HC Deb 23 February 1954 vol 524 cc216-76

3.42 p.m.

Order for Second Reading read.

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. Heathcoat Amory)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

The object of this little Bill is to enable the management of the British Industries Fair to be organised on new lines which are more in accord with the needs of the times and which will enable the Fair to operate under conditions of the greatest efficiency. It is important that we should get the background right, and I suggest that we should look very briefly at the history of this institution.

As have so many British achievements, it started in a very chancy manner. In 1914, when supplies from Germany and Austria were cut off, the Board of Trade was anxious to encourage our manufacturers to manufacture substitutes, and it arranged small exhibitions. These went so well that in the spring of 1915 the first British Industries Fair was held. Since then Fairs have been held annually, except in 1925—when the British Empire Exhibition was on—during the war years, and the year immediately after the last war.

As hon. Members know, Fairs have been held concurrently in London and Birmingham. The engineering, building, hardware and electrical sections have been held in Birmingham, and, broadly speaking, all the others have been held in London. The Birmingham section has been organised differently from that of London, having been organised by the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce with a separate board, and separate financial responsibility, except for publicity, and it is significant that the Birmingham section operates at a profit. In fact, not only have they made a profit, but, during the last year or two, they have been able to make quite a substantial contribution towards general publicity. The London section has been held at Olympia and Earls Court and has been organised by the Exhibitions Branch of the Commercial Relations and Export Department of the Board of Trade.

In 1926, the Government decided to make a grant of £25,000 towards overseas publicity. That grant was continued until 1932. It then stopped, but from 1947 onwards Government grants were restarted and continued for overseas publicity, at a scale varying between £80,000 and £110,000 a year, those grants being paid and administered by the Board of Trade. In the seven postwar years, the trading operations of the London section have resulted in a trading loss to the total of about £150,000, though the last two years have shown a small profit.

I should like to say a word about the Ramsden Report. In 1946, a Committee, under the chairmanship of Lord Ramsden, reported to the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand). That Report was made in accordance with terms of reference with regard to the policy which the Government should pursue in relation to exhibitions generally, but it was asked some specific questions about the British Industries Fair. Very briefly, its recommendations were, first, that the Fair should be restarted after the war and should be held annually; secondly, that while there was much to be said far trying to avoid a charge on public funds, other than for publicity, this aim must not prevent the smaller exhibitors from being encouraged to exhibit, nor should it govern the layout and constitution of the Fair; thirdly—and this is an important recommendation—the two sections of the fair should be concentrated as soon as possible in one centre, namely, London, and the Government should be responsible for buying a site and erecting buildings on it. The Committee estimated the cost of doing that at £6 million to £8 million, in 1945 or 1946 at the latest. Hon. Members will realise that the cost today would be £12 million or more. The cost of the buildings would certainly almost be doubled.

In 1952, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board Trade felt that it would be advisable to get some fresh advice in the light of the fact that seven years had elapsed since the end of the war and there had been a return to a buyers' market. In April, 1952, he referred the question of future policy for the British Industries Fair to the Exhibitions Advisory Committee, which is a standing committee composed of leading industrialists and representatives of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of British Industries, the National Union of Manufacturers and the Trades Union Congress.

Its terms of reference were, first to recommend whether, in the light of recent experience, any changes of purpose, character, scope and location of the Fair were called for. Secondly, whether the responsibility for the organisation of the Fair should be assumed in full or in part by industrial and commercial interests, and if so, on what basis. Thirdly, to make recommendations on the general financial aspect of the Fair including the amount to be spent on publicity.

The Exhibition Advisory Committee referred this matter to a sub-committee under the chairmanship of Sir Ernest Goodale and in due course the report of the sub-committee was approved and adopted by the main committee. I should like to make that clear. Having been approved and adopted by the main Exhibition Advisory Committee it was forwarded to the President last September. Subsequently, it was published as White Paper, Cmd. 9013 in November, 1953.

I know that my right hon. Friend would like publicly to thank Sir Ernest Goodale and the members of his committee for the time they spent and the trouble they took in this matter. The committee, a strong and competent body, went most thoroughly into this problem and the questions involved. It finally submitted what we considered to be a very businesslike report and we felt that in all the circumstances it would be right to attach great weight to its findings.

I will not describe the recommendations in detail because, as I have said, they have already been issued as a White Paper, but I will summarise them briefly. The Goodale Committee recommended, as the Ramsden Committee had done, that the British Industries Fair should continue annually. It emphasised that the object of the Fair was to promote trade generally, both overseas and at home. It emphasised that the Fair was more than a trade affair, that it should be a pageant of all that is best in British industry.

Where the Goodale Committee disagreed with the Ramsden Committee was on the point of the Ramsden Committee's recommendation that the Birmingham and London sections should be concentrated in London. The Goodale Committee felt, in view of the high cost of providing a site and adequate buildings on the scale required, that it could not recommend the Government, in existing circumstances, to build a permanent home in London for the whole of the Exhibition. The committee agreed that a permanent home was a desirable objective and suggested that the development of the Crystal Palace site should be kept in view. But in view of the high cost it made no recommendation in that connection, in fact, it recommended that this was not feasible in present circumstances. I have mentioned the estimate made in 1945 and I think hon. Members will agree that that was a realistic recommendation.

The Goodale Committee went on to say that it believed that the success of the Fair depended more on the management than on any other single factor as I think we would all agree. The committee considered that the Board of Trade had gone a good job. I am quite sure the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East and the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) will concur when I say that I entirely agree with that statement. I believe the Board of Trade has done a good job in this respect.

But the committee pointed out that Civil Service management of the Fair had certain drawbacks and specified two of them. One was the lack of continuity, owing to civil servants being transferred from one job to another and the other was that the methods of Government administration were, in certain respects, too inflexible for a job of this kind. It therefore recommended that an independent corporation should be formed to do this job. It recommended a company limited by guarantee. It suggested that the company should be formed, as it were, of three trustees who would, roughly speaking, take the place of the shareholders in a company with share capital; and that the trustee should be the President for the time being of the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of British Industries and the National Union of Manufacturers.

The committee recommended that there should be a board of directors of not more than seven; that the chairman should be a permanent industrialist; that there should be four independent directors including one who should be an exhibitor, and another who should be a financial expert; that one director should be appointed by the Government, and that there should be one representative of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce. The sole job of the trustees would be the appointment and, if necessary, the dismissal of the directors.

It recommended that the working capital of this company should be provided in this way; that the Government should give a guarantee for the first five years up to a total limit of £100,000 and with that guarantee the company should borrow the working capital required. The committee recommended that the company should so conduct its affairs that after five years it should be able to finance itself without further direct Government assistance, except for publicity.

So far as publicity was concerned, the recommendation was that the Government should contribute £100,000 a year for the first five years for overseas publicity and that they should also provide an additional amount for home publicity during the years 1954 and 1955. That is a very brief summary of the recommendations of the Goodale Committee. I think they are particularly relevant to our debate today. After careful consideration the Government decided to accept the main recommendations.

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

While not differing to any great extent from what the right hon. Gentleman has said, may I ask whether consideration has been given to the need for changing the site of the exhibition at different times? We had an example of the success of that practice during the Festival of Britain, and if the Minister has not given consideration to it, especially as regards the Birmingham centre, will that consideration be given when this Bill is passed?

Mr. Amory

I think that would come within the terms of reference of the new body, but the hon. Member will agree that there are appalling practical difficulties in the way of holding trade exhibitions of this magnitude in different centres. The question of stands would arise and the enormous expense of carrying them about the country, so that I doubt whether his suggestion would prove feasible.

In deciding to accept the recommendations of the Goodale Committee the Government felt that in the very competitive conditions of a buyers' market the most important single thing was that there should be the closest possible association with industry. We believe that the more industry feels itself responsible for the organisation the better supported and more successful the Fair is likely to be. Secondly, we felt that we had to look at the present situation. While, in existing circumstances, and under present arrangements, the Birmingham section retains its position, as regards the London section, in spite of the most intense efforts by the Board of Trade, it has been found harder and harder to maintain support at the levels current during the years immediately after the war.

I think that that is partly due to the growing competition from specialised industrial fairs. These fairs seem to be going ahead, and it is interesting to remember that many of them owe their birth to the British Industries Fair itself. Thirdly, we were impressed by the argument of the Goodale Committee that an independent corporation of the type envisaged would be likely to afford better continuity of service and more economical administration.

Another point which influenced us was that the proposals which have been made would have this advantage: the Government's financial obligation would be known and limited to the five years, and after that there would be no direct continuing obligation, except for overseas publicity which would have to be considered year by year in the light of circumstances. The main consideration that influenced us was not the consideration of saving money in this case, but because we believed that the changes proposed would lead to better fairs, and would, as the Goodale Committee suggest, inject new life into the London section.

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

When my right hon. Friend says that the London end of the Fair has been rather lacking in support, what does he mean? Does he mean support from firms anxious to show their goods at the London end of the Fair or lack of support from the visiting public and from potential buyers abroad, or both?

Mr. Amory

No. I think that the demand on space at the Fair on the part of exhibitors is not as strong now as it was some years ago. I do not want to make too much of that, because it varies from year to year.

