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Column 206Jobs". 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 be 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.
Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth) : 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
Column 207is. 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.
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Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : 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,
Column 209the 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.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West) : 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
Column 210have 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 be 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. Mr. Wallace rose --
Mr. McLoughlin : 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 :
Column 211"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.
Mr. Dobson rose--
Mr. McLoughlin : 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.
Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen) : 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
Column 212shall 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.
Column 213It 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.
Mr. Irvine Patnick (Sheffield, Hallam) : 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.
Mr. Tony Banks rose --
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--
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.
Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield) : 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
Column 215between 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.
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin) : 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
Column 216Government 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.
Mr. Martin M. 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?
Mr. Grocott : 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,