§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, this is a very modest measure. It has been passed through this House already on three occasions, but each time has been lost in the House of Commons, although last year it reached almost the penultimate stage in that House and was only lost in consequence of the Dissolution—an untoward event which is not 412 likely to occur this year. The Bill is supported by every kind of public body ranging from artistic, touring and motoring associations down to associations of municipalities and county councils. Most elaborate pains have been taken to conciliate every interest, and in that connection I might mention that even the advertisement section of the London Chamber of Commerce has been placated.
But perhaps the strongest evidence of its uncontroversial character is the fact that there is no notice of objection on the Paper in the name of my noble friend Lord Banbury of Southam. Every one who has had any experience of politics will realise that any Bill unopposed by my noble friend must be of an extremely harmless and uncontroversial nature. There is no direct opposition to the Bill. The fact is that in the process of conciliation we—when I say "we" I mean the promoters of the Bill—have gone so far that there is really very little left in it, and all that it does now is to preserve the amenities of rural scenery and places of historic interest.
Everyone knows the history of this movement, and everyone will admit that enormous progress has been made in public opinion during recent years. The principle is becoming more and more accepted that persons who use public roads for which they themselves partially pay are entitled to be protected from the more blatant advertisements with which we are afflicted. One very instructive sign of the progress which has been made is the attitude of the advertisers themselves, who have at last begun to realise that it does not pay, from the commercial point of view, to irritate the public by advertisements of an objectionable nature displayed in the wrong places.
I may mention, as an instance of the growing feeling in favour of diminishing this nuisance, that the great oil companies have, of their own accord, voluntarily suppressed their field signs. An advertisement to which I drew particular attention, I think, last year on behalf of gripe water, whatever that may be, has been entirely withdrawn because the persons responsible for its production were so much pained by some observations which I made in this House upon their product. One of the Government Departments, the Ministry of Transport, has 413 adopted the principle and has let it be known to local authorities that the arterial roads which have recently been constructed were not made primarily with the object of turning them into a kind of corridor for the benefit of advertisements of the kind of which I have spoken.
Lastly, I may quote—although I am not in the habit of doing so—the Press. The amount of approval with which this proposal has been received by the Press generally is astonishing, and were I of a vain disposition my head might possibly tic turned by the praise which has been lavished upon this particular measure. But I am under no illusions whatever with regard to the attitude of the Press, because it is plain to me that the Press is not influenced solely by æsthetic considerations but also by a very well-grounded belief that when these advertisements disappear they will be Transferred to the columns of the newspapers, which, after all, is the right place for them. I might add that in view of this increasing volume of support, which proceeds from all quarters, it seems to me that this measure is one which I might, describe as of a vote-catching character, and therefore it might with propriety be adopted, or at all events assisted, by the present Government. Various promises have been made in the past with regard to Government assistance, but no such assistance has been forthcoming. On this particular occasion, however, I expect rather more from the Government than in the past. My noble friend Lord Desborough, who, I understand, will reply, deserves great credit, in my opinion, for the firm stand which he, as Chairman of the Thames Conservators, has always taken upon this matter. He always steadfastly resists the attempts of people to advertise upon the Thames, and I think he is much to be congratulated upon his attitude.
Before I sit down, I should like to refer to a case which has probably attracted the attention of persons who are interested in this movement. I refer to a prosecution which recently took place at Brighton. Not long ago the society of which I am a member was informed that there were some advertisements of a particularly objectionable type on the South Downs, just to the north of Brighton, and in company with two or three of my 414 colleagues I went down and inspected these advertisements. It was fortunate that we went, because we were able to give the local authority advice as to how best to proceed in the matter. We found that there was nothing in the least exaggerated in the complaints that were made with reference to these advertisements, and if anybody cares to inspect them samples of them may be seen in the room outside. These advertisements consisted of gigantic structures covering a hill in the neighbourhood of Brighton—one of these structures was actually more than 170 feet in length—and they were adorned with enormous letters visible at a distance of several miles, as was, no doubt, the object of the person who put them up. One of these advertisements deserves special mention, because it was an advertisement of a religious character. It contained in colossal letters these words which I recommend to the notice of the most rev. Primate:—Watch and pray. The time is short and man brings about his own destruction. The air battle will be the end of the world.I should be inclined to think that an advertisement of this nature would do more to create unbelievers than all the harangues which are uttered by agnostics and atheists in public parks, usually on a Sunday afternoon.
