HL Deb 09 March 1905 vol 142 cc865-74


Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Bill which I shall ask your Lordships to read a second time to-day is not one of great complexity, nor is it very long or very difficult to understand, and, I think, I can promise your Lordships that I will put the main considerations which have induced me to move in the matter within such a compass as will not unduly trespass upon your Lordships' time and attention. But if I make that preface, I should not like to minimise the importance of the subject with which this Bill deals, because, in my humble opinion, it is a matter of very considerable and growing importance, and one which, if it is to be dealt with at all, had better be dealt with before it can be alleged that large vested interests have been created.

I start from the proposition that it is not only important, but of great public interest, to maintain both for the country and for the town the beauty and the symmetry of our outdoor life. I think it is not less true of the town than of the country, but country communities are not so easily organised. They are not so alive to their corporate interests, and I think that some of the erections which we see throughout the country would not have been so long endured if there had been an effective means of checking them. I aim in this Bill not only at the abatement of what I suggest is in some parts of the country a serious nuisance, but at preserving both the grace and the dignity of many of the most beautiful parts of our scenery both in town and country. I suggest that the time has come when there ought to be some control of the method of advertising even as it now exists. I think it ought to be undertaken both for town and country. Many urban communities have started upon this enterprise themselves for the preservation of the amenity of their area; many more have tried to do it. As I know from my experience last year in undertaking the private Bill work of your Lordships' House, it is one of the most common features of Bills promoted by municipal corporations to endeavour to get some control over the vagaries of advertisers, both in the matter of large and unsightly hoardings and in the matter of skysigns and flashing signals at night. I venture to suggest that this is rather too important a matter to be left to the separate initiative of the many hundreds of local authorities.

My suggestion is, and I believe that to this extent, at any rate, I shall have behind me not only the Home Office and the Local Government Board, but also the Irish Office and the Scottish Office, that if this thing is to be done at all the right way to proceed is to lay down a general law, and to give the local authorities power to administer that law within their area, always subject to the control of the various Government Departments which have to sanction the by-laws, so that while there may be a sufficient play for local feeling and local desires there shall be general control exercised by an authority which is amenable to Parliament itself. I disclaim at once any idea of harassing interference with a legitimate business.

I recognise that advertising within limits is a necessity of the circumstances in which we live. I do not think it would be possible, even if I or those for whom I am acting were enthusiastic enough to desire it, to altogether put down that which, in my opinion, is very much overdone, and which does not produce such great advantages as many people seem to suppose.

I frankly admit that all advertisements are not bad, and that some are necessary; but what I do submit to your Lordships is that those which are objectionable, should be controlled even in the interests of the other class that are not themselves objectionable. I think there is a widespread desire for some power of control over these advertisements. I do not think any of your Lordships can have been up the river Thames in the summer or along many of our great railways, or, indeed, have walked about almost any large city or have gone to some of the most important health resorts, without seeing large placards which are in themselves extremely unsightly, and which deprive many people of a great deal of the pleasure they would otherwise obtain by looking at the scenery round them. There was the case of the cliffs at Dover, which were extensively used for advertising some preparation more or less useless. Dover has been successful in obtaining a power of control and there the nuisance has been abated. I understand that in the neighbouring town of Folkestone, though in this matter I do not speak from actual personal knowledge, they have not been so successful in abating what is felt there to be a very serious disfigurement of the cliffs around the town. I note also that the City of Edinburgh has been successful in its efforts to preserve the amenity of the city, and I believe there is also a clause which gives the neighbouring city of Glasgow control over advertisers. But what I want to suggest to your Lordships is that the right way of effecting the object which, I believe, very many persons have in view, is for Parliament to lay down once for all general principles and to allow the localities to administer them.

Perhaps it would not be unduly wearying your Lordships if I tate the exact circumstances of what occurred in the City of Edinburgh. It is no doubt in some respects a special case, but it is only typical of many others. I venture to think there is no city in the country which is more vulnerable to attacks of this kind than the city of Edinburgh. The Corporation have obtained complete control over the sites where any advertisements may be put. They have had it for five years, and I have not heard that any real injury has been done to the business of the city in consequence. But let me tell your Lordships of the circumstances as they occurred. About six or seven years ago, possibly eight years ago, there was beyond all question a systematicand deliberate attempt to exploit the City of Edinburgh for advertising purposes. It was attempted to be done upon a large scale. It was chiefly to be done for the benefit, of parties outside the city, and, therefore, on the part of people who had no interest whatever in the preservation of the amenity of Edinburgh, but interested only in turning it to account in so far as they could get a good advertisement for the wares which they wanted to dispose of. And apart from the fact that Edinburgh, having a large number of inhabitants, is therefore a useful place for advertising, it is a place visited by an immense number of travellers throughout great parts of the year, and it was, therefore, thought to be a particularly attractive place for this form of advertising.