I should like now to come to the specific proposals. The main proposal is that the responsibility for the management should be transferred from the Board of Trade to an independent company, as described in the White Paper; that this company should have an overall responsibility for co-ordinating the policy for the Fair in both sections, but so far as management and operation goes, it is envisaged that the Birmingham section will continue just as independently as it is at present. We hope very much that the same friendly relations and co-operation will go on as goes on at present between the two sections of the Fair.

We have decided that it would be right to have one additional trustee beyond the three trustees recommended in the Goodale Committee's Report, namely, the President of the Trades Union Congress, who has accepted that task. It is proposed that the Government should guarantee loans up to a maximum of £100,000 for five years. In addition, the Government will continue grants for overseas publicity, but we feel that the amount cannot be laid down in advance over a period like five years, but must be decided upon year by year in the light of the prevailing circumstances.

I should like to say a word about the steps which have actually been taken to give effect to these proposals up to date. On 24th November, I made a statement in the House on the lines of the proposals which I have just mentioned. A company was actually inaugurated on 3rd February under the name of British Industries Fair. Limited—a company limited by the guarantee. The four trustees whom I have mentioned have invited Sir Arthur Smout to become chairman of the new company if the Bill is passed.

I am glad to say, and I believe that everyone who considers the matter will also be glad to hear, that Sir Arthur Smout has been willing to accept that appointment. I should like to remind hon. Members that Sir Arthur Smout was a director of Imperial Chemical Industries and that during the war he was Director of Ammunition Production at the Ministry of Supply. What is more important, I think, is that for a number of years he was on the Fair Management Committee of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce. Therefore, he is very familiar with the organisation of that section of the Fair. He is also a director of various companies.

Mr. H. A. Marquand (Middlesbrough, East)

How old is he?

Mr. Amory

I can only say that Sir Arthur Smout does not look very old. I should think that he is probably in his 60s.

The work of the chairman and directors will be part-time. I think that there is provision in the memorandum or articles of the company—I am not sure whether in the memorandum or the articles—whereby salaries can be paid to directors, but the present intention, I understand, is that the chairman and directors will serve without salaries. I imagine, however, that their out-of-pocket expenses will be paid.

The Amendment which the Opposition have put down criticises the proposals from the point of view that they are a departure from the considered policy of the Ramsden Committee, and that the investment of public funds is made without satisfactory Parliamentary control. I should like to say a word or two about the Amendment. I was surprised when I saw it, because I doubted whether either of those two points was really a point of substance when we considered the whole problem.

I should like to go back to what I have said about the Ramsden Committee. I mentioned that one of its main recommendations—and I am not clear whether this is the one which the Opposition is conscious about—was that the two sections of the Fair should be concentrated in London, which, it suggested, would involve a cost at that time of £6 million to £8 million—a cost which would be much higher today. I cannot think that hon. Members opposite can be suggesting that that is the trouble with the proposals which we are bringing forward now, and that we ought to be tackling this question of concentration as an immediate practicable proposition.

We must remember that the Ramsden Committee reported in 1946 in the light of pre-war experience and post-war needs so far as it could see them at that time, whereas the Goodale Committee reported in the light of seven years' post-war experience and of looking to the conditions which are on us now of a buyers' market. I think that we ought also to remember that five members of the Exhibition's Advisory Committee were also members of the Ramsden Committee, and three of those members were actually members of the sub-committee, under the chairmanship of Sir Ernest Goodale, which produced this report.

So far as these matters are concerned, they were able to consider the problem in the light of the outlook of 1952, having also considered it in 1946, with the result that they appear to have come to different conclusions. These members were Mr. Evans, Sir Luke Fawcett, Sir Ernest Goodale, Sir Guy Locock and Sir Raymond Streat. Concerning the relative importance of the two committees, I personally do not think that there is anything very difficult to reconcile about the two, except one thing: how feasible it would be to concentrate the two on one site.

The Ramsden Committee met only four times, whereas the Goodale Committee met a great many times more than that, and, I believe, went into the problem in great detail. Its attention was particularly focused on this British industries problem. I am not clear why, except for that one proposal of the concentration on one site, the present proposals are considered to conflict with the Ramsden Committee's Report. I suggest that we are right to attach more weight to the more recent report, in the light of present circumstances, than to a report made eight years ago.

I should like to say a word about the question of Parliamentary control. I think it is important that we should get this thing in perspective and remember the size of the problem. The maximum liability on public funds is up to a maximum of £100,000 for working capital and the provision for any losses that might conceivably arise in the early years. Against this, let it be remembered that in the present circumstances a total of £150,000 has been lost, spread over seven years.

There are safeguards from the point of view of public funds. Again, one should consider the size of the problem. It is not an astronomical amount of public funds which is at risk. First, under Clause 1 (1), when the Treasury gives guarantees it must make a statement to Parliament as to the guarantees it has given, and at the end of five years has to make a statement to Parliament of the total guarantees which have been given and the results that have accrued. Second, when giving guarantees the Treasury can give them in such manner and subject to such conditions as it thinks fit. This, too, is a safeguard.

In addition, the Board of Trade, on behalf of the Government, have the right to nominate one director. It is not our view that this director should be someone to direct the policy of the board, or even interfere with the policy on which the board may decide. Our idea is that the board of directors of the company should have a free hand to decide the policy on which the company should operate. We regard the Government-nominated director more as a link between us and the company, to keep us in touch with what is going on and to say how the future looks from the point of view of the board of directors.

Perhaps the most important practical safeguard is the quality of the four trustees in the persons of the four people whom I have mentioned. They are the people who have the important job of selecting and appointing the independent directors. Control of the grant for publicity will be about as effective in practice as it is at present, because the Board of Trade will make the grant and will do so subject to what conditions it likes to specify. If we all try to maintain a sense of proportion and look at the nature of the problem, I believe all hon. Members will feel that in the circumstances we are not risking public funds unduly.

I can deal with the Bill in two sentences. Clause 1 empowers the Treasury to grant loans up to £100,000 during the first five years. Clause 2 empowers the Board of Trade to make grants for publicity comparable in nature, though not necessarily in size, to the grants that are made at present.

This little Bill does not mean in any way that the Government have lost, or are losing, interest in the British Industries Fair. On the contrary, we believe that side by side with the specialised fairs which I have mentioned and which are going ahead—and, perhaps, sometimes in association with them—the British Industries Fair has an important and a continuing pant to play as our national shop window. The Government will do everything possible to help to ensure the success of the fair.

I doubt whether the saying, If you want a thing well done, do it yourself is always and invariably sound. With the difficult days ahead the first requirement is that there should be the closest possible association with industry and the greatest possible flexibility. I believe that the proposed arrangements will provide both these things better than is possible under the present arrangements.

I hope that what I have said may have allayed some of the anxieties of hon. Members opposite. I particularly hope that I have in some way reassured the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough, East and the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham, because I know how keen both of them were on the British Industries Fair when they had important responsibilities at the Board of Trade. Although there is always room for honest disagreement in matters of this kind as to the best way of setting about something, our aim is the same and I should be very sorry if the British Industries Fair were to become a matter of acute political controversy.

All of us, equally, wish British industry well, and we are all seeking only the conditions under which it is most likely to flourish and the best possible conditions under which it can operate. We hoped and thought that these proposals, which were the outcome of thorough investigation by a committee of most competent representatives of industry, would have commended themselves to all sections of the House as just, sensible and businesslike arrangements for the future.

I hope that when the debate is concluded, the House will decide to give this small Bill a Second Reading and that the Opposition may decide, after all, that it is not necessary to press their opposition to the point of dividing the House. It would be much more satisfactory if we could launch this new project with the good wishes and support of the Government and the whole House, and I hope very much that this will be the result.

4.17 p.m.

Mr. A. G. Bottomley (Rochester and Chatham)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill the main proposals of which involve a departure from the considered policy of the Ramsden Committee and involve an investment of public funds without satisfactory Parliamentary control. I move the Amendment because we on this side of the House think it is the best way to get a discussion upon the Bill and because the terms of the Amendment contain arguments of substance. I am prepared to accept the assurance of the Minister of State, Board of Trade, that the Government are not losing their enthusiasm for the British Industries Fair. The right hon. Gentleman will, however, forgive me if I say that he has rather limited my arguments, and I can only conclude that he has regarded the British Industries Fair in the same limited manner. It is for this reason that we on this side take exception to what the Government propose to do.

I agree at once that none of us wants to see the British Industries Fair become a subject of political controversy. Trade and industry are far too important for that. Therefore, as far as we are concerned, we shall not develop our arguments on themes which will exacerbate feelings of that kind.

The work of the sub-committee and its acceptance by the Goodale Committee, which has resulted in the presentation of the Bill, was of the highest order. I worked with many of those gentlemen and I have nothing but praise for their accomplishments. As an exhibition advisory committee to the Board of Trade, they did their work magnificently. I had experience, year after year, of hearing them pay tribute to the wonderful work carried out by the Board of Trade, and I am quite sure that they still hold that view.

