HL Deb 24 March 1926 vol 63 cc760-8

LORD NEWTON rose to call attention to the action of the Home Office in connection with the administration of the Advertisements Regulation Act, 1925. The noble Lord said: My Lords, as important business is on the Paper for this afternoon I will endeavour to deal with this comparatively trivial matter as quickly as possible. It will be remembered that last year a Bill was passed through this House dealing with advertisements and eventually it became law. This was a Bill which was brought in to get rid of certain technical difficulties in connection with by-laws which existed in the principal Act, and gave local authorities rather wider powers. With great difficulty we got it through the House of Commons and we thought our difficulties were at an end, but so far from that being the case we have now discovered that the operation of this Act has been completely nullified in consequence of the obstruction of the Home Office.

This matter was brought to my notice by the County Councils' Association, a wise and weighty body represented by serious and responsible members of this House. I dare say some of them will have something to say upon this subject. Only a few days ago this association passed the following strongly worded resolution:— That the Committee are of opinion that the action of the Home Office in this matter is entirely contrary to the provisions of the Advertisements Regulations Act, 1925, and represents an unjustifiable attempt to limit the scope of the Act in a manner not intended by Parliament. They therefore recommend a deputation"— and so forth. The House knows that Acts of this kind are administered by by-laws which have to be approved by the Secretary of State. In this particular case the extremely inappropriate Secretary of State appears to be the Home Secretary. I say "inappropriate" because I am unable to see any sort of connection between the Home Office and this particular question. It will be observed that an obstructively disposed Department is given a double chance of obstruction. They can, on the one hand, propose by-laws of their own and try to force them upon the county councils and, on the other hand, they can veto by-laws which are proposed by the county councils themselves.

Without wasting the time of the House and without going into details of this somewhat trivial matter—details which really consist of questions affecting areas, schedules and what is a semi-rural or truly rural district—I may assert without any hesitation at all that the result of Home Office obstruction is that the intentions of Parliament have been completely defeated and that this particular Act has become useless. I feel this almost as a sort of personal grievance because I was nominally responsible for the Act. Admitting that the Home Office have a technical right to obstruct and to override local authorities, what is the sense of their doing so? What on earth does it matter to the Home Office whether a county council considers a hoarding a disfigurement of local scenery or not? There is no question involved of public security or of anything else, so far as I am aware. It is solely a question of amenities. Can there, I ask you, be anything more ridiculous than to have bodies like county councils unable to take trivial action of this kind without securing the assent of the Home Office?

For some reason or other the Home Office were never particularly friendly to this Bill and on the occasions when I had to visit that Department I never met with any encouragement at all, but very much the reverse. I remember on one occasion when I went there an official met me with this question: "Surely you are not going on with this Bill?" When I asked him why I should not he said: "Do you know Lord Riddell does not approve of it?" To his great astonishment I told him I proposed to continue with the Bill in spite of this alarming fact. Everybody who has ever tried it knows the extreme difficulty of getting a Private Bill through Parliament. It is a question of eternally squaring one body or person after another. In this case we had to square everybody in turn. We thought we had squared the Home Office. We had to square chambers of commerce, railway people, canal people, advertisers, billposters, oil lords, whisky lords, and people like my noble friend Lord Banbury of Southam. Then, with the utmost difficulty, we succeeded in getting the Bill through the House of Commons and we thought we were all right.

It really is exasperating, when one has gone through all this, to find oneself interfered with by some minor mandarin at the Home Office who has no cause to interfere at all. It is perfectly plain that this action on the part of people whom I have ventured to call minor mandarins is in direct opposition to the wishes of Parliament. This Bill was universally approved and it was universally felt that local authorities should have greater powers to deal with these matters. I at once acquit the Home Secretary of any responsibility for this particular action. The Home Secretary is under grave suspicion of being a Philistine of the worst description, but at the same time I do not for a moment believe he has anything to do with the action of his officials, and I should be very much surprised if he knew anything of this particular act.

I am still more convinced that I shall enjoy the sympathy of my noble friend Lord Desborough who will reply on this matter. My noble friend is himself a shining example. He is, as every one knows, head of the Thames Conservancy Board and in that capacity has rendered considerable public service in carefully prohibiting all advertisements which come within his administration. I am perfectly certain he would be the first person to object, and to object most strongly, if any official of the Home Office tried to interfere with his policy. This is a matter which can be easily put right. My noble friend has only to say that the Home Office will in future give directions that unnecessary restrictions are not to be put upon local authorities and county councils and there will be no further trouble.


