HL Deb 01 February 1945 vol 134 cc862-99

2.16 p.m.

LORD MOTTISTONE had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government, whether they can ensure that in all planning schemes adequate steps are taken to prevent the disfigurement of the neighbourhood by ugly signs or advertisements; whether they will consider the introduction of such additional legislation as may be necessary to secure the powers needed for this purpose; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I suppose no one in your Lordships' House would take up your time at this great moment in the country's fate unless it were a matter which was urgent and in which something definite could be done, and especially, I think, a matter which would affect for good or ill the fighting men abroad, whom we hope before long will begin to come home. All those conditions are fulfilled in the Motion which I beg to move. Because there can be no doubt, to take the last point first, that, with hardly an exception, the returning soldier will rejoice if the countryside is undisfigured and will have his pleasure marred if what he has been dreaming of for so long is ruined in appearance, just at the places which he loves best, by some unsightly advertisement or other sign. As to the urgency of the matter I think the answer is to be found in the resolution of the County Councils' Association recently passed, which I have here. I know they have forwarded it to Lord Woolton. In it they said that in the opinion of the committee there could be no more favourable opportunity than now exists to take immediate steps, before the resumption and extension of advertising activities aggravates the problem of control.

I have some knowledge of advertising, as your Lordships know. Indeed some people have wondered that I have the temerity, as they put it, or the audacity, to address your Lordships about advertising, seeing that, having been responsible in large measure for the advertising of the National War Savings Campaign both before this war and during it, I have been, it might be thought, a supreme offender. But I think that is not so, because although I am asking the help of His Majesty's Government, what I seek to arrive at to-day (and I believe we can arrive at it, as I shall presently show), is unanimity regarding that side of advertising which everybody hates and, with hardly an exception, nobody cares for except a small minority —that side which causes disfigurement of the countryside.

The questions of how far you ought to prohibit Neon signs and how far in a town you ought to prevent a hoarding being put up, even if it covers up an ugly wall, are debatable questions. Most of the questions about advertising in a town are highly debatable. And may I say that one could not hope to get the support of Lord Woolton to any plan to stop all advertisements, because nobody has used the advertising medium more fully, more successfully and to the greater advantage of everybody in this country, than he himself. I know he would say: "No, we must not hamper advertising. It is a most valuable weapon for the Government and, as long as we have our present system, a most valuable method for all people who want to devise new and good things to sell to the public." I do not think I shall be putting it too high when I say it will shock every returned soldier, as it shocks us, to see the horrible sights produced by some of these advertisements. I need not labour the point as Lord Lang has told me he is anxious to take part in this debate on many grounds, but particularly because these advertisements were such a shocking thing in the County of Kent approaching Canterbury. When he went there constantly he was horrified to see that lovely countryside completely disfigured by these advertisements. Now most of them have been blown down by the good, strong west wind which we have had and we hope they will never be put up again. They will not be if we can manage to stop it now.

My justification to-day is that I have an idea, for reasons which I will give presently, that if we show real unanimity in this matter, if we make it plain to all outside this House that we in this House of Parliament do regard it as an outrage to disfigure our fair countryside, it may have the result that the countryside will not be disfigured any more. Why do I make so bold as to say that? As I have said, I have had something to do with advertising. For something like nineteen years I have been concerned with the advertising of national savings and later of War Savings. Incidentally may I say here and now, on behalf of Lord Kindersley and Sir Harold Mackintosh and myself, that everybody at headquarters avows that we never have disfigured and never will disfigure the countryside, but if it is considered that we have done so we beg pardon and say we will not do it again. I suggest that other large bodies should make the same self-denying ordinance.

I have had a very remarkable document from some of these great advertisers. They are waiting for Parliament to say "Stop it." I am going to reveal something of what a great advertiser says and about which my noble friend Lord Southwood knows something. I am going to bring these facts to your Lordships' notice and Lord Southwood can add some of his own if he will do so. If he will not do so, I can say that it is greatly to his credit that he has done much to save the countryside from these disfigurements and from far worse things than the countryside has yet suffered. This is what a leading figure in the advertising world says and his authority cannot be questioned: The funny thing about posters in the countryside is that everybody wants to see posters done away with or very stringently restricted. It would be difficult to find any subject on which there was such universal agreement, and yet they never seem to be satisfactorily dealt with from a legislative point of view. He goes on to say: You can certainly say that from the conversations you have had with large advertisers— I have talked with many of our greatest advertisers, and I can now tell your Lordships that I am sure this is so— most of them only use posters in the country because their competitors do so and all decent manufacturers and advertisers would welcome the elimination of such signs. It is a formidable fact that all these great advertisers would welcome the elimination of such signs.

He adds that among the offenders in this ma-net are the railway companies. Of course the railway companies will say that they themselves have nothing to do with these advertisements which disfigure the countryside all along our lines of railway. That is so. I myself would wish to pay a tribute to the advertising of one of the railway companies because it is so entirely good. In their stations they have the most eloquent posters calling upon everyone to go and see the beautiful English countryside. They show original drawings and some reproductions from our great artists. They are very beautiful things. A foreigner said to me: "You English people are most extraordinary. Among the most beautiful things I have seen in England are the railway, companies' advertising posters in their stations telling us to go and see the beauties of England, but no sooner do I go out into the country than I see their railway bridges covered with huge posters disfiguring the whole landscape." It is a case of not letting your right hand know what your left hand is cluing. I am quite sure that I am right in saving that the amount of revenue which the railway companies draw from this advertising on their bridges is quite negligible in their revenue and expenditure accounts, whereas what they may lose by people deciding on the whole not to bother to travel any more on "this ugly line" must be infinitely more.

There is one other aspect of it which another famous advertiser has mentioned. We are anxious in the postwar years to encourage foreign visitors to come to this country to see our lovely countryside, but what will they think of us if we do not alter things? This is an overwhelming case and I hope it will be emphasized by other speakers. I know that my own Bishop who keeps my conscience, the Lord Bishop of Winchester, who I see in his place, has something to say about the horrors of advertising in the rural areas which he knows so well. But they are not to be seen now, as he will point out, because the blessed wind has blown the things down. It is not only a few highbrow artistic enthusiasts who want to see the country kept clear of these advertisements. Everybody wants it except a few advertisers who I hope will now decide to abandon their advertisements. The broad mass of the people wish it.

I noticed that the other day there was a conference of Outdoor Associations the total membership of which must run into millions. The conference was representative of such bodies as the Camping Club of Great Britain, the Cyclists' Touring Club, Workers' Travel Association and the Youth Hostels Association. This is what was written to me on their behalf: The Conference of Outdoor Associations heard at its meeting last week that you are raising the question of the need for additional legislation and wider powers of control over outdoor advertisements and signs in the House of Lords … the Conference … desired me to express to you its thanks. And the writer promises to support me in any attempt to strengthen the present inadequate law relating to the regulation of advertisements. So I think I have made good my case that the overwhelming majority of people of all sorts would welcome such a move. This gentleman speaks of "strengthening" the law but the Clerk to the Hampshire County Council, who is well instructed in this matter, informs me, and I have been told from other sources, that really the law would be strong enough if people would only use it. I am not sure, with deep respect to those authorities, that that is quite true. It is the fact that a great many, or at any rate a considerable number of local bodies have not used the powers they might have used, but it would be a help if the Government could express some strong opinion and, where necessary, strengthen the law.

