§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. ARTHUR MICHAEL SAMUEL (Secretary, Overseas Trade Department)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
When the Financial Resolution was under discussion, I made very large demands on the patience of hon. Members, and therefore I do not propose to trespass upon the kindness of the House to-day by going over the ground which I covered on that occasion, but will endeavour to confine my remarks to points which arose in the course of that discussion. The Bill is brought forward for the purpose of guaranteeing the sum of £1,100,000 for the British Empire Exhibition. Of that sum only, £500,000 is new money. The amount of the original guarantee was £100,000. In May, 1924, the late Government introduced and carried a Resolution empowering the guarantee of another £500,000, but before that second guarantee could be translated into the form of a Bill there was a change in the Ministry. The present Government have to taken over that £500,000 and put it into this Bill, and added £500,000 for the 1925 exhibition, and this with the original £100,000 makes a total of £1,100,000. That is how that sum is arrived at. In the Debate upon the Resolution before this Bill was introduced the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman) passed criticisms upon the accounts of the British Empire Exhibition, with out having a full knowledge of the matter, which seem to have given some considerable offence. I have received a letter on the subject from Sir James Cooper, who, I would remind the House, is the official put in by the Treasury and ourselves to, if I may again say so with out offence, act as the watch-dog for the House of Commons. He has sent me a copy of a letter forwarded to him by Messrs. Whinney, Smith and Whinney, who are among the best-known accountants in the City of London. I think I had better read this letter, because it disposes of what the right hon. 1156 Gentleman the Member for West Swansea feared and said, and I think when he has heard this letter he will see that he was misinformed. Here is the copy of a letter sent by Messrs. Whinney, Smith and Whinney to Sir James Cooper it is dated the 6th March. It says:
§ "DEAR SIR,
§ British Empire Exhibition (1924) Incorporated.
§ Our attention has been called to Mr. Runciman's observations in the course of the Debate in the House of Commons on the 2nd instant, when he is reported as having said, "The accounting itself was loose.' I think the hon. Gentleman himself "—
that. is, myself—
confessed on the last occasion that the accounting was loose and wherever you have loose accounting you are bound to have a waste of money.
I may say that the right hon. Gentleman is entirely mistaken in saying I confessed that the accounting was loose. I have turned up the OFFICIAL REPORT, and on page 1992, 25th February, 1925, I find that what I said was this:
There was an increase in the amount expended because, to our great joy, all the units of the British Empire came in except the Irish Free State and British North Borneo … and that is the reason of the increase from £1,600,000 to the £2,950,000. There is another reason and a very good reason. Things had to be done in a great hurry and you cannot estimate in a hurry. Then, with the best will in the world, it is impossible to know exactly what things are going to cost for an Exhibition."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 25th February, 1925; col. 1992, Vol. 189.]
Then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea said:
One of the reasons given to explain why the Estimate was exceeded very much is the extension of the Exhibition owing to a larger number of units coming in than was originally expected. How much of the 90 per cent. increased cost is due to that reason? Surely it i5 a very small proportion. There must have been a serious miscalculation.
Then I went on to say:
I should not offhand like to agree with the right hon. Gentleman."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 25th February. 1925; col. 1992. Vol. 180.]
He must not attribute to me any confession of loose accounting. I will now proceed with the letter from Messrs. Whinney, Smith and Whinney:
We desire to state that from its inception we acted as auditors of the
accounts of the Exhibition, and in the first instance advised as to the system upon which such accounts should be kept. We also conducted a continuous audit of such accounts, and every month prepared and submitted to the Finance Committee a statement of revenue and expenditure showing the total receipts and payments on revenue account. These accounts, after our audit thereof, were available for the Finance Committee at their monthly meetings, which were held, as a rule, during the month succeeding that to which the accounts related and from time to time"—
Let me emphasise those words "from time to time"—
as circumstances required we brought to the notice of the said Committee such matters as in our judgment required their attention, and to the extent to which it was deemed practicable by the Finance Committee or Board of Management our recommendations were adopted. In so far as Mr. Runciman's criticism may be considered to apply to the work upon which we have been engaged we submit that it should be either substantiated or withdrawn. We are ready to furnish the Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department with full information as to the work we carried out and, if the Finance Committee approve, to produce for his consideration the whole of the accounts which we have furnished to the Finance Committee from time to time and our various reports.
§ Yours faithfully,
§ Whinney, Smith and Whinney."
§ I think after that letter the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea will be satisfied that this information gives us all a very good reason for assuming that the auditing and accounting for the British Empire Exhibition was thoroughly good and exhaustive in its operation. As a matter of fact, the accounts were carried on from day to day from the 1st January, 1920, and have been taken right up to date to within a few days of when I was introducing the Resolution; they were issued on the 14th January, 1925, and they are going on still. I think, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea will feel reassured that matters are much more satisfactory than he feared they were when he took part in the Debate. I would like, on behalf of the Government, to say how greatly we are all indebted to the board of management of the exhibition. A few people, only a few, have banged and crabbed this exhibition, but they have no idea of the immense amount of work that was put into it 1158 by the board of management. Let me express thanks to them and assure them that we all feel confident that they have done their utmost to make a success of a very difficult task. In the presence even of one member of the board, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for. Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas), I would like to say that the Government recognises how whole-heartedly he himself has assisted his colleagues and the exhibition as a whole. I notice that the hon. and gallant Member for Basingstoke (Sir A. Holbrook) and the hon. and gallant Member for South Hackney (Captain Garro-Jones) have placed on the Paper Amendments to the Second Reading of this Bill, and I will endeavour to give them full information in regard to these Amendments. In his Amendment the hon. and gallant Member for Basingstoke deals with the question of rest rooms for the staff and sanitary accommodation. On this head I wish to inform the House that the following improvements have been made and will become operative in 1925: Lavatory and washing accommodation will be reserved exclusively for the use of the staff at the four staff institutes and women's rest rooms situated at different points in the exhibition grounds. The exhibition authorities have waived the charge which was made in 1924 for the use of the staff institutes and rest rooms. At the three institutes meals will be served at canteen prices: a special restaurant in the Palace of Engineering will also be reserved entirely for the use of the staff. The arrangements for women's welfare will again be in the hands of an experienced lady superintendent, who will be assisted by six matrons stationed at the staff institutes and rest rooms in different parts of the grounds. Within the last two or three days the exhibition authorities have written to the Home Secretary and asked him to send an official of his own to see what is actually being done about welfare matters. I think this will ensure that everything will be kept as it should be and prevent recurrence of undesirable incidents which have been brought to my notice in the past, and I think the hon. and gallant Member for Basingstoke may rest assured that the arrangements will be better in the future.
§ One or two other points are now raised on the Second Reading of the British Empire Exhibition Bill, and one is a com- 1159 plaint that there is not adequate Government control over the management of the exhibition. What does adequate mean? Does it mean effective, and, if so, how are we to make control effective without assuming a large amount of responsibility for the entire conduct of the exhibition? And that we decline to assume. Here we are at the first week of April and we are hoping to get the exhibition open by the first week in May. It is no good trying to swop horses while you are crossing the stream. If one asks that the control of the exhibition shall be changed within the next 30 days the result will be chaos. Would the private guarantors agree to change of control? I think not. Would the Dominions and Colonies agree? I doubt it. Have the hon. Members for South Hackney and South West Bethnal Green (Mr. Harris) realised where their Amendment leads them? Yet that is their condition for agreeing to a Second Reading. Finally, I may remind the House that the Dominions and the Colonies are already well looked after by Sir James Allen and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas). To give effect to the Amendment put down by the hon. Member for South Hackney and the hon. Member for South West Bethnal Green would not only be impossible but disastrous, if possible, and it would bring down the exhibition to confusion. For these reasons, I hope these two Amendments will not be proceeded with.
§ There is one point I have thought over a great deal since the last discussion. Even criticisms in the Press have taken the line that we are going to lose £1,100,000 over this exhibition. I take quite a different view about the money loss. There is a good deal more to be said about this exhibition than money. There is something connected with the exhibition which you cannot measure at all in terms of money. If you pay for 500 tons of coal to raise steam on a ship, you must not say that you have lost the money. You get it back in freight receipts. If the nation provides the whole £1,100,000 of the guarantee for this exhibition, I maintain that it gets that money back over and over again. It is not lost. I will explain why. I have reason to know from returns furnished by the Home Secretary that no less than 70,000 foreign 1160 visitors, not the scourings of the slums of Europe, but honoured, welcome guests came here specifically to see the exhibition last year, and we know they came quite apart from the figures given by the Home Secretary. I have read recently the report of the Savoy Hotel, and they say they have benefited very much by the exhibition. We have also read the reports of other concerns, and of the railways, and that they have also benefited very much in this way.
§ If 70,000 foreign visitors have come specially to London to see the exhibition they could not have spent in England less than £25 or £30 each, but if they only spent £15 each they would have spent in this country nearly the £1,100,000 which we are asking should be provided for this purpose. Then I would like to point out that this £1,100,000 is provided by the taxpayers of the nation as a whole. Extra money is brought into this country by the visitors, and the exhibition guarantee by the nation is more than balanced by the money which these visitors spend in this country. Hon. Gentlemen must also remember that the Dominions and India and the Colonies spent a large amount of money in buildings at the exhibition: they voted for that purpose about £1,700,000, and the greater portion of that money was brought here and spent in this country largely in wages. Thus we can look at the matter from the point of view of employment. The exhibition gave employment to those persons who made the exhibits, the machinery, the buildings, the goods and the wares, and the textiles, and I think I am well within the mark when I say that not less than £20,000,000 must have been spent in producing those goods for the exhibition. When hon. Members talk about loss by this guarantee of:01,100,000, they do not take into account the benefit the nation has received back in money on the lowest grounds.1161
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
The hon. Gentleman, who has just sat down, opened his speech by reading a letter from the auditors of the British Empire Exhibition, which makes special reference to a statement I made in the House in the earlier stages of this proposal. May I say, that so far as the auditors are concerned, I never said anything in criticism of them. As a matter of fact, I never mentioned them or their work, and I should never think of questioning the standard of auditing undertaken by Messrs. Whinney. The hon. Gentleman is certainly not dealing with the criticisms which I made when he speaks of the correct auditing done by Messrs. Whinney and the fact that the clerks of that firm did all that was necessary in connection with the audit. What I pointed out was, that the estimates were so far away from the actual expenditure as to be almost ridiculous, and they were entirely illusory. Those Estimates misled the guarantors, just as much as they misled the executive committee.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
My criticism was that an Estimate of £1,100,000 for preliminary expenses ultimately became £2,850,000. As for loose accounting, all I can say if accounting of that nature were done in connection with a private firm it would soon lead to bankruptcy. Unless the guarantees had been obtained the exhibition could not have been proceeded with. Let me take an example of what the hon. Gentleman calls good accounting. When criticising the account- 1162 ing, let me compare it with the method which has now been introduced by the hon. Gentleman. He says that the amount of the guarantee of £1,100,000 does not necessarily mean a loss. Of course, that remains to be seen, and it depends entirely upon the attendance at the exhibition. The exhibition authorities and the right hon. Gentleman's Department estimate that they will have this year 9,000,000 visitors, and that that will be sufficient to make both ends meet. But even if you get 9,000,000 the £1,100,000 will be absorbed. If the number of visitors is more than 9,000,000 I presume a profit will be made and the heavy loss will be diminished.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I take exception to the phrase "heavy loss." Even if the whole of the 21;100,000 has to be paid it will not be a loss.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I am not talking about Imperial advantages, or the advertisement which may come to this country from the exhibition. I am dealing with the actual money expended. The hon. Member questions whether this £1,100,000 will be absorbed. On the figures given if there are 9,000,000 visitors, I understand that no deficit will have to be provided. The right hon. Gentleman may not like the word "loss," and so I use the word "deficit." At all events, the amount we have to provide out of national funds will not fall short of £1,100,000, unless the attendance is unexpectedly large. The right hon. Gentleman said, "After all if we expend that money it is not lost, we have certain incidental advantages," and he puts some of them down in terms of money. Let us see what his principles of accounting are when we deal with this way of providing for the £1,100,000. There were 70,000 foreign visitors, who were supposed to have spent something like £1,100,000 at a low estimate. Does he imagine they did not get goods for what they paid, that they did not pay for their hotels and for the rent for their rooms? That £1,100,000 is not clear profit. It has provided nothing in the way of an appropriation-in-aid for his Department.