My Lords, may I be allowed to intervene for a moment on behalf of the county councils to say they entirely support the action which the noble Lord has taken in this matter. It is very interesting to note that to-day, at the annual meeting of the County Councils' Association, the Minister of Transport attended and referred to this Act, and said how important it was to preserve the amenities of the countryside. We have no doubt, therefore, that the Minister of Transport is on our side, and he will no doubt put pressure on the Home Office in regard to this matter. I understand that objection is taken to county councils scheduling their whole areas. I have a letter from the clerk of the County Council of Essex, who writes: This Home Office letter appears to mean that the county council should undertake a complete survey of the whole county, and schedule districts or parishes which might be disfigured by unsightly advertisements. If they should put in rural districts and parishes wholesale, they would simply come back to the state of affairs which they would have if the by-law was made in the terms of Section 1 (1) of the Act, and which the Home Secretary considers to be contrary to the intention of Parliament. I think that this really explains the position. Instead of the Home Office trusting county councils, and allowing them to schedule the whole county and to be judges in particular cases as they arise, whether advertisements ought to appear or not, the Home Office wants to make the county councils go to great expense and trouble in taking a survey of their whole county and going through a long, expensive and complicated process of making a schedule setting out in what areas advertisements may or may not appear. That seems a ridiculous state of things. It would be much better to trust the county councils to exercise discretion and allow them to make a scheme for the whole county. That seems much more desirable, and I can assure your Lordships that the County Councils' Association, which represents the whole of the counties in England and Wales, is unanimous in supporting the views of my noble friend regarding undue interference by the Home Office.


My Lords, I do not think that those of your Lordships who are interested in this matter will feel that the noble Lord who has put this Question has spoken in the least degree too strongly about the delay which has taken place in putting this Act into operation, and it must be a very great satisfaction to your Lordships to have heard from Lord Strachie that the principles of the law have the entire support of the County Councils' Association. I have been informed by those who have interested themselves in the matter that some difficulty has arisen from the provision that the law should apply only to rural areas, and I am told that the Home Office have issued an Order—I have not seen it—making some distinction between rural and semi-rural areas. It may be that the Home Office have felt themselves a little hampered by the form of the law, which makes it difficult to protect those semi-rural areas which interlock with our urban areas and go right inside them. If they feel that these areas cannot be adequately protected under the provisions of the Act, I hope that His Majesty's Government will lose no time in properly amending the law so that it may be effectual for its purpose, which is to protect the public who have no interest in the financial position of the persons who advertise patent drugs, soaps, and so on, but who have a right to be protected against the outrage to their sensibilities of this continual encroachment by horrible advertisements all over the country. For my own Party I heartily support the pressure which the noble Lord has brought to bear and any further legislation or amendment to the law that may be felt to be required will have our approval.


My Lords, in some ways I very much regret that I have to answer, not perhaps in a very satisfactory manner, the Question that has been put to me by my noble friend, but I can assure him that I am at one with him, not only with regard to his crusade against unsightly hoardings but with regard to all his other crusades—namely, that people should walk on the left and face the traffic that approaches along the kerb, and also that very much stronger measures should be taken than have been taken up to the present for dealing with the smoke nuisance. Accordingly, I am a whole-hearted supporter of the noble Lord in all his crusades, including this one, but I will follow him in his excellent example and not trespass on the time of the House in view of the very important debate which will take place in a few minutes.

Let me say in the first place that the Home Office is not hostile to the Act that has been passed chiefly owing to the long-continued exertions of my noble friend, but they feel that the Home Secretary has to sanction by-laws and in a great many cases, instead of drafting by-laws which in accordance with the Act of Parliament they ought to have done, local authorities have merely incorporated the Act and left the whole thing perfectly vague. If Parliament had intended merely to introduce a vague Act with no specific details they would not have insisted on by-laws being drawn up. The Home Office feel that a by-law that merely incorporates the Act without any specific details is one which may always be upset in a court of law owing to what is called uncertainty. Accordingly, they have drawn up a model form of by-laws, which I have here but which I will not go into, for the guidance of these local authorities.