One particular point was brought to my notice by my noble friend Lord Southwood and I thank him for it. Lord Southwood speaks with peculiar authority in the matter because not only does he control a great daily newspaper but also some of the advertising people in the Billposting Association. He pointed out to me, first that he is whole-heartedly with us in this matter, for which I am sure we all thank him, and secondly that there is a danger which we have all observed from what is called fly-posting. That is the most pernicious form of advertising in the countryside. You will find bills stuck on every tree and gatepost in certain parts of the country. Whether the law is adequate to deal with that I cannot pretend to say, but my noble friend Lord Southwood thinks that the law is not strong enough. I beg my noble friend opposite to take a note of that fact and if that be the case to consider the introduction of a one-clause Bill, which would be entirely non-contentious.

Some of us have entered into a self-denying ordinance. I have said that the National Savings Committee will not disfigure the countryside. What about the great newspapers? I have received a letter from Lord Justice Scott. I will not read it all because I have shown the letter to the noble and most reverend Lord, Lord Lang of Lambeth, and I dare say he will deal with it. Lord Justice Scott points out that there is widespread misapprehension of the meaning of his Committee's Report and says that really all the members of his Committee are as anxious as anybody else to stop rural advertising altogether. We want to keep the country clear of these advertisements, which are now fortunately being blown away, and to get rid finally of those rural advertisements which still remain and have been put there by certain newspapers—not, I understand, by the newspapers controlled by my noble friend Lord Southwood. I do not see any of the other noble Lords who control newspapers in their places in your Lordships' House to-day—I wish they were here—but I have had a letter from the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, who has something to do with a Sunday newspaper, saying that he is whole-heartedly on our side. I have been told verbally by the proprietors of other newspapers who are members of your Lordships' House that they will not disfigure the countryside, so perhaps they will enter into a self-denying ordinance, too.

I wonder whether the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, not only as a beneficent land owner who cares for the countryside deeply in his own native Wiltshire but as Vice-Chairman of the Railway Companies' Association, would join in agreeing not to disfigure the countryside. The noble Lord, Lord Royden, the Chairman of the Railway Companies' Association, intended coming here this afternoon but is unfortunately laid up with the prevalent cold. He asked me to say on his behalf that he is whole-heartedly in favour of my Motion and will do all he can to prevent any disfigurement of the countryside in future. It looks as if there is a great body of agreement. We are all glad to see my noble friend Lord Woolton here again after his recent indisposition. I am especially glad myself because I am sure he is the man to solve the problem. I do not think he will go by on the other side, like the Levite. He is a Good Samaritan sort of man. In spite of what had happened before the last war, when my noble friend Viscount Samuel helped through a private Bill to stop these disfiguring advertisements, the position just before this war was very much worse. If my noble friend Lord Woolton can find a way of stopping this we will find the most beautiful spot in rural England and put up a statue to him in his lifetime—the greatest compliment you can pay a man—with a legend stating that this was the man who fed us when we were hungry and kept our beautiful land free from disfigurement.

2.36 p.m.


My Lords, I think your Lordships will agree that this is a most timely Motion. We thank the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, for having initiated a discussion of this matter at this time. I must apologize to your Lordships and to him for not being able to be present at the beginning of his speech but from what I have heard I judge that he is concerned to prevent the continued disfigurement of the countryside. With that I most warmly agree but, without any diminution of interest in the countryside, I would like also to direct attention to the disfigurement of urban areas which has become nothing short of a nightmare. Like my noble friend Lord Mottistone, I cannot subscribe to the doctrine enunciated by the Clerk to the Hampshire County Council that the existing law is strong enough, although I must concede—in this I must be careful —that there are certain local authorities who have failed to exercise the powers they already have.

I apprehend that the discussion this afternoon is on the subject of the regulation and control of outdoor advertising and I take it that that embraces notices affixed to or painted on buildings, hoardings, advertising stations and other structures. There are, of course, also what are know as projecting signs and signs which are lighted intermittently or floodlighted. Then there is the even more unregulated form of outdoor advertising to which the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, has referred—namely, fly-posting. Well, I do not know how many members of your Lordships' House have indulged in the entertaining practice of fly-posting at election time. I must confess that I have.


We competed.


I agree. As the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, says, we competed—in a just cause I think. I am quite sure that my noble friend Lord Ammon has indulged in the practice—


I am afraid so.


—either with me or alone. But it is the case that fly-posting is perhaps one of the most sinister aspects of this question. I do not think that any of us would regret having to deny ourselves the colour and excitement of competing in fly-posting if, in the public interest, the practice were regulated or; indeed, largely suppressed. But I think there is this point to be made: that it would be unfair to those quite properly engaged in advertising for them to be subject to stricter control and regulation if fly-posting were left to be carried on with unrestricted freedom.

Having thus, I hope, made my peace with my noble friend Lord Southwood on the general subject of the control of advertising, I will proceed. I think it would be unfortunate if those interested in outdoor advertising should assume that those of us who support this Motion are necessarily asking for the suppression of all forms of outside advertising. That is not the case—at least so far as I am concerned it is not the case. What we are asking for is some wider and more effective measure of control. I think this must be conceded: that commercial art has made great advances in recent years, and, indeed, has made a contribution to the development of pictorial art. The Council of Art and Industry has done, and no doubt will continue to do, a good job in this direction as well as in many others, and I think that no one would dissent from the view that the late Mr. Frank Pick, of the London Passenger Transport Board, made a great contribution to the improvement of art in pictorial advertising. But what we are concerned about, as I have said, is the unregulated and uncontrolled disfigurement not only of the rural areas but of built-up areas, and I would like to suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, who is going to reply, that it is a little useless to give authorities power to control architectural features, elevation of buildings and the like, unless they are to have similar powers, or at least adequate powers, to apply in restraint of the effacement and disfigurement of buildings and places by pictorial or other advertisements.

The public mind, I think it is fair to say, has for long been exercised on this matter, and I can add this: that for some considerable time local authorities—I will not say all, but many of them—have pressed for wider and mere effective powers of control. So far as I am personally concerned, I remember with some satisfaction that one of my early actions, on becoming a member of the London County Council in 1928, was to initiate a motion requesting the Council to inquire into the powers which it possessed for controlling outdoor advertising, and to make such representations as might appear to be necessary with a view to securing wider powers. The view that the Council came to then—and which it still holds—was that although, as I shall indicate, there are certain legislative powers available, they are really unsatisfactory and inadequate to deal with this problem.

In that connexion, the County Council gave evidence before the Uthwatt Committee. The Uthwatt Committee replied to that evidence, I think quite properly, that they did not feel that the consideration of this matter was within the terms of reference of the Committee. But we went further when the Town and Country Planning (Interim Development) Act was under consideration as a Bill. We made representations to the Minister of Town and Country Planning that more satisfactory powers should be granted to local authorities, and it was very appropriate that we should make such representations in relation to that Bill which dealt with interim development because the main difficulty at the present time is that, by and large, local authorities have no effective power to control advertisements during the interim development period of town planning. It is only when the scheme becomes operative that the powers which are conferred by the Town and Country Planning Act of 1932 can really be put into effect. That is a serious defect. We made re-presentations and, for reasons which were no doubt sound in the opinion of the Minister and his advisers, nothing was done. We renewed our representations in this behalf when the recent Town and Country Planning Act was under consideration in both Houses of Parliament, but nothing appears in that Act extending the powers of local authorities in this matter.

The present position is that local authorities must mainly rely on the provisions of the Town and Country Planning Act of 1932, and whilst those provisions are in some respects fairly ample, as I have already said, they are not operative during the interim development period. Moreover, they are not operative, for a period of five years, against advertisement hoardings and stations which were in existence before the date of the preparation or adoption of the town planning scheme. The operation of town planning schemes in urban areas is likely to be delayed, not because anyone wishes to delay but because town planning has assumed a new concept since the war on account of damage. The recent Town and Country Planning Act recognizes that, and in large built-up areas such as London it is inevitable that, with the best will in the world on the part of those concerned, it will be many years before you can have an effective town planning scheme operative as regards the whole area of the authority.

