HL Deb 04 May 1922 vol 50 cc236-44

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a very modest measure. It is supported by the Scapa Society, the Royal Automobile Club, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the National Trust, and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. Before I explain its provisions, which I can do very shortly, it may be as well if I point out that, strangely enough, until quite recent times the eye, as compared with the other senses, has received no protection at the hands of the law, whereas the nose is protected against offensive odours, and the ear is protected against offensive noises. The result of this has been that the country, to a great extent, is covered with advertisements, many of them of an objectionable character; the view of the advertiser being, apparently, that the more incongruous the situation the greater will be the effect produced upon the public. I have often wondered what the traditional intelligent foreigner must have thought who, after a journey from Dover to London and passing these monstrosities, was told that not only was it impossible to forbid them, but that they were not even taxed.

I said that it was only in recent years that any attempt was made to cope with this evil, but fortunately the advertisers over-reached themselves by their own energy. When one enterprising gentleman put up a huge advertisement on Dover cliffs, and somebody else utilised the Nelson column, and a third person Edinburgh Castle, for an advertisement, the local patience was exhausted, and provisions were introduced into private Bills for the purpose of suppressing this nuisance. It was constantly the case, I believe, that in promoting private Bills a provision of this kind was introduced, but very frequently it was refused. After a considerable amount of work chiefly on the part of that excellent Society, the Scapa Society, and on the part of many public-spirited individuals, at last, in 1907, a Bill was passed, with the assistance of the Government of the day. That Bill contained a very important principle, because it laid down that the public, acting through their local authorities, had the right to protect scenery from defacement.

The 1907 Bill, I may observe, was mildness itself, being of an extremely limited character, and confined practically to the protection of public pleasure grounds, to the height of hoardings, and to cases where the natural beauty of the landscape was disfigured. However monstrous and objectionable advertisements might be, they obtained a new lease of life for five years, and there was no possibility of interfering with them. All that the present Bill does is slightly to increase the powers of local authorities and to enable them to exercise a more general control over the amenities of their streets and local landscapes. It is obvious that some extension of the 1907 Bill is required, because there is very little protection, at present, for the neighbourhood of a cathedral or church, or for the street which has architectural merits.

The Bill is not directed against advertisements as advertisements, but against advertisements which are in the wrong place. No sane person is opposed to advertisement in principle. In the present day it is a necessity for the purpose of enabling a person who wants to buy something to obtain the necessary information. What we contend is that advertisement is unreasonable when it is used as a weapon of offence, and consists, as it often does, of more or less inaccurate and mendacious statements repeated with wearisome iteration. I cannot imagine why anyone should be afraid of the present Bill. Urban councils, town councils, and county councils are the authorities under the Bill, and if they are prepared to act they have to submit their by-laws to the close scrutiny of the Home Office. My own fear is that the measure may not be sufficiently drastic and that there may be a large number of local authorities who will not take advantage of the Bill.

In the happy event of their doing so, the first thing to disappear will be, I imagine, what are known as "field boards." I understood that these field boards had no friends except those who are responsible for their erection, but to my surprise I found that they had powerful friends in this House. Last year Lord Askwith introduced a Bill somewhat similar to the measure I am now proposing and it was killed by the Lord Chancellor in the space of ten minutes by the ridicule he heaped upon the proposal to do away with field boards. I remember that the Lord Chancellor expressly denied the charge that he was a Philistine. His argument ran: "What is a field board? A gigantic bottle conveys nothing to me; neither does a sausage nor an elephant. I look upon it merely as a landmark which tells me how far I have advanced upon my journey." There is no doubt something to be said from the point of view of the traveller, but if the Lord Chancellor was condemned to live permanently in the neighbourhood of a bottle or a sausage he would regard these creations with somewhat different feelings.

The Bill was also opposed on more serious grounds by two pillars of industry, Lord Southwark and Lord Riddell, both of whom represented it as a most serious menace to the industries of the country. Lord Riddell made the interesting admission that he would be glad if this particular form of advertisement could be suppressed. He said newspapers were not in favour of it. I fancy my noble friend Lord Riddell must undergo many pangs, because I observe that his own organ is, perhaps, more extensively advertised than any other, and I should attach greater weight to these objections, and to the menace to our industries, if it had not been for the fact that many of these advertisements represented goods of foreign origin, and, before the war, frequently of German origin.

I do not know whether I am personally of a peculiar nature, but the effect that all these appeals produce on me is exactly the opposite to that which is intended. If these advertisements adhered more strictly to the truth I should have less objection to them, but they are frequently competitors in inaccuracy, and the impression they always leave upon me is such that if I had a chance I would infinitely prefer to buy some other commodity than that which is so advertised. There is a particular brand of whisky manufactured, I believe, by a gentleman who is a member of this House. I do not know whether he is present or not this afternoon, and perhaps what I am saying would not weigh very much with him. But in no circumstances, in view of his advertisements, would I ever drink his whisky if I could obtain anything else.

