Clause 11 - Television and radio broadcasting

Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:00 am on 8 February 2001.

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Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 9:00, 8 February 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 47, in page 5, line 28, leave out from `Broadcasting' to `section' in line 29 and insert

`Corporation or Sianel Pedwar Cymru (the Welsh Authority referred to in'.

This minor amendment would remove a misprint in the Bill, which refers to the British Broadcasting ``Authority'' instead of the corporation, and set out the full name of the Welsh fourth channel authority. Both the BBC and Sianel Pedwar Cymru are excluded from the scope of the Bill. BBC services are regulated by its board of governors while the Welsh fourth channel—S4C—is regulated by the Broadcasting Act 1990. Their exclusion is in line with the decision to exclude from the scope of the Bill those broadcasting services that are already well regulated by statute or charter.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I welcome you to the Chair, Mrs. Adams. I have not served under your chairmanship before, and I look forward to doing so.

I thank the Minister for her explanation of the amendment. It would clarify which Welsh broadcasting authority is covered by the Bill and correct the original reference in the Bill to the ``British Broadcasting Authority''. The Minister said that the BBC was regulated by its board of governors. The amendment would correct an elementary matter; I am surprised that the reference to ``Authority'' was not noticed when the Bill was first drafted. However, I have been a member of Standing Committees that have debated Bills containing many more elementary mistakes than the Bill that we are currently debating. Parliamentary draftsmen are under enormous pressure, and mistakes can happen.

The Minister will know that, occasionally, we are concerned about the role of the governors of the BBC and about their fulfilling the requirements placed on them. Although we associate advertising almost exclusively with those commercial television channels that are legitimately allowed to advertise, some of the problems that have arisen under other clauses of the Bill that deal with product placement are just as much a problem in BBC programmes. Unfortunately, such matters are not regulated sufficiently tightly by the Bill. We are requiring the governors of the BBC to be far more vigilant than previously in ensuring that tobacco advertising that might fuel the prevalence of smoking does not slip through. We see product placement on television despite the ban on commercial tobacco advertising. I would like the Minister to impress upon the governors of the BBC that the BBC is affected. They may say that they do not, and never have, carried any tobacco advertising because the BBC does not run advertisements. However, when programmes are being vetted, precautions should be taken to avoid letting through other forms of advertising that we know to have a potent effect on young people.

I do my level best to stop my children from watching soaps because I have severe misgivings about the values that are imparted through them, but children coming home from school often plonk themselves down in front of the television and watch soaps in which role models openly smoke. That is an illustration of how product placement can creep in. It was a grey area when we debated it. Although there may not be official sponsorship agreements between television stars and tobacco companies, the potency of seeing a revered television star smoking on screen is enough to inspire young girls to take up the habit.

I remain concerned. I do not want the amendment to go by without putting on record my concern about the new responsibility that will be placed on the governors of the BBC.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

I may want to speak further about the clause in the clause stand part debate. I am concerned about how we define what the BBC is, not least because BBC World is broadcast on satellite television. The BBC is being encouraged through the new communications White Paper and the opportunity to earn money other than that which it receives from licence payers, to separate out its duties. I am worried that unless one defines the BBC, it may be able to carry advertising that the Government do not intend, especially if its programmes are beamed overseas.

If one goes down and looks at the BBC's facilities for making programmes for transmission on satellite channels in other areas—in Europe or in the United Kingdom—there is a man with an automatic machine, which feeds in a pile of cassettes with all of the different programme items. The transmission is beamed via an uplink to a satellite. That satellite zooms it over to another satellite and it comes down in China or wherever. Every 15 minutes or so the programme stops, and the advertisements are dropped into the programme breaks in those countries that are receiving the transmission. The whole delivery may be the responsibility of the BBC, or an independent television company.

