HC Deb 28 June 1933 vol 279 cc1560-99

Read a Second time, and committed.

7.30 p.m.


I beg to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee to leave out Clause 144. The Clause which I desire to leave out empowers the Essex County Council to prohibit anyone from indulging in skywriting unless they are licensed. I am actuated by many reasons in desiring to leave out the Clause. First of all, I think there is an undue extension of municipal activity in this country, and that every addition to their powers of administration ultimately involves increased expenditure. I have on many occasions in this House protested against the enormous increase of municipal expenditure, a very large part of which falls on the National Exchequer. Therefore, apart from anything else, on the ground of economy I object to every new power which a municipality may be seeking at the present time.

Quite apart from that broad ground of principle, it seems to me undesirable that in the early days of an interesting new scientific development there should be hampering restrictions imposed by people who are not very experienced. The purpose of those who advocate this control in the Bill is the preservation of natural beauty. They do not want great and beautiful mountains like Snowdon to be defaced. If the county council of Carnarvon were coming forward I could understand that, but Essex is not exactly the county that I would have selected for an experiment on the ground that some natural beauty might be disfigured by illumination of the sky. I am sorry if I offend the patriotic susceptibilities of the able and distinguished hon. Members who represent that rather flat county.

It is interesting to note that in the last Session of Parliament there was a Select Committee, a very responsible and representative Select Committee, appointed, including a number of hon. and right hon. Members of this House, who take a strong view on the desirability—and I agree with them—of preserving the natural beauty of one of the most beautiful countries in the world, our own. They heard many witnesses and presented a Report which, I think, was unanimous. There was no dissent I think.


One dissentient.


I did not know that there was one dissentient. A very interesting point in the Report is found on page 12, paragraph 24: Those who have never seen sky-writing seem, in the main, to be opposed to it, but many after viewing the actual searchlight in operation are not offended by it. In other words, opposition comes from those entirely unfamiliar with the subject. We are not unacquainted with that sort of opposition. It is the common conservatism of all of us, irrespective of politics. We all object to that which is novel. The Committee did not recommend, incidentally, that the Essex County Council should insert a Clause in their Bill to deal with sky-writing. They came to the conclusion in respect of smoke-writing that there was no call either for the prohibition or the control of that form of enterprise, and they did not recommend any change in the existing law. With regard to sky-writing, which I would call the projection of light on the clouds, they contemplated the possibility of legislation, but they had some doubts whether it should be by means of national control or local control. I think I am fair in summarising the report of the Committee by saying that, in any event, they did not consider there was any call or any desirability for immediate legislation, and that the right course to adopt was to endeavour to have some kind of voluntary control.

That. recommendation, which was the cardinal recommendation in the report of the Committee, has been given effect to. I have in my hand a list of the members of the Sky-writing Conference, which includes all the bodies likely to be concerned—the various national organisations of advertisers, the Association of Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of British Industries, people actually engaged in sky-writing, the following Government or semi-Governmental Departments, the Board of Trade, Trinity House, whose interests are the lighthouse service, the Air Ministry, the Admiralty, the War Office, the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses, who perfor in for Scotland the functions performed for England and Wales by Trinity House, and the representative bodies who can speak for the interests of the Scottish commercial community. Every interest that is likely to he concerned from the broad national point of view is represented on this Skywriting Conference, and I am told that they have drawn up quite appropriate rules, which means that there can be no offence to anybody. In other words, you have in operation a satisfactory system of control.

It is interesting to note that the Home Office—I trust their view is now what it was some months ago—communicated to the Lords Committee dealing with this matter an expression of opinion that this Clause, which was numbered 137 and is now numbered 144, should be deleted from the Bill. I do not know, and I have no right to inquire, why that advice was not acted upon. It may be that the significance of it was not fully appreciated. If there is to be legislation the initiative ought to come in a national form, and from the Government of the day. I am entirely opposed to great national decisions—ultimately it may be a great national decision although it is only a small thing now—being taken by what I would call a chance Clause in an individual Corporation Bill, which none of us sees in the ordinary way unless some outside person who happens to be interested draws our specific attention to it.

Once a Clause of this kind has gone through in one Session it means that, unconsciously, we have given what is regarded as our deliberate assent to it. and in subsequent Sessions it becomes the duty of Committees upstairs automatically to approve of that particular Clause in the Bills of county councils—and county borough councils, and, later, someone comes along in connection with some general public health Bill and says:"Many local authorities have obtained this Clause. Let us make it national. "That is an unsatisfactory way of taking a vital decision on policy. Therefore, when an entirely new principle is introduced in a municipal Bill which comes before Parliament asking for statutory powers, the principle ought to be effectively debated in this House, so that we may come to a considered decision after discussing the matter in all its bearings, keeping in mind the fact that, although we may be discussing only an individual Clause, we are deciding something which may ultimately have nation-wide scope. For these reasons I move the instruction. I am glad that we have the presence of the right hon. Member for Tamworth (Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland) who was the Chairman of the Select Committee, and I hope that he will be in a position to give us his guidance in the course of the Debate.

7.39 p.m.


I beg to second the Motion.

I do so from a point of view somewhat different from that taken by my hon. Friend. I agree with him in his first point in regard to the general undesirability of the extension of the powers of local authorities which invariably, as he said, means increased expenditure. I say this in no sense of hostility to the Essex County Council. Unlike my hon. Friend who moved the Instruction, I have a great affection and admiration for Essex. It is a beautiful county, returning many distinguished Members to this House, and it must have, I am convinced, an able county council, because they have managed to persuade my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Sir V. Henderson), against what I am certain is his better judgment, to oppose this Instruction.

I view with horror—a horror which, I think, is shared by a considerable number of hon. Members—the growing tendency of this House, and particularly of this Parliament, to indulge in the nefarious practice of local option, a practice to which the majority of the House are opposed. I am sorry that hon. Members allow themselves, I do not know why, to be misled by those who put forward seductive ideas like the safeguarding of amenities, into supporting what is a thoroughly bad principle and which, if they realised what they were doing, they would oppose. I, like some of the hon. Members who are supporting this Measure, desire to safeguard, just as much as they do, the amenities of the countryside, but I support this Instruction because I am convinced that the last people in the world to safeguard those amenities are the county councils. If there are any bodies more than others which have in the past perpetrated vandalisms on the countryside and have more than any others when the question is put before them, taken a commercial rather than an amenity point of view, it is the local authorities of this country. We have only to look at the housing schemes all over the country to get a clear proof of that. It is a mystery to me why societies which exist for the preservation of various amenities of the countryside should indulge in the support of Measures of this sort.

It has been suggested that the supporters of this Instruction are supporters of sky-writing. I am not. I dislike sky- writing as I dislike all modern scientific inventions. I believe the time is far distant when we shall forbid all mechanical devices without distinction, and therefore I wish to see scientific inventions put under proper control, but I am certain not only that this Bill as now drafted will not put them under proper control, but that it will be the start of a scheme which will prevent them from ever being put under proper control. If you are to control this new development of sky-writing, you require people who know something about it, and with every respect for the Essex County Council, I am perfectly certain that the vast bulk of them cannot be numbered in that class. I forbear to go into the difficulties of what particular portions of the sky belong to Essex and its boundaries, whether it is possible to project from some neighbouring counties writing on the Essex sky, or whether, on the other hand, it will be possible to project from Essex writing on somebody else's sky. These are interesting points which I have no doubt the Committee upstairs, in the event of this Instruction not being carried, will have to discuss and decide.

