Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £1,100,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charges which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1926, for defraying the liability under the Government Guarantee in respect of any loss which may result from the holding of the British Empire Exhibition under the British Empire Exhibition (Guarantee) Acts, 1920 to 1925.
§ Mr. A. M. SAMUEL (Secretary, Overseas Trade Department)
I wish to give the Committee in broad outline an explanation of this Vote. It will be within the recollection of many hon. Members that in 1920, following on the granting of permisson by the House, there was a guarantee by the then Government of £100,000 for the purposes of this national exhibition. in 1924 a further sum of £500,000 was, with the permission of the 803 House of Commons, to be guaranteed and a Resolution was introduced. But, before the Bill could be brought in, a dissolution took place, and it was my privilege in the early part of this year to ask the House of Commons for permission to guarantee £600,000. In the time that had elapsed between the date on which it was decided to guarantee the further £500,000—which with the £100,000 made the. £600,000—a decision was arrived at by which the exhibition was to be carried on for a further year, and it was found necessary to add a further £500,000 to the £600,000 already settled upon; and when I brought in the Resolution in February last the total amount was £1,100,000.
I have had great assistance from the hon. Member for Rothwell (Mr. Lunn) who preceded me in this office, and I wish to pay my tribute to him. I took up the work which he had been so ably carrying on, and from that date I became in some degree responsible in this matter. When I introduced the Resolution I made a point of warning the Committee that there was no likelihood of a profit being made during the second year of the exhibition, and I said I saw no likelihood whatever of reducing our loss. I warned the Committee at the time, and I am bound to say now that I see no reason to vary that opinion. On the other hand, when I was in some gentle degree challenged by the Committee as to whether, having got £1,100,000, I would come down to the House again and ask for more, I said I did not intend to do so. I am glad to tell the Committee here and now that I have kept within the limits of that £1,100,000. As a matter of fact, it is possible—though I do not pledge myself—that I may be able to hand back to the Treasury a small sum out of that £1,100,000. The fact remains that I have carried out the undertaking which I gave when I asked for permission to guarantee this sum, and I have not exceeded it by one farthing.
It may puzzle hon. Members to find this Supplementary Estimate presented on the present occasion, and they may be under the misapprehension that this is a fresh sum, but such is not the case. I asked and obtained from Parliament in May of this year permission to guarantee this sum, but we have not paid 804 a penny of it yet. I have come now to ask the permission of the Committee and of Parliament to pay the sum. In other words, we had permission to guarantee the amount; the amount has now become due, and we ask the necessary permission to pay it. A call has been made, as the Committee is aware, on the guarantors. The exhibition closed a few weeks ago; liquidators have been appointed; and auditors have been looking into the accounts. A full and detailed statement of the accounts has been issued to private guarantors and to us. I have obtained certified copies of these detailed accounts, and have had them placed in the Library so that hon. Members may cross-examine me in detail if they so desire. We seek this permission, as a result of the call made upon the guarantors to pay 15s. in the £ of their guarantee. That is only an interim call. I believe another call will be made, and it may be that the other 5s. in the £ will be called in. What the amount will be when all the accounts are finished I cannot tell, neither can the auditors tell.
What we desire to do is to pay at the earliest possible moment the money which we are called upon to pay out of the public purse, and it is desirable that the other guarantors should pay their calls equally quickly for the simple reason that while the money remains unpaid, interest is running against the private guarantors and ourselves, and as soon as we pay so soon will that charge be reduced. I am asking for permission to pay the whole amount, but as I have said, we shall not pay that unless and until we are called upon to pay in full and the difference between the 75 per cent. for which a call has been made and the total amount will remain in the Treasury. When the accounts have been finally settled, whatever sum has not been called upon will go back into the public purse. I wish to correct a slight misprint in the Supplementary Estimate which is before the Committee. On page 3, against the figure of £1,842,806 will be seen the words " Deficiency on the 1924 Exhibition, up to 5th December, 1925." That should be "December, 1924'' and I mention this in order that hon. Members may not be confused.
I will try in the time at my disposal to visualise the net result of the exhibition. I think the Committee will be astonished 805 at the largeness of the receipts of the exhibition. I was certainly astonished myself. No less a sum than £2,815,000 has been received by the exhibition in two years. The running costs of the exhibition were, in round figures, £1,660,000. That is to say, on the figures of the actual running cost and the receipts, a profit was made of over £1,150,000 for the two years. But we are faced with the fact of capital charges. If it was a case of running a factory or a business, we could put revenue aside for capital expenditure, and redeem it or amortise it over a certain number of years—20 years, it may be. It is not an unusual thing, with a factory, to amortise over 20 years, and I believe that where buildings are concerned they are amortised over a period of 30 years; but in this particular case it is absolutely necessary to repay the whole of the capital expenditure in two years. The consequence is that the whole of our running profits have to be devoted to repaying the capital outlay of £2,739,000. That is to say, the whole of that running profit going towards paying off capital outlay, leaves us with a loss, as shown on page 3 of the Supplementary Estimate, of £1,581,905, and that loss would not be as much as it is but for two handicaps which nave been referred to on previous occasions.
During the 156 days of the 1924 exhibition I think that 90 days were rainy days. The amount of damage caused to the exhibition is almost indescribable, the rain rendering the place almost like a morass. damaging everything. and causing a great deal of expense. It also kept people away, so that we had the double handicap. On the one hand, people kept away, and, therefore, did not pay for admission, while, on the other hand, there were the repairs and the expenditure necessary for putting right the damage that the rain did. Then we had some deplorable labour troubles Which added to the expense of carrying on the exhibition. But still there was £1,151,000 made as running profit, which now goes to recoup the capital outlay, leaving us up to the present, as ascertained. with a deficit of £1,581,905. Actually in two years, 22½ Trillion living souls went to see the exhibition, or half the population of Great Britain and Ireland—an immense number of people. I wish to offer my humble thanks for the 806 great trouble to which Their Majesties the King and the Queen went to make the exhibition prosper. There was no trouble which they did not take in order to help, and we are greatly indebted to them for a good deal of the interest shown in the exhibition and the large number of people who went there. Fancy, 22½ million people visiting the exhibition, and among those, as I think I have heard the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) say, nearly 5,000,000 children had the advantage of learning what they could about the Empire?
I do not think there is very much more to tell the Committee at the moment. I should like to pay my tribute to those on the executive committee, to the board of management, to those who were responsible for the financial administration of the exhibition, to the administrator, and to the staff. In all cases those people who take a hand in helping this great national undertaking to, its end did it as a labour of love, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby was second to none in the amount of trouble he took in putting his shoulder to the wheel in order to make the exhibition a success.