If that is the way it stands, I presume this year, if the foreign visitors come to 140,000, the account will be £2,200,000 in pocket. That sort of accounting would not hold water in the mast trivial commercial 1163 concern. I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should have presented that method to the House. He also points out that there have been other incidental advantages. The Dominions spent £1,750,000 on their buildings, and that, money was brought into the country by the Dominions. The right hon. Gentleman is now pleading for a second year of the exhibition. That amount was spent last year, but that incidental advantage will not be repeated this year. They are not intending to expend any more on their buildings this year than they spent last. That refers to last year's account. When I referred to loose accounting, I meant loose in terms of time as well as of money. What appeared in last year's account cannot be put to the credit of the exhibition account for 1925. As to the expenditure on actual goods for the exhibition, do not let the right hon. Gentleman imagine that that is all clear profit. It is only clear profit if it has provided such an additional amount of work for the firms that exhibited that they are going to see a much larger turnover for the amount of money they poured out by way of their exhibits.
Let me now come to the other side. I have dealt with accounting, but have kept that quite apart from the purely imperial aspect. No one under-estimates the Imperial advantages that came from the opening of the exhibition last year. It brought together people from all over the Empire and from all over this country, and education in Imperial questions was as necessary in this country as it was abroad, for there are very large numbers of people in our own islands who know little or nothing about the vast extent and variety of the British Empire. Those advantages we do not depreciate. I have no doubt the educational effect of the exhibition last year has been admirable here as well as among our Dominion fellow-subjects. But that was done last year. Does the right hon. Gentleman imagine that exactly the same effect is going to be produced, on the same people, for a second time this year? If he is making a plea for this year he must put it on new grounds, or on the fact that the education is to be spread among a new class of people who were not affected last year. If we are to have the advantage twice over, it cannot be twice 1164 over on the same people. Does he really imagine that the 9,000,000 people who are estimated to be going to the exhibition this year are going to be an entirely new 9,000,000? I am sure he has done us an injustice—those of us who criticise the opening of the exhibition for a second year. We have never under-estimated the Imperial advantages. What we have done is to point out that to open it for a second year is a doubtful experiment. It is very doubtful whether it will produce any of the advantages of last year—whether the exhibition itself will have any commensurate commercial gain—and there are large numbers of business men with whom I am sure the right hon. Gentleman must have been in touch who hold that view so strongly that they have not renewed their exhibits. Whole blocks of industries will be absent. They have done that on the very good business ground that it is not going to bring them an increased turnover. So far as the exhibition itself is concerned, it can go on to a large extent providing us with an advertisement of British goods, but may I mention one way in which the exhibition last year certainly did very little to help matters in relation to foreign visitors? Anyone who was at the exhibition last year would gather that the whole of the directions and notices were put up in English only, and when a Frenchman or a Dutchman or a Spaniard went he had nothing to guide him except the British language, and one frequently came across people who were talking rather broken English, unable to find their way about because they did not understand the notices. I only mention this incidentally in the hope that the right hon. Gentleman will convey to the exhibition authorities that they might at least make use of some other language than our own if they want foreign visitors to take full advantage of the exhibition.
I only mention that in passing. The important fact is that the figures which have been presented from time to time have been subject to repeated revision. We do not even now know whether we have come to an end and what the exhibition is going to cost. I have never thought of blaming the public-spirited gentlemen who have taken such a large part in trying to make the exhibition a success. Some of them have pledged their private credit, as the Duke of Devonshire 1165 did. Others have worked night and day in order to snake the thing go well. I think before the House is asked to provide for this extended guarantee we should have had in a much more emphatic form the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman and the Government that the amount of the guarantee was going to be the last of the liabilities we have to provide from national funds for the exhibition. It will certainly run the risk in the coming year of being a failure as a second year exhibition. Second year exhibitions have notoriously been failures in the past. If it is going to be a success, all that can happen will be that the Government's guarantee will be swallowed up and no further liability will be incurred. As for the private guarantors, they have already been told by the exhibition authorities that their guarantees, if they are renewed for this year, can do them no harm and that they do not increase their liability, while there is a possibility of a certain amount being paid off. I doubt very much whether that will be the case, but before the right hon. Gentleman gets his Bill he ought to repeat in an explicit form what he said on the Committee stage of the Financial Resolution, that the extra amount he is asking for is the last he will ask for and that we know what the limit of the liability is, and that we should not go into the exhibition this year the authorities feeling that if they end up with a further and larger deficit they can come once more to the House of Commons and plead that we are honourably bound to make a further payment. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will safeguard us against that and make it quite clear what the amount is and that it is the last we shall have to incur, and that the exihibition authorities cannot take advantage of his kindness of heart and the Imperial sympathy of the late Colonial Secretary.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
I make no apology for my Imperial sentiments. I want to say the House of Commons is not only entitled to raise all these questions, but it is a duty which I have always urged, and we are entitled to ascertain the facts. It is fair to point out first that every estimate was falsified, that is to say, those originally responsible never conceived the difficulties they had to meet. The exhibition was not thought of last year, it was thought of a number of years ago, 1166 and unfortunately a number of those who were originally responsible are dead and have not had the advantage of even seeing how well they did their work in spite of the difficulties. In the first place, it was not only the greatest exhibition the world ever knew, but it was five or six times greater than any that had preceded it. When it came near enough to the opening there were 101 difficulties never contemplated, and that explains the deficit. One thing was never estimated for by anyone and that was the abnormally wet weather of last year. 17,000,000 people attended, and in addition to that, London never saw the exhibition. That is a curious thing that is not fully appreciated. Millions came from the Provinces. I will ask any hon. Member if it did not strike him as something worth accomplishing when he came to the House and saw there or in Palace Yard any morning, day after day, the thousands who came here via Wembley. I attach some importance to that. One met one's own constituents, and the tremendous interest they showed in the House of Commons day after day was all due to their visits to Wembley. We have made private inquiries from every firm whose employés came to London last year to ascertain what were the prospects, with cheap excursion rates, of their coming here again, and 90 per cent. have replied that their employés express a desire to come again. It is no good arguing against those facts. With regard to exhibits, the answer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman) is this. In the first place, it is not true that the Dominions are not spending money.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I did not say that. I said once the buildings were put up there was no necessity for any more capital expenditure on the buildings.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I understand exactly what was said. That is exactly the reverse of the fact, because Australia and Canada are putting up an entirely new show, if I may use that phrase, this year. They are spending large sums of money, and that is true also of nearly every one of the others. It is obvious that there is no need really for expenditure on the structural side, but I would ask hon. Members to observe the number of people all through this winter who, but for the exhibition having been kept open, would 1167 have been on the dole, and certainly during the last three months the tremendous number who have been employed and who otherwise would not have been employed. That is a thing we ought to take into consideration when viewing it from the standpoint of pounds, shillings and pence, which is the only way to deal with the accountancy side. I do not agree at all with the suggestion that the Government should take over responsibility. You have only to examine it for a moment. If the Government are going to take over control, they must take over the financial responsibility and relieve all the guarantors. I am sure you have only to realise that to see that it is a ridiculous suggestion to make and one which hope the Government will not listen to for a moment. I primarily got up to say one other thing, and it is this. Whether this Bill goes
through to-day or not—I am sure it will go through—the exhibition will open in a few weeks. Now whatever may have been said about the mistakes of the past, is it not time that we boosted it? I can understand Parliamentary criticism, which is our duty, but when we know that in a couple of weeks' time the exhibition will open, when we know that from all parts of the Dominions—and I say this from authoritative information—large numbers are coming again this year, and that an attendance of 9,000,000 is estimated, there is still to be considered the assets in the exhibition, which are lost sight of by many people. There are tremendous grounds and buildings which are assets.
§ Mr. THOMAS
Yes, pledged obviously for the overdraft. But I am dealing with the deficit. They are pledged for the overdraft at this moment, but there remain the assets to be dealt with when the Exhibition is closed, and, in my judgment, they will be a very valuable asset.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I hope they will be. I hope they will not be thrown away or scrapped. That, however, is another matter. The other point with which I want to deal is this: There are difficulties at the moment in connection with many different grades and sections of labour at Wembley. I am sure we all appreciate that the scandal of last year has been removed, namely, the question of lavatory accommodation. I see no reason why, instead of decrying Wembley because of legitimate grievances, it should not be possible for an attempt to be made at once to get some body representing the exhibition on the one side, and labour on the other, to meet together and thrash out the difficulties, instead of all the time damaging the credit of a place which we all want to be a success. I will certainly do all I can in that direction.
There is only one other question. My hon. Friend the Member for Balham (Sir A. Butt), in a speech he made on the last occasion, made a very serious indictment against those responsible for the exhibition. He went so far as to say that, to his knowledge, not only was there incompetence, but there was corruption. This matter was considered by the executive committee. Here let me say that no words could adequately express our thanks to those gentlemen who did tremendous work, and incurred financial loss, in trying to make the exhibition a success, and they feel that their honour is involved when a statement of that kind is made. They do not mind Members of Parliament getting up and very properly telling Mr. Speaker that they could do things much better than the authorities, who, naturally, recognise that, or the Gentlemen would not be here. They accept that as quite legitimate criticism, but when their honour is involved, as it is involved by a charge of corruption, they, naturally, not only feel very deeply, but they very strongly resent it.
