HL Deb 29 March 1928 vol 70 cc721-8

LORD BUCKMASTER rose to move to resolve, That it is urgently needed that the Government should take immediate steps to prevent the disfigurement of the countryside by the advertisements of oil companies. The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I apologise for troubling your Lordships twice in one evening; but this question is distantly associated with the question we have just been discussing. What I desire is that steps shall be taken, or rather that this House should ask the Government to take steps, to protect our villages from the vulgarity of oil advertisements, and that the House will support them in their efforts. It is useless to hope to preserve the beauties of our towns. In the fierce race for wealth the beauties of architecture and the delights of the old places we used to know are all trampled underfoot, but there still remain to us some of the villages in our countryside, and I am certain that they speak to every member of this House with an appeal which is difficult to shape in words.

We know the characteristics of them well—the tower or the spire of the village church, which, even to the most irreverent, is an object of respect as having witnessed for centuries the supplications and the sorrows of the men and women of our race. And scattered round it or clustering near are the cottages which for generation after generation have been the homes of our people and the village street straggling away until it loses itself in the fields. To all of us this presents a picture the feeling of which it is difficult to describe, but it gives rise to a sentiment for which, after all, men were prepared to give their lives, and I will undertake to say the memory of such places as I have imperfectly attempted to describe was before many of our soldiers during long hours of pain and weariness in hospital and camp. Into these places that mean to us far more than words can express we now find inserted what I regard as the complete acme of abominable vulgarity—red and yellow pumps of the most hideous kind desecrating and defiling something which to us is really sacred. I wonder why it is that the people responsible for this cannot realise that what may be a suitable decoration and is even an ornament to the streets of Chicago is out of place among the Cotswold hills. It is this that I desire to preserve.

As each one of us gets older and the wear and tear of our restless, busy life takes more and more toll of our energies, I believe in the mind of every one of us there is just one of those places to which he wants to go back. And to go back there and then find the very heart of it defiled by these things is to inflict upon him that which is very hard indeed to express. I know that our country is crippled by debt. We are a country that is faced with immeasurable social difficulties. It is not easy for us to know what lies ahead, but there is still one thing which we still do have that no other country in the world that I have ever seen possesses. It is just these country villages that I have imperfectly attempted to describe. I ask your Lordships to say that you will do everything in your power to see that their further desecration shall be prevented. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That it is urgently needed that the Government should take immediate steps to prevent the disfigurement of the countryside by the advertisements of oil companies.—(Lord Buckmaster.)


My Lords, I beg to move as an Amendment to the Resolution of my noble and learned friend, that the words "and others" be added to his Resolution, so that his very just complaints may be directed to other advertisements besides those of oil companies. I should like to say at the outset that I should be very grateful to my noble and learned friend if he will accept my Amendment, but if for any reason he thinks it advisable not to do so, that it might jeopardise his Motion, I would certainly not desire to press the Amendment. My noble and learned friend has dealt with the oil companies, but your Lordships, if you will go by rail or road anywhere, will find large hoardings by the adjoining fields containing advertisements of the supposed merits of somebody's manufactures, which, by reason of their numbers, in my opinion at least, are even more offensive than the advertisements of the oil companies.

An attempt was made in 1907 to deal with this nuisance by permitting local authorities to issue by-laws, and by the Advertisement Regulation Act of 1925 the local authorities are empowered to make more extended by-laws to prevent the disfigurement of the countryside. Advertisements existing at the time of the by-laws have five years' grace before they can be removed, but the local authorities—I beg your Lordships to note this fact—if they issue by-laws have power to prevent the erection of new advertisements. I am informed by the Scapa Society, a letter from whose hon. treasurer appeared in The Times this morning, that thirteen county councils are still acting under the 1907 by-laws and have not availed themselves of the 1925 Act, that nine county councils in England and Wales have not made any by-laws at all and, further, that new advertisements are constantly appearing all over the country, even in the districts where the by-laws have been made. I suppose your Lordships would think I was exaggerating if I said that these Acts have failed in their object, but anyhow your Lordships must feel doubts as to whether all the local authorities will make the necessary by laws and, still more perhaps, whether those by-laws will be properly enforced.