During the whole of that time the local authority, as the law is at present, possesses no effective power of control. For instance, under the existing legislation there is no control over an advertisement hoarding under 12 feet. There are certain elements of control possible under the London Building Acts, but only if the hoarding is of such a form and shape that it can be regarded as a building. If it is simply a hoarding and is below 12 feet, no power resides, as I am advised, in the London County Council or in any other local authority to control it. We therefore urge the Government to consider that not only should there be new powers of control but those powers should be capable of being operated during the interim period of planning and development, and that there should be no exemption—except perhaps, for reasons of equity, for a relatively speaking short period—for existing hoardings, advertising stations, signs and the like.

Then we reach the question of night signs. It may be that the effect of the black-out has been to dull in the memory of some of us what hideous confusion there was in certain parts of London at night prior to the war, though I doubt whether any of us are likely to forget the nightmare of Piccadilly Circus and its environs, where there was almost unbridled freedom to outrage every canon of decency and good taste. I put it to the noble Lord who is going to reply that unless the law is altered that kaleidoscope of blatant ugliness in Piccadilly Circus and other parts of London will probably herald the resumption of peace-time lighting in London and in other great cities; for when peace-time lighting is resumed there is at present nothing to prevent the resumption of that blatant affront to every sense of taste and amenity which existed in Piccadilly Circus and elsewhere in London and other large cities and towns before the war.

I should like, if I may, to draw the attention of the noble Lord to a very serious danger which faces areas where there has been war damage. Many sites will remain vacant for the simple reason that there will not be the material and labour with which to build; and already quite a number of sites in London are being used for advertising hoardings and advertising stations. It will be a sorry thing if for the next five or six, or it may be ten, years these damaged sites, already sufficiently ugly from the scars of their own ruins, as it were, should have their ugliness added to by unsightly advertisement hoardings or stations. I do press upon tip, noble Lord who is going to reply the urgent need to consider that as well as other elements of this problem.

Another aspect to which I should like to refer is that of smoke writing—sky writing—and sky shouting. There was a Select Committee of the House of Commons in 1932 to consider the potentialities—I like that word!—of this kind of advertising, but a good deal of technical and other advance has been made since 1932 in the use of the air. I hope that this kind of use will not be regarded as a part of civil aviation. Surely we have suffered enough during the war from the abuse of the air and the sky for us to be spared its commercial exploitation in peace-time. Life is already sufficiently noisy, I suggest, without the terror of sky shouting about somebody's 57 brands being added to the cacophony of noises to which the citizens of modern towns and cities are subjected.

I have dealt principally with built-up areas, but, as I said to start with, I do not overlook the position which exists in the rural areas. Your Lordships may remember that in November, 1942, the noble Lord, Lord Portal, who was then Minister of Works and Planning, said with regard to advertising in rural areas: Then there is the question of the control of advertisements. What we who love the countryside have to try to do is to keep all the things that are useful, beautiful and progressive in village and rural life and see if we can improve them. There are many things that we want to maintain in the countryside, but I think nobody can say that advertisements beautify it. Their removal may upset some people, but if you are travelling from London through beautiful country and see advertisements of a popular pill all the way down you feel ill before you get to your destination. I leave noble Lords to draw what deductions they may from the concluding words of that statement! As the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, has said, the Scott Committee drew attention, in moderate but very firm and striking words, to the importance of regulating advertisements. They drew attention to the circumstance to which I have myself referred, that the existing legislation under the Town and Country Planning Act of 1932 is not sufficient; it is ineffective; it is not wide enough in its range and it is not speedy enough in its operation. The Scott Committee go on to suggest thorough-going proposals. They say, for instance, that in regard to existing hoardings, signs and advertisements they recommend "that within a reasonably short time-limit the erection should be removed and the advertisement obliterated unless the local planning authority grants a licence for continuance."

In December, 1937, following a debate in the House of Commons in which I think it can fairly be said that members of all Parties spoke of the need for further control of advertisements, this Resolution was adopted: That this House, recognizing the importance of the preservation of amenities, wishes to call attention to the desirability of strengthening the Advertisements Regulation Acts and to the anxiety that exists with respect to the activities of the Forestry Commission in the Lake District and other areas of great natural beauty. I should like to say en passant that I hope the Government's consideration will not be limited merely to the reconsideration of the Advertisements Regulation Acts, because this is fundamentally a town planning problem and the regulations to be made should be part of town planning. Following the passing of that Resolution in another place, in February, 1938, the Home Secretary convened a conference of interests. It was agreed at that conference that further investigations should be carried out. Well, nothing has been done, and I cannot make any complaint that nothing further was done in 1938. Those were difficult months; preparations for very serious and tragic events were under way, and I can quite understand that nothing was done in that year, and that for some time it has not been possible to do anything. But I do urge on the Government that now is the time for something to be done. It is not only idle but it is a waste of money as well as effort for town planning authorities to refuse development here and agree to development there, to involve themselves in compensation here or there, in order to secure amenity, to preserve beauty, to ensure pleasing architectural designs, if the whole of that work can be rendered nugatory by the uncontrolled exercise of this freedom to advertise and paste bills wherever the persons concerned may wish—subject, as I have said, to the relatively speaking limited powers of control that local authorities possess.

I therefore do beg the noble Lord to urge upon the Government that this is really an essential part of planning. We cannot secure the preservation of existing beauty spots in this country, especially near towns and cities and in the rural areas, if the present almost unrestricted right of advertising, by advertising stations, hoardings, illuminated signs and the like, remains as it is. Here is an opportunity for the Government to do something which is not only necessary but which would meet with the approval, I believe, of the vast majority of the people of this country. I hope that the noble Lord who replies may be able to give some encouragement to this House and through this House to the vast majority of people outside who for years have been disturbed at the disfigurement, and indeed almost desecration, of the countryside, of its beauty spots, and of our cities and towns by this uncontrolled right of advertising.

3.3 P.m.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, has done a great public service by raising this subject in your Lordships' House. In his eloquent speech, followed by the very forcible words to which we have just listened, he seems really to have said all that can be said on the matter, but I feel so strongly about it myself that I cannot but ask your Lordships to listen for a short time while I speak both as a member of the public and as a private sufferer. For more than fourteen years it was my privilege to move continually about the centre and east of Kent, among its hills, valleys and villages, and I cannot tell your Lordships how distressing it was to be perpetually affronted, to have one's eyes hit and hurt by the display of hideous advertisements in places which were meant to be really beautiful and secure from these intrusions.

I fully recognize the place that advertisement has taken in our modern life. The designing of advertisements and the devising of the methods of exhibition have become almost a separate profession—I am told that in the United States there are at least two universities in which there are chairs of advertisement—and I agree with what Lord Latham I think said, that there has been as a result of this very considerable improvement in the standard of outdoor advertisements. I further admit that in many cases the advertisements have very real artistic merit. I associate myself with what has been said in this connexion about the railway companies. I think there are few things more admirable than the advertisements in which they have employed first-rate artists to portray some of the scenes through which their lines pass.

Therefore I think that in this, as in many other things, it is the old story: it is not the use but the abuse of advertisements that we complain of. It is surely quite intolerable that when one looks out of the window in a train or motor car one's eyes should be affronted—and re-member, the whole object of these advertisements is to arrest attention, to prevent your escaping from them—by invitations to buy this particular meat or that particular drink, or—perhaps it is an ominous conjunction—to use this or that particular pill. All that is lamentable, as we all agree. But it is not only in the country areas that the abuse goes on, it affects our country towns and villages. Happily we are growing very sensitive to the preservation of what remains of the picturesque in our old English villages and country towns, and yet just there you will find again and again hideous advertisements plastered on the gable of a beautiful old house, or the eyes will be diverted and distracted from noticing the wonderful grouping of the cottages in the streets. These things are really quite intolerable.