I am quite sure my hon. Friend would not have made the statement, unless he felt he had good ground for doing so. Stirring up mud does not help us anywhere; but, on the other hand, if there are serious allegations such as that, it is a matter which ought to be cleared up, and if my hon. Friend has got any evidence which, in his judgment, shows that things are not right, I will undertake to have them looked into myself. I say that 1169 as a member of the executive committee, because I am naturally involved as a member of that committee. I am quite sure the hon. Member is only anxious to have the thing go straight. He only wants the best to be done, as we all do, and I hope we will pass this Bill, and give the necessary authority to my right hon. Friend to proceed. With my hon. Friend, I hope it will be a success. I cannot see why it should not be, for this reason. Supposing the estimates are falsified again by weather, or some other reason, if the exhibition had closed last year, taking the value of the assets as we assume them to be, then the deficit ought not to be more this year than it was in the closing period. Please observe that the Government guarantee is not only towards the general exhibition, but is also a guarantee which has been given to a number of the Dominions in order to cover their expenses for coming in for the second time. So that I do not think there should be a great deficit, and I hope this will be the last deficit.
But I do ask the House to observe, that if countries like Canada, Australia and South Africa can spend millions of pounds—and I have heard it estimated that last year the exhibition at least represented £28,000,000 to £30,000,000—when we find the keen interest in the Dominions and in all the Colonies and Protectorates, and that they are prepared to put up money, the amount involved in this million odd pounds is riot, after all, too big a contribution for this country. I do not think that you can estimate the real value in pounds, shillings and pence. Last year 4,000,000 children visited the exhibition, and got a conception of what their heritage was far different from anything they could have got in the schools. You may call it sloppy sentiment if you like. You may call it false Imperialism. You may call it what you like, but I believe it is an exhibition which, in the end, will benefit the nation as a whole. I do not minimise the financial side. I do not want to have loose accountancy, or anything like that. I want to see it run in a businesslike way, but I do not think when the ultimate result of this exhibition is taken, that you will be justified in viewing it merely from the balance sheet there presented, and that possibly the real asset will be the 1170 balance sheet of interest to generations in the future.
§ Sir CHARLES OMAN
I do not intend, of course, to oppose the Bill in the least, and I dissociate myself from criticism of it, but there is one point in regard to the exhibition which I wish to bring up. It is one of which, I think, my right hon. Friend is already more or less aware. There is, I think, this year going to be a slight neglect of one of the elements that made the unique character of the exhibition of last year. An exhibition does not consist merely in art shows, or in the clanging of machinery, or in panoramas and strange buildings. It also has, in intention, the object of bringing before visitors, not only from Great Britain, but all parts of the Empire, the very inspiring history of the establishment of the British Empire. That was provided for last year by the pageant, which gave enormous pleasure to those who saw it, and, I might almost say, even more pleasure to those who took part in it. There is no doubt the performers, in spite of the weather, enjoyed themselves thoroughly. But the object of the pageant was to give all visitors a chance of getting a conception of the origins and meanings of the British Empire. That, I am sorry to say, apparently, is not going to be the case this year. No doubt money was lost on the pageant, but that was, first of all, caused by the weather. As everybody who went to the pageant remembers, the weather was abominable. It was a pity to see the ladies in costumes of the time of Edward IV, with their long skirts and peak head-dresses, looking at the pools of water in which they were expected to parade.
It was not only the weather. It was still more, that the Government very rightly confiscated something like half the seats for the children of London. That was an excellent idea, but if you take away half the selling seats of an Exhibition, you cannot then complain if the exhibition does not make so much money as you expected. Clearly, the alleged deficit on the pageant was, to an enormous extent, due simply to the fact that the organisers of the pageant could not draw the money they expected, because they were compelled to set aside over half of the accommodation as free seats. Those two reasons, the weather 1171 and the free seats, will give a sufficient explanation of the deficit. One might also, perhaps, hint at a third, that is to say, the arrangements for the pageant were not taken in hand quite early enough, and, in the first stages, were rather in amateurish hands both in the administrative and financial sections. Afterwards that was improved, and the pageant brought out by the later management was, as everyone who saw it will agree, a very great success. I think it gave many hundreds of thousands of people some conception of the very curious and varied ways in which the British Empire grew up, and, I must say, I rather regret that the Stadium, while it may be used for military tattoos, fireworks, and other displays, will not present to us again that great panorama of the origin and growth of the British Empire, which it was able to do last year.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
The Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department, and also the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas), spoke eloquently about the educational value of the Wembley Exhibition, and I do not desire in the slightest degree to say a word in opposition to that point of view, but there is one aspect of the educational work that has been done in connection with the exhibition to which I should like to draw the hon. Gentleman's attention, and that is the fact that every possible effort has been made, this year more than last year, to interest the great trade unions of the country in the exhibition and its message of Empire, and the machinery of the trade union branches is being used to induce the members of the organisations to come to London in large numbers and to visit the Wembley Exhibition. There is one point in that connection which comes to the mind of anyone who is himself associated with the trade union movement, and that is, that if the trade unionists of the country are expected to take an active interest in the progress of the exhibition, it is surely desirable that the trade unionists themselves shall not in the end be encouraged rather to boycott it because of the lack of decent trade union conditions as applying to the workers employed, either directly by the exhibition authorities or by the sub-contractors and concessionaires.
1172 I am, like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, exceedingly pleased at the advance that has been made with regard to reforms in connection with sanitary accommodation and so forth. That is all to the good, and it also indicates, in spite of the Secretary's assertion that he has extremely limited powers, and that the Government have extremely limited opportunities as to labour conditions or conditions affecting the working people at the exhibition, that the mere fact that the matter has already been ventilated this year in the House has had an exceedingly good effect, and the hon. Gentlemen's influence and good offices have been used to very valuable purpose indeed. I should like, however, to point out that last year an attempt was made to form a Whitley Council, but that attempt was opposed by practically all the employers at the exhibition, and this year there is the same kind of unreasonable objection and antipathy to trade union principles being accepted in connection with the exhibition. So much is that the case that I do not think I am exaggerating if I say that there is every indication that a condition of seething discontent is being created amongst the workers, particularly in the building industry at the present moment, and in other sections of employés at the exhibition. To-day, only a few hours ago, there was a meeting at which the workers concerned objected to the opposition that was being shown to trade unionism, and to the fact that so many are being employed at low wages, which are under trade union rates, and are working beyond the trade union limit of hours. Certainly at that meeting, and in other ways also, there have been expressions of discontent, suggesting the possibility, not of an unofficial strike such as occurred last year, but of an official strike at a most inopportune moment, and I am perfectly sure that the hon. Gentleman does not desire that.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I quite appreciate the hon. Gentleman's statement that he will consider specific grievances and deal with them, but I want him to do more than deal with specific grievances, because the whole principle of trade unionism is bound up in the collective action of all the workers engaged, and one of the most 1173 important questions is not so much that of specific grievances—which I will give to him in a few moments—but of the desirability of overcoming this unhealthy and bad feeling by means of establishing a works council, as suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, so that the whole matter could be honestly and fairly faced upon Whitley Council lines, as could have been done last year in time to obviate the unofficial strike that then took place. I quite appreciate the willingness of the hon. Gentleman to deal with specific grievances, and I will give him just a few of these grievances—a few of the facts upon which the discontent of the workers at Wembley is based at the present moment.
All the way round an antipathy to trade unionism seems to be expressing itself. There is objection to representatives of trade unions concerned coming on to the Wembley grounds in order to discuss these matters with their members, and every possible obstacle is put in the way of reasonable treatment and reasonable discussion of these matters. The specific grievances to which I want to draw the attention of the Secretary are these: Messrs. Osborne, of Grafton Street, are to-day employing painters at the Palace of Industry for nine hours a day instead of eight. That extra hour is one of those things which are not of very great importance, perhaps, in themselves, but it could be obviated, and ought to be obviated, in order to keep the good will of the workers who are employed at the exhibition on the side of the nation as regards the Imperial message that has been referred to this afternoon. Messrs. Laidlaw, who are working for the Amusement Committee, are paying 1s. 3½d. and 1s. 4½d. an hour, where the standard rate is 1s. 8½d That is a direct anti-trade union position which certainly ought to be specifically dealt with by the Secretary, and every possible influence that he can bring to bear in regard to it ought to be brought to bear. Then there is a Southend firm who are doing work on the Non-Stop Railway, and who are employing cheap non-unionist labour throughout. Surely, seeing that the House of Commons is prepared to vote the sum of £1,100,000 in the form of a guarantee to the exhibition, it ought to be possible to insist upon a Fair Wages Clause being included which 1174 would apply to the concessionaires, the Dominion employers, and so forth.
It seems to me quite idle to talk about having no power over the representatives of the Dominions. We ought to have power, if we have not got it. We are expending national money in this work, and every possible influence ought certainly to be brought to bear, and I hope that that influence will be promised before this Debate closes. The reconstruction work on Canadian buildings is done almost entirely by non-union labour, and this is causing disaffection and disagreement among the trade unionists employed at Wembley. Again, there are such pin-pricking things, which could surely be easily obviated, as that of the allowance which is made, by agreement, in certain industries, for distance—that is to say, for travelling. In this case the people are employed by a firm which sends them to Wembley to be actually engaged, in order to avoid paying the distance money which is agreed upon between the unions and the employers. Numerous little things like that occur, all of which seem to me to be quite trivial and unnecessary, and they are working against the good-will of the employés, and, therefore, against the success of the exhibition. Messrs. Greenwood, who are sub-contractors in the Amusement Park, are doing painting work by non-union labour, and, all through, contrary to trade union conditions.
These facts are supplied by the anions concerned, and I hope that action will be taken on them; but, apart from these specific grievances—and there are many more that could be brought forward—the essential point is that the men demand, and the demand is quite a reasonable one, that a works council should be appointed. That works council should be, not a works council of employers on the one side and of employés on the other, but a joint works council, where, over a table, in negotiation and friendly discussion, these grievances could be dealt with. I am sure that that is quite a reasonable proposition to make, and, as we are proposing to spend this money, I feel that the Secretary's good offices and influence should be brought to bear, so that the employers of all kinds, Dominion and otherwise, shall be encouraged and requested to adopt this principle of the works council. If that be done, a great 1175 deal will be done to smooth the working of the exhibition, and to help to popularise it and secure its success.
§ Sir HARRY BRITTAIN
It is very pleasing to see that during the Debate this afternoon a tinge of optimism has crept in which was somewhat absent on the last occasion on which this subject was discussed. I whole-heartedly endorse what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas), who is very rapidly becoming, if he has not already become, one of the Empire's very finest ambassadors, namely, that it is now just about time we began to boost this exhibition, some three or four weeks from its opening. I quite agree that criticism is expected from the House, and is, naturally, quite legitimate, but I do think it is not a bad thing if occasionally, in the midst of criticism, a little tribute is offered to those who have undertaken this immense burden and are carrying it, not for an eight-hours day, but for a day which is longer even than that of this House. I also agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby-as to the amazing success of this exhibition as an exhibition. I happened to be present in different parts of the world when the preceding great exhibitions took place, and to have seen Chicago, St. Louis, Paris and San Francisco; and the whole of those exhibitions combined were not a tithe as magnificent as this one at Wembley. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that, alas, the originators of this great scheme have not lived to see its fruition, and there is none the death of whom I more regret than that great Empire builder, Lord Strathcona, who was in the very forefront in the creation of this scheme. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Moseley (Mr. Hannon) and myself are about the only people left, at any rate in the House of Commons, who were on that first committee a good many years ago.