I submit that the beauty of the landscape is a great national possession and that it is not right to leave the protection of the landscape to the uncertain policy of local authorities. My view is that the Government ought to act as Sir Herbert Samuel acted in Palestine. He, in 1920, made a decree or law saying that all outside advertisements were to be prohibited, except those under licence. If we had that law in this country it would be right that the local authorities should have some say in the matter and I think they might be the people to issue the licences. I visited Tunis earlier in the year and I found there that the French Government had also entirely prohibited outside advertisements. Why? It is because they realise, as I am afraid we do not, or at all events not altogether, that the beauty and interest of a country is a great national and a great material asset.

No doubt the beauty and interest of the two places I have mentioned, Palestine and Tunisia, are greater in relation to their other sources of wealth than is the case in this country, but, as the noble and learned Lord pointed out, the landscape of this country at its best is unique and incomparable. I also call to mind, as the noble and learned Lord has done, a village—it is as well known to him as it is to myself—which is typical of the repose and beauty of a bygone age, and your Lordships can all recall many such. It really does seem to me something of a disgrace that we should permit the disfigurement of what is literally—not rhetorically but literally—a priceless heritage, and that for ends which serve no national purpose whatever. As you pass through the country I am sure that you must sometimes reflect, as I do, that the descriptions of it by our old poets, which we used to consider immortal, are now rapidly becoming out of date. If you should expect to see some glorious morning "gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy," you will find it gilding the most unheavenly pigments of a petrol pump, or if you think to see it "kissing with golden face the meadows green," you will find it kissing an advertisement of Mr. Carter's Little Liver Pills.

Amendment moved— At the end of the Motion add the words ("and others").—(Lord Hunsdon of Hunsdon.)


I will accept the Amendment.


My Lords, as far as I am personally concerned I can only say I wish I had the eloquence of the noble and learned Lord to enable me to express what I really think about all these advertisements, especially the petrol advertisements. It may be of service to the House, however, if I state what is the law at present. I am afraid that as the Motion has now become such a very wide one it will require further consideration before I can accept it on behalf of His Majesty's Government.


Will the noble Lord accept my Motion without the Amendment?


I think I had better explain the position. The noble and learned Lord may not be quite aware of what has taken place. I am willing to go as far as I possibly can. It is not only these advertisements to which I object, but the internal combustion engine, which I think I have stated before in this House is not only dangerous but is extraordinarily ugly. I think it has ruined the earth, made the air dangerous and made the sea foul. However, one cannot go back. It may be of service if I state simply what is the present law regarding advertisements. As the noble Lord behind me has just said, the Advertisements Regulation Act of 1907, as amended in 1925, has done a great deal, as the result of the exertions of my noble friend Lord Newton, who I am sorry not to see in his place. Practically the matter now rests in the hands of the county councils and the county councils can delegate their authority with regard to these matters. They have authority to make by-laws for— regulating, restricting or preventing within their district or any part thereof the exhibition of advertisements so as to disfigure or injuriously affect—

  1. (a) the view of rural scenery from a highway or railway, or from any public place or water; or
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  3. (b) the amenities of any village within the district of a rural district council; or
  4. (c) the amenities of any historic or public building or monument or of any place frequented by the public solely or chiefly on account of its beauty or historic interest."
Some progress has been made since 1925. No fewer than forty-one out of sixty-three county councils have already drawn up these by-laws as they were empowered to do under the Advertisements Regulation Act, 1925.