The original name of the BBC was the ``British Broadcasting Authority''. Now the better-known name British Broadcasting Corporation is being included in the Bill. We must be careful what we are defining. As I understand it, the Government are trying to ring-fence what is paid for by the licence fee. The Government are telling the BBC that it must set up separate organisations, which I think are different, specific legal entities—limited companies, or even public limited companies. Those organisations are separate from what we know as the BBC of today, which is paid for through the licence fee. Activities such as running extra digital TV channels distributed by satellite, which may all have advertising in them, will be dealt with in a different way. I am happy to have a chance to analyse that; yet again a Government amendment prompts me to consider an issue, which is what exactly the BBC is now.

It may well be that the British Broadcasting Corporation controls what we know as the BBC, and also controls something like BBC World, which has a different remit and be financed in a different way. It may be financed by sponsorship, and is almost certainly financed by advertising. Have the Minister's ever-vigilant staff been thinking about that?

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

That is an interesting line of inquiry. Has my hon. Friend considered the reverse traffic? What happens when the BBC imports programmes from countries in which tobacco advertising is not so strenuously regulated? What responsibility will it have in such situations?

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

I do a good deal of policy work on communications and it is my view, increasingly the Conservative party's view and even, dare I say, the Labour party's view, that one cannot have different regulations for the BBC than for any other broadcaster, because the BBC is no longer just a terrestrial broadcaster with two channels. It has a large number of channels—[Interruption.] It is so nice to know that the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) is ready, chuntering away in the background.

Photo of Mrs Irene Adams Mrs Irene Adams Labour, Paisley North

Order. The hon. Gentleman is going a little wide of the amendment; perhaps he would pull his argument back in.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

I was about to sit down, Mrs. Adams. It is always difficult to keep track when a Committee member keeps a running commentary that is always too low for me to hear, but which is obviously designed to distract. Unfortunately, Mrs. Adams, you have not been here to see the Trappist tendency among Labour Members again. They do not want to put anything on the record and certainly do not care whether we track what we are supposed to be tracking.

Photo of Mr Ernie Ross Mr Ernie Ross Labour, Dundee West

I had the misfortune to serve on the Select Committee on Employment with the hon. Gentleman for many years. All his self-righteous nonsense amounts to exactly nothing.

Photo of Mrs Irene Adams Mrs Irene Adams Labour, Paisley North

Order. Can we come back to the Bill now?

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

We are on the Bill. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is still on the Employment Select Committee in his own mind; I think that it threw him off some while ago. He has had a distinguished career on the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs; he is well known for that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden was trying to direct attention to the fact that we have separate regulation for the BBC and for all those other organisations—which is relevant to the Bill, if I may say so, Mrs. Adams. We need to be sure that the amendment is proper, given that the Government are attempting to stop tobacco advertising on the airwaves, whether by the BBC or any other broadcaster. The Minister may want to draw the provision even wider; she may consider that before the Bill returns to the Floor of the House on Tuesday.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

I belatedly welcome you to the Committee, Mrs. Adams, and apologise for not having done so when I first spoke.

The amendment is straightforward, simple and is merely a minor wording amendment, but I shall try to address the questions that members of the Committee have raised. The amendment's purpose is to ensure that services already regulated by broadcasting Acts are not doubly regulated, and to deal with overlapping regulation. The Bill, as amended, will exclude services regulated by statutory codes issued by the Independent Television Commission and the Radio Authority under the Broadcasting Acts 1990 and 1996 and the BBC. The services regulated by those Acts include ITV, channels 4 and 5 and public teletext as well as cable and satellite programme services—when the person who provides the service is established in the United Kingdom—digital terrestrial television, restricted services, BBC commercial services and independent radio. Services that are not covered by the Broadcasting Acts include cable text, in-house broadcasting—in shopping malls, for example—and closed user services. Services not covered by the Broadcasting Acts are automatically covered by this Bill. The combination of the two should cover all the areas in which we have territorial jurisdiction, and where we are able to cover it.

