HC Deb 28 April 1960 vol 622 cc529-35
Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I beg to move, in page 9, line 30, to leave out from the beginning to "aircraft" in line 31 and to insert: The Minister may by regulations make provisions as to the conditions under which an. Perhaps it may be for the convenience of the House, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if we also discussed the two later Amendments, in line 32 to leave out "shall" and to insert "may," and in line 38 to leave out "the foregoing subsection" and to insert "such conditions."

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

That would be convenient.

Mr. Page

Clause 7 prohibits aerial advertising from the moment this Bill receives the Royal Assent. The Amendment is intended to make aerial advertising conditional rather than to prohibit it altogether; to make it subject to such conditions as the Minister may see fit to make by regulations.

At present, aerial advertising is subject to conditions and is under the control of the Minister, but apparently, as I read the report of the Committee stage, the Minister requires further powers to control aerial advertising, and that is why the Amendment is framed in this way. The Clause, if I may say so, seemed to have been slipped into the Bill at a very late stage—late on the fourth and last day of the Committee—and would have the effect of turning lawful businessmen into criminals by a stroke of the pen, or at least by only about nine columns of the Committee report.

The Clause has not been before the House before, and I feel that even at this late hour it is a very important matter which should receive the consideration of the House. The principle of the Clause was supported by my right hon. Friend in phrases such as this: Aerial advertising could easily become an unconscionable nuisance and a danger because … it takes place as often as not over the heads of very large crowds and we could have a very nasty disaster. I do not understand that as a ground for complete prohibition, because the Minister himself already lays down regulations for this flying. Every flight on which aerial advertising is done, whether it be sky-writing or banner-towing, or loud-hailing, has to be cleared by his officers.

The operators give their full flight programme. The whole thing is cleared not only by traffic control officers but by the divisional officer of the Ministry. Does my right hon. Friend mean by what he said in Committee that the regulations are not observed? Or does he mean that the regulations are not sufficient? If they are not observed, then the operators should be prosecuted; if they are not sufficient, then let him make further sufficient regulations to govern it. But it does seem quite a wrong thing to prohibit aerial advertising altogether, certainly on the ground of danger.

Sky-writing does not take place directly over the heads of large crowds but at 14,000 to 15,000 feet. Banner-towing, although it takes place at a much lower height, is regulated, I believe, to something over 1,500 feet. The whole course that is taken, the time over the crowded area, everything is regulated at present, and every flight is properly cleared by the Ministry's divisional officer.

My right hon. Friend also said in Committee: If developed to any scale at all it would be an infernal nuisance and we would all wish to have it controlled and prohibited. Again I do not understand what was meant by "controlled and prohibited". Either it is to be controlled or to be prohibited. At present it is controlled. The Clause as it stands would prohibit it. On what grounds? I think I have shown that it can be controlled so that it is not dangerous. It is under that control at present. Such extravagant argument as was used by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) in Committee about ears being split by low-flying aerial advertising aircraft is quite untrue, because that could not happen under existing Regulations, or if it did the operator should be prosecuted for defying the regulations.

11.0 p.m.

If aerial advertising is to be prohibited on aesthetic grounds, let us say so and prohibit all outdoor advertising, because there is very little distinction. But that was not the ground put forward for prohibiting it during the Committee stage. The ground then was that it was either a danger or a nuisance, both of which are under present control, and if the control is not sufficient, let the Minister make further regulations.

The Clause as it stands would convert this trade into an unlawful one overnight. My right hon. Friend, the Minister, realised these difficulties when he said in Committee: … it is just as well to make quite sure now before people have invested a lot of capital in acquiring aircraft and equipment for this purpose. And later, when he said: We know all the difficulties, unfairnesses and injustices which can arise."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B, 29th March, 1960; c. 1745.] Those difficulties, unfairnesses and injustices will arise if the Clause stands as it is now. There are about half-a-dozen firms operating this business at present. Aerial advertising is used not "unethically" or "indecently", which are the words used by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East, but by reputable firms, and a considerable amount of investment is in that business already.

These six or so firms have invested large sums in aircraft, and in skilled pilots. They do service not only over this country but over the continent. It is not the sort of trade one could cut off just like that. A great deal of invested capital will be lost if this Clause remains as it is.

At present the trade is carried on by well-maintained aircraft and by skilled pilots, serving reputable firms who desire to advertise in that way. It is a trade which is well controlled by the regulations already issued by the Minister. Programmes, I understand, have already been arranged for months ahead, and to make it unlawful by a stroke of the pen would cause very great hardship, great unfairness and complete injustice to those operating it.

Mr. Sandys

I am afraid I cannot support my hon. Friend's Amendments. He says that this has all been done by a stroke of the pen, but the principle of prohibition of aerial advertising was already accepted by the House several years ago when a Bill, brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine), was given a Second Reading. It did not get on to the Statute Book because it was counted out in Committee, for quite different reasons, as sometimes happens.