I am sure the Committee would also like me to say this with regard to the private guarantors. A large number of rich and poor people, who could not possibly get the slightest private profit out of risking their money, were willing to come and guarantee a large sum for this exhibition out of their private means, and I would certainly like to pay my humble tribute to them. They can rest assured that they have done a good work, and they have done an immense service, not only to the home country, but to the Empire as a whole. Australia has expressed herself through her leading men as being very pleased with the material results that have come to Australia through the trade brought by the exhibition. The people of New Zealand have, through the lips of their own representatives, told me personally that the last year, 1925, has done them much good, and that they have had many inquiries to brighten their trade, and have materially benefited. The same can be said about Canada. Therefore, the purposes for which the exhibition was erected have, I think, been 807 fully justified. I do not wish to dwell entirely on the financial aspect, because there are things which money cannot represent. And, quite apart from the money, I would like to say as strongly as I can that the effect of the education and of the knowledge disseminated about the Dominions and Colonies has been beyond all words beneficial. But, so far as the £1,100.000 for which I am now-asking is concerned, I look upon it as a perfectly sound and certainly remunerative investment.
§ Mr. LUNN
While in the Debate on the coal subsidy, which has just closed, everybody was thinking, not so much of the £19,000,000 we were asked to find as of the future of the industry, in this Supplementary Estimate we are dealing with the past. The time has arrived when the exhibition has come to a close, and we have to consider and reflect upon what has taken place, and what should be our attitude with regard to the happenings of the past two years. The hon. Gentleman who has spoken for the Government upon this subject has been very brief, and has certainly not given the Committee very much information with regard to the figures that have been supplied on paper, nor has ho for the benefit of the Committee in any way analysed them. There is really only one question upon that mailer which I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman, and that is whether or not the authorities have arrived at a reserve price for the land and buildings at Wembley, what is the reserve price, if they have, and, if not, have the Government or the authorities at Wembley any intentions with regard to the future of these magnificent, buildings and this wonderful site so near to the great Metropolis? [An HON. MEMBER: "Gretna!"] I think possibly it may be a repetition of Gretna.
It has been admitted by many people that there has been a good deal of extravagance at Wembley, that it is likely that there has been some recklessness in the spending of money, and to-day and for some few days there has been a demand put forward for an inquiry into this matter. I should like to know what the Government have in their mind with regard to an inquiry regarding the conduct of the exhibition and the future of the buildings. Personally, I have no 808 objection. I think it might be to the good of the nation to have an inquiry, and to know the full facts, or clear away any misapprehension, if such there be, in the minds of people with regard to extravagance or recknessness as to money. But I agree with the hon. Gentleman absolutely with regard to the loss on the exhibition. Did anybody ever dream that it would be a profit-making concern from a financial point of view? I have never heard anyone say it was likely to make a profit. I am perfectly certain in no speech of mine have I ever said so, and even in February last I declared that nearly, though I hoped not the whole of the £1,100,000 would be necessary to meet the cost of the Government. I regarded it as almost certain that money would have to be provided for the exhibition. The generosity of the guarantors has never been appreciated so much as it should be by this House or by the country. They are far too few in number who came forward as guarantors, but the few who did come forward, I think, should be appreciated for their generosity and for their quietness at this moment, when this matter is under discussion in the Press and in the country.
Now, what has the exhibition done? I had some difficulty at the beginning of 1924 with regard to the labour conditions at Wembley. I tried to settle them. I did not altogether succeed. I would have-liked to have succeeded, and seen the difficulties removed at that time, and the exhibition proceed without any idea of differences or disagreements on the part of employers and workmen. But I do not know that any better tribute was paid to the exhibition than in a memorandum I received, dealing in part with that particular matter of the exhibition labour conditions and the exhibition, from the British Trade Union Congress and the British Labour party. This memorandum was sent to me by a man highly respected in the trade union movement, and who has just passed away—Mr. Fred Bramley. These are paragraphs from the memorandum:The British Empire Exhibition is admittedly the most representative and all-embracing example of the extent, the power and the influence of the industry, commerce, art and general life of the. nations included in the British Commonwealth.Whatever defects it may possess, the exhibition is certainly commanding the attention of the people in these islands as no 809 other exhibition has attained since 1851, and the place it has occupied in the minds or thousands of our British kindred overseas marks it out as altogether unique.In the very nature of the case, it has been an expression of commercial private enterprise combined with national interest, just as its basis of finance has been a combination of Government guarantees with private subscript ions.It was not an effort in Socialism at all. It has not been controlled in any way by the Government. It has been private enterprise with Government guarantees, even without Government control, and I feel, just as I felt when the last Vote was before the House, that if the Government have to be guarantors to the extent of £1,000,000 either for industry or exhibitions, the Government ought to be represented and have a voice in dealing with the control of matters of this sort. I maintain that there might then have been something better than what has been the position up to now. But as one who feels quite proud of the exhibition, and proud of the work it has done, I give my support personally—I am not speaking for my party, or anybody else, except myself— and I have all the time given my support to the exhibition. There is not a single show that has appeared in the Stadium I have not seen either last year or this year, and I believe on many occasions I have visited every pavilion on the ground at Wembley. It has brought together Dominion representatives and our own people to the number of 22,000,000. It has given to 4,000,000 or more children, most of them, over 12 years of age, an object lesson in geography they could never have got from any other source. It has laid the foundation of a knowledge of the British Empire that most of us on this side never had an opportunity of getting, and perhaps have no likelihood of getting such as we got in tabloid form at Wembley. It has Been supported by every Dominion and Colony. It has shown us the wonderful power and the picture of each Dominion and Colony, its people and resources.
What is even more than that, in 1924 it showed to us the skill and technique of British workmen. There has never been a show in any part of the world like that in the Palace of Engineering, and I have no patience with people who decry British workmen and British workmanship. There are no workmen in the 810 world and no skill to equal them, and there is no country that can put a show before the world like that in the Palace of Engineering last year. We have not got to the end of what has been done by Wembley with regard to our trade, but I am quite sure, as I heard expressed by a member of the Imperial Economic Committee the other night, before the Commonwealth Group, that it has had some effect upon the increasing trade with our Dominions. In 1913, the Empire share of British exports was 347 per cent. In the first five months of 1925 it was 39 per cent., and with the addition of the Irish Free State it was 435 per cent. I am quite satisfied the Empire Exhibition has had a good deal to do with that, and if it is to increase we shall see, although we may never quite clearly see, the effect of the exhibition upon the development of trade between this country and the Dominions overseas.
Take the matter of employment. It has been a great relief scheme for employment in this country. For many, many months before it opened there were something like 20,000 people employed on the ground at Wembley. During the exhibition in 1924, and again in 1925, something like 22,000 people have been employed there. Can we measure what that has meant in the saving of unemployment relief, in the provision of work for these people who were largely taken from the live registers at the Employment Exchanges? What has been paid in wages at Wembley? We have not the figures accurately before us. What has been paid in rates and taxes, and in Entertainment Tax, and what also has been the indirect payment in Income Tax and in other ways from those who have been connected with the exhibition?
