome the fact that the Government give a balanced view to counter some of the activities of Sheffield city council, which seems to think that the community charge will vary from some gross figure to another gross figure based on what it would have been if it had been levied in 1987. We all know that that is nonsense.

Surely the Government have a clear responsibility to provide advice and information to the public about their rights, entitlements and duties. That responsibility has led to campaigns on such things as crime prevention, health education, the prevention of car tax evasion, rabies prevention, job clubs, income support and teaching as a career. None of those was mentioned by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras.

The Widdicombe conventions governing the form and content of Government publicity were published in 1985. I accept that the Government have a duty to ensure that citizens of places such as Sheffield have the facts presented to them in a way that is non-party-political, as opposed to some of the rubbish disseminated by some councils. The council of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and my friend Councillor Jones is one of the greatest exponents of this. The Government have to communicate effectively—

Photo of Mr Irvine Patnick Mr Irvine Patnick , Sheffield, Hallam

Government-funded publicity has to compete harder for public attention.

Some Government publicity which clearly passes the test of propriety inevitably relates to subjects that have been politically contentious. This is neither new nor surprising. The truth is that Labour is running a campaign of misinformation and misrepresentation about legitimate publicity campaigns that wholly meet the test of propriety and value for money simply because it is opposed to these policies, but the public have a right to know about policies that affect them. The Government must continue to ensure that those policies are explained to the public.

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney , Makerfield 6:35 pm, 16th May 1989

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) wants to put the final nail in the coffin of the Government on this subject but I want briefly to remind the Chief Secretary that in his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) he denied any involvement by the Government in expenditure on water privatisation or the Water Authorities Association. Yet I have in my possession, as have other hon. Members who served on the Standing Committees on the Electricity Bill and the Water Bill, confidential minutes of meetings including officers of the Treasury and the Department of the Environment in negotiations with the Water Authorities Association on the level of expenditure, the types of expenditure and the dates on which that expenditure would be made.

For example, on 18 May 1988 a Mr. Hood, a latter-day Robin Hood who robbed the poor to promote the rich, indicated in minute WAA/C/88/20 that a recent meeting between the Treasury and the water authorities had come to an agreement about the nature of the publicity and the possible split of costs on a 50:50 basis with the Department of the Environment and the water authorities prior to the bill going through the parliamentary process and getting the approval of the House.

The consequence of that has been an unprecedented use of public resources this year on the privatisation of the water authorities. Something like £8 million has been spent in the last six weeks alone by the water authorities, and presumably under the secret agreement the taxpayer is picking up at least 50 per cent. of the cost of the television advertisements. Over 3,300 spots across the 15 ITV regions in Britain have been purchased by the Water Authorities Association with the explicit agreement of the Treasury and the Department of the Environment. That agreement was reached as far back as 18 May 1988.

The Minister has deliberately misled the House on this matter. It is not the first time that Ministers have misled the House about expenditure on the promotion of privatisation. The whole issue stinks. The Government are prepared to spend millions on the flotation of public assets at knock-down prices to people who wish to speculate on assets owned by the public.

If this debate has shown anything, it has shown the extent to which Ministers will go to hide the activities that are taking place involving so-called independent civil servants being embroiled in party political activities, and consultants, some of whom are now employed at Conservative Central Office, who are prepared to organise and promote party political propaganda so long as the cost is met through the public purse. The scandal of paying for that publicity out of the public purse should be ended.

I hope that the debate will mark the beginning of the end of the Government's attempts to utilise public resources and millions of pounds to promote the Conservative party in the run-up to the next general election.

Photo of Mr Bruce Grocott Mr Bruce Grocott , The Wrekin 6:39 pm, 16th May 1989

It is remarkable that throughout the debate no Conservative Member has attempted to refute the Opposition's central proposition that the cost of Government public relations and advertising is soaring. Although it is extremely difficult to obtain accurate figures, we estimate that spending on publicity is six times greater than when the Government came to office. However, as the Government would be reluctant to accept my figures, it is worth establishing what the advertising industry itself thinks of the Government's various advertising accounts. Recommended reading on that subject is the advertising industry's house magazine, "Campaign," which listed advertising's big spenders in one of its April issues.