From the inside last year I saw something of the enormous work which was carried out by the members of the Council, and I was associated in some small way, as the representative of this House through the Empire Parliamentary Association, both in regard to hospitality and publicity, and in various other ways. 1176 Doubtless many mistakes have been made, and estimates have been exceeded, but do not let us forget the results that have been obtained. I should like to re-echo a statement which was made a little earlier, and to express the hope that my hon Friend the Member for Balham (Sir A. Butt), whom I respect infinitely, both as a colleague and as a business man, will either take an opportunity of letting us know what he has in his mind when he talks about corruption, or that he will dismiss the subject, for it must, of course, be somewhat painful, to those who have this great exhibition in hand to hear statements of that kind put forward in this House.
I believe that there is an enormous number of potential visitors, not only throughout this country and throughout the Empire, but throughout the Continent of Europe, whom we may hope to see during the forthcoming months. During last year, throughout the Press of the world, thousands of columns of publicity were obtained at low cost, and a good many foreign journalists were brought over here by the Press Hospitality Committee, of which I had the privilege of being chairman. I cannot help thinking, however, that even more could be done. The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned that there were some 70,000 foreign visitors last year. During the last Autumn Recess I was in a good many countries abroad, and particularly in Eastern Europe, and I met many quite intelligent people who did not know that an exhibition was taking place at all. I cannot help thinking that a good deal more could be done in that way, as far as the foreign Press is concerned. The exhibition last year did not have a sum which would have been adequate thoroughly to advertise the exhibition throughout the Continental Press. I believe I am correct in saying that there was less money for advertising the British Empire Exhibition throughout the whole world than was spent in advertising one film, "The Covered Wagon." Considering the handicap, a pretty good showing was made. We never have had, and never shall have, a finer advertisement for the British Empire than this exhibition. It is the duty of Members on all sides of the House to support the Minister in his very difficult task. When the criticism is finished, let us in the few weeks that remain unite in giving him en- 1177 couragement and helping to achieve the success that we all desire in the exhibition.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
I beg to move to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the wordsthis House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which imposes an increased contingent liability on the taxpayer without providing adequate Government control over the management of the exhibition.Nothing is more satisfying to this House than to hear the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) airing his imperialistic sentiments. In rising to propose the Amendment which stands in my name, it is not because I am in the least degree less enthusiastic in my imperial sentiments than the right hon. Gentleman. I find some difficulty in understanding how he comes to be such a stalwart champion of private enterprise in the management of the British Empire Exhibition. I do not know whether it can be called private enterprise, because it has all the disadvantages of private enterprise and none of the advantages of Socialism.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
If the present system is a kind of Liberalism, I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman takes it upon himsef to champion it, in view of the fact that only yesterday he was repudiating it. I have put the Amendment down for two reasons; first, in an enterprise of this magnitude it is essential in the interests of the prestige of the Empire that there should be effective management, and management free from all scandal, and, secondly, that the House of Commons should have an opportunity to demand greater information as to the way the exhibition is being con-d acted. We have had successive Ministers bringing forward proposals for guarantees. In each ease the House has only been provided with the scantiest information as to how the exhibition was to be conducted. In once case a proposal was made that we should guarantee £500,000, and the only information which was offered to the House was contained in a White Paper of 10 lines.
This is not a definite obligation, but even in the contingent obligation which this House is shouldering I have always understood that we have a right to expect 1178 effective management, and the right to a full account of how the money is going to be expended. I regard with great interest the White Paper which accompanies the present Bill, and after reading it, I cannot quite understand the righteous indignation of the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department with respect to the suggestion made from these benches that there has been lax accounting. On page 3 of the White Paper I find this statement:The Government have also requested that measures should be adopted to strengthen the financial administration of the exhibition.The Government have evidently found it necessary to strengthen the financial administration in some way, but I am at a loss to know how the financial administration of the exhibition can be strengthened. We suggest that there should be some degree of control over the way the money is spent, because it is stated in the original Bill:Provided that it shall be made a condition of any such guarantee that the exhibition shall be conducted by an Executive Committee and a General Manager, approved by the Board, and that the Executive Committee shall furnish the Board with such information reating to the exhibition at such time and in such manner as the Board may require.Either that means something or it means nothing. I am at a loss to see why that provision was put in the original Bill if it was not intended to give some control by the Government over the management of the exhibition. I can quite understand that the Minister is very reluctant to shoulder any responsibility for the management, because he gets all the brickbats and very little of the credit. At the present time we are entitled to question him about everything that goes on there, and unless we can have fuller information I shall attempt to press this Motion to a division. The responsibility for incurring expenditure rests, so we have been told in reply to a question, with the hoard of management, assisted by a finance and estimates committee. To what extent have we control over that finance and estimates committee? I believe we have only one representative on the committee, and his representation has not been successful in securing the proper management of the exhibition. If the Minister will give us complete and full information, and lay on the Table of 1179 the House a document showing the organisation, responsibility and control, together with full and detailed accounts of the expenditure, the terms of the concessions given on the last occasion and the terms of the concessions given on this occasion, I shall be content not to press the Motion. I do think that the least the House can ask for is a. full statement of how the exhibition is managed.
§ Mr. P. HARRIS
I beg to second the Amendment.
In seconding the Amendment, one comes under the suspicion, to some extent, of crabbing the exhibition. That has been the trouble right through the exhibition. Every Minister who has been responsible for the exhibition has been very sensitive to criticism. We have been told that if we criticise the exhibition, then in some way or other we are jeopardising its success. Nevertheless, we are responsible for the finance of the exhibition in case it should fail to show a profit, and we should be failing in our duty to the country as custodians of public money if we were not very critical of the exhibition in these respects. Last year I was very severely called over the coals when I ventured to say that there was a probability of our being called upon to make good our guarantee. I was denounced from all quarters of the House as an enemy of the exhibition. I said then, but my sincerity was doubted, that I was anxious that not only should the exhibition be a success, but that it should be a credit to the Empire and to all the interests concerned.
Though we are anxious for the success of the exhibition, we have an obligation, not only in respect of our guarantee of the taxpayers' money, but also to the generous people who have guaranteed their own money. There can be no doubt that an inducement to people to finance the exhibition has been the fact of the State guarantee. I want the county to know the exact position in the present year. Last year the exhibition had a difficult time. It was handicapped by the weather, and it was handicapped in many other ways. Because the exhibition was not quite ready and many things were unfinished it did not have a fan start. Let us hope that this year it will start off with a great swing, that good weather conditions will prevail, and that 1180 it will be completely ready for visitors. In the latter respect I would point out that the exhibition is going to have very severe competition from another exhibition; an exhibition not with the same object but one conceived on a very large scale in Paris. That fact makes it all the more necessary for us to see that the organisation is satisfactory and that the whole machinery connected with the exhibition is properly organised and ready.
Has the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department really made up his mind what is the purpose of the exhibition? Is it a business proposition to promote trade and to bring manufacturers and buyers from all parts of the world together? If so, it is a sound purpose, especially at a time of great unemployment, so let us state that clearly as the main purpose of the exhibition. Such an object is worth the spending of a lot of money to achieve. The trouble of the Wembley Exhibition has been that two things have been mixed. On the one hand we want to get business men at the exhibition, and we want to get merchants and buyers there from all parts of the Empire to meet our manufacturers. We want the English manufacturers to buy raw material from overseas and we want the merchants from overseas to buy our manufactured goods, our machinery and textiles and the hundred and one articles displayed at the exhibition.
On the other hand, we have tried to get in the general public by organising sideshows, fireworks, shows at the stadium, and by providing great restaurants in order to get the millions from London and the provinces. Unfortunately, these interests are largely conflicting. When business men have gone to the exhibition and have tried to sell their goods, they have been largely handicapped when they have gone into the great buildings to find people looking at the exhibition, not from the point of view of business, but from the point of view of amusement and pleasure. On the Continent of Europe they have always divorced exhibitions for the general public from exhibitions for business purposes. Hon. Members know that at Leipzig, Brussels, Cologne and Frankfurt, every year great trade fairs are organised which bring business men of all kinds and interests together in order 1181 to exchange goods and do trade. Those exhibitions for many years have been a great success in promoting trade and they have never been mixed up with an exhibition for amusement purposes.
I trust that the Minister will make up his mind whether he will use his influence in one direction or the other. I believe that if the great halls of the exhibition, where machinery, textiles and other things are shown, were limited to business people, really good trade would result. Then we could leave the rest of the exhibition for social purposes and amusement, not necessarily to the detriment of the attendance, and certainly to the advantage of trade. The Department of Overseas Trade does organise certain exhibitions for promoting industry. It has been doing that ever since the War at the White City and at the Crystal Palace. Sometimes these exhibitions have been a great success, but last year the exhibition was a failure largely, I understand, because of the competition of Wembley.
As the nation is a partner in the exhibition, we ought to be satisfied that we have adequate control over the business organisation and the finances of the whole exhibition. In that case, if in the end—I hope it may not be—the Treasury has to come to the assistance of the exhibition and make good its guarantee, we shall have the consolation of knowing that the nation has had adequate return for its money. If through the management we can be satisfied that largely increased business has been done, that our manuafacturers have received large orders and the workers have been employed as a result of the expenditure of money on the exhibition, we shall have had value for the money we have found, and we shall be getting some adequate control. But so long as the exhibition is largely a private venture we cannot have satisfaction. I agree with the Mover of the Amendment that if we can have placed on the Table of the House by the Minister a full balance-sheet, with full particulars, not only relating to last year but this year, showing the whole finances of the exhibition, the Amendment need not be pressed to a Division, and I think that the House has a great responsibility when the taxpayers' money is involved to be satisfied that there is 1182 adequate protection of the nation's interests.
§ Colonel Sir ARTHUR HOLBROOK
I am sorry that the hon. Member submitted this Amendment, because it will raise some sort of idea in the public mind that this House is not unanimous in its desire to show that this great exhibition is approved by the country generally. I wish to thank the Minister for his opening remarks with regard to my own Amendment, which I shall not move upon his assurance that the complaints which I was putting forward will be remedied. I wish to call the attention of the House to the fact that manufacturers under the Public Health Act have to provide separate sanitary accommodation for persons of both sexes. No doubt last year there were great numbers of complaints in that respect. One great outstanding exception was in regard to the refreshment hall, where the staff received every accommodation and consideration, but in the early days of the exhibition last year the women who were employed at various stalls were called upon to pay £1 for a ticket of admission to lavatory accommodation, which also included accommodation in a rest-room. That amount was subsequently reduced to 12s. 6d., but the obligation rests upon the employers of these young persons at the various stalls to provide adequate accommodation for their convenience, and I was glad to head the Minister say that the authorities of the exhibition are making special arrangements to remove my objection, and I shall not therefore press my Amendment. I was concerned to hear the statement of the hon. Member opposite with regard to the fact that non-union men are employed on the exhibition. I am sure that he does not realise that these non-union men are generally ex-service men. I think that there ought to be great consideration shown by the trade unions to ex-service men so that they may get a chance of employment.
