§ Mr. Speaker
With reference to the Motion which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. G. Nicholson), it may be for the convenience of the House if I say that I do not propose to call any of the Amendments which have been put down to that Motion. According to the Rules of the House, if any of those Amendments were moved, the Debate would have to be confined strictly to the subject of the Amendment under discussion, whereas on the Motion itself it will be possible for the discussion to range over the whole field that it covers. Probably in the course of that discussion the points referred to in the Amendments can be raised and discussed.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson
I beg to move,That this House, recognising the importance of the preservation of amenities, wishes to call attention to the desirability of strengthening the Advertisements Regulation Acts and to the anxiety that exists with respect to the activities of the Forestry Commission in the Lake District and other areas of great natural beauty.In moving this Motion I should like to say quite clearly that it is a double-barrelled Motion. It deals with two distinct subjects, and I suggest that, if both of these subjects are to be dealt with as they should be, it would be desirable that hon. Members should restrict the length of their speeches to somewhat narrow limits. I shall try to do that myself, and I would ask hon. Members to speak as shortly as possible, in order that, in particular, the Forestry Commission may have a fair run in the course of the Debate. I need hardly remind hon. Members that the Forestry Commission never seems to have a chance of explaining its work to the House.
I make no apology for introducing the general subject of amenities. It is an exceedingly important subject. On the other hand, it would be ridiculous to say 478 that it is as urgent or as immediately important to the people in general as the questions of food, housing, health or employment. Of course, it is not. But, when one considers that the word "amenity" is given in the dictionary as meaning pleasantness, and when one remembers that the movement in favour of the preservation of amenities is a movement in favour of preserving the pleasant side of life, of preserving the country background of what is predominantly an urban population, I hope no one will feel that I am wasting the time of the House in calling attention to two comparatively restricted and definite points relating to the preservation of amenities.
Some apology to hon. Members for the very limited scope of my Motion is, however, necessary. The limitation is due to the fact that I hold an exceedingly humble honorary post in the Ministry of Health, being Parliamentary Private Secretary to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. That means, of course, that I cannot raise any questions which are dealt with by the Department with which I am connected. I should, of course, have liked to raise the general question of our policy towards amenities, but that would be out of order, and I will content myself with leaving this thought with hon. Members; Amenities are dealt with by almost every Government Department—by the Ministry of Health, the Home Office, the Office of Works, the Forestry Commission, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Fine Arts Commission, and, finally on occasion even the Defence Departments have to decide questions of amenities. I would ask the House whether the time has not come when we should have a co-ordinated policy for dealing with amenities and a co ordinating body to work out that policy. I wish to leave that thought with hon. Members and pass on to the actual Motion.
My short experience of politics has taught me that, if one wants to get anything done in this House, it is better to concentrate on definite points, rather than to range vaguely over a wide field, and from that point of view it is possible that the limited scope of my Motion may prove to be a blessing in disguise. I have said that it is a double-barrelled Motion, and 479 I propose to fire the first barrel at my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. It is fired more in love than in enmity, and I hope my hon. Friend will reciprocate. The problem is that of the regulation of advertisements. I think it is generally agreed that it is a problem. Anybody can see that by going for a walk or a drive throughout the country. On the other hand, it is a problem which it is very easy to get hysterical over and to exaggerate. I do not for a moment say that every comer of the country is ruined by unsightly advertisements. I am very anxious to deal with this problem with moderation, and not to be guilty of over statement. Nor am I at all anxious to be thought to have a quarrel with the big advertisers. I have not. I think that, like the majority of people, they are reasonable, and that they have an affection and regard and consideration for the amenities of the countryside. The only difference between us is one of method.
I am not against advertisements in their proper place; in fact, I like a good row of gaily coloured posters. They add colour to a drab civilisation; they constitute the poor man's picture gallery; and I am certain that our life would be much the poorer without the large hoardings. Apart from that, they perform a valuable service to trade and industry, and to every individual, down to the humblest housewife, who buys her necessities according to their recommendations. This subject can only be settled by agreement and willingness to meet the other side, on the part of both parties. I claim that what I am suggesting would be helpful to the public-spirited advertiser who does not put up an advertisement in a good site if he thinks it will spoil the amenities and then sometimes somebody else comes along and puts up an advertisement on the same site, with the result that both the amenities and the good advertiser suffer. There are two Acts which deal with this question—the Acts of 1907 and 1927. They were not contentious Measures. So far as I can discover there were no Divisions on them in this House: in fact, on the Act of 1907, the House was nearly counted out. The law works through local authorities, that is, county councils, borough councils and urban districts with population of over 10,000, and the sole method of procedure 480 is by by-law. A standard type of by-law has been drawn up by the Home Office forregulating, restricting, or preventing the exhibition of advertisements so as to disfigure or injuriously affectBy-laws may also be made for:
- (a) the natural beauty of the landscape or the view of rural scenery from a highway, railway, or public place;
- (b) the amenities of a village in a Rural District;
- (c) the amenities of public parks or pleasure promenades or of historic or public buildings or of places frequented by the public for their beauty or histiric interest."(d) the regulation and control of advertisement hoardings exceeding 12 feet in height.At first sight, these sound fine, comprehensive powers to confer on local authorities, but in actual practice they have been found inadequate, owing to the difficulty of securing proper enforcement and owing to the limitation placed on the scope of the by-laws. Consider how a county council—and all the county councils have made by laws—would enforce them when attention is drawn to what is considered an unsightly advertisement. They try to reach agreement with the advertiser. If he is not sufficiently enlightened to take down the advertisement, the council's only recourse is to prosecute him in a summary court. This means criminal proceedings. This is cumbersome, proof is difficult, and the delay is considerable. The local authority has no preventive power and no power to guard against a repetition of the offence on the same site by another advertiser, or by the same advertiser. This is the considered opinion of the county councils, which are asking for new powers and further legislation. In boroughs and urban districts, there is provision that the councils should make a definite schedule of the places they propose to protect when drawing up their by-laws. The effect has not been altogether good. Outside these scheduled areas, built-up areas are absolutely untouched by these Acts, except for hoardings over 12 feet in height, and advertisements not attached to hoardings, such as those on gable ends, are not dealt with at all. There is no power to protect residential or commercial areas, for example, the High Streets of country towns, than which nothing is more typically national or more beautiful—and no by-law ever devised can deal with the disfigurement of a whole street.
481 I claim that the situation is fundamentally unsatisfactory for two reasons. I think permissive powers are always unsatisfactory. I regret that so much of our legislation is permissive. Secondly, when permissive powers are inadequate and difficult to enforce, the situation is doubly unsatisfactory. The hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) has an Amendment on the Paper. I am sure he and his hon. Friends will make a great point of the fact that urban and district councils have only partially adopted the power given them to make by-laws. That proves to me quite as much that the by-law powers are unsatisfactory as that there is not sufficient keenness on the part of the councils. The fact is that the Association of Municipal Corporations has definitely requested new legislation, and they say that it is the actual procedure laid down and the powers given under these Acts which are unsatisfactory. It does not prove their lack of interest. Constantly, in private Bills, extensive powers are sought to deal with this problem of advertising, and resisted, perhaps rightly, by hon. Members, again proving that local authorities are not satisfied with the present state of the law.
Various suggestions have been made for dealing with the question: for instance, the licensing of sites as suitable for advertisements. That would be a very drastic way of dealing with the situation. It would excite the strongest opposition from advertising interests, would lead to all sorts of complications among local authorities and in the towns themselves, and would certainly be highly contentious in this House. I am not prepared to advocate the licensing system without the fullest possible inquiry, which I have, of course, not been able to make. My present instinct is against it. My suggestion is in the nature of a compromise. I want to get away from the by-law procedure, and also to avoid the licensing system. I would give all local authorities statutory powers to require the removal of an offending advertisement, with, of course, the right of appeal to the courts on the part of the advertiser. That would include the right of the intended advertiser to go to the local authority in advance and apply for their approval for putting up an advertisement, also with the right of appeal.
482 That would be an excellent solution, provided that the tribunal to which appeal may be made is the right one. There I find difficulty. I have come to the conclusion that the ordinary magistrates' bench is the best, because advertising interests are convinced that the local bench will always go against them, and local authorities are convinced that it will always go against them. When they both regard it as profoundly unsatisfactory—although I admit the weakness of ray argument—I feel it is possible that that is the best tribunal. The new Bill which I would like to see would deal with advertising from the air—a terrible thing—and advertising from the sea. In certain seaside resorts, at nights, an illuminated vessel or barge is towed along, advertising various products with the most brilliant illuminated signs. There must be a limit to that. There is also the question of neon signs. What about the situation when advertisements along a highway are a definite distraction to drivers? That must be dealt with.
I urge my hon. Friend who is going to reply for the Government to give sympathetic consideration to the idea of introducing legislation of this sort. There is one other point. Some believe that the Town and Country Planning Act is the best way to deal with this—the point is mentioned in the Amendment. I would only say this: It is generally agreed, by those best qualified to say, that there will be a tremendous amount of delay before advertising can be dealt with under that Act. A scheme has to be adopted as a whole or not at all. Advertisements cannot be dealt with separately. This is bound to mean delay. The question will have to be dealt with by fresh legislation or not at all. I realise that this matter is contentious. I appeal to the advertisers to make an effort to deal with it themselves. I should be only too anxious to meet them on every possible point if I were in the position of the Government, and I hope the Government will do the same. I urge my hon. Friend, when he replies, to say that the Government will introduce legislation of some sort next session. Finally, I would urge him to call a conference oh which the advertising interests, amenity societies, local authorities and the ordinary man-in-the-street will be represented. I leave it to my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Strauss) to follow me 483 on this subject. He is chairman of the Scapa Society.
I wish to fire my other barrel in the direction of the Forestry Commission, and to call attention to the anxiety that exists. I am not saying that that anxiety is, or is not, justified, but I am calling attention to a state of affairs which is harmful to the Forestry Commissioners and to the peace of mind of many people in this country. I am not moving a vote of censure on the Forestry Commissioners. I wish to give them an opportunity of dispelling the anxiety which exists, and of saying something about their activities, because they never seem to get a chance of displaying their eloquence or extolling their achievements. I do not pose as an expert. I am an ordinary person, bred in the country, a lover of trees, even possessing a sort of complex for planting trees in every available spot. Of coarse I have only been able to make a cursory survey of the subject. But I have reached the conclusion that, within their limitations, partly inherent and partly self-imposed, the Commissioners have shown themselves increasingly conciliatory. I would go further and say that if you balance the successes and achievements of the Commissioners against their failures and shortcomings, I say without hesitation that they are entitled to the congratulations of this House. I say quite definitely, before I make any criticism, that, in fact, on the whole, by and large, the Commissioners are "a good thing within their limitations."
Their limitations are very severe. Firstly, there is the limitation of their terms of reference in the Act of 1919 which set them up. The terms of reference imposed on them are purely economic. Section 3 does not say a word about preserving the beauties of the landscape or anything of that sort, and in another section directions are given for the composition of consultation committees. You have the representation of all the economic interests and of the purely afforestation interests, but there is no representation for the people who are interested in amenities. That is a very severe restriction. Then they are limited severely on the financial side. They are limited to the planting of conifers, as land which is suitable for hard woods is generally more expensive, and they are more 484 or less buying up poor land that will only grow conifers. Then the Commission are not empowered by Parliament to look at any question from the broad point of view of national interest. They are bound by their terms of reference to the narrowest possible economic standpoint. Finally, in actual fact is has been found that there is little opportunity for parliamentary control and criticism. I do not think that question and answer are very useful in arriving anywhere at all, and I do not think that either of the Opposition parties are likely to call for the Forestry Vote on any Supply day when there is bigger game to be had.