The reference to Government advertising in "Campaign" is particularly interesting, when it comments that the Government was still the third biggest advertiser last year. Criticisms of waste and politicking hid a maturing relationship with its agencies. And there is more—much more —to come. One can imagine the industry licking its lips at the prospect of the advertising that is yet to come. In that article, the Government are listed as a holding company, appropriately enough, together with Unilever and Proctor and Gamble. The "Campaign" article continues: Many senior figures in the industry believe that the Government's rush to embrace advertising has happened so fast that it was in serious danger of spinning out of control. The feature goes on to make predictions about the level of Government advertising expenditure in the years ahead, saying that there is no evidence to suggest that the Government's love affair with advertising is showing any signs of becoming less ardent or that 1989 will see any let-up in its activity…The poll tax and proposals to reform the NHS will also give Whitehall a lot of explaining to do. `One thing is certain,' says one COI agency man, 'this year's spend is going to be astonishingly high'. That is how the advertising industry views Government expenditure.

Photo of Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo , Nottingham South

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the advertising expenditure he mentions will include campaigns on road safety, crime prevention, benefit take-up, and protection against AIDS—all of which are perfectly legitimate subjects of publicity as part of that advertising budget?

Photo of Mr Bruce Grocott Mr Bruce Grocott , The Wrekin

If the hon. Gentleman has been present for the entire debate, clearly he has not listened. Why is six times the amount of money required to undertake essential factual campaigns, about which nobody argues and which any Government must undertake? Our argument is that under the present Government the content and style of that advertising has changed, and it is that which I find particularly sinister. I find most worrying of all the comment in "Campaign" that it is equally true that the style and content of that advertising will change as the Government matures into a more sophisticated client…'It really works on its agency relationships. Also, government departments themselves are more experienced and ad literate'. I do not know what is meant by "ad literate" but I can guess, and it sounds pretty unpleasant to me.

The Government are moving from conveying factual information into that murky area of changing the public mood. They are massively increasing their expenditure on television advertising. We all know well enough that television advertising is not good at communicating factual information, but it is very good at conveying a mood—perhaps a false one, such as the impression that industry is prospering or that one can find a job if one only looks hard enough.

It is surely a legitimate exercise for any hon. or right hon. Member to obtain information about the way in which various Government Departments use their budgets for commercial television advertising. I put down a fairly simple question asking each Government Department to say how much it spends with the independent television companies. The replies come back, one after another, "This information is commercially confidential." I am sure that it is also politically embarrassing, and that is why the Government will not spell out those figures.

Being a persistent soul, I tried again. Knowing that the Departments would not reveal their expenditure, I thought that they might at least divulge how much air time they purchased, so that I could then do the sums for myself in calculating how much they spent with Tyne Tees, TVS, Yorkshire Television and the other commercial companies. This time, the reply was even more sophisticated. The Minister of State, Department of Employment, replied: Information on TV advertising expenditure in the form requested is not held by my Department, nor is it available centrally through the Central office of Information and can only be supplied at disproportionate cost. It is also commercially confidential."—[0fficial Report, 15 May 1989; Vol. 153, c. 51.] The Department hit me with both barrels with that one. I am surprised that the Department did not say also that it is a matter of national security.

It is an abuse of ministerial power not to answer a simple question with an answer that can be obtained by anyone owning a video recorder. However, one answer did slip through the net. It came, surprisingly enough, from the Department of Trade and Industry, which responded in rather more detail. It could not have been part of the conspiracy. Although the DTI would not spell out the names of the independent TV companies with which it places advertising, it did reveal that its total expenditure on television advertising in 1984–85 was £32,000; 1985–86 and 1987–87, amazingly, nil; 1987–88, £4·;6 million; and 1988–89, the absolutely staggering figure of £13£2 million.

As right hon. and hon. Members know from their own appearances on television, people often say, "I thought that you were good"—or bad, as the case may be—"but I cannot remember a word that you said." Television is simply to do with changing the public's mood, which is what has been attempted in the Government's constant advertising recently. If the Government's sixfold increase in television advertising was part of an overall mission to inform, I would have greater respect for it.

