Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill

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Mrs. Spelman: 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—

The Chairman: 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.

Mr. Bruce: 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.

9.30 am

Yvette Cooper: 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.

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