HC Deb 19 May 1950 vol 475 cc1607-18

Motion made, and Question proposed. "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Kenneth Robinson.]

4.11 p.m.

Mr. Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)

The reason for my raising the question of festivals outside the Metropolitan area is because I feel that unless those of us who represent small towns make our voices heard there is a danger that during the time the Festival of Britain, 1951, is in progress small towns will be by-passed or ignored.

With Royal patronage and with the general good will which the Festival of Britain is now receiving in all quarters, we who represent the small towns feel that time is short and that we must encourage the scope of the Festival as far as possible. Nothing that I am about to say should be regarded in any way as denigrating the main Festival Exhibition in London. The limited acreage on the South Bank and, therefore, the scope and accommodation, even when coupled with the additional travelling exhibitions and the Festivals of Art, makes it imperative that the whole of Britain shall be put on show so that visitors, especially those from overseas, can have a proper insight into our way of life.

In the provincial cities, I am afraid, the idea has begun to be felt that this is just another London show. Somehow, we must encourage the overseas visitors to fan-out from the capital, to the countryside and to the smaller towns. Before the war there was an unfortunate tendency for the overseas visitor to arrive in London, spend a few days here, go on to Stratford or to Oxford, and then make a bee-line for Paris. I have a suspicion that it was the lack of publicity in the capital of our small provincial towns that was as much as anything else the cause of that situation.

In 1951, we must make it easier for the visitor to see at a glance what he can see and when he can see it. I have been told that some very interesting proposals have come from provincial towns and country areas. There is, for instance, the Welsh Hillside Farm Scheme which is to be provided at Dolhendre, in Merionethshire, where a rehabilitation scheme of farmsteads and buildings is proposed, which I think will be stocked, which should attract the attention of sheep farmers and those interested in forestry from all over the world. I am told of the suggestion of the Cornwall Wrestling Association, who propose to invite, I understand, a team of Breton wrestlers. That, in itself, might provide the opportunity for Bretons in general to come to this country and see how we live.

It should not be too difficult for a diagrammatic poster to be designed for distribution, through the usual agencies and organisations and on ships, showing the chronological sequence of the provincial festivals which will be held during the period of the South Bank Exhibition. By scanning such a diagrammatic poster the man in Stockholm will be able to see that at the time when he will be visiting London for the South Bank Exhibition there will be a number of small provincial festivals to which he can go on afterwards.

One does not see America by visiting New York, or France by visiting Paris; and in any case I have a suspicion that the Americans and French are much better than we are at providing the more sophisticated type of urban amusement. I am told, for instance, that even in the case of a well-organised festival like that of Edinburgh it is calculated that not more than about 10 per cent. of the seating accommodation of the theatres and concert halls is purchased by overseas visitors. But by intelligent planning and publicity one should be able appreciably to increase the percentage even up to the percentage which, I am told, is secured at Stratford, where anything up to 30 per cent. of the seating is sold to the overseas visitors. The fact is that our publicity for provincial centres of interest compares very unfavourably indeed with that of, say, France.

Our small towns provide something of immense significance—a vital picture to the historically conscious. The essential requirement is to whet the tourists' appetite for the flavour of the locality, but I think it would be a mistake to over emphasise the past without demonstrating the vital present. It is a very difficult thing to put over in the provinces the general theme upon which the Festival in London is based, namely, "our way of life." I take the view that trade and industry in the small towns will have to come much more to the forefront than is likely to be the case on the South Bank.

Then we are up against the understandable concern of the smaller Local Authorities about finance. There are a few points I want to make here about that. First of all, as I understand it, the Government are giving some encouragement to the building of modest but permanent amenities; but with the difficulties in connection with capital investment I assume—quite apart from planning and Treasury sanctions—that these permanent amenities will have to be very modest indeed. If I may digress a moment, the product of a penny rate in some of the smaller towns is so very small that it really would not cover much more than some very elementary printing. It does not compare, of course, with the product in a big industrial town, where it would be very big indeed.

The other point is that, as I understand it, the 6d. rate sanctioned under the Local Government Act is the only way of raising money permitted on a civic basis. In the end, the local industrialists and traders will be asked to help to finance any festival that is proposed for the smaller towns, and I do not think that it is unreasonable, if they are so asked, that they should be given some inducement other than just merely civic pride. For instance, a local festival properly organised on a cultural basis, should attract trade which the local man will feel himself, in my view quite properly, able to handle; and he will be able to provide local goods for disposal, and services.