The Home Office, as I say, are not hostile to the Act. They would like to see it enforced and they think that it is better that it should be properly enforced. By-laws must be drawn up in such a way that advertisers and the public alike may know whether they are offending against them or not. If the thing is left in the vague condition in which it is at present, and if eases are brought into Court, the Court, will have to decide whether disfigurement was caused or not. It would be very much better, at all events in the view of the Home Office, that those local authorities who do not want certain places of historic and natural interest to be disfigured by these hoardings that have been alluded to by my noble friend opposite, should have these places scheduled, so that both advertisers and the public may be given some indication as to where hoardings can be put up and where they are wholly objectionable. I can only say that if any suggestions can be made on behalf of the county councils and other local authorities with regard to a better form of bylaws, I am perfectly certain that the Home Secretary will be only too pleased to consider them.


My Lords, I shall not trespass for more than a few moments on the time of the House, but my noble friend Lord Desborough does not seem to appreciate the fact that the, county councils and their association have been in communication with the Home Office and have failed to get any satisfaction. Accordingly, they have passed what may be called, with deference to Lord Strachie and his friends, an almost violent resolution, and have asked to have the early attention of the Home Office. I could express a wish that the Home Office were as sympathetic as its spokesman in this House, but there is no doubt that since the Act was passed last year county after county has found itself not merely discouraged but estopped from putting what they consider to be the plain meaning of the law into effect. In the case of Essex they have been told that this is contrary to the intentions of Parliament. The County of Essex, advised by its legal authorities, says that Essex proposes to do that which is in accordance with the terms of the Statute. The terms of the Statute interest Essex rather than the intentions of Parliament as interpreted by the Home Office.

I urge the Home Office, and particularly Lord Desborough, whose record where he is executive and responsible is more than immaculate, to take active steps to deal with this matter, because really the danger is growing. These new trunk roads, for instance, which are laid down in all directions, are in themselves in danger of becoming an offence to the community. Mr. John Bailey, the other day, said that they were in danger of becoming "canals of vulgarity," and so they are in the Minister of Transport we have a man who is determined, in so far as lies in his power, to prevent that form of offence, and to prevent the enjoyment of the public being marred by these trespasses upon the public. Yet, while the Minister of Transport loses no opportunity of urging that point of view, the Home Office, for some Departmental reason or other, which Lord Desborough has not explained, finds that every county council, in one way or another, seems to have misinterpreted the law. That is one danger that is growing.

Another danger that is increasing, although I admit that it will long be a purely urban danger, is the ever-growing insistence of flashing night signs. There is one on one of the noblest stretches of the river between Westmister and Charing Cross, cheek-by-jowl with the splendid building of the London County Council, a vast thing as long as this chamber, which advertises a dentifrice and this Colgate flaunts his ignoble message on willing or unwilling Londoners from a building which belongs in one way or another to the Government of India. If the Secretary of State for India were here I should like to ask him if the Indian Government are drawing a revenue from this vulgarity. I do not know whether there is a Colgate. It may be that Colgate's dentifrice is a first-class thing for neglected gums, but this advertisement is a trespass and an offence to the eye and an unwarrantable assault on the Londoner. There is no escape from its vulgarity, and at least Colgate may place to his credit the fact that he has produced the most vulgar achievement in London.

Why should not Colgate pay? Why should not local authorities have power, and enforce their power, to make these outrages at least contribute something towards the heavily burdened ratepayer in our midst? I should like to see the Government frankly take up this question of advertisements. Lord Newton dealt with it as if it were rather a minor matter. On the contrary, it is a matter of essential interest to the dignity and decorum of this country and if, as I hope, Lord Desborough is correct in saying that his Department really is sympathetic, I press him not merely to co-operate with the local authorities but to press the matter still further, so that this assault, this trespass throughout the length and breadth of the country, shall be placed under more adequate control.


My Lords, I do not rise to prolong the debate, but it is impossible for the Government to pass over the speeches which have been delivered by such influential members of the House without saying a word. I therefore merely rise to say that we will take care that all that has been said this evening shall be properly reported to the Home Secretary so that the matter may be very definitely brought under his cognisance.


My Lords, I only rise for the purpose of pointing out that the statement made by Lord Desborough amounts to this, that the Home Office take one reading of the Bill and the county councils another, and the result is that nothing whatever is done. In view of the statement made by Lord Salisbury, however, I have some hopes that the question will be seriously inquired into.