I am convinced that this important scientific development should be properly controlled on a national basis. We should seek in this as in other matters to ensure that this development should be controlled, if necessary, by people thoroughly competent to take all the facts into consideration. There are those who will say: "We agree with that view, but we know that that takes time. We are frightened by this development, therefore we want something to be done at once, and here is a Measure designed to give us control in one part of England." But my hon. Friend has pointed out the supreme danger of that course. If Parliament grants this power now it will mean that in the next two or three years other county councils, equally unwise, will demand similar provision in their Bills, and what I believe to be the dangerous and thoroughly unsatisfactory system of local option which is pervading too many spheres of life to-day, will be extended. I hope hon. Members will pay the greatest attention to what the right hon. Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland) may say, because he knows more about this subject than anyone in the House. I hope also that the Under-Secretary of State is going to support the original suggestion of his own Department, that the Clause should not stand part of the Bill, and that we shall listen with rapt attention to his advice which, on this occasion, will be admirable. I hope that hon. Members who represent Essex, including my hon. Friend now on the Government Front Bench, will be so overcome by the winning words of my hon. Friend that they will be compelled to withdraw their opposition to this Instruction, and on this matter support the Government in the knowledge that they are right.

7.46 p.m.


I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont) that I am not asking the House to oppose this Instruction against my better judgment. Far from it. Although I have served in the Home Office, on this occasion I differ from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. The hon. Member for Croydon South (Mr. H. Williams) said that he regarded the formation of a voluntary body as the cardinal recommendation of the Select Committee. I speak subject to anything which my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland) may say, but I did not read the report in that way. I read it as implying that they recommended that legislation should be passed and that in the interval it was desirable that a voluntary body should be formed, from which some experience might be gained by the Home Office to enable them to frame their legislation better in the future. I am reinforced in that argument by reading the terms of the recommendation which the Home Office sent to the House of Lords Committee which dealt with the Bill, because in the last paragraph. it says: The Secretary of State takes the view that the question of legislation on the subject, particularly as in this case legislation of a purely local character, should be deferred until experience has been gained of the effectiveness of the control achieved by the rules in question, and he recommends that the Clause should be struck out. That obviously implies that a voluntary body is to be formed first and that legislation is to follow. I want to draw the attention of the House to a point which has not been mentioned by either of the two hon. Members who have moved and seconded the Instruction. We all agree, or at any rate the majority of the House agrees, that it is bad to have too much interference with the private liberty and activities of the subject. The hon. Member for Aylesbury holds strong views on that subject; but it is equally bad for the State not to interfere with activities which may subsequently become a public nuisance and which may create vested interests. We have had examples of allowing activities to take place and vested interests to be created, which subsequently have had to be compensated, because of our failure to pass legislation at the proper time.

May I cite two instances, both as far as I remember and certainly one of them affecting the Home Office? There was the question of the regulation of advertisements which we dealt with in 1907 and again in 1925. In that case we had to give compensation to certain owners of advertisements by allowing their advertisements to remain in position for a certain number of years without interference, because we had not taken action sufficiently early. In the Petroleum Act of 1928 we again not only had to make provision so that certain existing stations should not be interfered with structurally, but we had actually to insert a Clause giving compensation to certain stations which the county council considered it might be necessary to remove. There again it was a case of this House not acting soon enough, and allowing vested interests to be created which subsequently became a nuisance to the countryside.

At the present moment there are no vested interests in the skies except what we all hope individually to obtain in the future, and, therefore, it seems to me that this is a suitable opportunity for legislation before these vested interests, which the hon. Member for South Croydon envisages, can arise, which may have to be compensated in the future. The hon. Member referred to the creation of a "voluntary body and said that surely it was sufficiently representative of all interests concerned. He will correct me if I am wrong, but I think it is the case that the voluntary body contains no representatives of local authorities and no representatives of the various societies which are deeply interested in preserving the amenities and beauties of the countryside. It does not represent those who are interested in preserving the countryside but those who are interested in advertising; it is therefore one-sided. In the second place the voluntary body has no power. If any independent advertiser chooses to operate on his own initiative they have no power to prevent him; they cannot penalise him. He has not to get a licence from them. They cannot do anything. All they can do is to hope that they will be able to persuade the various advertising interests concerned to follow the line they recommend. But they have no power to prevent anyone doing something contrary to their wishes and creating a vested interest which it may be necessary to compensate subsequently.

I should like to assure the hon. Member for South Croydon that although Essex is near London it contains some of the most beautiful rural scenery in England. Neither is it a flat county; there are parts of it which are extremely hilly. The fact that it contains beautiful rural scenery and that it is very near London naturally makes it more apprehensive of danger arising from sky advertisements than would be the case in a county in the West of England. It is because of its position so near to London—in its northern part it is only 40 miles from London, but it contains villages which are 10 and 15 miles from a railway station— that they want to take powers to be able to control what may subsequently become a public nuisance. The county council will be quite prepared to modify the Clause so that it should be subject to any recommendation made by the Home Office, but I ask hon. Members to realise that it may be two or three years before the Home Office, with the press of Government legislation now before us in this Parliament, will be able to legislate on this matter. In that interval vested interests may arise and nuisances may be created, and nobody will have any power to deal with them at all. When such legislation is subsequently brought in you will have my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State apologising for having to introduce a Clause compensating vested interests which have been created.

May I draw the attention of the House to one other point? This is a large document, as the House will observe. It contains over 200 Clauses. It is an omnibus Bill, giving general powers to the county council and bringing certain of their powers up to date. The particular Clause to which objection is taken is only one amongst 200. Some of us to-day had the opportunity, in another part of London, of listening to a Debate on another subject, and the most striking statement in that Debate, and one which I think greatly influenced the result, was the argument put before every one there that if you set up a committee to do a particular thing you should not attempt to instruct that committee as to how it should do its work. In this House we have by our procedure a method by which we send Bills upstairs to a Select Committee, which examines them in detail. If that is the case the committee we have established is quite competent to hear any evidence which the county council or its opponents may desire to bring for and against this Clause, and surely we are wrong in attempting to establish the precedent that we should instruct one of our own committees as to what they should do before they have heard evidence on one particular Clause in a Bill of some 200 Clauses. Therefore, I ask the House to think carefully, despite what my hon. Friend on the Front Bench may say, before they accept this Instruction, and on the grounds I have mentioned, and also on the general ground of maintaining our procedure, to let the Committee upstairs decide this matter for itself. I hope the House will not accept the Instruction.

7.57 p.m.


I must confess that I cannot follow the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Chelmsford (Sir V. Henderson) that we should allow a Committee upstairs to investigate this subject anew because the House of Commons has set up a Committee to investigate. The Committee took a great deal of time, called all sorts of evidence in favour and against, and came to a definite conclusion. It was not that any county council should legislate, it was that we should wait a certain time; that we should wait for national legislation. That is not what the Bill attempts to do.

I have sympathy with the hon. and gallant Member in defending the beauties of Essex, but I cannot help reminding hon. Members that sky-writing takes place chiefly at night and, consequently, you cannot see the beauties of Essex. A point which was brought out before the Committee was that it does not pay to sky-write anywhere, except in densely populated urban districts. Consequently anybody who starts sky-writing in beautiful country scenery is bound to go bankrupt very quickly. The thing looks after itself. When we considered the question of sky-writing and thought that we were going to be enthusiastic against it we found, when we came to investigate the matter, that on a dark drab night with low drifting clouds sky-writing was not as bad as it was painted.

The question of local option has been dealt with by my hon. Friend, but since we investigated it, I do not think that one single Member of the House has seen sky-writing at all. I should like to ask the Minister, when he replies, to say whether the Air Ministry had anything to do with inspiring the Essex County Council to put this Clause in their Bill; because sky-writing has practically been killed by the Air Ministry. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hurrah !"] Some people say "Hurrah!" but you have to remember that this little industry, which has been starved, sold about 90 per cent. of its apparatus abroad and employed men every day. Now, due to the Air Ministry, who said that it was a danger to navigation, that industry has gone bankrupt. But the Air Ministry, when it came before the Committee, never said that skywriting was a danger to navigation at all. They stopped the development of the company by saying that it was a danger to navigation, but they had not the temerity to say this to us, because we might have answered. The Air Ministry are going right outside their province in giving about industrial activities advice which they cannot substantiate and which they have not the moral courage to put up before a Committee appointed to investigate the subject.