Is the role of the small town really understood yet? Does the literature which is issued by the Festival Office really get much beyond the Town Clerk? Do people really understand the function of the Arts Council and the services it can give? Has the Thanksgiving Fund of the Lord Mayor of London, for instance, not caused some preoccupation in the minds of the civic authorities to the detriment of the Festival project? Have the meetings which have been addressed by the Lord President of the Council and the Director-General really struck home? Has adequate note been taken of the fact that, in the normal course of events, the Mayors of Boroughs at present being selected will not be in office during the period when the Festival of Britain, 1951, is in operation and that, therefore, the whole question of continuity of interest at local authority level, arises?

If it is true that the Festival Office in London and the Arts Council are prepared to send representatives to individual small towns to advise and give guidance, then would it not be a good thing to suggest to some of our local authorities a logical sequence of events in order to organise and develop their own festivals? I agree that such matters are best left to local discretion, but sometimes a little guidance is acceptable.

For instance, there might be a general discussion by the Local Authority subcommittee concerned, followed by a conference between representatives of the same sub-committee and the local trade and voluntary organisations. Then a report to the council. I think, and I will give an example later, that a town meeting should be addressed by a Festival of Britain, 1951, official. Ad hoc committees should be formed fully representative of all concerned who might at that point take the advice of representatives of the consultative bodies' including the Arts council itself.

I see in today's "Walthamstow Guardian" that some such similar sequence of events was adopted at a meeting in Walthamstow this week. The account of that meeting, which I have read, and the observations made both by civic officials and representatives of voluntary organisations, makes me feel that Walthamstow might act as a good model for other authorities considering a festival next year. Many officials of small towns are not very clear as to what advisory bodies there are to consult, for example, the British Travel and Holiday Association. I suggest a list of such consultative bodies be published and that these organisations be asked to circularise local authorities who are displaying interest in the question of the Festival. In any case, the Festival Office at 2, Savoy Court, are, I understand, prepared to act as a clearing house for various inquiries.

We must not concentrate entirely upon American visitors. No one is more grateful than I for the economic aid we have received from the U.S.A. or more conscious of the cultural ties which bind this country and a large part of the population of the United States. But, in my view, our chief responsibility in the matter of overseas visitors is that we should give every facility and all the information we can to members of our own Commonwealth. I heard the other day, and I think this is symptomatic of the trends of opinion, that there has been a demand from South Africa for publicity in connection with the main Festival to be published in Afrikaans. "The Times of India" is offering to publish a special supplement on the subject, and I am personally interested in that matter. Having worked for some years in India I know only too well that those Indians, for whom the expense of travelling is no great consideration, know practically nothing about the small towns and the countryside of this country.

I think this dispersal of visitors from the capital to the countryside is of such great importance that the Central Office of Information should send overseas more detailed information about these provincial festivals. If that can be done it would be a great advantage to all concerned. Some towns can attract the interest of certain special countries. I understand that Cheltenham, Monmouth and Bideford are sending invitations to their namesake towns in America, but there are more profound methods of applying this principle. The borough of Tamworth in the division which I have the honour to represent organise, every other year, a miners' rally, and I should have thought that rally could have been adapted to a festival and invitations sent to mining towns in other parts of the world.

Some organisation such as the W.V.S. might undertake the inspection and registration of accommodation. I use the term "accommodation" because people like students have a limited purse and need advice as to where they can be put up in decent conditions at a reasonable price. Towns operating these festivals should consider some local character or characteristic. The ancient town of Lichfield has an annual and ancient Bower procession, and might taken a leaf out of the book of Mansfield, where they are organising a pageant demonstrating the origin of the borough and its eventual industrialisation. Another point is that a welcome service might be organised. The small American con- vention town has got this to a fine art. It is not only at the port of entry but at the towns themselves that people ought to be made to feel really welcome.

Local manufacturers should be encouraged, after consultation possibly with the Council of Industrial Design, through the Festival of Britain Office, to produce decorative and tasteful mementoes.

Lastly, it is imperative that there should be adequate distribution. Here, the Festival of Britain must give a strong lead for the preparation of well-written and illustrated local leaflets. We must get away from the old type of guide book that we know so well, which embodies uninteresting advertisements, illustrations portraying ladies in outmoded clothing and improbable hats, as though advocating some Burne-Jones revival, and secure some much better form of leaflet for distribution on planes, ships, and so on. If it is argued that, after all, there may be 400 or 500 local authorities producing such leaflets, I do not see why the Festival office should not appoint some committee arbitrarily to select the best of these leaflets and to secure their adequate distribution.

