HL Deb 17 September 2003 vol 652 cc899-901

2.45 p.m.

Baroness Greengross

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What regulations apply to the control of advertising on lamp posts, road signs, traffic lights and other street furniture, and how such regulations are enforced.

The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker)

My Lords, outdoor advertisements are controlled under the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) Regulations 1992. Local planning authorities are responsible for the day-to-day operation of the advertisement control system and for enforcing the regulations. Enforcement is entirely at the discretion of the local planning authority.

Baroness Greengross

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but does he agree that the problem is now getting out of hand? One might even say, "Bill Stickers is not innocent". Local authorities are apparently not taking their responsibilities sufficiently seriously. Would the Minister be prepared to consider introducing appropriate measures to ensure that they do?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, as I said, that is entirely a matter for local authorities. They have the legislative power to take action for enforcement. In fact, the power even runs as far as providing that those who are the subject of the advertisement—those whose goods, trade or business is being advertised—can in certain circumstances be held liable for the offence and prosecuted. Again, that is entirely up to the local authority. Coming in from the West this morning, I saw hardly a sticker on a lamp-post or traffic light; but when I was going up to Hackney and Tower Hamlets later, I could not see any paint on the lamp-posts or traffic signals for the stickers.

I may add, for the avoidance of doubt, that the Government have produced a booklet on the matter, as one would expect. As for legislation, there is a plan to strengthen local authorities' powers to combat fly-posting when a suitable legislative opportunity occurs. As noble Lords know, legislative time is incredibly precious and we must be very careful with our priorities. At present, our priorities are already set and fly-posting is clearly coming after other important issues.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, does the Minister accept that most Members of the House are probably extremely glad to hear that, at least on this issue and despite having issued the booklet. the Government are leaving something totally to local authorities?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff

My Lords, have the Government commissioned the research that was called for by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents into the distracting effect of signs, especially at road junctions, given that in 2001 alone, there were 3,247 fatalities not on the motorway and that only about 6 per cent of road deaths occur on motorways, where distractions are regulated to be at a minimum?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, I regret that I do not have the specific answer to the question about research, but the good practice guide, The Control of Fly-posting, may he a partial response to that. There have been other publications and advice on the matter, such as another booklet, Outdoor Advertisements and Signs: a Guide for Advertisers, and general guidance on street clutter. Sometimes one cannot see the wood for the trees and movement around pavements is unsafe when there is clutter. There is general advice to avoid clutter, especially at road junctions. I will find out the specific answer about research and write to the noble Baroness.

Lord Jopling

My Lords, does the Minister agree that legislation to control fly-posting would in general be uncontentious. Although noting that he says that the Government are short of time, would he consider that to be a suitable subject for a government handout Bill in another place for those Members who have been lucky in the draw for Private Members' Bills?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, I thought that Members of the other place balloted for Bills, introduced 10-Minute Bills and were not spoon-fed by the Government. I have seen the words "handout Bill" on documents for suitable legislation that would be ideal for Back-Benchers. I do not know about that.

London boroughs have more enforcement powers than other local authorities. I do not know; it is not the Government's job to know how local authorities operate and whether they prosecute and take action. There is a case for a purge; nevertheless, there is a case for legislative strengthening of what we do. However, while the House is occupied with other very important matters, such as the subject we debated yesterday, we do not have room for fly-posting.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, will the noble Lord consider withdrawing the Hunting Bill and replacing it in the legislative programme with such a Bill as has just been suggested?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, I do not have a view, except that in due course I shall vote against the other Bill.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, surely the reason that people fly-post is that others want to read the information on their posters; otherwise, nobody would do it. Why do we not provide spaces where information can be posted legally, so that people can continue to benefit from fly-posting without the clutter?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, there is plenty of opportunity. Most streets are littered with billboards and advertising blocks—you go commercial and buy the space. Why should you steal someone's space or create danger by defacing lampposts, traffic signs and other street furniture at no cost, causing an environmental nuisance, creating a real problem and probably damaging property, leaving ratepayers to paint and clean such places even faster, and putting a burden on the taxpayer, when you can perfectly well buy advertising space?