HL Deb 30 March 1938 vol 108 cc519-33

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in rising to move the Second Reading of this Bill I would like to say at the outset that I should never have taken upon myself to introduce such a measure, but the Bill has been produced by the Association of County Councils for Scotland working in conjunction with the Society for the Preservation of Rural Scotland. As I happen at the moment to be president of the County Councils' Association it seems to be my duty to bring in the Bill. The Bill, I may say, has also the support of the Convention of Royal Burghs, a very powerful body in Scotland representing a large number of small towns, and it is also supported by the large cities which already have powers similar to that which it is proposed to give under this Bill. They, therefore, naturally do not wish to have the powers withdrawn. I do not propose to go at any length into the necessity for Scotland obtaining some protection against the aggression of the billposter and the advertiser. That part of the matter will be dealt with more at length by my noble friend the Earl of Haddington, who is president of the Society for the Preservation of Rural Scotland.

Since this Bill was introduced in December last a good deal of interest has been manifested in the question, both in England and Scotland, as is shown by the debate in another place and the subsequent appointment of a Committee to deal with the matter. I will refer later to that point, but in the meantime I would like to deal with the question why Scotland requires a Bill for herself. To do so I must briefly refer to the past history of this matter. Your Lordships may be aware that the question of the regulation of advertisements and hoardings was dealt with in Acts of Parliament passed in 1907 and 1925. Both Acts applied to Scotland equally with England, but in practice both these Acts are entirely inoperative in Scotland. They might just as well not be in existence. Scotland at present is without any protection whatever in regard to the sticking up of hoardings and the disfigurement of a great part of her rural beauty. You may ask, why was that? The reason is that while in England bylaws have been passed there are none in force in Scotland. We have not been allowed to get them.

The Act of 1907 provides that any local authority may make by-laws for regulating, restricting, or preventing the exhibition of advertisements in such places and in such manner, or by such means, as to affect injuriously the amenities of a public park or pleasure promenade, or"— this is the important point— to disfigure the natural beauty of a landscape. Under that Act, in 1907 the County of Dumfries applied for by-laws, and in 1908 my own County of East Lothian did the same thing. In both cases the then Secretary for Scotland refused to sanction by-laws on the ground that the actual landscape which it was alleged would be disfigured must be specified. It was found to be practically impossible to specify the actual landscape which would be disfigured. How are you going to do it by any demarcation in map or by-law or in any other way? You could define a public park or a promenade, and say there shall be no advertisements there, but it has been the view of the two counties that that was not enough. We must have a much wider protection against the erection of hoardings, and one might say dangerous advertisements, blotting out some of our best views. In 1919 the County of Roxburgh did get by-laws sanctioned, but it was subsequently explained that they had been passed inadvertently by the Secretary for Scotland, who had omitted to note what was said before to the other counties, that it was necessary to specify the exact locality which required protection. We had always hoped that it might be possible to get a test case out of the Roxburgh by-laws, but we have never been able to get a suitable case. It may be that the advertisers in that district were wary and knew that if they did put up advertisements which disfigured the landscape they could be dealt with and required to remove them.

In 1925 a further Act was passed, which provided for … regulating, restricting or preventing … 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
  2. (b) the amenities of any village within the district of a rural district council; or
  3. (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."
That went a little further. It would be possible, of course, to protect the amenities of historic buildings, but the main point—the view of rural scenery—once again we found it impossible to define. East Lothian applied again in 1927 for by-laws under the Act of 1925, but they were met with the same answer: that by-laws in such terms as were proposed would very probably not be upheld by the Scottish Courts. That view was acted upon by successive Secretaries of State for Scotland, no doubt upon the advice of the Law Officers of the Crown from time to time. But in so doing we may claim that the Secretary of State really constituted himself a judicial tribunal. It would have been very much better if he had allowed the by-laws submitted by several counties to be promulgated, and then a test case could have been decided in the Law Courts. If the Scottish Courts held that the definition was not sufficiently precise, and the view was taken that the by-laws must be so framed that everyone should know whether or not they were infringing the by-laws, that would probably be a sound view to take. We think that if a legal decision had been obtained, if the Courts had upheld the by-laws, all would have been well, and if they had refused them it would have been the duty of the Government, or the Secretary of State for Scotland for the time being, to introduce amending legislation to make the whole matter quite clear.

