§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 10.28 p.m.
§ The Minister of Works (Mr. David Eccles)
I beg to move "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The powers given by Parliament to operate the Festival Pleasure Gardens came to an abrupt end on 11th November. Thereafter, the Festival Gardens Ltd.—which I propose to refer to as "the Company"—could do nothing but demolish the paraphernalia of the fun fair and reinstate Battersea Park. That being the legal position, the House will appreciate that the Government inherited an awkward timetable. We found we had either to take an uncomfortably quick decision or be responsible for delays which might ruin the prospects of a successful season next year.
If we had held up a decision the Company assured us it would have been difficult for them to keep their staff together, and if this Bill had been brought in after Christmas there would not have been time left for fixing up contracts and making the arrangements for re-opening next April. I could not forget the early history of the Gardens this year when gross mismanagement resulted in a disgraceful waste of public money. As I see it, those blunders, or most of them, were the direct consequence of leaving decisions too late. Nobody wants that to happen again.
On the other hand, a quick decision to continue the Gardens must be something of a gamble—[An HON. MEMBER: "It is still a gamble."]—for we had only a few days in which to check the estimates of next season's results. Nevertheless, I am sure we are right to run this risk, and before I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading, I feel I should put before them the reasons which led us to this decision.
There are two general points to which I would first draw the attention of the House. It has been said that the Government are breaking their word in going on with the Gardens. I have looked into that allegation and find that it is not correct. I think the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) will 1014 confirm that the previous Government always took the position that if, by experience, a considerable public demand was found to exist, then Parliament would be free to continue the Gardens beyond one season.
The second point is that the London County Council are as much interested in the Gardens as the Government. After all, Battersea Park is an L.C.C. park. It is of interest to recall that the L.C.C. considered this matter on 31st July and passed a resolution stating that if—and I quote:A continuation should be decided upon the Council would not raise objection to enabling legislation to permit an extension of not more than five years, but … that there should be an experimental period of two years … and that the consent of the Council should be required to any extension beyond two years.The Government found, therefore, that they were free to decide whether to go on, and if they did so decide, then the L.C.C. would, on certain conditions, agree with their decision.
Now I turn to last season's results. Both attendance and profits outstripped expectations—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]—and 8,031,000 people visited the Gardens. The Company made checks to find out where those vast crowds came from. These tests were very interesting, for the proportion of Londoners was never less than 70 per cent. and at the end of the season rose to 88 per cent., showing that even in the Festival year the Gardens were, by and large, a London affair. At the very height of the season, visitors from the provinces were 25 per cent. and visitors from overseas were 5 per cent.
Sir Alexander Maxwell, the Chairman of the British Travel and Holidays Association, has stated that these Gardens are a most valuable attraction to overseas visitors—an attraction of a kind, he says, of which London stands in great need. His opinion is that they should be continued, and this is an aspect of the matter which, in present circumstances, we must keep in mind.
There is one other fact about the visitors I should like to mention. I understand that there was some speculation about how well these great crowds would behave in the amusement park. Well, hon. Members will not be surprised 1015 to hear that the eight million people conducted themselves in the most orderly and good-humoured way, and gave no trouble to anybody.
I come now to the money side of the Gardens. The House is really in the position of shareholders who are entitled to an account of the company's affairs, and I propose briefly to give the provisional figures for last year. Gross revenue for last season was £1,271,000. From that figure falls to be deducted the operating expenses of £466,000, giving a trading profit of £805,000, which is the equivalent to 43 per cent. of the aggregate capital expenditure and liabilities. It would have been higher if the borrowings had not been so great, which would have been the case under private enterprise. The total of the borrowings from the Government, the L.C.C. and the Festival Office reached £1,432,000. The sum of £270,000 has just been repaid, leaving the debts at today's date at £1,162,000.
The House will want to know what would be the position if the Company were wound up now. On present estimates, after making allowance for the costs of reinstatement, there would be a further modest repayment, but this would not benefit the taxpayer, because under the agreement between the Government and the L.C.C., the L.C.C.'s loan of £200,000 ranks first up to £160,000, so that to wind up now would leave the taxpayer with a loss of over £1 million.
I said that last season's profit exceeded the estimate, and for that excellent result we have to thank the Board of the Company and their staff. I wish to pay a very special tribute to the Chairman, Lieut.-General Sir Charles King, and to the Managing Director, Major Leslie Joseph. It is very largely due to the efforts of those two gentlemen that the Company was pulled round after a very bad start.
§ Mr. R. R. Stokes (Ipswich)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point will he tell the House what has happened to the £535,000 balance of the £800,000 profit?
§ Mr. Eccles
Part of it has been spent on capital expenditure by the Company: The rest is retained in the Company's account in case there should be reinstatement.
§ Mr. Eccles
Not as much as I should like—I think it is £170,000.
I come now to the estimates for next season. In the Festival year there were eight million attendances. The question arises. How many can we expect in a normal season? We have had estimates which range from four million to six million—that is, from a half to three-quarters of last season's attendances. The opinion in the amusement trade is generally in favour of five million. They look for a five million attendance. The estimates which I am about to give are for the net profit over the two years 1952 and 1953 taken together. The figures are arrived at after allowing for all foreseeable expenditure on maintenance and capital account during that period.
On the basis of a four million attendance, the profit is expected to be £365,000; on the basis of five million it might be nearly £800,000. From now on the Board are confident that all capital expenditure can be financed out of revenue. Both the Government and the L.C.C. want to see new expenditure kept as low as possible consistent with maintaining satisfactory standards. Our directors on the Board will watch this very carefully, but some capital expenditure will be necessary, and the passage of this Bill would carry with it the authority to keep the gardens and the structure in a good state. We cannot allow the standards to fall.
How reliable are these estimates? With so short a time the only test that one can apply is to look at the men who drew them up. Sir Charles King and Major Joseph have pulled the Company round, and have made a success of last season's operations. For that reason I have confidence in them, and I am very glad to tell the House that both these gentlemen have agreed to continue in the service of the Company. On their figures, there is no doubt about it, it would be wrong to wind up now. Our duty is quite clear. It is our duty to the taxpayer to take this chance to recover his money. When the taxpayer has got his money back, then the Government will think again about continuing in the amusement business.
§ Mr. W. Nally (Bilston)
We must have this perfectly clear. The figures that the right hon. Gentleman has just advanced, he is not advancing on the responsibility of two very distinguished administrators. After all, there is a question of accountants and people who have examined all this business. The real truth of the matter is that those responsible as a whole have advanced these figures, and His Majesty's Government have accepted them as reasonably reliable. We must have no misunderstanding about that.
§ Mr. Eccles
The hon. Gentleman is putting a point which is a fair one. These estimates show possible attendance next year.
§ Mr. Eccles
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue, all the rest of the estimates flow from that of how many people will attend next yer. I can only tell the hon. Gentleman that I have done my best to check, from all those who are experts in the amusement business, what is likely to be the attendance next year. I think the estimate is conservative, but I cannot assure the House how many people will choose to go to the Gardens next year. The profit depends on the reliability of that estimate, and there is no one in this country who could guarantee that it is right. We are doing what anyone in private business does every day of his life—taking a reasonable risk.
I was saying that the Government will think again about continuing in the amusement business once we have got that money back. I want to assure the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South that his peerage, which he accepted so eagerly, will not be hereditary. A Conservative Government would not have put money in an amusement park. We think that that kind of business is unsuited to State ownership and State management, and we do not like laying ourselves open to the charge of using public money to compete in a trade which private enterprise can run successfully. But we did inherit the Battersea Gardens as a going concern, in which the London County Council are our partners, and which owes both of us large sums of money. The Government cannot at this stage withdraw; we must carry on and try to get these loans repaid.
1018 If we succeed we shall be free to reshape the future on quite a different basis.
May I say a word about one or two objections which are made against continuing the Gardens? The House will judge that I sympathise with those who dislike to see a Conservative Government in the amusement business, but I cannot sympathise with those who use this argument to conceal their opposition to an amusement park of any kind in London. London is just as good a place for a fun fair as anywhere else. Provided that competition is fair there is everything to be said for it. Starting from the position which we have inherited—and we cannot go back on that—I undertake to do all I can to see that the competition is fair.
§ Mr. Eccles
Fair, so that the company does not have advantages over a private one.
On the other hand, I think the objections which come from the residents in Battersea and Chelsea deserve to be considered by the House. It cannot be to everyone's taste to have a fun fair whirling and twirling on his doorstep, and I have asked the Company to pay particular attention to the complaints of local people. Compared with the millions who get their pleasure in the Gardens these people are only a tiny minority; but I do not care how few they are they deserve to be heard and they shall be heard.
§ Mr. Eccles
I am now concerned with Battersea Park. Those who come from the seaside resorts are well able to speak for their residents.
The Parliamentary Secretary, when he winds up, will deal with those requests and grievances of which we have information, and he will give some details of what we intend to do next year. At this late hour I hardly think the House will expect me to go through the Bill Clause by Clause. It provides the framework within which the Company can operate the Gardens in the coming year. I would, 1019 however, like to mention two points. Clause 1 (1) makes provision for keeping the Gardens open until November, 1956, except that I can direct their closing at the end of November, 1953, by means of an Order not later than 15th October that year. If the London County Council request me to do so I must make such an Order, and if that Order is made then I shall take steps to see that the Company reinstate the park without delay.
Under Clause 1 (2), the Company is given power to hold land and execute works in Battersea Parksubject to such terms and conditions …. as may be agreed between the County Council and the Company.This means that the Company and the Council have to work out a new occupation agreement, and I will use my influence to see that this is done without delay. I am confident that, as the interests of the Government and the County Council are the same, we shall be able to meet their reasonable desire for safeguards.
In the Schedule, various consequential Amendments are made to the three Acts under which the Gardens operated last summer.
I should like to close my remarks by a personal observation directed to those who have told me that, the times being out of joint, we ought to close the Gardens because they provide frivolity and nothing but frivolity. I cannot agree with that. I wish to advance three reasons to the contrary. First, there is the possibility of spreading good taste. The layout and structures of the Gardens offer infinite opportunities to influence and charm the eye. There is a great deal of colour there, and colour, when it is blended with skill and gaiety, gives lasting pleasure. It ought to be as easy to decorate a fun fair in good taste as in bad taste.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Has the right hon. Gentleman ever seen a private enterprise fun fair that pleases the eye?
§ Mr. Eccles
I was saying that there is opportunity in the Gardens for the artist with paint and the artist with flowers. All our people love gardens and there, in Battersea, is afforded one more chance to show what we can do with the beds and the borders of a London park. I set great store on improving the flowers next year. I did not myself think that they were very good this year.
Secondly, it is good to have a legitimate excuse—I do not say to make a fool of one's self—but to let oneself go. It might be that City life has become much too conventional and inhibited by the fear of a sour look from one of the neighbours. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Toryism let loose."] Nowadays people cannot cut any kind of a caper without some busybody making them feel ashamed of themselves. That is bad. But at a fun fair everyone forgets his worry, blows off steam, behaves like a child at a party, and expects to see his neighbours doing exactly the same. He laughs at them and he does not criticise. That seems to me very healthy and very English.
Thirdly, and this is by far the most important consideration to my mind, the Gardens are the place where the whole family can take their recreation together. Father, mother, children, and even grandchildren can join in the same fun. One cannot very well take the children to race meetings, football matches, cinemas, and so on, but a fun fair throws a bridge across the generations. It positively encourages the young and old to mix their laughter. That must be a good thing.
Last week a woman who has no family of her own told me she had been half a dozen times to Battersea simply to sit in a deck chair and watch other people's children enjoy themselves. Last night at Andover station a porter greatly encouraged me by saying, "My wife and I give you a good mark for keeping the Gardens open." You see, Mr. Speaker, Battersea provides more than frivolity. It does something to keep the family spirit alive. And with these thoughts in mind I ask the House to give this Bill a Second Reading tonight.
§ 10.56 p.m.
§ Mr. R. R. Stokes (Ipswich)
I find myself in a somewhat unusual position because I had hoped to introduce this Bill myself. But, be that as it may, I welcome the way in which the Minister of Works has introduced it and the fact that the Tory Party as a whole, maybe with some exceptions, seem to have become such complete converts to something we advocated doing some months ago and which they voted against. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] Last June and July, when I introduced the Bill.
§ Mr. Stokes
The right hon. Gentleman and his friends voted solidly against me when I tried to get the Gardens going and get some money. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] All right, let it go. It does not really matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw"] Certainly, if I am incorrect I withdraw, but it is all in keeping with the Festival spirit that one should make mistakes.
Whatever hon. Members may say, the Gardens have been a great success. As the right hon. Gentleman said there have been some eight million people there, which is more than anyone expected, and I would like to pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Lewisham South (Mr. H. Morrison) for his perspicacity in pushing on with this scheme in the face of very considerable opposition. It was entirely due to his conception of what London wants that we have got it. I would join the Minister in congratulating both the gentlemen who came to my assistance when I first took over, Sir Charles King and Major Joseph. They have done a magnificent job, particularly Major Joseph, who gave up the whole of his time free to make the whole scheme effective.