Where I think things have gone wrong is that the terms of reference from the President of the Board of Trade to the Goodale Committee were badly drafted. For example, the first of these was: Whether, in the light of recent experience, any changes in purpose, character, scope and location of the Fair are called for. It rather looks from this as though the recommendations of the earlier expert committee were to be completely ignored, because the President of the Board of Trade has, I am sure, had submitted to him by his officials the Warner Committee Report, 1921, the Chelmsford Committee Report, 1930, and the Report of the Ramsden Committee, which was set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand). I cannot help but hazard a guess that the President himself has been worried about losing his reputation of being leader of the Tory Reform Group, that he had to find a way of breaking with tradition, and that this was the only possible way. I am disappointed in the right hon. Gentleman.

The second term of reference was: Whether it is desirable and practicable that responsibility for the organisation and administration of the Fair Should be assumed in full, or in part, by industrial and commercial interests; and if so, to recommend on what basis this should be done. If that term of reference had been given to politicians, I am sure that none of us would let down our own calling, and that we should say that politicians could do it better than others. Likewise, businessmen would be letting down their own group if they suggested that they could not do it better than a Government Department. Therefore, I submit that this was an unfair point to give them for consideration.

Thirdly, there were the general aspects of the Fair, including the amount which should be spent on advertising. There is no doubt that more money should be spent on advertising. Every President of the Board of Trade has known it and every business man knows it. The limiting factor has always been the Treasury. If it has wanted to make cuts of any kind, it has always looked to the advertising of the British Industries Fair or to something similar. So it is the responsibility of the right hon. Gentleman to fight his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and not to put that responsibility on to the Committee.

Turning to the Report of the Ramsden Committee, the right hon. Gentleman has not mentioned the most important point. The Report said: The overriding aim of the Fair is a national one…the promotion of United Kingdom trade in general and of our export trade in particular. The Goodale Committee Report, in page 4, paragraph 6, said: …its primary purpose should be to promote trade, either directly or indirectly, at home as well as overseas since the two are interdependent. I am sure that the Minister of State, Board of Trade, and the right hon. Gentleman have had business men coming to their offices and saying, "We cannot export unless we have a broad-based market." The business men have always put the emphasis upon that point. I admit that they are right, but the economic conditions of the country demand emphasis upon the export trade all the time. The Ramsden Committee did that, whereas the Goodale Committee has not done it, so I submit that the Ramsden Committee Report should have been more thoroughly considered than it has been.

Mr. Amory

I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but paragraph 15 of the Goodale Report says: It is, or should be, a British 'national-shop window,' to which home and, above all, overseas buyers…are invited to come… It put the emphasis on that.

Mr. Bottomley

We can put whatever interpretation we like upon it, but I do not accept that.

The first point made by the Ramsden Committee Report was that exports came first, whereas the Goodale Committee, after making its recommendation in the earlier paragraph, went on to generalise. So there is not the same emphasis as there ought to be on the need for exports, and my view is that the basis of the British Industries Fair should be a direct method of promoting exports. Its primary purpose should be the renewal of old contacts with overseas customers and the fostering of new ones. That is fundamental to a Fair of this kind if it is to succeed, as we all hope it will.

The Goodale Committee says that the success of a trade fair depends more than anything else on the way it is managed. I agree. Let us see how it has been managed. The British Industries Fair was started in 1915. It had the right goods in the window to exhibit, but the representatives of organisations like that of the right hon. Gentleman, for reasons of their own, decided not to take part in it. I was Secretary for Overseas Trade from 1947 to 1951 and the first exhibition for which I had Ministerial responsibility was in 1948 when 14,333 people went to the Fair. In 1949, the figure was 17,061; in 1950, it was 19,005; in 1951, it was 19,266.

Then, because of the failure of the Government to give this matter the most urgent attention, the Minister was changed three times and no Minister can run a Department effectively without being well grounded in it. I think the right hon. Gentleman is doing his best, and as long as he is kept there and allowed to get on with the job, he will do extremely well. Without continuity, however, we cannot expect good results, and this is reflected in the figures because, whereas in 1951 there were 19,266 visitors, in 1952 there were 13,246 and in 1953 12,627. So there was a decline due to the lack of concentration and effort on the part of those in charge of the Board of Trade.

Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)

Would the right hon. Gentleman say what the average figures were before the war?

Mr. Bottomley

I have not got those figures but I think in 1915, when the Fair started, that the attendance was 2,000 or 3,000.

Mr. Nabarro

That was in war-time.

Mr. Bottomley

Certainly, the 1939 attendance did not come anywhere near these figures. If the hon. Gentleman is trying to argue that they were higher before the war, he is wrong.

Mr. Shepherd

It is just that I have an inquiring mind.

Mr. Bottomley

Perhaps the Minister can give those figures to the hon. Gentleman.

As to whether we are judging it on the numbers of overseas visitors or on the number of exhibitors, it is not correct that the exhibitors were falling in number also, because if that were the case the report in the "Star" yesterday was inaccurate. It said: A larger percentage of new exhibitors will show at this year's Fair than at any other Fair since the war, and applications for stand space are still being received every day. I know from experience that we had to turn away exhibitors, so, if this is a true report, it indicates clearly that not only on the side of overseas visitors has the Department been falling down on the job, but that it ought to be improving in that respect. It is not right of the Minister to say that there are not sufficient applications if this newspaper report is correct.

Mr. Amory

What I said is broadly true, measured either in terms of space or total numbers. If the right hon. Gentleman reads the wording carefully, he will find that it can be reconciled with what I have said. The overall demand for space is not as great as it was a year or two ago.

Mr. Bottomley

It is not for me to come between the statement and the conscience of the right hon. Gentleman. I accept what he says and I shall not develop it further.

The Goodale Committee Report says that the London section suffers from two serious handicaps. I would say that it suffers from more than two, but I will deal only with the two mentioned in the Report. The first reference is to the discontinuity of management which is inherent in Civil Service methods of staff promotion… I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is aware that for many years a Mr. Moore was in charge of the Department. If the right hon. Gentleman has not heard of him, I suggest that he consult industry generally. Mr. Moore did a remarkable job and was there continuously. Why could not another person be found to carry on in the same way?

Anyhow, if the Minister accepts that argument, what about the Post Office? Will he argue that because it is not competent it ought to be given to a public corporation? And what about the Export Credits Guarantee Department? Would he suggest that, for the reason put forward by the sub-committee, consideration should be given to changes there? I am sure he would not. Then why is he so anxious to accept the Goodale Committee Report when it makes similar recommendations?

The second argument is that Civil Service methods of administration, for reasons of public accountability, tend to be less flexible and more costly than would be necessary for a commercial organisation. I question that. Some of the friends of the right hon. Gentleman will do so, because I gather that an agitation is being built up inside the party about grants-in-aid. I shall not go into the arguments that can be advanced, but one or two hon. Members opposite have expressed themselves strongly, including the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Leicester, South-East (Captain Waterhouse).

We, as Members of the House of Commons, must always be conscious that, however small the amount of money, we cannot forgo the fact that public accountability is vital. Once we let go of that we are on the slippery slope and we may find that the public is having its money spent without the real accountability for which the House holds a responsibility and for which we as individual Members must take our share of the blame.

If the proposition about a public corporation is made because of the losses that have been incurred by the Fair, I would say that that is not a very sound argument. It is admitted that there has been a profit during the last two years. I think that the figure was about £2,000 last year and it was probably the same this year. Therefore, this is not the time to put forward the argument that a loss is being incurred. If the Fair is making a profit, it may continue to do so and we ought to hold on.

Of course, there is a contrast between London and Birmingham. The two centres are entirely different. It is inevitable that the Birmingham Fair should make a profit. If it did not, then it would not be a well-run organisation, Let us consider why. The Birmingham Fair has a permanent home with every convenience for management and staff. It has an administrative centre, and another important factor is that the Fair is open to the general public Everybody goes; it is the popular thing to do.

If we want it merely as an exhibition of that kind, well and good, but we come back to the Ramsden Committee which puts the emphasis on exports. In the London Fair attendance is limited to certain times to make sure that the buyers have the Fair to themselves so that they can buy the goods which we want to sell both overseas and at home. There is that difference.

There is also the fact that London has no permanent centre. Originally, the Fair was held at the Royal Agricultural Hall. Then we put it in the Victoria and Albert Museum and, later, it was transferred to a large warehouse in London Docks. Then it went to the White City. I am glad to say that it was the Labour Government, in 1929, who first saw the benefit of continuity. They took over Olympia on a ten-year lease, and the Fair has been carried on there and at Earls Court since the war.

But there have been post-war difficulties. On one occasion I had to see the chairman of a leading insurance company to beg him to use his influence as a substantial shareholder to compel one of the exhibition halls to be leased to enable the Board of Trade to carry on the Fair. Anyone working under those conditions finds it extremely difficult. Is it to be wondered that there have been losses?

I say in all seriousness that if the Birmingham Fair had had to be run under similar conditions, it would have closed down long ago. My judgment is that we have not, as a whole, been doing all that we could to help the Board of Trade to run the Fair. It is a matter of personal judgment. I do not think that a corporation will be the best organisation to make sure that the Fair is a success in future. What is important is that trade and industry should prosper. We should provide the best possible shop window. There is no difference between us. The emphasis is to attract the overseas buyer.

