HL Deb 08 May 1923 vol 54 cc8-20

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill I may remind the House that it is the third time in the last three Sessions that this Bill has appeared upon the Paper In the first instance, when the Bill was introduced by my noble friend Lord Askwith, it was overwhelmed with ridicule by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Birkenhead, and perished in consequence. The noble and learned Earl proved satisfactorily—and I think it is the highest testimony I can give to his powers as an advocate—that objects such as card-board pigs, sausages and even bottles were not only not offensive in themselves, but were actually rather an aid to scenery, and served as convenient landmarks on journeys, say, from Liverpool to London.

The third Bill, which I am introducing to-day, is an even more modest measure than its two predecessors, and I would draw special attention to the fact that it has actually received the approval of the London Chamber of Commerce. In those circumstances I find it very difficult to believe that there will be anybody who will offer any resistance to it. I think it ought to pass more or less as an agreed measure. Its main object is to preserve, if possible, the rural scenery of this country. In order to avoid opposition, we have on this occasion practically left the towns alone, except those which are frequented solely or chiefly on account of their beauty or historic interest.

There are only two towns. I believe, which have powers to deal with nuisances of this character—namely, Dover and Edinburgh. So far as I know, there is nothing in the law which would prevent an enterprising tradesman in the neighbourhood of Canterbury Cathedral or York Minister, or any historic building, disfiguring and vulgarising the place with some bare advertisements of his own wares. This Bill provides for a contingency of that nature. There has been lately considerable discussion with regard to what is described as the art of hoardings, and I observe a tendency on the part of many people to make out that these posters which appear on hoardings are very much better than they are in reality. I am not going to dispute the fact that there has been great improvement, and that there are certain posters which even occasionally merit our admiration. On the other hand, it must be admitted that a very great number of these posters are not only extremely vulgar but occasionally verge on indecency, and the only defence to abject surrender to vulgarity and ugliness is that it is good for trade. I dare say it is good for trade.

I dare say it would be an excellent thing for trade if Hyde Park were delivered over to these people. No doubt considerable revenue could be derived from that. I dare say also that, it would be an excellent thing for trade if Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral were converted into offices. No doubt a large sum of money could be derived in that way. The answer to all this is that money is not everything, and that there are certain monuments and buildings in this country which we would not part with in any circumstances. Not all the gold and dollars of America could buy from us Westminister Abbey or St. Paul's. I may also say in connection with this point—to take a small instance, but one which is extremely creditable—that my noble friend Lord Desborough, who administers with so much efficiency the Thames Conservancy, has always refused to be tempted by offers to plaster the locks on the Thames with those advertisements with which we are so painfully familiar.

However much we may deprecate the disfigurement of architecture and the disfigurement of streets, I think there is no doubt that the general public is far more appreciative of landscape than it is of architecture, and the person who will be comparatively unmoved by atrocities perpetrated in a town will occasionally show great indignation if he finds a landscape disfigured by advertisements of this character It is for that reason that this particular Bill deals chiefly with advertisements in the country. I think everybody will be ready to admit that here we have a very strong case. If anybody doubts it I would suggest his making a short expedition from London in whatever direction he pleases. Should he wish to sec this process in full operation he should select the Bath Road. Anyone proceeding along that road will find at every couple of hundred yards huge advertisements recommending gripe water, whatever that may be; and at more frequent intervals he will see plates covered with the Union Jack and bearing upon them the mystic letters " B.P." For a long time I was under the delusion that these mystic letters had a remote reference to General Sir Robert Baden-Powell, but they appear to be an advertisement of a motor spirit, of which I personally am not going to make any use whatsoever. This particular motor spirit, with the Union Jack and the letters B.P., is the most ubiquitous offender and is to be found in every part of the country. You cannot go into a single road without this advertisement staring you in the face.

But to return to the Bath Road. In the much frequented portion between Hounslow and Staines not only are there all the usual monstrosities, but they are actually turning it in some places into a sort of corridor. Hoardings erected on each side of the road are covered with advertisements; and you might just as well be in the Tube or the Underground Railway for all that you can see of the country. It is astonishing to me that the Middlesex County Council, which I believe is the responsible authority, should allow this state of things to continue. I can only explain it by the fact that the Act which I am seeking to amend is defective. The present Bill will put it right.

We are confronted with these atrocities wherever we go. I would put it to any oil Lord, or soap Lord, or whisky Lord or any beer Lord, who happens to be here to-day: Is any real good done by persistently flaunting these things before us? I am, I believe, an ordinarily constituted individual, and the effect upon me is the precise opposite of what is intended. When I am confronted with these various inducements my inclination is at once, at all costs, to buy something else and not to avail myself of these numerous invitations. I should not so much object to them if they adhered to the truth, but they are obviously of a clearly mendacious character, because you have an enormous number of people all booming the same commodity and claiming that their own particular production is the best, which is, as Euclid would say, obviously absurd and impossible.