At the same time by-laws were put forward in England, and the County of Somerset put forward by-laws which were sanctioned by the Home Office. At first the Home Office were chary of sanctioning somewhat wide by-laws, but they did sanction by-laws eventually, in the same terms as those which had been asked for by various counties in Scotland. A case was appealed and tried before the Lord Chief justice in the King's Bench Divisional Court, and he said: It is true that the council might name specific places if it thought fit, but it is within its powers in saying that 'you must not anywhere within the area which we have to administer erect advertisements which disfigure the natural beauty of the landscape.' In my opinion this by-law dealing with a somewhat ambiguous matter cannot be said to be invalid on account of uncertainty. Mr. Justice Shearman, in the same case, said: Natural beauty is a thing which cannot be defined by specific instances, and the only complaint of the appellants really is that the County Council have not attempted to define the indefinable. Whether or not the Scottish Courts would have held the same view as the Lord Chief Justice and Mr. Justice Shearman we cannot, of course, state.

But the attitude of the Scottish Office has constantly been to refuse to sanction any of the by-laws submitted by various counties, more or less in the same terms, enabling them to protect the natural beauty of their scenery by ordering the removal of advertisements, of hoardings, which disfigure the natural beauty of the countryside. The result is that at the present time Scotland is entirely at the mercy of the advertisers. We have no protection whatever. Hideous advertisements are rising up in ever-increasing numbers. I am not going to deal with that aspect of the question; other noble Lords will doubtless deal with it who are very much more competent to speak on this whole question than I am. I would, however, point out that at the present time these advertisements are rising up in one place after another. Why, and in whose interest, should the motorist, the cyclist, or the humble pedestrian hiking through the country, be forced to look upon these advertisements when he wants to look at a beautiful view beyond? He cannot avoid it, and the humbler the traveller the more continually is this brought before him. You may say that to deny that right is to deny the right of property. In these days, surely, we are all doing that more and more. The Government, in regard to housing schemes and other matters, are directing a great deal of attention to the preservation of the amenities of the country, and quite right it is that they should do so.

I do not for a moment suggest that all advertisements are to be taken away. Advertisement hoardings, I suppose, have their place in these times and play a not unnecessary part in our commercial life. But what is proposed is to regulate where they are. There is a right place and a wrong place for everything. In many cases if the hoarding were removed to a somewhat different spot it would be at least comparatively inoffensive. At present there is no opportunity of dealing with the matter. In another place it was suggested, and I think quite rightly, that there should be an opportunity of negotiating before the hoarding was put up. It is very much easier—this is a strong point in favour of our Bill—to negotiate beforehand, if anyone wishes to put up a hoarding, and to say "No, do not put it up here, but if you will agree to put it up there we shall not raise any objection." It is much better and easier to do that than to allow the owner to put it up and then tell him to take it away.

In view of the Committee which has been specially appointed to deal with this matter, it has been suggested elsewhere that negotiations should take place and that an amicable settlement should be brought about between the licensing authority and the advertising body. But I should like to point out that this is impossible without by-laws behind you. A man may be very willing to negotiate and come to terms as to what he will do if he knows that you have the power behind you to enforce your wish, and that if he does not agree and puts up his hoarding in the wrong place he may be made to remove it. But if there is no power behind you, it is quite impossible to get negotiation on this matter. As a matter of fact, the local authority in Scotland has no knowledge whatever when hoardings are going to be put up. Somebody may wake up one day and find a hoarding, but that is all; it is there. This Bill proposes that all such advertisements should be licensed. That would mean, of course, that the application for the licence would come before the local authority or the special committee appointed to deal with the matter, and then would occur the opportunity for coming to terms and arranging where the erection should be placed and where it should not. It would give opportunity for dealing with the matter in an amicable way, and I believe that in nine out of ten cases settlement would be reached.