Then there are what I might call the self-imposed limitations of the Commissioners. I hope that the Commissioners will not think that I am criticising them unduly, but many people have the impression that the Commissioners think that the plantations of conifers are automatic additions to the beauties of the landscape. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland)—I am sorry that he is not in his place—has a positive passion for conifers. The Commissioners do not appear fully to realise the strength of local feeling or the extent of local anxiety when plantations begin to spring up. Finally, they do not seem to realise that, on the amenity question, they are face to face with a very big problem indeed. It is not a question of a series of particular local problems that can be dealt with piecemeal by negotiation with local societies, or even with the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. Looked at in that way, problems and anxieties are bound to arise, and the Commissioners are bound to feel resentment whenever they feel that they are misunderstood, and that bad atmosphere, I regret to say, is sure to be created if these problems are looked at in a piece meal way. I take one example—yesterday's questions and answers. When my hon. and gallant Friend replied, I had the impression that he was a man full of good intentions, feeling that his good intentions were not understood, and suspecting every question as being either an attack or a leg-pull. I do not think that that is a satisfactory state of affairs. I do not think that the Commissioners are rightly understood by the public. I am sure that it is the fault of both sides, but, above all, of the Commissioners' terms of 485 reference. I will now take definite examples, beginning with the Lake District. I want to relieve the minds of hon. Members at once by stating that I am not going to quote Wordsworth, though I feel sorely tempted to do so. The best quotation I have found on the Lake District is that of Ruskin when he said:The hills are not wooded enough to be beautiful or high enough to be sublime.I think the reflection is upon Ruskin rather than upon the Lake District. After much anxiety and many negotiations and a great deal of trouble in all quarters, a solution of the Lake District problem has been arrived at, and the Forestry Commission have said that they will not try to acquire an area of about 300 square miles in the middle of the Lake District for planting purposes. I welcome that sincerely. It is a most satisfactory solution and reflects great credit upon the Forestry Commission. But it is not right—and I am not blaming anybody for this—that it should be looked at as a concession. Their terms of reference should prevent a question of that sort from cropping up in an area like the Lake District.
I ask for one concession. I should like the Commissioners to do their best—I will not even say promise—not to buy any more of the shaded area in Eskdale and Duddondale. I found a sonnet by Wordsworth about the Duddon which I could quote with great effect but by my great self-denial I refrain from doing so. I appreciate very much what the Commission have already done on their land in that region and the way they have planted it, and especially the planting of beeches. I humbly congratulate the Commissioners on the way in which they intend to deal with Grisedale. It is not a very big area. They are planting the upper lands and moorlands and leaving the low meadow lands and the farms untouched. I take another case, that of the area around Thetford, in Norfolk, which is said to be the one part of the British Isles where the condition of the Russian Steppes are reproduced. I understand that a satisfactory solution has been arrived at there which will largely result in the creation of a great forest countryside, in which will be reserved broad natural open spaces whose value will be emphasised by the surrounding forest. Again, I congratu- 486 late the Commissioners upon that solution, but I would point out that both these cases were treated separately and arrived at after separate negotiations with many local and central societies. I do not think that that is the way these things should be done.
I speak as a former Northumberland Member, coming of Northumberland and Cumberland stock. The intentions of the Commissioners may be good or they may be bad in Northumberland, but the general public has no knowledge of them, and that is where the trouble is. As a result, anxiety is deep and widespread. Who knows the future of Redesdale and North Tyne? In both these cases the head waters have been planted already. Who knows the fate of the Wall? I feel exceedingly strongly on the question of the Roman Wall, where you have the most magnificent ancient monument in this country and the most magnificent countryside the world can show. A question was asked in this House yester day. My right hon. and gallant Friend gave an answer which disturbed me considerably. I want to know where we stand with regard to the Wall. I wish to call attention to his final reply which he thought was very satisfactory. He was asked whether the Commission judge for themselves the amenities of the Roman Wall and he replied:All such matters are considered by a Joint Committee of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and of the Commissioners."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th December, 1937; col. 197, Vol. 330.]I will say later why I think that that is an unsatisfactory reply. In general, I ask the Commissioners what is to be the fate of the moors of Northumberland and Cumberland? Apart entirely from any personal point, we have to consider the public anxiety, and that anxiety is a bad thing in itself and should be set at rest, and I ask the Commissioners to do it.
My suggestions are these. I want the Commission to realise that the problem cannot be dealt with by the Joint Council of the C.P.R.E., however adequate it may be. The question of time and business alone prevents that. We cannot expect great experts to give up enough of their time to a matter which is really a whole-time job. Though I appreciate the activities of the Commissioners in setting up that Joint Council, I do not feel that it is going to be satisfactory, because men 487 who are eminent enough to be qualified to plan England from the forest point of view are much sought after in their own businesses and occupations, and you cannot expect them to give up the requisite time. I maintain that some standing machinery is essential. Then I should like to see a really qualified land consultant on the Forestry Commission, and a report made by the Commission on other countries which are dealing with this sort of problem, especially Germany. That is my first suggestion.
My second suggestion is the most important one. A plan of England is essential showing the areas of natural or historic landscape beauty which must not be disturbed, and areas suitable for afforestation. If that were done on a large enough scale, it would show the areas suitable for afforestation in which the Commissioners might consider the purchase of land. That is the only possible way in which anxiety, such as is felt in Northumberland, can be allayed. I think that people would rather know the worst about their favourite areas than be in a state of constant anxiety. Thirdly, I think that the Commission has to reach a decision on the question of the proportions of conifers and hardwoods. There are magnificent potentialities, but I would remind the Commission that the problem cannot be solved satisfactorily by putting fringes of hard woods on the edges of coniferous plantations. The Commission ought to be allowed by their terms of reference to consider their work from the broadest point of view of the national interest treated as a whole. If that would mean revised terms of reference, then I would ask for revised terms of reference.
I will conclude a very long and rather boring speech by a short homily addressed both to the Commissioners and to the public. One of the causes of the present confusion is that our idea of beauty in the landscape is accepted beauty, that is, that to which we are accustomed. The accustomed landscape is made up of hard wood plantations and forests planted mainly for economic reasons. The most beautiful woods in this country were planted for economic reasons. The new afforestation is also planted for economic reasons, but of a different kind. There is only one way out, and that is the acceptance of the 488 principle that there can be beauty—perhaps a different sort of beauty—no less in the new landscape. It is a different orientation of our ideas, and if the Commissioners are empowered to proceed on a large enough scale, the potentialities are magnificent. Side by side with this there must be planting of areas beforehand—in short, a long distance policy. It is that for which I ask as a result of this Debate.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Strauss
I beg to second the Motion so ably moved by my hon. Friend. The Motion is in two parts, and since I am the chairman of the Scapa Society, which was responsible for the two existing Advertisement (Regulation) Acts, it will be my duty to devote most of my time to the first part of the Resolution. I should like to say at the outset that I do not regard that as the more important. It is clear that whatever mistakes we may make about advertisements, and we may be very foolish about them, some generation after us, which may be wiser, will be able to remove the blot that we leave and no irreparable damage will have been done; but if those who oppose some of the activities of the Forestry Commission are right, then there is a danger that some quite irreparable damage may be done to some of the fairest of our scenery; a damage that can hardly be over-estimated.
I am not going to attack the Forestry Commission. I would not hesitate to do so if I thought they deserved it, but I do not. The Commissioners do not consider certain things because the Statute does not instruct and perhaps does not permit them to do so. If there is a fault in what they do, somebody else is responsible for not giving them power to take into consideration those things which in the national interests they ought to take into consideration. Let me make a very simple point on which I think the whole House will be agreed. We know from the White Paper on Afforestation in the Lake District, which was published last year, and from a letter in the "Times" of the 28th September last year, signed by Mr. Lascelles Abercrombie and others, including my Noble Friend the hon. Member for the Lonsdale Division (Lord Balniel), who I hope will speak later, that in the view of those who love the Lake 489 District and of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, what is being done to-day by the Forestry Commission is disastrous to the beauty of those parts. Take Eskdale. We know the limits of their disagreement with the Forestry Commission in regard to the Lake District. They want a further area included in that which is to be immune, and they hold that what is now being done by the Forestry Commission is disastrous. That is one fact. A further fact is that the Forestry Commission is doing it and is going to continue to do it.
There is, therefore, one matter on which I think there will be universal agreement, and that is that it ought to be the duty of someone to say whether these fears for the Lake District are right or wrong. It ought to be the duty of someone to ask: "Is it in the national interest that a conifer forest shall be placed in Eskdale?" That question is not being asked. The Forestry Commission say, quite rightly, that they have no authority to ask it, and they are not even allowed to ask it. Their duty is laid down in various Statutes. Let me quote as an example Section 3 of the Forestry Act, 1919:The Commissioners shall be charged with the general duty of promoting the interests of forestry, the development of afforestation, and the production and supply of timber, in the United Kingdom.There is no mention of beauty or amenities. That is not only the view that I take of the duty of the Forestry Commissioners from looking at the Statute; it is quite clear that it is the view that the Commissioners take themselves. Here is a quotation from a letter in the "Spectator" last week by the right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland). In the last paragraph he says that they are a bodywhose primary duty is to grow timber, and not to preserve England's beauty.
§ Mr. Marshall
Is it stated in the Act with regard to the planting of trees that they shall plant conifers and only conifers?
§ Mr. Strauss
I think not. That detailed question can be more properly answered by the hon. and gallant Member, who will later deal with the matter from the point of view of the Forestry Commission. It is a very important point that the hon. 490 Member has raised. I would point out the anxiety that so many of us feel, and I cannot do better than quote Professor Trevelyan, whose right to speak on this subject is acknowledged in every quarter of the House. He points out, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, that once it paid best to plant hardwoods. To-day it often pays best to plant conifers. At least the return is quicker. Further—and this is a matter of considerable interest to the Lake District—in certain places it is not possible to plant anything else. My hon. Friend, who will speak as an expert, will confirm that. There are certain places where it is conifers or nothing. Professor Trevelyan points out that as a result of the fact that hardwoods are not being planted and conifers are being planted the beauty of Britain will be halved in the next 100 years.
I have said that the one question which must be asked in the national interest is not being asked. It cannot be asked by the Forestry Commission because they are told what their duty is, and that is to grow timber. It is being asked by the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and the Friends of the Lake District, and they say that what is being done is contrary to the national interest, but they have no statutory power whatsoever to make their feeling effective. My hon. Friend said that they had come to a perfectly friendly agreement as to a great central part of the Lake District, but their differences are set out in the White Paper.
It is the duty of the Government to make up their minds whether this planting of conifers in those parts of the Lake District from which the Friends of the Lake District would have them excluded, is or is not in the national interest. What is wanted is that the Government should make up their minds on this subject, and act accordingly. What do the Government do when these differences appear? The differences were set out in the Debate in another place on the 1st April last year, but the Secretary of State for India, who replied, did not give his view as to whether it was or was not in the national interest to do what is being done. He pointed out that the Joint Committee was in existence and suggested that they should come to some sort of compromise; but, as we know from the White Paper, they cannot compromise. The Forestry 491 Commission, perfectly honestly and perfectly in accordance with their duty, consider it to be incumbent upon them to plant these trees which they are planting in the Lake District, and equally clearly those who are concerned with the amenities think it their duty to point out that this is contrary to the national interest.
I submit in all seriousness that it is time the question was asked by and answered by the Government, and when they answer it I feel sure that they can answer it only in a way that will preserve the Lake District inviolate for all time. In our modern civilisation the need for solitude and the recreation of the Spirit does not grow less. The more urban we become the more we need such glories as the Lake District. The Government have entered upon a national health campaign. Few things would promote the national health more than the preservation inviolate of the Lake District and other glories of our scenery.
