HC Deb 23 February 1939 vol 344 cc702-13

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £139,820, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1939, for this salaries and expenses of the Department of Overseas Trade, including giants in aid of the Imperial Institute and the Travel and Industrial Development Association of Great Britain and Ireland.

9.55 p.m.

Mr. R. S. Hudson (Secretary, Overseas Trade Department)

The chief item in this Supplementary Estimate is under heading E, for expenditure amounting to £131,800 of which the principal sum is £95,000 for the British Pavilion at the forthcoming New York Exhibition. When the Estimates were originally framed last year, it was uncertain on what scale the pavilion would have to be built, and a preliminary sum of £100,000 was taken. When we came to look into the matter in greater detail it was decided, in view of the importance of the exhibition and to enable adequate scale, that we should spend an additional £95,000. There is a small item of £5,000 for preliminary expenditure in connection with His Majesty's Government's participation in the New Zealand Centennial Exhibition, 1939–40. The bulk of the expenditure on that will appear in the Estimates next year. There is, finally, a Vote of £29,240 in respect of the Empire Exhibition at Glasgow, and another of £2,640 in respect of the Paris Exhibition. But there are merely re-votes.

Mr. Buchanan

Why are you re-voting them.

Mr. Hudson

Because the money did not fall for payment in the financial year for which it was voted. Therefore, it has to be re-voted. If hon. Members wish to ask for any further details on the Estimate I shall be glad to answer.

9.57 p.m.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

I wish to ask two questions: one about the New York World's Fair and the other about the activities of the Travel and Industrial Development Association. The matter of the New York World's Fair1 is exercising Scottish opinion at the present time. At this exhibition there will be a showing of certain British films. Among these, we hope, there will be one or two by the Scottish committee. The choice of these films is made by the British Council. The joint committee of the British Council has had before it, one understands, some of the six films made by the committee in Scotland. We understand that for general circulation in foreign countries the joint committee has turned down all those Scottish films. I want to ask my right hon. Friend whether that is so. Then I want to ask him whether it is a fact that it has accepted two of the films for presentation at the New York Fair. If so, why have they been rejected for other parts of the world; and why have only two been accepted for New York, and not four? The Scottish committee on films is not a private concern. It is a committee appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland, and, consequently, it carries a certain amount of authority. That committee, which has produced these films, is not getting fair consideration by the joint committee. The joint committee is sponsored by the British Council, whose business is to propagate British interests abroad. On that committee, there are at present no representatives of the films of Scotland.

Mr. Hudson

May I point out that, as far as the New York Fair is concerned, the subject is undoubtedly for discussion, but that the question of the composition of the committee and its general activities come under the Foreign Office Vote?

The Chairman

It appears to me, then, that this committee, to whose actions the hon. Member is referring, is not included in this Vote at all.

Mr. Hudson

It does come within the Vote on the very narrow question of films for New York. I should like permission to answer the hon. Member on that point, but otherwise the committee is a subject for the Foreign Office Vote.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

If you rule, Sir, that I can deal only with the New York Fair, I shall, of course, do so.

The Chairman

I understood from the right hon. Gentleman that this committee did not come under this Vote at all, but now he has qualified that by saying that it does in regard to films for the New York Fair.

Mr. Hudson

What actually happened was that the joint committee was set up. The selection of films for New York was referred to it ad hoc. To that extent, I am responsible.

The Chairman

The hon. Member will see that he cannot go beyond that limited point on this Estimate.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

I will restrict myself to the limited field which is open to me at present. I will ask whether any of the films made by the Scottish committee have been selected for showing at the New York World's Fair, and if so how many? The item of £10,000 for the Travel and Industrial Development Association has not been explained by my right hon. Friend, but he answered questions on 12th and 15th December. On 12th December he said that the grant to the association for the current financial year had been increased from £5,000 to £15,000. On 15th December he said: The grant has been increased in order to assist the association to expand its important work of promoting travel to and industrial development in the United Kingdom, and in order to encourage wider support of this work by commercial interests at home."—[OFFICIAL REPORT; 15th December, 1938; col. 2216; Vol. 342.] I had understood previously that the object was that the association should spend all that £10,000 on advertising abroad, so that foreigners would be encouraged to come to this country, but that is not what my right hon. Friend said on 15th December. Then, he suggested three purposes: first, "to expand its important work of promoting travel"; secondly, to expand industrial development in the United Kingdom; and thirdly, "to encourage wider support." If it is the purpose of the Government to expand the industrial development of the country, why is not part of this grant made available for the Scottish Travel Association? Their purpose is very much the same. They are an independent body. They work in close collaboration with the Travel and Industrial Development Association, but why is this sum of £10,000, which apparently is to be used exclusively for foreign advertising, to be given entirely to this body which sits here in London? We want to know in Scotland why we cannot get a share of it. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman can give me an answer, but I assure him this is causing us very considerable concern. I should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman would answer these points.