§ Sir A. HOLBROOK
Certainly. Ex-service men have to live and the employment of ex-service men requires deep consideration on the part of the trade unions, and I always regret to find, when 1183 ex-service men get employment, protests made against their getting some chance of earning a living.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
May I point out that I made no such charge, and that I did not refer to ex-service men.
§ Sir A. HOLBROOK
My information is that the non-union men employed are ex-service men. I strongly support the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department in his desire to obtain this grant to the exhibition this year. I was one of the first to support the idea of the Empire Exhibition, because in the previous year I had been to Canada, and I came back fully impressed with the idea that our friends in that great Dominion were most anxious to have an opportunity of showing what they could produce and manufacture, and I do think that this great exhibition should not be hampered in any way by too drastic conditions. I hope sincerely that the hon. Member who submitted the Amendment will not divide the House upon it, as we do not want to create the impression abroad that there is any desire on the part of any section of this House to lessen the support which is given to this great exhibition.
§ Sir ALFRED BUTT
The Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department, who introduced this question, expressed the view that we could not properly appraise in terms of money the value of the British Empire Exhibition, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) was equally emphatic in asserting that point of view. I would like at the outset to associate myself with the Minister, and, I think, with every other Member of this House, in saying that the British Empire Exhibition has already done inestimable good in advertising the British Empire, and that while I may not agree as regards the accounting figures of the Minister, as to whether it cost a million pounds or two million pounds or three million pounds, I should be fully in favour of our spending that money. But surely, ashen that point is established, it does 1184 not prevent one criticising inefficient administration. I have yet to learn that it is unpatriotic to ask for the greatest efficiency in national expenditure, and my criticism all along has been directed against inefficient management. If I may divert for one moment in regard to the figures, I may point out that the Minister the last time told us that, within a week, a balance sheet of the British Empire Exhibition would be before the Council. I am sorry that he has not referred to that balance sheet to-day, because it would be very nice to know whether the figures on the White Paper as regards capital expenditure are final, or whether, as I have reason to believe, they are likely to be, apart from the result of the exhibition this year, subject to great increase. The Minister said to-day that half a million pounds of the proposed Vote was for the purpose of the exhibition this year.
§ Mr. A. M. SAMUEL
The running balance sheet A, as signed on the 14th January, was laid before the management, and from that date onwards a continuous set of accounts has been made by the auditors and can be seen by the board of management at any time.
§ Sir A. BUTT
I am afraid that that does not answer my question. Does that balance sheet disclose that the figure of £3,900,000 on the White Paper includes the final figure for capital account, or is it r. fact that there is still a very large increment to that figure for capital account to come before this House? That is the information which I wanted to obtain from the Minister.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I can only say that the total capital expenditure up to the 14th January amounted to the sum of £2,950,00.
§ Sir A. BUTT
I am so sorry. What I want to obtain from the Minister is this. Is there reason to believe that this White Paper includes substantially the whole of the amount of capital expenditure, or is it a fact that there is still a very large amount to be paid on capital account which, for some reason or other, is not disclosed in the White Paper or in the accounts?
§ Mr. SAMUEL
If I thought that there was anything undisclosed, I should not have said what I have said. The White 1185 Paper discloses everything, as far as I know. I have no knowledge of anything else except what is on the White Paper.
§ Sir A. BUTT
I hope that the Minister will not think that, I would for one moment accuse him of withholding any figure from the House. I am certain that he has disclosed every figure in his possession. What I was asking him to ascertain is whether in fact, all the figures have been disclosed to him. The Minister has told us that £500,000 is allocated for the exhibition this year. I have tried to find out how he arrived at that figure, because there is a substantial sum, £700,000, to be paid, and we have in addition £150,000 owing to another Department of State in respect of Entertainments Duty. That is £850,000 out of your £1,000,000, so that it seems to me you are going to start this year with only £250,000 in hand, and I cannot help thinking that it would be better, from the point of view of the exhibition and this House, if the Minister had come down frankly and said, "We want a very much larger credit," because, as my hon. Friend below me said just now, you had last year to restrict your advertisements owing to want of funds. If we want to attract foreigners to the British Empire Exhibition it is essential to do as other countries do, and advertise largely abroad, and if you are going to start with only 50 per cent. of the capital that you anticipated for this year, then you will have to make much greater economies in consequence or you will attract far fewer people to the exhibition.
I could at great length discuss the fact that while you have on the Council gentlemen who have undoubtedly given wonderful service to the country, unsparingly and unfailingly, we must recognise that the fundamental mistake in regard to the exhibition is the lack of showmen, and, if your Council even now would direct itself to obtaining some good showmen, I think that they might attract people not only to show them the exhibition, but also to show them the greatness of the British Empire. But the point on which I think the House will consider that I ought to say something is that referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby. He said that a statement made by me, on the occasion when this matter was before the House last, that there was a grave 1186 scandal in connection with the exhibition and corruption in connection with the management was one which had caused the Council deep concern, and was one which he felt I should be prepared to justify. My hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Sir H. Brittain), who spoke just now, said he was satisfied that I would not have made the statement unless it was founded on facts. I can only say that I had been hoping and waiting for an opportunity, hoping that someone would approach me and ask me to give the information. I had no desire whatsoever to come down and make statements on the Floor of the House. But I feel, in justice to myself, that I now must do so. My particular accusations are, as no doubt the Minister will have anticipated, particularly in regard to what was and is the most important section of the exhibition from the point, of view of drawing the public. I refer to the amusement section. It is perfectly true that so long ago as November, 1922, I had occasion to criticise very adversely the arrangement in regard to that section. A Departmental Committee was subsequently set up, over which my right hon. Friend, the present Home Secretary, presided.
§ If the Minister will take time to read the verbatim report of that investigation—I am not talking about the White Paper, published afterwards, but the verbatim report, although the White Paper would satisfy me—he will see that the present Home Secretary warned the exhibition in regard to that matter. I had no reason to think that after that warning everything would not be conducted openly and in a proper manner befitting such a great project. But what do I find? I find that in 1923 a company, called the Wembley Amusements, Limited, was registered with a capital of £50,000 and £3,000 deferred shares. I suggest to the Minister that, he will be doing a great service if he will read through the list of shareholders in that company. He will see what prominent names are associated with it. If he desires that I should read them out I will do so, though it will take a great deal of time. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read them."] I find that Wembley Amusements, Limited, was registered on 16th March, and it has a capital of £53,000—R50,000 in ordinary shares and £3,000 in deferred shares. The deferred shares were allotted to W. H. McAlpine, Sir 1187 Malcolm McAlpine, J. C. Ackermann, Warwick Brookes, and the directors were W. H. McAlpine, Sir Malcolm McAlpine, F E. M. Bussey, and a Mr. Wilson (secretary).
§ Sir A. BUTT
I am coming to that point. The registered offices of the company were at 50, Pall Mall. I find on searching the files of Somerset House that up to September of last year cash was paid for the 3,300 deferred shares, but that the £50,000 of ordinary shares have never been allotted. So we have a company with deferred shares of £3,300 that has a concession apparently for the Wembley amusements. I take no exception to that. But what now happens is this. Two people by the name of Lay-cock and Bird appear on the scene. I have not been able to devote much time to Mr. Laycock's history, but Mr. Bird was a gentleman who was associated—
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister)
May I ask one question? The hon. Member is apparently making a large number of charges against people who are not Members of this House. He has read out a number of names, saying that he was wholly dissatisfied with the way in which a certain contract was made and carried out. He read out a number of names, and said that he (lid not make any charge or have any objection to that company. If that be so, he should make it clear why he has read those names to the House, and whether he does make a charge against people who are not here.
§ Sir A. BUTT
I am sorry that the President of the Board of Trade is so impatient, for it is not a very pleasant thing for me to be challenged to justify a statement which I have made. It would not have been necessary for me to go into this matter at all if, perhaps, more regard had been paid to what I had said previously on this subject to Members of the House, but not within the precincts of the House itself. What I said was that, so fax as this first company was concerned, up to that point, if it had stopped there and the concession had rested with these people, I should have had no complaint 1188 to make. That is what I said. But I was going on, when interrupted, to say this. What we find happened subsequently was that two people of the name of Laycock and Bird came along, and, whilst I know very little of Mr. Laycock's history, Mr. Bird as long ago as 1910 was mixed up with an exhibition in Vienna, and I think was arrested at least twice, when he was let out on bail and I think he had the good sense not to return. I am not quite certain what happened in the interval, but certainly during the War he was handling ordnance supplies in this country. Subsequently this gentleman went out to Rhodesia. There he bought vast tracks of land and he really became a man of great substance there. At all events everybody thought so until they asked for their money and then they were unable to obtain it, and I find that he was adjudicated a bankrupt somewhere about June or July, 1922—it may have been later.
This gentleman then came back to this country, and this vast concession in the British Empire Exhibition was apparently given to these two people. They formed a company called the Wembley Concessions, Limited, with a nominal capital of £1,000, in which they held the whole of the shares, and their registered offices are also 50, Pall Mall. So we get down to the position that there is a company with possession of capital for £1,000, which is handling a very large number of these concessions, and these are the two shareholders. What do they proceed to do? These two gentlemen proceed to form another company called the Amusement Construction Company, and this company also has a capital of £1,000. The Amusement Construction Company invites tenders from various firms all over the country to erect various buildings at the British Empire Exhibition. Various people, traders, were entitled, I suggest, to as much consideration as our Dominions and Colonies, when it is represented to them that they are working for the British Empire Exhibition. On the circulars which are sent to them the eulogies of General Smuts are quoted, and the names of people highly placed are used. Various people throughout this country constructed for the company various buildings, and when they came to ask for their money, they found that the Amusement Construction 1189 Company bad passed on the various concerns that they had constructed to no fewer than 14 different companies.
I do not think the House wants me to weary them with the names. This mushroom company, the Amusement Construction Company, with £1,000 capital, defaults, and eventually goes into liquidation, and people all over this country have been defrauded of payment for the work that they did at the exhibition. I think it is within the knowledge of the Minister himself that a firm in his own constituency was defrauded of the money. What has happened is this: These concessions have been passed on to 12 or 14 different companies. I do not want to weary the House with the names or the lists of shareholders, but I would like to point out to the President of the Board of Trade that every one of these subsidiary companies that have taken over the concessions built by the Amusement Construction Company, which has not paid its creditors, is registered at 50, Pall Mall, and if the right hon. Gentleman will look through the list of shareholders he will find that in many of the companies the directors of the company called Wembley Amusements, Limited, also appear as shareholders. It is only fair to say that a very large number of these companies have gone into liquidation, but the grave scandal of which I complain and the scandal which I suggest that the Minister should put right, is that people to whom has been represented the importance of constructing the British Empire Exhibition as soon as possible and the patriotic and national effect of that exhibition, have been induced to give credit to a bogus company, and have not received payment for their goods.