If the Lord President of the Council thinks that I have concentrated too much on the overseas visitor, he must understand that those of us who represent the small towns think that we have something to show the visitors from overseas which, unless we make our voices heard, will not be seen and will not have the chance of being appreciated.

4.27 p.m.

Mr. William Teeling (Brighton, Pavilion)

In the very short time which I propose to occupy, I only wish to touch on one point. I represent one of the 16 Festival towns which have been chosen outside London—namely, Brighton. The point I wish to raise is about hotel accommodation. I understand from today's paper that the Government propose to do everything in their power to improve the hotel situation in London. I may be wrong, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell me later, but one gets the feeling that possibly a lot of money will be spent, especially on buildings which are being released by the Government and returned to the hotel industry.

There are on the outskirts and in the neighbourhood of London, in places like the Festival town of Brighton, a number of hotels of very considerable standing and size which are far from being fully occupied all the year round and which could be considerably improved. If improvements were carried out, we should have at least one Festival town near to London which, in a sense, could be used as an adjunct to the London Festival.

The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) very wisely referred to the historical connections of the towns which are being used by the Festival. In my town we intend to specialise on furniture, architecture and art and music of a certain period. Features of this kind are a great attraction to people from abroad, especially from America. They will bring in a considerable number of dollars. We are also contacting a large number of people from towns called Brighton in various parts of the world, and we hope to get many representatives of each overseas Brighton to visit us.

We want an assurance that the money to be spent on the Festival, other than by the Arts Council, will not all be spent on the South Bank scheme and on such matters as the improvement of hotels and amenities in London, until the Government are sure that they are making the fullest use of those entertainment and Festival centres for accommodation as are near to London, such as Brighton, and have already the accommodation ready to fill.

4.30 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow) for raising this subject today. I am sure that we are all grateful to him for the excellent and constructive speech that he made upon this important matter. I cordially agree with him and with the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling) that we must not think that the Festival is a purely London affair. It is inevitable that the capital will contain perhaps the largest single items in the programme, because it is the capital, but I am most anxious that nobody shall think that it is only a London affair.

I am exceedingly anxious that the provinces, Wales and Scotland, and indeed Northern Ireland, shall all play their part and make their contribution to the collective activities in connection with the Festival of Britain. It is desirable that the activities in the towns and villages shall be highly individual. The hon. Member for the Brighton, Pavilion, by the way, talked of 16 towns outside London taking part; actually, the number is not 16, but some 40. Therefore, I cordially associate myself with the spirit of what my hon. Friend said in that respect.

Reference was made to the small local authorities and their financial troubles. As the House knows, in certain respects, for the Arts Council and various tours and what-not, there will be some national financial responsibility, but with regard to local affairs, we think it is not unreasonable that local authorities, possibly with the aid of voluntary funds, should shoulder the responsibility, though it will be the case that the smaller the local authority the less it will spend and the less it will have to spend. I hope it will work out all right.

I shall keep in mind the point about the use of the Central Office of Information for conveying information overseas and the dissemination of publicity about Festival activities. I have no doubt whatever that the Central Office of Information will be used by the Festival of Britain Office, and that the point will be taken care of. My hon. Friend asked that suggestions might be put forward to local authorities as to the kind of activities in which they might engage. I hope that local authorities will try to brighten their towns and villages. I remember, some years ago, my late friend Dr. Salter and his wife in Bermondsey, a somewhat dull area, encouraging window-boxes with flowers and the cultivation of gardens and so on. A great deal of that sort of thing could be done with the use of flowers in order that Britain might look as smart, pretty and attractive as she can. It may be that some blitzed or derelict sites in various towns might be turned into little gardens, and there should be an effort to include private gardens in this tidying up and making the place look more attractive.

I hope local authorities will try particularly to make the public gardens and recreation grounds look as colourful and nice as they can. There is sometimes a temptation on the part of local authorities to arrange their gardens and recreation grounds in a rather conventional and restrictive way. Sometimes, perhaps, it is more obvious that the borough engineer has handled them than the landscape architect, if they had such a person. A little bit of brightness, variety and colour will be all to the good, and window-boxes on public buildings and baskets of flowers in the streets will all help.

