Clause 13

– in the House of Commons at 6:41 pm on 21st January 1980.

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PROVISION OF SHOPS, ETC., IN SUBWAYS

Amendment No. 23 proposed, in page line 44, at end insert: '(2A) A district council shall ensure that there are adequate advertisements in its subways for family planning and venereal disease clinics.'—[Mr. Rooker.]

Photo of Mrs Jill Knight Mrs Jill Knight , Birmingham, Edgbaston

I should like to ask the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) to reconsider his amendment. The matter is more involved than might appear at first sight.

I am not against advertisements for family planning and venereal disease clinics. My difficulty is that I consider the amendment a rather minor matter to be dealt with by the imposition of a statutory requirement. I do not know whether the House is aware of the fact, which I am sure the hon. Member for Perry Barr has taken into consideration, that advertising space on panels in subways is contracted out on periodic agreements to advertisement contractors. The revenue which the local authorities receive from them is of great assistance to them.

I should have thought that it was possibly undesirable to impose an obligation in respect of one type of advertisement in this way, because there are other concerns about which the public are very usefully informed. I have in mind such matters as marriage guidance and the existence of such bodies as the Samaritans. It could be very difficult if the advertisement contractors had to take on the responsibility for letting advertising space in the subways if there were to be only advertisements for family planning and places of treatment for venereal disease.

For many years there have been advertisements for venereal disease clinics in public lavatories, and it may be that those are good places for them to be. In those locations they cost no money.

Photo of Mr George Park Mr George Park , Coventry North East

Although the hon. Lady is correct in saying that these panels are dealt with by advertising contractors, surely it is simple for the local authority to reserve one panel in each subway for its own use and to display the various advertisements in rotation so that people may be informed.

Photo of Mrs Jill Knight Mrs Jill Knight , Birmingham, Edgbaston

But that is not what the amendment says. It singles out two very special types of advertisements, and I cannot help thinking that it would fetter contractors if such a restrictive provision came into being and they had to keep certain panels clear of advertising. What is more, I do not know who would pay for these advertisements to be displayed. For example, a family planning clinic run by a private charity might not be able to afford to put up such an advertisement. In such a case, would the space be left blank?

I ask the hon. Member for Perry Barr to think carefully before pressing his amendment. It highlights difficulties of which the House should be made aware.

Photo of Mr John Sever Mr John Sever , Birmingham, Ladywood

The difficulty in which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) finds herself is one in which to some extent we all find difficulty. It is that the subjects under discussion are not all that popular. It is difficult to promote public advertising of available services to the wider community. I know from the work in which I have been involved in Birmingham as a local magistrate that from time to time it is felt that young people who may have missed out on some degree of education about the disease clinics especially are not aware that they exist and find themselves in difficulty because of the personal nature of the affliction. The advice which they seek is not readily available, and they do not know where to start looking for it.

These panels have come to be recognised as being always around in the same places. They are extremely valuable. They are of considerable assistance to young people, and they should be encouraged. That is why they have been provided for in the amendment.

The limitations on the expression of the information is a matter which should concern us all. As the hon. Member for Edgbaston said, in the past advice about where help from clinics could be obtained was displayed in public conveniences. However, in different parts of the city many of these places are being demolished in the course of redevelopment schemes and are not being replaced, though I accept that that does not apply in the city centre. I think that we need to have recognised places where advertisements of this kind may be found. A lot of young people in Birmingham and in other towns in the West Midlands have come to realise that that advice is available on these kinds of display boards in subways and other locations.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Budgen Mr Nicholas Budgen , Wolverhampton South West 7:45 pm, 21st January 1980

I do not think that this proposal has the far-reaching effects that those who have put their names to the amendment believe it to have.

The word "adequate" is capable of very wide definition. It is not capable of any very objective definition. I suspect that "adequate" will be interpreted as meaning adequate within the circumstances of each local authority's area. "Adequate" no doubt will be referable not only to the physical area in which the advertisements may be but also to the number of persons who may be thought at any time to need that information.

Although this provision might be thought to give rise to large advertisements which would be offensive and irritating to many people, I do not think that that is so. It gives a very wide discretion to local authorities, and therefore in all probability it will receive the acquiescence of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Photo of Mr William Wilson Mr William Wilson , Coventry South East

The worst thing that ever happened to Coventry was when it was put into the area of the West Midlands county council. When I listen to the expressions of paternal or maternal instinct telling us in Coventry what we should put in our subways by way of advertisement, my gorge rises.

Most of the subways in Coventry have no advertising matter at all. That is how the position should remain. Unfortunately, however, in our subways graffiti tell us "Aston Villa for ever", "Join the Labour Party Young Socialists" and so on. I tremble to think what will happen to advertisements which are put up in the manner that the amendment proposes.

I hope that district councils which feel the need for this type of advertising will be allowed to please themselves. To the mandarins of the West Midlands county council, I say "Coventry will make up its own mind. It does not need you to tell it what advertising to display in its subways."

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Stockport North

I can understand the citizens of Coventry wishing to make up their own minds, but, looking through the Bill, this seemed to be the sort of amendment which was a reasonable request.

I agree with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) that in putting in the word "adequate" we were not applying pressure. We were simply saying that this was basic information which should be available to people and that a local authority should spend a little time thinking about how to put out that information.

In areas where large numbers of subways have been developed, they seem to be reasonable places for making that information available. Although some of this information has been available in the past in public conveniences, in my view it would be more appropriately put into advertisements displayed in places such as subways, although I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Wilson) that it is important that these subways have authorised advertisements and are not defaced by a large number of scrawlings.

For those reasons, I hope that the promoters will accept this modest amendment.

Photo of Mr Jeff Rooker Mr Jeff Rooker , Birmingham, Perry Barr

Having moved the amendment, I do not know whether I need leave to speak again. I had expected that the amendment would be accepted without debate.

I reiterate what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Sever). These happen to be unpopular subjects. One of the reasons for the existence of the House of Commons is that sometimes it is necessary to raise unpopular subjects. In this area we thought that the House of Commons should make the necessary provision. I point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Wilson) that it is the House of Commons—it is not the county council—which is saying to district councils in the West Midlands "We would like you to think about this and to display advertisements which are adequate to the needs of your area."

This House is not putting an onerous task on those district councils. The fact that family planning advertisements cannot be placed on buses is ludicrous. We maintain that the public should have more information available in these areas. There are allegedly unpopular areas. If this opportunity is not taken, we shall be failing in our duty.

Amendment agreed to.