Let me proceed to the other part of the Motion, the question of advertisement regulation. In the first place, let me say clearly that, like my hon. Friend who preceded me, I am certainly not hostile to the commercial interests that put up posters. Indeed, few commercial arts have made greater progress in recent years than the poster art, and it is totally unnecessary, if they are properly used, that outdoor advertisments should injure amenities. On the contrary, if they are in their proper place in a town they may be aesthetically desirable. It is, however, equally true that abuses of advertising can injure the aspect of towns and mar their beauty, and destroy the rural scene.
It is, I agree, a very curious fact that while we are so eager to prevent accidents on our roads we should permit so much advertising on the sides of our principal roads, the sole purpose of which is to divert the attention of those who use the highway to the legend in these advertisements. These facts and the abuses of advertising are admitted by leading members of the poster industry, with whom I am glad to say the Scapa Society has enjoyed very good relations, which it will be the aim of the society and of myself as chairman to continue. I am not going to condemn the whole of the trade nor to say for one moment that the existing Statutes are wholly useless. It would be 492 a foolish thing to do, and it is not the opinion of the Scapa Society. That they are not useless will be recognised by anybody who has travelled to any extent in foreign countries. They will know that while there are countries which perhaps control this matter more successfully than we do, there are many countries which do it a great deal worse. Those who know the New England States, Connecticut for example, will know that a great deal of the most beautiful countryside is regarded simply as a frame for enormous advertisements, which blot out the countryside altogether. I recently drove from Brussels to Antwerp and continuously on both sides of the road there were enormous advertisements which did not allow you to see any country at all on one side or the other during the whole journey. I am glad that such a thing is rare in this country, although some hon. Members may be aware that we have a touch of it on the Staines Road.
While I am not making a universal attack on the whole industry, and while I do not say that the Acts are useless, I must in honesty to the House say that it has been the experience of the Scapa Society for many years that the existing legislation is insufficient. That is their experience, and my hon. Friend in seeking to strengthen the legislation is quite right. It is also the experience of local authorities. Westmorland and 31 other county councils have already expressed themselves strongly in favour of strengthening the law. A similar conclusion has been reached by the Association of Municipal Corporations, and on 6th July this year a meeting took place of the main Associations of Local Authorities and representatives of the Scapa Society at which the hon. and gallant Member for Tiverton (Lieut.-Colonel Acland-Troyte) presided, and passed a Resolution that:This conference is of the opinion that further powers for controlling and restricting the exhibition of advertisements are desirable"—And they set up a special committee. I have no doubt that the Under-Secretary of State will take into consideration not only any matters which are raised in the Debate, but also any conclusions which the Joint Committee of the local authorities and the Scapa Society may hereafter put forward. There is an Amendment on the Paper which I understand will not be called but which I must deal with to the 493 extent that it shows possible grounds of opposition to the present Motion. It suggests that further use should be made of existing powers. It is important to point out that the demand for reform comes principally from those who are already using the existing powers as far as they can possibly be used, and if municipal authorities in some cases have not made by-laws it may be due to the fact that such by-laws are insufficient.
The faults are both in the scope of the Statutes—the limited list of amenities which are protected—and also in the method of control. It may be for the convenience of the House if I first deal with the faults of existing Statutes, confining myself to the two Advertisement Regulation Statutes mentioned in the Motion and then in fairness state what difference is made by the powers under the Town and Country Planning Act.
The main omissions from the amenities which can be protected at all under existing powers are these. It is impossible to protect villages in urban areas at all. That is an important omission. It is quite impossible to protect roads and streets in towns, unless they fall within the very limited provisions of the Acts, which protect public parks and promenades, or public buildings or monuments or places of historic interest. The general amenities of a town cannot be protected under the Acts at all. There is no protection of residential areas as such. There is no protection of the seascape. A number of complaints have been received by the Scapa Society on this subject, of glaring advertisements on vessels off the shore, and the number is rapidly growing. It is quite obvious that this is a serious omission. If you protect the landscape I think hon. Members will agree that you should protect the view from the coasts.
I cordially agree with what has been said by my hon. Friend as to the air. I do not think any piece of legislation could be brought in by the Government which would be more popular than the prohibition of air advertising. The machine engaged on air advertising is an extra nuisance, for this reason. An aeroplane is bound at present to be a nuisance until it has attained a considerable height, and these advertising machines fly low in order that their streamers may be visible. Secondly, they deliberately use old and noisy engines in order that the public shall look up and see what it is 494 that they are advertising. Incredible as it may appear, the Air Ministry has no power to do anything in this matter unless it can bring it within the scope of the safety regulations. That is a matter which in any future legislation on the subject should be considered.
The other fault is the method of enforcement of the existing law. The fact that the procedure is by by-law and that offences against them must be dealt with by criminal prosecution is unsatisfactory to the local authorities, unsatisfactory to the advertisers, and unsatisfactory to the general public. Since nothing can be done in advance to stop offensive advertisements being set up, local authorities cannot prevent it, nor can the exhibitor ascertain whether what he has in mind is lawful or not. What is the result? The surveyor to the county council cannot possibly keep pace with the number of advertisements which are going up. The whole system is wasteful in time and in money. If a contravention is alleged, the exhibitor has to face a criminal charge. Last, but by no means least, the public has frequently to endure the offending advertisement for a year or more, even in cases where ultimately a prosecution is successful.
It may be said in the Debate that, although all this may be true about the two existing Statutes, with which my hon. Friend dealt, a difference is made under Section 47 of the Town and Country Planning Act. It may be urged that under that Section, the responsible authority can exercise control over advertisements on land specified in the scheme as protected in respect of advertisements. It may be asked why cannot that be relied upon to remove all our existing difficulties. I am not frightened of the Home Office taking that view. Nobody who has looked into the problem can take that view.
In addition to the points made by my hon. Friend, let me give four points showing why that Act cannot wholly meet the defects to which I have called attention. First of all, there is the objection in point of time. Any protection under the Town and Country Planning Act operates only from the time the scheme comes into force. We are very much concerned with advertisements in rural areas, and a great many rural district councils have not yet passed resolutions to start town planning. Obviously, the objection in point of time 495 to relying upon that is overwhelming. Secondly, there is the objection in point of space. The protection applies only to land within the area of the scheme, and in the case of many planning authorities that include country towns, while their planning scheme deals with the development of the new area round their town, it does not deal with the old built-up area in the middle. That old built-up area will be wholly unprotected in these cases unless we have other legislation than the Town and Country Planning Act.
The third point, which I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department to bear in mind in considering any new legislation, is this: the phrase in the Town and Country Planning Act which enables an authority to take proceedings to get an advertisement removed makes it incumbent upon it to prove that the advertisement "seriously injures" the amenity of the protected land. The words in the Advertisements Regulation Acts are "disfigure or injuriously affect." Those of us who know the difficulty of securing a conviction in the case of the milder words "disfigure or injuriously affect," will be slow before we rely wholly upon an Act which places on the complainant the apparently graver onus of proof involved in the words "seriously injures."
Fourthly—and this is a very important point. I think, for those who represent or are concerned with rural areas—if the by-laws under the Acts cease to apply where the land is protected under the Town and Country Planning Act, the effect in rural areas will be to transfer control from the county councils to the district councils. I am bound to say that the experience of the Scapa Society is that that is not a desirable change. The county councils have in many cases done admirable work in this matter and they are better equipped with the appropriate officers for enforcement.
I think the House may well think that the fact that the power of local authorities in one case concerns the Home Office and in the other the Ministry of Health, may render it desirable that when there is amending legislation one Ministry, and one Ministry alone, should be concerned with the whole subject in this House.
On the form that the new legislation should take, I am very much interested 496 in the ingenious plan put forward by my hon. Friend who moved the Motion. In effect, it consists of two powers, first, the power given to the local authority to require the removal of an offending advertisement, subject to a right of appeal to the courts, and, secondly, if the advertiser wishes, the power for the advertiser to go to the authority in advance and ask for its approval before he puts up the advertisement. Here, too, in the event of refusal, the applicant would have the right of appeal. Let me say at once that I think that is a very interesting proposal which holds out some hope of a simple scheme of control applying throughout England, to town and country alike, and avoiding many of the existing difficulties.
But I am bound to add one caution. In the second part of the proposal, that which concerns the advertiser asking in advance for permission to erect an advertisement, if the result of the application being granted is that the matter is taken entirely away from the possibility of being considered by any court at any time, it is necessary, in my submission, not only that the advertiser should have a right of appeal, if permission is refused, but that there should be a limited right of appeal if permission is granted. I suggest to the authorities at the Home Office, for their consideration, that such an appeal should be granted at least to the owner or occupier of land adjoining or in the neighbourhood of the site, and, secondly, to a duly appointed officer of certain associations concerned with the protection of amenities such as the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and the Scapa Society. I do not believe in giving local authorities, in matters of amenities, a jurisdiction from which there is no appeal.
I thank the House for its great patience is listening to my remarks on a matter which is bound to be a little technical, and I would urge upon the Minister who is to reply that he should, in framing the necessary legislation, bear in mind the points which have been raised and the further points which the Joint Committee of the Associations of Local Authorities and the Scapa Society may put before him.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Tinker
I wish to compliment the hon. Gentlemen who moved and seconded 497 the Motion, and also to extend my sympathy to them. Both of them are Parliamentary private secretaries, and I know that the holding of those positions of responsibility may at many times restrict them from "going all out" as they would if they were free. I held such a position on two occasions, but I did not allow that to interfere with my saying what ought to be said on many problems. I hope the hon. Gentlemen will take it from me that it is better to put the Department on one side and to let the House know exactly what they feel on the matter. I wish that the hon. Members had been in a position "to go all out" on this matter, because I believe they would have raised the question which I wanted to raise, but which Mr. Speaker declined to allow me to raise, so that I shall have to deal with it in general Debate.
I agree with the hon. Members that amenities should be preserved as much as possible, but when they were talking I wondered whether their minds ever shifted from the Lake District. It seems to me that it is as well that some of my hon. Friends on these benches who come from industrial districts should intervene in Debates of this kind. When the hon. Members who moved and seconded spoke about advertisements being an eyesore that ought to be removed, my mind went to the industrial advertisements which are to be seen in every industrial centre. I am referring to advertisements of industrial chaos and industrial ruin. I hope that when the House deals with amenities, it will at the same time attempt to do something about that sort of advertisements as well.
On Saturday I assisted at the ceremony of opening pithead baths in Leigh. I had in mind this Motion and was wondering what line the Mover intended to take. I had travelled from my home in St. Helens through Ashton-in-Makerfield and had been struck by the manner in which all that area has been left derelict. On every side are signs of the ruin caused by industry and of the potential ruin which will follow, unless some restriction is applied. One saw great pit heaps and mounds, some burned-out and others still burning, with corresponding depressions filled with water. That is a feature which will probably interest the hon. Member for Elland (Mr. Levy). Indeed one of my hon. Friends suggested that 498 this matter could be settled, if the hon. Member would arrange to pour some of the water in which he is so interested over the burning pit heaps about which I am concerned.
During the ceremony on Saturday I was reminded of the headway which has been made in providing amenities for mine-workers during the last 20 years. We have seen great improvements, such as the provision of pithead baths, and I think everybody is agreed about the desirability of doing something more for the mineworkers in this and in other respects. But so far no attempt has been made to deal with the eyesore caused by these pit heaps, the removal of which would do so much to make the lives of the colliery workers less disagreeable. We are dealing here with advertisements and with what can be done by the Forestry Commissioners to protect the countryside.