One thing was not added by the right hon. Gentleman, and I think it should be added. The men who built these Gardens came in for a good deal of criticism at the time of their construction. I have mentioned this matter on previous occasions. I do not suggest for a moment that there were not things done wrongfully and wrongly, but the Gardens never would have been finished had there not been that body of conscientious craftsmen on the site who really got the work 1022 through. I think that some tribute should be paid tonight to the work they did.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there has been no breach of promise. The promise was that if the Gardens were a success an effort should be made to continue them. Nobody in his senses would have dreamed that an enterprise of this kind could have been made to pay within one year, though if we look at the original estimate in the light of what actually happened and the marginal profit earned, it was not really so far out. That was not due to anybody's calculations; it just happened to be one of those things that turned up.
As for the objections raised before I gave up responsibility, I would say that they were mostly not frivolous, but concerned with those who live in the neighbourhood. The two things mostly objected to were fireworks and loudspeakers. In my time of responsibility, the fireworks were reduced to a minimum, from six performances to two; and, when we examined it, the loudspeakers had nothing to do with the fun fair as such but were merely those used by the police in directing traffic. It would be frivolous to close down the fun fair because the police were getting away traffic in an orderly fashion.
There was another protest that we had taken too much of the Gardens. That was not true: we took 37 acres out of 297, and arrangements have been made so that the river walk will be open before Christmas. Then there were objections laid against me by people who seemed to have an interest in seaside resorts. But the Tourist Association state that little or no difference was made in their business results. Although the park proprietors from Blackpool and Southend protested through the Amusement Park Proprietors' Association, representing 30 members, the Amusement Caterers' Association, with 700 members, supported the continuance of the Gardens. I do not know whether those figures have changed since I left, but that was the situation at the time.
I would suggest one or two things to which attention should be paid, since the Gardens are to be reopened—and we are glad that they are to be reopened, certainly for two years and probably longer. London has got what it wants and can see that it keeps it; and I support the 1023 Minister in insisting that the Gardens shall be maintained in a beautiful condition. We had some trouble this year because of our late start, but I hope that a really responsible horticultural adviser will be retained to see to it that the standard of flowers and shrubs, the state of the grass, etc., is properly maintained.
§ Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing (Weston-super-Mare)
The right hon. Gentleman keeps insisting that this is a London enterprise. The whole excuse for it is that it was a national festival.
§ Mr. Stokes
I do not know if the hon. Gentleman was here when the Minister made it clear that of the eight million people who turned up about 70 per cent.—about six million—were Londoners. It is no use trying to present Battersea Park as outside London. By no stretch of the imagination can I imagine that. This is in the main, and will continue to be, a London show.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
Would it not be better, then, if we were quite honest about this and called it a London Bill?
§ Mr. Stokes
It is both London and national. The question is: Should the Gardens be continued? The answer is that London has not had anything like it, has not had enough, and proposes to keep it on. I would be much surprised if any party tried to take it away.
I hope that the Minister will see that the cultural side, as well as the slap and tickle—I suppose I ought not to say that—is continued. In a way, the cultural side suffered this year; we had not enough time to attend to all the detail. But there is a magnificent open-air theatre and the riverside theatre has great charm and great possibilities.
Further, I think that this year the general illuminations were spoiled because one bridge was not lit up. I hope that next year both will be illuminated. I do not know whose fault it was; certainly, it was not mine. Chelsea bridge was never lit up. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was never there at night.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works (Mr. Hugh Molson)
What surprised me was that the Minister responsible did not know who was to blame.
§ Mr. Stokes
At least two parties were to blame, and I was not. I am not blaming anyone.
I was suggesting that the Gardens will be better next year in the light of our experiences. I hope that whatever restrictions there may be upon expenditure this year we shall not be penny wise and pound foolish—or whatever the saying is—over making the buildings good enough for two years, by not spending enough. Feeling certain that these Gardens will go on for five years, and longer, I hope that this work will not be half done and result in the whole thing having to be done again at an unnecessarily early date.
I would like the Parliamentary Secretary, when he winds up, to tell us whether the arrangements with the main contractor have been settled. The Minister said nothing about that. There was a considerable sum outstanding, and a dispute about how much was to be paid. That no doubt explains in part the considerable balance remaining in the hands of the Company. I do not object, but I expect that that is the main reason.
What is the anticipated expenditure in the way of rehabilitation between now and the opening next year, which I consider to be a pivotal point? I would also like the Parliamentary Secretary to say whether Major Joseph is to continue in the same capacity, or whether another managing director is to be appointed, with Major Joseph acting as an adviser. We on this side of the House give the Bill our general support, and we hope the House will do likewise, and that London will appreciate she has something of which she can be proud and which will give great encouragement to her citizens.
§ 11.8 p.m.
§ Captain Charles Waterhouse (Leicester, South-East)
The House has enjoyed the breezy speech of the right hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). He certainly was imbued with the Festival spirit, not least when he said the result was fairly near the original estimate. My recollection is that the original estimate was that the Government should lend £550,000, and the London County Council £220,000, and that the whole thing should cost something like £770,000, against which a considerable profit was to be made. Comparison between that original estimate and the 1025 actual result, which shows today a deficit of £1,162,000, shows that the right hon. Gentleman was well endowed with the Festival spirit.
§ Mr. Stokes
That is not what I meant, even if it sounded like that. I was trying to say that the results were on the right side, being so prodigious as £805,000 profit. I did not suggest that that sum included the total cost.
§ Captain Waterhouse
The House is in a little difficulty. We have to go by what the right hon. Gentleman said and not by what he meant. He said we voted against the Festival Gardens, which we never did, and then he said he did not mean that. Then he said the result nearly balanced the estimate, which he then said he did not mean. I do not want to pursue the matter with him at any great length, but there are two points which I wish to put to my right hon. Friend.
I cannot get away from a certain misgiving. I and other hon. Members on this side of the House spent three or four unpleasant weeks persuading our electors that State enterprises were not very desirable enterprises, and that State trading was to be avoided. Now, within a few weeks, we are asked to support this Bill. But we do not base ourselves on theories. We are prepared to take a practical view and if there is a proper reason for State trading and a State enterprise we are prepared to accept it.
Is there an adequate reason? We are undoubtedly in a period of crisis. We know, and we have too many signs about to enable us to doubt it, that we have had a period of extremely bad government. As a result of that we find ourselves in a parlous plight. We have a tremendous effort to make to re-arm, and to manufacture for export. I wonder if my right hon. Friend and his colleagues have considered just what these Festival Gardens will mean in terms of men and materials?
The right hon. Member for Ipswich said he hoped that the buildings would be kept up. We have had to make very stringent rules about starting any new industrial buildings at all. Can we really justify keeping up these Festival Gardens Buildings? I am the last person in the world to want to prevent anybody from cutting a proper caper. I think we have to go through life with a laugh. Unless 1026 we can laugh at the things which happen now we shall all go to our graves in misery.
There is one question which I hope my hon. Friend will answer when he replies. What personnel is required for the remaining year or two to maintain these Gardens? Can we afford this cost at this time? What will be the ancillary costs in the way of transport and even of petrol? My right hon. Friend said that Sir Alexander Maxwell had said that the Gardens had brought in a considerable volume of tourist trade. I have a recollection that it was said by a right hon. Member opposite, when the late Government were in office, that the tourist traffic into this country this year had not materially increased. I do not know whether Sir Alexander Maxwell would support that statement.
We have a national balance of payments to make up and I should like some assurance that that balance has been carefully weighed, especially as regards the expenditure of labour and materials, since this is, in some other ways, a desirable project.
§ 11.14 p.m.
§ Mrs. Freda Corbet (Camberwell, Peckham)
On behalf of the London County Council I should like to say a word of appreciation of the action of the Minister in bringing forward this Bill. We on the London County Council, for the most part, believed that the Festival Gardens would be welcomed by Londoners. We did not know, but we had a hunch. There were some members of the L.C.C. who were not quite so convinced as others, and there were members of a local borough council quite nearby who were not a bit convinced.
On the other hand, the Battersea Borough Council did feel that their park was likely to be the scene of a successful venture, and so it has turned out. As a matter of fact, Battersea Park has become far better known to London than ever before. It has always been a very delightful park. Occasionally, I have gone there from Tooting, where my own Tooting Bec Common is, and I have enjoyed the pleasant sights in the Battersea Park. People will have noticed on their way to the Gardens that there is a very delightful entrance surrounded by 1027 beautiful beds of flowers which in themselves are a joy. In the Gardens people have come to enjoy woodland scenes and flowers in far greater numbers than they have ever done before.
Fortunately for the L.C.C., not only did the venture draw the crowds, but it drew the London crowds—sufficient crowds to make a pretty penny. Some of us on the L.C.C. who are perhaps cherishing ideas about future permanent gardens in London feel that venture may well help us towards their achievement. None of us is quite sure about all of it, but we favour the experiment which this Bill will enable us to make. [An HON. MEMBER: "At the taxpayers' expense."] An hon. Member speaks about the taxpayers' money, but the ratepayers' money is involved also, and we have no desire to spend ratepayers' money any more than the Government have any desire to spend taxpayers' money. We want the enterprise to stand on its own feet and we have no reason to suppose that it will not do so.
Of course, we do not know what will happen in the next two years, as the right hon. Gentleman has said. Even the most successful of our entrepreneurs do not really know: they have to take a gamble—and sometimes they gamble right and sometimes wrong.
§ Mrs. Corbet
Not always with their own money. I have known them gamble their shareholders' money and I have known times when they have lost their shareholders' money and it did not matter a scrap to them because it was the poor unprotected people's money that was lost. Hon. Members opposite only get concerned when the money is the ratepayers' and taxpayers': when it is provided by private shareholders they are not concerned.
§ Mr. I. L. Orr-Ewing rose—
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
In spite of the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman, surely the hon. Lady recognises that there is a very 1028 considerable difference between extracting money voluntarily subscribed for a public company and money extracted from the taxpayers, either locally or nationally. In the expenditure of that money there is a very great difference indeed.
§ Mrs. Corbet
I was not arguing that. What I was arguing was that it is quite possible for ordinary shareholders to lose money under the private enterprise system.
If the hon. Gentleman wants to know of an enterprise which has been conducted municipally I think he has need not to go further than Blackpool. I understand that some of their enterprises perform quite useful service in keeping down the rates and that there are quite a number of other seaside resorts who cash in on the London visitors coming to their towns, so helping them out with their rates. We think it may be possible to do that with London. We do not know whether we would make a profit or a loss for the rates, but we should want this to maintain itself year by year, not necessarily over a period of years.
We would not commit ourselves at this stage as to how it is to be done, but it might possibly be done through some kind of holding company. Those of us on the L.C.C. holding these views would like the experiment of the Pleasure Gardens to be continued in the heart of London. The London County Council have a financial stake. At the beginning, I think, they thought they would not get their money back in its entirety, but they were prepared to lose something. This continuance of the Gardens offers an opportunity of getting the money back, and, to that extent, of protecting the ratepayers.
We believe that these Gardens succeeded not only because they were part of the South Bank Exhibition, but because they were themselves attractive. Many hon. Members have heard people say, "We liked the South Bank but, after all, the Pleasure Gardens were the real thing about the Festival Exhibition." I know the case was put the other way round, too. I have heard a lot of people say they had no use for the Festival Gardens. On the whole, however, the great majority of people approved the Festival 1029 Gardens even more than the South Bank Exhibition.
I do hope that we shall agree to give this Bill a Second Reading tonight. The Minister referred to Clause 1 (2), under which the Company are authorised to continue to hold the area in Battersea Park subject to terms and conditions to be agreed between the Company and the Council, but the Bill does not provide for what should happen were agreement not to be reached. I rather gathered from what the Minister said that what he said was intended to cover this point, and we hope that he will give a further assurance that he will use his good offices to secure, by consultation with the Company and the Council, that agreement will be reached. If agreement is not reached, it would appear that the Company will, nevertheless, have the right to continue operating in Battersea Park. I should be glad to have the Minister's assurance on this matter.
§ Mr. Eccles
I will give that assurance, but the hon. Lady will appreciate that it is impossible really to give either the L.C.C. or the Government a complete veto. We both have the common interest. I am confident, therefore, that the occupation agreement between the Company and the Council can be successfully worked out. This is one of those occasions on which one simply must not contemplate disagreement, but go into the business determined to reach agreement.
§ Mrs. Corbet
I agree. I think the Minister is completely right, but it is just as well to have on record that that is what he thinks, and I am satisfied with that assurance. We shall be glad to give our blessing to this Bill, and we shall use our best endeavours to see it succeeds and that both the Government and ourselves recoup ourselves as far as is humanly possible.