The truth is that in just the same way as the Government increased the slick packaging of their policies, they run away from examination of those policies in any forum in which their worth can be challenged. The Prime Minister has a perfect opportunity to spell out Government policy in this House any time that she wants, and receive massive publicity when she does so. However, she shows a marked reluctance to come anywhere near the place. Between 1979 and 1983, she spoke in the House 20 times, or an average of once every two and a half months. Between 1983 and 1987 she spoke 10 times, or once every five months. Since the 1987 general election she has spoken twice, or just once a year. That was once a year too often for my sensitivity, but such an attendance record is a barely acceptable minimum. We know that the last thing that the Prime Minister wants is television coverage of her performance reading her notes at the Dispatch Box.

A measure of the increase in the Government's spending on advertising illustrates that they are trying to sell an increasingly shoddy package in an increasingly glossy envelope. Even the advertising industry admits that. The copy of "Campaign" to which I referred earlier quotes the industry's view of the Government: Too often the products being advertised have been found wanting. That is a commentary on the Government's products. The Government find it impossible to distinguish between the national interest and party interests, and, more disgracefully, find it almost impossible to distinguish between the national interest and the survival of one individual in Downing street, and that is even more dangerous. Our central proposition has been unchallenged by the Government and I urge my hon. Friends to vote for it.

Photo of Mr Richard Luce Mr Richard Luce , Shoreham 6:50 pm, 16th May 1989

The Opposition's motion focuses on two main points—first, that the cost of Government publicity has increased and, secondly, that some of that publicity is becoming increasingly party political. On both counts I strongly recommend that the House should reject the motion.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said that the Opposition and the Government should treat such a motion extremely seriously. I noticed that throughout the debate only a smattering of Opposition Members have been present. If they really treated the motion seriously, they would have taken the trouble to attend the debate. That almost answers their case. As for the rest, my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has given clearly the reasons why we reject the motion.

First, on the matter of costs, my right hon. Friend made it clear that in the past 10 years or so publicity costs have increased within tightly drawn up rules and regulations which are available to the public. But I must emphasise strongly that the Government have a duty to inform the public, and people want to be better informed. The public are entitled to be better informed. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick) made that point extremely strongly. I suggest that an informed democracy is a stronger democracy, and that the Opposition, who hope and aspire one day to be in government, should hold the same opinion.

The Opposition's second point was that much of the advertising is party political. The conventions are properly and fully laid down in detail, and that was never the case when a Labour Government were last in office. They are in the Library for the House to see. It is forbidden that any publicity of that nature should be party political. Throughout the debate, the Opposition have failed to produce any evidence of any abuse whatsoever. That is in marked contrast to the tendentious propaganda that Labour councils have distributed around the country in the past year.

Photo of Mr Richard Luce Mr Richard Luce , Shoreham

No. I am here to answer the debate.

My hon. Friends the Members for Hallam, for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin) and for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim) made those points extremely effectively.

I stress that one of the reasons for the Widdicombe inquiry which led to the 1986 Local Government Act was the abuse by a large number of Labour authorities using party political propaganda. That led to the Widdicombe proposals and the 1986 Act which tightened the rules. If I did not think that you might rule me out of order, Mr. Speaker, I should have drawn attention to some of the unbelievable examples of the propaganda put out by Labour councils. I had such an experience concerning libraries in Derbyshire, where the Labour leader, who has the unusual name of Mr. Bookbinder, put out some propaganda on behalf of the council which was totally and utterly tendentious and misleading.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I hope that the Minister will not pursue that line. The debate must focus on the motion on the Order Paper.

Photo of Mr Richard Luce Mr Richard Luce , Shoreham

I accept your ruling, Mr. Speaker.

I shall move on to answer one or two of the specific points raised in the debate. The hon. Member for Linlithgow raised a number of issues. He asked whether there were a large number of resignations among information officers. There is no clear evidence of a large number of resignations. Indeed, the resignation rate today is lower than it was in the period 1976–82. Three senior information officers have recently left the service, but the rate of turnover and the rate of resignation is not high. I hope that reassures the hon. Gentleman.

Without being drawn into issues that are well beyond the terms of the motion, I shall respond once again to the implication that some civil servants—the hon. Member for Linlithgow mentioned Mr. Powell and Mr. Ingham—are corrupt officials. That must be utterly rejected. Let us take Mr. Ingham as an example. Mr. Ingham served for many years as press officer to the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). He also worked in the press office of Barbara Castle. If he can do that and then serve my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, he must be a man of the utmost impartiality and the highest calibre.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I did not refer to any officials being corrupt. I asked a very much more precise question as to whether it was proper—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. That should not be raised with the Chair under the guise of a point of order.