I should like to see more serious consideration given by the President of the Board of Trade to some of the suggestions in the Ramsden Report. We should have a great exhibition centre in London, with its own administrative offices. I agree that we should have similar centres elsewhere if they can be justified. I would not interfere with the one at Birmingham. If we could have a great centre in London with a permanent exhibition hall, with suitable centres to hold all the sectional exhibitions held in London, we should have not only a permanent home and administrative centre but a place where overseas visitors could go and where they could be provided with information services and the necessary comforts. That would be an attraction to them to come to see the exhibition centre. Not only could it be used for the Fair, but it could be used throughout the year. There are many exhibitions for which the promoters have to search all over London to find suitable accommodation.

We feel that we are justified in putting down the Amendment. The Government have not been broad enough in their conception. I urge the President of the Board of Trade to give serious consideration to the question whether he thinks that his Department is doing everything possible not only for exhibitions but for British trade and industry as a whole.

4.36 p.m.

Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)

I was most relieved to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) say, towards the end of his speech, that he was not proposing that any change should be made with regard to the Birmingham branch of the British Industries Fair. I must say that I do not quite understand how he can square that statement with the terms of the Amendment which says: That this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill the main proposals of which involve a departure from the considered policy of the Ramsden Committee… I imagined from that that the right hon. Gentleman would take his stand on the Report of the Ramsden Committee. It was their clear recommendation to paragraph 16 that the British Industries Fair should be concentrated in one centre. I honestly think that the right hon. Gentleman in his speech did not sufficiently consider just why it is that the Birmingham branch of the Fair has worked so well during the last few years and so much more successfully than the London branch.

There are two points in particular that we ought to remember. The first is that no fewer than 25 per cent, of the stands at Castle Bromwich, the location of the Birmingham branch, remain up from year to year and are never dismantled. The second, which is even more important, is that there is the closest liaison between the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and business men in the Midlands area.

I have had many instances since I have had the honours of representing Birmingham in this House which have shown me just how admirably the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce does its job. If one happens to try, as I have been trying recently, to make preparations for some appeal, the Chamber of Commerce can tell one everything about each business in the conurbation of the Midlands. It is that mutual give and take and confidence and trust that exists between the Chamber of Commerce and Midland business men which has, more than anything else, been responsible for the success of the Birmingham branch of the British Industries Fair during the last few years.

Unfortunately, there has not been so much business confidence and interest in the London branch of the Fair. I will not attempt to speculate today just why that is so, but the facts are undeniable. If one looks at the figures for the last few years of the area actually let in terms of square feet at British Industries Fairs in London, one sees that in 1948, for example, over 550,000 square feet were let, and that last year only about 430,000 square feet were let. That is a somewhat alarming statistic which shows that it is proving more difficult year by year to let as much space as the London branch of the Fair would like.

In those circumstances, I feel that my right hon. Friend has made a perfectly correct decision in accepting the recommendations of the Goodale Report. The point which impresses me more than anything else is that there is a very good chance that the projected company, which will be managed by business men, will be more successful in enlisting the support of industry than the Exhibition Branch of the commercial section of the Board of Trade has proved to be.

My right hon. Friend has made a correct decision and I certainly give him my fullest support, but I feel that there is something in the criticism that Clause 2 gives him rather too much of a blank cheque. It is right that we should not attempt to decide precisely how much the Board of Trade, with the approval of the Treasury, should grant to the new company for defraying the cost of advertising, particularly overseas advertising. But I put it to my right hon. Friend Clause 2 is a little too wide in its scope and that there might be something to be said for imposing an upper limit beyond which the Board of Trade could not go, or for requiring that each annual grant shall be made in the form of a Resolution requiring an affirmative vote in the House.

As drafted, the Bill simply says: The Board of Trade may…from time to time make to the Company, towards defraying expenditure incurred or to be incurred…grants of such amounts and on such conditions…as the Board…may determine. That is really too much of a blank cheque, and I hope that, before the Bill leaves us, my right hon. Friend will agree to an Amendment to limit the amount which the Board of Trade can grant.

Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)

The grants are subject to the approval of the Treasury, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that is a very good brake.

Sir E. Boyle

I see the force of the right hon. Gentleman's point. For all that, I am afraid that I have what may appear to be an unreasoning suspicion of blank cheques in any form. While I think it is right that these grants should be made, particularly to defray the cost of overseas advertising, which must be considered as part of our export efforts, I should be happier if an upper limit was provided.

I support the Bill, and I am very relieved to find that the remarks made from the Opposition Front Bench indicate that there is no intention in any part of the House to interfere with the Birmingham branch of the British Industries Fair, which has proved so conspicuous a success during the last few years.

4.43 p.m.

Mr. H. Rhodes (Ashton-under-Lyne)

I do not want to take part in discussion about the geographical merits of the two Exhibitions. My opinion is that the Birmingham section has done a good job and should be left alone. The Exhibition has been a credit to the people who have run it.

I want to address my remarks to another aspect on the subject. In its summary of recommendations, the Goodale Report states: The British Industries Fair, the primary purpose of which should be a 'national shop window'… In the next paragraph it says: The British Industries Fair should be more than a trade fair; it should project British industry on the world and be a pageant of the best in British industry. The two sections off the Fair are quite different and require different methods and should be given different consideration. I believe that, with certain qualifications, the President of the Board of Trade is on the right lines in what he is doing. By and large, the Birmingham Exhibition is a metal exhibition, and it goes well into the capital goods industries. The London Exhibition is subject to vicissitudes of fashion to which the Birmingham is not subject. In the case of London, the matter of whether or not people shall exhibit is more important than it is at Birmingham. A sudden change in fashion can mean that a firm may decide that it would be better for it not to exhibit that year but to wait another year when it might exhibit on a more substantial scale. These factors ought to be in the mind of the President in any action which he takes in connection with the exhibitions.

At the time of the last exhibition, a Canadian importer proposed to visit this country to buy cloth. At Toronto and Montreal he made inquiries about the duration of the Fairs, the way to get here, where he should stay and what he should do about visiting the two Fairs when he got here. In the B.E.A. offices at Montreal and Toronto not a single bit of information was available to the Canadian business man who wished to come over here to buy my cloth. Why was that? Does no one take any interest in the projection of British industry overseas?

The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft)

Did the hon. Gentleman refer to B.E.A.?

Mr. Rhodes

I meant B.O.A.C.

My next point concerns the opportunity which exists at either of the Fairs for exhibitors to make contacts by means of circulars letters to prospective customers overseas. There is a maker of textile machinery who has been trying during the last few months to sell his products in South America. He found that this year he was selling only one-tenth of what he sold last year. He attributed that to German competition, and so on. He decided to go to South America to investigate the situation. I will not mention which country it was, but I will give the President the information privately if he desires it.

The manufacturer went to the British Embassy there and asked for information about the contacts which were necessary to enable him to interest the South Americas in his machines. Could he get the information from the Embassy? Not a bit of it! Does the right hon. Gentleman know where he got it? He got it from the French Embassy. When the President is considering matters in terms of advertising our goods in this way, he must bear in mind the overseas aspect if British industry is to be projected throughout the world in the correct manner. I have always held the view that out dual system of trade representation overseas is all wrong.

I have another illustration. The President knows that last year I was called in about the matter of the purchase of cotton for Lancashire. There was some question why Lancashire was not buying cotton from a certain country. I happened to be in that country in January and February last year, and my job was to convince the governor of the country's national bank that the reason why Lancashire was not buying cotton was not that the British Government were unkindly-minded. To cut a long story short, I convinced the governor, but it could have been done, and should have been done, by our representative on the spot if he had had the economic facts with which he ought to have been armed. He confessed that he did not know, and on my return, after paying several visits to both the national bank and the various Ministries there, I had put down on paper for him in detail what the arguments were.

What is the use of having a Fair in this country for the purpose of attracting customers from overseas if we have not sufficient staff overseas to give such potential customers the necessary information about the Fair? I looked all over that city for some evidence of the trade fair that was to be held in this country only a month or two afterwards. Not one single bit of evidence did I see either in the Embassy, in the Chancellory or in the office of the plenipotentiary, or whatever he is called.

I ask the President of the Board of Trade to see that representations are made by his Department to the Foreign Office with a view to stirring them to some action in the matter, so that there may be some co-ordination between what he is trying to do under this Bill and through the Fair and what the trade generally are trying to do, so that the whole matter does not come to nought.

I think that we can trust Sir Ernest Goodale and his colleagues to put up the export side of it sufficiently strongly, because my dealings with him have always convinced me that he has the welfare of the export trade of this country well hi front of him all the time.

The President of the Board of Trade read out a list of representatives from all kinds of associations and organisations. Has he one from any transport organisation, such as B.O.A.C., B.E.A.C. or the shipping lines? I ask this because the last recommendation made about the date of the Fair plays a very important part, and will do so increasingly as time goes on.

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that during the last year or two cheap out of season fares have been introduced by the airlines and the shipping companies for travel to America at certain times of the year. There should be close liaison between the airlines and the shipping companies to see if such facilities could be extended to overseas visitors coming here for trade purposes. Would it not be a good thing to have on this advisory committee the very people who are going to bring customers to this country and thus help us to sell our goods?

4.54 p.m.

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

Within the general ambit of the desire of hon. Members in all parts of the House to encourage production, to stimulate exports and to assure for the British Industries Fair in both of its principal centres a healthy and successful future, there is, of course, a good deal of room for legitimate difference of opinion.