But I am not sure that we ought not to extend our interest a little and travel even into that region against which the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, warned us —the towns themselves. I agree with what has just been said. As one who is most whole-heartedly supporting him, I hope he will forgive me if I say that I saw in what he said about the advertisements for which he is largely responsible in the towns a little trace of that disposition to compound for our offences by denouncing those to which we are not particularly prone. And if one has heard this afternoon about the nightmare of Piccadilly I am disposed to add something about the nightmare of Trafalgar Square, in respect of which my noble friend cannot altogether escape from blame. But it is true that what is mainly in our minds is the offence created in the countryside. In that regard I do not think the words of the Scott Report are a whit too strong and that it is aesthetically and morally an offence that small sections of the community should be able to exploit what ought to be a common possession, the beauty of our countryside and of our villages and towns.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Latham, that this Motion is very timely. It comes just when we are beginning, I hope more resolutely, the national scheme of planning for the whole country. I think our people are happily becoming more and more planning-minded, if I may use the phrase, and I associate myself whole-heartedly with all that Lord Latham has just so forcibly said, that it is almost incredible that at a time when we are taking this special care about the planning of both countryside and town and village it should still be possible for all that good work to be largely undone by the flaunting posters and hoardings which are in our minds this afternoon. I am very well aware that there is this legislation which has been intended to curb and abate the nuisance. It goes back as far as 1905, to the first Advertisements Regulation Act—




—made more definite by the Town and Country Planning Act of 1932, but my experience confirms the judgment of the Scott Committee that all that legislation has been singularly ineffective. It seems to have fallen into the same state of ineffectiveness as the legislation about ribbon development. I suppose we cannot escape the truth that the price we have to pay for our democratic self-government is that we have to endure the lack of independence and imagination in our local authorities.

But, my Lords, this is what I mainly want to say. I do not Think we can expect too much of even the best and most carefully thought-out legislation. It all depends for effectiveness upon the vigour, independence and keenness of our local authorities. You cannot always rely on those qualities. Moreover, it is always capable of easy evasion. Take the proposals of the Scott Committee, which otherwise seem to be so well thought out, that the erection or continuance of these posters and hoardings should be dependent upon obtaining a licence from the local planning authorities. When one thinks how that is to work, it seems to me quite obvious that the licensing would become a mere matter of office routine and that it would very feebly carry out the purposes which the Committee had in view in its Report. No, I think we have more reason to expect good from the final appeal which Lord Mottistone made and with Which I most cordially concur—namely, that we should make our appeal to the advertisers themselves.

I do not know how far this debate this afternoon may reach them, though from what Lord Mottistone has said I think it may possibly even reach a rather wider public, and if so I think there is every chance that there may be some success in a plea to the leading advertisers that they should content themselves by making use of the opportunities which they already have and to which no exception can be taken. There are the ordinary newspapers, the cheap Press, which now enter every house. There are, I would add, the railway stations, because I can conceive hardly any distraction, however ugly, which would not be welcome to relieve the tedium of waiting for trains. There may be an actual sphere there for use. But what we ask of them is that they should refrain from putting up their advertisements on posters and hoardings in places where they are manifestly unsuitable to the whole environment and must needs give offence to all that growing number of people who really care for the amenities of the country.

The noble Lord has spoken of it as a self-denying ordinance. I am not so sure that it would be so very self-denying. My own belief is that if the leading advertisers, by agreeing amongst themselves or through their central advertising agencies, refrained from erecting these advertisements, those of their competitors who continued to do so would suffer rather than gain, and more people would be inclined to follow my own example which is that when I see any particular firm which is always offending in this respect, I make a stern resolve that nothing will induce me to invest in its goods. I believe that feeling would be extended widely if it were seen that some of the most notorious advertisers had ceased to advertise in this way; those who remained would be regarded as unworthy of popular support. I am sure we must not regard this as a trivial subject. It really goes very deep, and I am quite sure that in the corning days it is just inch by inch that we shall have to fight for the preservation of what remains of peace and beauty in the English countryside and in our country villages and towns.

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, I rise with some trepidation, because before this debate began I was fairly certain that I might be considered as one of the villains of this particular piece; but since the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, has admitted that he himself is not blameless in the matter, I am a trifle easier. I should like to assure him, in the first instance, that the com- mercial interests in which I have some control have undergone a self-denying ordinance for some considerable number of years. I think there cannot be any doubt that we are all agreed that advertisements should not spoil the countryside, and I would suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, that he has no monopoly of appreciation of rural England and of the wish not to spoil it. I would suggest that the sense of beauty also extends to others who use outdoor forms of advertising. There are, of course, instances of desecration. I am very glad to know from Lord Mottistone himself that quite a number of those have been blown down, and I hope that they will not be put up again.

As regards the hoardings and posters in the towns, the noble Lord, Lord Latham, has dealt very fully with them, and I am glad to hear that in his considered opinion there has been a great improvement in the art of posters. There will always, no doubt, be a difference of opinion as to whether hoardings are ugly or otherwise, but I am not quite sure that I can agree with him when he says that hoardings should not cover ugly gaps. I think perhaps there are cases where there are ugly patches in our towns which are the better for being covered by sightly posters. I want to impress upon your Lordships that it is the great concern of the poster industry and advertisers that the amenities should be preserved, and should be preserved in ever greater measure. After all, these interests have the good will of the public at stake, and if they offend, well, their good will is bound to suffer. The good repute of the bill-posting industry is in the hands of their own trade associations. It may not be common knowledge in your Lordships' House that they have a censorship committee which exercises a very effective control over the type of advertising that is used; and your Lordships will probably agree that control from inside the industry is the more effective. I believe I am right in saying that a tribute was paid to this control some years ago by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel.

Bill-posting during the war has of course been very much restricted through paper shortage and shortage of labour, and I think it may be said that hoardings themselves have been a disfigurement by the very absence of posters on them. But while trade has been able to use posters less the Government itself has used that form of advertisement even more and the great advantages of such outdoor advertising have been recognized. I think myself that some of the best instances of Government use of outdoor advertising were the posters of the Empire Marketing Board before the war, and I very much hope we shall see some return to that form of Government advertising. It is common knowledge that most Departments of the Government have used advertising fot such services as the "Dig for Victory" campaign and last, but not least, there are the posters of the National Savings Committee. I would ask whether without further legislation there will be a return to the rather doubtful use of some Government sites of which we have already heard this afternoon.

I may be quite incorrect, and no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Latham, will correct me if I am, when I say that I believe the remedy does already lie in the hands of the local authorities. They certainly have very ample powers under the existing Acts of 1907, 1925 and 1932, but I understand that a very large proportion of the local authorities have never made the necessary by-laws. I am assured that this particular industry is one of those most governed by laws. There are numerous Acts of Parliament and Corporation and Local Acts all over the country. Quite apart from that the bill-posting industry would welcome further legislation making it obligatory for local authorities to pass the necessary by-laws. This would then bring local authorities into line with the industry itself in its efforts to improve advertisements and sites.

The evils of fly-posting which were touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, is a matter for which there is no control by local authorities or trade associations. I think I am correct in that statement, but it is a curious feature that under the Advertisements Regulation Act, 1907, there was an application to Scotland and one subsection read as follows: A county council may make by-laws under this Act for preventing the affixing or otherwise exhibiting advertisements upon any wall, tree, fence, gate, or elsewhere on private property, without the consent of either the owner or occupier previously given in writing or except by virtue of some other sufficient legal authority. I would seriously ask whether some good might not be done if that particular provision were applied to this country as well as to Scotland.