The other aspect of the question to which I have drawn attention is one which should also be tackled when we come to consider the subject as a whole. I heard Sir Frederick Sykes at a Miners' Welfare Conference, over which he presided, expressing the wish that more could be done in the direction of avoiding the formation of slag heaps, which present such a depressing outlook in many of our mining villages. He referred to the fact that in one case recently through the efforts of local people with help from a voluntary social service organisation, a pit heap had been converted into a recreation ground. That, he said, was by no means an isolated instance and in other cases pit heaps had been planted with trees. That is a lesson to the Forestry Commissioners, and I hope the hon. Member who represents the Department will deal with the subject during the Debate. Sir Frederick Sykes on the same occasion said:Such planting made a great improvement, but it was a question whether the responsibility and expense should not be undertaken by the owner of the land, the colliery company or the local authority rather than by the welfare fund.That is from a man who realises the value of pithead baths and who at the same time realises the depressing effect of having alongside pithead baths, these huge and unsightly mounds. I hope, therefore, that something will be said this evening in regard to that matter. I 499 have here the reports of the Miners' Welfare Fund, in which this question is mentioned. Two photographs are reproduced in the report, one of the familiar cone like tip that is "a hideous blot on the countryside," and the other of a stretch of English landscape with low hills, in form not unlike great mounds of continuous tipping. The report comments:Does it not suggest that if the debris has no commercial value, the assimilation of lower and more uniform tippings into the landscape could be successfully achieved by means of judicious planting assisted by the maturing action of time?Therefore I ask the House not to confine its attention to the Lake District in considering this matter. I agree with the Mover and Seconder of the Motion that the preservation of the countryside is something which ought to be watched jealously and that powers ought to be given to prevent defacement by "raucous" advertisements—I think that is the term which has been used. But let us also look nearer home. The people who have made money—I am referring to the financial interests connected with colliery companies, iron and steel works and so forth—go to the Lake District and such places in their retirement. They should remember the places where they have made their money and the condition of things which they have left behind them in those places. That is what troubles us. We have in our minds the idea that these people are allowed to do just what they like, without any regard to the amenities, in spoiling the vicinity of their works, but when they have made their money they retire in ease and comfort to enjoy the beauties of the countryside in other districts—those beauties which we are now trying to preserve for them.
I trust that while we are all agreed about preserving the beauties of the country we shall insist on some attempt being made to prevent these ugly accumulations in the industrial areas. Powers should be obtained and applied before the accumulation of debris takes place. I think a little examination of the question show how difficult and expensive it is to do anything once the accumulation has taken place, but if the matter were taken up at the very beginning something more could be done. I have here two reports of the Commissioners for the 500 Special Areas which have a bearing on this matter. We have heard about the beauty of the hills of Scotland, but there is another side to Scottish life which is illustrated on page 46 of the report of the Commissioner for the Special Areas in Scotland. It is headed "Beautifying Bings." "Bings," I should say, is the Scottish word for pit heaps. They use a rather nicer word in Scotland, but it signifies the same ugly thing. The Commissioner states:I have received one or two suggestions that I should provide assistance to enable coal and iron, slag pit mounds, i.e., 'bings' to be beautified by means of afforestation or otherwise, the cost of their removal being quite prohibitive. I am assured that afforestation of 'bings' gives no promise of commercial success, but that the work is wholly amenity in character and provides employment, and it seems eminently appropriate to my functions to finance some experimental work to see what can be done to render these 'bings' more aesthetically attractive. I have, therefore, after consultation with the Forestry Commission given approval in principle to a suggestion to beautify a particularly unattractive iron slag 'bing' which overshadows the houses in the neighbourhood by planting it with hawthorn bushes and grass.I draw the attention fo the representative of the Forestry Commission to that paragraph. Here is one way of dealing with mounds which cannot be removed without prohibitive cost, and I ask the Forestry Commission in their survey to consider this matter and try to give some assistance in making these mounds presentable. I have in mind one place in my own district, where we have a mound 100 yards square and 30 or 40 feet high. After much agitation, the colliery company set about putting out the fire. The fire has been put out, but the mound is still there, ready for something to be done with it. It overshadows all the houses round about, and there are colliery houses right at its foot. If it cannot be removed, could not something be done to assist in making it more presentable? Here we arrive at a rather difficult question. It is said that the colliery company owns the land and that if any attempt is made to beautify it, the company may want to take the added value afterwards. I wonder whether the Home Office could help us in that matter, whether they could make out a case. If the Forestry Commissioners made a suggestion to any colliery company with a view to making a piece of its land more attractive, could we not then ask them not to claim any 501 value from it later on? I put that forward as a suggestion, because I think it is as well to deal with the whole matter at the present time.
Now I want to touch again on the report of the Commissioner for Special Areas in England and Wales, and this is my chief point to bring before the House. In one paragraph the report deals with the question of amenities being removed altogether by industrial chaos, and it says:It may be that many of those who read these pages know as little about the Areas from a personal aspect as I did before I undertook this work. I well remember the depressing effect the great slag heaps and the ruins of dismal factories had upon me on my first visit, and even some measure of familiarity has not removed that feeling. It is no easy task to persuade industries to come to some of these places, and makes me ask myself the question whether it is right that whole districts should be ruined without industry being held liable for some of the ruin they have created.That is my case to-night. I want the House of Commons on this Motion to rouse public opinion to that point at which it will attempt to make the present sites better and more attractive. I also want, which is more important, public opinion to be such that it will not allow industrial activity to leave whole districts in a state that is not presentable and hardly fit to live in. That is what the House of Commons ought to attempt to do. It is not fair in this industrial striving for wealth to leave the whole of the ruins to those who cannot get away from them. The whole thing ought to go together. If amenity means anything at all, it means the preservation of those pleasant things that were there before the industrial chaos came. It is not fair that these places should be made a blot on the land, as they are at the present time, and as things are we seem to have no redress at all. Constantly I have brought to the attention of the House—some Members may think I have nothing else to talk about—what is termed the burning pit, and yet I am not able to persuade either the Ministry of Health or anybody else to give me any assistance to get the trouble remedied. Probably tonight I may get such a volume of opinion from all sides of the House that there may be some attempt to deal with this question.
I do not know whether or not the Home Office can help me—I am not sure that they have the power—but I want 502 to tell the Under-Secretary of State that not long ago, as I was going to the Labour Party Conference at Bournemouth, I passed through Birmingham, and I saw there many familiar scenes that reminded me of the place I came from—not altogether pit heaps, but slag heaps, in the vicinity of Birmingham, and outside were many slag heaps from iron-ore works. These things are not confined to colliery districts, but are found where there has been other industrial activity as well. These things want seeing to from the aesthetic point of view. I looked up the meaning of the word "aesthetic" in a dictionary, and I found it defined as "belonging to the appreciation of beauty," and "in accordance with the principles of good taste." The last sentence, I think, is the best of all. If manufacturers and employers would only act in accordance with the principles of good taste, it would be far better for the community as a whole.
In conclusion, I want to thank both the Mover and Seconder of the Motion for having dealt with the Motion in the way they have, but I would urge upon them to get a little bit away from the Lake District and send their minds to the industrial centres. If they do, they will go a long way to help me in my desire to remove what are called the slag heaps, the pit heaps, and all those things that make life for the workers so sordid and so bad while they have to carry on.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Levy
I am sure that every Member of this House will agree that the preservation of our amenities is essential, and we would all deplore that they should be despoiled in any way. I am of the opinion that it is not more legislation that we want because I think that if the existing legislation was properly utilised and administered, further legislation would be redundant. Both the Mover and the Seconder of the Motion have, I am pleased to say, spoken of the Advertising Association in glowing and complimentary terms, and the Seconder, in particular, mentioned that the association works in harmony with the Scapa Society. If that be so, what do we find; We find that the association, which is the British Poster Advertising Association and the London Poster Advertising Association, for whom and on whose authority I speak to-night, constitutes over 90 per cent. of the poster advertising 503 people of this country. It has an Amenities Committee, and it has a very rigid Censorship Committee, which has been sitting for over 45 years. They are not the culprits. There are some outside advertisers who are the culprits and who do put up unsightly structures. But when we look at this Motion the innuendo implied is that the existing Acts are inadequate, ineffective and insufficient. Let us see whether that is so. The main Act to which we have to refer is the Act of 1925, which says:The powers of a local authority under section two of the Advertisement Regulation Act, 1907 (in this Act referred to as the principal Act), shall include powers to make byelaws for regulating, restricting or preventing within their district or any part thereof the exhibition of advertisements so as to disfigure or injuriously affect—Then it goes on:
- (a) the view of rural scenery from a highway or railway, or from any public place or water; or
- (b) the amenities of any village within the district of a rural district council; or
- (c) the amenities of any historic or public building or monument or of any place frequented by the public solely or chiefly on account of its beauty or historic interest."In the principal Act and in this Act the expression 'advertisements' includes any structure or apparatus erected or intended only for the display of advertisements.That Section, I submit, is all-embracing. It was followed by the Act to which my hon. Friend referred, the Town and Country Planning Act, which again dealt with the matter. One is bound to ask whether the powers under these Acts have been properly utilised or administered. It is true that the county councils have made by-laws, but what has been done by the borough councils and the urban district councils? Only 22 per cent. of the municipal borough councils and only 28 per cent. of the urban district councils have made by-laws—an average of 25 per cent. Seventy-five per cent. of these councils have not even bothered to make by-laws. If a further Act were passed it would be delegated to the local authorities for administration, as the Acts to which I have referred are, yet 75 per cent. of them have not troubled to make by-laws under the Acts which already exist. I submit that pressure ought to be brought to bear upon them to utilise the powers that they already have. I say without hesitation that this laxity is responsible 504 for much of the existing state of affairs about which complaint is made.
§ Mr. H. Strauss
Will my hon. Friend deal with the point that the demand for further powers comes from the county councils, all of whom have made and are enforcing by-laws?
§ Mr. Levy
The Association of Municipal Corporations has been in communication with the Home Office and in a letter received by the Association as recently as 26th June last, the Home Office expresses the opinion that the introduction of a system of licensing to control the exhibition of advertisements is open to considerable objection on the ground that it would enable local authorities to discriminate between methods and forms of advertising employed by individual trades and businesses. It adds:New legislation would not in any event be justified in the absence of evidence that existing powers were not sufficient and had not proved effective in practice.That is my case. The powers have not been effective in practice because they have not been put into practice, inasmuch as 75 per cent. of the local authorities have not even bothered to make by-laws. I am authorised to suggest—and I hope it will meet with the approval of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to the Home Office—that a conference should be called of all the interests concerned, including the advertising interests and the local authorities, so that the questions at issue could be discussed, definite pledges undertaken, and arrangements made. Hon. Members know that when important industries give pledges they carry them out. If that were done, I think that, subject to the local authorities making by-laws and administering them, no further legislation would be necessary.