One point I have not heard discussed and which should be spoken about is the question of air defence. It came up in the Committee, and nobody has spoken about it to-night. We are all afraid of the menace of air attack and air bombing at night, and so far no defence has been brought up to counter it. The only thing we have is anti-aircraft guns and searchlights. Sky-writing develops the searchlight. I believe that a really effi- cient type of searchlight and anti-aircraft gun could deal with bombing at night; nothing else can. I think it is a thousand pities, before this industry has advanced to any noticeable extent at all, to handicap what might be a very powerful potential weapon of defence. We saw in the first sky-writing at night a type of searchlight that had never been seen before, that had not been introduced by the Navy, the Army or anybody else—a new invention. The Air Ministry has stifled this, and we are determined to-night, if we do not stop this particular Clause, to introduce legislation at a later date on what is a matter of some national importance.

8.4 p.m.


References have been made to the Select Committee and to the recommendations made by the Select Committee, and also to myself as its' Chairman. I think, therefore, that the House might wish to know what exactly those recommendations were. They do not correspoind precisely with the discription given of them either by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) or by my hon. Friend who opposed the proposed Instruction. The Select Committee went very carefully indeed into the question. It held, I think, 15 sittings, and examined a very large number of people. We examined the question in all its aspects, and as a result we made quite definite recommendations. There are two which, with the permission of the House, I will read, because those are the two which are material to the present case. The first is Section 38 of the Report: Area." For the reasons which have been already given your Committee recommend that legislation should be introduced on the following lines. In rural areas night skywriting should be prohibited for all private purposes, a rural area being defined as any rural district or any borough or urban district with a population of less than 20,000. This prohibition should be subject to the proviso that the local authority of a prohibited area may by a resolution of its council sanction the use of night sky-writing upon such special occasions as it may deem expedient. In urban areas night sky-writing should be freely permitted provided that the time and location of displays are suitable. That was one recommendation. The other governs, so to speak, the time and the suitability of the display. It is in Section 44, and again perhaps the House might like to hear it: Your committee, therefore, recommend that the Home Secretary should, as soon as possible, convene a voluntary body representative of advertisers, advertising agents, firms engaged in sky projection and such other interests as he may think should be represented. This body should act in consultation with the central departments concerned, the associations of local authorities and the societies who are interested in advertising and the preservation of amenities. It should be able to exercise a reasonable control of both the matter used in sky advertising, the manner and place in which it is displayed and the number of machines operating at one time within a defined area. The success that has already attended voluntary censorship, by the advertisers themselves, of advertisements through existing media makes your committee the more Confident that the control which they suggest for sky-writing should be effective, and should at any rate be tried in the first instance. In addition your committee recommend that this voluntary body should operate for any or all of the purposes, for which your committee have recommended legislative provisions, until such time as the appropriate legislation in each case has been enacted. Those are the two recommendations which we made. It will be seen that in the first place no general legislation has actually been passed with regard to rural areas, but of course the House will see quite clearly that what we had in mind was that it should be the exception rather than the rule that sky-writing should take place in what were predominantly rural areas—that is to say, actually rural districts or districts in which there were only small towns situated in the midst of rural scenery; but that, on the other hand, the power to exhibit displays on the sky should itself be the rule rather the exception in closely-populated urban areas. We thought that under the conditions that often prevail there, subject of course to the censorship of the body set up, people who had actually seen the displays would find them not unwelcome. I think I am stating quite fairly the opinion of the Committee and the reasons why they acted.

What has happened is that the legislation imposing these prohibitions in strictly rural districts and small urban districts with a small population has not been passed. On the other hand, the voluntary body which was recommended in the later stage, and which it was recommended should function pending any general legislation being passed, has been set up. As far as I know, it has been acting to the general satisfaction. At least, of this I am quite sure—that there has never been any outrageous or objectionable use of sky-writing in the meantime from that day to this, or without question we should all have heard of it. From the day that the report was issued and from the time that the body was set up until to-day, there has been no instance to which public attention has been called of any sky-writing as affecting sensibilities of taste and appreciation of natural beauty.

I would only ask the House, looking at this question responsibly, what would be the natural inference that any sensible person would draw under these conditions? I think it would be that so long as the present state of affairs is going well, so long as the present body is working satisfactorily and no complaints are heard, we should be content that we have apparently settled, with tolerable success, a question that at one time caused a lot of apprehension and was very controversially debated. I think that the other inference that any person ought probably to draw is that, since the very limited legislation that was recommended has not been passed, every individual authority asking for legal power and taking action in doing so should be careful to follow the recommendations which were made by the Select Committee.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Sir V. Henderson) says: "You should not beforehand try to tie the hands of a Committee," I might say in return: "What is the good of a Select Committee that goes into a particular question very carefully indeed if, without reason assigned, a particular body proceeds to take action at variance with its recommendations "? It is quite clear, and I submit that it may quite well be that, when recommendations have been made and not acted upon, then after the lapse of considerable time, if conditions have changed, no doubt it might be quite legitimate, proper and sensible to take some different kind of action from what was formerly recommended. This should not, however, be done when the events are so recent as these, and certainly not, I would suggest, by an individual authority when it is seeking powers and general legislation is not being passed.


Might I remind my right hon. Friend that it is more than a year since his Committee reported, and that no legislation from the Home Office is in prospect?


That is quite true; the very fact that a year has passed since this body was set up pending legislation, and that it has been in action and no single complaint has been received at all, must, I think, show in the first place that the present state of affairs is tolerably satisfactory and that there has been no development within that year to warrant powers being asked for by a local authority different from what the Select Committee recommended. The fact is that what this local authority asks for is powers not only different but absolutely at variance with the recommendations of the Select Committee. What we suggested was prohibition in quite rural areas, with power to the local rural district council or urban district council to give a licence. We never contemplated the county as the licensing authority. Again, what we did think was that skywriting should be permitted in urban areas. The hon. Member knows as well as I do that there are very large urbanised areas within the county of Essex, and therefore, so far as the county council take powers for prohibition of this kind, their action is quite distinctly at variance with and incompatible with the recommendations of the Select Committee. I say, therefore, that if a new precedent is to be established, especially one that runs quite counter to the recommendations of a committee which has so recently been set up, it should be established by some general legislation—if at all—and not by an Act of a particular authority, like the Bill which is being brought before the House to-night.


Is it not the case that the Select Committee over which my right hon. Friend presided recommended that the body to which he referred should act in consultation with the societies who are interested in the preservation of amenities? Is that not the case, and has the consultation taken place?


I have not the information to answer my hon. and learned Friend. I have not myself heard of any complaints, and I understood that the body was acting to the general satisfaction. I should rather have imagined that I should have heard indications from those societies if they had had any substantial grounds of complaint. Further than that I cannot give him information. I do not think as things are that there is any great danger. Sky-writing has not been such a success that its promoters are likely to be exhibiting signs all over the sky. I always thought that too much had been made of the possible danger and that this development—an extremely interesting one as an hon. Member opposite has pointed out—was not likely to meet with that success which, from some points of view other than the aesthetic point of view, might be wished for. I think, however, that when a question of this kind has been carefully gone into in the manner described, a single local authority ought not to act in a way which is at variance with the recommendations unless there is some urgent reason for doing so. I speak in this matter with a full sense of responsibility and with a great desire to protect both natural beauties and beauties which are of our own making. I would say to any hon. Friends of mine who are anxious to protect natural or architectural beauties, that one has to exercise a certain amount of judgment in these matters. If we take action on all and every occasion when questions of this kind arise, then perhaps when some object of real artistic value and importance is threatened, the influence which we can exercise to protect it may be less than it would otherwise be.

8.17 p.m.