I have mentioned that the large cities already have the power of licensing: Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and, at all events to some extent, Dundee. Your Lordships may take it that these four large cities—Glasgow has over a million people—represent pretty well half the population of Scotland. The number of advertisement signs and hoardings put up in these cities must be infinitely greater than it would be in any county. The billposters are afraid that the passing of this Bill will diminish employment, and diminish their work, but I am very doubtful whether it would. I do not think it would necessarily reduce the number of hoardings or advertisements. It would, however, place them differently, and it might conceivably lead to an increase, because if they were less conspicuous perhaps more advertisements would be required to meet the case. At all events in the cities the control of licensing has not diminished the number. In Edinburgh in 1926, when they obtained powers under their Private Act, there were 324 licences. Now there are about 500 in force, and the power to regulate these advertisements has saved our beautiful capital city of Scotland from appalling disfigurement. Had it not been for that power we should have had sky-scraper advertisements and flashing lights along our beautiful main street and up towards the Castle. That has been stopped by the powers which Edinburgh obtained under her Private Bill.

I will just add, with reference to the large cities, that since 1931 only sixteen cases out of 571 decisions were appealed, or less than 3 per cent., and only five of those appeals were upheld, or less than 1 per cent. The Edinburgh Act seems to have worked very well indeed, but there are others who can speak and who will no doubt give evidence on this matter. I do not think I need trouble your Lordships with the figures for Edinburgh any further. It is clear enough that the number refused is not very great, that very few refusals have been appealed against, and that in still fewer cases have the appeals been sustained by the Sheriff.

To pass to the Bill itself, Clause 1 provides: It shall not be lawful to erect, exhibit, fix, maintain, retain or continue any advertisement, whether existing at the commencement of this Act or not, upon any land, building, hoarding, wall, tree, fence, gate or elsewhere except on such sites, buildings, hoardings or other places as the local authority may in writing license, and such licence may be granted for such period not exceeding three years and under and subject to such terms and conditions to be therein prescribed as the local authority may deem proper. Your Lordships may say that those terms are very drastic. They are not more drastic than, but practically identical with, the powers in the cities at the present time. If they are being carried out in large cities it will be very much easier to deal with them in rural districts, and as the licences are to continue for three years in the first instance, it will only be necessary to deal with new cases, which will not be very numerous.

There are not many exceptions to Clause 1. The first is in subsection (2): A licence shall not be necessary for any advertisement or site for advertisements (not being illuminated advertisements) of the classes following (that is to say):—

  1. (i) Advertisements exhibited within the interior or in the window of any building;
  2. (ii) Advertisements other than illuminated advertisements relating to the trade or business carried on within the land or building upon which the same are placed (and not being sky-signs) or to any sale, feu or let of such land or building, or any effects therein or to any sale, entertainment or meeting held in or upon the same."
If a bazaar is being held at a public hall there is nothing to prevent posters being stuck up on each side of the door, drawing attention to it, and if a house is for sale there may be a hoarding erected on the premises. In the exceptions we have provided for all reasonable cases.

The third exception relates to newspapers: (iii) Advertisements of newspapers or periodicals and newspaper or periodical contents bills and bill boards exhibited within or in the window of or without any building in which newspapers or periodicals are printed, published or sold. That was put in at the instance of the Newspaper Society. The fourth exception deals with advertisements exhibited within any railway station or upon any wall, bridge or other property of a railway company, except any portion of the surface of such wall, bridge or other property fronting any public street, road or way. It has been suggested—I do not think there will be any objection—that docks should be allowed to share in the exceptions, as they generally do, of the railway companies; and of course advertisements sanctioned by any Act of Parliament, and traffic signs, are also excepted.