I am one of those who feel strongly about the preservation of amenities. We all deplore that they have not been preserved in the past as they ought to have been, and that a lot of that which has been destroyed, such as old buildings and places of historic value, ought never to have been destroyed. When, therefore, I argue from the point of view from which I am arguing now, it is not because I am not of the same opinion as other hon. Members who desire the preservation of amenities. I desire that as much as anyone, but I do not think that in this case further legislation is necessary. I hope 505 that the Under-Secretary can see his way to call the conference I have suggested and that he will decide after its deliberations what is best to be done.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander
I desire to support what has been said by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), because we cannot overlook that part of the question to which he has referred. We have to think not only of those who spend their holidays and week-ends in the beautiful country districts, but of the great majority who are bound to live in dull and drear surroundings from the beginning of the year to the end. It is our duty to try to make those surroundings as attractive as we can. Naturally, I have much in mind the area referred to by my hon. Friend, namely, the Black Country between Birmingham and Wolverhampton through which I pass twice every week. It is one long depressing area which is the relic of the coal mining and iron period of the past. Attempts have been made during the height of unemployment to provide grants which would enable those pit mounds to be dealt with, but the scheme did not seem sufficiently attractive. I well remember upwards of 30 years ago an effort being made by the Midland Re-afforesting Association, with which Sir Oliver Lodge was associated as leader, to plant a number of these pit mounds. It was found that trees would grow there and flourish, but that they were singularly attractive to the children of the neighbourhood, and that unless they were guarded at considerable expense by railings it was very difficult to preserve them. It may be that now, when so many of these pit mounds are being levelled out for building purposes, and there is more local control of the area, we could have plantations, parks and amenities which were not practicable at that date, and if there is any possibility of the Forestry Commissioners afforesting any part of the area of the Black Country I hope the question will be considered.
Reference has been made to advertisements and to what is done in other countries. So far as I know, there is only one country where there are no advertisements, or practically none, and that is Russia, because there the demand for goods greatly exceeds the supply. I remember seeing only one adverisement in the Metro, in Moscow, and that was not 506 exactly an advertisement, but was propagranda drawing attention to margarine as a valuable food. The place of advertisements in the streets seemed to be taken up by full size portraits of political and industrial leaders, repeated at short intervals, and I cannot help feeling that even the attractive features of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for the Home Office might begin to pall on us if they were met with, enlarged 10 times beyond life-size, at every street corner. The general feeling, from what we have heard in the Debate, appears to be that there ought to be some control of advertisements in the open air by a licensing system. Already there are special Acts under which different local authorities are operating. There is the Liverpool Act, a Bill is being considered by the Lancashire County Council, and this year the Staffordshire County Council obtained powers to deal with out side advertisements, and I might quote the effective words in that Act, Section 34 (4):The Council may serve on the owner or occupier of any land.… a notice in respect of any serious injury to the amenities of any public open space which may be caused by the display of advertisements on such land within 50 yards of the open space, requiring him within a reasonable time, and not less than 28 days.… to take such action and execute such works, including works of removal, as may be necessary."Open space" is defined as meaning:(5) Any land let out or used as a public pleasure ground or place of public resort or recreation, including an open space for rest or recreation, or any village green to which the public have access.I think the wisest thing to do would be to generalise powers of that kind in some suitable form. We should also bear in mind the advisability of removing from railway companies and other statutory bodies the exemption which at present they possess from control of their advertisements.
Regarding the Lake District, I cordially agree with the remarks made as to the relations existing between the Forestry Commissioners and the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. I am sure that both bodies have done all they could to agree, but the main ground for complaint is that the Forestry Commissioners have not the authority and are going out of their way to conciliate other bodies. I would appeal to the Government to take steps to amend the powers or regulations under which they are 507 working, so that they can and must take into consideration the public amenities.
This question really points in the direction of a matter which I do not intend to raise to-night, but will refer to only in passing, and that is the urgent necessity of setting up at the earliest possible moment a national parks authority for the whole country, which can review and keep constantly under supervision what is happening in these great national park areas. Whether they should have statutory powers or not is not so important at this stage as that such an authority should be got going and exercise general supervision. The only other point to which I would refer is the erection of pylons in the Lake District and their interference with the amenities. At present, before pylons can be erected three authorities have to give their consent—the county council, the rural district council and the owner of the land. There is a proposal to put up pylons along Borrodale Valley to the famous and beautiful Honister Pass for the benefit of the slate quarries there. I understand that the owner has consented, and the district council appear to have raised no objection, but the county council are doing all they can to prevent any despoilment of the view. That is a matter which ought to be kept under review by a suitable body such as a national parks authority. I hope that the result of this Debate will be helpful in stimulating both the Government and public opinion to take every possible effort to see that England is kept as nature made her for the enjoyment of the people.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Lloyd)
I think it will be for the convenience of the House if some reply were made now to the first part of the Motion. We are dealing with one aspect of a very great movement, the movement for the preservation of the natural beatuy and the amenities of the country. That movement has gathered great force only in comparatively recent years, and I think it is interesting to speculate, even for a moment only, upon the origins of that movement. I believe it to be one of a whole series of interesting and important reactions from the laissez aller and laissez faire of the Industrial Revolution. Indeed, it is interesting 508 to remark that it therefore has a common parentage, to a certain extent, with the great movement which brought hon. Members opposite into this House, and also with the development of the Protectionist policy for which so many Members on this side of the House have worked so hard.
Then, of course, there was the creation of the National Trust at the end of last century, the much greater care now given to ancient monuments by the Office of Works, and the development of those great voluntary societies to which the country owes so much, the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, the Scapa Society, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. H. Strauss) is chairman, and many local societies, such as the Cambridge Preservation Society, which deal with the preservation of amenities in particular areas. The Home Office, although it does not deal with the whole subject, is concerned with a great many aspects of it, and already under by-laws confirmed by my right hon. Friend several useful pieces of work have been done, including the regulation of the appearance of petrol-filling stations and the drawing up of by-laws dealing with the wholesale uprooting of flowers and the depositing of litter.
I shall be referring to-night chiefly to the first part of the Motion, dealing with the regulation of advertisements, but perhaps before I come to deal with that in more detail I might be allowed to say one word about the very important subject raised by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) and the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), although the former generously pointed out that it is not a subject with which the Home Office normally deals, but I have made some inquiries into the subject and I can make, at any rate, a few observations upon it. I feel a great sympathy with the remarks that he made, and particularly with his reference to the report of one of the Commissioners for the Special Areas. On the other hand, it is a very difficult subject, but I agree with him that it is important whenever possible to prevent heap fires taking place; I think the alkali inspectors of the Ministry of Health are doing good work in that matter. They have worked out three or four methods of preventing them which local authorities are able to bring 509 to the notice of owners, and we may expect progress on those lines. On the other hand what is to be done, not when the heap is on fire—that makes the problem extraordinarily difficult—but when it has ceased to be on fire? I cannot help thinking that there is a great deal to be said for the suggestion he mentioned as having been brought forward by one of the Commissioners for the Special Areas when he said:I believe something could be done in the way of planting trees, shrubs and grass. I have asked the newly-formed South-West Durham Improvement Association to make a careful study of this problem, and I hope that further research may provide an alternative solution by finding some economic use to which the material in these tip heaps can be put.The Special Commissioner in his report for 1937 goes on to say:It may be that many of those who read these pages know as little about the Areas from a personal aspect as I did before I undertook this work. I well remember the depressing effect the great slag heaps and the ruins of dismal factories had upon me on my first visit, and even some measure of familiarity has not removed that feeling.And then he goes on to deal with the general question of the responsibility of industry in regard to the industrial areas, and he questions whether it is right that whole districts should be ruined without industry being held liable for some of the ruin created. He also refers to the Report on the Iron and Steel Industry by the Import Duties Advisory Board, which draws attention to the effect of surface quarrying of iron and steel. This is a problem which is engaging the attention of the Government, and the matter has also been brought to the notice of the Royal Commission on the Geographical Distribution of the Industrial Population.
I turn now more directly to the question raised to-night with regard to advertisements, and I would like to add my congratulations on the speeches delivered by my hon. Friends the proposer and seconder of this Motion for raising so persuasively and in such a conciliatory manner this very important matter. I am afraid I must disagree with the view taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Elland (Mr. Levy) that there is no case for asking for extended powers in this matter. I think one of the most important points is the attitude of the great associations of municipal authorities on this 510 matter, and the County Councils' Association and also the Association of Municipal Corporations definitely take up the attitude that further powers are necessary. At the same time I was very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, speaking as chairman of the Scapa Society, said that these powers have not been useless. It is true that they have not been useless. On the other hand they do contain important gaps. For example, in the towns it is only in the case of advertisements in the neighbourhood of parks and promenades and historic and public buildings that the protection of the Act applies, and therefore all the other parts of towns have at present no protection. There was also a further small point with regard to the position which can occasionally arise in a very big urban area, for example Birmingham, which has agricultural land within the city boundary—that there is no protection for a village in an urban area.
I would like to say a word on the actual difficulties of this by-law procedure as we see them at the Home Office. For example take the question of the county councils. After the Act of 1925 was passed it was necessary for the Home Office to consider model by-laws. We take the view that it is difficult to get really effective action under a rather vague general by-law and that it is better, wherever possible, if you want effective powers to make the by-laws as precise as possible. For that reason the Home Office was inclined to take the view that the county councils would be wise to select particular areas within their counties where they thought they needed these powers especially, and to frame rather rigid and specific by-laws with regard to those areas. The county councils took a different view, and wished to have powers over the whole of their areas, with the result that the by-laws had to be in more general terms; and I think the fact that the county councils have now taken the view that further powers are necessary does show the unsatisfactory nature of the by-law method, and particularly the type of general by-law that has been adopted in the case of the county councils.
Take, again, the question of the boroughs. In the boroughs the Acts are of course of limited application, and it has been possible to frame more definite 511 by-laws. But there we also run up against considerable difficulties, and I would like to give the House an example. These Acts, of course, apply not only to advertisements professionally displayed by advertising companies, but also to the advertisements that may be exhibited by the occupier of a house or business premises. But by common consent there was a provision always made in the by-laws that exempted such advertisements. Local authorities were then faced with a definite abuse of that exemption, when somebody put a few packets of cigarettes in the front window and thus was automatically able to display, without any possibility of dealing with the matter, an enormous and a hideous advertisement for the sale of cigarettes on the roof.
In order to deal with that difficulty, there was another by-law made to limit the display in a business premises or a house by the person living there, or occupying the business premises, to what may be called a reasonable display. That form of the by-law is believed to have worked well in county areas, but was found to be too drastic for a borough where the by-laws may prohibit the exhibition in selected areas of any advertisements which "could be seen as part" of the view. With that restriction there would have been cases of teashops where quite a small advertisement, if it was displayed on either side of the shop, in circumstances quite reasonable, would have come within the restrictions of the by-laws. This example shows the second defect of the by-law method. On the one hand a by-law may be too general to be effective, and, on the other hand, if it is rigid it tends to cause a number of hard cases in special circumstances. If that is common ground, it follows that there ought to be some extension of the law and of the present powers. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Elland that a general licensing power is too strong a measure, because it involves dictatorial interference with legitimate business activities.
That brings me to the proposal put forward by my hon. Friend. The procedure which he suggests is founded on Section 47 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932, and is followed in a number of local Acts in order to protect open spaces from advertisements. The procedure which he suggests differs from 512 licensing in the important respect that the advertiser can go ahead without consulting anyone, and that he has a right of appeal against any subsequent action by the council. It also means that an advertiser may go to the council in advance for their approval, and that he has a right of appeal against any adverse decision. I think the House will agree that those are valuable safeguards. A further point is that the advertiser is not in either case haled before the court as an offender. There will simply be a settlement by an independent authority of the difference of opinion between him and the council. In view of the attitude of the advertising interests, to which I propose to refer in a moment, it is possible that the suggested procedure would enable differences of opinion to be settled amicably in a great many cases before the advertisement was put up. In addition, it has the elasticity necessary to allow it to apply both to town and to country.
Now I come to the attitude of the advertising and poster interests. In that connection, the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Elland was interesting, particularly the proposal which he made at the end. It is important for the House to realise that the advertising poster interests are taking up a most progressive and reasonable attitude in the matter. They have been most friendly with the Scapa Society, as my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich explained, and have given good co-operation in a number of individual cases. I understand, for example, that in West Sussex, when there was a difference of opinion between the local authority and the British Billposter Association, they both agreed to ask the secretary of the Scapa Society to look over the actual sites and the posters in question, and in every case his decision was accepted as final by the poster association. I understand that a similar process occurred in the case of the Kent County Council and certain big advertisers. In every case where there was an adverse decision against the posters, it was accepted by the poster company.