The question of licensing has been touched on. I would only say about this that it has been suggested, notably in a debate in another place in December, 1937, that the licensing of all sites would be a very drastic way of dealing with the situation. That would excite the strongest opposition from advertising interests; it would lead to all sorts of complications among local authorities, and would certainly be highly contentious in this House. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd, who replied for the Home Office on that occasion, said that a general licensing power was too strong a measure because it involved dictatorial interference with legitimate business activities. The noble Lord, Lord Latham, spoke of the recommendation of the Scott Report, which I gather only referred to rural areas. In passing I should say that it was rather felt to be unfair that in the Scott Committee representatives of the local authorities and the amenities societies were called to give evidence but there were no representatives called to give evidence from the bill-posting industry itself. In conclusion I suggest that as soon as may be the Home Office Conference that was held and adjourned just before the war, when I understand the draft Report was ready, should be again convened and that the amenities societies, the local authorities and the advertising interests should fact together and continue the good work begun at that Conference.

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Mottistone has raised a subject which, as I expected, has interested a great number of your Lordships as it has interested me. It should be remembered that this House has given a lead to the country in this matter during the last twenty years which has had very beneficial results. We shall all be agreed that the noble Lord has raised this subject at an opportune moment, not simply because many of the advertisements have happily gone and people have become accustomed to their absence, but because they are coming back. No doubt your Lordships will have noticed in travelling about the country- [...] side that some of the hotels at watering places are beginning to put up their advertisements announcing their presence fifty miles before you come to them. If some are allowed to do that others will undoubtedly follow suit.

I know that several noble Lords wish to address the House on this subject and I will be as brief as I can, yet I hope to make a few remarks which may be of some service and a contribution to the debate. I think we ought to have some considerations pretty clearly in mind before we readily assent to the proposal that there should be an extension of the law in this field. The first is, I believe, as the noble Lord, Lord Lang, has already hinted, that we should rely primarily on the rising standard of public opinion rather than on an increase and extension of repressive laws. I think we can be encouraged to feel hopeful. As has already been suggested, there are signs of a steadily rising standard of taste in these matters among the advertisers, among their designers and among even the bill-posters in arranging the advertisements and, if I may say so with respect, among justices of the peace in the decisions to which they come. Of course I recognize that the action of public opinion and of the law is always reciprocal. I think therefore that we ought to recognize the fact that the two Advertisements Regulation Acts passed in 1907 and 1925, about which less has been said than I expected, have been very beneficial. I have had contact with a good many clerks of county councils and I find they are unanimous on the point that in country districts there has been a certain amount of real improvement following on the operation of the by-laws drawn up under those two Acts. No doubt there could be a great deal more improvement but I think we should do injury to the case if we did not recognize the value of the improvement that has in fact taken place.

It may reasonably be urged that more use should be made of those Acts before there is any further legislation to add to the multitudinous by-laws already in existence. One of the effects of the noble Lord's Motion was to remind me that I had not acquainted myself with the bylaws in the County of Southampton. I obtained a copy and I was glad to find they were as stringent as the by-laws in Warwickshire, where I formerly lived. When I raised the question how the bylaws were enforced the answer I got was that it depended on county councillors keeping their eyes open as they went about the countryside, on county officials keeping their eyes open, on the police and on road men reporting the erection of new hoardings. I cannot believe that road men usually make very good reporters, the police tend to have an ethical rather than an artistic bias, and county councillors and county officials are very busy people. Quite obviously one cannot expect to get satisfactory enforcement of a vast number of by-laws unless one can rely upon the action of the ordinary responsible citizen. How can the ordinary responsible citizen help in this matter unless he knows what the by-laws are and unless the local authorities are at some pains to inform him of what is contained in the by-laws, their effect and their extent, unless something is done to distinguish between the complexities and simplicities of the by-laws?

I should despair of explaining to anyone the complexities of the by-laws of the London County Council, and really local authorities and public men in general do very little to bring this subject of the contents of county by-laws before the citizens. I hope we shall do more. Of course I am aware that there is the consideration that you may have, and do have, variety between the by-laws which obtain in one county and those which obtain in another. In consequence people who have mastered the by-laws in one county may have no confidence that when they cross the county boundary they know the by-laws there. So often it is the visitor rather than the oldest inhabitant of a place, who has got accustomed to anything, who really notices the affronting, unpleasant, undesirable advertisement. I think we ought to consider this question of the better enforcement of by-laws before rushing too quickly into adding to them and finding, as we might, that the only effect was that they were not enforced. But in spite of these qualifications—and I think one should mention particularly that something might be done to get local authorities to publish and consolidate by-laws—I do believe, and I think your Lordships will feel, that a very strong case has been made out for a certain amount of further legislation.

I would like to put before your Lordships a few suggestions of a quite precise and definite kind. First, there is what is known as the difficulty of the dual code as between the operation of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1932, and the bylaws made under the Advertisements Regulation Acts, 1907 and 1925. As your Lordships will probably know—though I did not know until recently—if a town planning authority wishes to take advantage of the special provisions contained in the Town and Country Planning Act the appropriate Minister holds that that must rule out the powers given under the Advertisements Regulation Acts and they must be revoked. You cannot have two codes. Some local authorities, I am informed, take the view that if they do consent to the revocation of the powers under the Advertisements Regulation Acts and rely upon the Town and Country Planning Act, they will get less protection and less control. That is quite contrary to the intention of the Act, and it is clearly a matter which deserves further consideration and possibly further legislation.

Nothing has been said so far about the glaring case of Scotland in relation to the Advertisements Regulation Acts. Some of your Lordships may remember a debate—I had not then the honour to be a member of your Lordships' House but I heard the debate—in 1931, I think it was, when a large number of Scottish Peers were unanimous in complaining that the Advertisements Regulation Acts of 1907 and 1925 had had no effect whatever in Scotland because the Scottish Office, as advised by Scottish lawyers, took the view that regulations and by-laws under those Acts must be couched in Scotland in such precise terms as nobody could couch bylaws in. I have no doubt about that. I remember the point very clearly, and it would be interesting to know from any noble Lords from Scotland who are present to-day whether there has been any change in Scotland since that time. I have been in touch with the county councils of one or two Scottish counties during the last few weeks—one was Ross and Cromarty—and no by-laws under the Advertisements Regulation Acts of 1907 and 1925 are in force or have been adopted. On the other hand, I should have thought it was a mistake to say that a great number of county authorities in this country have not got by-laws under these Acts. I have been in touch with about twenty, and of that twenty none has said it had no by-laws. I think that on the whole, in the case of England as distinct from Scotland and Wales as distinct from Scotland, use of the Acts is fairly general. But unless a change has occurred in Scotland I suggest that there is a very strong case for further legislation.

Another point is that local authorities are sometimes genuinely troubled because they cannot take action owing to the obscurity of the language of the Acts. I must not go into every instance—I do not want to detain your Lordships too long—but I pick out one which has been already mentioned, and that is the case of advertisements on railway bridges crossing highways. That seems to raise a very obscure and difficult point under the Advertisements Regulation Acts. What is the use of a local authority going to all this trouble about building lines and elevations, about vistas and approaches, when as you enter their town you see in the middle of the approach not only a railway bridge—that is bad enough—but an advertisement about a particular kind of pill for curing all your ills, and, what is worse I suggest, an announcement that "This town is the home of"—one of the industries which the majority of its inhabitants hold in least respect.