There is no hostility on my part, or on the part of anybody else, to advertising in itself. Advertising is a thing which we cannot do without, and as long as it is confined to a statement of facts it is of assistance to everybody. There is nothing objectionable about posters in the right place. There is nothing objectionable about posters in railway stations and in tubes and certain places in the City, but they are most objectionable in the country. The place where advertising ought to be carried on is in the columns of the Press, and, speaking for myself, an advertisement worded in ordinary common-sense language, would make a greater appeal than any number of these flaunting and glaring posters which I encounter when I go out. Everybody will agree that the last place where these things ought to be tolerated is in the country.

May I quote a sentence from an admirable article in The Times which appeared to-day. It states that if Parliament and the local authorities do their share of the necessary work those who fly to it [the country] from the towns will no longer find it full of the very things from which they most wished to escape. That clearly expresses the general feeling with regard to advertisements in the country. By way of illustration as showing how far this plague has gone, may I say that in Palestine, where they are now enjoying the blessings of European civilisation, the High Commissioner, Sir Herbert Samuel, has been obliged to forbid all advertisements unless under Government authority; otherwise, the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane, and the sacred places we all know, would be covered with advertisements by now:

There is only one new feature in the present Bill to which I will allude, and that is in Clause 2. Clause 2 deals with smoke advertisements. I remember that last year when I introduced this Bill the, noble and learned Lord, Lord Buck-master, expressed the opinion that if these advertisers had their way they would paint the rainbow. That statement was received with a certain amount of derision, but Lord Buckmaster proved to be an extremely accurate prophet, because, within a few days of that statement being made, the Daily Mail burst upon an astonished and disgusted world with their smoke advertisements in the sky. We suffer quite enough from the Daily Mail on earth without being plagued by it from heaven. The only good thing I know to the credit of that blatant organ is that it once had to pay me £5,000 for aspersing my character. I have sometimes wished, when in financial straits, that they would renew their attack upon me.

The sky is already sufficiently polluted by atmospheric pollution without adding to it the fumes of the Daily Mail, and the prospect of the noble Viscount, Lord Rothermere, bawling and shouting across the sky, not in letters of fire, but in letters of smoke: "Hats off to France," or "Business as Usual," or "Bonar Law must go because he will not do what I want," is a prospect which no reasonable being could tolerate for a minute. When this Bill was in preparation a gentleman who represents the advertising interests came to the promoters of the measure and said: " For Heaven's sake, stop this awful Daily Mail stunt. It is most horribly expensive; it costs millions, and they have millions at their back and we cannot afford it. Whatever you do put an end to that." I think I shall have universal sympathy with regard to this particular provision of the Bill unless, strange to say, the Daily Mail has admirers in this House.

That is all I have to say. The Bill deals mainly with the disfigurement of the country. Our country is small and very densely populated, and there is, therefore, all the more reason for preserving its amenities. On the whole the Bill is a measure to which no reasonable person can object, and I feel some confidence that it will have an easy passage in this House.

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


My Lords, it is with great pleasure that on this occasion I have to say that I am a supporter of the noble Lord's measure. On other occasions, with the assistance of the noble and learned Earl, Lord Birkenhead, it has been, shall I say, my sorrowful duty to oppose. The whole House will agree that the noble Lord has delivered most interesting and amusing speeches on this subject and if the Bill goes through we shall be deprived of the pleasure of hearing any further speeches from him on this topic. I have no doubt, however, that he will burst out in a new-direction and that we shall listen to him again with great pleasure.

The Bill in its present form shows the wisdom and necessity of the opposition of the noble and learned Earl and myself. If you will look at this Bill and that of 1922, you will find that all the objectionable matters have been erased, and that this Bill contains everything that will be approved by business men and by chambers of commerce. In fact, as the noble Lord said just now, this is a most modest Bill. It is also most practical, and will be approved generally. I do not wish, therefore, to waste the time of the. House, but will merely say that this is an agreed Bill. Perhaps the noble Lord knew that a little wisdom and discretion had to be shown, and that before introducing this Bill to the House again some concessions ought to be made. They have now been made; the matter has been fully discussed, and agreement has been reached; so that I am in a position to say that this Bill is approved by chambers of commerce and business men, whereas the other Bill would have been regarded as most disastrous. I think business men will be pleased to notice the alteration in the tone of the noble Lord's references to advertisements. If you read the speeches delivered at the Royal Academy the other day, you will realise that high-class advertisements may be an education. Possibly this fact has come home to the noble Lord, and that that is the reason why he is to-day such an enthusiastic supporter of high-class advertisements.