There is also the planting of trees and the painting and sprucing up of public buildings, buildings of special interest, terraces and other joint schemes. For example, subject to the regulations of the Ministry of Works, there could be a brightening up of bridges, lamp posts, and railings. The removal of all the tins and rubbish round ancient monuments where they seem to collect would be a good thing. Then, where there are simple amenities, local activity could be employed in the production of maps which would indicate to visitors where they were and the places they wanted to go to. They might have historical notes and show points of interest.

Then there is the throwing open of places ordinarily closed, or difficult of access. Again, there are all the possibilities of sports, local art festivals, local government displays, special church services, and the participation of school children in special events. School children can often put on a first-class show, as hon. Members who have distributed prizes at what are now known as primary schools, well know. We have even tried to make speeches to them, but we find them more difficult than the House of Commons.

In the sphere of trade, we want our catering to be as good and as attractive as possible, and for the shops to participate in illustrating local history and industry. We want the shops to be interested in window and other displays, and in improved guides and local postcards. In all these matters, the Festival Office will give every encouragement, support, and advice that may be needed. By all means let the local people ask, but the more they do on their own initiative, and the more they display their own local genius, the better. We want the individuality of the British village, hamlet, country town and industrial town in the provinces, and so on, to come out.

The Festival Office are very keen about publicity in order to draw the attention of overseas visitors to the Festival activities outside London. I can assure my hon. Friend that in their publicity material they will have this aspect fully in mind, so that the overseas visitors will know that there are many things outside London to see as well as the London events.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

Would my right hon. Friend consider having placed in the Library particulars of what he is talking about, so that hon. Members can see what is going on?

Mr. Morrison

I will certainly consider my hon. Friend's most useful suggestion.

They also intend to see that during the Festival period itself there is a good deal of publicity in the capital about Festival activities going on elsewhere. It is true that folks from the provinces, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland may come to London, but I shall be glad if the Londoners visit these other places. Such visits are very good for their souls. Speaking as a Londoner, I know it does me good when I go to the provinces, Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland. I come back refreshed. We will do our best in that respect, and Londoners ought to be encouraged to do that.

The principal information centre in the West End of London will keep good stocks of literature and other publicity material relating to the Arts Festival and the other events taking place in the various parts of the United Kingdom. The Festival Office people in London will be glad to make use of literature produced by the smaller towns relating to their local programme.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth will be glad to know—because he raised the point—that there will be special Festival guide-books. They will be a new series, fully bound, profusely illustrated, and at a popular price. I am very happy to say that this is the product of co-operation between the Festival of Britain Council and private enterprise. It is a good job my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) is not here, but I would like to inform the House that we have come to an arrangement with the Brewers' Society, which, in many ways, is rather more than a trade association, whereby two guide-book schemes, which each had separately in view, will be merged into one. We thought it better to co-operate rather than be competitive.

The Festival Council are exercising the editorial control, so that is all right. The Brewers' Society are bearing the cost of production and publication, which seems to me a very admirable arrangement. Indeed, we are grateful to the Brewers' Society for their public-spirited co-operation. We have some first-class authors who will not be content just to list the usual places of interest. They will try to show how each area acquired its special characteristics and describe factors which influenced its development. At 3s. 6d. each, and covering the whole United Kingdom, they ought to have a ready sale among visitors as well as local people.

In the country over 700 local authorities are now active and are going to make some modest improvements in amenities which do not cost so much money. In the next few weeks new heads of civic authorities will be coming into office, and I hope they will take an interest in the matter. The more voluntary effort we have that does not cost money the more we shall like it.

Let me pay tribute to the special Festival of Britain committees for Scotland, for Wales and for Northern Ireland and especially to the chairmen Mr. Tom Johnston, Sir Wynn Wheldon and Sir Roland Nugent. These Committees are well ahead and they have done good work for the cause. They are issuing special brochures to the local authorities in their areas. One for Wales has just been issued, and one for Scotland and one for Northern Ireland will be available in a week or two.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth for raising this matter which I think has been of value to the Festival and the country.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

The Scottish Tourist Board might be of some assistance to the Festival Council. I should like that taken into account.

Mr. Morrison

My hon. Friend will be happy to know that Mr. Tom Johnston, who is chairman of the Scottish Festival Committee is, I think, also chairman of the Scottish Tourist Board, so he can be sure that there is an adequate tie-up.

The Question having been proposed after Four o'Clock and the Debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Eighteen Minutes to Five o'Clock.