I find myself, I regret to say, at variance with my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland) on this subject, and I have authority for giving to him and to the House the information which he was not able to supply. The bodies mainly concerned with the preservation of amenities and in particular, such bodies as have given long and distinguished service in connection with the problem of controlling advertising, have not been consulted and are not represented on this committee. They do not consider it, in the present situation as in any way satisfactory, nor do they regard it as the appropriate body to be appointed arising out of the Select Com- mittee's recommendations. If the situation is no worse than it is at present that is only due to the fact that by a merciful dispensation of Providence, bankruptcy has come to our aid, at any rate temporarily. But that is no reason for not ensuring ourselves against being taken unawares. I am not going to argue at length the need for the preservation of amenities. None of us wants to see the country plastered all over with announcements such as "Buy Croydon's pole-axes and save money" or things of that sort. But I wish to point out to the House some reasons why Essex is particularly concerned in this matter.

In the first place, the fact that it is close to London and has suffered in the past more than almost any other district in the South of England from the devastation of its amenities makes it particularly anxious on this occasion. I speak not as representing an Essex constituency, but as one with some knowledge of the county. It is ludicrous to tell those of us who have some knowledge on this subject that it is always the local authority which is the cause of our troubles. I am not a particular friend to local authorities or their actions, but I see below me an hon. Member who is prominently connected with the London County Council, and I would remark that any person acquainted with Essex conditions who compares the municipal housing schemes carried out by the London County Council at Becontree and elsewhere, with the operations of the speculative builders, is left unmoved by the perpetual reiteration of the definite misstatement that local authorities cannot be trusted in this matter of the preservation of amenities.

Further, Essex is particularly concerned because taking the portion of it which is closest to London there are at least two districts which are officially urban districts and will continue to be so being over the 20,000 population mark but which are in fact definitely rural in character. Their rural character vitally affects the biggest open space which is available for East London—Epping Forest. I refer to Chingford and Woodford. It is important that the Essex County Council or some local authority should have power to ensure control over this form of advertising. Then the point is raised, why should it be a local authority? For a very intelligent reason. It is ludicrous to try to persuade us that no legislation of this type should be in the hands of local authorities. All legislation of this kind is in the hands of local authorities. Whether it is town and country planning, or advertisement regulation, or public health or smoke abatement—all that kind of legislation rests on the basis of the local authority.

It is true that we have to take the rough with the smooth, and of course there are advantages in centralisation. It is true that if Essex does not control its smoke, its smoke will blow over surrounding districts; if East Ham does not control its smoke, that smoke will blow over Essex, and if Essex will not control sky-writing, but Suffolk wants to control it, there will be trouble on the border. The fact remains that in this country we have taken the view that the control of amenities should be in the hands of local authorities, and it is absurd to argue this as a great question of general principle. It has all been settled long ago. For years local authorities, whether for good or evil, have been encouraged to take more and more action in the control of the amenities of their neighbourhoods. The county council is the authority for that purpose and it is no use to take up time in arguing that it should be some totally different body. If anybody is to do it, it must be the county council, and somebody must do it.

I come now to a point regarding which I was entirely confused by the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tamworth. It seems odd that another Member should tell the right hon. Gentleman what he really meant by his own report, but I cannot square his account of what he meant, with what is said in the report, the text of which I have here. In passing, may I say that I do not consider the report of the Select Committee a good document. I think it a peculiarly unhappy document, but in it the Committee say in terms that legislation should be carried, and they also say in terms that pending legislation a certain type of voluntary body should be set up. That type of voluntary body has not been set up. It does not exist.

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Douglas Hacking) indicated dissent.


That appears to surprise the Under-Secretary but it is not the case that the type of voluntary body envisaged in the report has been set up. The body which has been set up contains no representation of bodies who are interested in amenities. According to my information none of those bodies, such as the Scapa Society, and the Society for the Preservation of Rural England, or societies other than those having trade interests or special interests in this matter, has been taken into consultation.


The hon. Member has said that the constitution of the committee is not in conformity with the constitution suggested in the report of the Select Committee. I do not see wherein it differs from the recommendation. He says that the report suggested that there should be somebody on the committee concerned with amenities. Where does he find that in the report?


I was taking it as read by my right hon. Friend.


I do not think it is there. What they do say is: Your Committee therefore recommend that the Home Secretary should as soon as possible convene a voluntary representative of advertisers, advertising agents, firms engaged in sky projection and such other interests as he may think should be represented.


Will the hon. Member please read the next sentence?


It goes on to talk about those in consultation. The hon. Member talked about them being part of the body in control, and he said the constitution of this Committee was not in conformity with the suggestions made by the Select Committee, but I submit that the constitution of the Committee does conform with those suggestions.


If I used the word "constitution," which is open to misconstruction, we will not argue over verbal words. The point of substance is that even the Select Committee appreciated the fact that it was necessary that any voluntary body, to command respct, should be in the closest touch and should act in consultation with the societies interested in amenities. That in fact has not happened. The point that I want to make, however, is that it cannot be considered a satisfactory body even in the interim, and, secondly, that even the re- port only considered that as interim, and it has all along been recognised that general legislation is necessary. The point, therefore, is narrowed down to whether it is desirable to wait until some day when the Government may be in a position to introduce general legislation, or whether it is appropriate that a county council, which is anxious and prepared to take part in an omnibus Bill following the lines of the report, should do so. I cannot understand something in the report of the Select Committee, as I read their proposals, word for word, as to the type of provision that should be laid down in any such connection. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to draw some special distinction between a county council and a local authority. A county council is a local authority, and in this connection it is not only a local authority, but the local authority.


We made a distinction between rural areas—defined as rural districts and urban districts with a population of less than 20,000— and urban areas, and in urban areas we recommended complete freedom, provided the type of display was suitable. The power which the Essex County Council seeks is to be able completely to prohibit in urban areas as well as in rural areas, and therefore it is at variance with the recommendations of the committee.


The point that I am trying to make is, that unless the right hon. Gentleman desires to add to his recommendations, he appears to suggest that the authority must be every separate rural district authority and urban district authority with under 20,000 population, but that is not the case. Those are not the appropriate local authorities doing that kind of work. The authority which is doing that kind of work is the county council, and the area over which the county council may or may not exercise that power is a matter of argument. I heartily applaud that it should be possible, as things stand, for the county council to exercise this power of advertisement control over a slightly larger area than the Select Committee would have given power to a local authority to control. My point is, that no one, even on the Select Committee, laid it down that nothing could be done until every separate rural distriect and every separate urban district council decided to act, because that will never happen. It would reduce the thing to a complete farce. The local authority for advertisement regulation is the county council. The Essex County Council is trying to obtain these powers because there is no immediate prospect of this House laying down general legislation, and I submit that it is highly desirable, if this House cannot find time—and it has not shown any signs of finding time—to make general powers, that when, as here, we have an authority anxious to do what must be done, it should be encouraged to do it.

I would stress the importance of the point of avoiding claims for compensation. The curse of our efforts to preserve amenities has always been that when you come to do anything you discover that somebody has bought it, or inherited it, or has some other hold over it—all legitimate, private, proprietary rights which have to be bought out. Mercifully, the only right we have here has "gone broke." Let us take the powers which everybody admits must be taken sooner or later while they are "broke," and before somebody else comes along and says, "If you want to stop the sky being written all over with the name of somebody's beer, you must pay me £20,000 or £30,000."On these grounds, I urge upon the House to allow this Bill, as it has come from another place, to go to a Select Committee, where the claims for and against it can be discussed.

8.32 p.m.


I think it right for one or two of us who served for a long time on the Joint Select Committee which went into this matter to give our views shortly to the House, but before doing so I would like to say, with reference to the hon. Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Horobin), that the only reason perhaps why he was interrupted once or twice was because on this occasion he was led into a large number of inaccuracies and, therefore, had to a certain degree to be corrected. In this question of sky-writing, it seems to me that there can be no possible claims for compensation arising, because you cannot buy the sky, you cannot get a vested interest in the sky, and indeed you cannot really operate this particular form of advertisement except at certain times of the day and under certain weather conditions.

Those of us who were on this Committee—and there are five of us in the House, I see, to-night—all went on to the Committee, I think, with the possible exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser) with open minds on this subject. We thought it might be a desirable thing to have these advertisements portrayed on the sky, and we all went down to see them and to see for ourselves the two forms. As a matter of fact, a large number of those who came and gave evidence before us on that Committee as to the atrocious nature of them and the horrible ruin that they would cause to all local surroundings had not themselves ever seen that of which they were complaining, and I suspect that some of the Members of this House who talk about them being such a horrible invention have not really seen them portrayed on the sky.