I wish, at the outset, to deal, not entirely in disagreement, with one or two comments made by the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Rhodes). It is the fact that exhibitions in all the industrialised countries of the world depend for their success in large measure, upon two important factors. The first is the advertising and the publicity that is provided in support of them, and the second is the transportation arrangements that are made.

The British Industries Fair has been well advertised during the course of the last few years. It has been well publicised in traditional British markets as elsewhere, and has become very well known, notably in Western Europe. But I suggest that a very much greater effort in this connection will be needed during the next few years. Between 1945 and 1950 Britain's engineering industry, for example, had virtually no competition at all from Western Germany, and Britain's textile industry had virtually no competition at all from Japan, whereas today both our traditional and principal trading adversaries, Germany and Japan, are back in the full spate of competition with this country.

A few months ago, I had an opportunity to compare the methods being employed by the western Germans in connection with one of their exhibitions and the methods being employed by the British Industries Fair. The Germans—I speak of the West Germans—had gone to the trouble of carrying out a form of market research in this country and had posted to every British industrial company employing more than about 20 men and women a very nicely illustrated brochure, with full supporting documents, to attract British industrialists and buyers to their fair. The fair to which I refer was that held at Düsseldorf in the Rhineland, and I shall return to it in greater detail in a moment. It is difficult to give a literal translation in English of the title of the fair, but the German title was "Alle Sollen Besser Leben."

The name of that exhibition was spread throughout British industry by countless pamphlets, and very great publicity was given to its arrangements. It drew to the Ruhr tens of thousands of men and women engaged in British industry, who went there with a view to observing and ascertaining the progress made in the rebuilding of German industry during the few years since the end of the war, and the quality and price of a vast range of German products. Advertising will be much more important to the British Industries Fair in the future in view of intense overseas competition, than it has been in the immediate post-war years.

The second point I wish to make is a counterpart to what the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne had to say in regard to transport. He spoke of special rates and facilities for overseas buyers coming to this country by B.O.A.C., B.E.A.C., and similar airlines. I want to say something about transport arrangements within Britain.

We have accepted the principle that the Fair should continue on the basis of having the engineering, hardware, building and electrical goods sections at Castle Bromwich, near Birmingham, and textiles and other manufactured goods at Olympia. Communications between the two places are nothing like as good as they should be. It is often a very difficult matter indeed for a foreign visitor to find his way from Olympia into the heart of London, then from London to New Street, or Snow Hill station in Birmingham, by train, and thence by motor coach to Castle Bromwich.

Last year, an effort was made to run trains directly between the two centres. Those trains were neither clean enough nor fast enough; nor were they provided with the sort of facilities I should wish a foreign buyer of British engineering goods to enjoy in this country. The French are running their trains between Paris, Dijon, Marseilles and the Mediterranean coast at up to 150 miles an hour, a new record announced in the newspapers last week.

Mr. Henry Usborne (Birmingham, Yardley)

One train.

Mr. Nabarro

Yes, one train al that speed, but—

Mr. M. Follick (Loughborough)

One experimental train.

Mr. Nabarro

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish my sentence without yapping at me I would say that it is a regular occurrence for trains running south from Paris to travel at speeds in excess of 90 miles an hour, between Paris and Dijon, and last week one train travelled at a record speed of 150 miles an hour. That is a very different matter from taking two hours and 45 minutes to travel between London and Birmingham, to which time must be added the 45 minutes to get from the centre of Birmingham to Castle Bromwich and another 45 minutes to get from the centre of London to Olympia. It makes a very great deal of difference.

What I want to see, and what I am certain the autonomous Corporation to be created will carry in mind is the need for a two-hour direct express train service from Olympia Station to Castle Bromwich Station, with new rolling stock, with excellent restaurant and buffet car facilities provided on the train, with cheap day return tickets, with a single class, which should be first-class, throughout. After all, foreigners seeking to buy our goods can well afford the few extra shillings that the first-class facilities cost. That in itself should be a very real incentive to business men to travel between those two important centres.

Mr. Follick

Could it not be solved very easily by having coaches running from Olympia directly to the Exhibition at Castle Bromwich?

Mr. Nabarro

Does the hon. Gentleman mean motor coaches?

Mr. Follick


Mr. Nabarro

Certainly not. Much too slow.

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has ever seriously tried driving from Castle Bromwich on the outskirts of the Birmingham conurbation, down the A5 road to St. Albans, and then through Barnet to Olympia. I often drive that route twice a week, and I can tell the hon. Gentleman that driving between those two points, driving a 30 h.p. car—and I am no slow driver—takes 3½hours. By coach it would take much longer, whereas a fast direct train service need take only two hours. The hon. Gentleman, of course, is living in the last century.

Let me say something about the comparative methods of holding exhibitions overseas, say, in West Germany and in this country. I can claim a little experience in this matter, having been concerned with exhibitions at Castle Bromwich for many years past, notably in engineering undertakings. We in this country are concentrating on two things, on selling our goods abroad, and, to support the export trade, on increasing consumer demand in the United Kingdom. There is an interesting reference to this in the Goodale Report which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne referred to, at the foot of page 10, which, I think, fairly sums up what is the attitude of British industry towards exhibition work at the present time. That is not broad enough, however.

I referred just now to an exhibition last year at Dusseldorf, which made a profound impression on my mind. It was much broader based than our British Industries Fair. The West Germans were not only trying to export their goods. They were not only trying to increase the demand for their goods in West Germany. They were trying, also, to do two other things at the same time. They were trying to impress the German worker with the fact that only by increasing the tempo of production could a higher standard of living be achieved, through cheaper costs to himself and to overseas buyers. Also, they sought not only to attract industrial buyers. They wanted virtually the whole of the consuming public to go and see what West German industry was capable of providing.

I was profoundly impressed because built into that exhibition at Dusseldorf were several complete production units. A complete production unit that had been lifted out of the workshop and put into the middle of this vast industrial fair. One of those production units was making industrial clothing—dungarees—with the latest type of German machine tools at an incredible pace of production. The other production unit was making a standard type of men's and women's footwear. The interest that was aroused among the thousands of visitors by observing those two production units and the latest machine tools in operation was immense.

Spread all around the hall was the picturesque slogan, fully supported pictorially and graphically, to which I just now referred, "Alle sollen besser leben."

A higher standard of living for all can be achieved through lower production costs; a higher rate of output, a higher production tempo, on the part of everybody engaged in the production team. That is as good as trying to make a direct sale of an article to a foreign buyer. Just as good, if one can impress upon everybody engaged in industry that he will not work himself out of a job by a higher tempo of production, but that lower costs mean lower prices and increased opportunities for sales, and a higher standard of living.

The creation of an autonomous corporation, which this Bill proposes, to conduct the affairs of the British Industries Fair is an infinitely preferable arrangement, to continuing to allow a Government Department to administer the Fair. The mentality of the Civil Service is well suited to briefing my right hon. Friend for his introductory speech today. I have a very healthy regard for the Civil Service, but I do not believe that the Civil Service is the right instrument, in the harshly competitive times in which we live, with all the energy and vitality of the resuscitated economies in Germany and Japan, to conduct the affairs of a great commercial enterprise such as the British Industries Fair.

I make one final point. London is very well equipped with hotels.

Mr. Follick

Not very well.

Mr. Nabarro

The hon. Gentleman's tastes may be a little more lavish than mine. He may prefer first-class hotels in New York or Paris or Brussels or Copenhagen to anything he may find in London. I do not. I like British hotels, and I think that London hotels are among the best in the world.

Mr. Follick

They are still badly equipped.

Mr. Nabarro

I beg to differ. They are not badly equipped. Neither does the foreigner think so.

Mr. Follick

Of course he does.

Mr. Nabarro

Where we are very badly equipped with hotels is in the City of Birmingham. There is no major industrial city in this country that is so badly served by hotels as the City of Birmingham. We are seeking to attract to the British Industries Fair at Birmingham visitors from abroad, and Birmingham is the centre of an industrial conurbation, as was emphasised by my own Member of Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), for whom I vote at General Elections. It is extraordinarily badly served by hotels, and foreign buyers are being driven away from Birmingham. They even desist from coming to Birmingham, they are put off from coming to Birmingham, by the dearth of first-class hotel accommodation there.

I suggest that a plan to build a first-class hotel in Birmingham, which was shelved in 1939, a plan to erect a large hotel, primarily to attract overseas visitors, in Colmore Row, Birmingham, should be revived. My right hon. Friend, once this Corporation is established, should seek by every means in his power to impress upon the corporation running the British Industries Fair the fact that many foreign buyers will not visit Birmingham unless they are provided with good hotel accommodation. The Government should without further delay grant whatever licences may be necessary to the commercial enterprise that may wish to run a new first-class hotel in Birmingham.

I commend the Bill to the House. It is a step in the right direction. I wish the autonomous corporation that is to run the Fair every success, and I know that hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House will join with me in saying that we should, by all means at our disposal, encourage the success of the British Industries Fair, both at Castle Bromwich and at Olympia, in the years ahead.