These are not in the accounts of the exhibition. Still, they have something to do with the running of the exhibition, and though they are invisible for the moment they should be considered when we are dealing with this particular matter. There is in addition what the Dominions Governments have spent in this country through the exhibition in one way or another in their buildings during 1925. I have recently been to one of the oldest of the colonies of the British Empire, Newfoundland, which was the first to offer to come in in the second year. I believe I am safe in 811 saying that colony has paid the whole of its expenses for 1925. If that had been done by some of the others perhaps this account would have been a little less than what it is.
Personally, I feel that the exhibition has been a wonderful education to our people. It has given us a knowledge of our Dominions overseas that we could not have obtained from any other source. I am sorry it is a loss to the amount of money stated, but personally, I feel that there are no other means of education on these lines that we could have spent the money so wisely on than it has been spent in connection with this exhibition. I hope the Vote will be carried by the House. I feel quite proud of my connection with the exhibition. I have no regrets whatever except the one to which I alluded, that somehow or another it did not arrive at the success that we all wished. It has given an exhibition of the resources of the Dominions and the Colonies to-day which ought to be taken advantage of to the full, and there is the knowledge we have given to the world of the possibilities of the productions and manufactures of this country. I hope that this will have a great effect in restoring our trade conditions: that is the all-important thing for this country.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I am sure that the hon. Member for Rothwell (Mr. Lunn) has in his speech given an indication that the money has been well spent. In looking at the accounts there are several items which, it appears to me, require explanation, and I shall be glad if the hon. Gentleman the Secretary, Overseas Trade Department, will explain them. I note that the cost of the site upon which the exhibition was held is said to be £95,080 and some odd shillings. I should like to get some light upon this matter and as to how this site came to cost that money. It would be interesting to know how this value was arrived at, and who got the money for it. There is another point. There is another item of £960 paid for the demolition of the golf club house and store. On looking at page 4 of the accounts, I see that under the heading of "Roads, Bridges and General Drainage," in connection with the improvement of roads outside the exhibition, there is a figure of £19,863. Have these roads been left, or 812 can we expect to get repayment for their reconditioning, or is the money to be lost? Then there is a last item on page 5. I note that architects', engineers' and surveyors' fees come to £83,062. I should like to have some explanation as to why these fees run to such a figure as this? After all that one might say or like to say about the educational advantages of such an exhibition as this, we are counting upon hon. Gentlemen giving us some details of the matter. I think when the House has been asked to guarantee this money it ought to have been treated more respectfully and given more clear details of the cost of the exhibition. I hope the hon. Gentleman will give the House some reply to the points I have advanced. With all good will to the educational facilities, we ought to run an exhibition of the kind on business lines. I feel that this exhibition ought to have been made a success if a more careful eye had been kept on the organisation and the general enterprises undertaken in the exhibition.
§ Mr. HARDIE
There have been those who have been good enough to come forward as guarantors, and what I have thought the hon. Gentleman the Secretary, Overseas Trade Department, might tell us is that, not only these, but that other people should also come forward, those who have expressed themselves in favour of doing something for the nation. For instance, I should like to know whether the landlords have been in communication with the exhibition authorities? Have any of them come forward to say: "We do not want to rob the British nation and we will give some of the money back"? I should like to know, when this land was bought, whether the title deeds were produced, showing that those who got the money really owned the land, and that the land was not under escheat to the Crown. There are some things left to be explained, in fact, a great many things. I should like to know whether we started this exhibition business and gave out the contracts to the builders for the buildings what followed? I have always taken the view that when the contracts were given out, the nation ought to know exactly the amount of the contract. I should like to know when these contracts were settled. There is a right hon. Gentleman, who is not here to-night, but he was then Prime Minister, I think. He would be able to tell us 813 something about it. I should like to know the names of the contractors, and whether they have come forward to give back anything, because if one section of the community is going to come forward and show their great national spirit, why should not those who made profits out of the exhibition also come forward? I shall be very interested if the hon. Gentleman in charge will deal with these questions. If he has not taken a note of them, I will go over them again.
§ Mr. ROBERT YOUNG
As an ordinary citizen I should like to express my feelings in relation to the exhibition. It was my good fortune to visit the exhibition on quite a number of occasions, and I was certainly very much educated by going there, as I dare say very many people were. The hon. Gentleman who has submitted the Estimate with regard to the finance of the exhibition has pointed out that so far as the takings and all the expenses apart from the capital expenses are concerned, there has been a very large profit on the exhibition. I think we are to be congratulated on that fact. After all, it is perfectly true, as he says, that when you start an undertaking such as the exhibition was, you would require to have an enormous multitude of people going there to wipe out the entire deficit. I do not think it was possible for anyone to assume that there was going to be a surplus on the exhibition. We have to look at it not so much from the point of view of L.S.D. as from what the exhibition meant to the country and the Empire as a whole. One drawback—and I do not say this in the way of criticism because it could not be avoided—was that the exhibition was so far away. Perhaps that was inevitable. If an exhibition of this character is to command public support on the scale of for instance, of the one we had in Glasgow some years ago, it would have been better if the exhibition had been in the heart of the city. In such circumstances many people would have spent their evenings there who felt that the railway fare plus the entrance money was something which kept them from visiting the exhibition. From that point of view we are to be congratulated that the deficit is not so big as it might have been.
If there is to be an inquiry at all, I trust the inquiry will be in the direction of finding out what was wrong so that we 814 may be prevented from making similar mistakes again. After all, we have to gain by experience and mistakes would occur in a huge undertaking of this kind. It was inevitable. I hope the inquiry, if it takes place, will be in that direction, so that in future exhibitions mistakes may be prevented. I would also like to add my testimony to the educational value of the Exhibition. Many people got there, for the first time, an idea of the British Empire's extent. They found out what it produces and realised what things could be manufactured and produced in the Dominions and Colonies. All that, in my estimation, was to the good. Above and beyond that, we have no right to bother so much about a deficit, unless there are certain things which have to be inquired into, as we have to cast our eyes forward to the next five, 10 or 20 years. I believe the Exhibition will pay in the long run. I believe the result of the Exhibition will mean a very great difference to the products of the Empire coming into this country. I believe that in every way commerce will be benefited and that the industries of our Colonies will be benefited. That will be bound to react in a profitable manner on our own country.
As one who went to the exhibition and saw many of its sights, and some of the shows, although not all, I feel that the exhibition was a very great success indeed. In regard to the second year, there is only one regret I have. Reference has been made to the engineering part of the exhibition. During the first year the engineering exhibits were something marvellous, and beyond what many of us thought possible to produce in one building. My regret was that that was not repeated by the engineering people in the second year. I wish it had been repeated from the point of view of those who wish to understand more about engineering products. Being an engineer myself, I was interested. Taking all in all, I feel the exhibition was well worth having, and that it was to the good of the country and the Empire that such an exhibition should have taken place. With regard to what was said by the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie) about land, that is an asset, I should certainly ask that the Government should take very good care that we are not going to dispose of any asset at a price less than the Government or those responsible paid for it. We do not want 815 to realise, after the exhibition has closed, that what was paid to establish the exhibition was far beyond what it was worth. If we paid so much for the land, its value should have increased by this time, and if it has to be disposed of, the Government should get a larger return. If there is not a larger return, some of us will want to know the reason why. From my point of view, and I believe from the point of view of a very large multitude in the country, the exhibition was very well worth having.