I will give the Minister one case of a -little man who supplied £100 or £150 worth of dolls, and when he came to ask for payment the concession had been passed on to one of the other companies with its office at 50, Pall Mall, and he could not get his £100. The brokers were put in, and if good friends had not come to his help that man would have become bankrupt through trying to make the exhibition a success. I do- not think that I want to labour this matter. I hope I have given enough particulars to the Minister to justify my criticism of a grave scandal and corruption. I can only say that whilst the duty does not lie with me to be a public prosecutor on 1190 behalf of the nation, the duty, as I conceive it, of any Member of the House is, if he feels a grave scandal has arisen and is being perpetuated in the name of the British Empire, that he should bring it before the House of Commons and before the responsible Minister. I cannot conceive why every successive Minister has wanted to hush this up, because eventually the scandal will be exposed and eventually the bill will have to be paid. When we are devoting so much money towards the British Empire Exhibition, I think we can afford to devote a little more to paying those who have been misled into giving credit to people who ought never to have been associated with the exhibition.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I wish to ask my hon. Friend one question. He says he wishes to know why successive Ministers responsible refused to take action on the matters he has mentioned. I desire to ask him specifically, did he acquaint the late Government, in which I took the responsibility for this matter, of these circumstances, and did he bring any of the things with which he has now dealt to my notice or to the notice of any Member of that Government?
§ Sir A. BUTT
It is only fair that I should say that I have never brought these facts definitely before the notice of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas).
§ Colonel DAY
I suggest to the House that the reason why the Minister is asking for this colossal sum of £1,100,000 is because the exhibition since its inception has been grossly mismanaged. In fact, one could not see worse management in a small touring circus. The hon. Member for Balham (Sir A. Butt) stated that there has been a great deal of corruption in the management of the exhibition, but had he said corruption coupled with incompetence in the management he would have been nearer a solution. He also stated that the exhibition was a very grave scandal. That, to my mind, is language hardly strong enough. In my opinion, the manner in which the exhibition has been mismanaged will bring discredit upon us as a nation. If we consider the attractions of the exhibition we find that the Fun City or Amusements Park is one of the greatest attractions, but to make that portion of the exhibition 1191 a success we must appeal to the masses, and in order to get the masses there we must have a price of admission within their reach. I, for one, favour as a price of admission the nimble sixpence without any Entertainments Duty. Many hon. Members will think that is too cheap, but we must take into consideration the hundreds of thousands of workers who live in London and its suburbs and who have never had an opportunity of visiting the exhibition on account of the price of admission. It could be safely said of the exhibition last year that it cost 1s. 6d. to go in and £1 to get out, and the prices of admission for the side shows were far beyond the means of the populace.
Many years ago the variety theatres of this country were all conducted on the "one house a night" system and high prices of admission were charged, but the managements gradually found that the theatres were not paying. The consequence was that they reduced the prices of admission and gave two performances nightly. The prices were reduced in some cases by 50 and even 75 per cent., with the result that most of those theatres which had been on the down grade became very successful and large groups of theatres were formed with popular prices of admission ranging in some cases from 2d. to 1s. and in others from 3d. to 1s. 6d. The result is that, I believe, every variety theatre in the United Kingdom is run on the "twice nightly" system, with the exception of one. All are run at cheap prices of admission, and the one exception to which I refer has also reduced its prices and is giving two performances daily.
The hon. Member for Balham referred to the question of advertising. It seems to me that there has been a conspiracy to keep the exhibition a secret. The only advertisement it got before the official opening was that which resulted from the chaotic arrangements made for the football cup final, as a result of which many thousands of people who paid for tickets could not get in, and many thousands got in who did not pay. I suggest that a large scheme of advertising should be embarked upon this year if the exhibition is to meet with any success. Another suggestion which I desire to make, and which will doubtless meet with disapproval from some hon. Members, is that the exhibition should 1192 be open on Sundays. This would be particularly attractive to the workers and would afford a little innocent recreation on Sundays to hundreds of thousands. Surely it is no more harm for a worker to go to Wembley on Sunday to enjoy the fresh air and listen to one of our premier bands than it is for any of us to go to Kew Gardens or to Hyde Park or to ride in Rotten Row or to play golf on Sunday. I notice some hon. Members opposite smile at the suggestion. I have been on the Continent and I have seen many distinguished Members of this House at the races on Sunday afternoon. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which side of the House?"] On the opposite side of the House. Members on this side, with very few exceptions, cannot afford it. I have seen hon. Members at the Casino in Deauville round the tables on Sunday, I have seen them at theatres and music halls on Sunday, and my contention is that if Sunday amusement is good for hon. Members on the other side it is good for the workers of this country. If hon. Members opposite are able to enjoy recreation on Sunday, they should not debar the workers of this country from enjoying recreation on Sunday.
Those who have been to America know that the theatres and music halls and big amusement parks there open on Sundays. In fact, Sunday is the best night of the seek there so far as the takings are concerned. We can find an illustration nearer home. Many hon. Members are financially interested in picture palaces in this country, and they are possibly aware that picture palaces do better business on Sunday nights than on any other night in the week, and it is through Sunday opening that the majority pay dividends. In addition to providing healthy recreation for the people, Sunday opening of the exhibition would be remunerative to the exhibition authorities. I would not, however, suggest Sunday opening if it were proposed to make the exhibition employés work seven days a week. We have too many unemployed, and numbers of these could be absorbed on the seventh day of the week. If the exhibition is to be a success this year, many of last year's impositions must be done away with. One could not even take a seat at Wembley last year without paying. Every time one sat down to rest a man in uniform came along and made a charge for the privilege. Another great 1193 injustice was that in some of the pavilions the food prices were exorbitant—in addition to which the catering was done by one firm and was a monopoly. One of the greatest disgraces and inconveniences was the inadequate and almost primitive lavatory accommodation for both public and staff. While on the question of staff, I sincerely hope the Minister will take the precaution of seeing that the staff are not employed under sweated conditions and at the disgraceful wages which some of them received last year. Ho must agree with me that many of the employés proved a terrible exhibit to visitors to the exhibition last year.
I suggest that special tickets should be issued from all local stations around London with a specially reduced fee, whatever may be the- ordinary price of admission to the exhibition. I think this would attract many more people. I should like to point out to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that this exhibition is a showman's job. The Minister would be well advised to consult the best showman in this country and get his assistance in the management. It is not a job for permanent officials who, with regard to the management of an exhibition, such as this, are only square pegs in round holes. I would like a little guidance before the Debate closes as to where the further balance is going to be made up from if there is a big loss, as there may be, this year. The House is entitled to this information. The estimates and the costing of the exhibition right through have been carried out in a very negligent way. The original estimate for the capital expenditure was £1,600,000, but we find that when the estimates were finally presented they were just under £3,000,000, and we have had no proper explanation of this large expenditure. We have hard slack accountancy mentioned several times to-day, and where it exists there is bound to be a huge wastage of money, which in this case would be particularly regrettable because we are now dealing with public money. I wish the Government, in a generous moment, would consider spending a sum like £1,100,000 on housing some of the people in Central Southwark who are living under intolerable and miserable conditions.
How is it proposed to make up the sum of £150,000 which is owing to the Chan- 1194 cellor of the Exchequer for Entertainments Duty? Has any special reserve been created for this purpose, or is this account in the same position as the previous accounts presented, in regard to which no reserves were made?
Personally, I must admit that I can see no material good in carrying on this exhibition for another year, and I fear that it will be a failure. I am sorry to say that, because experience has taught people who have been in the show business all their lifetime that where a prolongation or continuation of a big showmanship undertaking is contemplated for a second year or for a further period, it always results in failure. [Interruption.] I am only telling the facts, and, if the hon. Gentleman who interrupts had had the experience that I have had, he would agree with me. I have spent my life in the business, and I am giving the House the benefit of my experience. We have always found in the show business that where a notice to discontinue has gone up, and a prolongation has been made of the same show for the following year, the show, or the undertaking, or entertainment, has always been a failure, and I sincerely hope that the British Empire Exhibition will not be a case of history repeating itself.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned on a previous occasion special precautions to act upon the Report which appeared on Command Paper No. 1799, in which it was stated that the granting of concessions for entertainments and amusements showed a lack of business acumen on the part of the authorities, having in view the seriousness of that comment, which was, of course, put in words to cover up the delinquencies in the management. The original contracts for concessions -for the exhibition were made for the year 1924, and the Minister will no doubt now have a free hand to make all fresh arrangements for the coming year, and, unless the management of the exhibition is placed on a much higher plane than the organisation of last year's exhibition, I am afraid the failure of it will be a foregone conclusion. It is particularly regrettable to see so much public money wasted, when there are so many of our fellow citizens practically starving and in want, and there is so much unemployment in the country.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
Before I come to matters which are of more general interest and importance in relation to this great Imperial endeavour, I would like to deal specifically with the particular matter raised by the hon. Member for Balham (Sir A. Butt), and I would like to put the House, as briefly and simply as I can, in possession of the facts, so that they may see what are the powers of the Government, the powers of the board of management, the powers of the concessionnaires, and the true perspective of this matter in relation to the general undertaking. The facts with regard to the amusement contract are these: Away back in 1922 there were criticisms with regard to various matters of exhibition management, and in particular with regard to the circumstances in which the amusement contract was being negotiated between the then exhibition authorities, that is, the general council of the exhibition, and the would-be concessonnaires. The hon. Member for Balham will remember that, because he, like the gentlemen whose names he has quoted, was one of those who was tendering for these particular concessions, and he, I think, at that time brought charges against those who were responsible—not the Government, but the council of the exhibition—for negotiating the necessary contracts.