5.10 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)

The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) has said a great deal about things that are not in the Bill. There is nothing in the Bill about the shortage of hotels in Birmingham. There is nothing in the Bill which empowers the Treasury to lend money to the British Industries Fair, Ltd., to build hotels in Birmingham. There is nothing in the Bill about the hon. Member's motoring exploits or about speed or danger. Indeed, he said very little about the proposal in the Bill, which is to transfer responsibility for the management of the British Industries Fair from the Board of Trade to the body specially created for the purpose.

Mr. Nabarro

The hon. Member did not have the benefit of listening to my right hon. Friend's opening speech. Had he done so, and also to that of the Opposition Front Bench, he would realise that this Bill implements in a large measure the proposals of the Goodale Report, and if he reads the terms of reference of the Committee he will recognise that all the matters I raised come within the terms of reference of that Committee.

Mr. Houghton

The hon. Gentleman, not content with criticising the British Industries Fair, now turns and criticises me.

Mr. Nabarro


Mr. Houghton

I was unhappily unable to be present for the larger part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, but I was here for the whole of the speech of my right hon. Friend. I hold in my hand the Goodale Report, which I studied closely. I think I am right in saying that the hon. Member devoted very little of his speech to the contents of the Bill. I am not saying for a single moment that what he said was not interesting, and I am not saying that the suggestions which he made were not worth attention by the management of the British Industries Fair, whether it is a Government Department or a certain company.

We are agreed on both sides of the House that, above all, we want the British Industries Fair to be a success. Whether it is managed in one way or another, the supremely important requirement is that it should succeed in the job that it has to do. The question that arises on this Bill is whether the management of the B.I.F. can continue successfully and satisfactorily to be undertaken by the Board of Trade, or whether responsibility should be transferred to the British Industries Fair, Ltd. This Bill deals with certain financial arrangements in connection with the proposed new company. It authorises the company to borrow and it also provides for grants to be made by the Treasury towards certain purposes in connection with the management of the B.I.F.

The main reason I intervened in this debate was to criticise what I think is the undesirable bias upon which this proposal is made, and that is bias against the Civil Service. The hon. Gentleman, in the few remarks that he made which were appropriate to the Bill, said that he did not think a Government Department was a satisfactory instrument for running a fair, especially in these days of keen competition, where initiative, virility and enterprise were necessary in order to push the sales of British products in the markets of the world.

Mr. Nabarro

Hear, hear.

Mr. Houghton

The hon. Member frequently makes noises in this House which remind me of a contented cow. There is nothing outside the dairy that can compare with the sort of thing that we listen to from the hon. Gentleman. If he will content himself for a few moments I will proceed to unfold what I have to say about the Civil Service.

It is a slur on the Civil Service to suggest that it is lacking in enterprise, in initiative, in drive and in imagination. I have frequently said that one of the conditions of democracy is the constant challenge to bureaucracy. That I hold to be true, but I believe it is a bad thing for the public service if there is to be against it a constant and steadily growing bias, and the legend that it has peculiar and cumbersome methods and is lacking in the qualities of enterprise which are necessary to run business affairs.

Where does business go when it wants really good people? When the London, Midland and Scottish Railway wanted a highly competent administrator it went to Josiah Stamp, who was not only a civil servant but a tax inspector. When a chief for the British Transport Commission was needed, where did the Government of the day go? To the noble Lord, Lord Hurcomb, who had been Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Transport for a number of years. When Imperial Chemical Industries wanted the next chairman and also desired to appoint a young and coming man as vice-chairman, where did they go? To Stanley Paul Chambers, who is now launching the tremendously big, new financial development in Imperial Chemical Industries.

Where do many commercial undertakings go when they want to learn something about the latest improvements in methods, organisation and management? They go to the Organisation and Methods Division of the Treasury, and the people who are in the O.M. Division have a great deal more to teach business than business has to teach them. We must challenge the underlying assumption right away of this Report and of the few brief remarks in the speech of the hon. Member that there is a deficiency in the public service in managing and undertaking an enterprise of this kind.

The truth is that it is only in the public service that we can find managers for large enterprises. By and large outside the public service few people have the experience and knowledge of large undertakings. Another thing was found in connection with the railways service. That service never produced administrators. It produced operators and when it wanted administrators it had to come to the public service.

On page 6 of the Goodale Report we read of two serious handicaps which, it says, arise from the management of the B.I.F. by the Board of Trade. I am referring to paragraph 12. Here is the first one: …the discontinuity of management which is inherent in Civil Service methods of staff promotion… Are there no inherent difficulties in the methods of staff promotion in business? Is there any guarantee that we shall have no more continuity of management in the British Industries Fair Ltd. than we have in the public service? Cannot the Board of Trade adjust its promotion machinery and employment of its officers to retain them continuously or sufficiently long in a position of management and avoid the interruption of the continuity of management which is referred to here?

I regard this criticism as absolutely footling. It just is not worth serious consideration. In outside business, managers will die, they will go overseas, they will seek new appointments more responsible and more remunerative probably, and I do not see that with all the resources of the Board of Trade there need have been or need be any difficulties of the kind mentioned in paragraph 12 (a).

Secondly, the Report mentions Civil Service methods of administration, which for reasons of public accountability, tend to be less flexible and more costly than would be necessary for a commercial organisation. But we find from the salary lists of Government Departments that most of the people employed in the Civil Service are earning chicken feed compared with the scale of salaries and expenses which it is customary to give to business men in positions of comparable responsibility.

I say without fear of contradiction that whoever manages the British Industries Fair under B.I.F. Ltd. will receive a great deal more money than anybody ever received for doing it for the Board of Trade. As for the suggestion that the methods of administration are more costly, there may be a little more care in Government Department expenditure than there is in a business house but surely, once more, the necessary flexibility can be brought into the organisation of a Government Department which is responsible for managing an essentially industrial undertaking.

Then paragraph 25 (c) makes a really most unfortunate reference. It states: A public corporation managed by business men would be more likely to enlist the support of industry for the Fair than seems possible at present under Civil Service management. That is a suggestion in the whole of this Report about which I complain. The Report assumes an unwillingness on the part of business men to co-operate with Government Departments. Here is the anti-Civil Service bias creeping into the whole approach to the British Industries Fair. That is to be deplored. There is no evidence in the Report of any of the things to which the Committee refers as criticisms of continuing the management of the Fair under the Board of Trade. If this change is to take place, let it take place in an atmosphere of good will and appreciation of what the Board of Trade has done. Let us not permit it to take place in an atmosphere in which additional strength is given to the bias against public administration.

I do not believe that business men are half as clever as they think they are. I do not believe that business men have anything like the imagination or flexibility of mind that they think they have. In fact, most business men that I have met—and the higher up one goes the more it seems to be the case—are singularly lacking in general intelligence. Many of them have developed what I might call a vocational ability, but that does not really spring from any intellectual development or broad view of administration or business enterprise. It is essentially a narrow slant on the affairs with which they have to deal.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

It gets there.

Mr. Houghton

The Civil Service can get there if given the chance.

Mr. Nabarro

Is it not a fact that private enterprise business, which the hon. Member is disparaging, is responsible for paying the Civil Service? The Civil Service and the Inland Revenue would not be there at all wore it not for the tens of thousands of enterprising business men who pay their wages.

Mr. Houghton

None of us would be here at all were it not for each other. We are all surely making a mutual contribution, and most of us owe our existence here to our mothers and fathers, anyhow.

Sir W. Darling

Not some, but all of us.

Mr. Houghton

We are having swift confirmation of the criticism I made a few moments ago of the mentality of business men.

I regret that this change in the management of the B.I.F. is to take place in the atmosphere of the Goodale Report. When the hon. Member for Kidderminster extols the virtues of business and says how much we owe to it, let us bear in mind what this Bill proposes to do. It is to give business a very substantial sum of money to run this Fair. Business men are not going to do it out of the resources of industry. Oh no, they are coming to the much maligned source of national revenue for a substantial grant. They are asking for £100,000 over a period of a few years. In any case, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) pointed out earlier, they will have to go to the Treasury naturally for the grants provided for them under the Bill.

They will have to satisfy the conditions laid down by the Treasury. That is quite reasonable in the circumstances, because British Industries Fair Limited wants public money and wants to get it away from the rigidities and public accountability which business men criticise inside the public service. In other words, these people want to spend the money without having such close scrutiny as might be necessary if the money were spent by Government Departments. This House, surely, has it in its power to look with a different eye on expenditure by Government Departments for the B.I.F. from that which it casts on public expenditure on a new set of forms in a particular Department or on a new venture of some other kind. Expenditure lies in the power of this House and the scrutiny which is applied to it is undertaken by an officer appointed to this House and by Committees appointed and manned by this House.

So I really do not see that there is anything very much in the suggestions made in the Report, upon which this Bill is based, that it is necessary to transfer the management of the British Industries Fair to this new company to give it the sort of boost and freedom and scope for imagination and enterprise which undoubtedly it should have if it is to compare favourably with fairs which are held in other countries. For these reasons I criticise the Bill, I criticise the Goodale Report and I support the Amendment in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends.

5.29 p.m.

Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)

I am sure that the House has listened with interest to the spirited defence of the Civil Service by the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton). I can well imagine that the hon. Member has been saving up this outburst against the intellectual level of the business man during the years that he spent in the Civil Service administering the laws of this country. But I am afraid that he has got it all wrong, and I am sure that a moment's reflection will convince him of that.