§ 11.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Brooke (Hampstead)
It is absolutely beyond dispute that the Festival Gardens this year have given a great deal of pleasure to millions of people. But what seems to me deplorable is that so many, when they speak about a fact like that, are ready to push out of their minds the cost of it all. Up to now in this debate there seems to have been from the other side of the House the sug- 1030 gestion that all that can be covered up by saying, as, for instance, the right hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) said, "It is in keeping with the Festival that one should make mistakes."
That may be the epitaph to put on the tomb of the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), but the day of reckoning came on 25th October for many who thought that the Festival spirit would save them from all the mistakes that had been made. In this matter I can thoroughly agree with the Minister. I have thought it over carefully, and I believe that it would be wrong to wind up the Festival Gardens now.
§ Mr. Brooke
The hon. Lady the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet) will confirm that in the London County Council, in July, an amendment I moved specifically stated that it was thoroughly desirable for financial considerations that the keeping open of the Gardens for a longer period should be examined. As the result of the figures that the Minister has given this evening and such other information as I have been able to gather, the financial case for keeping them open has been proved up to the hilt.
This scheme, which has attracted eight million visitors and which has given an enormous amount of pleasure, has cost the net sum of over £1 million of public money, and there is a duty on all of us, wherever we sit and whatever our political predilections, to see how much of that money we can recover. While appreciating what my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse) said about the manpower that may be involved, I do not see how any Government could close their eyes to the hope of a substantial recovery, a recovery which, over a period of years, is likely to amount to something between £200,000 and £600,000.
What I regret is that people like the right hon. Member for Ipswich simply say that London likes this, and seem to imagine that that settles it. London has liked it in Festival year, but up to the present we have no substantial evidence 1031 of how long London will go on liking it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South, will recollect that in early consultations that took place about this plan, when I was brought into some of them, one of the considerations which we all had in mind was that anything in the nature of a fun fair was apt to degenerate over a period of years if it does not continue to tickle the public's fancy. I do not know whether this can be processed up enough to draw new people and new interest, but there is a danger that it might run down. Certainly, if we have a wet summer, it would destroy a great deal of the public enthusiasm which this year it has undoubtedly created.
On those grounds I myself would have arranged to prolong the opening for one year at a time, if that had been possible. Nevertheless, I quite realise, after studying some of these figures, that that would be an uneconomic proposition. The work that was done there was planned on the basis of one year's occupation, and a great deal of money will have to be spent if the Gardens are to be reopened in 1952. Much the same amount of money would suffice whether it is for one year or two. Therefore, on those grounds there is clearly a substantial case for making it two years or nothing.
I am very glad indeed that the Bill contains a provision for there to be a break after two years if it is found that expectations are not being fulfilled. For myself, I should have preferred to include optional breaks after three or four years. It seems a pity to make it two years or five years, and nothing in between. I am not seeking to make any party point, but it is quite a possibility that the right period for this experiment is a total of four years, and not a total of three or six years. Nevertheless, we can face that when we get to it. These next two years should give to all of us the opportunity to study whether something of this kind is desirable as a permanency in London, in Battersea Park or somewhere else.
The hon. Lady was speaking about the London County Council's interest in the case for riverside gardens as a permanent attraction in London. From the beginning I have thought that it was well worth investigation. Whether this experiment 1032 is on the right lines or not I do not think one can tell from a single year's opening, and that in a festival year; and I feel sure she would agree that Battersea Park is not yet proved to be the right place for something of that kind.
I think it was the Minister himself who said that London is just as good a place for a fun fair as anywhere else. I accept that, but some of us are not yet certain that Battersea Park is the right part of London that should be dedicated to this purpose. Nevertheless, we do not make enough of our river in London generally, and it may well be that from this experiment in Battersea Park we can all learn lessons of permanent value to the amenities of London.
Neither the Minister, nor the hon. Lady, who said she was speaking for the London County Council, made any reference to one of the provisos included in the London County Council resolution of 31st July, when the Council asked that in the course of detailed examination the possibility should be explored of providing in the Royal Parks the games facilities which would otherwise be provided in the Festival Gardens area. This is a very special London interest. At the present time, owing to the occupation of part of Battersea Park by the Festival Gardens there are 10 fewer cricket pitches available to schoolchildren and others in Battersea Park than before the war.
Those of us who go round giving away prizes at London schools are made aware constantly of the serious lack of cricket facilities for the children in London. It seems a most absurd thing that in the neighbourhood of Lords and the Oval literally thousands of children do not get a chance of any organized cricket on a proper pitch all through the year. We of the London County Council—and the hon. Lady will grant me this—made the suggestion in the first instance from our side.
§ Mrs. Corbet
The hon. Gentleman will tell the House that he wanted to make it a condition of the Council's consent to the Festival Gardens going on in Battersea, and that the majority party were not prepared to go to that length.
§ Mr. Brooke
I certainly think that this House should place the duty on the Minister to bestir himself more than his Ministry has done up to now to see where 1033 space can be found in the Royal Parks for making good to the children of London something that they are losing through the Festival Gardens. In the whole of Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park there are only four cricket pitches.
§ Mr. Brooke
If the Ministry of Works says that this is to continue for a period of years in Battersea Park, and that that is the right course for 37 acres of the park, should not the Ministry, at the same time, be ready to examine more vigorously whether it can help the London Education Authority by finding more playing space in the Royal Parks?
I trust the Parliamentary Secretary, in winding up, will assure us that that plea from the L.C.C. has not been merely set aside and that a further resolution, recently sent to the Ministry, will receive the most earnest consideration. I was glad of what I heard the Minister say on the subject of trying to avoid local annoyance to the people of Battersea and Chelsea. These coming months before the Gardens re-open next May, should afford opportunity for proper consultations with the Battersea Borough Council and the Chelsea Borough Council, not on the principle of re-opening—because this is a matter for the House to decide tonight—but on the detailed happenings which, during the six months of this year's opening, did cause a certain amount of annoyance, trouble, lack of sleep, and so forth, to a number of people in the locality.
I, from my local experience, can tell how this kind of thing occurs. I am the hon. Member for Hampstead and, believe me, although the Hampstead Heath fair on Bank Holidays gives an enormous amount of pleasure to thousands of Londoners, it is exceedingly annoying for many people in Hampstead who have to hear sirens blaring for hours on Easter Mondays.
§ Mr. Stokes
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting there are any complaints other than those I mentioned, namely, fireworks and police controlling the traffic?
§ Mr. Brooke
I have heard complaints about car parks, traffic jams, and the like, and all these matters are well worth investigation. The bodies with which they should be taken up are the Battersea Borough Council and the 1034 Chelsea Borough Council. The question of detail should be thrashed out with the elected representatives of Battersea and Chelsea.
I am grateful to the Minister for the assurance he gave to the hon. Lady, the Member for Peckham, on the point of using his good offices to try and clear up disagreements, because that might otherwise lead to an unfortunate deadlock. Let none of us, at this stage, get preconceived ideas about what will eventuate two or three years hence. Let us take this two-year period as experimental and learn all we can from it in all directions. What we want to discover is how we can enhance the amenities of London for the benefit of everybody.
§ Mr. I. L. Orr-Ewing
This is very important. My hon. Friend is stressing the fact that he wishes the House to vote a Bill to enhance the amenities of London, and London only. This is not the L.C.C. Will he explain?
§ Mr. Brooke
I am within the recollection of the House when I spoke of enhancing the amenities of London for the benefit of everybody. This is a Bill which pin-points a particular locality, but I am not proposing to put a ring fence around Battersea Park and a veto on the inhabitants of Weston-super-Mare from visiting it.
Frankly, I do not think the expenditure of public money already incurred on the Festival Gardens could possibly have been justified if it was thought that Londoners alone would come to the place. At present, we are trying to recover public money—from everybody, not only from Londoners. Londoners only cannot support a venture of this scale. What we must do is to seek to recover the money and it is primarily on the financial ground that I am ready to further this Bill.
§ 11.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Shackleton (Preston, South)
I would hesitate, were I not emboldened by the departure of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), to intervene in this debate between representatives of the London County Council. I support the point made by the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke), that it is entirely fitting for the House to discuss amenities in London on behalf of the 1035 people of this country and the world. We were encouraged by the new spirit of gaiety in the speech of the Minister. We are all glad the Conservative Party has been converted to this attitude and we shall hope for a brighter life for this House and, indeed, for this country if they continue it.
Hon. Members took to task my right hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) for indulging in what might be called a piece of hyperbole. He accused the former Opposition of voting against the Festival Gardens Bill and the Festival Gardens as a whole. It is, of course, quite true that they did not; but quite a number of them showed repeatedly by their attitude their dislike for it. If my right hon. Friend was misled by the contradiction in the performance and attitude of hon. Members opposite, it is not surprising in view of the way in which they voted as opposed to the way they spoke.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
On the point of what the Tories actually did, there was the introduction into this House, on 25th June, of a Bill to raise a further £1 million to make the Gardens possible. The whole debate was upon the question of the Gardens and the making of them possible by expending this further money. When that was put to the vote the actual results were: on the Labour side of the House, 255 votes; on the Tory side, 228. Among those who voted was the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill tonight and I observe that the hon. Gentleman who has been doing most of the interrupting did not vote at all.
§ Mr. Shackleton
I appreciate the short interlude from my hon. Friend and I realised that London would have to come back into the debate very soon. He is, of course, entirely right and we now have the position clear.
The Minister of Works did make a number of remarks—some of a partisan nature. I do not propose to take them up, but he knows perfectly well this undertaking could never have been sponsored by private enterprise and that remark was merely made as part of a partisan attitude. I think we should allow him to make these little points because we are immensely gratified by the conversion of the Conservative Party to this new spirit of "Merrie England" and we are glad 1036 that he should have taken this step. He has suggested that in the interests of private enterprise he will see there is fair competition. Now, if he is really going to do that, may I ask him to remove the most severe disability imposed upon the Festival Gardens, namely, the closing of the Festival Gardens fun fair on Sunday?
One of the most surprising things about the previous debate was that the Conservative Party—that well-known representative of Sabbatarianism in this country—voted 250 to 12 against the opening of the fun fair on Sunday. At that time we were repeatedly told, particularly by representatives of seaside resorts, where they had fun fairs open on Sundays, and which, therefore, would have suffered from London's competition, that we should not consider mere financial factors in arriving at our decision and that, in effect, they would not hold the former Government responsible for the loss that might be sustained. They had shown just how inadequate that inference and promise was.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
The hon. Member is taking a very narrow view. Is he not aware that the whole of the west and the south-west of the country was practically unanimous against the opening of the Gardens on Sunday? If this is a national and not a London concern, it is right to consider that view.
§ Mr. Shackleton
I do not understand that. Does the hon. Gentleman mean that there was a Gallup poll of the west and south-west of England?
§ Mr. Shackleton
No doubt the hon. Gentleman has a most accurate opinion of what the west and south-west of England really thought. If the opinion of the country had been consulted there would have been an overwhelming vote among Londoners and also the people of Lancashire.
§ Mr. Shackleton
I had probably better not talk too much for Lancashire, which has had its fair say on the Japanese Peace Treaty.
If there is to be talk about fair competition it must be borne in mind that there 1037 is not fair competition—that there are fun fairs throughout the country open on Sunday where a charge is made for admission. There are grave anomalies that it is the duty of the House to face by establishing the rule of law both for public and for private enterprise. That surely is the new spirit that the Conservative Party have discovered now that the responsibility is on their shoulders.
I welcome the Government's decision and I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary, who had more sympathy and intelligence than his colleagues on the subject of the Festival Gardens, is to wind up the debate. I hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 11.49 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Carson (Isle of Thanet)
I should like to endorse the last point made by the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton). I was one of the 12 Conservatives who voted for Sunday opening. I have an amusement park in my area that does open on Sunday, and it seems to me that if we condemn one we must condemn the other and that if we approve one we must approve the other. I can see no valid reason why the Festival Gardens should not be allowed to open on Sunday.
I may be wrong, but I have a feeling that I am in rather a special position tonight, inasmuch as I am going to be the only one of my hon. Friends on this side of the House who represents a coastal or seaside resort to give unstinted praise to this Bill. I have caught your eye, Sir, sooner than I expected, but I feel that there may be some opposition.
If there is to be opposition, fair though though it may be, I hope that we shall not have a glorified post mortem. I like playing bridge and post mortems are fascinating, but they do not really serve a useful purpose. Let us not go back and harp about the past. This Bill is not helped by the rather faint praise by which it is damned by some of my hon. Friends, or the outright condemnation I think it may get from other of my hon. Friends.
We in coastal resorts or elsewhere, whether we sit on this side of the House or on the other, have to face two basic facts, which were referred to by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes). London has a fun fair, and London likes it. There is no doubt about that. Whether 1038 it is used by the rest of the country or not, which my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. I. L. Orr-Ewing) seems intent on establishing, does not, I think, enter into the argument. I am quite certain that London will continue to have its funfair. I think that for the time being it is merely academic to argue whether it is to be run by public enterprise or privately. The thing to do now is to see that it is run. Since we want to get back money which we have not yet regained, it seems sensible to continue to run it under public enterprise.