Product placement is an issue that causes concern, but it is covered by the statutory codes and the Broadcasting Acts, which state that product placement of tobacco products should not be permitted on either channel. If there were any breaches of those codes, I would be interested to hear of them, to ensure that they are properly pursued. The codes that exist should be properly enforced, whether by the governors of the BBC or the Independent Television Commission.

The Bill is not intended to ban smoking on television; it would be wrong for us to seek to do so, and it is not Government policy. However, we intend to ban tobacco advertising, and that is clearly the intention of the Bill and the statutory codes.

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 9:15, 8 February 2001

I tried hard to make a distinction between the debate on the amendment and the stand part debate, by leaving aside any discussion of the Independent Television Commission and Radio Authority until now. Amendment No. 47 caught the BBC, and its role. However, what I want to say follows on from the Minister's speech to that amendment.

I find unsatisfactory the Government's approach to the change in law under this clause. They say that the Bill needs to deal only with the services not covered by the Independent Television Commission or the Broadcasting Acts. There is a problem with approaching the question of tobacco advertising from that minimalist perspective, however. It is not working very well at the moment in relation to the other authorities. Commercial television channels can legitimately advertise; that is how they raise their revenue, and how they can afford to make their programmes. The problem of product placement is just as acute in those independent television channels.

Like all hon. Members, I do not have much time to watch television. By the time we leave this place at night, there is little left to watch. However, on the occasions when I do, I find that there has been a slide. Even on BBC programmes that are not supposed to advertise, products appear blatantly, and for long periods. As an intermittent television viewer, I sometimes comment to my husband, ``My goodness, they are getting away with blue murder there. That product has been in the foreground of the picture for a very long time.''

There seems to have been an imperceptible slide in that direction, and the same is true of product placement. The nub of the problem is that ``advertisement'' has not been defined. We are dealing with an incredibly fine line. I realise that it would be unreasonable to ban people smoking on television, because, as far as possible, television tries to portray real life, and people smoke in real life. However, product placement is a subtle subset of that.

We had a similar discussion in relation to films, especially films from Hollywood that contain blatant product placement. Our television channels, including the BBC—the licence-funded channel provider—and the independent channel providers, show Hollywood-produced films in which blatant product placement occurs, and that is a powerful tool. I believe that we would all agree that young people who enjoy the cinema and revere cinema heroes are affected by such subliminal advertising on television.

I am worried that, in considering tobacco advertising in the context of television and radio broadcasting, we are skating over the issue superficially, without tackling problems. We could have nobbled the problem of product placement earlier in the Bill. I do not believe that the phrase ``product placement'' appears in the Bill, although I may have misread the Bill, and perhaps it does.

We need to signal to the television and radio companies that produce and compile programmes that anxiety has been expressed about product placement and what I have described as the slide in that direction. Although the Bill may send a signal, so long as it remains without a definition of advertisement, a grey area will remain about what constitutes advertising, which has been one of the Bill's weaknesses from the outset.

I hope that now is the time to raise the issue. This is a stand part debate, and we reserved discussing television and radio until we reached clause 11. However, the matter relates to other parts of the Bill. The approach to the construct of the Bill is, ``Well, it's okay because the independent television and radio producers are already regulated, and the Broadcasting Acts already deal with the regulation. There is just a little bit left that we need to cover.'' I am not sure that that will do the trick. We need to send a much stronger signal to the different authorities identified in the Bill, which will now effectively have a censorship role. We are asking them to reconsider the content of their programmes and pay more attention to the question of subliminal advertising and product placement. To help them do that, we need to define what constitutes an advertisement.

Mr. Ian Bruce rose—

Photo of Mrs Irene Adams Mrs Irene Adams Labour, Paisley North

Order. Before I call the hon. Gentleman, I inform him that copies of the Hansard report of Tuesday's proceedings are now available in the Room.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

I am glad that we have that on the record. I have my copy of Hansard, and have noticed several errors, which, unfortunately, I have not yet been able to go through so that I can ask the Committee to take note of them. We might just about be able to discuss that this afternoon.