No one pretends that a business man is necessarily of a higher intellect than a member of the Civil Service, and no one imagines that a member of the Civil Service is not capable, in a different environment, of doing just as well as the business man. The difficulty lies in the fact that in the Civil Service even a man of initiative is bound by certain considerations which do not exist under private enterprise. It is not that one man is inferior or that one breed of men is superior to others, but that the conditions under which they must necessarily operate in the Civil Service are irksome and not conducive to enterprise.

It is quite true that we have taken men out of the Civil Service and they have been outstandingly successful in business life. There is nothing unusual about that, but in the Civil Service administration there is not a satisfactory environment for industrial enterprise. It works the other way. When men have been taken out of private enterprise into the nationalised industries they have found the atmosphere there intolerable. I do not think the argument is quite as serious as the hon. Member, in his indigation, suggested. The men concerned are not superior to each other, but it is a matter of climate and environment.

In the main, I support the Measure, and I do not think that the speech of the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) indicated any fervent difference from the point of view of my right hon. Friend. After so rigid an Amendment on the Order Paper, I was surprised at the timidity of the support the right hon. Member gave it, and I think it quite certain that no Division will take place on this issue this evening.

The reason I welcome this Bill is that we want to make people in business have a sense of responsibility for the Fair. That would be a great advantage. Business men are being carried about quite a lot by Government Departments, and all sorts of organisations are set up to help business in this way and that. There is a tendency to say, "Let the other people do it," and not to take a corporate interest in these organisations. I think the Goodale Committee were right in thinking that if we can get business more interested in the Fair as a Fair we shall get more results from it.

I have been very much disappointed in the Fair in recent years. It has not had the same appeal, and I am anxious that it should revive its appeal. My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) spoke of fairs in other countries. There is no doubt that they have succeeded in imparting a glamour which we in this country have not succeeded in imparting to our Fair. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is the best."] It may be the best, but "the best" is a general term. In countries overseas there is much more attraction in their fairs than we have succeeded in achieving. We want to give the Fair a new appeal to buyers from overseas and to people in this country.

What is the main difficulty about the Fair in London? I think it is definitely a matter of the building in which it is housed. We badly lack a suitable building for the Fair in London. Whilst present conditions may not be entirely favourable to doing so now, before many years we shall have to face the problem of erecting a satisfactory building for the British Industries Fair. If one goes abroad, particularly to Paris, what a contrast there is. One feels, in walking up the exhibition palace—even the temporary Palais de Chaillot—that here is something which reflects national prestige. When I have to take people from overseas to Earls Court I try to take them by a route along which they not see the outline of the building, because a more depressing spectacle never offended the eye of man. We have to face the task of providing a building for exhibition purposes which will do justice to this country.

My right hon. Friend said that it would have cost £6 million or £8 million in 1946 and would cost £10 million or £12 million now. But the cost is not the main factor. The main factor is what the building could earn. If we can erect an exhibition building of an imposing nature which will do justice to this country and let it to other exhibitors during the course of the year to earn a return for the amount invested, I would consider that a very good investment. I would not be deterred became the capital expenditure was £X million or £Y million. This is an economic proposition.

What I am afraid of is the recommendation in the Goodale Report that we should devote ourselves to the Crystal Palace. There could be no more unfortunate thought than that we should centre the activities of the British Industries Fair in the Crystal Palace. I am a stranger to London, as I come from the North and I now live on the north side of London. To me territory south of the river are desolate wastes from which no traveller returns. It would be most unfortunate for the prestige of this country if we were to concentrate our ideas on developing the Crystal Palace in this way. Although I am sure that there are excellent purposes to which it could be devoted, this is not one.

Mr. John Taylor (West Lothian)

I am very interested in the argument of the hon. Member. Does he think it would be a good thing to drop the suggestion that the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow, probably the best exhibition building in this country, might be considered for another wing of the British Industries Fair in future?

Mr. Shepherd

There may be a case for evolving that idea. It may well be desirable during the course of the exhibition in London simultaneously to run another exhibition in Scotland, or maybe one in Manchester. There is a case for that kind of treatment of the exhibition, but if we are to have a centre in London I am certain that it has to be worthy of this country and we certainly have not anything which is worthy at present. There is a lot of undeveloped space on the South Bank and someone has to make amends for the architecture of the Festival Hall. I was hoping that we might consider the proposition of putting up a really imposing building on the South Bank site, which would be suitable for this purpose. I think that is worth considering.

The reason there has been a falling off in exhibitors is probably due to two causes. One is that many firms are full up with work and do not want to exhibit because that takes time and interferes with their production. The other is another class of person who is not full up with work but who finds the cost of exhibiting too high. I thought the recommendation in the Goodale Report about differential space prices was an extraordinarily good one. I am sure that it would increase the total revenue and attract a number of exhibitors who, because of cost considerations, are now debarred. I am sorry that has not been taken up, but I hope that the company, when established, will look earnestly at the possibility of attracting another section of industry, at present debarred out of cost considerations, by putting into operation the differential space rates.

I am sure there is no massive difference between the two sides of the House today. As the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham said in moving the Amendment, it is a matter of personal opinion as to whether on balance a new company will provide the sort of direction and energy which is needed. We all pay tribute to the way in which the Board of Trade officials have managed their enterprise; they have done extraordinarily well. This is a new departure. It may not prove as successful as we imagine, but I think, in view of the overall circumstances, it is worthy of a trial.

I hope that the House will give a Second Reading to the Bill, and I also hope, as I expect, that the right hon. Member will not press the Amendment.

5.40 p.m.

Mr. Henry Usborne (Birmingham, Yardley)

I am glad of the opportunity to participate in this debate and I should like to make a few remarks which, admittedly, will be rather at random. One could make a very long speech on this subject, but I think that I could do greater service to the House if I make only a few points.

Before I make those points, I have a personal confession which I must make, particularly in view of the fact that I am sitting directly behind my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton). I am one of those poor, benighted business men whom he so savagely described, and, I want to say, not inaccurately. I have myself participated in—and indeed founded—an engineering firm in the Midlands which has, over the last 10 years, exhibited on a number of occasions at the British Industries Fair.

I want to suggest that the argument that we have had between the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), who attacked civil servants, and my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby, who so gallantly defended them, is largely irrelevant. I think it is perfectly true that civil servants can run the British Industries Fair extremely well, but I think it is also true to say that business men do not think they can. It is also true to say that most successful business men are generally politically illiterate. I think that, from the nature of a successful business, he is a genius who concentrates upon his job, and if, in fact, he spends the whole of his life concentrating on one particular job, it is not at all sur- prising that he has not deeply studied the political world at large.

Mr. J. K. Vaughan-Morgan (Reigate)

Would the hon. Gentleman apply his remarks to trade union leaders?

Mr. Usborne

I do not wish to be drawn into a discussion of a subject of which I have no intimate knowledge, and, in any case, it is irrelevant to the argument I am going to develop.

I want to suggest that a reason this modest little Bill is worthy of careful consideration is that there is no doubt that, in the minds of my fellow business men in Birmingham, there is a feeling that the British Industries Fair, although carried on in Birmingham on the whole pretty successfully, cannot be regarded with certainty as continuing successfully. There are all kinds of difficulties to be faced. There have not been so many overseas buyers attending the B.I.F. in the last few years; certainly in the last few years exhibitors at the B.I.F. have not received the same volume of orders as hitherto, and we are beginning to wonder what is the cause of all that.

An interesting interjection was made by the hon. Member for Kidderminster when the right hon. Gentleman was moving the Second Reading of this Bill. He was saying that 'there was apparently some lack of confidence in the running of the B.I.F., and the hon. Member for Kidderminster interjected and wanted to know whether this was because there had not been, particularly in regard to the London section of the Fair, the demand from exhibitors, or whether it was the fact that there had not, in fact, been the same amount of interest from the overseas buyers. The Minister of State replied that, as far as he knew, it was a fact that there was not the same pressure of demand from exhibitors for floor space at the Fair.

The success of the Fair is, and must be, very largely measured by the demand for space from exhibitors; in other words, it is a question of confidence of the business man in the Fair itself—a psychological factor. It has to be admitted that there is now a feeling that the B.I.F. in the last few years has not been as successful as hitherto, and there is a feeling that it might be more successful—certainly, that it might attract more confidence from the business fraternity—if it was run by business men.

I should say that the civil servants themselves are the first to realise that a change of that kind can do no harm; it might indeed do good. In fact, the reason the B.I.F. has not been as successful in the last few years as hitherto is very largely due to world causes, and not necessarily to the handling or management of the B.I.F. itself. Let us face the fact that the reason manufacturers take space nowadays and regard the taking of that space as having been worth while is that one or other of two factors obtains.

First, they exhibit at the fair and realise that it is important so to do if they have a new model or a series of models that they are about to introduce to world public opinion; or, secondly, they have a particular desire to find agents in one or two overseas countries. If either of these causes prevails—if, in fact, they can through the B.I.F. get new agents in one or two countries in which they have had no representation or unsuccessful representation, or if they want to exhibit a new series of models—either of these things is sufficient to make them regard an exhibit at the fair as worth while, and it is always worth while if these two circumstances coincide.