I shall come in a moment to the objections of the seaside resorts, but, apart from them, I think that it ought to go on, because we need light and colour in our capital city. I disagree with the Minister of Works. I think that we need frivolity as well. I do not see that there is any objection to making a fool of oneself in a fun fair. I took my five years old daughter to it, and probably made a fool of myself. I ate fish and chips out of a paper bag and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and spent more than I could afford. But why should not one be stupid and enjoy oneself sometimes? Even Members of Parliament should not have to be pompous all the time. If they are I do not think they will be good Members.
Now let me turn to the particular bogey which I know that some of my hon. Friends representing seaside resorts sincerely fear. They feel that if the fun fair continues it is not going to be helpful to seaside trade, in the summer season. This fear seems to be felt more strongly among resorts having pleasure gardens or amusement parks of their own. I have, in my area, what I think is one of the best amusement parks in the country—Dreamland. There is another in Ramsgate, called Merrie England. Possibly we all think that those in our own area is best. I certainly have a scenic railway which is I think acknowledged to be the best, and which is certainly better than the railway at the Festival Gardens last year. It makes me feel sicker when I go on it.
I do not believe that if the Gardens are opened next year it is going to make the slightest difference to the trade of the seaside resorts. I would ask my hon. Friends to consider the matter in the cold, hard logic of daylight, and to put aside 1039 for a moment the big bogey of which they seem to be so frightened. The average person is not going to say, "We will not have a holiday by the sea, but will go to the Festival Pleasure Gardens once or twice instead." It is said that receipts were down at the resorts last year. But last year we had an extremely wet summer, the Festival of Britain was in full swing, and we shall not, as seaside resorts, next year be competing with the Festival itself. We shall merely be competing with a fun fair in the capital city.
If we cannot meet that with amenities and amusements which will bring people to our resorts, we are not going to be much help in giving holidays to our people. I believe that we can provide that service and that there is nothing to be frightened of. I hope that the Gardens will remain open and that they are a success. I think they will be. Given a reasonable summer I think the Minister's estimate of attendances was conservative. I hope that we shall not do too much harking back, but will give a unanimous Second Reading to the Bill.
§ 11.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
Perhaps, as the hon. Member in whose constituency these Festival Gardens happen to be actually situated, I may, at long last, be able to say a word or two on the subject. I did not feel able to do so when sitting on the opposite side of the House, although I listened to hon. Members from Scotland and other remote parts of the country telling us how we in London should or should not enjoy ourselves.
It has always seemed absurd to me that this should become a party question, even though there was a close vote in the House on 25th June. I was one of those who three years ago had a lot of doubt about this enterprise starting up in Battersea Park. I had these doubts as one who has always been a great lover of the London parks, and a believer in the principle that once the public had gained access to a park in London, none of that park ought ever to be alienated from them. I thought there was a particular danger, which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will bear in mind, that the section of the park set apart for the Gardens might, if 1040 we are not careful, become permanently alienated in the winter-time. That is one of the chief problems.
I did, therefore, take part, with various other representatives from Battersea, in persuading the then Lord President of the Council to try this plan for one experimental year, rather than to go forward for a long period, so that we could see how the people of London, and the people of Battersea especially, actually liked it. I was entirely converted, and changed my mind as a result of the experience of this summer.
I was surprised to find how the people of Battersea and South London, by a very large majority, took the Festival Gardens to their hearts. In Battersea, from all the signs available, there is no doubt that by the middle of the summer a huge majority were in favour of continuing. One rather expects to get letters from people who have complaints, but of all the letters on this subject which reached me, the majority were enthusiastic for going on with the Gardens. If it were not so late, I should like to quote from a few of them.
I agree with the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Brooke) that it is not just a matter for enjoyment. There is also the good reason of finance. We have spent a lot of public money and we want to get it back. Fortunately, in this case, both reasons coincide. I would join with the Minister in paying a tribute to the Chairman and Managing Director of Festival Gardens, particularly to Major Joseph, for the prompt efforts they made to deal with complaints which actually came from people in the area.
There were three main complaints which came to me. The first was about the fireworks and the noise made. That was promptly put right be reducing the frequency of the fireworks and making the time for them a little earlier in the evening. The second was about the noise made by cars starting up when people went home, which, on inquiry, proved to be very exaggerated.
The third was about the parking of buses when the so-called "Borough Nights," with the beauty queens and so forth, were organised in the autumn, and the whole thing was put right within about 48 hours of the complaint coming forward from those living immediately around the park. I think the management deserve 1041 credit for that, and it does show that if other complaints are made in the future it should not be difficult to meet them.
I wholly agree with my right hon. Friend and the Minister in giving approval to this Bill, but I would say that we ought to be a little cautious in making optimistic estimates about the future financial prospects. As the Minister said, it is anybody's guess, but we do not know how it will work out when there is not the rest of the Festival to assist us.
Undoubtedly, the decision of the House not to open the fun fair itself on Sundays will make the situation more difficult. I regret that myself. My own view is that if one does no harm to anybody else, one should be allowed to enjoy oneself as one pleases. I will not repeat here some of the expressions I have heard Battersea people use about the persons from more remote parts of the country who came here and laid down the law—literally laid it down—as to how we should enjoy ourselves on Sunday. Though I will not now echo those un-Parliamentary expressions of opinion, I do, nevertheless, echo the sentiments contained in them.
I would ask the Minister one further question. It is important, if we are to go on with the Gardens, that the riverside walk, in particular—which, I believe, is very much valued by Chelsea as well as Battersea—should be open in the winter months. The Gardens will be closed now for six months of the year, and we do not want the whole of the park to be completely shut up and closed to the public during these six months. I believe arrangements are being made to open the riverside walk; but I should be very gratified to hear if the Minister could tell us that in a few weeks from now it will be made possible for the public at least to walk along the river front. If he can do that, he will have my entire blessing and approval and that of most of the people of Battersea for his Bill.
§ 12.2 a.m.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)
It is one thing to agree to a concrete proposal like holding the Festival for one year only: it is quite another to go on with it for five years. I believe there are millions of people in the country who do not like it and tolerated it for one year because they felt there might be something in it so far as overseas 1042 people were concerned. Therefore, I think if there has not been a breach of faith, at least there has been a going back on an assurance. So many Government spokesmen said that the Gardens would be in existence for one year only.
The point is being made of getting back this £1 million. But how? By persuading people to spend their money in these amusement enterprises. If they did not spend it here they would spend it at Southend, Brighton, Eastbourne, Lonsdale, Morecambe and Grange and all the other seaside resorts throughout the country. People living in Birmingham who take their families away each year, normally take them to a seaside resort. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am sure that hon. Members would if they lived in Birmingham. One year they would say, "Let's go and see this thing they talk about so much in the House of Commons, which the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), plugged so hard on the wireless"—and so, they do not go to Morecambe that year.
§ Mr. Stokes
Is the hon. and gallant Member not aware that the Tourist Association have declared that the Festival Pleasure Gardens made practically no difference to the seaside resorts?
§ Sir I. Fraser
They have said that, but they did not speak for Morecambe and Lonsdale—and I can tell them that they are wrong.
This Bill will take the bread out of the mouths of hotels and boarding-house keepers, amusement caterers, shopkeepers and all those who work for them—the ordinary man-in-the-street—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—in Morecambe and all the beautiful towns of the Lake District. This is a London affair, mainly for Londoners. If, therefore, the Government intend to go on with it, let them give us this assurance, that if there is any profit the taxpayers will be paid back, and that if there is any loss it will be paid for by London.
What the Government are going to do is to try to make £1 million by taking the bread out of the mouths of those who have capital, municipally or privately, in all these enterprises all round the country. They want to make a profit by reducing the profits in all those other places. On the profits in those other places Income 1043 Tax will be paid. Moreover, every hotel keeper and boarding-house keeper pays Purchase Tax on the tools of his trade—on towels, sheets, and so on. The Government are taking money away from people who pay their taxes in order to put money into this particular competitive, Government-supported amusement enterprise. I say that that is unfair. If London wants it, London ought to pay for it.
§ 12.6 a.m.
§ Mr. W. Nally (Bilston)
One knows sufficient about the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) not to take too seriously any of his fears about Morecambe. It is preposterous that in a debate of this kind we should have mention of Purchase Tax paid by the boarding-house keepers in Morecambe on their towels.
The real truth of the matter is that over the last few years, including the last year of the war, the boarding-house keepers of Morecambe have done very well. I have stayed in Morecambe as a junior reporter; I have stayed there as a senior reporter; and I have stayed there as a feature writer. Morecambe has done very well, and there has never been so much money made in Morecambe as there has been made there in the last four and a half years, even allowing for the imagination in their Income Tax returns, by the boarding-house keepers and restaurant proprietors and the rest who are the hon. Gentleman's constituents.
What we are discussing tonight is the Festival Gardens. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Those two hon. Gentlemen opposite, the Members for Morecambe and Lonsdale, and Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Teeling), who are particularly affected by that "Hear, hear," will, before I finish with their respective seaside resorts, be saying exactly the same thing. Opposition to the continuance of the amusement park is based first of all upon the views of the seaside resorts. Let us take the resorts of the two hon. Members for Morecambe and Lonsdale and Blackpool, South (Mr. R. Robinson) who are so loud in their "Hear, hear."
As to every argument that has been used about the difficulties of those living in the neighbourhood of an amusement park, I would undertake to take the two 1044 hon. Gentlemen who have been so eloquent with their cheers in the last 90 seconds round their constituencies and show them the nuisance caused by barkers, by loud speakers, by street hawkers, by auctions at the roadside. I would undertake to take them round their constituencies and demonstrate to them there how racketeers are given a free hand that was not permitted within half a mile of the Battersea amusement park.
§ Mr. William Teeling (Brighton, Pavilion)
Can the hon. Gentleman name one place where there are loud speakers in my division?
§ Mr. Nally
The hon. Gentleman must not give me that. I know the Labour Parliamentary agent in Brighton.
Does the hon. Gentleman not know of the gentlemen who, at Brighton railway station, sell all sorts of things to the passengers going to and from the trains, including rock off the ration? They use megaphones to advertise the wares they are selling. I repeat what I said: I will undertake to take both hon. Gentlemen round their constituencies, and show them that more noise is made there on Friday and Saturday nights than ever was made at the amusement park.
We have another factor to take into consideration. The seaside resorts have a fair and legitimate case to put up against the Measure which we are now considering, but it is a case that must be based on merit. Even Blackpool has realised this, because that seaside resort is at loggerheads about the charges for next season with a private trade association concerned with apartments and hotels. Blackpool has decided to charge lower prices than those put forward by the association. It is now deciding whether or not it will remain in the association, and the association is deciding whether or not to expel Blackpool.
§ Mr. Teeling
On a point of order. What has this to do with the Measure under discussion, Mr. Deputy-Speaker?
§ Mr. Nally
I was showing that this shoddy opposition to the amusement park is based upon a supreme factor. I can well remember the rather subdued objections which used to come from hon. Members opposite, particularly in 1945, 1946 and 1947, when I asked some rude questions about pin-table saloon proprietors and cheap jacks, who operated at our seaside resorts, working on Service men's gratuities.
The truth of the matter is that the amusement park in London, with all the difficulties that had to be faced as was admitted by the Minister of Works, is a dignified attempt to build up something which London needs, not alone for London but for others who come to London from elsewhere. One becomes rather bored with the suggestion that London deserves special consideration over such places as Bilston, which I represent, or Manchester, where I live. Londoners, who do not like being in London, should remember that it is still our capital city, and that it has a duty to perform for the rest of the country.
To suggest that it is a shocking thing to have an amusement park in London is as ridiculous as saying that we ought not to maintain the Tower of London. [An HON. MEMBER: "And the Tower of Blackpool."] I wish that as much money had been spent on the Tower of London as has been spent in times past on the Tower of Blackpool. It is a pity that so-called private enterprise, which has spent so much money since 1945 in Blackpool, has not spent as much in keeping in good repair the treasured relics of London.
This is a good and sensible Bill, but I hope we shall go further. The Thames was described by an hon. Gentleman opposite as the greatest river in the country. It is even greater than the Irwell, which has the distinction of flooding every three or four years, which makes it awkward for Manchester. The Thames is the river around which much of the life of the country revolves, yet why is it that of all the rivers of Europe flowing through capital cities it is a neglected and forgotten river in terms of music and gaiety?
§ Mr. Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Southend is at the mouth of the Thames?
Mr. Deputy - Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
Order! I think that the hon. Gentleman is a little ill-informed on this Bill.
§ Mr. Nally
My only point is that within 200 yards of our getting off the steamer at Southend I could show the hon. Gentleman more pin-table saloons of the worst type, and more bookmakers' touts than anywhere else.
It is no good the Government's supporters pretending that they welcomed the Festival. It is true that there were many mistakes, and that money was lost which ought not to have been lost, but that invariably occurred where private enterprise was fulfilling a contract for those responsible for the Pleasure Gardens. Things are better now, and I hope that the Gardens will continue, and that they will become part of the making of this great City of London. I hope that our constituents will find the Gardens, in years to come, a place where they can enjoy a drink of beer in happy circumstances, overlooking a great river.
