HL Deb 24 June 1920 vol 40 cc786-92

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I rise to move the Second Reading of this Bill, and I will give your Lordships a very short explanation of its objects and provisions. It is a Bill to amend and extend the Advertisements Regulation Act, 1907, which I had the honour of presenting to this House, and which was then passed. The experience of the last thirteen years has shown that the provisons of that Act fell short in some respects of important requirements. The main provision of this Bill is to enable by-laws to be made for regulating, restricting, or preventing advertisements in places where they affect injuriously the amenities of a public park or pleasure promenade or disfigure the natural beauty of a landscape. It was originally understood that a difficulty could easily be raised as to what constituted a landscape and whether a particular landscape had natural beauty deserving of protection. And, in addition, the Act of 1907 gives no protection to towns or villages.

The desire for the regulation of advertisements is no new thing, and, as far as I am concerned, I think that advertisements, as now being put forward, are growing in offensiveness, and that it is high time that very considerable restriction was put upon them. The first Act which dealt with this matter and gave any protection against offences of the kind was passed as long ago as 1891 at the instance of the London County Council. The Preamble of that Act stated that it was "for the prevention of unsightly erections." All new sky signs were prohibited, and existing signs were regulated and allowed to be continued only under licence for limited periods. Those periods have all now expired. The same provisions are applicable throughout the country by the Public Health Act, 1907, and this legislation has, I think, been productive of immense good to the community. But for it the aspect of our cities, by displays of advertisements of a competitive kind, would have been far worse than it now is. The advertiser, however—I do not blame him from his own point of view—takes every advantage of his freedom below the sky line. He is ruthless in spoiling the charm of public landscapes and of old country towns and villages, and even in destroying our architectural effects. Edinburgh, Dover, and some other places have obtained by private Acts much more efficient protection than is given either in the Act of 1891 or in the General Act of 1907.

I do not want to go too far. I admit quite frankly that advertising within reason—for example, the names and businesses of traders in the streets—is a necessity of modern life. But I think it should be subject to regulations so as to provide a sufficiency of publicity without offence to the eyes of the majority. No complaint is made of the names of traders and the description of their businesses being exhibited on their premises in legible characters of moderate size, but some of the extravagances which seem, in my humble opinion, to require Parliamentary interference are such as these:—Moving and flashlight advertisements; advertisements in fields along railways; huge motor advertisements at the entrances of towns and villages; large picture or letter advertisements on blank walls; and large letters and devices defacing the architectural aspect of houses and streets. I suggest to your Lordships that moving and flashlight advertisements are universally condemned by public taste, and much electricity, and therefore much coal, is wasted upon their production. They are designed and placed so as not merely to inform but to force attention, whether you want them or not. They abound in all our crowded thoroughfares at night, and, so to speak, every eye is hit as you go along from place to place.

The field advertisements along the side of railways are, in my opinion, especially offensive. You cannot look out of the windows of a railway carriage when you are going through a country, however beautiful, and avoid these advertisements. There are also the advertisements of motors, tyres, and oils, in and near villages, which, it seems to me, are quite unduly offensive, and they must be very expensive to their owners. I have been in communi- cation with an association which tries to regulate these matters, and it has been informed by many important firms that they would much prefer not to have to put up these advertisements, but they must do so in order to keep pace with their rivals. Many of them, I am sure, would welcome reasonable regulation.

Then the use of blank walls in full view of thoroughfares for glaring advertisements seems to me another quite needless offence. I give an instance which you can verify for yourselves on any day. If you stand on the parapet on the north side of Trafalgar-square looking down to Whitehall and Westminster (a prospect which Ruskin thought one of the finest in the country) the eye is met by a flaunting coloured advertisement on a blank wall in the middle distance. It is to my mind quite a needless and offensive advertisement, but I shall not give it any publicity by saying what it is intended to tell—I leave that to your Lordships to go and look at it for yourselves. The following is a quotation from a letter from a resident at Richmond— Just at the moment we are much exercised by a dreadful advertisement that has appeared on the side of a house in glaring colours which can be seen by everyone coming down Richmond Hill. In all this class of cases the advertisements are displayed, not on the premises of the trader himself, but on land or building hired for the occasion, and one question which this Bill raises for the discussion of Parliament is whether a person is justified in letting his premises to enable another to make assaults of this kind on the eyes of an unwilling majority. I contend that the public are entitled to be protected from aggravating assaults of this kind. They ought to be able to enjoy walks and drives in the country without having their thoughts diverted to traders' wares, and to have restored to them the architectural beauties of old towns and villages.

So much on the general question. So far as this Bill is concerned it does not repeal the General Act, but it goes to some extent to supersede it and to give much more general protection than is given now. It must, however, be clearly proclaimed that the whole point of this Bill is to leave the matter to local authorities, as representing local public opinion, and that the powers will not be exercised otherwise than in accordance with that opinion. We believe that public opinion would welcome an Act of the kind, prohibiting moving or flashlight advertisements throughout the whole country, but the Bill leaves even that matter to the taste and discretion of the local authority. It provides that all advertisements on lands and buildings shall be subject to regulation by by-law, except those of the Government and the local authority, and power is given, not only to regulate, but to prohibit those which do not relate to the premises where they are exhibited.