§ Mr. CLYNES
Before my hon. Friend rises to reply, I would like to say just a few words and to put a question. It would be quite easy for anyone who quarrelled very much to refer to the management of the exhibition, to some aspects of its conduct, and to the fact that we have to face such a substantial loss. After all, the ablest men who were available for the purpose of conceiving and managing this exhibition had its management placed in their hands, in accordance with the general public desire that there should be as little Governmental or Parliamentary interference as possible. It had to be conceived on a scale quite unprecedented, so vast as almost to outrun the experience and perhaps the managerial capacity of the best of men. All these factors must be taken into account when we are thinking of this loss in terms of criticism of the men who had to manage the exhibition. I think, on the whole, the money that we are to find has been well spent. There certainly was no idea of making money out of it. Something else had to be made out of, and that something else, I think, has been made. It certainly had a very educative effect upon the minds of millions of people who visited it, and as we pay many millions for less lasting forms of instruction, we should not grudge the money spent in a direction of instruction which has stimulated trade, and enabled the country to bring parts of the Empire, as it were, here.
I also think that much good was done in procuring orders, in the expenditure of money which had very good effect in relieving unemployment, and in keeping at labour large numbers of men who otherwise would have had to receive their pay in terms of what is called the "dole." I hope my hon. Friend will 816 answer definitely the two questions put by the hon. Member for Roth-well (Mr. Lunn). I would like to ask a question on behalf of the party for whom I am speaking. Have the Government in any way considered the request, publicly expressed, for an inquiry into certain aspects of the management of the exhibition? I think the people who have guaranteed these large sums of money have a right to ask for an inquiry if, in their judgment, money has been recklessly spent, or they think that in some of its phases the exhibition was not efficiently or properly managed. Our view is that not only should the Government offer no opposition to inquiries of that kind, if they are properly demanded, but that inquiries should be conceded. Speaking as I can for my hon. Friends on this side of the House, I say we are in favour of an inquiry, in order that the fullest public assurance should be given to those interested, and in order that we should have complete confidence established when, on some future occasion, as I hope will be the case, some effort is made to repeat, perhaps on a larger scale, this very big contribution to our knowledge of the Empire.
§ Mr. J. JONES
I are not going to enter into the question of the financial and other commitments that may be involved in the British Empire Exhibition. I have heard talk about possible results under certain circumstances, but those of us who live in London—I am now speaking of the ordinary working classes who live in the London area—were not able to visit the exhibition, in particular those living 20 miles away. A large number of the population from the East End of London, who are not ungenerous in their expenditure if they have the means to spend, were debarred from visiting the exhibition. Sunday was a barred day. The "pussyfoots," the people who are able to spend their time during the week as they like, were able to visit the exhibition, but the ordinary working man living this side of King's Cross was never able to visit the exhibition. We lost more than we imagined through the fact that the great mass of the workers of London were not able to go to the exhibition. The very people who ought to have had the opportunity of going could not get there. I venture to suggest that the closing on Sundays 817 represents the difference in the profit and loss account: but, apart from the financial point of view, we lost more from the educative point of view. if the workman had had an opportunity of visiting the exhibition on Sundays he could have taken his children with him, and they could have been taught something about the beauties of the British Empire, and their knowledge, geographical and otherwise, might have been increased.
I do not know who was responsible for the Sunday closing, and I hope an inquiry will be held to find out. Who were the people who decided that this great panorama of the British Empire could not be seen on Sundays? I do not know anything about it because, naturally, I only saw it twice—at my own expense. [Laughter.] Oh, yes, a lot of Members who have been talking to-night saw it at somebody else's expense—as often as they could. I would honestly like to know why it was decided, and who it was who decided, that the exhibition could not be opened on the only day in the week when the workers of London, numbering practically one-fourth of the population of Great Britain, had the opportunity of visiting it. We talk about the losses, but we have never reckoned up the possibilities. The people of my own constituency, although they are immediately engaged with the products of the Empire —we are in the dock area where they are in communication with Canada, Australia, India, and other places—could not go to the Exhibition because it meant a journey of 23 miles on week days, when they were expected to be at their work. If the exhibition had been opened on Sundays, and reasonable facilities had been given, they could have gone there and we should not have had to face this deficit.
As far as the exhibition land is concerned, we know the land belongs to the lords, and the people thereon: it has nothing to do with me. All my land could be put in a flower-pot. But we want to know what we are going to pay for this land. Is part of the loss to include the price of the land? And who is going to decide the price of the land? In my own constituency, 20 years ago, land for building houses on was sold at £40 an acre, and now, in West Ham, we are paying £600 an acre for land. If an inquiry is going to be held, we ought to discover where this land comes in, 818 and whether it is part of the charge we have got to pay as a subsidy to the exhibition. Some of us are watching these things, and I hope an inquiry will be held, so that we may know what we have got.
I went to the exhibition and saw all there was to be seen, with some of the things that ought not to have been seen. We are glorying in the fact that there was an exhibition of what the Empire can do, and we hope it will do better in the future.
§ Sir ALFRED BUTT
I would like, first of all, sincerely to congratulate the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department on the very straightforward way in which he has placed the facts in regard to the British Empire Exhibition before the Committee. On several previous occasions I have criticised the management of the exhibition. To-night I do not propose to criticise the past: rather would I refer to the future. Several hon. Members who have spoken have emphasised the importance of what the exhibition has done. I associate myself entirely with those sentiments, and say that it is impossible to measure in terms of money what the exhibition has accomplished for the Empire, or what it may accomplish in the future. I do not think it is a matter of importance whether it has cost the Government £1,000,000, or £2,000,000 or £3,000,000, if the money was wisely spent: but there is no reason why money should be dissipated if the same result could be secured by economical means.
I am anxious to ask the hon. Member in charge of this Vote a question. I notice that the private guarantors amount to £1,100,000 and the guarantee from the Government is the same amount, so that practically the Government guarantee half the total losses. According to the White Paper the losses are shown as £1,581,000. If we take half that amount it is something less than £800,000. I would like the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department to explain why he wants a Vote of £1,100.000. We have been told that if there is any surplus it will in due course be refunded to the Treasury, but my point is that if it is known that we have passed a Vote for £1,100,000 the Government will be faced with very considerable additional claims. When I last spoke on this matter I asked 819 the Parliamentary Secretary if he could say whether the expenditure on capital account had been rendered, and I was very pleased to note that the expenditure was put down as complete to the 5th of November, 1925. The hon. Gentleman now says that it should be 1924, and I would like him to give me an assurance that this £300,000 we are voting in excess of our liabilities will not be the cause of additional capital expenditure claims being made.