Let us realise too that they can only be portrayed at night, when it is dark enough for the magic lantern effect to show up, that they can only be portrayed on a cloudy night, because you must have a cloud as your background, and that it does not pay to portray them in any but closely-populated areas, for the simple reason that the people who pay for the advertisements will not think it worth while unless a large number of people are likely to look up and see them. We also came to this conclusion after having heard the evidence, and partly in my case from my own knowledge, that here was a new invention which might be a very valuable asset in the defence of the country—and not at all aggressive in defence, because no harm can be done by a searchlight. By the utmost stretch of imagination it cannot be called an offensive weapon, but, from the point of view of aerial attack, and of coasting defence, with which I am rather more familiar as I commanded a coastal defence brigade, the fan shape of the light would be invaluable for spotting the enemy.

We found that here was an industry with a new invention which was giving a certain amount of employment. We came to the conclusion that to the best of our ability we ought to try to settle this matter once and for all. If the House allows this particular Clause to go through in this Bill, it means that other Members of this House will have to occupy their time in considering, presumably, the same evidence to which we sat and listened for over 15 days. After all, we were appointed as a semi-judicial body to listen to the evidence. We were appointed with the assent of the House, and to the best of our ability we produced this report which, with the exception of the hon. Member for Lichfield, was unanimous. There will have to be a Committee of this House with counsel appearing on behalf of the people who have the patent rights in this invention. Evidence will be called for them and for the other side, and a large amount of the time of Members of the House will be taken up in hearing exactly the same evidence as has already been sifted by a Committee appointed by the House. We ought not to worry a young industry in that way, and we ought to legislate once and for all, and to deal with this matter with this question over the country as a whole. We made certain recommendations which contrary to the view of the hon. Member for Central South-wark I think were fairly sound and reasonable.

One of the main recommendations, as has already been read out by my right hon. Friend who was Chairman of the Committee, was that there should be a voluntary body set up. The voluntary committee that has been set up is exactly in accord with the recommendations of the Committee. The hon. Member was right in saying that it has not acted in consultation with the various societies which are particularly concerned with the preservation of amenities. They have not done so for the reason that they based their regulations on the report of the Committee, and they have seen to the best of their ability that these regulations are carried into effect. They have an organisation by which any complaints that are made as to sky-writing shall come to that committee. No complaint whatever has come to it since it was set up that those who operate searchlights have done anything at variance with the regulations and recommendations of our Committee.


Is it not the case that in paragraph 44 the Select Committee recommended that the voluntary body should act in consultation with inter aha the societies which are interested in the preservation of amenities. Is not that part of the recommendation of the Committee?


It certainly is, and I thought that I made the position quite clear. I said that the hon. Member for Central Southwark was quite right in saying that they had not consulted with them, but the reason was that they knew all the evidence that had been given by the societies, and they did not think it necessary that they should give all their evidence again. But apart from that, if there had been any complaints, these societies knew that the voluntary committee was acting; they could easily find out who the secretary was, and they could easily make any complaints to him if what the Committee of this House had said was right and proper had not been complied with. The complaints would have been made by these societies, and this voluntary body would have acted in consultation with them to see what further action was necessary.

The real point for the House is this: If we have set up by the Home Secretary a voluntary body of this sort, which has been acting now for almost a year, which has made its regulations, against which there has been no brief and no complaints whatever about sky-writing, is it not much better to allow the voluntary body to be the organisation to act in a thing of this sort? When people are actually carrying out these regulations and carrying out the report of a Committee of this House voluntarily and willingly, and helping as much as they can, is not that a better way of getting amenities preserved than having legislative compulsion? If it cannot be done voluntarily, then there should be compulsion, but if we can get people to come into line voluntarily and to do what some of us, at any rate, think is right and proper, is not that quite sufficient without getting more Clauses on the Statute Book and having one Clause for one county and a different Clause for another county? I ask the House to agree with this instruction, and not to have these things brought up time and time again. It is waste of time to set up any Select Committee to deal with any subject of this sort if no attention is to be paid to their recommendations, and if it is to be sifted again by another Com- mittee. I believe in giving those people who have this invention fair play. If they do not act in accordance with the regulations, in accordance with which they have so far voluntarily acted, then bring in legislation to compel them to do it. While we are getting this voluntary action, let us leave it to them, and I am certain that in the end we shall find that; in broad outline, we shall get far greater satisfaction and preservation of amenities than if we try by legislative action to enforce a large number of compulsory regulations.

8.45 p.m.


This is a matter which interests me very considerably. I represent in Essex one rural council and four urban councils. We have heard from the hon. Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Horobin) of the amenities which the London County Council have put in the way of the people who live at Dagenham and Becontree. Those people live in what is, undoubtedly, an urban area, but one which has been developed as far as possible on the lines of a garden city. They have gone to live out there in order to get away from what I regard as the vulgarities of all these neon and other lights, which flash off and on all night long in the more populous areas. They live in pleasant homes, most of them with a garden in front, which they thoroughly appreciate, and why, when they go out in the evening, should they be faced with a sign in the sky which says "Eat more fruit"? They most probably do so already, and do not need such encouragement, but, nevertheless, those people would come under the definition of an urban district with a population of 20,000 or more. The county council are taking measures to protect those people against such advertisements if they do not want them.

It has already been admitted that the Select Committee suggested that some legislation should be adopted to deal with this matter and that pro tern things should be left to this voluntary association. The voluntary association seems to be working quite satisfactorily, because we hear that there has been no development of sky-writing. The hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken suggested that when the whole thing has become a complete nuisance it will be time enough to bring in legislation. Surely that view is quite wrong. The county council are doing their best to protect the people in Essex from these signs and lights which they consider are not attractive. If the county council are taking action before the Government take action we ought to encourage the council to preserve the amenities of Essex, which are definitely well worth preserving.

8.48 p.m.


It would appear from the report of the Select Committee on skywriting that immediate legislation would be inadvisable and premature. The position of this new industry is somewhat analogous to that of the motor car industry in 1896, when the red flag was abolished. It was seven years before any serious legislation was passed— when the Motor Car Act of 1903 came into force. We have only to think of what would happen if we were to have a multiplicity of such applications as this from various counties. No doubt various regulations would be made, causing confusion in different parts of the country, and if a display drifted across the border of one county and into another a very nice legal problem would arise. It is also quite possible that restrictions may have to be made later. In the case of coastal counties, where these beams might interfere with lighthouses, that would be a serious matter to those at sea. Also, protection may possibly be necessary to prevent these lights flashing through the windows of churches during service, and of hospitals.

When this new industry has got thoroughly established we may be confronted with extensive competition among industries advertising in the sky. We might have half-a-dozen brands of whiskey advertised at the same time, and some humourist might display above them the words "Don't drink." Some very funny things might happen in such a case. Many years ago a billposter, either through being restricted in the space at his disposal or out of a sense of humour, displaying on adjoining spaces a theatrical and tailor's advertisement, provided the public with the announcement: "Mrs. Langtry will appear every evening in Johnson's 10s. 6d. trousers." Such things as that are quite feasible if we consider the possible developments of this industry. I suggest that in a few years' time, when the industry may or may not have developed—and if it has not, no legislation will be necessary—it will be quite soon enough for action to be taken. Then it could be national legislation, regularising sky-writing all over the country, which would be a common sense arrangement which everybody would understand. I suggest that we should wait until that time comes.

8.52 p.m.