That matter, at the request of the General Council of the exhibition and of the then Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Secretary of State for India, and myself, was specifically referred to the right hon. Gentleman the present Home Secretary to investigate. The Home Secretary, who was then Parliamentary Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department, conducted a most minute investigation into the whole of these circumstances and charges, and particularly into the charges in relation to the proposed granting of an amusement contract. He gave instructions that the contract should be held up and not signed until he had fully investigated it. The result of his investigation is set out in Command Paper 1799 of 1923, and in that White Paper, in his Report, he finds specifically that the charge of corruption or mal-practice is absolutely unfounded, and, what is more, he advises, after making his investigation, that the contract—
§ Sir A. BUTT
As the right hon. Gentleman is quoting something in which I am concerned, if he will read paragraph 5, he will see that the Minister, making his Report, says:Although no definite charge of corruption was made "—There was no charge of corruption made, but of improper procedure. I specifically pointed out last Friday, not in the House, that my charges were subsequent to this White Paper.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I am very glad. I do not want at all to misrepresent the hon. Gentleman, and I accept at once, of course, that he was not making a charge of corruption, but of improper procedure. The question that is of interest to the House is whether or not the particular contract which was made should have been made, because it is upon that contract and the rights and liabilities under it of the Government for the time being and of the board of management for the time being, that the whole quesion must rest. The specific contract which was entered into was entered into on the advice of the Home Secretary after his full investigation, and he says, in terms, in his Report, in paragraph 13:For the reasons stated above, I therefore recommend that this contract should immediately be signed.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
That was the contract made with the general concessionnaires, who were the main contractors for the whole of the amusements. That contract was a contract which covered—
§ Sir A. BUTT
The right hon. Gentleman said he did not in any way want to misrepresent me. I think he should refer to paragraph 11.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
Certainly, I will read it. It says:There may obviously be nothing improper in the Exhibition staff considering throughout the negotiations that one competitor was more suitable for their purpose than others and, therefore, wishing, if possible, that he should secure the concession, but throughout the negotiations the desire of the management to give the concession in one direction apparently influenced them to assist this particular competitor as far as possible. In this connection, too, I would paint out that had 1197 it not been for the: subsequent entry of other competitors all offer from this competitor would admittedly have been accepted at or about the end of September on terms less advantageous to the Exhibition than those ultimately offered from the same source.He goes on:I have carefully considered the offer whose acceptance was ultimately recommended, and I am impressed by the fact that one of the critics, who was also a competitor, informed me that lie was of the opinion that this offer in its final form was the most advantageous contract which the Exhibition authorities were likely to get, providing only that the contract was properly drawn, that a substantial guarantee was obtained, and that the technical Sub-Committee continued in existence to see that the contract was properly carried out.He went on to say that he wished to have it held up in order that he might not only approve generally the terms of the contract, but that he might—being not only a very good administrator and politician, but also a practical lawyer—himself see that the contract was so drawn as to give effect precisely to the terms to which it was intended to give effect. That was the contract which was made. That was the contract which gave the full right to alt the amusements, not only for that year, but for the succeeding year, if the exhibition was carried on for another year. Therefore we arrive at this position, that as between the governing body of the exhibition and the general concessionnaires, as I may call them, a binding contract covering the whole of the exhibition amusements, not only for the last year, but for the coming year, was entered into.
§ Major CRAWFURD
Was that contract made with the knowledge and approval of any representative of the Government?
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
If I may say so with respect, if the hon. and gallant Member would listen to my speech—I do not think I have been more than usually muddle-headed in what I have said—I have told him that that contract, the circumstances attending it, the terms of the contract, indeed, the actual legal wording of the contract, were investigated, approved and recommended by the present Home Secretary, who was then Parliamentary Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department, appointed to investigate the matter. I have said that before, but I do not want to be under any misunderstanding, and if I am 1198 not plain, I shall be glad to explain further. Therefore, it is clear that there is no charge of corruption made either against the Government in conducting their inquiry, of course, or against the original Committee of Management, of which my right hon. Friend and his colleagues are the successors, or against—
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
—or against the Executive Committee—no charge against them, and no charge against the concessionnaires who took the main contract.
§ Sir A BUTT
I am sorry again to interrupt, but I made it very clear at the start that I did not charge any member of this Government or the preceding Government with, in any way whatever, bring concerned, and I made myself very clear that I felt that the executive council and the whole of the committee were equally ignorant and quite irresponsible, but I endeavoured to make it clear that it was a curious coincidence that the Wembley Amusement Company, to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, that had the first concession, ultimately became shareholders, in an individual capacity, in several of these other companies, so that I cannot go beyond that.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I am not going to impute more to the hon. Member than he desires, but having made charges and brought the whole of this, that I must say—and I shall say why in a moment—is a very minor matter in the great conception of this exhibition, having thought fit to mention a number of names, and to raise this in Debate on this Bill, he must not complain if I try to make abundantly plain exactly what is the responsibility either of the Government or of the governing body at that time or of the succeeding governing body.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
Those concessionnaires, the main concessionnaires, then, as I understand it, entered into a number of sub-contracts with various 1199 other persons, among whom were these persons, Laycock and Bird, if not in their own names, then under noms de guerre. Let us, however, remember that between the exhibition authorities, the executive council, who later devolved their functions upon the board of management, and Laycock and Bird the sub-contractors, there was no privity of contract whatever, and the rights, therefore, of the board of management are entirely limited by the terms of the contract with the main concessionnaires, which merely gave them the right formally to approve contracts made by the latter with sub-concessionnaires. They have no rights, as they have no obligations, and never had in law outside that particular contract.
Now let us pursue this a step further. What happened? I have made as close an investigation as I can, and I gather that what happened is this: that the Amusements Construction Company which was formed by Laycock and Bird, who figure in a number of these subsidiary companies, some of which appear to have been profitable and some appear not to have been profitable, and are being wound up, appears to have entered into contracts with different persons to supply it with goods, these goods being passed on to the various subsidiary companies, and in some cases the subsidiary companies failed to pay, being in liquidation and laving no means of paying. I want to be careful in what I say in regard to this matter, because it may very well be made the subject of legal proceedings, certainly in the Civil Court, and possibly in other Courts as well. I hope the House will not think that I am making any sort or kind of excuse for Laycock and Bird, but I do not want to pronounce judgment in a matter on which certainly the Courts will ultimately have to pronounce it. Some of these companies are in liquidation, and there can be no possible question that if in the winding up of these companies, through the regular machinery of the Courts which is now taking place, anything transpires that can properly form the subject of criminal proceedings, those proceedings will unquestionably be taken, and the law will be administered in the proper way.
It would obviously be wrong on my part in a matter which to-day is 1200 sub judice, and in which the Public Prosecutor may take part ultimately, to pronounce any opinion one way or another. I want to say two other things in regard to this matter. The first thing is that I hope the House will not look at this thing in a way that is out of proportion. If a disgraceful thing has been done, and if some man has been quite wrongly kept out of his money, has not only made a bad bargain, but has not been paid either in circumstances in which undoubtedly he ought to have been paid, or even in circumstances where there may be no legal obligation, but where there is a very strong moral obligation, I will say nothing to defend the other party, any more than anybody would dream of defending a man who had picked pockets at Wembley itself. Supposing you had such a scandal. It might well have happened that a thing of that kind took place, but it is no more fair to seek to challenge the governing body of the exhibition for what may or may not have been done by Laycock and Bird, with whom there was no privity of contract, and over whom they had no rights and could have no rights—it is no more proper to challenge the governing body, either directly or by implication, than it would be to challenge them because somebody's pocket was picked at the exhibition.
Therefore, let us view this matter in its proper perspective, both in relation to the governing body, who are doing really very great work, and have continuously done it, have undertaken a tremendous labour and done it in a most disinterested way, and—whatever to the contrary may be said—in a. very businesslike way. Do not let us take it out of its true perspective. This incident, unpleasant as it may be, and whatever it may lead to, or whatever steps may be ultimately taken—let us view it in its true perspective. It is not fair to charge a great Imperial enterprise either with inefficiency or with corruption because there happens to have been something take place such as we have heard of. Some things may be, if you like, open to grievous censure, but I am bound to say that I think, perhaps, it would have been viewing it in a more accurate perspective if the hon. Member had satisfied himself that all the steps which could by law be taken, either by the governing body or the Government were being taken. That 1201 is, however, a matter of opinion and a matter of taste. He referred to my hon. Friend the Secretary, Department of Overseas Trade, and wondered as to what had happened in a particular case. He said there had been somebody in his constituency who had suffered in this matter. It is quite true; and in justice to my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for Rothwell (Mr. Lunn), who was then a member of the Government, I think it right to tell the House what my hon. Friend did. My hon. Friend had a constituent who lost his money by making a contract of this kind. An investigation of the circumstances took place, and my hon. Friend thought, and felt, that his constituent was being very badly treated. He went at once—as I think it was quite proper to do, if I may say so—to the hon. Member for Bothwell who then occupied the position which he himself now holds, and put the facts of the case before him. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Rothwell went into the matter, and found that the legal position as between the exhibition authorities and these persons was exactly as I have described it to the House. He satisfied himself, as plainly was the case, that neither the Government nor the governing body of the exhibition could by any executive action enforce the claim of my hon. Friend in this matter. He satisfied himself that the companies which went into liquidation would be wound up, and that all the usual sequence would be followed. My hon. Friend, I say, satisfied himself that the necessary action so far as it could be taken was being taken. I think, possibly—if I may say so with great respect to the House—that action was just as likely to be effective in the interests of the people affected as any other action, and, certainly, rather more in the interests of the success of this great Imperial enterprise. Anyway, the House, I am sure, will rest assured that whatever the proper process of law is, it will be followed to the full without fear or favour, and I am sure this matter will not be allowed to be taken out of its true perspective, or that we shall minimise the success which everybody desires should attend this exhibition. So much for that matter. As it was raised in detail I have felt bound to deal with it in the same way.
1202 I pass from that to one or two other points, very briefly, that were raised My right hon. Friend the Member for West Swansea (Mr. Runciman) complained again that past Estimates have been exceeded. I do not want to go over the ground again. That complaint was answered on a previous occasion. The increased capital expenditure was due to more Dominions coming in, to the tremendously wet weather, and also to the fact, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) referred to, that not only during the time of construction but during the time the enterprise was open the weather was as inclement as it possibly could be. He said that we could not claim an educative value a second time from the attendance of people, whether adults, or young persons, or children, going to see an Imperial exhibition. Even assuming that it is all the same people who go to see it for a second time, whether old or young—and I do not think it will be, though I think many others who went before will repeat their experience, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman who believes eternal verities never alter, and that the more often you can inculcate them the better for humanity, really would not say that there is not an educative value in seeing the same thing again: in seeing the exhibition twice.
The right hon. Gentleman then asked: Can you guarantee that this is the last time you will have to come to this House for money? My answer to that is: We have made an estimate in the light of past experience, and that estimate we regard as a conservative—and when I say that I do not mean liberal—but a conservative estimate, and I have every reason to hope that it will work out well. All the House is being asked to do is to give a Second Reading to this Bill, which asks the Government to guarantee a further sum of £500,000 in respect to the year that is past, and another £500,000 in respect of this year. The House is not in the least committing itself to giving any further guarantees. Let me put it in another way: Hon. Gentlemen here who are bankers must have had cases brought before them in which they have been asked for a loan or for an overdraft. The banker, after hearing the financial position of the applicant, says: "We will guarantee you an overdraft of so much." 1203 That does not in least commit the bank to any further help if the estimate stated by the applicant happens to be falsified. Therefore, while we have made the best estimate we can, and, as we believe on the right side, and we trust that with success, we shall realise this year more than the minimum necessary to avoid a deficit by giving the Bill its Second Reading and by passing it, the House is not committed to anything more than is there set out.
Everyone wants to be assured that this is going to be a success, an administrative and financial success, and you cannot do better to insure that than by doing two things. First of all, by trying to help the exhibition on its way, and secondly, by refraining from suggestions that either there should be dual management—partly the board of management and partly the Government—or that the Government should take over some form of overriding control. The Board of Management is well known. Its great services are well known. It consists of influential people who have rendered great services. I am quite certain that even if the Government were to try to run this business it could not select better men to do it. I am certain if you took any guarantor outside this House and said: "Will you give your guarantee either if the Board of Management continues to run this or the Government takes it over, or there is a joint management," the guarantor would say: "For the love of Heaven, do not let the Government come in, let the people whom we are putting our money on carry on the business." What is more, such a man would say, if the Government does come into this business and demands control or assumes participation in the control; "The terms of our guarantee go by the board, and we will withdraw our guarantee." Therefore, I sincerely hope that that suggestion will not be made any more.