The difference in attitude to this Bill is symbolic of the difference between the two parties. It was a Tory Member, now in the House of Lords, who wrote an article entitled "Strength through Misery," in which he decided that we were all a lot of miserable teetotallers, friendless, and liking no one. All I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to answer, when he replies, is this simple question. Where have the cheers come from tonight? Who was his Minister cheered by when he talked about decent and friendly arrangements for a place of jollity and gaiety in London?
§ Mr. Nally
I want to be able to get teetotallers' drinks in decency. I want places where one can take children in decency. Let the Minister make it perfectly plain that we, on this side of 1047 the House, are not the misery people. The position he is facing on his own back benches is that based upon the amusement park caterers, who include the pin-table saloon proprietors. It is based upon the boarding-house keepers in Blackpool and Brighton, who want to charge through the nose and are frightened of any opposition.
We give the Minister, not our unreserved, but our wholehearted support. Will he make it plain to the benches behind him, that when it comes to the decent, honest, legitimate amusements of the British people no interests from Brighton or the rest of these places will stand in the way of accomplishing this object?
§ 12.24 a.m.
§ Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing (Weston-superMare)
I was interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Nally). I should have been even more interested had he devoted the major part of his remarks to the Bill. I gathered he would only support this Bill if anybody who went to the Festival Gardens was a teetotaller. I would refer him, in that matter, to the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), who could possibly put him right.
I think that the hon. Member missed out one important point. This Bill is not as it has been presented or as it has been received by the Front Bench of the Opposition. This is not a Bill in connection with the Festival of Britain any longer. We have to recognise that. This activity has nothing whatsoever to do with the Festival of Britain in the future. Therefore, we have to look at the Bill as one to support the continuance of a particular form of amusement, in a particular place, for the particular purpose for which it was first designed.
It was first designed with a limited amount of money to make a limited amount of recovery or profit. Owing to mal-administration and the unfortunate circumstances of the estimates made by the Marquis of Festival, now sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, these estimates were not correct. Therefore, this enterprise was involved in a very considerable loss, a loss far above that which was estimated when the original project was presented to the House.
1048 The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), who was at that time responsible for presenting these matters to the House, had to come before us and apologise very honestly and very openly and say he was sorry that the original estimates were completely and absolutely wrong. I want the House to consider what the position would be if the original estimates had been right and if additional expenditure to a very consider able extent had not been called for. We can see quite well that the extension called for in this Bill would not have been nearly as necessary as it is. This Bill is caused because the original estimates were wrong as to what it would cost and what the recovery might be.
§ Mr. Stokes
Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that the only reason why the House wants to go on with the Festival Gardens is to get the money back? That is not the view of this side of the House.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I think the right hon. Gentleman should do me the justice of listening to what I am saying. I said that the evidence of maladministration and bad estimating certainly entered into the case for the presentation of this Bill, because the case would not be so strong if the losses had not been so great as a result of bad estimating in the first case. The right hon. Gentleman must admit that that is sound. The case for having to continue with these Gardens and the amusement park is far stronger because in the first instance the estimate was wrongly made and the percentage of recovery on the final figure is far smaller than it would have been.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
Do I take it that it is the view of the hon. Gentleman that, supposing at the end of this summer the accounts should be absolutely clear, the Government would not have had to come forward with this Bill?
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
Certainly; that is my view. If these Gardens had broken even at the end of this season I do not believe the Government would have had any justification whatsoever for coming forward with this Bill.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I do not know what the Government's view would have been. As a back bencher of the Conservative Party I could not for one moment have supported a Bill continuing activities of this nature if, in fact, the enterprise as a whole had broken even. The only excuse I can find for the continuance of these activities is that I see some hope of recovering for the taxpayer the monies which have been lost very largely owing to the bad estimating and maladministration which was, in the first place, due to carelessness on the part of those who were then members of His Majesty's Government.
There are a great many things we do not like to have to do on this side of the House⁁
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
—but most of these unpleasant things consist of trying to put right the mistakes perpetrated by those who now sit on the other side of the House. I do not want to arouse party feeling. This is a matter we have to consider quite objectively. But I am a little perturbed when I find one hon. Member after another getting up from different sides of the House saying that we must, of course, go on with this Bill, that it will amuse London, and that it is popular in London. We have heard the figures from my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
The hon. Gentleman may not be interested in London; I am not interested in what he is interested in. If the excuse is that London has to be amused, why should London not pay for it? Why should not the London ratepayers be asked to contribute in special form to provide their citizens with amusement?
Why should I in my rural area of Somerset, hard pressed as I am in providing houses for people who work on the land, be asked to contribute by way of taxation and indirectly by the subsidisation of losses on British Railways in running cheap trips to London? Are there to be the equivalent cheap trips to Morecambe, Somerset, Ilfracombe, Leeds, Hull, and other places where they have these fun fairs and pin-tables?
1050 Of course, if the Bill goes through the Gardens will have to be made a success. Let us be honest about it. I am not afraid that the seaside amusements remote from London will suffer. But we could not support the Bill were it not necessary to put right the mistakes made by those now in Opposition, who were responsible. First, the only reason is that we want to recover the loss incurred by them. Second, I resent having to extract money from the taxpayer to subsidise the amusement of Londoners. Third, if it is to be indirectly subsidised by advertising and the expenditure of British Railways, which will not be reciprocated in the other direction, I say that it is improper and wrong. But I am not going to oppose the Bill.
§ 12.34 a.m.
§ Mr. C. W. Gibson (Clapham)
Listening to the hon. Gentleman's speech, I began to wonder where I was. Of all the mean-spirited speeches about the proposal it was the worst I have heard—and I have listened to a number in the last two or three years. I welcome the Bill because I have always felt it right that the Gardens should be kept going. As one representing a constituency close to the park, and next to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), I think I have a right to claim to know the feelings of Londoners about the Gardens. I can also claim to have some knowledge of their feelings as a member of the London County Council.
I welcome the conversion of the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke) to the support of this Bill. I have heard him make speeches which, if not intended to be opposition to the Bill, got as near to opposition as one could approach in a speech.
§ Mr. Brooke
Will the hon. Member please cease trying to misrepresent what I said in the London County Council? I have never opposed the Festival Gardens. I have always said that if anything of that kind was run it ought not to be run at a loss to be borne by the public purse.
§ Mr. Gibson
The hon. Member was responsible, with friends of his on the London County Council, for moving an amendment to a motion which supported the principles which are outlined in this Bill. That amendment proposed that nothing should be done unless football 1051 and cricket pitches were provided in the Royal Parks, and that the continuation of the Gardens should be an experiment for one year. If that is not opposition I do not understand what the English language means.
This is a two-year experiment to find out whether continuation can be a success. I believe it can be. I do not believe it will be a success merely because Londoners go to the Gardens. According to the figures given by the Minister, nearly 2,000,000 people from outside London went there during the recent Exhibition. I am quite sure that the many provincial people who come to London every summer will be glad to have a place like this Battersea Park to go to. I think it will attract them, especially if we continue the river boat services and take them to the park by river.
The proposal to continue the Pleasure Gardens for two years as an experiment is a good one, but I feel confident that at the end of that time we shall continue it for the longer period, not because there has been a continued loss on it, but because public opinion has made clear that it is what is wanted in London. This is a Garden the like of which can only be seen abroad. Here is a Garden containing features which abroad everyone praises. It provides enjoyment not only for Londoners but for provincial people, and for many from abroad. As the Minister has said, I believe it has encouraged a greater appreciation of beauty and colour. The more we can encourage real art and beauty in our public entertainments the better it will be not only for the entertainment industry, but for our people. I am, therefore, quite satisfied that, financially, this experiment is justified.
As I have said, my constituency is close to Battersea Park. Clapham Common separates it, and Clapham Common was one of the car parks which was a "flop." But I have not had a single letter of complaint about the noise in the fun fair or the noise of people leaving the Gardens at night. I have been to the Gardens myself on several occasions and taken others; not only to enjoy what was to be enjoyed there, but deliberately to test whether there was anything to which people could object.
1052 The only thing I found to object to was the noisy fireworks, and that was met by reducing the number of evenings on which they were discharged—I wish it could have been reduced still further—and by advancing the time of the display. Everyone around South London who might have been annoyed by the crowds and the crush thoroughly enjoyed the Gardens and want them to continue. The Battersea Borough Council have passed a resolution in favour of continuing the Gardens and the fun fair, even with the fireworks.
So far as one can judge public opinion, whether by the eight million people who paid to go in, or by the expressions of opinion through the local borough council, or the London County Council, this House would be doing the right thing in passing this Bill. I was glad to hear the Minister say he thought the flower beds ought to be improved. That means spending more money, but I am sure he is right. That was one of the features of the Gardens which, I thought, did not reach the standard attained by other attractions.
I would reinforce the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Battersea, North that the river walk should be kept open during the period when the Gardens are closed. As one who knows that walk very well indeed I am sure it would be quite wrong to deny the people of London the opportunity of using it during the period when, owing to the weather and the season, the park itself has to be closed. It could easily be set off from the rest of the buildings.
I believe that this Bill is justified, and I believe that the Festival Gardens will justify themselves in the future. I hope that the House will give a unanimous Second Reading to the Bill, and that we shall hear a little less of the rather mean-spirited suggestions and criticisms from people from other parts of the country who think they have expert knowledge about giving entertainment to their visitors.
§ 12.44 a.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Williams (Tonbridge)
I have little quarrel with what has been said by the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson), so I do not propose to follow his arguments. I wish to suggest to hon. Members opposite who have 1053 accused us on this side of the House of being extremely friendly to the Festival Gardens now, when some of us were in opposition to them before. I say this, that if we had to build the whole of this fun fair now, and supply all the timber and steel and cement and so on in the critical position in which we are today, every hon. Member would vote against it.
We were very nearly in as bad a position two years ago and that is why I opposed the Festival Gardens at that time. If we had not built it there would be more houses now and the timber, steel and manpower that went into the building of that fun fair would have been available for other work. That is why I opposed it then, and I would oppose it again now if it were a matter of starting all over again.
But now we have it we have to forget all that and we have to try to make some money to repay the taxpayers. I agree that it keeps up our morale and that it is a good thing for us to have a bit of fun. The Minister said it is essentially a family affair, which is what we want to encourage. I must confess that the one time I took my family was the occasion when all the lights went out, and my family were not best pleased about it. Nevertheless, it is a joy which children and parents can share together.
I am not at all optimistic about what is going to happen. The Minister said that he estimated to make £365,000 next year. I think he divided last year's profit by half, but I hope that he has remembered that last year it was a novelty, Everyone had the so-called Festival spirit. There were large sums spent on advertisement and many people came to see the South Bank and went on to the Festival Gardens. He may argue on the other side of the balance sheet that the Festival Gardens have now built up some good will, that people will come back, that the carnival spirit has come to stay and that people are switchback-minded, but I think he must go very carefully in these estimates.
He estimated, I think, that repairs would cost only £100,000; but all these switchbacks and the other things that we have enjoyed ourselves were made for one year only. We cannot take risks with lives: they must be absolutely secure and safe. I hope that he is not going to put a little bit of paint on and patch them up and say, "I only spent 1054 £100,000 and everything will be all right." I hope if he is to put in estimates on paper he will be a little more conservative than he has appeared to be tonight.
The other thing I do not like about the Bill is that it must keep going till 1953. Why does my right hon. Friend not give himself the chance of stopping it in 1952 if a loss is made? I know that he is being forced to carry this project on and I know he does not want to run a fun fair. He would much rather do it by private enterprise. Why, then, cannot he sell the whole thing, lock, stock and barrel, to a private firm such as Butlins, or anyone who runs a similar show?
In that way my right hon. Friend would have a certain profit without any risk of losing money. It would be run by private enterprise and, more important than that, he would have the beastly thing off his mind. It is not right that a Minister of Works, with plenty of very important tasks for the next few years, should be worried by running a fun fair. I am sure that there are difficulties, but I hope that when a reply is made to this debate very good reasons will be given why private enterprise cannot undertake this form of amusement or else the Minister will say he will consider it.
I would say to those representing seaside resorts that there is no reason why a fun fair in London should do them any harm, any more than a football match in Leeds should spoil football attendances in Margate, as people become more football-minded and football is thus helped in the seaside towns. In the same way people may become more fun fair-minded and so hon. Members representing seaside resorts will see a fun fair in London will benefit them in the long run.
§ Mr. Eccles
On my hon. Friend's point about selling it to private enterprise, the first thing is that we have to have L.C.C. approval and the agreements are such that we could not do it without carrying them with us. The second point, is that you do not get very much money on a thing when there is so much debt and you have yet to prove that you can make a profit in ordinary circumstances. I suggest to my hon. Friend that if we are successful in normal seasons we may then do what he wants on very much better terms.