My Lords, after what has been said by the two noble Lords who have spoken, I do not think there is very much for me to say. Of course, the Government will not oppose this Bill, which has received the support of everybody concerned. The noble Lord said that this is the third time a Bill dealing with this matter has been introduced. I thought it was the fourth time; I thought that he had introduced three Bills and another noble Lord one. At any rate, the Government will not oppose such a Bill. At the same time, I would remind my noble friend that the state of business in another place is somewhat congested, and in what I have said I should not like it to be thought that I was giving any undertaking that the Government would afford any facilities for passing the Bill into law this Session.

There is one point of detail which I should like to mention. I refer to the question of procedure. The procedure under the Bill is by means of by-laws, to be enacted subject to the approval of the Home Secretary and to the Act of 1907. As I think I have suggested on previous occasions when a similar Bill was before your Lordships' House, this procedure by by-law is somewhat cumbersome and difficult. It is not easy to frame by-laws to cover every eventuality. If you wish to prevent advertisements from disfiguring a landscape, as the noble Lord proposes, it is rather hard to frame a by-law which will exclude those advertisements which are a disfigurement and not exclude small advertisements which nobody would wish to be excluded and which would not disfigure the landscape in any way. It is a difficult procedure. There is another point. Some advertisements, as the noble Lord said, are not offensive, while others are very offensive in certain places. To frame a by-law to cover both would be very difficult. I mention this matter so that the noble Lord may give it his attention, if he desires to do so, before the Bill proceeds to another stage. I have nothing further to say on the matter, and I trust that the Bill will receive generally the support which your Lordships are good enough to give it.


My Lords, I welcome this Bill very heartily. I welcomed the more extensive Bill, and I think I should welcome a Bill even more extended than that. I regret a little the attitude of the Government. The noble Earl has told us that they have no intention of opposing this Bill. I am sure that the Government will not think that I mean any disrespect to them if I say that if they were to oppose it in this House I do not think it would make any difference; the Bill would be carried just the same. Then what is the effect of the noble Earl's benevolent neutrality? It really does nothing at all except save us from the trouble of going through a Division here. It is not going to make any difference in another place, and the noble Earl has not promised any assistance there. But if the Government really wish this Bill well, I think they might have given us a little more encouragement, because, after all, this Bill would make very little difference to the business of the House of Commons. It might at any rate have a chance. It would not take half an hour to introduce, and the House of Commons would at least have an opportunity of considering one of those measures which from time to time pass through this House by overwhelming majorities and then perish miserably in the cold passage between this House and another place. I wish very much that it were possible to secure that Bills which passed this House had some opportunity of being considered elsewhere.

May I say further that I should like to see additional powers given to restrict the character of these advertisements? I remember quite well, when the Bill establishing the Ministry of Health was before this House, urging very strongly indeed that special provisions should be introduced to deal with advertisements of patent medicines. A Commission had been sitting upon this matter and had found that in many cases these medicines were absolutely deleterious and were being recommended by statements that could be justified in a court of law only upon the ground that they formed part of an advertisement. Apparently, if you only advertise you may tell what lies you like, and induce people to buy your medicines or other goods by whatever false statements you please, because the courts, having regard, I suppose, to the weaknesses of commercial humanity, say that this is nothing but a form of "puff" which cannot be the subject of legal proceedings.

None the less, such advertisements ought to be the subject of control, and I should have thought that such a provision might well be introduced into this Bill. When I urged this point on the other Bill, I was told that the Minister of Health would do wonders as soon as he was installed in power. I have not been able to discover any wonderful developments in the direction of controlling these advertisements. I wish this Bill all success, and I hope that the Government will see whether it is possible to take a little more interest in the matter than they are taking at present, and give it an opportunity of becoming an effective Act of Parliament.


My Lords, I quite understand that at the present stage my noble friend Lord Onslow finds it impossible to give anything in the nature of a pledge as to what shall happen to this Bill in another place. I think it would be unreasonable to expect him to do so. At the same time, I hope that the Ministry of Health will realise that public sentiment upon this subject is very much aroused, and that there is a growing demand for public protection against these enterprises.