I should like to express my gratification that the Parliamentary Secretary has publicly paid a tribute to the unselfishness of the guarantors throughout the country who came forward with no possibility of gain and who assured the holding of this exhibition. Two or three hon. Members have suggested that we might have an inquiry, but I hope that will not be pressed. The exhibition is now terminated, and a great deal of good may still arise from its memory. Let us emphasise the good it has done and clear up the deficiency as expeditiously as possible. I hope the Government will give us some assurance that the additional £300,000 will not be absorbed by claims that have not ureviously been made.
I do not think the Parliamentary Secretary can, from the very nature of things, give a reply to the last question which has been put. Unfortunately, I am one of those who stand in the position of liquidator, and I can speak authoritatively on this point. I want to say that the spirit behind the suggestion and the speech itself made by the last speaker is, after all, the spirit in which I hope this question of the Wembley Exhibition will be discussed. It is a very easy matter for people to be, wise after the event, and it is quite easy for people to say, "I told you so!" First of all, we have to remember that the Vote that we are now asked to pass, and which is the total liability of the Government, is a Vote which in my judgment should be viewed exclusively from the standpoint, first of all, of a commercial proposition; secondly, as an advertisement for the Empire; and, thirdly, as a means by which a possible return for this expenditure will be forthcoming. I have no hesitation in saying that no Government ever had an easier task in 820 defending this expenditure on all these grounds than the present Government has at the present moment.
I think that the public outside, so far as the guarantors are concerned, ought to be considered and something ought to be said for them. However important the guarantors may be, I want to pay my tribute to them because, whatever you may have observed in the shape of a few grumblers in the Press, you may take it from me authoritatively that the great mass of the people who guaranteed the money for this exhibition are not only not grumbling but they are saying by sending in their cheques that the guarantee they made was a wise guarantee and they have no complaint to make. These complaints are coining from people who are not only not guarantors, but have never paid a bob to see the exhibition, and all this criticism appears to have been jumping in contrary to the wishes of those who, after all, have paid the piper and have a right to call the tune. Therefore I think it necessary for me to say something very definite on this point.
With regard to the last question, I am sure my hon. Friend representing the Government cannot answer it. He cannot say, and will not say, if he takes my advice—and I know much more about it than he does—to this House of Commons and the public that there will be no further call on the guarantors, and he will not say that the additional 5s. will not be called up. Neither he nor I can say that at the moment, but I think the Government are wise in taking the necessary Vote to meet all contingencies that may possibly arise. I hope and believe that the, full amount will not be required, but if it is required the Government will have the least right to complain of anybody else.
My hon. Friend the Member for Silver-town (Mr. J. Jones) asked the pertinent question, "Why was the exhibition not open on Sundays?" and he follows that question up by saying that he is quite sure if it had been opened on Sundays this deficiency would have been wiped out. With regard to the hon. Member's last contention, I am not so sure that this deficit would have been wiped out under those circumstances. I would like to point out, however, that the reason 821 why the exhibition was not open on Sundays is not due to any puritanical sentiment on the part of any member of the board of management. I do not even attempt to explain it because I cannot at the moment visualise the mentality of Charles II, and I do not know what his particular sentiments were or his morals. All I am concerned with is that it was not the existing members of the board, but Charles II, who was responsible for Wembley not being opened on Sundays.
It is necessary, I will not say to give consolation, but to ask the House to wind up this question in a big spirit. You will ruin, as the last speaker has said, all the advantages of Wembley if you discuss it in a pettifogging spirit, and I am as entitled to say that as any Member on either side, because, when the late Government took office, all the expenditure on capital account had been made. When we took office we found that roughly £3,000,000 had been expended, and we also found that a definite date had been decided upon for the opening. We found, further, that there were many difficulties.
There was not only internal friction, but there was actually a strike existing, and there appeared to be no possibility of the exhibition being opened. That was i he position when my right hon. Friend and myself took office. We were not supposed to be Empire people. We were not supposed to be people who had any interest in the Empire; we were supposed to be anti-Empire people. That was what we found. We discussed it as a Cabinet, and we said, "This is going to be a good thing for the Empire." We also said, "The Colonies have spent their money, the Dominions have spent their money, these Votes have been granted, and the money has been spent; it will be disastrous for the future of the British Empire if any hitch occurs that prevents this exhibition being opened."
That was what we found, and I want to say to the Committee quite clearly, when all the criticism is made, "What would any of you, faced with those facts, have done?" I will tell the Committee what we did. My right hon. Friend, who was then Prime Minister, said to me, " We have got to make this thing go; it-will be fatal in the Dominions and in the Colonies if it does not go"; and the first 822 job that I had in connection with it was to go down and face 10,000 men on strike, quarrelling with their employers, quarrelling with the exhibition authorities, at war with everybody, and to try and persuade them to go back to work.
That was the first connection of the Labour Government with the British Empire Exhibition. We took on the job, and went down and faced them, and we persuaded them to go to work. They went to work, and the exhibition was opened. Is anyone going to blame either this side or that side for the weather? [A laugh.] It is all very well to laugh, but these are facts. Our next experience was that it was the rottenest weather we ever knew, and I am sure there are a number of people who blame the Labour Government for that. There are quite a number of people who believe we were responsible for the bad weather. In fact, I am told it is suggested that my right hon. Friend was praying for wet weather, and got his wish. We went through, and wound up at the end with a deficit of approximately £2,100,000, At that time there was no talk of Russia— at least, we had not heard it; there was nothing about Red Letter— Zinoviev had not been heard of; and we thought we were still right for our £5,000 the next, year. In other words, we were budgetting on chance, and, as it turned out, we had not a cat's chance. Therefore, we had to say to ourselves, "What about next year?" and, as business people—we were not supposed to be business people, but we were, nevertheless—we said to ourselves that we came in with all these commitments, amounting to £3,000,000 odd, all the estimates had been falsified, and the present Borne Secretary had been called in to conduct an investigation—which we knew nothing about, to which we were not parties, and for which we were not responsible—and he himself had suggestions.
That was the position we found then. We could have taken the line that it was not our business, that we were not responsible; we could have taken the line of pettifogging criticism; but we said, "That may avail for people who are only looking to their own position, but it not good enough or big enough when you approach the question of the Empire as a whole," and we said, "We will take the 823 responsibility." We went into the position, and we came to this conclusion: We said that, if 24,000,000 people could visit this exhibition in one year, if every Dominion was satisfied, if every Colony was satisfied that good work had been done, what about giving it another chance? We took the responsibility— and here is the first responsibility I accept on behalf of the late Government —we took the responsibility of recommending another year of Wembley, and, let the Committee observe, we recommended it with a deficit of £2,100,000. We passed that recommendation on, by the unfortunate accident of the Russian Letter, to my right hon. Friend, and he said to himself, when he called his colleagues together, "Well, we have talked a lot during the General Election about the incapacity, the imbecility and the danger of these fellows, but, you know, between ourselves, while that is all right for the Election, it cuts no ice when we know what they have done." Therefore. calling his colleagues together, he said, "What about this recommendation?" and, of course, there was a unanimous vote, and every one of them said with enthusiasm, "This is one the best legacies they have handed over to us." Then they adopted our proposal, and they said that, of course, they would carry it on just as we had recommended, the difference being that all the kudos was on that side and all the work on this side.