§ 12.50 a.m.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
The private conference that has just taken place between the Minister and some of his hon. Friends behind him does not dispose of the heartfelt expression of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Tonbridge (Mr. G. Williams), "If only the Minister would consider letting private enterprise rip in this matter he would get the beastly thing off his mind." There, we have a full confession of what the Tory Party think—
§ Mr. Hudson
"Beastly thing off his mind." Beastly thing off the Tory mind.
The Tories spent all the vituperation they could during the General Election in running this venture—this beastly thing—down, and they used the sort of arguments we have just listened to about how many houses could have been built with the materials used for this venture had it not been proceeded with. Does the hon. Gentleman think that if the fun fair is to be proceeded with—and he will not challenge the proposal on a Division tonight—there will not be expended upon it money which could otherwise be used for various constructive purposes?
For example, the beastly thing will have to be painted. There will be an expenditure of material upon it that could go to housing. A very considerable expenditure of material will be made upon it. There will actually be some capital expenditure upon it. It will be necessary, said the Minister, if only to keep up the general standard of decorations in the Gardens. This is a bit of a let-down—is it not?—after the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day about a circular sent to all Government Departments to consider most carefully how they could save on capital expenditure? But, of course, the Chancellor is away in Rome, and when the cat is away the mice will play, and we have the mice playing tonight with this idea of considerable capital expenditure in order to make this thing—this beastly thing—go in the effective way it will have to go if these millions that have been expended are to be made up.
The Tory Party have again tonight, as in almost every debate in this new Parliament, exposed their insincerity in the 1056 attacks they made upon this venture in the past. If the Minister is right in what he said about the wonderful good this beastly thing could do by keeping all the family together by providing enjoyment of the sort they all really like, if he is right in saying all this good can be done on weekdays, I cannot understand what harm would be done by letting the family have this enjoyment on Sundays, too.
Not all people go to church on Sundays; nor do they all go to chapel. There is only a small percentage of the population of London—I am sorry to say, but it is a fact—engaged in the observance of religious rites, but others are engaged a great deal more in finding relief from the tedious work of the week; and they are glad on Sundays to get a change in their lives.
The more prosperous people get out of London on a Sunday. The people with cars get away out of London. The golf courses around London are crowded with all sorts of people on Sundays, enjoying themselves at their game. Let the people enjoy themselves. I submit that after the admissions made by the Minister of Works tonight there was never any case for the restrictions, which have been placed on the innocent amusements in the Festival Gardens for the people of London.
The Festival Gardens have proved a tremendous success, and I believe that that will be the case in future years as well. It is only the Tories who have lost their capacity for apprising things properly. I make an honourable exception of the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Carson), who courageously faced up to the problem. The party opposite, however, have followed the policy of cribbing and confining the people of London in their search for legitimate and reasonable entertainment and change, especially at the week-ends.
The Festival Gardens have done very well for London. Last year they brought large crowds to the city. My wife and I live a very quiet life in this city, but we had more relatives last year than in any other year. They had to visit the Festival Gardens, and it was a great delight to all of them that there was such a place where they could enjoy themselves. I know what is true of our house is true of every family in London. The 1057 hotels and transport in London have done well as a result. Everybody was cheerful, including even the Tory Party, as a result of the fun that was created by these Gardens.
I am glad to know, too, that the crowds at the Gardens were well conducted. As a teetotaller I welcome that. When the design of the Gardens was being made, I warned my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) that if he let in the purveyors of drink they would ruin the Gardens. I know that he has been careful, and there have been hardly any complaints about drunkenness in the Gardens. I am very glad that the crowds at the Gardens have conducted themselves so admirably, and they have contributed to real temperance in this great metropolis. As a teetotaller I am very glad to say this, and to take the broad view about the future of the scheme.
I support the Bill. I am glad to be present to witness the lesson that the Minister of Works has taught the Tories so effectively about the necessity to go on with such a good scheme, which was first introduced by the Labour Government. I hope that next year the Gardens will have even greater success, as I am sure they will.
§ 12.58 a.m.
§ Mr. Roland Robinson (Blackpool, South)
Twice tonight the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) has sought to persuade the House that we on this side have always been against the conception of the Festival Gardens. That is entirely inaccurate, because we did not oppose the Bill for the Festival Gardens or the Festival of Britain. The vote last summer, to which reference was made by the hon. Member, came about in entirely different circumstances.
When the question first came before the House, we were told that the job could be done for £570,000. So lax was the supervision of the then Lord President of the Council that the bill came to £2,500,000, and we thought it right then to register a most emphatic protest at such reckless waste of public money. That is what the vote was about. It was not a condemnation of the whole idea of the Festival Gardens. We had every right to be critical. So much money was being wasted, and the estimate was exceeded many times over.
1058 I am sorry the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Nally) has left. He was most generous in his invitations to all of us. It was quite unnecessary for him to offer to take me around Blackpool, because I know the city far better than he will ever know it. I would certainly not make the mistake of showing him where the loudspeakers are, because we have powers to control noise, and we use them where a nuisance is committed. The only thing that he said that was right was his remark that the boarding-house keepers are to lower their prices next season. Good luck to them.
It is remarkable how many people, when talking about amusements, refer to Blackpool. The hon. Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet) was brought up in the same school of thought as the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison). Like him, she was wrong. She held Blackpool up as a fine example of municipal enterprise. But Blackpool, and its places of entertainment, were built by private enterprise, through the courage and enterprise of private citizens. Even when the Socialist Party go to Blackpool for their conference they use a fine big hall, built by private enterprise.
The difference there is that the city fathers have taken it as their job to create the conditions in which the people of the city can earn a fair living, and not to compete with them. That is why I feel a certain amount of anxiety about this Bill. The Minister was quite right when he said that the Conservative Party, if they were starting afresh, would not put money into amusement parks. That is a true and proper function of private enterprise. Therefore, I cannot feel very happy that we are carrying on.
To my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Carson), I would say that we are not worried about competition. The festival and the fun fair made no difference to us because our private enterprise fun fairs and pleasure beach were filled to overflowing, and we could provide a better show than any in Battersea Park. Nor do we find it necessary to charge admission for every person. What happens when the job is done by private enterprise? Something those on the other side of the House do not like. Men get their earnings, profits are made, from which substantial contributions to the local exchequer by way 1059 of rates, and to the national exchequer by way of taxation, are made. That is the proper way to do it. I am not really happy about the Government itself competing in this field, though many hon. Gentlemen opposite have said that they are happy about it.
I sympathise with the Minister of Works in having been stuck with this, and forced to make up his mind at short notice before he had an opportunity of rejecting the estimates and figures given to him. We have seen how bad and how wrong these figures were in the past. It is a tragedy that the Minister has been put in a position in which, in the course of a few days, he has had to accept whatever figures there were and say, "Yes," or, "No," right away. So the Minister is to chase money which, apparently, has been lost and is to compete with the citizens of the country rather than help them, as I believe a good Conservative should do.
I hope that now the Minister has made up his mind to do this he will succeed and will get the money back. I think that the cost of doing this, however, may be far greater than my right hon. Friend has been led to believe. I remember going around Battersea Park just before the show was opened, and there I saw that the majority of the buildings put up were temporary buildings, some of them being partially tented accommodation. They were built with the idea that the fun fair was to last for one year and one year only. I believe one will put a strain on the equipment there if one expects it to last and work for six years. It will need a tremendous amount of expenditure on its upkeep and renovations.
§ Mr. Carson
My hon. Friend is making a very pessimistic speech. Does he or does he not believe that the Pleasure Gardens are worth going on with? I do not understand whether he wants to go on with it, or to scrap it.
§ Mr. Robinson
I have not said that. I said that I regret that we are put in a position of having to chase money lost in the past through over-optimism and extravagance of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite.
This country would have been far better off today if the Lord President of the Council and some of his supporters had 1060 been pessimistic two years ago. I remember that two years ago it was said the Festival Gardens would attract many thousands of foreign visitors. It has not done that. It is abundantly clear that this fun fair is something to give happiness to the people, but it could have been done in other ways. As it is to be a London show, it is regrettable the major portion of that cost has to fall on the national Exchequer rather than on the L.C.C.
We do not like what is being done, but we shall give the Government full support. We hope they will get back this money, but I trust that on the Committee stage of the Bill the Minister will consider introducing an Amendment which will ensure that we shall break even at the end of each year, or wind up the Gardens when we have got back the money.
§ 1.9 a.m.
§ Sir Richard Acland (Gravesend)
I understand that the Labour Party, having gone to one of the health resorts on the Yorkshire coast last year, is contemplating next year going to one of the resorts on the Lancashire coast. If the matter is not finally settled, this evening's debate may provide the opportunity for making an early return visit to Margate and to going on the fun fair, which is one of the best under private enterprise.
The hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. R. Robinson), says the Conservative Party has never been against the Pleasure Gardens. Strictly speaking, I suppose that is true if one looks at the votes cast by the Tory Party. But I remember that at the time when the Gardens were under construction there was a steady barrage of sniping from their side of the House. The party opposite at that time won every vote that was to be won by criticising the Gardens.
We have again heard the criticism tonight, from an hon. Member who has now left, of what a large number of houses could have been built if we did not have these Pleasure Gardens and the Festival. Everybody on the waiting list for a house has been tempted to think that it is because of the Festival that they are still living in overcrowded conditions. Take the cost at £2 millions and translate it into houses at £1,500 per house. That works out at 1,300 houses, or two houses per constituency. In my constituency 1061 there are four local authorities building houses, so that there there would have been half a house per authority if this had not been done. It seems to me that the argument there is a little wrong.
I am delighted to welcome this Bill. When I was in Denmark in 1938 I saw the Tivoli Gardens, and ever since I have longed for there to be something comparable in this country. As soon as I saw the proposal for these pleasure gardens on paper it seemed to me that my hopes were going to be fulfilled, and they have been more than fulfilled. I think it is wise in this Bill to provide for a maximum continuance of five years, but I cannot conceal my hope—a very strong hope—that at the end of that time there will be another Bill to make this permanent.
After all, the Danes, who, I suppose, are in many ways more like us than any other people in the world, like to have their Tivoli Gardens permanently, and I do not see why we should not have the Battersea Park Pleasure Gardens permanently. There is no reason why this could not be made a profitable and permanent enterprise because if the most pessimistic figures which the right hon. Gentleman has given to us of a profit of £365,000 per year is maintained, and even if we assume that every such garden will always be as extravagantly established as this one, this garden is earning 18 per cent. of the capital cost, and that is pretty good.
Therefore, I see no reason why there should not be another pleasure garden in Victoria Park in the East End. I see no reason why there should not be another park in the great conurbation which surrounds Birmingham.
§ Sir R. Acland
I was making a point vis à vis those hon. Members who have complained that London is getting all the advantage out of these Pleasure Gardens upon which the whole country is spending its money, by saying that I hoped London was only establishing something which other parts of the country may have in the future. If it should happen that one of the other great conurbations should come forward with a similar project, I hope that this House will let it be known that national money 1062 can be risked to establish gardens like this in other places, as it has been risked in London.
I was delighted to hear the Minister mention the flowers, because I agree with him that an improvement could be made. To get good flower beds, it would be a good thing to go to the people who have already made a great success of laying out public flower beds. I do not know whether he will agree with me. Of all the public places I have seen, one must give 100 per cent. marks for layout of flower beds—it is a rather similar garden, though on a smaller scale—to the Bristol Zoo. I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman knows it, and I hope that between now and next summer he will find out who is responsible for those flower beds and ask him to come up and give advice.
§ 1.15 a.m.
§ Mr. Stephen McAdden (Southend. East)
I hope that my right hon. Friend will take notice of the tip that has been given to him. The head gardener to the L.C.C. came from the county borough of Southend and is an even better authority on the laying out of gardens; I hope he will take his advice as well.
I hope that it will not be thought impertinent to deal with the financial aspect of this situation, which so far has been very lightly skated over. I am amazed that men who have had considerable experience in running businesses should be prepared to enter enthusiastically into the idea of extending the life of these Gardens for five years on the scanty information provided.
The right hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) will possibly remember that some months ago I asked if it were possible for monthly figures to be given, showing income and expenditure for the Pleasure Gardens. He said that it would be quite impossible, but that the full accounts of the Company would be published at the end of the season. Not a single member of this House has had the opportunity of studying the published and audited accounts of the Company, because, so far as I know, they have not been published and it is doubtful whether they have been audited. But Members on both sides have been prepared to support wholeheartedly our going on with the venture. That is rather remarkable.
1063 We have, it is true, been told that there is an operating profit of £805,000, but I wonder whether hon. Gentlemen on either side have bothered to work out exactly how this was arrived at. It is true that we have had just over 8 million visitors in Festival Year, but they have been charged 2s. a head to go in. So that the profit made is almost exactly equal to the exorbitant admission charged, as compared with any other amusement park in the country; and it is doubtful whether it is possible to sustain that figure in succeeding years.