I am not in the least opposed to advertising or advertisements. I like many advertisements; some of them I love. During the last year or two a group of advertisements has appeared on the Underground Railway which is a lasting credit to British art; and there are many such. I believe this kind of advertising to be far more effective than the vulgar and ostentatious iterations to which my noble friend Lord Newton has alluded. But everybody who goes into the country knows that there is class of advertisement which is not merely an offence, but which is a positive trespass upon the common rights of our eyesight, and I always notice that the fields which are disfigured by those outrages are precisely those fields where the occupying farmer does least justice to his land. So we have the double offence of the passer-by having these ostentations forced upon his company, and the knowledge that the occupier of the land is using those offences for his own object, and to save himself the trouble of working his own land. I really think that these things are unpardonable, and I am convinced that the public is becoming more and more alive to these matters. Many people, of course, as Lord Newton said just now, will refuse to buy any article puffed and advertised in this manner. So far as the greater public are concerned that probably docs not apply, though I am one of those who believe that, in the long run, an advertisement which is unintelligent cannot pay.

This Bill is extremely modest in its scope. I should like to go much further, but I think it would be unwise to accept the advice of the noble and learned Lord who has just spoken, and try to extend it in Committee. I believe that the principle of this Bill is universally approved by your Lordships, and it has received the support, as you know, of various chambers of commerce. It is to that extent an agreed measure, and whatever be its shortcomings, I think it should be maintained as an agreed measure, for it is really very important that we should exercise promptitude in dealing with this Bill. I hope that Lord Newton will bring forward the next stage very soon, and that he will receive the support of the Government in so doing, so that the Bill may pass through this House and reach the other House in time for it to be effectively dealt with this Session. Another opportunity may not occur for three or even five years, and therefore I hope we may have the support of the Government in passing the Bill.


My Lords, I only wish to say a word or two as to the prospects of this Bill in another place. I do not think it is necessary to forecast what the action of the Government will be when the Bill reaches another place, until they are in a position to know whether the Bill is likely to receive any opposition. If it reaches us as an agreed measure, and is so regarded in another place, then very little help on their part will enable it to pass into law. Now, I am very familiar, as is the noble Earl who has just spoken, with the practice of starring Bills in another place. We understand how very heavy is the pressure of business at the end of the Session, but, as everybody knows, frequently at the end of the Session it is a perfectly easy thing to star four or five agreed Bills, and so to secure their passage into law. I hope that the Government will agree to do that for this Bill. I hope that the noble Lord in charge of the Bill will make its powers applicable, notwithstanding the protest of the noble Earl who has just spoken, so that there shall be some control over advertisements.

I am not going to follow the example of the noble Lord who introduced the Bill. He gave gratuitous advertisements to a number of articles, and also to a newspaper, which might have done without his very valuable assistance. I think it is an outrage that if people want to advertise their wares they should be allowed to do so in a way which not only leads to competition with our own native industries, but also is in itself a ridiculous libel upon our industries. I am familiar with an advertisement along the Bath Road, which advertises a particular kind of beverage extracted from a four-footed animal. There is a picture of the animal and a dairy and a dairy-maid, the last-named being in such a position that she could not possibly get an ounce of milk out of the cow, and, if she attempted to do so, the quietest cow would very speedily kick her over. Yet every time I travel upon the Great Western Railway I see this outrage upon the industry with which I happen to be connected. I think the Bill should take care that whatever they may say with regard to their own commodity, these advertisers do not libel and traduce other industries.


My Lords, perhaps, as an appeal has been made to the Government by several noble Lords, it is only right that a member of the Government should say a word in reply. I think that every member of the Government present shares the general view of the House in favour of this Bill, and the only question is how much help the Government can give to the measure. May I say to my noble friend, with great respect, that I think if he had studied the best interest of his Bill he would have had it read a second time a little earlier than just before the Whitsuntide Recess.


I may, perhaps, be allowed to explain that we have been endeavouring to negotiate with the opponents, and have only just arrived at an agreement with them.


I think it is a fair reply, and perhaps I ought not to make the delay a matter of reproach. But it does not help the prospect of the Bill that it should only be read a second time so late as this. If, however, your Lordships will exercise that despatch which we often exercise with respect to legislation, and which is sometimes the cause of adverse comment on the part of noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite, no doubt this Bill might be passed through quickly, so far as this House is concerned. I will not prophesy what will happen to it in another place. It may be possible that opportunity may be afforded to the promoters of the Bill to pass it in another place. Personally, I hope it may be so, and I think I speak for all my colleagues in this House when I express that hope; but we cannot enter into any pledge, and I am sure that nobody expects that we should do so.

The condition of business in another place is already very congested, as I have special reason to know, and I am sure that it would be impossible, to introduce anything which was of a contentious character into the already overloaded programme of the Government. Still, anything which can be done will be done, and we will bring the views of your Lordships to the notice of the Home Secretary in the hope that something may be done. May I add one word of caution? I think the Bill would have a better prospect if it were not overloaded, and I can conceive that Amendments might be put into the Bill, as it passes through Committee, which will not help it in another place, That, of course, is a matter for your Lordships to consider. I think I have said all that I can say on the subject.

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