We, have now had 12 months of it, and, at the end of 12 months, after better weather—due to their praying and our swearing—it is wound up. We unbusinesslike, incompetent people, ignorant of finance and commerce, were in this position, that in 1924 there was a deficit of £2,000,000 odd. But here let me strike a serious note. Our Dominions were in a bad way—and I want to stress this point because I want the Committee to appreciate the case—there was a feeling of irritation, and not a solitary Dominion or Colony was happy at the end of the exhibition of 1924. I will tell you why, because they had got it into their minds, falsely, I think, but unfortunately they had got it in their minds that all of them were paying the piper and we were getting the benefit. Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa were all irritated because they 824 had all spent money and the British Government had not spent a bob! Make no mistake about that. In 1924 neither our Government nor your Government had spent a bob. Keep that in mind. Canada had spent £400,000, South Africa had spent over £300.000, and all our Dominions had spent money except ourselves. We had not spent a bob. We bad merely said we guaranteed it. Now there was a very strained feeling. You may take it from me. I took this view, that it would ruin the real success of the Empire Exhibition if, as the. result of it, our Colonies and Dominions were not closer to us than they were before it started.
I want to congratulate the Government on adopting our suggestion. We said to them, "Now look here, we have got to give a little bit of sugar here." I need not go into details, but they accepted all the sugar we gave them, and the result was we brought all the Dominions and all the Colonies in again. Then we run the exhibition for this year and we wind up, notwithstanding this incapable, incompetent and ignorant business capacity of the late Government, by having wiped off £200,000 of the deficit. Therefore in round figures you are in this position. We took on the deficits and the liabilities and all the difficulties and we wind up and give you £200,000. That is absolutely unchallenged. These are the cold, hard, solid facts of the business. I want to say this, that if this deficit were double what it is—notwithstanding anything that has been said by hon. Members of my own party, and here let me say my party wants an inquiry—as far as I am concerned, and I am speaking now personally, I would welcome any inquiry. We have shirked no responsibility of any sort or kind and we will welcome the inquiry, but in welcoming it I would deplore that anything should happen that would destroy the value and the spirit behind what Wembley really meant. Measure it by your £2.100.000, measure at the maximum, and I take the maximum figure, of £1,100,000 as the Government's contribution. You have already voted a sum of £2,000,000 and have already said you were prepared to spend £2,000,000 on advertising, and on propaganda regarding the value of the British Empire. I say deliberately that, whatever may be your expenditure of this £2,000,000, whatever you may decide to 825 do, you will never get more value from your money so far as the Empire is concerned than you have already dons out of Wembley. Twenty-eight million people visited Wembley, 4,000,000 school children visited Wembley, and the impression has been left on their minds that generations yet unborn will appreciate in the future.
I took the responsibility of writing to every Dominion and every Colony and asking them this question: "You having sprat so much money, will you tell mo whether in your opinion that expenditure has been justified? Will you tell me whether in your opinion it has been of value to you either as a Dominion or a Colony?" That question was put to every Dominion and every Colony, and the Prime Minister who is here, will remember that I showed him the replies of every Dominion and every Colony and he can confirm what I am going to say. Every Dominion and every Colony without a solitary exception, not only replied that they were well satisfied with their expenditure, not only replied that they were justified in all that they had done, but without, a solitary exception every one of them said that trade and commerce within the Empire and with their particular Dominion or Colony had benefited as a result of that exhibition. That is the unanimous conclusion of their replies. Therefore I content myself by saying this. I threw myself into this work because I believed it was a good work. I had to meet many criticisms. I was condemned by many people for the attitude I took. I make no apology for it. You will not measure Wembley by the balance sheet of pounds shillings and pence.
You will not appreciate all that Wembley did by the Vote that you are taking to-night. If you want an inquiry, have it. There is nothing to hide, though, because they were human people dealing with them, mistakes were made. Pettifogging criticism will arise. Some guarantors will squirm. The Government have less to complain of than anyone else. Therefore, if an inquiry is demanded, give it, but do not let it be a pettifogging roving commission which is going to destroy all the value that has already been done. Do not say to your Dominions and your Colonies that you are running away from an expenditure that they have already incurred. In other 826 words, let us be as big as our Dominions and our Colonies. I say to the Government, just as I said on Locarno, they got all the plums and we did the work, though the Prime Minister was able to get up and say, "I have done the trick, we did the job," so in Wembley, again, they are reaping all the advantage and we did the donkey work.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I think the whole Committee have listened with great pleasure to a speech full of good feeling and broadmindedness. It is all of a piece with the work the right hon. Gentleman put in at the Wembley Exhibition. I can say on my own behalf that on many occasions he personally helped me to smooth over difficulties, and I am very much obliged to him. One or two questions have been raised, and although I made a good draft on the patience of the Committee when opening the discussion, perhaps the Committee would like me to deal with questions in detail. The last point put to me was by my hon. Friend the Member for Balham and Tooting (Sir A. Butt). The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Thomas) answered that question very well for me, and all I can say is that the line he took in his comment upon what my hon. Friend said is one that I should have taken myself.
§ Sir A. BUTT
The right hon. Gentle-man's reply, which the hon. Gentleman says was so much better than he could have made, did not answer my question at all. What I asked specifically was, has the whole capital expenditure account been rendered.
I want this Debate to finish on a high note. It would be foolish to answer "No," but this is the difficulty. There is in dispute at this moment a very considerable sun on capital account. Obviously, as one having to deal with it, it is not for me to prejudice the situation. All I have to say to you is that no-one can say the expenditure is fully met. All I can say to you and to the guarantors is that not a copper will be paid unless we are satisfied that it is a legitimate claim, but equally we have no reason to doubt that any claim has been made that is not bona fide. That is the position we are in. There are disputed claims.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I have been asked what is the reserve price we have put on the property. The property does not belong 827 to the Government. Also I have been asked, did we give out the contracts. We do not give out contracts. Hon. Members must bear in mind, as I have endeavoured to impress on them on several occasions, that the exhibition authorities are the responsible authorities. They give out the contracts and the liquidators are the vendors of the property, and we have nothing to do with it.
We, the Government, are not the parties concerned. All we have to do is to see that certain conditions which were imposed by the House of Commons under the Guarantee Act are complied with, and we give the guarantee of £1,100,000. We are only concerned as guarantors and not as liquidators or givers out of contracts. One hon. Member asked what is the reserve price of the Wembley property? The liquidators, the right hon. Member for Derby, one of the ablest accountants of the day, Sir Arthur Whinncy, and Sir James Cooper, who represents the Treasury, can be relied upon to get the last possible farthing for this property. I would ask to be excused for saying more. It would be very foolish on my part to say anything which might prejudice the sale at the highest possible price. The Committee may rest assured that the liquidators who are looking after the interests of all concerned will get everything possible out of the property. The less I say about the matter at the present time the better.