I want to support the Instruction to delete this particular Clause, and I do so especially on account of the leaflet sent out to-day to hon. Members in the name of four societies who presume to be the custodians of the countryside. Many hon. Members will know that, in spite of the soothing rustic titles under which these societies promenade, they are in fact energised by some rather troublesome enthusiasts and I feel quite confident that in this leaflet we have the key to the whole trouble we are discussing this evening. I am satisfied that the Essex County Council would not have inserted this Clause in their omnibus Bill had not some of the friends who have favoured us with their views in this leaflet told them exactly how to do it. The county council, in endeavouring to please these gentlemen, find they have committed a faux pas, but cannot readily run away. But while we sympathise with the position of the council, this is an important matter from several standpoints, and I wall mention three in particular. First, there is the protection of new industrial enterprises. In this connection the Select Committee used these words: Your Committee do not consider that the present is the time at which a new industry, however small, should be unnecessarily hampered or driven abroad unless there are the most cogent reasons for so doing. In spite of that observation hon. Members who are at all in touch with the position will know that this small industry has been badgered about, and to my immense surprise one hon. Member to-night has been gloating over the statement that one of the constituent firms is in bankruptcy and 150 of its employes have been thrown out of employment. In these days it is a serious responsibility for this House to throw employes in a new industry back to the Employment Exchanges. Secondly, this is a technical matter which involves, among other things, the ques- tion of flying. Heaven only knows that flying in this country, particularly civil aviation, suffers from sufficient interference and restriction. It is bad enough to deal with a restrictive authority that employs technical personnel and may be expected to appreciate some of the difficulties, but when in addition you lump upon the industry the views and decisions of 101 local authorities who are unskilled in the art, you make all development perfectly hopeless.

In this respect we may take a leaf out of the book of the United States of America. There, flying is coming up against serious difficulties, on account of the free-lance legislation of the States. There is Federal legislation and State legislation, in a country where the States are, in many cases, larger than the British Isles. The difficulty is very real, and I would hesitate to do anything to localise restrictive powers with regard to aviation. Thirdly, there is the question of expense. Here, the Select Committee spoke most firmly. They said that they were averse to the creation of complicated or cumbrous administrative machinery for dealing with an enterprise that is yet hardly in being. They went on to point out that it is when Parliament places on the local authorities more and more of such duties, that rates and taxes begin to rise. In the light of what the Select Committee said, I thought that I would find out whether the Essex County Council were prone to taking up every one of these new fads. Referring to the latest annual returns of local taxation for 1930-31 which have just been issued, comparing like with like and taking the various counties amound the Metropolis, one finds that the rates levied by the county councils are: Surrey, 6s. 3d.; Middlesex, 6s. 4d.; Hertfordshire, 8s.; Berkshire, 8s. 1d.; and Essex, 9s. 2d. That is exactly what one would expect if Essex ran after every one of the new fads suggested to them by the gentlemen who kindly favoured us with their rustic views to-day. There has been a complaint among some of the supporters of the Essex County Council that there has been no consultation with these rural associations. It has been adequately pointed out that so far there has been nothing about which to consult. If, on the other hand, the local authority had been dealing with this matter, it is perfectly certain that there would have been an immense amount to consult about, and that the rates would have risen another 2d. or 3d.

Lastly, may I point. out one slightly technical point which may be overlooked by the House? It is that, in respect of what is known as "Smoke-writing," the Select Committee said: Your Committee are of opinion that circumstances do not call for either the prohibition or the control of this form of enterprise and they, therefore, do not recommend any change in the existing law. Smoke-writing is probably the most important and extensive form of sky advertising. In that respect, the Select Committee suggested that all was well. The Essex County Council would have power, by this Clause, to legislate for all types of sky advertising, irrespective of that definite recommendation of the Select Committee. ID the light of all that has been said by hon. Members on this subject, I sincerely hope that the House will support this Instruction to-have the Clause deleted

9.1 p.m.


I feel that I must intervene for a moment at this point in order that the Government view should be expressed in connection with this important matter. The history of it has been referred to, especially by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland). Clause 144 seeks to control two things: the projection of rays of light on the clouds, which is known as sky-writing, and, secondly, smoke-writing. Both those methods of advertisement were dealt with by the Select Committee, under the Chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth. That committee reported about 12 months ago. What they had to say about smoke-writing was very short. They said: No evidence has been adduced which would lead them to suppose that smoke-writing has in the past affected the reasonable enjoyment of natural amenities, nor is there any indication that it is likely to do so in the future.". Then, in paragraph 6, they said: Your Committee are of opinion that circumstances do not call for either the prohibition or the control of this form of enterprise and they, therefore, do not recommend any change in the existing law. So much for smoke-writing. For the moment, at any rate, we can dismiss smoke-writing. With regard to skywriting, the Select Committee started by being apprehensive as to the benefits of this form of advertising, but, after witnessing sky-writing for themselves, their apprehension was considerably reduced. They said, on page 12: They formed the opinion that this method of advertising is far more pleasant than many of the permanent forms to which the people of this country are unfortunately too accustomed. Then they went on to say: The Committee, in the light of their own experience, were not much impressed by the evidence of persons as to the hideousness of a sight which they had never witnessed. Finally they reached the conclusion that the case for some form of control had been established, and that the control should be by a voluntary body rather than by an Act of Parliament, at any rate in the first instance, for on page 18 we read that the committee were: averse to the creation of complicated or cumbrous administrative machinery for dealing with an enterprise that is yet hardly in being. It is more than probable that were such machinery devised and put into force it would soon require drastic overhauling and reconstruction to meet eventualities that cannot now be foreseen. I submit that this administrative machinery would be set up by an Act of Parliament, and that, therefore, they contend in that paragraph that it is undesirable at this moment to pass legislation which would necessitate the setting up of that machinery. Then we come to the constitution of the Committee, which has already been quoted by several hon. Members. This voluntary body, which is also referred to in the Report of the Select Committee on Sky Writing, has been set up by the Secretary of State. It must be remembered that the definite recommendation was that in the meantime, although legislation might be necessary at some time, a voluntary body should be set up to control this matter. That body, as I have said, has been set up by the Secretary of State, and its constitution has been referred to in several of the speeches this evening, but I think it would be well if the House knew the exact constitution, for my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) seemed to confuse this Committee with the Conference, and he stated that there were certain Government representatives on the Conference. The Conference, however, does not deal with the control, and that is the point that I want to make now. This body which deals with the control consists of the Advertising Association, the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, the Institute of Incorporated Practitioners in Advertising, the British Poster Advertising Association, the Federation of British Industries, the National Chamber of Trade, the Incorporated Association of Retail Distributors and the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers. There are also included on that body two of the skywriting companies, namely, Sky Publicity, Limited, and Sky-Writing. Those are the only two firms that have ever operated as far as I know, and we have been told to-night that one of them has become bankrupt.


My right hon. Friend will remember that I asked a question as to whether he could let us know from the Air Ministry how that particular firm was put into bankruptcy—whether it was entirely due to the Air Ministry.


I am afraid I cannot answer that question. I have made inquiries since my hon. and gallant Friend asked it, but I cannot answer it at the moment. I shall be Very glad to let him know as soon as I can get information which will enable me to write to him. At any rate it has been stated—I am not sure whether it is correct— that one of these firms has gone into bankruptcy.

A form of undertaking has been drawn up by the committee, and it has been signed by these two firms, Sky Publicity Limited and Sky-Writing. I shall refer to that form in a few moments. The Committee of Control, as this body is called, was only set up in October of last year, and the rules which it laid down were adopted in December. I need not go through them all; it is sufficient to say that they follow closely the recommendations of the Select Committee. They say that no sky-writing projector shall be operated for private purposes in any rural district or any borough or urban district with a population of less than 20,000 save with the written permission of its council. They say that there shall be no flood-lighting which would interfere at all with ancient monu- ments or buildings of historical importance. They say that there shall be no lighting of this kind on Good Friday, Christmas Day, and certain other days; and they say that on any special occasion when sky-writing for private purposes Is likely to cause general offence to those by whom it is seen, no sky-writing projector shall be operated. The House will be interested to know that there cannot be any overlapping.