The fact is that we are slowly realising that these blatant advertisements do not produce the effect intended. There has been some discussion recently in The Times on this subject, and sonic of the more important firms, who have hitherto been conspicuous by their activity, have expressed the opinion that they are wasting their money. One firm which advertises very extensively, announced that they recognise that public feeling is against them, and the other day the representatives of Bovril, another extensively advertised commodity, stated that the firm did not approve the policy of spoiling country scenery. May I also say that the motor industry, represented by the Automobile Club, is supporting this Bill, and they have co-operated with the societies I have mentioned for the purpose of securing the abolition of the tyre advertisement which now covers the country. If it had not been for the obstinate opposition of one firm I believe that this advertisement would have disappeared altogether. It is becoming recognised that this is a waste of money, and when I hear these fears of impending disaster, I am reminded of the fact that in former days when I was a member of Parliament it was considered necessary to spend large sums of money for placards and pictures. I shudder when I think of all the atrocities which were perpetrated in my name. Now all that expenditure has disappeared, and nobody is any the worse for it. That is a point of view which is gaining ground.

On the other hand, advertisement is such an obsession at the present moment that anybody who presumes to criticise it is denounced as a hopeless reactionary. The spirit of the advertiser is well illustrated by a remark reported to have been made by a noble Lord at a function the other day, where, addressing his brother "boosters," he observed that the choice of the present Viceroy of India must be looked upon as a splendid advertisement for the town of Reading. There speaks the real spirit of the advertiser. Apparently, there is a reasonable prospect of our postage stamps being used for the purpose of advertisement, and we may contemplate the possibility of the Sovereign's head being in close juxtaposition with a quack remedy or something of that kind. We are also threatened with the placarding of lamp posts and the inside of post offices with advertisements. So many persons are obsessed with this passion for advertisement that I am convinced that there are any number who, if they had the chance, would plaster the dome of St. Paul's, Cleopatra's Needle, and anything else they could get hold of. I sometimes wonder that they do not suggest that the bald heads of their middle-aged friends should be utilised for the same purpose.

The obsession of advertisement has been carried to such a pitch that it is transferred from commodities to persons. I do not suppose that any commodity, or, so far as that goes, any person has been so extensively advertised as the present Prime Minister. There is literally nothing about that distinguished man that is unknown to us. We are supplied gratis with his biography; we see him, in the illustrated papers, in the recesses of his library; we see him gazing into graves, or romping with his children round Christmas trees, or planting potatoes. His only rival in publicity is that great journalistic hydra-headed rival whose doings are reported, no doubt at enormous expense, and the particulars of whose very meals are communicated to us across Continents and hemispheres.

The passion has even become international. A meeting of the Supreme Council is as much advertised as the movements of cinema artists on a holiday tour. We see these illustrious beings depart for the place of rendezvous; we see them represented in more or less unbecoming attitudes and clothes; we see photographs of them inculcating golf, probably on totally erroneous principles, and with fatal results upon the political career of at least one of the participators. The obsession of publicity on the part of many public men is so great that I am convinced there are a number of people who, if they were on their deathbeds, would arrange, if possible, to have massed brass bands beneath their windows in order to advertise the fact, unless they were forbidden by some local by-law.

All this, however, does not really concern us, and the kind of advertisement to which I have alluded appears in its proper place in the Press, where it has to be paid for by somebody. All that concerns us in this Bill is to give local authorities and the public the right of preserving the amenities of their streets and monuments, and, above all, those rural amenities which are one of the greatest assets of this country, more valuable here than in other countries on account of the overcrowded state of our land. I venture to repeat that there is nothing in this Bill to which any reasonable person could take exception, and I trust that I may obtain for it a Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Newton.)


My Lords, I have no wish to hinder this Bill in any way, nor is there any such desire on the part of the railway companies. Indeed, we have always wished to improve the landscape for those who travel in our trains, and we have shown the genuineness of our endeavours to embellish the country by the magnificent permanent ways which we have laid down through rural districts. There is one small Amendment, however, which I shall move in Committee, as to the effect of the Bill in the open stations of our lines, which might be to prevent the exhibition of time tables. This is such a small matter that I am sure the noble Lord will accept the Amendment when the right time comes.