Finally, I suggest that there might be given to local authorities the power to mark off large areas, whether the boundaries of those areas are the same as the boundaries of planning areas or not, and in those areas to say there shall be no advertisements at all except those very strictly limited in regard to shape, size, placing and the rest. Indeed it has crossed my mind that in such areas there might be such things as communal notice boards or hoardings on which permitted advertisements might be tastefully displayed under the aegis of the parish council.

I must leave it there. I think that, as has already been said, this subject is of real importance. Though none of us forgets that there is a war on and that there are many more important subjects even than this, to some of us the beauty of our countryside has something of real sanctity about it, and it is almost a religious matter with us to see that as much of it as possible should be preserved. I can imagine that the noble Lord who is going to reply for the Government may go so far as to say that he thinks that a case for further legislation has been made out, but may add that the Government have much too much upon their shoulders at the present time to be able to give the necessary thought and time to this matter. If so, I would ask him to consider whether things have not been said this afternoon which suggest that this is really an urgent matter, and that unless we take the chance that is open to us now we may never get it again. It is so much easier to prevent fresh vested interests being established than to get rid of them once they have become established.

3.41 p.m.


My Lords, the ground opened up by my noble friend Lord Mottistone's very valuable Motion is wide, and it has been very well covered by a number of speakers far more authoritative than myself. But, as a person who is directly interested in one amenity preservation society and who takes more than a dilettante interest in several others, I should like to give the fullest support to this very opportune Motion. One aspect of the question which has not been touched upon so far is that the horror of these glaring, screaming advertisement hoardings in country districts is, of course, not confined to Great Britain. When I read, as it is possible to read, in the report of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England for 1944, that along the road from Manchester to Windermere there are 755 large hoardings of single advertisements, which disfigure it completely, I am reminded of the irritation which used to be caused in pre-war days to motorists of any aesthetic sensibility by a similar phenomenon which was to be observed along a road no less beautiful, and indeed world famous for its beauty—namely, the coast road along the French Riviera. I may add that, unless my memory betrays me, it was only in the Italy of Mussolini that very strenuous measures were introduced to suppress and prevent this desecration of landscape and seascape—which, I must say, seems to me a very poor advertisement in itself for the democratic countries.

I suggest that the crux of the matter is to be found in the C.P.R.E. report's statement that the advertising industry is a "wealthy and highly organized one, with representatives throughout the country who before the war were constantly seeking fresh sites, and through its connexion with innumerable other trades has great influence on all local councils."If this is really so, then it is quite time the local, councils ceased to allow themselves to be influenced in favour of encouraging what the report rightly calls this "quite inexcusable form of disfigurement of which the public generally are sick," and, incidentally, of thus giving grist to the mill of those who see in every so-called vested interest nothing but a cynical instrument of evil. Arising out of that, it seems to me that the opportunity also occurs, in this instance, for the vested interests in question to give the lie to this theory, by making reasonable sacrifices in the public interest and collaborating with local government bodies in preparing a more attractive and worthier England, not only for post-war tourists but, even more, for the men and women serving overseas to return to.

And I would go so far as to say that if the vested interests in question lose this opportunity they will probably—if one may judge from the general trends of to-day—sooner or later have the power to harm removed from them. In this case I think it would be a well-deserved fate. It is surely clear that advertisements, at least in country districts, should only be able to appear on the scene with the consent of the local authority, presumably in this case the county councils, since private enterprise appears to be lacking in the discrimination which it should possess. I therefore join with Lord Mottistone in pressing strongly for the immediate application of the existing legislation, or the introduction of fresh legislation if that is necessary, while the going is good—in ether words, while the gales and the war have laid low so many of these appalling excrescences. Neither the public as a whole nor watchdog organizations like S.C.A.P.A., would claim that advertising as a whole ought to be put a stop to—that would, obviously, be absurd—but both would very reasonably claim that its principal value apart from what it brings in to its initiators ought definitely not to be a nuisance value.

3.45 P.m.


My Lords, I should like very briefly indeed to support my noble friend Lord Mottistone's Motion. First of all I do so on behalf of the landowners who have a very natural interest in the beauty of the countryside and are very anxious indeed to see some regulation of advertisements in the country districts. Secondly, I would like to say a word for the railway companies who have every sympathy with the views put forward by the noble Lord, and who, I think, would be prepared to co-operate so far as lies in their power. I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he said about the railways in connexion with advertising, and the compliment which lie paid to them, but I would like to point out to him that were it not for the fact that advertisers come to the railway companies and ask for sites on their railway bridges, the companies would not put advertisements on the bridges. They have no desire to advertise their own railways on their own bridges.

I am rather surprised that so much should have been said this afternoon about railway companies who, in many ways, are really very slight offenders in this matter. It is only with regard to the railway bridges that they have any responsibility for advertisements in country districts. The advertisements that you see when travelling on the railways are no concern of the railway companies at all. As the right reverend Prelate has truly said, a railway bridge, in itself, is not a very beautiful thing, and I am surprised that such a matter as the covering of them lip with advertisements has aroused so much controversy. The core of the problem has been touched on by more than one speaker. That is that against the unanimity of the vast majority of people in opposition to these advertisements, there are a certain number who are prepared to put up advertisements in country districts, and as long as they are so minded the majority have got to fall more or less into line or into the background. I do beg His Majesty's Government that they, by legislation, will support that vast majority because I believe it is only by that means that we can achieve the object for which we all so much wish. I hope that Lord Woolton may be able to say that something will be done, perhaps in future legislation, in this way. If that is so it will do something to reconcile my dislike to planning legislation as such.

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, reference has been made to the Advertisements Regulation Act of 1907, which was the first endeavour of Parliament to put a check on these abuses. I well remember the passage of that Bill because I was then Under-Secretary at the Home Office. The Bill was introduced as a Private Member's measure but was blocked in the House of Commons by members who were acting at the request of the interests concerned, and it was only because the Government gave special Government time to the passage of the Bill that it was passed into law. It was amended in 1925 and made more extensive in its terms. But, as has been mentioned to-day by several noble Lords, the laws now on the Statute Book are to a great extent ineffective. They have done some good, in fact much good, and the conditions would be much worse if they had not been passed; but the conditions which we see around us in many cases clearly prove that the law is not adequate for its purpose.

It is quite true, as has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Luke, that the industry concerned has adopted a certain measure of self-regulation, and it is true also that occasionally, as the right reverend Prelate has said, public opinion will induce the advertisers themselves to restrict their activities when those activities are likely to become objectionable. The best instance of that, perhaps, was in the case of advertisements along railway lines, which some years ago were much more frequent than they are now. The great oil companies at one time advertised against each other all along the railways, but then they came to a gentleman's agreement not to do so, and that very largely cleared the railway-side from that abuse. Other advertisers, however, did not do that, and there are still advertisements along the railways. I was most interested to hear the noble and most reverend Lord, Lord Lang, say that he had made it a practice never to purchase any commodity advertised along a railway line. I have always done the same, although I am not often tempted to indulge in any of the articles there advertised. If the public generally were to apply that rule, no doubt it would be found that railway-side advertising would become unremunerative.

The fact remains, however, that there is a very large interest in favour of these advertisements, as has been pointed out by my noble friend Lord Dement, and there are most powerful interests which will certainly oppose anything inthe nature of really stringent regulation. Not only are there the hill-posting companies, but there are certain of the advertising companies and—a very important factor—the advertising-site owners, who in the towns especially exercise a considerable influence upon the local authorities. I turn, therefore, to a point which has not yet been dealt with. The opposition with which we are likely to meet when legislation is proposed will be from those interests who say that we ought not to interfere with business rights and interests; that the country as a whole depends upon the prosperity of its industries, and now we are checking the measures which they think desirable for their own welfare. To those who are animated by that motive there is another answer which may be given; there is another financial interest which tells in the opposite direction. It is only a secondary point in this connexion; the primary one is that we ought to preserve the amenities of this land for the pleasure of its own inhabitants and to protect people from outrages upon their feelings.