The hon. Member for Hanley (Mr. Hales) spoke of competition. He said that there might be many brands of whisky flashed on to the clouds, and that underneath them there should be another phrase: "Do not drink." But in point of fact these rules deal with that position, for they say that the operators of skywriting projectors shall endeavour by mutual arrangements to avoid any overlapping or obliteration of each other's sky-writing; so I hope the hon. Member will be satisfied with that rule. The only two operating firms have given a definite and solemn undertaking to abide by these rules, and surely that should be sufficient at present. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Sir V. Henderson) spoke of vested interests. He told us that compensation in the past had had to be given in respect of the regulation of advertisements, and also had to be provided for in the Petroleum Act. I really do not think he need be very anxious on account of vested interests so far as this particular industry is concerned; it will be a long time before sufficient headway is made in the industry, and at the moment, so far as the advertisers at any rate are concerned, it certainly appears as though it does not pay to advertise.

My hon. and gallant Friend complained that the voluntary body is composed of those interested in advertising. That is perfectly true, but the important thing to remember in this connection is that this committee have produced some rules, which are being adhered to by the interested parties. May I also point out to my hon. and gallant Friend that the Select Committee recommended the present constitution of the Committee of Control? My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State takes the view that the question of legislation on this subject, and particularly, as in this case, legisla- tion of a purely local character, should be deferred until we have had greater experience of the working of the rules. Generally speaking, unless legislation is shown to be necessary, it is undesirable. Our experience has not yet been sufficient to enable us to know whether a general Bill covering the whole country is required. As yet, as has been pointed out by several speakers tonight, no nuisance has been created. It seems to me and to the Government unnecessary to legislate in advance, with the faint possibility—one cannot, put it any higher —that a nuisance may be created at some distant time.

It is true that the voluntary control board has, as I have said, only been in existence since last October, but there has been a complete absence of complaints. No trouble has been experienced even in Essex, so I am informed, and, consequently, it is reasonable to suppose that the board is exercising effective control. When the time arrives when there are even indications that a statutory control of sky-writing is becoming necessary, then will be the time, and not until then, I submit, for legislation to be considered and produced; and, when legislation is produced, it should be of a general character, and not in the form of a provision in a local Act. To sum up, as there are up to the present no indications of the necessity for this kind of legislation, and as, in any event, this form of local legislation and local control would not be sufficient to deal with the problem if and when it did arise, I would ask the House to vote for the Instruction to leave out Clause 144, and in so doing to follow the lead of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth, who was the Chairman of the Select Committee, and than whom nobody has greater knowledge of this subject.

9.15 p.m.


I do not know that I should have intervened but for a remark of my right hon. Friend in his closing sentences. He laid some insistence on the fact that there had been no nuisance created up to the present by sky-writing. If that be the case, it is rather difficult to understand why the Government should have seen fit to set up a Select Committee to inquire into the whole question of sky-writing in the first instance, secondly, why that Select Committee should have thought fit actually to recommend that sky-writing should be prohibited in certain localities, and further, why that same Select Committee should recommend that another committee should be set up to regulate and draw up rules and, in general, to try to make sky-writing conform to some reasonable practice.


I made it clear that a Committee of Control had been set up. Since the Committee was set up, there have been no complaints at all, and it was because the Committee of Control had been set up and was working satisfactorily that I thought it unnecessary to do anything more than request that this Instruction should be accepted by the House.


I understand that my right hon. Friend admits the existence of a nuisance, although he contends that the arrangements made to deal with that nuisance are satisfactory. I think it must be agreed on all hands that, if there had not been a nuisance, or at least the fear of a nuisance, the Government would never have taken the action that it did nor would the Select Committee have made the recommendations that it did. [An HON. MEMBER: "The possibility of a nuisance."] Whether there actually be a nuisance or whether there is a possibility that there will be a nuisance, let us take some reasonable preliminary step once and for all to see that there is no nuisance. I invite the House to consider what would have been the position in regard to the raging controversy of road versus rail. Suppose the Minister of Transport, we will say 10 or a dozen years ago, when the lorries that came back from the War and were thrown on to the market promiscuously were beginning to be worn out, and when firms began to undertake to build these colossal motor buses and heavy motor vehicles which are the curse of our roads, had taken proper steps and definitely said that no motor-bus of more than a certain seating capacity, or no heavy motor lorry of more than a certain weight should be permitted to be constructed, we should never have had this controversy at all. At least it would have been very largely mitigated. We should have acted by "good avoidance" by acting in time. We know perfectly well from our Parliamentary experience that a Government's hands are always full. In every Session there are major pieces of legislation which the Government feel it their duty to introduce, and there is not, in fact, time for the Government always to be acting in advance of various contingencies taking place. This is one of them. Here, almost fortuitously so to speak, the House has an opportunity, by supporting the Essex County Council in the proposals that it is bringing to the House, to stop something once and for all which may become a nuisance, and to deal with which some future Government will be compelled to take time.


Why does my hon. and gallant Friend say it will be necessary for some future Government to do it if this voluntary control still continues to operate in the way it is doing at present?


I understand that those who are in favour of this Instruction first deny the nuisance, then are driven to admit that they have set up several bodies to deal with the nuisance, and now are claiming that those bodies are capable of dealing with a nuisance which they themselves contend has never existed. It would, therefore, appear that Parliament would be acting reasonably in giving the county council this special power for which it asks. We have heard a good deal about vested interests. Let us consider whether it is better to allow an infant industry to be bom, for capital to be invested in it, for wage-earners to have their hopes of employment raised by the setting up, perhaps, of a factory, and then for Parliament to have to put its foot down and say, "That industry is out of order. We are not going to tolerate it." Surely it is better to stop the birth of the industry in the first instance. The capital will be available for some other enterprise more useful to the community. Wage-earners will draw their wages from that same capital fund, which will create some other form of production. It is far better, surely, that we should try to avoid allowing an industry to come into being, losing capital and raising false hopes among wage-earners, when all the time we have it at the back of our minds that one day Parliament will be obliged to come in to control it, and perhaps to strangle the industry just when it shows some signs of growth. For these reasons I have decided that it is my duty to vote against the Instruction, and I hope that that will conform to the general sense of the House.

9.23 p.m.


The hon. and gallant Gentleman has done the very best he can for the Essex County Council, which area he represents, but it seems to me a very curious argument that a new and promising new industry, which is likely to give employment without interfering with the amenities of the country, ought to be suppressed because later on there is a possibility that action may have to be taken with regard to it. If we did that in connection with every industry that it is proposed to start, there would not be very much chance of adding to the employment that we are all so anxious to see. I was a member of the Committee, and I am sorry the hon. and gallant Gentleman was not able to be here to listen to the very convincing speech of the Chairman.


I have been here through the whole course of the Debate.


I apologise to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I think he was sitting in another place.


No, I have sat here the whole time.


I take the view that it is not desirable to hamper any new industry which is likely to develop unless some strong case is made out for doing so, and I think, after the careful inquiry that was made by the Select Committee last year, no such case has been made out. We took the view that, if this new industry is properly controlled, there is no reason why it should not be allowed to develop along ordinary lines and, so far as experience has gone since that time, voluntary control, in accordance with our recommendations, has operated with complete success and without any complaint of any kind being made. The question has been asked why there has not been consultation, in accordance with our recommendations, with societies interested in the preservation of amenities. The answer is that they have accepted in all respects the recommenda- tions of the Committee, and consultation has not taken place simply because there has been nothing to consult about up to the present. They would have been only too delighted to have consulted had any demand been put forward.

There is one small point which has not been referred to so far. In this Clause 144 the Essex County Council seeks powers to deal not only with rays of light but smoke advertising, presumably referring to what has been done up to the present time by aeroplanes. I would point out that in our recommendations we said specifically that there were no grounds for taking any action whatsoever with regard to that. That is another instance where the County Council are seeking to go in direct opposition to the recommendations of your Committee. There has been sent round to every hon. Member—I have had three copies altogether—a paper signed by a number of societies such as that for the Preservation of Rural England, the Metropolitan Public Garden Association and others, urging that the instruction should not be supported. When one gets a memorandum of this kind one is entitled to ask what is the value of the evidence put forward. We had all these different Societies before us and they gave evidence, and one question put to them was, "Have you seen sky-writing?" The almost universal reply was, "No. we have not." Some of them were frank enough to say that they ought to have seen it. Others said they had no intention of seeing it, and that it would not have made the slightest difference. Others were just as much against it, whatever it looked like, and the Dean of Westminster went completely off the deep end and said that not only had he not seen it, but if he ever had the opportunity of seeing it he would look in the other direction.