There is an example which I should like to bring to the notice of the House because it illustrates a number of points. Many hon. Members may know that there is a famous vantage point in Kent at the top of Wrotham Hill. In the summer it 513 is passed by thousands of working people from London going to take their holidays or their pleasure in Folkestone, Ramsgate and Margate, or going to Canterbury. It is a point at which motorists of all kinds and charabancs stop to enjoy the wonderful view of the Weald of Kent. Just below, there is an old chalk quarry which, a short time ago, was seriously disfigured by advertisements which were quite inappropriate to the place. Some were general posters and some were of the reflector type which lights up when struck by the lights of a car. The owners of the reflector type of advertisement agreed to withdraw from the site if the other advertisers would do the same. The other advertisers agreed, and, as a result, all the advertisements were withdrawn from that site; but—and there is an important "but"—after a period which was quite satisfactory it was suddenly found, only a short time ago, that the site was again disfigured, not by the advertisers who had agreed to withdraw, but by a completely new set of advertisers of an independent kind. The responsible poster advertising association and company who were co-operating beforehand in this matter have a considerable right to feel injured by what has happened since.
The procedure outlined by the hon. Gentleman would succeed in dealing with a matter of that kind in a very efficient and expeditious manner. We have to bear in mind all the time that there is no quarrel between those who desire to see the preservation of natural beauty and the advertising concerns who have legitimate business interests in the display of posters. I was particularly interested to hear ray hon. Friend the Member for Elland take the view that a conference of all the interests concerned might well be held at the Home Office to investigate the matter further. I would very much like to take up that proposal, and suggest that there should be a round-table conference at the Home Office of all the interests concerned, taking as a basis the proposals which my hon. Friend has brought forward tonight, and incidentally a number of points, into which I think the House will not wish me to go at the moment, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, such as advertisements in the air and by the sea. We might well hope that such a conference would reach 514 an agreed solution, which might be in corporated in a Private Member's Bill.
§ Mr. Lloyd
If we can get agreement on this matter, a Private Member's Bill might be a very suitable method of dealing with the question, which has, in the past, always been dealt with by Private Member's Bill. On the basis of the atmosphere that we have on this matter in the House to-night, we may well hope, as a result of this development and of this conference, that what every hon. Member in this House desires will be done, and some practical progress made in the matter in a reasonable time.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) desires me to express his appreciation of the way in which the Under-Secretary has dealt with the question that he raised. The hon. Member who moved this Motion will have got some consolation out of the way the Debate has gone up to the present, and, if it helps to stimulate public opinion on the question which has been debated, it will have served a very useful purpose. I remember once spending my holidays in the Isle of Wight and, walking from Shanklin to Ventnor along a beautiful part of that island, seeing painted on a notice board:A thing of beauty is a joy for ever.I have never forgotten that, and many times, when I think of that beautiful part of the country and of those words, I also think of the industrial part from which I come. I wish that in days gone by the Government of this country, whether nationally or locally, had been conducted more on the principles which are finding expression in the House this evening. I have in mind one large municipality which is setting a fine example to the country at the present time. In travelling down to 515 this House, and in travelling to various parts of the country, I pass through that municipality and see large railings being taken down, high walls being taken down, everything being taken down that has hidden the beauty of the district in the past. I refer to the large industrial centre of Salford, where in the past they have had high walls and railings, with the result that there has been very little green and very few trees to be seen by people passing along the roads. Now the Parks Committee, and the superintendent who acts on behalf of the Parks Committee, are adopting a different policy altogether, and it is surprising to see the psychological effect on the people living in the vicinity, to hear the conversations of men, women and children on the buses and trams as they pass these parks, and to see the way in which their faces and eyes light up when they can see the real beauty of the parks I am describing.
The hon. Member for East Wolver hampton (Mr. Mander) has spoken about the children. I know that he meant his remark to be taken in its general sense, but he said that many years ago the children did not respect this, that and the other. Since then, and even since my day, the schoolmasters have been at work, and we now find that the children in most industrial centres, as a result of the great educational work which is being carried on and of the enlightenment which is finding expression in the curriculum of the ordinary elementary schools, are respecting beauty, are respecting flowers, trees and vegetation, so that the accusations which have been made in the past against children in industrial parts of the country cannot generally be made to-day.
I want to associate myself with my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh in dealing very briefly with the effects of pit heaps and slag heaps; and another matter about which I am particularly concerned is the effect of slum clearances. We find that, as a result of the slum clearance policy that is being pursued, hundreds of houses are demolished, but very often the bricks are not taken away, so that not only have we to contend with pit heaps and slag heaps, but in most industrial centres great eyesores are to be found where houses have been cleared but the bricks and other debris still lie there. This reminds me of my experience during the Coronation celebrations, when the 516 Director of Education took my wife and myself round to see the children in the city which I represent. It was a treat such as I had not had for some time to see the way in which these children were enjoying themselves; and I also enjoyed seeing the number of parks that had been made from pit heaps and the parks that had been made on spaces which used to be derelict. In the district of Fenton in particular—I have mentioned this before in the House, but have no hesitation in mentioning it again, because it is a good example of what can be done—during the War there was a large pit heap, one of the largest in the country. German prisoners were set to work on that heap and they brought about such a change as the result of their work that in a short time a beautiful park was made, and now, as you go through that centre and walk over what was the pit heap, you pass through that beautiful park, which is the admiration of all who have seen it. The same applies to the constituency of the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton. During last summer I had the privilege of speaking in that district on behalf of the trade union movement, in a beautiful park which was a credit to whoever was responsible for laying it out. That park was at one time a disused pit heap. It had been levelled and nicely laid out. I hope that, as a result of the interest which will have been stimulated by the Debate this evening, the examples I have quoted will be followed throughout the country.
More and more we are finding that in industrial centres great interest is being taken in allotments and horticultural societies. Regular meetings and lectures are held, and I know sufficient of the effect of this kind of thing to enable me to say that flowers and vegetation, particularly in industrial centres, have a great psychological effect on the people. They are symbolical of beauty and culture; they have a refining and uplifting effect; and the more we can get this policy adopted, the more interest we can create in this question, the better it will be for the people whom we represent. I shall never forget an experience that I had about six months ago. I was in what would probably be one of the poorest houses in this country. While I stood there talking to the father and the mother, it almost made tears come into my eyes to think of the wonderful spirit which expressed itself 517 in the lives of the people who were living in that house. They took me inside to show me the terrible conditions under which they were living, and, while I was talking to them, their two daughters at the back of me were polishing the furniture for all they were worth. I turned round, and saw that, despite the terrible conditions under which these people were living, one could almost see oneself in the furniture, on account of the pride that these people took in their house. I went upstairs, and found a number of young children, and saw one of the results of the education which these children are now receiving—beautiful paintings on the walls of this poor house.
Then I went outside, and saw a large piece of land where there had been a slum clearance. It had bricks all over it, water was running all over it, and children with hardly any shoes or clothes on were playing in this water and among the stones. I would ask, what is the use of giving these children an education of that kind, what is the use of building up hopes in the hearts of children, what is the use of developing these children's outlook, of developing their culture and their better side, if, as soon as they get out of the schools to their homes, they have to pass their time in an environment of that kind? When I go to Eastbourne and see the beautiful bandstand, when I go to Bournemouth and see the beautiful front, when I go to Blackpool and see the beautiful parks and promenade, I think of the great changes which have been taking place in this country during the past 100 years, and the great developments. Surely it is not too much to ask that the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh has raised in this House during the past three or four years should receive attention, in order that the conditions and environment of the people for whom we speak can be improved in a like manner.
§ 10.1 p.m.
§ Lord Balniel
Of the two points in this Motion the second is the more important. The first, in regard to advertisements in the wrong places, is obvious to our eyes, and has the effect, on me at any rate, of preventing me from buying the goods advertised thereon, although they may be almost as good as is claimed in the advertisements. At the worst, they are ephemeral, and the damage they do is reparable. Nevertheless, I welcome what my hon. Friend on the Front Bench has 518 said. Let us try to instil good manners, and let us hope that the conference proposed may bring about some desirable result. The other issue is more important, because it is linked up with the whole problem of the amenities of this country. My hon. Friend mentioned that there was a growing realisation throughout the country that our country and our towns were being destroyed. He gave as a reason a rather—if I may say so—Baldwinian explanation. I am not sure that the real reason is not rather simple. Is it not merely that during the lifetime of the National Government there has been more destruction of rural and urban beauty than in any previous corresponding period in the whole history of our country? The hon. Gentleman shakes his head; but we have only to go out through London, to go to any provincial town, to go along the roads, and see that the well intentioned Acts for town planning, which this House believed would do good, are more or less inoperative.
There is a growing realisation of this deplorable situation, and there is also coupled with it, I believe, a growing demand that the Government should take action, although as yet I cannot see any desire on the part of the Government either to take action or to accept responsibility for what is one of the major domestic problems of the day. Local authorities may be responsible for certain parts of this destruction of our amenities, but the Government itself is directly responsible for a great deal. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) mentioned the question of pylons, which are a direct Government responsibility. I see with dismay that the Government intend to reintroduce, after it has been twice rejected by this House, the Caledonian Power Bill. That will be a direct responsibility of the Government.
Another case in which the Government accepts more or less direct responsibility is on the question, which we have been discussing, of the Forestry Commission. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) implied that we were only interested in the Lake District, and so on, but I think he is wrong. I take just as deep an interest, as he knows, in the specific problem of which he was speaking, as he does. I know the difficulties of attempting to plant on a slag heap. It is very difficult, of course, to plant trees 519 on a hill which contains no soil. You have to create a humus and to create soil, and even then you cannot grow anything more than shrubs. But so long as there is something covering these bleak, desolate hills, that is some improvement. I agree with the hon. Member who has just spoken about those heaps of bricks which, on a smaller scale, disfigure great areas of our country.
It is one of the limitations of the Forestry Commission, as I see it, that they work on a purely commercial basis, and one of the troubles of the Commissioners is that they are not allowed, under the 1919 Act, to pay attention to certain problems to which the hon. Gentleman referred, such as the Lake District. The Commission is constituted in a rather curious way. I think, in fact, that it is unique. We give it a grant, but exert no control. We have the highest respect for its personnel. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) is one of the most respected Members of the House, and so is the hon. Gentleman who was sitting on the Front Bench. Then we are delighted to be able to congratulate the fourth Member of the Forestry Commission in the House on the announcement that he is about to celebrate his marriage. But I think the system of giving a grant and exercising no control is probably as unsatisfactory to the Commissioners as it clearly is to the House.
Yet, in spite of that unsatisfactory position, I think that the Commission has done, and is doing, extraordinarily valuable work. The production of timber is a question of vital interest, chiefly, of course, in time of war, when it is one of the most important considerations, but, in our industrial life as well, we see to-day a rise in the price of foreign imported timber which is having a deplorable effect on the building trade and the mining industry. Costs are rising by leaps and bounds. If we could rely more on timber grown by the Forestry Commissioners we should not be subject to such fluctuations.