There is the secondary interest, however, that a great new industry may grow up in this country—namely, tourism. After the war, world travel is likely to become much more extended than it has ever been hitherto. The standard of comfort in many of the progressive countries will be very much higher. People will have more money to spend on their leisure, and a trip to Europe from America, North or South, or from the British Dominions will be enjoyed by a very much larger number of people than before, particularly if there develops in the course of the next two or three decades cheap air transport as a normal means of travel. It may be that the number of visitors to this country year by year will run into hundreds of thousands. That will be a financial factor, especially because for some time to come our exchange situation will be difficult. Our foreign investments have largely been sold, and our shipping will be very much hampered by the consequences of the war. Any new means of bringing to this country dollar and other foreign exchange, therefore, will be of great value. If some millions of people come over here in the course of, say, each period of five years, each spending a fairly substantial sum, there will be a most valuable asset added to our national economic situation. I do not mention that, as I say, as being a primary consideration, but as being a secondary consideration which supplies an answer to those who will bring forward a purely economic argument and who will say that we ought not to injure industry merely for the sake of sentimental reasons of amenity.

Furthermore, there is this point to be considered. If it is urged that the owners of sites are entitled to put their sites to profitable uses, it can be said that the liberty of the individual to be free from being exposed to a nuisance is a factor which should have priority. There are a few excellent sentences in an essay written on this subject some time ago by that charming writer, Robert Lynd, which I should like to read. He says: Though most of the world is private property, the look of the world is common property, or ought to be. Though the land is somebody's, the landscape is, or ought to be, everybody's. A man lays himself open to prosecution if he creates a nuisance by means of noise, even within his own walls, or behind his own hedges. It is unreasonable that he should be forbidden to create a nuisance that offends the ears and permitted to create a nuisance that offends the eyes. There is a great deal of sound sense and cogent argument in that paragraph.

There is one country which is free from the abuses of public advertising, and that is Palestine. Palestine, which by reason of its associations, as well as its natural beauty and the fact that it is the resort of great numbers of pilgrims and tourists year by year, is one country which needed particular protection from 'this abuse, especially in these days when it has been opened to modern development and might easily be vulgarised and spoilt. When the British Mandate was extended to Palestine, one of the very first Ordinances which was made there was a very simple one: it provided that people might advertise on their own premises for the purpose of their own businesses, or in railway stations, or on kiosks erected by the municipalities for that purpose, but that there should he no advertisements at all anywhere else. It was easy to enforce that, because there was- then no vested interest. It has been the law for about twenty-five years, and is on the whole effectively enforced, with the r6Sult that the natural charm and beauty of Palestine and its sacred associations have been left completely unspoilt by this form of advertising. That cannot be done so sweepingly and so effectively here, but it ought to be done in many parts of this country by specifying where the advertisements may be and forbidding them anywhere else.

My noble friend Lord Mottistone, to whom we are so much indebted for having brought forward this subject, limited his own speech to the countryside, but the terms of his Motion are not so limited. They speak of injury done to the neighbourhood. Well, the neighbourhood may be urban or it may be rural, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Latham, who said that there is an equally strong case for further regulation and control in respect of our towns. The town and country planning movement is fully alive to that, and in the various programmes that have been put forward the further restriction of advertisement is almost invariably included. It is obvious that one of our chief concerns in this country should be to provide some measure of grace and dignity in our industrial towns, to raise the standard of urban environment so that our towns may be worthy to be the homes of a nation which is not only great in its achievements but high in its standards of culture and of civilization.

3.59 P.m.


My Lords, I do not intend to delay your Lordships for more than a few minutes, for the ground has been already so well covered in this afternoon's debate by the noble Lords who have already spoken, to whom I have listened with great interest. The Motion of Lord Mottistone raises two very important points: first, the obvious and the great need for preserving the beauty of this country and also the appearance of towns, new housing estates, and future developments; secondly, the question of the best methods for attaining this end. These subdivide into two alternatives: directions by popular feeling and directions by statutory powers. There are already, in fact, many bodies which express public opinion on this matter, such as have already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, like the Council for the Preservation of Rural England, which has already done very valuable work in preserving the countryside from defacement, and Lord Mottistone has also given us ample proof that there are others with a similar desire.

I, personally, feel that the encouragement from your Lordships' House Should be directed towards the further education of our nation in a proper appreciation of the beauty of this country, and discrimination in the types and plans of advertisements and signs. It is, I believe, an established principle of English law that our freedom of choice lies in what we may do rather than in dictates as to what we may not do. I trust that the attitude of His Majesty's Government, which we are shortly to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Woolton, will indicate a line of encouragement in education towards a better understanding of the reasons for preserving the countryside as a whole from ugliness, as well as the additional legislation which is recommended which will only forbid us to disfigure the country.

4.2 p.m.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships will first let me apologize if as the result of the postponement of this debate from last week, at a time when I was living on a diet of nothing on the first day and a glass of water and a biscuit on the second day, I caused any of you any inconvenience. Believe me, the inconvenience to you could not have bun as painful as the inconvenience was to me. But I regret if anybody came to town for this debate and was disappointed. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, in Ins concluding words certainly made me feel that I must give him support, even apart from the merits of the case. Can you imagine anything more attractive than to be told that you will have a statue put up to you in some rural area, with a suggestion that you will not thereby be disfiguring the neighbourhood? I suppose it would have been well away from the road, and posterity would have regarded me as a backwoodsman.

I can tell the noble Lord at once that I have great sympathy with the Motion that he has put before us. I would, of course, go further than he goes. It is not only the countryside that we must preserve, I think it is the towns as well, in which a great: portion of the population of this country lives. The effect of the noble Lord's speech has been to draw people one after another to the penitent's stool in this House. If they had not any personal intention of going there the noble Lord, as he mentioned the sinners of one sort and another, brought them there. I welcome the opportunity too of kneeling at that stool, because I have never been able to forgive myself for the fact that when I was Minister of Food I was responsible—I agree, without knowing at the moment that I had committed the crime—for putting a large banner across that beautiful building of the London County Council saying that food was a munition of war.


The proposed banner contained words which were much more objectionable.


I have in my past life had some concern with advertising, and I have always made it a principle that I would never put an advertisement on a public building. Public buildings are works of art, the work of artists, and there is no justification whatsoever for using public buildings as advertising sites. I think a great deal of this advertising which we deplore arises not as a result of deliberate policy on anybody's part, not from the fact that somebody has said "We will have these advertisements for our economic advantage, and we care nothing for the countryside," but from sheer thoughtlessness on, the part of the advertising agents on the one hand and of advertisers on the other. I agree with the noble Lord that, as a result of the fact that so many of these hoardings have been blown down, and so many of the posters are no longer available, we now have a chance of starting again, and I hope that we shall. I hope that this debate will have done something to make people resolve for themselves that they will start afresh, and that the public will insist on it. The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, has spoken of a road along which I used to travel whenever I got an opportunity to go to my home in Westmorland, and it was nothing short of a desecration to find the view of this most beautiful part of the country constantly obliterated by unattractive advertisements.

We have learnt many lessons from the war, and one lesson which I think the noble Lord and I can say that we have both learnt is what comes if you allow complete freedom, and if public taste is to have no consideration because Government Departments, under the force of the super-pressure of advertising during the war, have advertisements wherever they like. With vast sums of money to spend, just look at what we have done. I desecrated the County Hall and you, my Lord (Lord Mottistone), have desecrated Nelson's Column. This completely undiscriminating advertising could so easily, after the war, when the economic pressure will be very great, expand with the desire for more trade until, indeed, this very beautiful country of ours and the very beautiful buildings we have in this country all become disfigured.