In regard to petrol it is noteworthy that a few years ago the leading oil companies—Pratts, Shell Mex and B.P.—withdrew their roadside advertisements by agreement. That was a step in advance, and was taken no doubt because of what was said in your Lordships' House and elsewhere. There are, however, still some ten companies who are not parties to the agreement and who still maintain their advertisements. All I can say is that I hope they will soon be converted and see the error of their ways. As far as petrol-filling stations and advertisements at such stations are concerned they have still to be dealt with. Those horrible pumps—


Those are the things I dislike.


You cannot dislike them more than I do. No by-laws have been drawn up dealing with them, but I may say that the Government are fully alive to the horrible disfigurement the countryside by these advertisements and especially the petrol-filling stations. They have rather anticipated my noble and learned friend's Resolution by taking steps to place before Parliament proposals for dealing with these artistic horrors. There is included in the Government programme a Petroleum (Amendment) Bill. I do not know whether my noble and learned friend is aware that it is proposed by that Bill to empower county councils and borough councils to make by-laws regulating the design and appearance of filling stations or prohibiting the establishment of filling stations in certain positions, for the purpose, as stated in the Bill, of preserving the amenities and beauties—or perhaps I may be allowed to say such amenities and beauties as still remain in this country. Petrol-filling stations are defined in the Bill as including any advertisement used in connection with those stations.

The Petroleum (Amendment) Bill, which is through Committee in another place, will, of course, come before your Lordships' House and my noble and learned friend will then have an opportunity of trying to strengthen the Bill and, I hope, of supporting it. When it comes before your Lordships' House there will be an opportunity of considering whether its clauses are satisfactory to the House or whether your Lordships think it does not go far enough. One of the biggest oil companies has under consideration the question of withdrawing all their advertisements at petrol-filling stations, and there is likelihood, I am told, of other large companies—assisted, no doubt, by a little gentle prodding from the action of my noble and learned friend—taking a similar course and withdrawing their advertisements. I venture to submit that as the matter will be before your Lordships in the shape of a Bill, it is perhaps unnecessary now to tie your hands by passing any Resolution.


My Lords, I do not wish to prolong the debate, but I should like to be quite satisfied by my noble friends on the Government Bench that it will be quite clear that under the proposed Bill Regulations can be made which will require the withdrawal of all these stations. I do feel most strongly, with the noble and learned Lord who moved the Motion and the noble Lord who supported it, that this is a very serious grievance indeed, because from the very nature of the case the places where these disgusting erections are made are the most beautiful parts of the country, which are the places to which motorists naturally go. Accordingly you have a very strong case for drastic action in this respect and, unless it is taken immediately, there will be such a growth of these stations and such large vested interests established in them that it will be far more difficult to deal with them in the future. I hope we may be quite satisfied that, when the Bill to which my noble friend has referred comes before us, it will be fully possible for this House to make whatever amendment may be necessary to secure the withdrawal of these stations, and not only the erection of future ones.


My Lords, under that Bill there would be power to prohibit the erection of new stations. There may be some difficulty with regard to the five years which were mentioned in reference to an existing Act. I do not know whether that would have to be repealed but, when the Bill comes before your Lordships, it will be competent for you to decide in what form it shall leave this House.


May I ask my noble friend who has replied for the Government whether we shall have an opportunity of dealing with advertisements other than those of the oil companies when this Bill comes before your Lordships' House?


I am afraid that the Petroleum Bill will not include all the other matters.


My Lords, I think that, so far as the Petroleum Bill is concerned, our position is reasonably secure, and my object this afternoon has been achieved, because what I desired to do was to assure the Government of the strong feeling in this House that will be behind them in dealing with the matter. I think there will be abundant power to amend the Petroleum Bill, and it will be extremely difficult for the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, to devise an Amendment so strong that I shall find myself unable to support it. As for the rest, I cannot say, with regard to Lord Hunsdon's Amendment, that the Petroleum Bill would cover these other advertisements, but that is a matter for him and not for me.

On Question, Amendment negatived.


Does the noble and learned Lord desire to press his Motion?


No, I have no wish to press it.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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