This is a relevant factor, because I am sure the Minister does not really believe that there is going to be anything like the same number attending next year and the year after. Indeed, it was suggested that there would not be more than half the number. That means the admission charges will be halved and that the money taken on the various amusements will be considerably reduced. It seems exceedingly optimistic to assume that the venture is going to show the same financial advantage in coming years.
§ Mr. Eccles
I think the hon. Gentleman has really got it wrong. If the attendances are halved, then over two years—and the hon. Baronet was also mistaken—the profit would be £365,000, that is more than £180,000 a year.
§ Mr. McAdden
I do not accuse the Minister of misleading the House, but some hon. Members on the other side have been optimistic. Because we are said to have made £180,000 a year, without figures to prove it, they imply that we are likely to make a corresponding profit in subsequent years even though the attendance is reduced. I am entitled to ask the Parliamentary Secretary what provision has been made—and the figures on which the operating profit has been based—for the advertising that went on during Festival Year. Has Festival Gardens, Limited, been debited with the whole of the advertising for the Gardens; has consideration been given to the considerable benefit derived from free publicity on Press and radio?
The question of publicity by Press and radio is something which ought to be considered, because although one might expect to receive it on a lavish scale during the Festival Year, one could not expect 1064 it to continue during succeeding years. On the financial side, there is the question of whether in fact Festival Gardens, Limited, is going to be treated differently from other commercial undertakings. We have had the assurance from the Minister that there is going to be a fair balance between them. But can we be told whether Festival Gardens, Limited, is paying any interest on outstanding debts?
§ Mr. McAdden
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure he will agree that it is an important point. No figure has been given of what maintenance is to cost. I think we ought to recognise that it is likely to be heavy. Hon. Members who have taken the trouble to go to the Gardens where, incidentally, there was more rock sold off points than there was in Southend or Brighton—[An HON. MEMBER: "That is not true."]—I am not in the habit of being interrupted by hon. Members who say it is not true although the thing is common knowledge. Let the hon. Member ask the former Minister of Food about the matter, and he will find that what I said was true.
Those who know something about the Festival Gardens know that in many places the paving surface was laid on earth without any other foundation. Because that surface was laid directly on earth water will accumulate beneath it, and when that water freezes it is likely to crack the paving surface.
§ Mr. McAdden
The amusement park and fun fair, and quite a number of paths around, are laid on earth. It is worth examination. The criticism directed against anyone who suggests that this Measure is not 100 per cent. worthy of support has been that the critic is obviously a wet blanket anxious to deprive people of their amusement. I am certainly not anxious to do that. I hope that the people will have their amusement. The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) was enthusiastic over the Vauxhall beer garden and other attractions of the fun fair.
§ Mr. J. Hudson
I am sure the hon. Member will acquit me of expressing enthusiasm over the beer garden. I expressed enthusiasm about the Gardens as 1065 a whole, which I thought did not have the effect of creating the intemperance which many people feared.
§ Mr. McAdden
I am sure that the hon. Member will not object to my making a passing reference to the fact that the Vauxhall beer garden was part of the Gardens. It is suggested that the fun fair is something which London ought to have and has always wanted. Is it assumed that the people connected with the entertainment business are fools, and that the only people who know where fun fairs ought to be are politicians? Such a suggestion would strain the credulity.
It will be found that fun fairs are distributed near centres of population but not actually in those centres. The arguments which have been advanced in favour of this Bill might be applied in principle to other centres, and although there may be some division on the benches opposite, it seems to be the opinion of hon. Members on them that Government-sponsored entertainment business ought to be started in provincial centres as well. Surely such a venture as the one we are discussing has been catered for for years, by travelling showmen who are surely worthy of support. It is not at all the case that London never had a fun fair until the Festival project was started, and hon. Members who make such a fantastic suggestion do not know as much about London as they pretend to know.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give a reply to the financial points which have been put to him. I hope that he will give an undertaking that when the accounts are published and audited, and if, in fact, they do not bear out the optimistic picture put before us this evening, those facts will be made known so that we can, if necessary, take a revised opinion. I hope he will also bear in mind, in coming to any conclusion, that the Festival Gardens have lost money upon the operation of the fun fair itself; and that the only money which has been made has been made out of the charge for admission.
§ Mr. McAdden
It is a simple arithmetical calculation. If 8 million people are charged 2s. a head a sum of £8,000 is made, which is roughly what has been made. If the admission charge was done away with no money would be made. I 1066 hope that will be borne in mind in the future operations of Festival Gardens Ltd.
§ 1.26 a.m.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
It seems to me that the broad division in the House tonight is between those who say and believe that this will be a good thing, and those who believe in private enterprise at any cost, regardless of the public The Government came here tonight—the Minister of Works certainly did—with good intentions. On this occasion, per-hops the first occasion I have heard him do so in this House, the Minister put the public good before his belief in private enterprise. That is a very satisfactory step forward from his point of view, and I congratulate him on it.
§ Mr. Wigg
Having said that, I would turn for a moment to the speech of the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke). He told us tonight for the first time why the Members of the Conservative Party have gone out of their way to oppose the Festival of Britain and the Festival Gardens. I do not think he knew what he was saying—I say that with respect—but he made the point that on 25th October people in this country had shown. I will not say conclusively, that after all the Festival of Britain had not produced the political result for which he suggested that we on this side of the House were hoping. When that is said it really gives the whole show away, because the Conservative Party were opposing the Festival of Britain and the Festival Gardens, not on their merits, but because they thought that some political advantage would accrue to us.
§ Mr. H. Brooke
What I said was that on 25th October the people of this country showed clearly that they could not stand in office any longer a Government which squandered public money as it has been squandered on these Festival Gardens.
§ Mr. Wigg
I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman did not say that. I took down what he did say, and he did not say that. He made it quite clear that the Festival spirit had not saved us on 25th October. That is what he meant and that is what he said. What he had in mind was the idea that we had been planning the Festival of Britain and the Festival Gardens 1067 presumably to coincide with the General Election on 25th October—[Interruption.]—I wish the hon. Gentleman would not interrupt, or if he does, that he would be intelligible. After all, that was the same kind of view that was expressed from the seaside resorts.
I do not want to run down places like Blackpool, although I personally go there with a shudder. But equally, I think that Blackpool should not run down the Festival Gardens. It cannot be denied that the Festival Gardens have given pleasure not only to Londoners. Obviously it is impossible for anyone to analyse the figures and break them up between Londoners and provincials and foreigners. But there were certainly a great number of foreigners who went there. I am also quite sure that many of my constituents came to London, and a considerable number of people came from the Midlands to London to enjoy the Festival Gardens.
I have always been a great supporter of the Dudley Zoo, although it is run by private enterprise. I think that a chap who works an extra shift and takes his missus and the kids to the Dudley Zoo on a Bank Holiday is doing a good job. It is a good job for the country because he works that much harder. I would therefore have thought that hon. Members opposite would have supported that point of view: they always say they believe in incentives. If there is a legitimate outlet which does no harm to anybody, then obviously it is in the country's interest that it should be utilised.
Surely hon. Members who represent seaside resorts are intensely parochial if they keep trying to put the anti-London point of view, I am not a Londoner. My home is in the Potteries and my constituency is in the Midlands. I am only a Londoner in the periods when I happen to be in London to attend the House; but I think London and, indeed, the whole country and the whole world enjoys the advantage if a great Metropolis like London becomes a little brighter, gayer and more enjoyable. After all, one cannot just measure these things from the point of view of the balance-sheet figures.
We had a very revealing admission from the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Ian L. Orr-Ewing). I asked him, if we had broken even, whether he 1068 would have supported the Bill. Obviously he would not have supported it and we would have given his own Government a rough time if they had come forward with the Bill if we had broken square. Indeed, the hon. Member for Hampstead put that point of view himself. He said that he was only supporting the Bill because it gave us a chance to get our money back—as if one could measure the pleasure and, indeed, the economic advantage which accrues from having places like Battersea Park Fun Fair. I am sure that Dudley Zoo plays a very important part in stepping up production in the Midlands.
I wish I could splash some paint around in the Midlands and clean up the mess left to us. I wish the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. R. Robinson) could put into a balance-sheet just what Blackpool contributes to the wealth of England. Just what contribution have Blackpool or Southend, Bournemouth or Brighton made to our production over the last century and a half? They are the places to which people retired after creating the mess in which other people have to live elsewhere. The place I live in is where we work and where the wealth of Britain has been created. The people in Blackpool may satisfy a need—I do not deny it—but they are not producers in the way we are producers.
The policy of the Government stepping in when private enterprise cannot do it in order to brighten the lives of our people and make them a little less drab is one, I should have thought, which would have been part of any intelligent policy for creating incentives. The Dudley Zoo and the Festival Gardens have their part to play. I remember during the war that when the Coalition Government stopped horse-racing it had a very bad effect on the morale of chaps in the Army. Horse racing, football—all the leisure time activities—give people something to which to look forward, and something on which to spend their odd shillings, and are therefore desirable.
I believe the Minister understands my point, and will not merely hurry to make up the £1 million we have lost and then hand the venture over to the enemy, to the wicked uncles on the back benches behind him. If he is wise he will make sure the Gardens are put on a sound economic basis—that has got to be done, anyway—and then not hand the profit to 1069 the Treasury but spend it on developing the Gardens—as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) unwittingly suggested—as a successful, continuing attraction which will be a pleasure that will be an incentive to our people to work up production to that desired extra 10 per cent.
I have already made it pretty clear, I think, that I support this Bill, but there is one other comment I want to make, arising out of the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hampstead, who asked about the provision of sports pitches for the youngsters. This is a serious business, that young people should have somewhere to play. This problem is likely to get worse rather than better.
Later today we shall be discussing the Home Guard Bill. The Home Guard is to be established without drill halls and without any accommodation at all, and so there is bound to be pre-emption on open spaces in our great centres of population for the use of the Home Guard. To meet such demands and to provide spaces where the youngsters can play we must get additional spaces in the centre of London. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Hampstead asked the Parliamentary Secretary to indicate whether something was to be done to make the Royal Parks available for the youngsters, and I support him, as I hope he will support me when I make claims for the Home Guard.
I think the Bill is wise, and I hope the Minister will feel so sustained by the support he will get from these benches—and it will be unquestioning support—that he can stand up against the rebels on the back benches behind him. If he comes back next year or the year after for additional powers, so far as we are concerned, we shall give them him.
§ 1.38 a.m.
§ Mr. William Teeling (Brighton, Pavilion)
The hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) has said that hon. Members representing seaside resorts do not know what they are doing exactly, and has suggested that neither they nor their constituencies are doing any productive work; he has also said that hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House are not interested in the public welfare because they do not want too anxiously to support the Festival Gardens.
1070 As regards Brighton, the only constituency I can speak for, I remember that, at the end of the war the late Mr. Bevin, who was then Minister of Labour, said that the war had left people so tired that one of the first things they wanted was two or three weeks' holiday, preferably at the seaside. The hon. Gentleman will also remember that during the war such seaside constituencies as Brighton were the places to which the troops went to pull themselves together, either just before going abroad or when they came back home to rest. We were then considered to be doing a useful work for the country. It may not have been much. but at least it was something.
During this Festival Year we, in Brighton, have been asked to do our level best to raise dollars by encouraging people from abroad to visit us. I think I am right in saying that Brighton, of all the Festival towns, is the only one that has paid its way, with its Festival Exhibition, and it has made a profit, too. During the seven years that I have represented the borough I have naturally studied the entertainment business, and that is why I am interested in the subject tonight. I should like to tell my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Carson) that I support the Bill for one reason only, and that is because of saving the taxpayer. I believe the taxpayers have got to be saved as much as possible, and it is because of the extravagence of the last Government that we are in the financial mess we are in today, and this deficit, if possible, should be made good.
I am sure that the people in the town I represent would wish me to support this Bill because of those facts, although the Bill is going to hurt them. The people who have been laughed at so much tonight by hon. Members opposite, the lodging house keepers and hotel proprietors in the seaside towns, are all Conservative at heart, and are prepared to make whatever sacrifices are necessary in order that this country can be got out of its financial mess. That is why they would support this Bill even though it hurts them to do so.
I should like to protest against the very flippant way in which so many speakers from the other side of the House, particularly in the early part of the debate, treated this question. Perhaps because it 1071 is getting late now, that flippancy has not been so apparent in the last hour or so. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Works has told us that this scheme for the Festival Gardens is a gamble. I have this suggestion to make to him. In view of the fact that it is against all the principles of our party to subsidise enterprises such as this with Government money, I would suggest that as soon as these Festival Gardens pay their way he should get rid of them. That would be the fairest course to follow.
There are, after all, other entertainment people who are carrying out this business most successfully in London. For instance, there is the Bertram Mills circus and the Tom Arnold circus in the winter months. If they had thought it was necessary to have more than one circus in the year, they would have gone into the Festival earlier. When they were asked they decided to refuse, because they did not think it was warranted. The Government should remember that if they remain in competition with these people in the entertainment business, they will be losing taxation. I believe I am right in saying that in the last five years the Bertram Mills circus has contributed nearly £1 million in taxation. This competition may decrease that sum.