With these provisos there will be opportunity for that negotiation which was mentioned in another place, and I believe was mentioned at the conference recently held. Indeed that is the very essence of licensing. If the proposed advertiser has to come to the local authority and say, "I want to put up a hoarding here, and there," it will be examined by the committee, and the result of the negotiations would usually—perhaps not always—be satisfactory. At all events this is a much better method of proceeding than all that can be done under an Act and by-laws to require the removal of offending advertisements. We have to deal not only with big firms who erect hoardings but with what I might call the casual billposter, the man who goes about with a can and a brush and plasters posters up on your gate posts, trees or walls. I had a case recently where a man went so far as to post bills on the base of a war memorial cross. Fortunately there was a member of the Legion there to tear it down.

The matter, as I have said, has been considered by the County Councils' Association from time to time, and all counties are in favour of the Bill and give it their unanimous support. In 1928 a Committee was appointed, and they took the opinion of Counsel, a very eminent lawyer in Scotland, who held the view that the by-laws might very likely not be upheld in a Scottish Court. That is to say he agreed with the Law Officers of the Crown. But he went on to say that while schedules could define public parks, pleasure promenades, etc.… in the case of landscapes of natural beauty, rural scenery and villages, the attempt to define the indefinable presents as always an almost insuperable difficulty. In those words he, of course, adopted the words of Mr. Justice Shearman. This eminent lawyer went on to say: I confess that the search for a practical method of dealing with this problem has occasioned me much perplexity. The best suggestion which occurs to me for dealing with the matter is to provide by means of a code of by-laws for some system of licensing advertisement sites. That is precisely what this Bill proposes to do. It proposes to give the local authorities power to licence advertising sites, and the eminent lawyer who gave the opinion which I have just quoted was Mr. Cooper, who is now the Lord Advocate. I very much hope that the Lord Advocate has not changed his views since the date when he gave that opinion, and that he will support the proposals for a system of licensing.

I hope very strongly that Scotland at all events will be allowed to get this power. We are unanimous in Scotland that without it nothing effective can be done. It will not do simply to say that no advertisements shall be allowed within a certain distance, say, from point A to point B. It might well happen that on one side of the road the advertisements were comparatively innocuous, while on the other side they spoilt a beautiful view. Take the case of a road along the sea coast where the view can very easily be utterly spoilt; or a road in moorland country, where you may want to have a view clear on both sides. If we are not to have licensing, what else is to be done? I earnestly hope that we shall be allowed to have a Second Reading of this Bill, and that Scotland may get its licensing; but I would suggest that the Committee stage might be deferred until the Special Committee has reported on the matter. They will have evidence before them. But we did feel that it was very desirable to have this debate, and that the definite proposals for licensing, which alone will satisfy Scotland, should be put before the House. I beg to move.

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


My Lords, I wish very warmly to support this Bill. I do so as representing the Association for the Preservation of Rural Scotland, which works, like its English counterpart, to protect the amenity of our Scottish countryside. I am quite sure that this subject will have the sympathy of all your Lordships, but I would remind you that Scotland is a very beautiful country and her scenery is probably the greatest asset she possesses. We look on it as a heritage which it is our duty to hand down unspoilt to those who come after us. What will future generations say of us if it is we who have betrayed that trust? By neglecting this duty we feel that you would be doing a disservice to everybody—both to the people who live in the country and have pride in their surroundings, and also to millions of townsfolk who look to the country as a means of escape very often from the monotonous, rather dreary conditions in which they have to live, and who, when they come to the country, expect to see it as the Creator made it and intended it to remain.