Photo of Mr Richard Luce Mr Richard Luce , Shoreham

Reference has been made to the conventions. The House knows that the various conventions that are set out and have been revised and supplemented are extremely thorough. They are available to the House and they set out quite clearly the parameters and the guidelines for Government publicity. There is no evidence that there has been any abuse.

The Opposition cannot have it both ways. They continually say that they want more information from the Government. They always want the Government to reveal more. When we have more publicity to reveal more information, they turn round and criticise us.

Mr. A. J. Balfour once said that democracy is Government by explanation. The Government have a positive duty to inform the nation, and to do so within very clear rules. We have clear rules on costs. We must have proper value for money and the expenditure on publicity must be within departmental budgets. We have clear rules on propriety. It is stated quite clearly that there must be no publicity which is party political.

If we examine the publicity that the Government put out and that we have been discussing today, are the Opposition really saying that it is not right to inform the public about the benefits to be derived from the single market in 1992? Are they seriously saying that it is not right that people should be informed about employment and training opportunities? Are they seriously saying that it is not right that we should put out information about crime prevention, about AIDS and about health? Are they really saying that it is not right that we should put out information about benefits, pensions and other public information about road safety or about expenditure on recruitment to the services, or, taking education as an example, the new rules for school governors? The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) recently pointed out that he thought that the Government should spend more money, not less, on such publicity. The charge that we are wrongly spending money is absolutely refuted.

It has been pointed out that in the 1970s the Labour Government, supported by the Liberal party, spent money on advertising about issues that were politically controversial—counter-inflation policies, selective price controls, devolution and the European referendum. Those were politically controversial matters but this Government in no way disputes their right to publicise them.

The tactic of the Opposition is hypocritical. They should get their own house in order first. Of course, the abuse by Labour councils led to the Widdicombe inquiry and to the 1986 Act.

On propriety, the conventions are clear, thorough and detailed. More than ever before on any aspect of the guidelines for Government publicity, there are clearly laid out parameters; for example, the activity should not be party political. Ministers are accountable to the House, to Select Committees and to the Public Accounts Committee for their own publicity. The Government set the highest possible standards.

The real problem for Her Majesty's Opposition is not one of cost or of propriety; it is the message itself. They do not like Government policies but they know that the public broadly support the Government. They know that the message is succeeding. That is what the debate is really about. They do not like it. That is why they initiated such a spurious debate. I therefore ask the House to reject the Opposition motion.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:–

The House divided: Ayes 204, Noes 287.

