- The advertising industry is to propose that party political ads should be removed from its code of practice and policed by a new body, separate from the Advertising Standards Authority.
A group set by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), which is reviewing the code, wants the politicians to introduce their own "do-it-yourself" regulatory system. But the move could put the industry on collision course with the parties, which are divided over the supervision of their campaigns.
The industry's new plan will be floated on Thursday next week when the Neill committee on standards in public life takes the evidence from David Clayton-Smith, the CAP chairman, Andrew Brown, the director general of the advertising association and Caroline Crawford, the ASA's director of communications.
While the industry's representatives will not take sides in the battle between Labour and the Tories, they are expected to suggest that Labour's proposal for an independent electoral commission to supervise party funding and campaign spending limits should also police political advertising.
"It might be a very neat solution," said John Hooper, chairman of the CAP group reviewing the code and director general of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers. "The political parties are divided and it is difficult for us to achieve consensus. In that context, we would feel more comfortable if the whole issue was taken out of our hands."
Hooper conceded that publishers on the CAP were reluctant to exempt political ads from the code unless something else replaced it, as they wanted guidance on whether to accept controversial ads.
He said his review group wanted to avoid "another unsatisfactory compromise" like the present halfway house in which political ads are covered by the code but the parties do not have to prove their claims like other advertisers.
Although the CAP hopes the Neill committee will resolve the issue of backing its plan, it may risk the wrath of the politicians by exempting them from the code against their will. "Whatever happens, the status quo will not remain." said one industry source. "It is for the CAP, not the parties, to decide the matter. It is our code not theirs."
Labour supports the parties being brought fully under the code, but the Tories oppose this and also reject the idea of a separate code for political campaigns.