HL Deb 04 March 1924 vol 56 cc477-81

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a very modest measure, which represents a compromise between the Scapa Society and the Bill Posters Association and other people. It has already twice passed this House and it reached a Second Reading last Session in the House of Commons. In the process of conciliating everybody this Bill, which was originally of a very modest character, has now become so modest that there is hardly anything left of it. Last year it contained a clause directed against advertisements in the sky by means of smoke, and the Air Ministry took up what I can only describe as the extraordinary attitude, that unless this particularly vulgar form of newspaper stunt was allowed to continue the whole future of aviation would be in danger. That plea was treated with contempt by this House, and an Amendment designed to get rid of the clause was defeated, but when the Bill went down to the House of Commons the Air Ministry and other people continued their opposition; and, with a view to disarming opposition as much as possible, that particular clause was abandoned.

As a result, the Bill contains nothing but power given to local authorities to prevent and regulate by by-laws advertisements which disfigure the rural scenery, which destroy the amenities of villages in rural districts or the amenities of historic and public buildings, or any place of beauty or historic interest. I do not think that these provisions can be taken exception to by any reasonable person—not even by my noble and learned friend, Lord Birkenhead, whom I do hot see present on this occasion. Since its introduction last year there has been a notable advance in public taste, so far as the disfigurement of the country is concerned. Last autumn the Ministry of Transport issued a circular calling attention to the manner in which the local authorities were allowing roads to be disfigured by these advertisements; but, more significant still, the principal oil companies have announced their intention of discontinuing their signs. As I am anxious to give credit where credit is due, I should like to point out that the first company to take steps in this direction was the Shell Company, and that the other companies only followed their example. This procedure has, I am happy to say, been also followed by other bodies.

Last year I drew attention, and I think not in very complimentary terms, to advertisements in connection with gripe water, whatever that might be, which disfigure the Bath Road, and I learn from notices in the Press that the Gripe Water Company was so distressed by my remarks that they forthwith decided to abolish all their advertisements throughout the country—a success in conversion which might almost excite envy on the part of the occupants of the episcopal Benches were they present here to-day. The fact is that the more intelligent advertisers have recognised the fact, which we pointed out long ago, that to spend money in a way that irritates the public is pure waste. I should like to repeat what has often been said before, that the Society for which I act, the Scapa Society, is not opposed to advertising in itself but merely to advertising in the wrong place.

I have been associated with various measures in my time, but I have never received so much support as I have for this particular measure. The unanimity of the Press upon the subject is almost alarming. But my head is not in the least turned by this strange unanimity. I imagine that the friendliness of the Press towards this Bill is not caused solely by its intrinsic merits, but by a probably well-founded belief that the money which is now spent upon these useless and senseless advertisements will be spent in the columns of the Press—and that, after all, is the right way to advertise. I should like to add that if I am fortunate enough to secure a Second Reading I will not put down the Committee stage before a reasonable period has elapsed, in order that noble Lords may put down Amendments should they choose to do so. I beg to move

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


My Lords, on a former occasion when this Bill was introduced in what was considered a very objectionable form it was my duty to oppose it, and on one occasion the Second Reading was refused. But last year the noble Lord who has now reintroduced the Bill, introduced it in a form which was quite unobjectionable, and I am very glad that I shall be able on this occasion to adopt the same course as I did last year and support him on the Second Reading. It is understood that the assurances given last year have been repeated this year, and I hope that the Bill will pass in the form in which it has been introduced.


My Lords, I do not desire to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, but there is one question which I desire to put to the noble Lord in charge of it, The Bill, very properly, contains an exemption from the operation of Clause 1 in respect of the stations and other property of railway companies. Will the noble Lord be prepared to put into the Bill in Committee a similar exemption as regards the walls and other properties of canals and inland navigation concerns? They are both part of the transport system of the country, and if it is proper—as the noble Lord obviously thinks it is proper—to exempt the property of railway companies, he should be willing similarly to exempt the property of canals and inland navigation. Subject to that, I have no objection whatever to the Second Reading of the Bill.


My Lords, I should like, if I might venture to do so, to thank the noble Lord, Lord Newton, for bringing up this matter before your Lordships, for, I think it is, the fourth time, and to congratulate him on the extraordinary skill and persistence with which he has mobilised public opinion in favour of such a measure. I need hardly inform your Lordships that the Labour Government intend to offer no opposition to the passage of such a Bill; indeed, they have a very deep sympathy for the principle that has inspired it. I must point out, however, that my right hon. friend the Home Secretary cannot bring himself to feel that the machinery proposed in this Bill is quite the most efficient. In the light of the experience gained since the passage of the Act of 1907, he must say that, were he tackling the problem, he would tackle it differently. On the other hand, as your Lordships know, the programme of the Government is very fully loaded, and it is quite out of the question for the Government to touch this matter. His Majesty's Ministers, however, have not failed, as practical men, to be impressed by the extraordinary measure of agreement that has been attained by the Scapa Society and the noble Lord in support of a measure that cannot be described as anything but highly controversial.

It is with this feeling of benevolence towards the measure that the Government have considered the granting of facilities for it in another place. Your Lordships will understand me when I say that the Government occupies a unique position in the House of Commons. They do not, as we all know, command a majority. They do not, therefore, have that control over the time of the House which Governments are accustomed to wield. In the event, however, of this Bill proving, as I hope it will, substantially an agreed measure. I would take it on myself, for what it is worth, to approach my right hon. friend the Home Secretary with a view to seeing if it be possible to test the feeling of the House of Commons. But your Lordships will understand that it is quite impossible to give any undertaking whatsoever.

It would give me all the more pleasure to approach my right hon. friend in view of the principle which is involved in the measure. To my mind, it is a question of whether we, as a civilised people, really care for beauty, whether we intend to permit individuals actuated purely by commercial motives to vulgarise the natural beauties of our countryside, and to plaster the vicinity of our public buildings with their abominations. On such a question a Labour Government can have no hesitation as to the attitude it should take, and it is for this reason that His Majesty's Ministers intend to offer no opposition to the passage of the Bill.


My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to thank the noble Lord for his reply. By long experience I know, more or less, what to expect from Government representatives when Bills of this kind are introduced, but the statement of the noble Lord went rather further than is usually the case, and he may be quite sure that I shall hold him, so far as lies within my power, to the expectations which he has held out to me. With regard to the question put to me by my noble friend Lord Danesfort, I hope he will not expect me to answer at once. I should prefer to wait until I have seen the Amendment on the Paper, but I can assure my noble friend that it will receive careful consideration.

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