My Lords, this is the third time within the last two years that this matter has been brought before the House in the form of a Bill coming up for Second Reading. Although hitherto no opposition has been evinced to the proposals of my noble friend, the debate on the last occasion, as he has already mentioned, did show that there is a very considerable difference of opinion in regard to the points at issue, and it must be considered that this subject is distinctly a controversial one. In these circumstances, and in view of the pressure of other matters upon their time and attention, and also of the fact that they certainly would not be able to give facilities for the passage of the Bill in another place, the Government do not feel that they are in position to give any undertaking either one way or another. We feel that before it would be possible to consider the question of lending assistance to a Bill of this nature, signs of a greater measure of agreement must be shown between those who support the Bill and those who oppose it.

Taking this particular Bill on its merits, even if there were no opposition to the principle of the measure, I may say that from a Departmental and administrative point of view there is considerable doubt whether the procedure which the Bill proposes to enact is the right method of dealing with this problem. It is true, as my noble friend has said, that the Bill does no more than extend the provisions of the Advertisements Regulation Act of 1907, and it adds the smaller urban district councils to the local authorities brought under that Act. In practice, however, it has been found in the administration of the Act of 1907 that the procedure of that Act presents many difficulties, and experience of the working of the Act suggests that this procedure is not the most suitable or effective means of dealing with this problem. From the Departmental and administrative standpoint, therefore, this Bill would not, in the opinion of my right honourable friend's Department, be so effective in furthering the cause which its promoters have in view as they may perhaps hope. At the same time, as I have said, the Government do not wish to take any part on one side or the other, and should my noble friend wish to proceed to a Division, the Government will leave the matter entirely in your Lordships' hands.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will give a Second Reading to this Bill. It is very different from the measure introduced last year and criticised by the Lord Chancellor. This Bill is extremely simple, and, whatever may be said about its procedure, it is difficult to see how anyone can seriously oppose the object which it has in view. That object may be gathered from the first clause of the Bill which gives power to local authorities— to make byelaws for regulating, restricting or preventing the exhibition of advertisements in such places, in such manner and by such means as to—

  1. (a) affect injuriously the amenities or disfigure the aspect of a town, village or street, or of any historic or public building or monument or any place frequented by the public on account of its beauty or historic interest; or
  2. (b) disfigure the aspect of landscape or interfere with the view of rural scenery from a road or railway, or from any public place or water."
No one can see the advertisements by which places of great beauty are often disfigured without thinking that this Bill has a most commendable object, and, in my view, that object could not be stated in simpler terms than in the clause to which I have just referred. I do not think that anybody can object to legislation for this purpose.

During the debate last year a good deal was said by some noble Lord about possibly interfering with the legitimate purposes of manufacture and trade. I cannot think that that is a sound argument. It has been said that you must tolerate tall chimneys and factories, because on them the industries of the country depend. I agree. We must submit to a certain loss of amenity in the interests, the substantial interests, of the country, but these advertisements are not in the interests of the country; they are merely put there for the purpose of puffing the wares in which the persons who put up the advertisements happen to be interested. I cannot see why any one is entitled to complain of not being allowed to disfigure the beauty spots of the country, or to disfigure some spot of historic interest in a town, by erecting these unsightly and unpleasant advertisements to which attention has been called.

I hope your Lordships will give a Second Reading to this Bill. It may be, as has been pointed out by the noble Earl who represents the Government, that the procedure is capable of improvement. If so, I am certain that that will be attended to in Committee, and that any reasonable improvement will be made. At the same time, the machinery is exceedingly simple and there is an appeal to Quarter Sessions in case the procedure is not complied with, and I assume that the promoters of the Bill will be ready to consider any other suggestions that can be made to make the procedure more effective and possibly more simple. For these reasons I hope that the Bill will receive the approval of this House.


My Lords, as I was responsible for the Bill of last year I may say that I did not divide the House upon it for three reasons. One was that the House was very empty at the time; another was that the Lord Chancellor made an extremely funny speech, which was perhaps the most sarcastic indictment of these advertisements that can be thought of; and the third was that the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, whose absence to-day we all regret, was unable to support it, although he is chairman of one of the principal societies concerned, because he considered that the terms of the Bill were rather too drastic. Those are the reasons why the Bill was withdrawn. This Bill is not nearly so drastic as mine was, and I support it as a matter of business. I do not think that any advertisement firms who carry on their business legitimately can be hurt by it.

I have received from a very large number of places in the country resolutions in favour of something being done. They state that places of resort, where tourists come to see beautiful scenery, meet with objection owing to the disfiguring advertisements which they have no power to put down, and they would like to have more simple means of dealing with these advertisements than exist at the present time under the Act of 1907. For that Act Lord Balfour of Burleigh was responsible. He was also responsible for a Bill brought in during the summer of the year that he died. I took up another Bill trying to amend his Bill, to bring it more into conformity with suggestions made by the Home Office. That Bill was withdrawn. Now Lord Newton has brought in a very innocuous Bill, which I think your Lordships should pass.

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