A further question which has been asked is in relation to an inquiry. The line taken by the right hon. Member for Derby was a very wise one, and I cannot improve upon it. It is true that there have been certain whisperings about an inquiry, but the demand for it has not been widespread. As the right hon. Gentleman said, it may have come from people who had very little at risk in the matter. Let me remind the Committee that these demands ought, at any rate, to be based upon something substantial. Is fraud alleged? If so, I have not heard of it. If any people allege fraud, let them come forward and make specific charges. A roving commission, a fishing expedition, would do no good to anybody, but would ruffle people's feelings and disturb the kindly atmosphere that now exists. If there is nothing alleged 828 of an unworthy or disreputable nature, I would deprecate the question of an inquiry.
I was very pleased to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. R. Young). It was a generous speech, representing the average opinion about the exhibition in the whole country. The speech of the right hon. Member for Miles Platting (Mr. Clynes) was a broad-minded speech, accepting what was good and trying to overlook the errors as far as possible. I would ask hon. Members to realise that this exhibition was a colossal undertaking and that it was built up in months not years. A great exhibition like this cannot spring ready-made like Minerva, fully armed, from the head of Zeus. It takes a good deal of time to build up an enterprise of this kind, and if some mistakes owing to haste or unforeseen difficulties have been made condemnation should not be put forward over the mistakes but wonder should be expressed that so few mistakes have been made.
The hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie) and the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) put several questions. With regard to the site, I would point out that the freehold portion totalled 150 acres, and the price paid for it, seeing that it was so near London and so useful for developing for housing purposes, was not excessive. The price was £500 an acre, amounting to a total of £75,000. That property belongs to the exhibition authorities, and we think it is worth to-day a much higher price, and trust that a higher price will be received for it by the liquidators. The remaining cost of £20,000 represents certain odds and ends and two houses, which had to be bought from the Wembley Park Estate.
With regard to the architects' and other professional fees, amounting to £83,000, I would remind hon. Members that this is in respect of a very large capital outlay in buildings. The usual fee paid in these cases is 6 per cent. but the recipients were good enough to accept half the usual fee, namely, 3 per cent. I was also asked whether the contractors have made any deduction from their charges towards meeting the loss on the exhibition. The answer that I can give to that question will, I think, greatly surprise the hon. Member. The chief contractor is the 829 largest guarantor—£150,000. The consequence is that he is proved to have acted with public spirit, and that answers the hon. Member's question.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I cannot say off-hand who were the owners of the 150 acres, other than the railway company.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
It appears the owners were a wicked railway company. I was asked why the golf club had been demolished, The reason was that it stood on the proposed site of the exhibition, and consequently had to be removed, at a cost of £960. Then there was the expenditure of £119,000 on roads. It is hoped that some value will be received for that outlay when the site is sold. The site for sale belongs to the exhibition authorities, and they will get back all that can be got, including if possible the cost of roads.
§ Mr. HARDIE
May I ask whether the parties of whom you speak can be given instructions from the Government as to whether they should sell the land or keep if?
§ Mr. SAMUEL
The matter is in the hands of the liquidators. I have answered all the questions, and I now appeal to the Committee to give me the Vote.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
This is not a matter which is likely to pass without some further consideration being devoted to it. I ask the Committee to believe that those who criticise the accounts are not lacking in their admiration of the educational value of the institution. The service which the exhibition rendered to the Empire cannot be measured in pounds, shillings and pence, and I would assure the hon. Gentleman who speaks for the Government that he is not the only person who has the greatest possible admiration for the way in which the educational side of the exhibition was conducted and the influence which it has had upon public opinion in this country and elsewhere. One of the reasons why I have ventured to look closely into these accounts is that the British Government and the British taxpayer are, indeed, the largest guarantors. They hare, and they demand 830 the right through this House, to have full information given to them as to the way in which the money has been spent, the items which appear in the accounts, and how it is estimated that the final accounts will be closed.
There has never been a word of complaint uttered against the British Dominions or anybody connected with them. Not a single Commissioner has heard a whisper of criticism directed at him. There is no one in Canada or in New Zealand or in South Africa or in Australia who has the least ground for saying that any scrutiny exercised by this Committee over the exhibition accounts has cast the least reflection on them. They did their work admirably. They certainly took the greatest possible trouble to place before the public of the United Kingdom an amazing exhibition of the wealth, the beauty, and the industry of the Empire, such as had never been known before. That has never been in question. No one challenges that fact, but it must not be supposed because we have a great admiration for those who gathered together these amazing exhibits, which played such an admirable part in in forming a people who know far too little of the British Empire beyond the seas, that we must therefore allow these accounts to go through without criticism and almost without examination. If one may gather anything from the gestures of the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Estimate, he seemed to think that the mere mention of the matter is almost improper.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I must protest against that remark, coming from the right hon. Gentleman, who has only come in here quite recently, and has not heard the earlier speeches.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
The time at which I came in certainly did not give me the privilege and honour of listening to the hon. Gentleman. Nevertheless he has circulated a document which we have a right to examine, and which I propose to examine, however unpalatable it may be to him. There are a great many other people who have only come into the House recently, and I have heard no reproach made against them. If I am guilty of tedious repetition the Chairman will call me to order, and I think the hon. Gentleman had better leave that duty to be performed by the Chairman.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
What I pointed out was that I did explain these matters, and that the right hon. Gentleman was not here to listen.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I do not charge the hon. Gentleman with not explaining, but the hon. Gentleman expresses irritation at questions being asked on this subject. I would remind the Committee that this is not the first time we have had these accounts before us, and the same thing happened on the last occasion when we discussed them.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I do not need to read the OFFICIAL REPORT, because I was here during all those discussions.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
On that occasion exactly the same attitude was taken up by the hon. Gentleman. I beg of him not to regard these money matters so lightly. He is responsible for bringing an Estimate which asks for £1,100,000 of public money, and we have the right to ask where that money has gone.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I am going to have my say on this matter, and am certainly not going to allow a Vote of this kind to go through without protest. The capital expenditure on this exhibition was estimated at about £1,150,000, but we find now it is well over £3,000,000. Does not that justify a much fuller explanation than the hon. Gentleman gave either in his opening speech or in his second speech? He left the explanation to the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
Yes, I did. The right hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench explained that the extra cost of the building, of the ground and so on was due to strike troubles and the weather, and the fact that the Exhibition became more extensive than was at first anticipated. These explanations do not satisfy the British taxpayer that all this money has been well spent, or that it has been spent with 832 a due regard to safeguarding the public purse. The idea seems to be current that these accounts as published are final, and that this is the last we shall hear of them, but it is not the last we shall hear of them. They are not final accounts. They are mere estimated accounts. They do not wind up the Exhibition, but leave a considerable number of figures still to be settled. On the first page of this document, it is stated emphatically that the estimated realisable value of the unrealised assets is taken into account and that the ultimate loss or deficiency will not be less than £1,580,000. The hon. Gentleman has not been able to give us any indication of how much more it may be. One or two things we do know. Some of these items will be much swollen before the final accounts are issued. Take the case of the Stadium. I doubt very much whether the Stadium will appear in the final accounts at the figure given here. It is much more likely to be in the region of £600,000. Who can say that this sum has been well spent and economically spent? In item after item, we find the same thing arising.