Now the noble Lord asked for my support and he also asked what we are going to do about the matter. They are particular questions which I can answer with some precision. First, he asked whether the Government can ensure that in all planning schemes adequate steps will be taken to prevent the disfigurement of the neighbourhood by ugly signs or advertisements. I can tell him that provisions are included in the planning schemes for the control of advertising. I do not propose to weary your Lordships with what you know—namely, the provisions that already exist under the Town and Country Planning Act of 1932. I was much impressed by what the noble Lord, Lord Latham, with his great experience as an administrator, said about that, and I will see that what he said goes to the proper quarter.

The Motion asks something more: it asks whether the Government will consider the introduction of such additional legislation as may be necessary to secure powers needed for this purpose of preventing the disfigurement of the neighbourhood by advertising. "Additional legislation"—if it were not for that phrase I would accept the Motion, because I would like to accept it, but I cannot promise additional legislation in the course of this Parliament. I can say this, however, that we are considering now whether new legislation is needed and what the provisions should be. I think this debate has been useful from that point of view, because I shall see to it that when that proposed legislation comes up for consideration the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Latham, on the incompetence of the present Planning Bills and the subject of fly-posting are both raised; and I am very grateful to the right reverend Prelate for information I had not before on the subject of the incapacity that results from dual control. These issues my colleagues will be glad to consider in the discussions that they now have in mind, but it would be foolish of me, with the life of this Parliament depending as it does on circumstances that we do not control, to pretend that I could promise legislation.

I hope that this debate is going to do something else, and something of very considerable importance. Surely it is true —we know it to be true—that all the legislation that we now have is not by any means fully implemented. We know that many local authorities have powers that they have not used to make by-laws, or have by-laws that are not effectively put into force, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out. Surely it is the greatest mistake in the world to assume that we get progress by passing legislation. We only get progress if that legislation is in harmony with public opinion and if public opinion wants the legislation, and I greatly welcome the remarks that we heard from my noble friend the Marquess of Normanby and from Lord Lang of Lambeth on this subject. Let us strengthen the law, by all means, if it is necessary to strengthen the law, but let us use the strength that we now have and not wait until we have got new laws.

Now I cannot say when new legislation will come before Parliament, but I feel that in the meantime there is something that we can do. Here is a most competent body of people. These advertising practitioners are people who have the sense of public opinion. They are, incidentally, very often people who live in beautiful homes and in beautiful parts of the country themselves; indeed many of them have done very well for themselves in this world and are able to live in beautiful parts of the country. I am sure that they have no desire that the country should be made hideous by their advertisements. I wonder whether it is not possible for these gentlemen, organized as many of them are, to meet together and to decide what they are going to do about it, having heard the opinions of this House to-day. I think it was the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, who wondered whether the opinions expressed here to-day would go to them. Believe me, my Lords, they will. I have never been so adequately briefed for a speech in my life as I have been for this speech. I have received from various advertising organizations quite precise ideas as to what I should say I thank them for the help they have given me, and I hope that they are not disappointed in the fact that I am not using it. It has been abundantly clear that the Resolution that the noble Lord has brought to the notice of this House has disturbed them considerably. Perhaps it has disturbed their consciences a little. But how glad I am, and I am sure how glad the noble Lord will be, to think that they are giving much consideration to this subject.


Digging in.


I invite them, therefore, to get together, to recognize that their prosperity depends upon public opinion and that there is no doubt about the strength of public opinion in this matter. I invite them to meet and, having met, to come to us and say, "These are the things that we are prepared to do"; and if those things are sufficient, then perhaps there will be no need for legislation. If their proposals are not sufficient to meet what is an obvious public demand, then in spite of the suggestions that have been made to me that legislation would be difficult—and I agree it might be difficult—and that legislation is unnecessary, I myself should feel compelled to be a party to resorting to further legislation in order to prevent these practices from beginning again and from growing and making this very beautiful land a place much less attractive and, more important than that, much loss attractive to those of us who move about the country. I hope the noble Lord will be gratified with the reception his Motion has had and I hope he will forgive me if I do not accept it, on the clear understanding that the only reason why I do not accept is that it is impossible for me to be a party to promising legislation of this kind now.

4.21 p.m.


My Lords, I can only say that I rejoice at the unanimity that has been shown by all those noble Lords who have spoken so eloquently on preserving the beauties of our country, and I thank the noble Lord for his reply, which met every single point that I had raised. May I just add this, the fact that there is unanimity shown in this House will have a very great effect and it may well be that legislation will not be needed, but there is a technical point that arises if my Motion is rejected that will have an unfortunate effect.


No, it can be withdrawn.


Well, if noble Lords who have had more experience than I have think it would not matter, may I suggest that I should be allowed to leave out part of the Motion? I am advised by my noble friend Lord Samuel that it would be easier and proper for me to move it leaving out the part about legislation and then, if it were accepted, the effect on the public mind outside would be greater. I suggest that I should ask His Majesty's Government whether they can ensure that in all planning schemes adequate steps are taken to prevent the disfigurement of the neighbourhood by ugly signs or advertisements; and move for Papers. The noble Lord has accepted the first part of the Motion and I should like to move it in the form I have suggested so that it could be accepted and have the effect that we all desire.


My Lords, I do not know whether my noble friend and other noble Lords who are here will allow me to intervene. I am told, and it was also my own impression, that the method of dealing with the question suggested by the noble Lord would hardly be in accordance with our practice. It would be possible to move the Motion in this form: That there be laid before the House Papers relating to the steps to be taken to prevent the disfigurement of the neighbourhood by ugly signs or advertisements. That omits, as your Lordships will observe, any reference to legislation either positively or negatively. You can qualify your Motion for Papers if you like in that way, but having at the beginning of this most interesting debate propounded a certain question you can hardly at the last minute say your question is something else.


I should like to say at once that I beg to move the Motion in the form the Lord Chancellor has just stated. The effect will be the same.


Perhaps I had better read it again: Moved, That there be laid before the House Papers relating to the steps to be taken to prevent the disfigurement of the neighbourhood by ugly signs or advertisements. I am sure that Motion would be within the wide limits we set to our practice.


I will willingly adopt that.


My Lords, there are other members more accustomed to the practice of the House than I am. I am in a very junior position and I am not quite sure to what Papers I should commit myself.


I think it is a purely technical point. If the Minister says he cannot accept it, people outside may say: "It is all very well, they talk a lot but when it comes to the point the mover has to withdraw at the request of the Minister." A bad effect is then produced. In accordance with the Lord Chancellor's suggestion I just ask "Will you lay Papers?" In other words, "Will you make your speech, as you have already done, with regard to the disfigurement of the land?"


If I might be excused for intervening again for a moment, I am informed by the officers of the House that this form of Motion that I have suggested is in accordance with our traditions, and even if such a Motion be adopted I think it has happened in the course of the history of the House that when these Papers are asked for the Minister either positively or by his silence replies "Well, I have not any Papers." Everybody is then content. But I cannot help thinking in a matter which we all feel is such a serious one it really is much better not to adopt that course because it seems like turning the thing into a piece of play-acting. The noble Lord knows well, for he has been in the House longer than I have, that it constantly happens here at the end of a debate in which there has been great unanimity and in which the Minister has given an answer which is felt to be in the circumstances a full and fair answer, that he is thanked and at the same time the Motion is withdrawn.


I need hardly say that I am sure the Lord Chancellor's advice is sound and, while thanking the Minister for his emphatic endorsement of the principle, technically I ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.