Mr. Garro Jones

Would the right hon. Gentleman also be good enough to explain why the expenditure out of this grant-in-aid will not be accounted for in detail to the Comptroller and Auditor-General? This association has a very large name—The Travel and Industrial Development Association—and personally I should like a full explanation of its activities, and to ask on what principle it will not account to the Comptroller and Auditor-General. These are matters upon which I should like some information in addition to why Scotland does not get a share of this money.

10.7 p.m.

Mr. Lunn

There are two or three items in this Supplementary Estimate upon which we ought to have an explanation, as they are important. I notice that there are anticipated savings with regard to the commercial and diplomatic services. It is very important that we should keep up our commercial, diplomatic and economic relations with other countries. Is it because we are losing our influence on the Continent that we are having these savings? Is it because of what has hap- pened in Czecho-Slovakia and other parts of Europe? If it is, it means that our influence and our trade in these Continental countries are going to be worse than they have ever been in the past. The right hon. Gentleman ought to give the Committee an explanation on that matter, as it is of great importance to this country that we should, wherever possible, not reduce our trade with foreign countries, but increase it. If the numbers of those who are serving the State in economic matters in the different countries are being reduced or their offices are being closed, it means that we must be losing our influence in certain countries, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will give the Committee an explanation.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the Committee whether, with regard to the Travel Association, there is any further statement to be published so that Members of this Committee can know what it does? I do not object to money being spent in order to encourage people to travel in other countries besides our own, though I do not think that there is any better country than our own in which we can see beauty. I do not see why we should not encourage travel in our own country. I know that there are other countries which have done far more than this country to encourage travel in other countries than their own. I believe that the Travel Association was instituted for the purpose of competing with the sort of thing that occurs in foreign countries. There are quite a number of travel associations in this country, and there ought to be one travel association which not only serves England, but Scotland as well.

Mr. James Griffiths

And Wales.

Mr. Lunn

Yes, and Wales.

Sir Ronald Ross

What about Northern Ireland?

Mr. Lunn

Yes, and Northern Ireland, which I have visited and in which I enjoyed myself very much. The whole subject of dealing with the encouragement of travel ought to be taken up. I notice that there is a very big increase in exhibition costs. I suppose that that means that there are far more exhibitions, and that we are extending our connections with many other countries, perhaps for the purpose of increasing our trade, by having these exhibitions. Why should there be the saving on the British Industries Fair of £4,500. Are we spending more money abroad to encourage exhibitions in other countries and forgetting our own country? Are we reducing the cost of the British Industries Fair and thereby reducing its influence? After all, this is our Trade Fair. It is the only one with which the Government are connected, and it is most important for the purpose of trying to show other countries what our own country can do. Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why there is this saving, and whether it means lack of interest and the reduction of influence in the matter of the trade of our country?

10.13 p.m.

Mr. David Adams

I also desire information with regard to the Travel and Industrial Development Association. I am a member of the Tyneside Industrial Development Board, which is required to hand over a considerable proportion of its annual takings from the municipalities of Tyneside and any industrialist who cares to subscribe to the Development Board. If the Travel Association is to have an increase in the allowance from the Government of 200 per cent., we ought to know why. The local Industrial Development Board on the North-East Coast, and I suppose elsewhere, are called upon to pay over to this board a substantial amount of their annual takings. This seems to me to be a very suspicious position. I am not at all satisfied, in the absence of a definite statement, as to the income, expenditure and salaries paid and other data of this Industrial Association, in view of the fact that there are other kindred associations in the country who do not receive any remuneration from the Government for performing services which appear to be quite similar to these.

It is a very remarkable position that the unexpended balance which may remain from this additional grant of £10,000 is not to be accounted for. It is to remain, presumably, in the pockets of or to be disbursed by the Travel Association. We are entitled to know, in view of the amount granted by the Government, whether this is a benevolent association, whether salaries are paid and whether interest is paid to shareholders out of the moneys granted by the Government. I well know of the resentment expressed by the Newcastle City Council or the Trade and Commerce Committee of the corporation, at being called upon, virtually compelled, to pass over part of its income to the Travel Association.

