Advertising Standards Authority

Part of Notice Period for Amendment to Public Bills – in the House of Commons at 10:00 pm on 23rd May 2016.

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Photo of John Glen John Glen Conservative, Salisbury 10:00 pm, 23rd May 2016

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s intervention. She raises other issues, which I hope the Minister will pick up on in his response.

To return to my case, after the independent review process, the only avenue remaining is expensive judicial review. Dr Burns-Hill was referred to trading standards in January this year, three and a half years after the ruling, but only heard from trading standards today— as a result, I believe, of the tabling of this debate. That referral is only on grounds on non-compliance, despite my constituent asking to be referred since the original ruling in 2012 and reiterating that request to them in January and September 2013. Would the Minister consider an option for an advertiser to require a referral to trading standards after independent review, who would then conduct their own investigation?

Secondly, I am concerned about the depth of the ASA’s technical expertise. In October 2015, Lord Smith of Finsbury, the chair of the ASA, said in the other place that in 2014 the ASA had used expert support in only 16 out of 900 cases. My constituent strives to reach the highest professional standards, and is a member of several professional bodies. Because of her significant experience in the healthcare sector, she is well aware that individuals with PhDs can call themselves “Dr” without having to qualify expressly that they are not medical doctors. That is true even in hospital settings, where, for example, holders of PhDs in public health and psychology often work.

I believe there is a concern that the ASA did not pay sufficient attention to established academic practice, and, indeed, to the codes of professional healthcare bodies. I was told only recently that it consulted such bodies. That fact appears nowhere in the public ruling, and the evidence from the consultations has not been published. My constituent was put in the invidious position of respecting the authority of those bodies in relation to how she presented her professional and academic qualifications, and being confronted with the opaque authority of the ASA, which initially demanded that she use a completely non-standard way of conveying her qualifications and did not use the title “Dr”, as was her right.

An advertiser without the tenacity of my constituent would probably have passively accepted the substandard—and subsequently adjusted—ruling of the ASA, the suggested remedy of which was to include the phrase “doctorate in healthcare” throughout her website and on her business cards. If the ASA did consult on the established professional and academic conventions for displaying qualifications, why was the evidence of those consultations not made available and cited specifically in the judgment? If the ASA is not seen to make use of readily available expertise in such an important area as academia, it is difficult for it to retain its full credibility as a self-regulating body. Will the Minister require the ASA to publish when it has drawn on external advice, what that advice is, and by whom it was provided? That would surely be a sensible step to improve the authority and credibility of the ASA in such specialist matters.