There is no doubt that of all factors which tend to injure the amenity of the country this promiscuous advertising is far the most acute. We all realise that there must be a certain amount of advertising for trade purposes. But as my noble friend has said, we think there is a right place for everything, and an advertisement which may often brighten up, and indeed beautify, a dingy spot in the town would have a very different affect if it were put in the open country. My noble friend Lord Polwarth has dealt very fully with the provisions of this Bill, and I would only like to speak on the necessity which exists to-day in Scotland for some effective legislation, because, as he has said, at the present moment we have absolutely none. It is the very nature of the Scottish scenery which makes this indiscriminate roadside advertising so very injurious to our landscape. Scotland, or the most of Scotland, is not an enclosed country: to use a Western expression it is a country of wide open spaces, broad vistas, panoramas where the eye can see for miles around, and where one unsightly advertisement may injure the scenery from a thousand different viewpoints. It is for that reason that any by-laws which would be acceptable to the Scottish Office would be utterly useless for our purpose. In effect, what the Scottish Office say is this: "We will give you regulating powers over certain circumscribed, scheduled beauty spots." Most Scottish counties are beauty spots in themselves, and it is manifestly impossible to ring off what is and what is not to be a beauty spot in so wide an area. Indeed, I do not believe that that was the object of the Advertisements Regulation Acts of 1907 and 1925, which were made to prevent the disfigurement of the landscape as such, and not of mere points on the map.

Let us see for a moment how much this indiscriminate advertising has recently grown in Scotland. To be quite frank, we have not yet quite reached the stage which was very graphically described by an honourable member in another place, Mr. Strauss, in a recent debate on amenity. Mr. Strauss said: I recently drove from Brussels to Antwerp, and continuously on both sides of the road there were enormous advertisements which did not allow you to see any of the country at all, on one side or the other, during the whole journey. That was a journey of about forty miles. What a delightful drive Mr. Strauss must have had! Well, we are not quite as bad as that yet, but does it not point a warning finger to what may happen, and what will happen in this country if this menace is not very soon checked? I wish I could show your Lordships some photographs which I have here, collected from various parts of Scotland. I am sure they would move you to tears, if you could see them, to think that such things were possible. If you saw the subjects of the photographs on the ground it would move you to entire wrath that such vandalism was permissible in this country. And yet we are obliged to stand by, impotent to have them removed, or to prevent others being put alongside them.

May I try to describe one or two examples? Drive north into Scotland, and you do not have far to go before you meet them. At most of the principal crossings over the Border a certain firm has seen fit to advise travellers that they are in Scotland, and of course when they are there they must shop at that firm's particular establishment. Huge, hideous advertisements have been erected in some of the most beautiful parts of our country for the purpose. I will give them credit for this, that they have had the good sense to put them up on the Scottish side of the Border, because they know that there they are safe. If they put them fifty yards south they would be in England, and they would be liable to be removed under the English by-laws. Again, travel up to Fife. There we see a magnificent panorama overlooking St. Andrews and the Bay and the North Sea—or rather we do not see it, because it is completely hidden from one's sight at one of the best vantage points by various hoardings. I have photographs here. Again the Great North Road along which many of your Lordships have doubtless travelled, over the crest of the Lammermoor Hills, reaches its highest point at Soutra Hill and emerges on fine open moorland, typical of Lowland Scottish scenery. This road has become a veritable nest of hoardings. A few years ago there were none. The day before yesterday I counted nine, and in a year or two there may be ninety; there is nothing in the world to prevent it.

As I say, and as my noble friend Lord Polwarth has said, there is nothing to prevent anybody putting up any kind of advertisement he pleases in Scotland provided he can find a piece of ground on which to do it. Surely this is an extraordinary situation. But I am very glad to see that His Majesty's Government have now become aware of the fact, and that only last month they appointed a Committee of inquiry to look into the whole question of advertisement regulation. Representatives of various interested parties were invited to this conference — representatives of local authorities, advertising interests, and amenity societies—and with the exception, perhaps, of a few of the advertisers, opinion was absolutely definite that more stringent regulation was necessary, the only difference of opinion being what form that regulation should take. My noble friend Lord Polwarth has put the case for licensing so admirably that it is not necessary for me to enlarge upon it, but I would just like to say that to my mind any other form of legislation so far devised has this great drawback, that it allows an offending advertisement to be put up and allows the scenery to be spoiled before anything can be done to check it. The public may then have to endure an offending advertisement for a year or more before a prosecution can take place, even if it is possible to get a successful prosecution.