The first attempt to get protection in Edinburgh was in 1896, just after the first attack which I have mentioned began to be developed, and a Bill was promoted in that year by the Corporation of Edinburgh. This proposed restriction was struck out by the Committee of the other House of Parliament, and one of the members of the Committee—he represented an English constituency, by the way—publicly gave the reason. He said he objected to any such restrictions on the general ground that in his district these advertisements were looked upon as an ornament and were the art galleries of his constituents, besides promoting business. Of course, there are towns and towns, but it was almost the unanimous opinion of the people of Edinburgh that this was a form of art gallery which they did not desire to have imposed upon them; nor did they think that the promotion of the business of outside persons was of sufficient importance that their city should be disfigured in its interests. The case for restriction was made even stronger by what happened in 1897, and I would venture to quote, in the words of the report of the town clerk of the City of Edinburgh to the town council, exactly what happened. In November, 1897, a company that deals in an article called Bovril acquired the option of a lease for some property which overlooked Princes Street, and the Mound, and they proposed, having acquired that property, to place upon it a number of illuminated signs. A public outcry was not unnaturally raised, and remonstrances were addressed to the company by the Lord Provost and others. The company, I am bound to say, with a courtesy which deserves the thanks of the community, delayed the operations until they ascertained the feelings of the citizens in the matter. Within a day or two they acknowledged that they had received so many protests that they abandoned their proposal. In intimating their decision they said— We are without any doubt convinced that the views of the people of Edinburgh are distinctly against the erection of illuminated signs as contemplated, and we accordingly, give way before the evidence yon put before us. But they went on to say that they would be sorry if their sacrifice on this point led to their missing a chance which might be utilised by their competitors. They pointed out that two years previously they refrained from erecting a sign at the back of the High Street, but that some less scrupulous person had subsequently erected a sign in that locality. As I have said, since that time a power of control has been obtained over the sites where advertisements may be put, the amenity of Edinburgh has been saved, and I have not heard that any injustice or hardship has been inflicted upon any of those concerned.

My suggestion, therefore, is this, that there is a case for control on the general principle that the amenity of a district is the property of its inhabitants as a whole, and that it is not fair, certainly very much less than fair, that those who have no interest in a locality should have an unrestrained power to put up anything they like there, however offensive it may be. I am aware that some objection may be raised that these advertisements are paid for, and may be a valuable interest to the owner or occupier of the property. I suggest that that is only one side of the question. They may also be a great detriment to the owner of adjoining property. At any rate, it is a fair question of discussion upon which side the balance of advantage or disadvantage lies, and I suggest that the proper persons to decide that question, subject to general law and general conditions, are the local authority of the district concerned. A friend of mine suggested that if these advertisements along railways are to be removed there might be a use found for them. I commend the suggestion to the noble Earl who leads the Opposition in this House, because I am sure he would be interested in it. They are not very sightly where they are. I do not know that they would be sightly anywhere; but if they were moved and made signs upon those fences on which there is barbed wire, during the winter they might give a valuable warning to that large class of persons interested in foxhunting who I understand suffer in certain districts from the infliction of barbed wire. I throw that out as a suggestion, and perhaps it may get for me a certain amount of support for this Bill.

As I have said, the object in view is to give a power to the local authority to regulate these advertisements and to control them. I do not refer to the contents of the advertisements. The contents of advertisements in so far as they are indecent or otherwise objectionable are already controlled under the general law. I do not propose to give the local authority any additional power in those matters. In the second clause of the Bill you will see that there are five subsections. The first of those sub-sections gives power of control in cases of dazzling light and the use of pavements for pictorial advertisements, and the scattering of advertisement papers about the town or country; the second sub-section gives power to regulate the height of the hoarding; and the third deals more particularly with the places where advertisements may be placed. The fourth and fifth sub-sections give power to draw up by-laws for the enforcement of the provisions of the Bill and the removal of those advertisements which may be now existing after a certain period of grace has been given. The third clause of the Bill deals with the sanctioning authority, and the fourth and fifth clauses define what local authorities are meant in the different parts of the United Kingdom.

Your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that since I introduced this Bill I have been the recipient of a certain number of communications from those who are interested in maintaining the existing state of matters. Some of those communications are not particularly worthy of notice, but others of them undoubtedly proceed from substantial corporations who have a real interest in maintaining the right of advertising, and who, I am prepared to believe, in the main exercise their functions in a reasonable and proper spirit. I have been asked to meet them and to discuss the terms of the Bill with those who are interested in the matter. That, as a matter of course, I shall be glad to do, and have said so to them; but I venture to suggest that objections in regard to detail ought not at this moment to prevail against, the Second Reading, because, as I suggest to your Lordships, this is a great and important public reform which has been already too long delayed. Although it may be a sanguine hope, I hope that those who do not want to abuse the right of advertising, but only to use it properly, will join in passing a reasonable Bill which, while strengthening their position, will help us to abate what is a very serious and growing evil. I beg to move the Second Reading of the Bill.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(Lord Balfour of Burleigh.)