The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Clifton Brown)

It seems to me that the hon. Member is discussing the general policy of the original grant. This is only an increase.

Mr. Benn

I do not desire to prolong the Debate, because we are anxious to get on to the next Vote, but I would point out that the original Vote was for £5,000, and the Supplementary Vote is for £10,000. When you get a 200 per cent, increase in a Vote, I submit, with great respect, that it really becomes a new Service. It does make the Debate wider.

The Deputy-Chairman

I have only just taken the Chair, but I think there is reason in that point.

Mr. Adams

I was referring to the resentment expressed by the Trade and Commerce Committee of the Newcastle Corporation, which is the body authorised by the city council to deal with the Tyneside Industrial Development Board. That Development Board informed us that we would be required to pay over to a new organisation, of which we knew nothing at that time, sums of money for the advertisement of the board abroad. In Newcastle we do a great deal of advertising. There is the Tyne Improvement Commission, which also expends considerable sums. When we were told that we would be required to pay over money we felt that we were being driven, whether we liked it or not, to pay over sums to this Travel Association, the new body that had come upon the horizon.

We are entitled to have all the details about this association, to see its balance sheet and to know whether private individuals in the concern are receiving rates of interest from it and, if so, what is the rate of interest, and why the unexpended balance is not to be returned to the Treasury. These points require to be cleared up; otherwise I hope that we on this side of the Committee will oppose the Vote in the Lobby.

10.18 p.m.

Mr. Gledhill

I should like to know whether the Secretary for the Overseas Trade Department is satisfied that the manufacturers of this country are fully represented at the New York Fair. If so, the amount for which he is asking is justified; otherwise, it is not. So far as one can gather from the Press, we are having only a small hall there to represent this country. Has my right hon. Friend made any effort to persuade the manufacturers to go there? In view of the Anglo-American Trade Agreement, this is an ideal time to make a good show in America, and some effort is required by the Department to persuade the manufacturers to make a good show.

10.19 p.m.

Mr. Buchanan

I wish the right hon. Gentleman would get back to the practice he adopted at the Ministry of Labour of explaining everything, rather than making brief statements in order to save time. He gave us a statement about exhibitions, but this Supplementary Estimate includes something more. He might give us an explanation of the whole of the Supplementary Estimate, particularly that which deals with the Travel Association, and that part which deals with anticipated deficiencies. May I ask a question about the New York Fair? I am not going to discuss the matter, but I hope I shall be in order if I ask how the amount to be spent on the New York Fair compares with the amount the Department spent on the exhibition in Glasgow. I see that there is a re-Vote of £29,000. That, I take it, is for money which they expected to spend but which has not been charged. What is this £29,000, and how is it accounted for? On the next page there is shown a saving from the Glasgow Exhibition of £1,470. I should like to ask whether that savings includes the total liability of the Overseas Department in connection with the exhibition? Are there any other outstanding liabilities? Do the guarantors anticipate any further charges? I hope that the Secretary for the Department of Overseas Trade will explain these items in a little more detail.

10.22 p.m.

Mr. Hudson

I can assure the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), who, I am sure, knows me by this time, that it was not because of any discourtesy to the Committee that I did not refer to the Travel Association. I was proposing to do so when we came to the next sub-head. I thought it would be the simpler way to deal first with the ex- hibition and then with the Travel Association. May I answer the point about the Glasgow Exhibition at once? The reason for the re-vote of the money is because owing to the bad weather which set in just before the exhibition opened a good deal of work could not be done by the contractors; and the bills for that work consequently fell later and the sums have to be re-voted. As regards the surplus, this is not a saving but an actual receipt. As regards the cost of the two exhibitions, they are not really comparable. One is being held in this country and the other in America where general costs are higher. The exhibition in America is also on a larger scale than that of Glasgow. The cost of our participation in the Glasgow Exhibition was about £160,000 or £170,000, and in the New York Exhibition will amount to something in the neighbourhood of £350,000.