Division No. 201][7.01 pm
AYES
Abbott, Ms DianeClay, Bob
Allen, GrahamClelland, David
Anderson, DonaldClwyd, Mrs Ann
Archer, Rt Hon PeterCohen, Harry
Armstrong, HilaryColeman, Donald
Ashley, Rt Hon JackCook, Frank (Stockton N)
Ashton, JoeCook, Robin (Livingston)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Corbett, Robin
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Corbyn, Jeremy
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)Cousins, Jim
Barron, KevinCryer, Bob
Battle, JohnCummings, John
Beckett, MargaretCunliffe, Lawrence
Benn, Rt Hon TonyDalyell, Tam
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n &R'dish)Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Bermingham, GeraldDavies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Bidwell, SydneyDavis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I)
Blair, TonyDewar, Donald
Blunkett, DavidDixon, Don
Boateng, PaulDobson, Frank
Boyes, RolandDoran, Frank
Bradley, KeithDouglas, Dick
Bray, Dr JeremyDuffy, A. E. P.
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)Dunnachie, Jimmy
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Buckley, George J.Eadie, Alexander
Caborn, RichardEastham, Ken
Callaghan, JimEwing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)Fatchett, Derek
Campbell-Savours, D. N.Faulds, Andrew
Canavan, DennisFearn, Ronald
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)Fisher, Mark
Cartwright, JohnFlannery, Martin
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Flynn, Paul
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Foster, DerekMitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Foulkes, GeorgeMorgan, Rhodri
Fraser, JohnMorris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Fyfe, MariaMullin, Chris
Galbraith, SamMurphy, Paul
Garrett, John (Norwich South)Nellist, Dave
George, BruceOakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Golding, Mrs LlinO'Brien, William
Gordon, MildredO'Neill, Martin
Gould, BryanOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
Graham, ThomasParry, Robert
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)Pendry, Tom
Grocott, BrucePike, Peter L.
Hardy, PeterPowell, Ray (Ogmore)
Haynes, FrankPrimarolo, Dawn
Heffer, Eric S.Radice, Giles
Hinchliffe, DavidRandall, Stuart
Hogg, N. (C'nauld &Kilsyth)Redmond, Martin
Home Robertson, JohnRees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Hood, JimmyReid, Dr John
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Richardson, Jo
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Howells, GeraintRobertson, George
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)Robinson, Geoffrey
Hughes, John (Coventry NE)Rogers, Allan
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Rooker, Jeff
Hughes, Roy (Newport E)Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Rowlands, Ted
Illsley, EricRuddock, Joan
Ingram, AdamSalmond, Alex
Janner, GrevilleSedgemore, Brian
Johnston, Sir RussellSheerman, Barry
Jones, Barry (Alyn &Deeside)Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Jones, leuan (Ynys Mén)Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldShort, Clare
Kennedy, CharlesSkinner, Dennis
Kinnock, Rt Hon NeilSmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Kirkwood, ArchySmith, C. (Isl'ton &F'bury)
Lamond, JamesSmith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Leadbitter, TedSmith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Leighton, RonSnape, Peter
Lewis, TerrySoley, Clive
Litherland, RobertSpearing, Nigel
Livsey, RichardSteinberg, Gerry
Lloyd, Tony (Stratford)Stott, Roger
Lofthouse, GeoffreyStrang, Gavin
Loyden, EddieStraw, Jack
McAllion, JohnTaylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
McAvoy, ThomasTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
McCartney, IanTurner, Dennis
McFall, JohnVaz, Keith
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)Wall, Pat
McKelvey, WilliamWallace, James
McLeish, HenryWai ley, Joan
Maclennan, RobertWardell, Gareth (Gower)
McNamara, KevinWareing, Robert N.
McWilliam, JohnWelsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Madden, MaxWelsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Mahon, Mrs AliceWigley, Dafydd
Marek, Dr JohnWilliams, Rt Hon Alan
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)Wise, Mrs Audrey
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)Worthington, Tony
Maxton, JohnWray, Jimmy
Meacher, Michael
Meale, AlanTellers for the Ayes:
Michael, AlunMr. Allen Adams and
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)Mr. Martyn Jones.
NOES
Adley, RobertBaldry, Tony
Allason, RupertBeaumont-Dark, Anthony
Amery, Rt Hon JulianBennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Amess, DavidBlaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Amos, AlanBody, Sir Richard
Arbuthnot, JamesBoswell, Tim
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Bowden, Gerald (Dulwlch)
Atkins, RobertBowis, John
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Brandon-Bravo, MartinHamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Brazier, JulianHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterHanley, Jeremy
Brown, Michael (Brigg &Cl't's)Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon AlickHarris, David
Buck, Sir AntonyHaselhurst, Alan
Budgen, NicholasHawkins, Christopher
Burns, SimonHayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Burt, AlistairHeddle, John
Butcher, JohnHeseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Butler, ChrisHicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Butterfill, JohnHicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Hill, James
Carrington, MatthewHind, Kenneth
Carttiss, MichaelHogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Cash, WilliamHolt, Richard