There is only one other thing to which I would refer, and that is the point made by the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) with regard to co-operation with the trade unions. In the first place, let me say that the management, for the reasons I have given, must, of course, rest with the board of mnaagement. It cannot rest with the Govern- 1204 ment. We must make up our minds either that we are going to back the management which is there, which is the only body that can manage this, or that we are not in this business at all. As regards contractual obligations, you can-rot vary contracts which have been agreed to with different sub-contractors, but I am told that actually, in all its dealings, the board of management itself, with regard to all the people it employs directly, has observed completely the Fair Wages Clause. I am assured that in at least one contract the Fair Wages Clause exists. As I say, you cannot vary a contract which has been made, but let me add this. The board of management contains my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, and I am sure it has at heart trade union sentiments.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
What I said was that there was an evident feeling of antipathy to trade unionism among the contractors, and that that was having a very bad effect on the workmen.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I have already pointed out to the hon. Member that the board of management cannot vary contracts they have made, or they will have them thrown back on their hands. If there is a provision for fare wages in a contract—as I am advised there is—they can enforce it, and insist on it being carried out. If there is any contract in which it happens that that Clause is not in, they cannon act; but in all their actions as direct employers I am advised they do carry out. the Fair Wages Clause, and I am quite sure, in connection with the board of management, the personnel of which is known to the House, that in connection with anything they do directly, and in connection with anything which they can do in practice indirectly, every effort will be made to obtain the fairest possible conditions. I think it is plain from the examples which were used by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department, that as regards better arrangements for rest rooms, new canteens and so on, a great effort is being made in that direction.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I would like just to put the one specific question to which I have referred, and to ask whether it would not be a very great point if the Government, whatever their actual power 1205 of interference may be, showed their own feeling in favour of the appointment of a wages council. I am quite sure if that, were done nine-tenths of the difficulties would disappear. Will the right hon. Gentleman do that?
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I think it is a matter for the board of management to consider. I am perfectly prepared to put my faith in the board of management. The right hon. Member for Derby is on it, Nothing could be more unwise than for this House to try, either directly or indirectly, to take the management out of the hands of the board of management.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
I had much better be frank about this matter. You may pile up one condition after another, but you have to see that the country has got confidence in that board of management. They have a very difficult job to do, and really you cannot separate the financial and the administrative control. I must ask the House to place their confidence in this board of management, by reason of its past work and by reason of the reputation of its members. There is no board of management which has a better personnel. Whether it is in details of administration, or whether it is in regard to questions of principle, or whether it is in details of finance, I ask the House once and for all to put their trust in that board of management, to back that board of management in its work, and to give a guarantee which I think the country expects the. Government to give, and to concentrate on really trying to make this the success which we can make it if we all put our backs into it.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
I am very sorry that the President of the Board of Trade can offer us no more in this Debate than the Government offered us in the Debate which took place last week. I want to carry the Minister back to a question which was asked this afternoon, namely, if he will take every precaution to see that the persons employed at the British Empire Exhibition of 1925 will receive wages which will allow them a proper standard of living. II am sorry to say that both the President of the Board of Trade and the Parliamentary Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department ignored that 1206 question at Question time, and did not answer it, and could offer no hope that they would see that the people employed there got a standard rate of wage which would enable them to have a decent standard of living. When a supplementary question was put to-day, the Parliamentary Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department asked me if I would repeat it to-night in the Debate. I have sat here for three hours waiting to repeat it, and I intend to press it as far as I possibly can right through the whole of the passage of this Bill, until we get satisfaction or are defeated.
I have been speaking to an hon. Member of this House who understands something about the Board of Trade and Treasury, and he informs me that 10 or 15 years ago the Treasury instituted a practice that where any Government money was spent or lent, the principle of the Fair Wages Clause should be imposed, I want to ask why the principle of the Fair Wages Clause has not been instituted in this direction. It is no use the Government throwing the responsibility en to the management committee. If the Government are going to spend millions of pounds of the public money and not have any authority as to how the employes in any particular industry are to be treated, for my part, and I say it on behalf of a number of Members on this side of the House, I do not agree with that policy.
Everybody knows that last year the catering contract was given to a firm which some people would call respectable, but which some people on this side would not call respectable, especially with regard to the wages that they are paying. It is a well-known fact that in the City of London some of the best firms in the catering trade—and this is not one of the best—pay their waitresses as low as 13s. a week, with a bonus of another 4s. in the way of commission on sales. Do hon. Members agree—and does the right hon. Member (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister) who spoke last agree—that a sum of 17s. a week is enough for a young girl on which to keep her reputation and her sense of decency and honour? What we are asking the Secretary to do is to see that some provision is made that the girls employed in the catering department shall, at all events, have a decent subsistence on which to live. If the Government are going to guarantee these millions of pounds, at all 1207 events, it ought to see that the place is sweet and clean so far as our girls are concerned when they go to work in those places.
I went to Wembley, along with other hon. Members, last year, and on one occasion I purposely went to the Popular Café to see how the girls were getting on. [Laughter.] I do not usually joke when speaking of girls of my class. Other people may do so, but I do not. I think if I were to make a joke upon the girls of their class other hon. Members would resent it just as much as I resent their making jokes on girls of my class. I went to see how their work affected them, and frankly I was sorry for them, to see how they were working on a hot summer day with the crowds with which they had to contend, and on the miserable wages and the miserable food they were getting. It may have been a credit to a firm in the City who wanted to make big profits, but it certainly was not a credit to the British Empire, and it certainly was not very pleasing to our overseas visitors who visited the exhibition to see how some of these girls were paid. The position is they have no trade union to defend them. They have no Trade Board to defend them. They are absolutely at the mercy of any employer who wants to sweat them down to the lowest possible wage that he can. Will the Secretary kindly inform us who are the caterers this year? I have been trying to get to know, but I cannot find out. If we could get to know the caterers I should be very happy to bring to this House information as to what wages these caterers pay their girls, and to see then if the House of Commons does agree with the miserable wages which are being paid in this kind of industry.
I want to press upon the Secretary one matter. It will not take long, but I want to impress it upon him, and unless we get some satisfaction to-night, we shall go on impressing it. upon him. It is that a works committee 'should be appointed. We know that last year, owing to the dissatisfaction which was expressed, the Empire. Exhibition nearly did not open in time. We want to avoid those things in the future. I want to see a works committee appointed with representatives on it of the contractors, of the concessionaires, and also of the workpeople. I am one of those who think that it is much 1208 better to find machinery to avoid disputes than to provide machinery to settle disputes when they arise. If the Under-Secretary will not make it obligatory that a works committee representative of all sections of industry at the exhibition shall be appointed, I shall be sorry, because the Government will not have done their best to help those people who cannot defend themselves. After all, they are only girls, but they are our girls, and they are not receiving good wages, and they are not receiving sufficient food, and I hope the Under-Secretary will do all that he can to see that a committee is set up. I want an assurance, I do not want a nod of the head, and a passing of it on to the Executive Committee, and, if we do not get that assurance, we shall press the matter further.
§ Sir ROBERT HAMILTON
I desire to refer shortly to one aspect of the matter to which I think insufficient attention has so far been given. I will say at once that it is hard to calculate the value of the exhibition in money terms—I will not refer to that any further—but when we come down to the actual finances, seeing that this is not our money, but the taxpayers' money, we remain under the obligation of looking very closely into them. I have been through the Estimates presented in the White Paper as carefully as I can, and, if the figures on which they are based are anywhere near correct, we should, and I hope we shall, with good fortune in the weather, come our fairly successfully at the close of the exhibition in 1925. The point I want to make is that I want to have it clearly from the Minister in charge that he will not come to the House for another guarantee. If the exhibition authorities know they can come for another guarantee, they are not going to take the same care over the finances as they would otherwise do. Therefore, I would like the Minister in charge to let it be known publicly that there is sufficient money for running the exhibition satisfactorily and as it should be run in 1925, and that he will not come to the House for another guarantee.
§ Mr. A. V. ALEXANDER
I wish to put one point to the President of the Board of Trade or the Parliamentary Secretary in regard to the question of the Fair Wages Clause raised by my hon. Friends on these benches. We brought forward a similar principle on 1209 the Sugar Subsidy Bill, and we had occasion to thank the Minister of Agriculture for the very great consideration shown in that matter. Although the circumstances of this case may not be quite analogous, a great deal of the same principle is involved. The House is asked to vote public money or public credit for an undertaking in which a large number of people are employed. When we were asked to vote a subsidy the other day, the Minister of Agriculture inserted a Clause in the Bill under which, in the event of any dispute with regard to wages, he undertook to refer the dispute to an Industrial Court, and it was laid down in the Bill that when the Industrial Court had given its award, that award would be an implied contract between the employed persons and the employer, so that legal proceedings could be taken by an employed person or by his union to ensure that the prescribed wages were paid. I do not wish to delay the House, and I will only ask whoever is going to reply to give us an assurance that between now and the Committee stage he will examine the matter from that point of view, and see whether in Committee upstairs he could give us a Clause to deal with the Fair Wages question on a similar basis to the one given by the Minister of Agriculture.
§ Sir P. CUNLIFFE-LISTER
There is all the difference in the world, as I am sure the hon. Member will realise, between a position in which the making of contracts lies ahead, when none of your contracts are made, and the present situation. In the former case it is quite possible to have a Clause such as my right hon. Friend accepted, and to put it in all future contracts. The position here is that all the contracts are now running. You cannot alter contracts which are running except by agreement with the other party to the contract, who could then ask for a reopening of the contract, and might wish to put in other terms. The position, therefore, is absolutely different. I did consider very carefully whether it was possible to do anything more in this matter—I went very, very carefully into it—but for the reason I have stated it really is impossible to do what is now asked. All one can do is to give the assurance I have already given to the House, and I am informed that the 1210 governing body are, in fact, carrying out the fair wages undertaking in every possible way.
§ Sir JOHN MARRIOTT
I want to say only one or two sentences in support of the plea put forward by my hon. Friend the junior Member for the University of Oxford (Sir C. Oman). He put forward a very strong plea for a reconsideration of the educational side of the exhibition. I am sorry the name of the President of the Board of Education does not appear on the Bill, because, from my point of view, the exhibition is primarily an educational exhibition. It was used to my personal advantage—[Laughter]—to my personal knowledge. I am perfectly prepared to accept the correction. It was used to my personal advantage from the point of view of education, and I believe to the personal advantage of almost every other Member of the House. I am glad that the slip occurred. It is within my knowledge that the exhibition was an enormous advantage to multitudes of children who were brought up from the provinces, and the advantages were enormously enhanced by the pageant, the success of which was largely due to my hon. Friend the junior Member for the University of Oxford. if the Parliamentary Secretary is going to reply to this Debate, I would like him to give the House an assurance that that matter will not be neglected. For my own part, I am willing and ready a hundred times to vote this guarantee, for I believe that money was never better spent than on last year's exhibition, and I gladly vote for a renewal and an extension of the guarantee.