My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that it is desirable to give local authorities power to make by-laws respecting the exhibition of advertisements. I think everyone will be of opinion that it is undesirable that private individuals should exercise the power they at present do of going about the country sticking up advertisements wherever they choose without the consent of the owner or occupier; and simply for their own private purposes. To that, extent, at all events, I imagine the noble Lord will receive unanimous support. But is he quite certain that the term advertisement, of which there is no definition in the Bill, covers all that he means to include? For instance, is he quite certain that it includes all kinds of hand-bills? I merely throw that out as a matter for the noble Lord to consider. I may say that in the Local Government Acts power was given to county councils to make by-laws with regard to nuisances. There then came the question, what was a nuisance? Several county councils, notably some in Scotland, did make by-laws for this purpose, and I understand that by a decision of the Court of Session it was held that the county councils had acted ultra vires, presumably, I imagine, because such advertisements were not held to fall within the term nuisance. At all events, I think some extension in the direction which the noble Lord has proposed is a matter very much to be desired

I quite agree that county councils and local authorities ought to have power with regard to the area within their own jurisdiction. The noble Lord, in the instances he gave, dealt chiefly with the city of Edinburgh. In this matter large towns differ very considerably from country districts, and it may be expedient to give to corporations of towns powers of dealing with such a nuisance, for instance, as that which he referred to—the proposed advertisement facing Princes Street and the Mound in Edinburgh. It was right and proper that such a proceeding as that should be made impossible, but when you come to the country other considerations come into force. I quite agree that in the country, too, no one ought to have a right to put up advertisements without the consent, at all events, of the occupier, and possibly of the owner. But when you go further and say that the local authority may pass a by-law making it impossible to put up an advertisement in a place which is not in any way a public place or near a public place, as, for instance, in the case which was given of the London and North Western Railway, I think the matter deserves serious consideration.

It is not very interesting, when travelling on a railway, to pass a series of "Carter's Little Liver Pills" and "Beecham's Pills," and other advertisements of that sort, which suggest in different degrees various imperfections of human nature; but at the same time there is another side to it. The persons who own these fields get a certain amount of money for these advertisements, and it is a matter for consideration how far it is just to say that a public authority may pass a by-law declaring that a private individual is not at liberty to set up in his field an advertisement which is not near a public place and which is presumably of value to him. Those are the only remarks I have to make with regard to the Bill. I have no desire at all to offer any opposition to the Second Reading, but I think these matters will have to be considered in Committee. I would once again repeat that I think there is a distinction to be drawn between corporations of towns and local authorities in the country, where the nuisance of advertisements is not, of course, so great.


My Lords, as representing the Home Office, the House will expect mo to say a few words with regard to this Bill, because in England, at any rate, the Home Secretary has the power of assenting to these by-laws. I think the House will have listened with great interest and considerable sympathy to the case which my noble friend made out for the introduction of the Bill. Every one of us must have been struck by the hideous erections which are put up in town and country for the purpose of advertising goods, and I think there is a very general feeling that it is desirable that there should be some regulation and control over the constantly increasing advertisements of this kind. The noble Lord, undoubtedly, made out a strong case for the large boroughs, which have in many cases themselves taken powers to control the increase of advertising mediums within their areas. But I think if this Bill is to contain, as it does at present, powers to prevent the disfigurement of the natural beauty of a landscape, it is equally necessary that other local authorities besides the authorities over large boroughs should have this power. It is obvious that county councils would not be inclined to go to Parliament for the purpose of securing power to put a stop to advertisements disfiguring the natural beauty of the landscape at different places within their area unless it came to be a very grave scandal indeed.

The question to which the noble Earl has just referred, as to how far powers should be given under this Act with regard to districts where there is no population and no particular natural beauty which might be disfigured, is one for Committee; but I think it is obvious that a general Act is desirable, and I have to say on behalf of the Home Office that His Majesty's Government have no objection to the Second Reading of this Bill. But I must guard myself by saying that there are many matters, such, for instance, as those which were touched upon by the noble Earl who spoke last, which will require very careful consideration at the hands of the Government before the Bill is dealt with in Committee. With regard to the question raised by the noble Earl opposite as to what constitutes a nuisance, county councils have power already in the matter of certain nuisances which are specified, and many county councils have made by-laws which have been approved by the Home Secretary; but I doubt very much whether these advertisements would come under any by-laws which it would be possible to make without further legislation. If the Bill is read a second time to-night, I hope the noble Lord will allow a sufficient interval for the consideration of these various points before putting it down for the Committee stage.


My Lords, I need hardly say that if the House is good enough to give the Bill a Second Reading I will allow full time for negotiations with those who think their interests are affected, and will not put down the Committee stage without communicating with the noble Lord who represents the Home Office and making sure that the date is convenient to him.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.