I agree with my hon. Friend who moved this Motion with regard to what he said about conifers. We all wish, and I am sure the Commission themselves wish, that we had planted fewer conifers and more hard wood. I agree with 520 them. Nevertheless, we must recognise that, while we may not like them, conifers are, at any rate to the mining industry, a very vital form of wood, and a cheap supply of timber is an essential part of the programme of the Commission. The properties which the Commissioners own are, I believe, very well managed. The forestry that is done there is good and is improving very much as time goes on. At least when I look at their more recent properties I see a far higher standard of the culture of trees than in some of their earlier plantings. If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would give up his passion for conifers, and the disgraceful habit of ringing old trees, and if he would pay a little more attention to the type of cottage which he puts up in these areas, I should be able to give him the most complete and whole-hearted support. These, of course, are only details.
It has been said, and rightly, that, in the Act which constitutes the Commission, Parliament did not enjoin upon the Commissioners to pay any regard to the question of amenities. It is not for the Commissioners to decide whether planting would spoil this district or that, or indeed, an even broader issue, as to whether planting in this district or that is in the national interest. The only question that it has to consider is that of econome planting. It is clear that there can be a clash between considerations of economic planting and of national interests. Such a clash has definitely occurred in the Lake District. The integrity of the Lake District is a question of very real and great national importance. The Commissioners have got plantations in the heart of this district and are now planting, and will continue to plant, in two valleys for a number of years. I do not blame them, because according to their constitution they are perfectly right, and yet in the national interest—in fact, I could not be more certain of anything than I am of this—they are wrong and they have done irreparable harm to two very beautiful valleys.
The plan in Eskdale and Duddondale raised a storm of indignation when it was mooted. A petition was signed by over 12,000 people, including many of the most distinguished names in the country. The movement was very genuine and sincere, to try and prevent this planting and to offer to buy out the Commission. The 521 Commissioners, while they made concessions and said that they would not plant certain areas, felt unable to go the whole way, and the damage, as I regard it, was done. I do not want to go into the past more than just to refer to it as an indication of the type of conflicting interests which exist, and which must exist under the present constitution of the Commission and without the interest of the Government themselves or of any higher authority than the Commission. I do not want to deal with the past or to make any recriminations whatever. On both sides there were mistakes and there were faults. Neither side played their cards in the best way or in the way that would bring about a reasonable compromise. I would rather look to the future, and I hope that, on all these points, the Commission will show, and, indeed, I beg of them the utmost caution when there is any possibility of conflict between these two interests. I hope that we can have in the future the certainty that these problems will be treated with really sympathetic consideration, that concessions will be made to local feelings and opinions and to the character of any particular district.
To ask them to protect the Lake District is not asking much. It is a very small area—an area with a radius of only something like 15 miles, and yet within that area there is perhaps a greater variety of scenery, most certainly than in any other area in this country, and probably than in any other area in the whole world. There are mountains and dales, rivers, fells and lakes, fertile valleys and rough arid waste lands, and there are villages. It is a position quite unique in this country, and we would be very foolish if we were not to protect it to the utmost of our ability. Not only is it to us infinitely precious, but its value grows day by day, as so much of the rest of England is destroyed. We do not wish to destroy it. We should no more destroy it and no more tolerate its destruction than we should tolerate the destruction of our cathedrals, and yet it is really as great a possession, if not a greater possession. It is an asset which is realised to the full by the people of this country, and they use it freely.
There is in this district less limitation of access to the higher grounds and fells than in any other part of England. Practically everywhere is free. Technically 522 landowners are the owners, but in point of fact there is the utmost freedom of access to all parts of this district. I am afraid that the action of the Forestry Commissioners will limit that very drastically. It is true that they are buying a great deal of land which they are not going to afforest, and they are, I believe, either handing it over to the National Trust or keeping it entirely free for the enjoyment of the public. Nevertheless, large areas are being covered with forest. The access to these free areas above them is not, as it has been, an open fell-side where you can go where you wish, either this way or that way, in complete freedom. That cannot be when you have afforestation. Access to these higher grounds must inevitably be through barbed wire lanes that lead between the ranks of the spruce trees.
I think we are giving up something big in handing over this beautiful part of the country to that treatment. I know that some of the Commissioners believe that in planting spruce they are not destroying the beauty of this area and that they are not injuring it in any way. I do not believe that anyone else would agree with that view. It is a view, surely, that can be held only by people who are perhaps so interested in the work they are doing that they are blinded to other considerations. If there is any who doubts that this sort of planting is doing damage to the Lake District, let him look, for instance, at Thirlmere, the source of the Manchester Corporation water supply, a beautiful lake, which has been surrounded by precisely these firs. Having once been to Thirlmere, no one would ever again wish to go there.
§ Lord Balniel
I go there very often and I hope to go there again, but the hon. Member, I am sure, will agree with me that, as he says himself, while it might be more beautiful than it is, the destruction of the natural beauty of that lake 523 by the planting of conifers has been deplorable. I hope the hon. Member will agree to that.
§ Lord Balniel
I will tame it down to whatever the hon. Member wants. He agrees, at any rate, that it is a pity.
§ Mr. Ede indicated assent.
§ Lord Balniel
We will leave it at that. It is a pity, and I think most people would be prepared almost to say it is a tragedy, that so beautiful a district is covered with conifers. It means a black pall of spruce trees which hide all the wonderful varieties of texture, colour, beauty and contour which make the Lake District one of the miracles of the world. It blankets all those things with a dull monotony, such as one gets anywhere else in a spruce belt.
I should like now to refer briefly to the agreement which has been come to between the Forestry Commission and the Joint Council to eliminate planting in an area of 300 square miles. I welcome that agreement and I welcome still more the fact that it accepts the principle that planting under certain conditions and in certain places is not desirable; but I cannot help remembering, and I do not think that it is ungenerous to point it out, how much is excluded from those 300 square miles. Those 300 square miles are not the Lake District. The Lake District is at least 700 square miles in extent. Excluded from this area are Duddondale, Eskdale, and such Lakes as Bassenthwaite, Haweswater, Coniston, and Windermere. Those are some of the most famous portions of the Lake District, yet they are excluded. The Forestry Commission have given no undertaking that they will not afforest this district.
Outside that area there are portions of the shaded area in which they assure us that special consideration will be given to the particular needs of the district. I want to ask the Commissioners to look upon this shaded area as the very minimum, and that they will treat most generously and with great care districts not only in the shaded area but adjacent to it and surrounding it. If they do that they will be doing a generous thing. If they do so I believe it will be in the 524 national interest, and would have the sympathy not only of the House but of the whole country. On that point an assurance would be most welcome. If the right hon. and gallant Member can tell us that he and his Commission genuinely propose to look upon this whole area as an area in which they will pay particular regard to the feelings of those who love it, and, pay particular attention to local needs and local industries, such as the unfortunate sheep industry which has suffered in Duddondale and Eskdale, he would dissipate many doubts and remove many fears which are still widespread, and which I think are still justified.
May I put one point about the new purchase in Grisedale which is in the heart of my own constituency? Let me remind the right hon. and gallant Member that it is not in the excluded area. As it is between Lake Coniston and Lake Windermere one would have thought that it was in the heart of the Lake district. It is put in the shaded area to which special attention is to be paid. I understand that larch is to be planted here as far as possible, and that spruce is to be used where larch will not grow in the damp bottoms. I also understand that the lower area around Eskdale is not to be planted and that the farms are going to be left as they are. No assurance on that point has been given, but if the right hon. and gallant Member can say something about it I should be grateful and I am sure a large number of people also would be grateful. I know the difficulties. One difficulty is the regulation by which the Treasury have instructed the Forestry Commission to plant within 15 miles of the Special Areas. While the Treasury can do no wrong I think they have been caught napping, and realise as little, perhaps, as the House, that practically the whole of the Lake district is within 15 miles of a Special Area. The result is that the Commission were definitely instructed to plant within this area, and it is all the more to their credit that they have resisted planting and have gone elsewhere, when they could do so, in spite of the pressure which has been exerted on them.
In conclusion, this is so small an area that surely, without being discourteous to the Commissioners, they could go elsewhere. I am very fond of the right 525 hon. and gallant Gentleman, but I do not want him in the Lake District. No one has welcomed the visitations of the Forestry Commissioners in that district. There are plenty of districts elsewhere, not very far from the lake area, where the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would be welcomed. Those districts are crying out for trees, and they are districts that would be eminently suitable for whatever kind of trees the Commissioners wished to grow. I sincerely beg the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to leave us alone in the Lake District, because I believe this is a matter of real importance. I hope that, in expressing what I believe to be the views of the House, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will be responsive to my appeal, and will see whether he can go some way towards relieving the doubts that we have about the shaded areas and the district outside them.
§ 10.24 p.m.
§ Colonel Sir George Courthope
In replying for the Forestry Commission to that part of the Motion which affects them, I wish, first of all, to thank my hon. Friends who moved and seconded the Motion for the spirit in which they did so, and for the way in which they expressed the sense of alarm which has been aroused in some quarters by the action of the Forestry Commission in the Lake District and elsewhere. I wish that all our critics had been as moderate and as modest in their choice of language. In view of the friendly nature of the Debate that has taken place, I shall not do what I had intended to do, namely, to reply to some of the criticisms that have been widely circulated through the House on behalf of an organisation known as the Friends of the Lake District. I think I had better leave that alone, and content myself with giving a general assurance to the House that the Forestry Commissioners are as anxious as anyone, as anxious even as my noble Friend the Member for Lonsdale (Lord Balniel), as anxious as the wildest of the friends of the Lake District can be, to preserve amenities both in the Lake District and elsewhere. I assure the House that we are not the enemies of the sheep, and do not propose to exterminate them. Nor are we eager, when we might go elsewhere, to buy up and destroy every dale and fell in the admittedly very beautiful district of the Lakes.
526 But I ask my Noble Friend and others to believe that there can be a genuine difference of opinion in these matters. In view of the strength of my Noble Friend's remarks, I hesitate to say what I had intended to say, that I do not yield to him in my love of the Lakes. I love the Lake District as much as anyone does. To my mind, the one thing it lacks is more trees. While I respect the sincerity of his view that the addition of large numbers of trees might destroy the beauty of the Lake District, I am equally sincere in my belief that it would enormously enhance it. There is that genuine difference of opinion. My Noble Friend referred to the fact that the Commissioners have, by agreement, sterilised, as far as their action is concerned, an area of 300 square miles in the centre of the Lake District. We have agreed not to take land there for planting. We did not do that because we thought the whole of the land was unsuitable for growing trees, but because we wanted to carry public opinion with us, and a very great volume of public opinion has been aroused, by fair means or foul, against the introduction of planting in the Lake District.
Before I leave the subject of the Lake District, I should like to say a few words about the difficulties which the Forestry Commission have encountered. Those difficulties have arisen specially owing to the existence of the West Cumberland Special Area and the instructions given to us by the Government and by this House to make a special effort within that and other Special Areas or within 15 miles of them, to give additional employment in forestry. We were given wider financial powers for the acquiring of land for that purpose, than we had for our general purposes. If we had agreed to exclude from planting operations all the land that the Friends of the Lake District desired us to exclude, there would be very little Special Area left in West Cumberland at all. We were asked to exclude practically everything between Penrith and the sea. Originally, and I believe long before the Friends of the Lake District existed, we had been in consultation with Professor George Trevelyan, to whose kind assistance I would like to pay testimony. He is a noted lover of the Lake District. We agreed that a certain area should be left without more trees than it possesses to-day. That area has been expanded, first, after consultation with the 527 special committee of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England and afterwards under pressure from the Friends of the Lake District.