Those are the people who are asking this House to condemn unheard, or rather unseen, this new discovery. We took our duties in a different way and decided to see sky-writing for ourselves. Starting, as everybody would, with a prejudice against it, we came to the conclusion that if properly controlled and if there was nothing offensive about the advertising, it was something which compared very favourably indeed with many of the advertisements that you see in Piccadilly Circus and other parts of London at present. Personally, I take the view, which I know is shared by others, that when you get a very big industrial area where the workers have very little to look to in the evenings and are going through a very difficult time, to be able to look up at the heavy lowering cloud which is all they have to look at to night½[Interruption.] It is no good hon. Members protesting at this statement unless they have themselves seen what I have referred to. If they have, they will agree with me. For people in those districts to look up and see in the sky really beautiful representations is something that is not at any rate going to detract from the amenities, and it certainly seems most unlikely to develop into that nuisance which the hon. Member on behalf of the Essex County Council has laid before us with such avidity. I hope, therefore, that the House will support the Committee which they appointed. We did our best. There are conclusions, of course, which can be challenged, but we did feel, after 15 meetings, with evidence put forward and heard, that the recommendations we were making were fair, reasonable and likely to deal with the subject for some time to come. I hope in these circumstances the House will support the Instruction.

9.33 p.m.


I should like to refer to one aspect of the question which is deserving of consideration. I listened to the hon. Member below me, and his was the kind of argument which faced the

automobile in the early days and compelled it to have before it a man with a red flag. That sort of thing prevented a new industry from coming to its full tide of prosperity for a very long time. Now we have in sky-writing the beginning of a new industry which may appear to some as if it might be a nuisance. Some already regard it as a potential nuisance. It may be that some of those hon. Members are already in the clouds. We are deficient in aerial defence in our cities, and one of the ways to meet aerial bombardments is by means of searchlights. Those searchlights are not yet perfect by any means. The inventors of sky-writing have been able to put a point of light and to illuminate the sky and give a definition which has baffled experimenters in the past. Therefore, if we start with skywriting, with a group of experimenters searching the clouds and looking up into the heavens, it is not beyond feasible expectancy that someone will make such a discovery as will enable us to be more accurate in bringing down hostile aeroplanes. Therefore, I hope the House will vote for this Instruction and will not stand in the way of commerce and invention, for, after all, a step forward in a new industry and a new invention may lead to other industries and inventions which may be of tremendous importance.

Question put, That it be an Instruction to the Committee to leave out Clause 144.

The House divided, Ayes, 121 Noes, 72.

Division No. 249.] AYES. [19.34 p.m.
Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G. Elmley, Viscount James, Wing-Com. A. W. H.
Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S. Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare) Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)
Apsley, Lord Ford, Sir Patrick J. Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose)
Baillia, Sir Adrian W. M. Goff, Sir Park Law, Sir Alfred
Bennett, Capt. Sir Ernest Nathaniel Goodman, Colonel Albert W. Law, Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)
Bird, Ernest Roy (Yorks., Skipton) Greene, William P. C. Leckie, J. A.
Bossom, A. C. Grenfell, E. C. (City of London) Liddall, Walter S.
Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W. Grimston, R. V. Loder, Captain J. de Vere
Boyce, H. Leslie Guy, J. C. Morrison Mabane. William
Braithwaite, Maj. A. N. (Yorks, E. R.) Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H. McEwen, Captain J. H. F.
Broadbent, Colonel John Hales, Harold K. Macmillan. Maurice Harold
Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'I'd., Hexham) Hamilton, Sir R. W.(Orkney & Zetl'nd) Macqulsten, Frederick Alexander
Brown, Brig.-Gen.H.C.(Berks.,Newb'y) Hammersley, Samuel S. Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.
Burgln, Dr. Edward Leslie Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Marsden, Commander Arthur
Caporn, Arthur Cecil Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G. Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John
Chapman, Col. R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Holdsworth, Herbert Merrlman, Sir F. Boyd
Clarry, Reginald George Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston) Mills, Sir Frederick (Leyton, E.)
Clayton, Sir Christopher Hope, Sydney (Chester, Stalybridge) Milne, Charles
Colfox, Major William Philip Howard, Tom Forrest Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'tl'd & Chisw'k)
Conant, R. J. E. Howitt, Dr. Alfred B. Mitcheson, G. G.
Craven-Ellis, William Hudson, Capt. A. U. M.(Hackney, N.) Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.
Crooke, J. Smedley Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport) Moreing, Adrian C.
Curry, A. C. Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries; Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)
Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset,Yeovil) Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg) Munro, Patrick
Doran, Edward Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H. Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.
Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington.N.) Ivoagh, Countess of Pearson, William G.
Eillston, Captain George Sampson Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.) Petherick, M.
Procter, Major Henry Adam Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark. Bothwell) Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)
Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles) Shaw, Captain William T. (Fortar) Turton, Robert Hugh
Reid, William Allan (Derby) Smith, Sir J. Walker- (Barrow-in-F.) Wallace, John (Dunfermline)
Remer, John R. Smith, R. W. (Ab'rd'n & Kinc'dlne, C.) Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Robinson, John Roland Somervell, Donald Bradley Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)
Ropner, Colonel L. Soper, Richard Watt, Captain George Steven H.
Rosbotham, Sir Thomas Sotheron- Estcourt, Captain T. E. Weddgrburn, Henry James Scrymgeour-
Runge, Norah Cecil Southby, Commander Archibald R. J. Wells, Sydney Richard
Rutherford, John (Edmonton) Spencer, Captain Richard A Wills, Wilfrid D.
Salmon, Sir Isidore Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur Womerstey, Walter James
Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen) Stourton, Hon. John J.
Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart Strauss, Edward A. TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard Tate, Mavis Constance Mr. Herbert Williams and Mr.
Scone, Lord Thompson, Luke Simmonds.
Shakespeare, Geoffrey H. Thomson. Sir Frederick Charles
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan) Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.
Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Liverp'l, W.) Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro'.W.) Maxton, James.
Aske, Sir Robert William Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Milner. Major James
Attlee. Clement Richard Harbord, Arthur Parkinson, John Allen
Banfield, John William Hellgers, Captain F. F. A. Patrick. Colin M.
Batey, Joseph Hicks, Ernest George Pickering, Ernest H.
Brown, C. W. E. (Notts. Mansfield) Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller Power, Sir John Cecil
Burnett, John George Horobin, Ian M. Pybus, Percy John
Cape, Thomas Hurst, Sir Gerald B. Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)
Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham) Hutchison, W. D. (Essex, Romford) Rea, Walter Russell
Christle, James Archibald Jenkins, Sir William Reid, James S. C. (Stirling)
Cripps, Sir Stafford John, William Renwick. Major Gustav A.
Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Galnsb'ro) Johnston, J. W. (Clackmannan) Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Roberts, Aled (Wrexham)
Drewe, Cedric Ker, J. Campbell Russell, R. J. (Eddlsbury)
Edwards, Charles Kerr, Hamilton W. Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.
Emrys-Evans, P. V. Knight, Holford Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)
Evans, R. T. (Carmarthen) Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart
Foot, Dingle (Dundee) Lawson, John James Tinker, John Joseph
Foot, Isaac (Cornwall. Bodmin) Little, Graham-. Sir Ernest White, Henry Graham
George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Llewellyn-Jones, Frederick Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir Arnold (Hertf'd)
Gillett, Sir George Masterman Lunn, William Withers, Sir John James
Gower, Sir Robert Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)
Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot Sir Vivian Henderson and Colonel

Resolution agreed to.