The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) raised two points. The first one was with regard to films, and I am grateful indeed to him for raising it, because it gives me an opportunity of dealing with a statement which has appeared in several newspapers and which I know has caused a great deal of anxiety in Scotland. It was made on the authority of Mr. John Grierson, who was reported to have said that the committee had turned down all the Scottish films for the New York World's Fair. According to the report, he went on lo say: The Chairman of 1he British Council Committee had replied that the Scottish achievements in economic and social reconstruction did not seem to it large enough or important enough to include in Britain's official pictures. I have Mr. Guedalla's authority for stating that that is completely untrue, and that there is not a word of truth in it. On 13th October last, a letter was sent to Mr. Grierson, enclosing a copy of an official letter, stating the committee's decision: The Joint Committee on Films saw six of the Scottish films this week and are agreed that they do not justify a grant from British Councils Funds. It will be remembered that this was to be dependent on the suitability of pictures for general use in foreign countries for propaganda purposes. The committee's decision is, therefore, no reflection on the films for the purpose for which they were designed; namely, exhibition largely to Scottish audiences at the Glasgow Exhibition. More than one of them indeed, is of sufficient interest for display to specialised audiences at the New York World's Fair, and they have been duly noted for this purpose. It will be seen that as long ago as last October, Mr. Grierson was told that, in the committee's opinion, these films are of sufficient interest to be considered for the New York World's Fair, and that, in fact, two of them have been actually viewed by the committee and both of them accepted for exhibition in New York.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

All of them have been viewed.

Mr. Hudson

Two of them, so far.

Mr. Stewart

The letter says all of them.

Mr. Hudson

Two of them have been viewed specifically for the purpose of seeing whether they are suitable for exhibition at the New York World's Fair, and both of them have been passed. The others have yet to be seen. It will be realised by the Committee that there was not a word of truth in that alleged statement of Mr. Grierson to the Press, and I feel sure that the Committee will deprecate any step which causes trouble at the present moment and which indicates that there is any division of opinion on such an important matter as the question of the adequate representation of Scottish films.

Mr. Stewart

I happened to meet Mr. Grierson to-night, and he asked me to explain that he was misreported, and that instead of saying the films had been refused for New York, what he said was that they had been refused for foreign circulation. I want to make clear what Mr. Grierson's view is.

Mr. Hudson

All I can say is that it is a great pity that Mr. Grierson did not correct the report at once, instead of waiting all this time and allowing a misunderstanding to go on. As regards the question of the Travel Association, the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) asked why the note is inserted saying that expenditure out of this grant-in-aid will not be accounted for in detail to the Comptroller and Auditor-General. That is the common practice in the case of grants-in-aid. The hon. Member for Rothwell (Mr. Lunn) asked whether any statement of accounts is published, and the answer is that it is. If he is interested, I will see that a copy is sent to him. A question has been asked as to why this additional sum of £10,000 is required. For some considerable time the members of the Travel and Industrial Development Association have felt—and I think rightly felt—that the amount of money at their disposal for the purposes of the association, which are to encourage foreigners to come to this country and to assist in the industrial development of the United Kingdom, including Scotland and Northern Ireland, was not sufficient. They have felt that the sums for that purpose were inadequate and that if they had bigger sums they could do much more valuable work, something more nearly in accordance with the sums available for the associations of many foreign countries. This was represented to the Treasury, and I am glad to be able to announce that the Treasury have consented to increase the grant by £10,000. It was decided, as a rough guide, that the Treasury would contribute on the basis of £1 for every £2 raised by Members of the association for this purpose of overseas publicity.

The Scottish Travel Association is concerned mainly with encouraging advertising in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland for the purpose of attracting visitors from those countries to Scotland. It is to some small extent engaged in Scottish propaganda overseas, but in order to carry that out it provides the Travel Association in London with material which we send abroad for general propaganda. We anticipate that as a result of the increased grant we shall make greater calls on the Scottish Travel Association for Scottish material for use abroad, and in so far as we make greater calls upon them we shall correspondingly increase the sum paid to them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. Gledhill) asked whether we had undertaken by propaganda to get British manufacturers to exhibit in New York. Many trade associations engaged in industries which are particularly interested in the New York market are putting up prestige exhibits in the British Pavilion, and I think that is the answer to my hon. Friend's question.

Mr. David Adams

Will the right hon. Gentleman send me also a copy of the accounts?

Mr. Hudson


Resolved, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £139,820, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1939, for the salaries and expenses of the Department of Overseas Trade, including grants-in-aid of the Imperial Institute and the Travel and Industrial Development Association of Great Britain and Ireland.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.—[Captain Marge son.]

Resolutions to be reported upon Monday next; Committee also report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.