I revert briefly to the issue of who controls broadcasting and advertising. We discussed previously why a Bill that effectively deals with Department of Trade and Industry and Department for Culture, Media and Sport matters is being introduced by the Department of Health. Although it is common ground in the Committee that serious health problems result from tobacco, which is why we are all keen for tobacco consumption to be reduced, the matter will be controlled by different Government Departments.

As is clear in the communications White Paper, the Government have not tackled the issue of who in the Government will be responsible for communications. They propose a single regulator, but the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will effectively deal with the broadcasting side, and the Department of Trade and Industry will deal with the more technical side and consumer affairs matters. It is important to know who is supposed to be controlling matters and who is supposed to be keeping an eye on what happens in broadcasting. Clause 12 deals with who will be the lead authority in checking such matters, but it is a difficult aspect.

In relation to product placement, now is a timely point at which to discuss once again the fact that the Government have decided not to define what constitutes an advertisement. As we saw in relation to a clause that referred back to the first clause, an advertisement is what it was in the first clause, and the Bill does not tell us any more.

I believe in listening to Ministers and taking their advice. The Minister kindly told us that an advertisement is what the dictionary says it is. I have a short version of the dictionary definition and a longer one; let us refer to the latter. ``Advertisement'' comes from the root ``to advert'', which means to refer to something. When I say anything about the Bill, I am ``adverting'' to it. The dictionary definition suggests that although the root of ``advertisement'' comes from ``advert'', normal usage of the word implies referring someone else to something. It is not just about ringing up one's local newspaper and saying, ``I'd like to put an advertisement in the newspaper, because I want to sell a bicycle'', or ``I want to sell some tobacco''. That is an advertisement, but there is more to advertisements than that.

Let me read the first definition of ``advertisement'' from the dictionary. It is:

``The turning of the mind to anything; attention; observation; heed''.

That is not the paid-for advertisement that the Minister thinks that she is dealing with.

The second definition is:

``Calling the attention of others; admonition; warning; precept; instruction''.

The third is:

``The action of informing or notifying information; notification; notice''.

On that definition, we start to come towards the kind of advertisement that the Government are trying to ban.

The fourth definition is:

``A written statement calling attention to anything; a notification; a notice''.

The fifth definition is:

``A public notice or announcement, formerly by the town crier, now usually in writing or print, by placards or in a journal, a paid announcement in a newspaper or other print''.

We must wait until we reach the fifth definition of ``advertisement'' before we arrive at what we thought that the Bill was about.

Clause 11 implies that a person who uses a cigarette or offers one to someone else in any broadcast material is caught by the Bill, because that is an advertisement for cigarettes. The Minister is dealing with an inadequate Bill. She is doing a good job of attempting to move it swiftly through our two weeks of consideration, but we still have not defined ``advertisement'' correctly. We have discussed several fundamental amendments each day, and I urge the Minister, when she refers to the Broadcasting Act 1990 and the codes contained in clause 11, to take care not to catch things that she has told us that she does not wish to catch. Because terms are not sufficiently defined, she may find that clever lawyers will approach the courts, saying, ``If it's all right to smoke on screen, because that has been accepted as okay, why isn't it all right for product placement, blatant advertising, sponsorship and everything else?'' I urge the Minister to tell the Committee how those important issues are being dealt with.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 9:30, 8 February 2001

I shall try to address the points made.

The purpose of the clause is to prevent unnecessary overlap and complication between two parallel regulatory frameworks—one is the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill, and the other is the Broadcasting Acts and their statutory codes, which currently regulate the way in which the BBC and other television and radio services operate. The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of product placement, which we are concerned about in relation to tobacco and health. The codes already ban paid product placement of tobacco products. We would be extremely concerned—as would the BBC governors and the ITC—if we found a link between a television programme and a tobacco company for the promotion of the latter's product. Were there any concern or suspicion that such a link might exist, it would be investigated straight away.

The hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) described her feelings as a television viewer. If she has anxieties about tobacco product placement in that context, I would be keen to hear examples and see that they are properly pursued.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

As a television viewer, how easily will I remember to which authority I must refer my complaint? Section 2(1)(b) of the 1990 Act refers to ``additional services which are provided from places in the United Kingdom''.

To whom should I refer a complaint about product placement in an imported programme shown on a particular channel?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

The two focuses should be the BBC or the ITC's code of practice. I will happily give the hon. Lady the full details in that regard. Clearly, such product placement should be prevented and properly regulated under the existing framework.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

I am sure that the hon. Lady, as a health Minister, thinks that there are just two regulators. A report from the European Informatics Market group, the all-party group on the matter, found 13 different regulators that deal with such broadcasting issues in the United Kingdom alone.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

Such issues are covered by the Broadcasting Acts, and a regulatory framework is in place. We considered whether we should try to regulate all those issues under the same framework and the same Bill. We decided that, because a regulatory framework was already in place for television, the right approach would be to make sure that this Bill covered all television services or additional services that were not already covered by the Broadcasting Acts. That is exactly what the clause does. It does not try to replicate or overlay an existing regulatory framework with a new one that might complicate it. It tries to cover all additional services to ensure a full and complete ban on tobacco advertising in this country.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I genuinely do not know the answer to my question, as it relates to an issue that would be dealt with by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Would it require eight complaints to be received to trigger an investigation? Currently, eight complaints must be received to trigger an investigation into bias.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

I cannot answer that in relation to the nature of the way in which the investigations take place. I shall be happy to find that out before this afternoon's sitting.

The Bill's intention is clear: we want to make sure there is a proper system to regulate tobacco advertising. The Bill should plug the gaps that might not already be covered by an advertising ban.

The hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) asked whether the Bill should be progressed by the DCMS or the DTI. Life and legislation do not fit neatly into particular boxes. He obviously thinks it a shame that the Bill has implications for several Departments, but that, inevitably, is how a lot of legislation works. We are introducing the Bill because of our concern for public health and the 120,000 deaths that result each year from smoking and tobacco. The question of which Departments will be involved is something of a red herring. The important point is that we should get the Bill right, and there are clear health reasons to do so.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I had hoped to catch the Minister before she sat down because this will be our last chance to talk about broadcasting. Can she clarify the situation as regards my point about imported programmes and the responsibility that television service providers have for their content? In the case of programmes imported from America, such as films that have blatant product placement in them, would the BBC be able to use the same defence as an individual and say that it had had no reason to suspect that the film contained product placement? Would the Minister regard that defence as reasonable in a case in which there was blatant product placement in an American programme?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

Certainly, those involved in the means of transmission may use the defences of not knowing, not being aware, or not having any reason to suspect. In the case of sponsorship agreements, the companies involved in transmitting or distributing films would only be affected, under the sponsorship clauses, if the purpose of what was done as a result of the agreement was to promote a tobacco product. However, if they were based in this country and involved in broadcasting an advertisement for tobacco, they would be covered, even if the advertisement had originated abroad.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

The Minister keeps using the word ``advertisement''. According to the dictionary, ``advertisement'' means ``simply referring to'' tobacco. Will she deal with that point?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

We had that discussion many times in the debates on clauses 1 and 2 and several more clauses since. I have made it clear every time that the word ``advertisement'' in this sense carries its natural meaning. Clause 1 states that a

```tobacco advertisement' means an advertisement—

(a) whose purpose is to promote a tobacco product''.

The main offence in the Bill, as set out in clause 2, relates to

``A person who in the course of a business publishes a tobacco advertisement, or causes one to be published''

or distributed. Our intentions have been made clear.

The Committee has discussed issues surrounding display, and will discuss them again when we reach the new clauses. We have also discussed how the Bill does not include freedom of speech or news reporting. The Bill is competent and adequate, and we have had quite enough debate to make clear the intention of the House on advertising.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 11, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.