The local authority took proceedings against these advertisers and a conviction was obtained. The magistrates, however, very wisely, in our opinion, determined not to ask for too severe penalties, but intimated that if these advertisements were removed the penalties would be merely nominal. Upon the adjournment of the ease, which took place for a month, all the advertisers except one agreed to withdraw their advertisements. The sole exception was the religious gentleman in whose tenets apparently obedience to the law of the land is not included. He continues to defy the law and is accumulating a daily penalty of a considerable amount. It was satisfactory from one point of view that a conviction was obtained, but it has to be pointed out that this prosecution revealed something which I suppose some would call the subtlety, but which I should describe as the futility, of the law, because it appeared that, although there was power to remove the advertisement itself, there was no power to remove the structure. That seems to be more or less of an absurdity, and perhaps it may 415 be necessary to introduce an amendment into the Bill to deal with this particular point. Fortunately, these advertisements, as a rule, are not placed upon huge concrete buildings, as in this particular instance, erected expressly for the purpose. They are generally found upon structures of a perishable description, which would probably fall down if they were not maintained in a proper position, or would be used as firewood. At any rate, this is purely a Committee point, and perhaps some noble Lord who is interested in the matter may think it advisable to raise it when we reach that stage. I have nothing further to say, but I hope that the Second Reading of this Bill will be agreed to without a dissentient voice.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Newton.)
§ LORD DESBOROUGH
My Lords, my noble friend has alluded to me personally and the views which I have previously expressed regarding this Bill. There is, however, one point upon which I should like to make a slight correction. He remarked that the Thames Conservancy had prevented the display of these obnoxious hoardings on the banks of the river. Unfortunately, the Thames Conservators do not own the banks of the river, but they do own some forty-seven locks and weirs, and they have here prohibited the annoyance of the public, when they are absolutely unprotected and cannot escape, by the display of hoardings advertising articles, which, it they followed my example, they would immediately make up their minds not to buy. With regard to this particular Bill, I must congratulate my noble friend on the pertinacity and success which have hitherto attended his efforts in this direction. He is following up an effort which has been displayed for a considerable number of years. The first Bill on the matter was introduced in 1913, and was followed by a Bill in 1919. In 1920 Lord Balfour of Burleigh introduced a very stringent measure. In 1921 Lord Askwith introduced another, and in 1922 my noble friend came upon the scene with his usual eloquence and introduced a Bill which now has received a very considerable amount of public and political support.
The only difficulty about my noble friend's Bill is that the Courts of Law 416 held that it is difficult to allow public authorities to frame by-laws without specifying exactly the limitation of powers proposed to be exercised under those by-laws; that is to say, the by-laws must be of such a character as to specify the nature of the offence and cannot be drawn up generally so as to enable local authorities either to grant or to withhold permission to put up advertisements at their own sweet will. Speaking on behalf of the Government, we view this Bill with all the favour that my noble friend would like us to bestow upon it, and we certainly support the Second Reading. If the Bill gets to another place in its present form and in sufficient time, the Government will certainly take it on its further stages into most favourable consideration.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
My Lords, of course we are always grateful for anything we can get from the Government, and there are many of us on this side who feel that beauty is one of the most precious assets of this nation and who will be very disappointed that we have not had a more definite promise of facilities in another place. Many of us go further and are greatly disappointed that the Government have not seen fit-to take hold of this principle and to treat it with the importance that it deserves. It is perfectly true that the last Government was unable to promise facilities, but the circumstances now are very different. Nobody, not even the worst enemies of this Government, could accuse it of attempting to carry on the affairs of the country with a minority in either House of Parliament. For myself I find it very difficult to understand how it is that a Government which contains the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, who is so well known as such a tremendous champion of the æsthetic, has not taken hold of the matter and treated it with that importance which it deserves. All of us, whatever we may think of the rights or wrongs of the case, cannot help admiring the great stand which he has taken in defence of Waterloo Bridge and against the spoliation of the beauties of the countryside.
The present Bill, as it stands before us, is of very little practical value, as the noble Lord who introduced it implied. 417 Being a Private Member's Ball it has had to be so cut about to obtain agreement that very little will be able to be done under it, and I may take this opportunity of telling the noble Lord that we hope on this side of the House to move Amendments that may help and strengthen the Bill. Whether these Amendments are carried or not, this Bill represents to us an assertion that the beauties of England are a great national heritage which no individual has a right to despoil. As such it gives expression to a principle of which those of us who sit on this side of the House must approve, and that is the right of the public to control the essentials of life, and beauty, in our view, is just as much an essential of life as any other thing. I hope your Lordships will give this Bill a Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.