We Commissioners believe that we have gone to the very limit of reasonable compromise and that, in view of the fact that we were under the obligation to make a special effort, we could not justify to this House a withdrawal from the operations already commenced within that Special Area, unless we were able to replace that land with equally suitable and equally suitably placed land. We have not been able to do so. One of the special difficulties of this area is that more than half the land is what is known as "stinted." It is common land on which a number of farmers, many of them quite small people, have the right to run a stated number of sheep. They have the right to run the sheep over the whole mountain side. While one of these "stints," re mains, it is impossible for the Forestry Commission to enclose and without enclosure, planting is out of the question. We are cut out of a very large amount of plantable land within the West Cumberland Special Area by the existence of these "stints," and we are consequently limited in our acquisitions to those smaller areas which are free from "stints," and where the owners are willing to co-operate.
In these circumstances where we are offered land for the special purpose of afforestation on terms which are reasonable and fair, surely it is asking too much to ask us to try to justify to this House a refusal of facilities for planting, in addition to what we have already yielded, simply because a large number of people prefer to see the valleys bare. I wish we could do so. I wish it was possible to withdraw from the whole of that area, because I feel it is of great importance to carry not only general public opinion but local public opinion with us. But, in the circumstances, I think we have gone to the very limits of reason in the concessions already made. I hope the House and the general public will support us in that view.
Before I forget it, let me refer to a very definite question which my Noble Friend the Member for Lonsdale put to me about Grisedale. Grisedale is not in the scheduled area, I must remind him, 528 but in spite of that I am able to assure him that we hope mainly to plant larch and hardwood, because we believe it will carry them—we always plant larch and hardwood in preference to spruce on suitable land—and the meadows round Esthwaite will be sterilised as private open spaces. That, I think, is all he wants, and I do not want to score off my Noble Friend by telling him that it is out of the scheduled area. I do not attach much importance to that, because we intend as far as possible to consider amenities and local opinion everywhere.
Now may I come to one or two other questions that have been raised to-day? There has been reference to another district where there has been a little local trouble. Incidentally, I may mention that there is hardly anywhere where we go that we do not find a minority who will say to us, "Forestry is a very nice thing. Plant trees anywhere in England, but not here. Leave us alone." The Lake District is an extreme case, but we have found it in Dartmoor and in many other parts of the country. I will mention an interesting thing that arose in the discussion that took place about Breckland. A body consisting of a large number of very learned names petitioned the Forestry Commission to keep our hands off a particular strip, very well defined, on the ground that it was one of the few remaining parts of untouched Breckland upon which the flora and fauna peculiar to that land was to be found, but the unfortunate thing was that this particular strip had been arable land many times. It had been compulsorily ploughed up under the cultivation Orders during the Great War and had gone back, not to Breckland, but out of cultivation, as soon as the compulsory Orders ended, and was now growing thistles, ragwort and the usual arable land weeds. I mention that, not by way of complaint, but as an example of a great deal of the trouble that we have to face in the country. That has been settled now, and I hope it will not arise again.
I hope the House will accept the general assurance, which I wish to repeat, that everywhere, and not in the Lake district only, we shall try to carry local opinion with us if we can. The mover of this Motion made one or two recommendations. He said he wished we employed landscape consultants. Probably, if 529 opinion was taken as to the most prominent landscape consultants for the purpose to-day, the names would be those of Sir Guy Dawber and Professor Patrick Abercrombie. We are consulting them both.
§ Sir G. Courthope
We consult the Standing Committee of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, and we get this Standing Committee's advice.
§ Lord Balniel
But you do not take it. It is a little unfair to use Professor Abercrombie's name as a consultant without recording how anxious he was to prevent the planting of Eskdale and Duddondale, and, indeed, to increase the sterilised area.
§ Sir G. Courthope
It is perfectly true that Professor Abercrombie was one of those who said they preferred a wider area and signed a report in which the sterilised area was agreed. I do not think the Noble Lord and I are at cross-purposes at all. I was dealing with the point raised by my hon. Friend who moved the Motion with regard to consultations, and I say that we frequently consult Professor Abercrombie. I have been asked a question about the Roman Wall. I was unable in answer to a question in the House to give a guarantee that in no circumstances whatever would we do anything within three miles of the Roman Wall, but I can assure the House that the greatest possible care will be exercised, and that we shall do nothing which will in any way impair the value of that priceless treasure. I hope that if we acquire land closer to the Roman Wall than we have already, we may have a definite hand in its preservation.
A number of speeches have been made on the general question of hard wood and soft wood. I should like to say at once that I have not a passion for conifers. In fact, I rather thought that in this building I might have been associated rather particularly with a deep-rooted affection for the oak. I must remind the House that the principal need of this country in timber is for soft woods. About 97 per cent. of our total requirements of soft woods has to be imported. A much larger proportion of the hard wood re- 530 quirements is home-grown. Looking at the need from the point of view of war or a great emergency, I would remind the House of the position with which this country was faced during the Great War in keeping the mines open, because of the need for timber for pit props. That need absorbed a large part of the standing woods of this country. To a large extent they have not been re placed, and there is a real danger that unless active steps are taken, as we Commissioners are trying to take them, to maintain the supply of pit wood in this country, circumstances might arise during a war when we might run short. At such a time it would not be easy to switch over the steel works to the making of steel props.
A few years ago we were importing timber at the rate of £40,000,000 worth a year. Last year the imports went up to £61,000,000. During the first 10 months of this year the amount was £68,000,000, and what it will be at the end of the year I do not know. I am referring to the imports of all timber and wood, taking the round figure, because it is a general indication of our dependence upon imported timber supplies, due to the gradual exhaustion, the fairly rapid exhaustion, of the soft wood virgin forests. It is a really serious matter, and whether we look at it from the point of view of war emergency or peace economy it is of the utmost importance that the task which this House assigned to the Forestry Commission should be carried out. We are trying to carry out that task with due regard to local opinion and amenities. I appeal to the House to accept my assurance on that point, and I hope that hon. Members will do their best to help us in our work and to make our task easy.
One point only I have left out. I have the greatest possible sympathy with the question raised by two hon. Members opposite about the pit mounds. The Forestry Commission could probably help with advice and would gladly do so, but to deal with those places would be outside the scope of our active operations, because we cannot deal with smaller areas than 1,000 acres. We cannot deal with two acres here and five acres there. We might very likely be able to save expense and prevent mistakes by offering technical advice, but it is really a gardening operation rather than a forestry one, and 531 a matter for local authorities or local associations. I thank the House for the way they have listened to me, and I appeal to Members to help the Forestry Commission in the task which we have to do of providing an insurance for this country as regards its timber supplies, and enable us to do that with the good will of all concerned.
§ Mr. G. Nicholson
Can the right hon. and gallant Member give me any indication of his response to my plea that a plan of the country should be made showing the areas which the Commission think suitable for their operations?
§ Sir G. Courthope
I do not think we could undertake that. We have surveyed the greater part of the country, and on the strength of that we are trying to acquire land within the limits of our financial powers in almost every part of the country.
Mr. Edmund Harvey
Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman give consideration to the suggestion of the hon. Member, and if he is not able to reply now will he at least promise that serious consideration shall be given to the preparation of a plan?
§ 10.48 p.m.
§ Mr. David Grenfell
It is singularly unfortunate, when the question of afforestation has been raised, that the time in which to deal with it is so limited. The right hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken has given information which the House must realise to be of very great value, but no adequate answer could be given, and that is where the limitation bears harshly on those who speak on this question of afforestation. The Forestry Commission are very seriously apprehensive of the position as to future supplies of timber in this country. In the interests of general forestry, apart from the responsibility placed upon the Commission by the Forestry Act of 1919, there must be a very much wider survey which will include the supervision, the planning and the organised development of private forestry as well. If the House realised the full position with regard to future supplies of timber there 532 would be far less tendency to find fault with the acquisition of land for forestry. You must have land on which to plant your forests, and the land has to be bought and to be bought cheaply and in large quantities. It is not always easy to get suitable land unless you go to places which are beautiful. We are happy in the enjoyment of a very beautiful country, but if people try to put obstacles in the way of the Forestry Commission on the ground that the neighbourhood of our forests is attractive and beautiful, the prospects of afforestation will be seriously jeopardised.
I do not think there is anybody in this country who loves the country more than I do, but I really am surprised at people who see the beauty of only one part of Britain. If I were to trust myself to speak of Wales I could raise a strong protest against the way in which the natural beauty of Wales has been affected by this industry or that. I would say this for the process of afforestation, that there is no large-scale industry which adds more to the amenities of the country, and there is also no single factor in our national economy which promises so much to stem rural depopulation. There is nothing more beautiful in our country that the cottages nestling on the hillside containing human population. What more joyful sight can you see than the cottages in the glens of Scotland and the valleys in the North of England and in Wales? There is a kind of beauty which can only be enhanced, not diminished, by the operations of the Forestry Commission.
We on the Forestry Commission feel that we ought to enjoy the confidence of this House and of all parts of the House. All parties are represented on the Forestry Commission and I represent my Party there just as faithfully as I do here, for I believe this is a great national undertaking. I believe I have converted the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to be a Socialist and, strangely enough, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is just as enthusiastic as I am, but we have worked together on that body in order to build up something which will be of value both in peace and war.
Something has been said about town and country planning, I think something is very much amiss. If the local authorities have not sufficient power more power 533 should quickly be given to this House. I come down to the South of England, and here I see the disregard of amenities at every turn. That is one side of the amenities connected with building and ribbon development. There is another side. We have a land of varied beauty. There is no country of its size which contains so much beauty as ours. The hills are beauty, and the rugged contours and the conformation of beauty in our hill districts is so much more effective than we can find in any mountainous country in the world. There is a blending of colours, particularly of greens of more varied softness and richness than you can find in any country in the world. Nevertheless, every day in our industrial districts we witness much more desecration of beauty than could be found elsewhere.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) has time and time again earned the thanks of us all for drawing attention to one aspect of the matter, and we ought to put a monument to him on the top of the highest pit heap standing in this country—although I hope it will not be a very high one. There are thousands of pit heaps in this country, ugly mounds, formless and colourless, drab and ugly in every aspect and left standing without any protest at all, simply because poor people live there. In this House and in the country there is a kind of idea that ugliness does not matter to the poor, but it does matter. I do not say that the attitude is general, but it is certainly there. If this House were as keen and as susceptible to ugliness in working-class quarters as it is to ugliness elsewhere, something would have been done about it long ago. There is no appreciation that the worker's life needs just as much of this kind of relief and that the worker is just as fond of beauty as anybody else.
I am a great lover of rivers. If there is anything more beautiful than a beautiful tree, it is a beautiful river. What do we do with our rivers? I do not think there is one river in this country which can be used freely by the people. Go to the Continent of Europe and you will see people disporting themselves on the river banks, bathing and playing all 534 kinds of games. That is not possible in England. I could not name three rivers that were fit to bathe or to play in because of the pollution that goes on day by day. Some years ago I raised the question in this House, and an inquiry took place in South Wales, as a consequence, into the pollution of the rivers in that area. I read the reports of the inquiry, issued, I think, by the Ministry of Health, setting forth the facts of pollution by coal dust and sulphuric acid. I have seen the changes that have taken place, and I stand horror-stricken. There is not only considerable neglect of the maintenance of our rivers in a fit condition, but there is also a large measure of vested interest persisting in enjoying the right to pollute those rivers.
I hope that the Motion is not the last we shall hear of this matter. We should thank the Mover, and also the Seconder. I have converted him. As to the reference to the Forestry Commission, if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman wants examples, let him take Lancashire, and when he has finished there let him go down to Durham. I hope that the House will realise that this is a subject of immense interest and one that calls to each and all of us for immediate attention. I hope that we shall not divide upon this Motion, and that it is not the last we shall hear of the subject.
That this House, recognising the importance of the preservation of amenities, wishes to call attention to the desirability of strengthening the Advertisements Regulation Acts and to the anxiety that exists with respect to the activities of the Forestry Commission in the Lake District and other areas of great natural beauty.