Safeguards of course, there must be to any system of licensing—adequate safeguards—because licensing must never become a source of remuneration to the licensing authorities. That would be easily got over by restricting the licensing fees to the cost of administration. Another safeguard would be that the advertiser would have the right of appeal to the Sheriff. Opponents of the licensing system will answer that that system is too drastic, but I cannot see why it should be too drastic as long as you have these adequate safeguards. As has already been stated, the system is in force in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and I cannot see why what is so suitable for the towns should not be equally applicable to the country. At any rate, Scotland with her peculiar type of scenery is worthy of the fullest consideration, and I do not see why, if necessary, she should not be allowed separate legislation of her own of a kind suitable to her needs.


My Lords, I rise to support in a word the noble Lord's Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill. I do not think anyone can object on principle to this Bill, at least no one with any love of beauty and rural scenery, because it is quite obvious that the continual growth of unsightly hoardings and advertisements must demand control somehow. I do not visualise any better way of controlling these things than by a Bill of this nature. The Bill in my opinion wisely places the control of the licensing in the hands of the local authorities. After all, the local authorities lay out the roads. They have to provide the finance for the roads, and therefore they would seem to be the right people to control the beauty of the roads. Some discrimination, however, will have to be made as regards the advertisements which are licensed. It would be a pity to be severe on hotel advertisements, because we are very anxious in Scotland to develop our touring and travel, and the hotel advertisement is not really a trade advertisement; it is really a national service for visitors, tourists, and so forth.

The only real criticism I have to make is that I do not see any mention of what the licence fee is to be. It would be an error if we left it to each local authority to fix its own licence fee. After all, when you take out a licence for a dog or a firearm or a car you have to pay a statutory licence fee, which is the same all over the country. In this case the licence fee should also be a statutory fee, the same all over the country, whatever it may be. Of course, the fee would have to be based on the measurements of the advertisement, by the square foot or the square yard. Otherwise I cordially support the Second Reading.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, and those who followed him have made out a stirring case for this Bill with which few of us—certainly few of us Scotsmen—will wish to disagree. Since the Bill was introduced the question of advertisement regulation has been discussed, as your Lordships have already heard, in another place, and there was general agreement, in view of the importance and complexity of the subject, that a conference should be called of all the interests concerned so that the questions at issue could be discussed and definite practical steps taken to deal with the problem. That conference was held at the Home Office last month, and the noble Earl, Lord Haddington, has told your Lordships that as the result of that conference it was arranged that a Committee of the representatives who attended that conference should be formed to consider the matters discussed and report to the full conference.

I understand that this Committee, which includes representatives of Scottish local authorities and of the Association for the Preservation of Rural Scotland, will hold its first meeting very shortly, and will endeavour to find a solution which would be acceptable to the various interests concerned. In these circumstances the noble Lord responsible for this Bill may doubt whether this is an opportune moment to proceed further with the present Bill in advance of the consideration of the whole matter which has been undertaken by the Committee. Perhaps also I may give those noble Lords an assurance that the proposals embodied in this Bill will receive the full consideration of the Committee.


My Lords, may I suggest to the Government that the most convenient procedure would be for the House to accept the Second Reading of this Bill and for my noble friend Lord Polwarth to postpone the Committee stage until this Committee has concluded its inquiry, if the noble Lord will agree to this.


I agree to that with pleasure.

On Question, Bill read 2a.