Channon, Rt Hon PaulHordern, Sir Peter
Chapman, SydneyHoward, Michael
Chope, ChristopherHowarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Churchill, MrHowarth, G. (Cannock &B'wd)
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Colvin, MichaelHunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Conway, DerekHunter, Andrew
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Irvine, Michael
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Irving, Charles
Cope, Rt Hon JohnJack, Michael
Cormack, PatrickJackson, Robert
Couchman, JamesJanman, Tim
Cran, JamesJessel, Toby
Critchley, JulianJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Currie, Mrs EdwinaJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Curry, DavidJones, Robert B (Herts W)
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd &Spald'g)Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Davis, David (Boothferry)Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Day, StephenKey, Robert
Devlin, TimKing, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Dorrell, StephenKirkhope, Timothy
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesKnight, Greg (Derby North)
Dover, DenKnight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Dunn, BobKnowles, Michael
Durant, TonyKnox, David
Dykes, HughLatham, Michael
Emery, Sir PeterLawrence, Ivan
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Evennett, DavidLeigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Fairbairn, Sir NicholasLennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Fallon, MichaelLightbown, David
Favell, TonyLilley, Peter
Fenner, Dame PeggyLloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Finsberg, Sir GeoffreyLord, Michael
Fishburn, John DudleyLuce, Rt Hon Richard
Fookes, Dame JanetMcCrindle, Robert
Forman, NigelMacfarlane, Sir Neil
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Forth, EricMaclean, David
Fowler, Rt Hon NormanMcLoughlin, Patrick
Fox, Sir MarcusMcNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Franks, CecilMcNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Freeman, RogerMadel, David
Gale, RogerMajor, Rt Hon John
Gardiner, GeorgeMalins, Humfrey
Garel-Jones, TristanMans, Keith
Gill, ChristopherMaples, John
Glyn, Dr AlanMarlow, Tony
Goodhart, Sir PhilipMarshall, John (Hendon S)
Goodlad, AlastairMarshall, Michael (Arundel)
Goodson-Wlckes, Dr CharlesMartin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gorman, Mrs TeresaMates, Michael
Gow, IanMaude, Hon Francis
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Greenway, John (Ryedale)Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Gregory, ConalMeyer, Sir Anthony
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Miller, Sir Hal
Grist, IanMills, Iain
Gummer, Rt Hon John SelwynMiscampbell, Norman
Hague, WilliamMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Mitchell, Sir DavidSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Moate, RogerSpeller, Tony
Monro, Sir HectorSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Montgomery, Sir FergusSquire, Robin
Moore, Rt Hon JohnStanbrook, Ivor
Morris, M (N'hampton S)Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Morrison, Sir CharlesSteen, Anthony
Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester)Stern, Michael
Moynihan, Hon ColinStevens, Lewis
Mudd, DavidStewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Neale, GerrardStewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Nelson, AnthonyStewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Newton, Rt Hon TonyStradling Thomas, Sir John
Nicholls, PatrickSumberg, David
Nicholson, David (Taunton)Summerson, Hugo
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Norris, SteveTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Onslow, Rt Hon CranleyTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Oppenheim, PhillipTemple-Morris, Peter
Page, RichardThompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Paice, JamesThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Parkinson, Rt Hon CecilThorne, Neil
Patnick, IrvineThornton, Malcolm
Patten, John (Oxford W)Thurnham, Peter
Pawsey, JamesTownsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Peacock, Mrs ElizabethTracey, Richard
Porter, David (Waveney)Tredinnick, David
Powell, William (Corby)Trippier, David
Price, Sir DavidTrotter, Neville
Rattan, KeithTwinn, Dr Ian
Raison, Rt Hon TimothyVaughan, Sir Gerard
Rathbone, TimWaddington, Rt Hon David
Redwood, JohnWakeham, Rt Hon John
Renton, TimWalden, George
Rhodes James, RobertWalker, Bill (T'side North)
Riddick, GrahamWaller, Gary
Ridley, Rt Hon NicholasWalters, Sir Dennis
Ridsdale, Sir JulianWard, John
Rifkind, Rt Hon MalcolmWardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)Watts, John
Roe, Mrs MarionWells, Bowen
Rossi, Sir HughWheeler, John
Rost, PeterWhitney, Ray
Rowe, AndrewWiddecombe, Ann
Sackville, Hon TomWilshire, David
Sainsbury, Hon TimWinterton, Nicholas
Sayeed, JonathanWolfson, Mark
Scott, NicholasWood, Timothy
Shaw, David (Dover)Yeo, Tim
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)Young, Sir George (Acton)
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')Younger, Rt Hon George
Shelton, Sir William
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)Tellers for the Noes:
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Mr. John M. Taylor and
Sims, RogerMr. David Heathcoat-Amory.
Skeet, Sir Trevor

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MR. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,That this House recognises the responsibility of Government to provide advice and information to the public; and commends the Government's firm adherence to the long standing conventions governing propriety and value for money.