I have been told by various people that Brighton is losing by the Festival Gardens. I believe that that is so. From what people tell me, I know that many amusement proprietors at Brighton felt they would lose money at Brighton last summer. And so they took stalls and side shows in the Festival Gardens as a sort of hedge, and though they made a profit in the Festival Gardens they lost money on their businesses in Brighton. That Brighton suffers from the Festival Gardens must be apparent when we remember that over 8 million people visited the Gardens last summer. We know that money is scarcer than it was and that people are not spending as much as they did. If they went to the Festival Gardens, they certainly cannot afford to go to Brighton as well. They are unlikely to have increased their amusements. They must have cut down on Brighton to go to Battersea.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet did not think that people would forgo spending a day in Brighton 1072 just because they went for a day to the Festival Gardens. But he must remember that the vast number of people who visit Brighton do not go for a week at a time. They cannot afford such a thing. Most of the people who go down are day trippers. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite may laugh, but Brighton visitors are not as rich as they are; they can only afford to go down for the day.
§ Mr. Garner Evans (Denbigh)
Whereas it costs only 2s. to go to the Festival Gardens, a cheap day ticket to Brighton costs 8s.
§ Mr. Teeling
That is exactly my point. People went to the Gardens and not to Brighton, and as a result the Government were losing on the nationalised railways.
§ Mr. Teeling
And then presumably coming down to Brighton on Sundays when the Gardens are closed. On that basis it may work.
The Minister said that there would be no unfair competition. May I ask him two questions? I well remember during last year we raised the point about the quite considerable amount of dollars and foreign currency spent on machines for the Festival Gardens which we were unable to obtain for ordinary fun fairs in other parts of the country. Presumably these machines will need spares and renewals. Are we to spend further dollars and foreign currency over the next two or three years to obtain any such renewals?
I understand that people connected with circuses and fun fairs who come into the suburbs of London complain that at Battersea great use has been made of wire walkers and other attractions, that are normally to be seen in circuses, but at Battersea they are free and are used to attract people to the fair. Will this form of competition be stopped? If we in Brighton and the other seaside resorts should feel, whether it is true or not, that we are sacrificing something by supporting the Government to go on with the Festival Gardens, will they, in return, try and help us next summer, when it 1073 may be possible we shall suffer from further competition, and get us cheaper fares from London? And special excursion ticket rates, the same as those used for visitors coming to London to the fair?
§ 1.49 a.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works (Mr. Hugh Molson)
My right hon. Friend wishes me to express his gratitude to the House as a whole for the friendly way in which this Bill has been received. That does not mean, of course, that on both sides of the House hon. Members do not still retain the views they have expressed on previous occasions. In a number of speeches from both sides we have heard echoes of controversies long past but, taken as a whole, nearly all those who have spoken tonight have viewed the matter as it is today and have understood that the Government found themselves confronted with a situation for which they were not responsible and have tried to deal with the matter, not from any doctrinaire point of view, but from the point of view of making the best of a job which at one time was a bad job. although undoubtedly there has been considerable improvement in the last few months.
The time is so late that I hope I shall be absolved from having to reply to all the points that have been made. If any hon. Member wants to emphasise again the point he has made, I hope he will write to my right hon. Friend or to myself and we will certainly give him an answer. I think I shall be meeting the convenience of as much of the House as remains—because a number of hon. Members who have spoken have followed in the footsteps of Pontius Pilate, who asked what the truth was and would not stay for an answer—if I confine myself to dealing with what are, I think, the three or four most outstanding matters raised.
I will begin by repeating the three arguments in favour of continuing the Festival Gardens. There is, first, the national question of finance. My right hon. Friend, made it plain that a very large sum of money has been spent on capital expenditure, that the return this year was reasonably satisfactory, and that if we can obtain any fairly good return on that capital expenditure it will be possible for the Government and the L.C.C. to obtain a repayment of the greater part of the capital expended. It is the intention that 1074 there shall be a very close check upon any further capital expenditure.
The second point is that, so far as London is concerned, the Government take the view that the L.C.C. are justified in desiring that there should be continued for a time an entertainment which was extremely popular and which obtained the support of a very large number of Londoners. It is not necessary for me to discuss whether it is desirable for that to be provided by the Government or by private enterprise. The fact remains that we have inherited something for which we had no responsibility and we are trying to make the best of it, and we hope to make a very good best of it.
Thirdly, it is very important for us at present to encourage tourism, to give entertainment to foreigners who come here, and to give to those who want to come on holiday the opportunity of enjoying themselves in this country in a way that previously they were only able to do elsewhere. Let me answer points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. R. Robinson). In point of fact, this year has been a record year for tourist expenditure in this country. Although 1950 was the best year for this country up to that time, it is estimated that this year foreign visitors' expenditure will be 15 per cent. more than last year.
I want now to deal with several points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke). He has spoken on this subject on several occasions, and I did rather resent the criticisms that were made by certain hon. Gentlemen opposite of his speech. He was asked to be a director of the company that was responsible for the Festival Gardens, and long before any of the unhappy events which occurred and with which this House is now only too familiar, he refused to become a director of it. Now we know that he showed very great foresight. Tonight he has asked certain questions about provision for sport in Battersea Park, and the same point was also raised by the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg).
The Festival Pleasure Gardens have not, in fact, deprived London of any games pitches. Before the war there were 14 games pitches in the whole of Battersea Park, but most of them were lost 1075 to allotments early in the war. Almost all of the 37 acres at present occupied by the Pleasure Gardens had previously been taken over as allotments or were ordinary park land on which no games were played. The Ministry of Works has officially informed the London County Council that it intends to provide in the Royal Parks at least as many games pitches as have been lost by the provision of the Festival Gardens at Battersea.
Under this plan there will be 38 new football pitches, 18 new cricket pitches, three new rugby pitches and one new hockey pitch. This will be done in order to make certain that the younger generation who want to play healthy and active games shall not suffer from the fact that part of Battersea Park has been used for these Pleasure Gardens.
§ Mr. H. Brooke
Will the Parliamentary Secretary tell the House if the figures he has quoted apply to additional pitches being provided in Richmond Park and at Hampton Court, because those will not be very much use to the London children I am thinking about.
§ Mr. Molson
It really is quite impossible to deal with each one of these areas and treat it as a locality. It is surely necessary in a case of this kind to treat London as a whole. The transport system of London is now such that if one part of London is used for the purpose of giving enjoyment to the citizens of London, it is inevitable that the alternative accommodation for athletics should be a certain distance away. Surely it is one of the advantages of a modern transport system that it is no longer necessary to have all these amenities on one's doorstep.
§ Mr. Wigg
Would the Parliamentary Secretary explain his reference to the foresight of the hon. Member for Hampstead in refusing a directorship. I have been in the Chamber for most of the debate and this is the first time I have heard this point raised. When he raised it I thought he looked at me as though I had innuendoes about his refusing the directorship. I did not even know about it.
§ Mr. Molson
I was under the impression that the hon. Gentleman would have refreshed his memory of the two 1076 debates that took place on this subject before. There have been a number of points raised from the other side of the House in which reference was made to speeches which took place in previous debates, and he would have had the information to which I have just referred had he taken the trouble to read the previous debates.
§ Mr. Nally
The hon. Gentleman does himself less than justice. I doubt whether there are 20 members of the present House who know that the offer was made to the hon. Gentleman to serve on the board of directors associated with this venture. It is quite unfair to suggest that people should refresh their memories. I was sitting with two distinguished Members with much longer service here than I, and both were completely unaware of the fact.
§ Mr. Molson
I am extremely sorry if I supposed that hon. Gentlemen opposite, when they speak with a certain amount of bitterness in this matter, had informed themselves of what happened in the past. I was intending to make a conciliatory speech, but something said about my hon. Friend was not entirely justified, and I thought it proper therefore to make some reference to his previous record in this matter.
My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse) asked what would be the expenditure in material and manpower to ensure that the equipment of the Festival Gardens was satisfactory for the coming year.
§ Mr. Molson
When I give the reply to my hon. Friend I shall be glad if the right hon. Gentleman is in a position to overhear it. It is estimated that the requirement in 1952 will be 13 tons of steel, and 15 tons in 1953; softwood, 10 standards in 1952 and 5 standards in 1953. Although, of course, it is only an estimate to which we cannot possibly be tied, it is thought that it will involve about 140 men-years. That seems to be a reasonably modest requirement, and if it is going to enable this large capital expenditure to become remunerative, then it will be agreed that it is a reasonable additional expenditure.
§ Captain Waterhouse
Is that just on the buildings? Surely the running of the whole Festival Gardens will take infinitely more manpower and woman-power than that?
§ Mr. Molson
Indeed, it will; I thought my hon. and gallant Friend was referring to the additional capital expenditure that would be required.
I am glad to take this opportunity of indicating that, in the profit which is estimated for next year, it is intended to open the Gardens only from 2.30 p.m. to 10.30 p.m. and, by having only one shift working, it is expected greatly to reduce the running cost of the Gardens.
In reply to one of my hon. Friends, let me say that the Company and the Government recognise that when the novelty has worn off and when it is no longer a festival year, nothing like the same number of people will be attending. In reckoning that all being well it will be possible to show a substantial profit, we are taking into account that we cannot expect more than about half the number of people who attended last year.
The hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) and the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) referred to the importance of the river-front walk being again free for ordinary pedestrians. My right hon. Friend is engaged at present in arranging with the Company that during the time that the Gardens are not open the river-front walk will again be open and available for the residents of London as in the past.
My right hon. Friend is anxious to consult in every way possible the convenience of the residents of Chelsea and Battersea. Complaints have been made regarding disturbance of the amenities of those two areas. One of those complaints was concerned with the matter of the riverside walk. I think that the hon. Member for Clapham referred to one of the most important complaints. That was the continuance of the fireworks until very late at night in the middle of the summer. Discussions are taking place with those immediately interested to ensure, if possible, that the fireworks do not cause disturbance to the neighbouring residents.
The bandstand in the middle of the park, which was requisitioned for the purpose of the Pleasure Gardens during the past year, is being set free. That is of some considerable importance, 1078 not only because of the bandstand but because games have been played in the immediate vicinity. In that, and in other ways, it is hoped to meet the very small number of concrete grievances which have been made during the last summer by the residents of Chelsea and of Battersea, and we hope that, during the coming summer, they will have fewer complaints to make than they had last summer.
Several hon. Members opposite have raised the question of Sunday opening. That was a matter not decided by the last Government, and it is not going to be decided by the present Government. There was a free vote of the House, and upon a matter of that kind we believe that the House of Commons is the best judge of what public opinion in this country desires.
§ Mr. Molson
We have no reason to suppose that the decision reached freely upon a subject widely discussed throughout the country does not still represent the considered opinion of the country. The Government's point of view is that it desires public opinion upon a matter of this kind to be freely expressed, without coercion from any political party.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Teeling) raised several points about unfair competition. It is certainly not our desire that there should be any unfair competition by the Festival Gardens with private enterprise. Among other matters which he raised was one regarding the importation of entertainments from the United States of America. I can only say that these are matters of detail which my right hon. Friend will be willing to consider with the greatest possible desire to ensure that there is no unfair competition between these Gardens and any other form of entertainment.
I have tried to deal with what I think are the main points that have been raised tonight—
§ Mr. Stokes
Would the hon. Gentleman deal with the point I put to him, about the position with regard to the main contract? I asked that we should be told what was the position, and whether or not any settlement had been arrived at.
§ Mr. Molson
The matter has been referred to arbitration and no decision has been come to. Provision is made in the figures which have been given to the Government on the assumption that it goes against the Company, and therefore the financial basis upon which this Bill is based is assuming the worst. We hope that things will turn out better than the basis on which we are calculating at the present time.
It is the desire of my right hon. Friend by continuing these Festival Gardens to bring to an end a controversy which has lasted for a considerable time; to ensure the best possible financial outcome in the interests of the country as a whole and to work in co-operation with the London County Council who are anxious to have an entertainment of this kind. And to do so while at the same time ensuring that there shall be no reasonable or unfair competition with private enterprise which has afforded the same kind of enjoyment to the people of this country. We hope and believe that in the next year or two it will be possible to give great enjoyment to our people, and at the same time afford some relief to the overburdened Exchequer of this country.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Select Committee of Six Members, Four to be nominated by the House and Two by the Committee of Selection:
§ Any Petitions against the Bill deposited in the Private Bill Office at any time not later than the fifth day after this day to stand referred to the Committee, but if no such Petitions are deposited, the Order for the committal of the Bill to a Select Committee to be discharged and the Bill to be committed to a Committee of the whole House:
§ Petitioners praying to be heard by themselves, their Counsel or Agents, to be heard against the Bill provided that their Petitions are prepared and signed in conformity with the Rules and Orders of this House, and Counsel to be heard in favour of the Bill against such Petitions:
§ Committee to have power to report from day to day the Minutes of the Evidence taken before them:
§ Three to be the Quorum.—[Mr. Eccles.]