During the course of our discussions in Committee it became clear that the general view was that the use of the sky for advertising was likely to create a nuisance and a danger, and that it was desirable to prohibit it now, before it developed on any appreciable scale, and before operators invested in a lot of capital in acquiring aircraft and equipment for this purpose. My hon. Friend suggested that we should use regulations to control this business, but if it is the general intention of the House that this form of advertising should be prohibited, it is much better to say so and put the necessary provision on to the Statute Book than to have applications constantly turned down by the Administration.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)

What is the meaning of the words: Save for such purposes and in such manner as may be prescribed"? Does my right hon. Friend intend to allow a certain amount of this advertising?

Mr. Sandys

The intention of those words is to make it quite clear that the police, and agents of the police, and other public authorities which may require to use a helicopter for the control of traffic, and things of that kind, shall not be prevented from using aircraft for loud-hailing. What we have in mind as public purposes, and not advertising.

Mr. Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)

Will the saving words still permit what happened during the election campaign in Essex, namely, the appearance in the sky over my constituency of the words "Vote Mac"? Whether that was an advertisement for some form of wearing apparel I do not know, but can we be assured that it is not contemplated that the saving words shall permit that kind of advertising?

Mr. Sandys

That was not in my mind, but the hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones) has put it into my mind, and I shall have to study the point. The Clause is worded in such a way as to prevent the use of the sky for advertising, for commercial, political or any other purposes, while enabling aircraft to be used for public purposes where that is necessary.

So far as I know—although I may be wrong—at present there is no aircraft operating company whose sole business consists of aerial advertising. There are a few firms who carry on a certain amount of loud-hailing, sky-writing and banner-towing, but it is mostly done in and out with crop spraying, pleasure flights and other forms of flying. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) is not correct when he says that this is all going to happen overnight, the moment the Bill becomes law. As is the case with most of this type of legislation, the Bill provides that its various parts may be brought into operation at different times, by Statutory Instrument.

Although I am quite sure that it is right to scotch this kind of activity before it becomes an intolerable nuisance I do not wish unfairly to penalise those who are at present engaged in this business. I therefore propose to allow quite an appreciable interval to elapse before bringing the Clause into effect. This will give the firms concerned time to readjust their operations.

I will go further and say that before fixing the date for the coming into effect of Clause 7 I will consider any representations which those companies may wish to make. This will give them the opportunity of explaining their position to me.

With that assurance, I hope my hon. Friend will not press his Amendment.

Mr. Strauss

What does the Minister mean by "an appreciable time" before the Clause comes into operation? If he means a few months to allow these discussions to take place and to see that no sudden hardship comes to these firms, I do not think anybody would object to that. If he has in mind a number of years, such a decision would be regretted by all sections of the House. All we can do is to ask the Minister what sort of period he has in mind that should elapse before these regulations come into effect.

Mr. Sandys

I have no particular period in mind, but I am most anxious not to cause hardship or injustice to comparatively small firms. It is clear that the moment this provision gets on to the Statute Book no firm in the country will buy additional aircraft for this purpose, and it is clear that the firms engaged in this business will, as quickly as possible, adjust their activities into some other channel. It will therefore be a dying business from the moment this Bill gets on to the Statute Book. It will be from tonight no doubt also.

I do not want to cause hardship or injustice. At the moment, as we all know, it is not a nuisance. We are trying to forestall a nuisance before a lot of money and capital is invested in the business. It is much better to do this in advance. I therefore ask the House to leave me some latitude to try to apply this thing in a way which will cause the least hardship or distress to those who have been engaged in this perfectly legitimate business.

Mr. Page

With your leave, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and with the leave of the House, I should like to comment in a few sentences on what my right hon. Friend said.

He queried whether firms had invested in this type of business alone. Without mentioning the name of it, I assure him that one firm has invested £15,000 to £20,000 in this type of business alone. If he will bear that in mind in considering the time to be left to the firm to run that sum down and turn it to other work, I think that would meet the case.

In my view, my right hon. Friend is dead wrong in prohibiting this type of advertising and not merely controlling it, but I feel that I cannot carry the House with me on that. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment on the undertaking which my right hon. Friend has given.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Rippon

I beg to move, in page 9, line 30, to leave out from "Save" to "as" and to insert "in such circumstances."

This is a purely drafting Amendment designed to ensure that the Minister prescribes all the circumstances in which aerial advertising may be done, and not merely the purpose and manner, as it says at present.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Rippon

I beg to move, in page 9, line 46, at the end, to insert: and subsections (5) and (6) of section six of this Act shall apply to any offence under this subsection as they apply to any offence under that section. We discussed this Amendment earlier. I do not think there will be any opposition to it.

Amendment agreed to.