By Clause 1 it is proposed to give five years' grace to advertisements already exhibited at the passing of this Bill, if it passes, and one year's law to those erected after the passing of the Bill, but before the by-laws come into operation. Local authorities, while prohibiting "alien" advertisements, may provide special hoardings for them at suitable places. Clause 4 is important. It deals with repulsive and indecent advertisements. Any one who will read it will see how easy it is to be understood. It is not a simple matter to deal with such cases. To some extent it must depend on the personal opinion of the complainant and of the magistrate. But I can assure your Lordships that considerable difficulty has been experienced in obtaining convictions under the Indecent Advertisements Act, 1889, the actual offender often conducting his operations by night; and the idea which underlies Clause 5 of the Bill is that the person under whose presumed authority the thing is done is made liable. I ask your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading.

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


My Lords, the noble Lord's main object in this Bill—namely, to prevent advertisements which are an eye-sore to the general public and interfere with the amenities of a district—cannot fail to have the sympathy of every one. The practical effect, however, of the noble Lord's proposals, as they are set out in this Bill, would be to substitute very much more extensive powers for those conferred on local authorities by the Act of 1907. That Act authorises local authorities to make by-laws for the control of hoardings over 12ft. high, and also to control advertisements affecting the amenities of a public park, or which disfigure a landscape. The number of local authorities who have made by-laws is comparatively small—twenty four counties, twenty-five boroughs, and twenty-four urban districts. I think that much more could be done to deal with disfiguring advertisements if local authorities would make fuller use of their powers, but the noble Lord urges that these powers are too limited.

I may say at once that my right hon. friend would welcome reasonable proposals for extending the existing law in any direction in which it is shown that wider powers are required for preserving the amenities of districts and preventing the disfigurement of objects and scenes of natural beauty. But I think the Bill before your Lordships' House goes rather further than this. Thus: Clause 1 gives a local authority power to regulate all kinds of advertisements on lands and buildings, and to prohibit all kinds of advertisements, except those exhibited wholly for the benefit of the occupier of the building on which they are placed. The power of regulation would include power to prescribe the size of the advertisements, the size, colour, and material of the letters, the size of the hoarding or boards, etc., on which they are exhibited This would probably entail widely varying regulations in different localities. It is true that all regulations would require the approval of the Home Office, but if the Statute gave express power to local authorities to exercise their individual discretion as to size, etc., it would be impossible for the Home Office to bring about any kind of uniformity. Some local authorities might prohibit almost every kind of advertisement; others might make no regulations; and others, again, might make detailed regulations as to size and colour, etc., and these regulations would vary from time to time in different places. The difficulties which such a position would cause to the firms who advertise throughout all parts of the country are I think, apparent.

Moreover, there is nothing in the Bill to indicate the principles on which local authorities are to proceed in framing regulations. Under Section 2 (2) of the Act of 1907 by-laws can only be made with regard to advertisements exhibited in such a manner "as to affect injuriously the amenities of a public park or pleasure promenade or to disfigure the natural beauty of a landscape." There is no such limit to regulations under this Bill, and it would be open to a local authority to use the powers not merely for preventing the disfigurement of their district, but for any other purpose.

The object of Clause 4, which deals with advertisements of a "repulsive or demoralising character," is one which must command general sympathy, but the difficulty of effecting this object by legislative enactment is considerable. The question whether an advertisement is repulsive or not is one on which tastes and opinion may differ widely, and a Court of Law would have great difficulty in determining the meaning of the word "repulsive," for what is repulsive to one man may not be repulsive to another, and there is no common standard which could be applied.

I fear that there are many difficulties involved in the Bill as it stands, and it is bound to excite strong opposition in certain quarters. In these circumstances the Government regret that they are unable to support the Bill in its present form or promise any facilities. But I can assure the noble Lord that the Government are in entire sympathy with the desire to prevent advertisements which are an eyesore to the general public and interfere with the amenities of a district; and if I might venture to make a proposal—a proposal which I think was made to promoters of a similar Bill in 1913—I would with great respect suggest that the noble Lord might confer with my right hon. friend's Department with a view to the drafting of a Bill which it would be possible for His Majesty's Government to support, and to give facilities to the noble Lord to pass into law. If the suggestion I have ventured to make should by chalice find favour with the noble Lord, I should be very glad to place myself entirely at his disposal.


My Lords, I have, of course, no criticism to make upon the reception which the noble Lord has given to the Bill. He welcomes it by saying that he has no objections on general principle, but his criticisms on the clauses were of some importance. I was glad to hear his suggestion of further conference with an authority on the matter like the Home Office. So far as I personally am concerned I gladly accept that; and if the House will give the Bill a Second Reading to-night—which I think would be the convenient course—I will undertake not to put it down for a further stage until full opportunity has been given to the Government Department concerned for conference with those who are promoting the Bill.


If that course would suit the noble Lord, I think it would be the best one to follow.

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