The hon. Gentleman may say it is not his fault. I do not accuse him of having been loose in the expenditure of public funds, for, indeed, his Department has never had enough control over the exhibition. It was the complaint of his predecessor that the Overseas Trade Department had not control over the administration of the exhibition, and it is unfair to blame those who preceded the present Government with any of the loose capital expenditure to which attention has been drawn. I am sure no one would think of accusing my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby of not having been very carefu1l during his period of administration, and I am quite sure that in liquidating what remains of the assets he will safeguard the public interest as well as he can. They are three excellent liquidators, but what they are likely to get out of this no one can tell. The only thing we know is that the property will be difficult to sell, and nobody would wish to add to their difficulties, but that is no reason why we should not ask that the accounts presented to us should be much more precise and that there should be a much closer scrutiny of the expenditure.
833 When I come to the running accounts, the first startling item that I find is under the heading of "General salaries and allowances, £208,000." It has been freely stated that the staff which managed the exhibition was far larger than it need have been, and it was notorious that at one time there was a great deal of friction between the two sections of the management. Where there was friction in the management there was bound to be increased expenditure. The ground on which a Committee of Inquiry has been asked is not in order to disclose scandals, but to find out whether there has or has not been extravagance. What guard has been taken by the Government or the governing body of the exhibition against undue expenditure of what has ultimately become public money? I hope we have heard the last of the idea that when we have to scrutinise these accounts we are committing some offence. What are we here for, but to guard the public money?
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
That is my business. At all events, I am here now, and expressing my views, and that is more than the hon. and gallant Member has dared to do. I think we are entitled to have an inquiry into the estimates that were made. It was not considered against the public interest to have an inquiry when the present Home Secretary was at the Treasury and responsible, and why should it be against the interest of anybody that there should be an inquiry now, when the accounts are on the point of being closed, and the whole thing may pass away from the purview of the public? If we are not to have these accounts as closely scrutinised as though there was a Public Accounts Committee to deal with them, there will always be left a suspicion, and a well-grounded suspicion, that there was not due care taken in the safeguarding of the public purse. If any representative of a Government Department were to come here, and say that the Public Accounts Committee was behaving improperly in looking too closely into the expenditure of his Department, he would be laughed out of court. Why, then, should the representative of the Government or my right hon. Friend on the Front Opposition Bench think there is anything improper in an inquiry? I am sure my right hon. 834 Friend would not object to an inquiry. Then why not let us have it? There is a demand outside for it that, I can assure the hon. Gentleman, is likely to be insistent, and certainly it is not going to be dropped.
An inquiry need cost very little. There are many people who would be glad to undertake it without being paid fees, and there is no reason why an inquiry should not be conducted, if necessary, by Members of this House. You can select, if you like, a committee which is a microcosm of the House, giving the Government a majority and letting each party be represented according to its size. We will not grumble about that. It is a question not only of audit, but of the true exposure of facts which could be laid before a Committee of the House, where it is possible for everyone's interests to be protected. There have been one or two aspersions cast in this Debate which, I think, necessitate an inquiry. The hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie) made some reference to my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I do not know whether the hon. Member told my right hon. Friend he was going to mention his name in this Debate. It certainly would have been usual for him to do so The main reason I have risen is to say that if there be anything that has not been disclosed, it ought to be disclosed at once, and to ask why so distinguished a Member as my right hon. Friend- however much Members in any quarter of the House may disagree with him—should be put under a shade of suspicion in any quarter, without his friends or colleagues in this House asking that there should be a full disclosure of the accusations.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I am perfectly entitled to take up any accusation made against any Member of this House.
§ Mr. J. JONES
Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give any evidence of a statement made by the hon. Member 835 for Springburn impugning the honour of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs?
§ Sir R. THOMAS
I was in the House when this statement was made. A reference was made by the hon. Member for Springburn that a large sum of money had been passed over in connection with the buildings. Of course, he knew that was a statement he could not make outside, and he immediately turned round to these benches, and said that he regretted the absence of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs.
§ The CHAIRMAN
It does not seem that any point of order can arise out of what the right hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Runciman) said. I understand that a statement has been made reflecting on the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), and, if that be so, the right hon. Member for Swansea is in order in commenting on it.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I do not want to give currency to any ungrounded suspicion, but when a suggestion of that kind is made, we ought to have a full disclosure of the facts concerned. I am sure no suggestion of irregularity would ever be made against him, and I do not think it should be made in this connection without his having full opportunity of being heard.
We are asked to-night to pass a Supplementary Vote of £1,100,000. That Supplementary Estimate is not the end of what we may have to deal with. The right hon. Gentleman in charge of this Vote assured the House on a previous occasion that he would not have to ask this House to provide any more money. I hope he will succeed in adhering to that undertaking, and, if so, we shall it all events know that he has fulfilled his part, of the promise. The one thing that is necessary is that with the accounts that are drawing to a close, we should receive not only the active support, as we are receiving it, of Sir James Cooper and the other two liquidators, who are doing the work to the best of their ability, but that the public mind should be set fully at rest that there is not undue extravagance, that the estimate is not drawn too loosely, and that what has happened in the exhibition on its financial side—not on 836 its educational or material side—is entirely above suspicion. I have no doubt that those who have been in charge of the financial arrangements will think of this. One thing is quite certain, which is that the financial anticipations have been in almost every instance belied. There is very little reason why we in this House engaged in such a serious undertaking, and making serious comment upon the matter, should not know what we want.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I apologise to the House, but perhaps I may be allowed to make this statement on behalf of the liquidator. I did not understand the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie) made a charge. I want to say, however, that no Member of this House, of any party, has a right under cover here, to make a charge that he would not take the responsibility of making outside. I have nothing but contempt for anyone who would abuse that privilege. I did not understand that my hon. Friend made that charge. I want clearly and definitely to say that it is not true. It would be a wicked libel on everyone connected with the exhibition to connect the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) with any influence of any sort or kind, and it would be as bad and as wicked to connect the contractors, who, as far as our evidence goes, did their work well. It is unfair to make aspersions of that kind. Do not let us have an inquiry—a mere roving commission. But if any Member of this House likes to take a charge outside that can be investigated, the liquidator will welcome any investigation.
§ Resolutions to be Reported To-morrow.
§ Committee to sit again To-morrow.