The difficulty today is that to discover agents abroad is not sufficient. We want to discover agents who can overcome the quota and financial difficulties which now prevail in so many countries, and that is something which agents themselves are quite helpless to overcome. It is no longer at all easy to sell in a great many of the markets which we should like to penetrate, and it has very little to do with the B.I.F. It is a highly charged world political problem, and, somehow or other, we have to solve it, but it is not fair to blame the organisers of the Fair for that fact.

Nevertheless, if the Fair is to continue, some changes will have to be made in the management thereof, because the business fraternity—and I speak for the light engineering industries in the Midlands—have not been very happy in the past and want to see some sort of change in order to give them new confidence that the Fair will be able to carry on.

It is most important that, if the B.I.F. is continued, it should be continued flat out. The worst thing of all would be to allow it gradually to die on its feet. There must be a new injection of hope, and I believe that this Bill gives it. I think an important principle is involved, and I am very grateful to my right hon. Friends for having moved the Amendment in order that the proposal shall be carefully scrutinised.

I believe that to set up a board of directors will provide the opportunity of deciding whether the B.I.F. should be held every year. It might be desirable to hold it every three years. Secondly, the board should decide whether a separate section of the Fair might be held in another centre, such as Glasgow. These things need to be looked into, and a new form of management might be able to look at the problem afresh.

Meanwhile, this Bill provides that the Government should undertake a guarantee, but that does not necessarily involve paying out money. A guarantee up to a maximum of £100,000 is proposed, and I do not think myself that the Government would necessarily lose any of that money. I think it is necessary that we should do something to the B.I.F., because we cannot let it go on as it has been going, and I think that, on the whole, this is a fairly reasonable Bill.

It is most important that we in Parliament should watch the operation of the new corporation. Quite clearly, here is an injection of public money into a private corporation, and I think that, in the prevailing circumstances, it is necessary to do that, but, because it is being done, Parliament should watch very carefully how the money is being spent.

If the B.I.F. cannot be made to pay, it will be a great pity from the point of view of the nation as a whole. But I do not think that we ought, without the most careful scrutiny, necessarily to blame those who are directing the B.I.F., if it does not work out right and does not pay. There are many circumstances which vitiate the success of such an enterprise, and the Bill is necessary precisely because we see those difficulties, and because we cannot expect private enterprise to take risks on account of the nation as a whole without the backing of the Government. It is because there are dangers inherent in that idea that it was right and proper for the Opposition to put down the Amendment and for it to be moved, but if we have an assurance, which I hope we shall have and for which it was proper for us to ask, I hope that my hon. Friends will, in the end, ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

5.52 p.m.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

This is a very important Measure, and although, in the end, it may cost us nothing at all it will be an earnest of the Board of Trade's appreciation of the selling business and the importance of exhibitions. I must not be held to believe that exhibitions are not an art in which the British are very successful. I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) said about the success of the British Motor Show, which, I understand, costs nothing to the Board of Trade, and is not only an exhibition of the first importance, but is a very great success.

Of course, the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) has a phobia in this matter. He speaks for civil servants, and does so with eloquence, experience and knowledge. None the less, he never gives sufficient weight to the fact that for about 50 years the cream of the intelligence of this country has been taken into the Civil Service. Trade and business have to take what is left over. Anything that cannot pass the Civil Service examination is good enough to run the business of the country; persons like myself, for instance. Is it surprising that, in those circumstances, the best brains of the country, after being expensively educated, have been canalised in the Civil Service? The hon. Gentleman allows his passion to go a little far when he suggests that the Goodale Report was unfair to civil servants.

Mr. Houghton

What the hon. Member is criticising is the lack of imagination on the part of the business community in not offering sufficient incentives to attract the products of higher education into business. Business men always want their sons in the business, or elementary schoolboys to work their way up.

Sir W. Darling

That is not a very proper thing for the hon. Gentleman to say. He must not forget that private enterprise has to bear the burden of Income Tax, and that for many years the tax has been collected at 9s. 6d. in the £. When we are told in this House that business men are not half as clever as they think they are—that was one of the dicta of the hon. Gentleman—it is time that some voice was raised, as my hon. Friends the Members for Kidderminster and Cheadle (Mr. W. Shepherd) have said, on behalf of those who carry the day-by-day burden of developing and financing the goods and services of this country, in contradistinction to those who work in a protected atmosphere all their lives, enjoying the advantages of economic security with the certainty of a pension.

I refer now to the civil servants. They belong to a class who have been largely detrimental to the development of Britain. The vigour of the United States is to some extent due to the fact that the Civil Service of that country is much less attractive than here, and that the best brains from the universities go into the workshops and the offices. If we took the best brains away from the mere administration and management of the affairs of the State, with all the backing of security that the State gives them, and allowed all that vigour and individuality to go into free enterprise, we should see a tremendous expansion of our economy, as is the case in the United States, which leads the world.

I do not think that the hon. Member needs to take this matter too sorely. We shall continue to quarrel with the Civil Service, and to find jobs for the more eminent of them when they are tired of the Service.

I note particularly that in the summary of recommendations of the Report it is recognised that the British Industries Fair is a national shop window. We should have several shop windows. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor) remarked upon the importance of Glasgow and of the Kelvin Hall for the purpose of exhibitions. The idea of having exhibitions is, as the hon. Member for Yardley (Mr. Usborne) pointed out, a little stale. That is due to the fact that there is public boredom with exhibitions generally. Many important products cannot be adequately seen in an exhibition. My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster mentioned the exhibition at Düsseldorf, but it still remains true that many products of business cannot be seen to best advantage in an exhibition.

In Scotland, there are important engineering products which are now being visited by economists from the Commonwealth and from countries like Finland and Peru. Those products are being visited not in an exhibition hall but in situ. I refer particularly to the works in connection with the Hydro-Electric Board. The visitors see the machinery actually at work.

Exhibitions are no longer confined to Olympia and the Castle Bromwich site. There are exhibitions all over the country. I have steadily pressed my right hon. Friend and his colleagues to increase the number of those exhibitions. I have pressed, at the same time, that we should have an exhibition of first-class modern road bridges in Scotland, which would be observed by millions of people coming from all parts of the world, not in a hall, but by crossing the rivers Forth and Tay. Those are the kinds of thing which the Goodale Report envisages.

The Report says that the Corporation should be empowered to do more to develop the London section. I am referring to Item 32 (p). The determination of the corporation not to add to the complexities, difficulties and muddles of London, but to take some of these exhibitions into the free open air of the wider country is very laudable, and is a thing which we should encourage. I hope that the corporation will bear this point very much in mind.

The most grievous thing we suffer from is not the tendency of the Civil Service to overbear individuality, but the fact that nearly all the wealth of the population of these islands is among London's 15 million, crowded into this part of the country. We do not wish to add exhibitions to London, which is an exhibition itself of a sufficiently startling character. If this exhibition idea is to be carried out, as I hope it will be, let us carry it out in Birmingham, in Manchester, in Glasgow and throughout the country. We want to take people out of London and not put them into it. We want to diminish this great wen and relieve it of some of its exhibitions

The Bill is important and stimulating. I hope that the British Industries Fair will develop an exhibitions policy, not of the Olympia or Castle Bromwich type, but based on the idea that it is Britain which is the exhibition which all the world might well come to see.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. H. A. Marquand (Middlesbrough, East)

It seemed to me that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Sir W. Darling) gave an example of Satan rebuking sin when he suggested that my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) allowed his passions to run away with him when speaking.

In my introductory remarks I want particularly to refer to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Yardley (Mr. Usborne). He spoke, I thought, rather pessimistically of the future of the British Industries Fair. He gave me the impression that, among certain business men in Birmingham and elsewhere there may be a feeling that the Fair has served its purpose, is no longer a very great help to them and ought to be allowed to die. He very properly said, and I entirely agree, that that ought not to happen; that if we are to have a Fair we should go flat out to make it a good Fair and not let it die away gradually. It was precisely because that feeling might exist, in the minds of certain sections of industry at any rate, that it ought to disappear and was not to be relied upon as the British shop window, that I joined with my right hon. Friend when he put down this Amendment.

The President of the Board of Trade last week destroyed what I might describe as one of my offspring when he destroyed the Raw Cotton Commission. It appeared to me that in this Bill it was just possible—I will not put it higher than that—that he might have in mind a similar operation on another of my offspring, the Ramdsen Committee and its Report. I hope that I shall get it clearly from him that he does not at all share the rather pessimistic feeling which my hon. Friend the Member for Yardley seemed to express—I hope I do him no injustice—that the Fair might dwindle away. I hope that the President will deny any idea that the change from Board of Trade management to management by a corporation is a preliminary to the gradual decease of the British Industries Fair.

The Ramsden Committee very definitely took a contrary view, and it was on that part of its Report that we based our reference in our Amendment. Although I do not quote, I think that I am summarising not unfairly when I say that the Ramsden Committee said that the regular holding of exhibitions on a national scale was an essential and indeed a focal part of the post-war export drive. It had no doubt that Her Majesty's Government should accept the responsibility for this part of the export drive. It would be silly to suggest that this is the only part, or even the major part, of the export drive, but it is definitely an essential and focal part of it.

It provides, as it were, something more than a figurehead—a prow—behind which the export drive is organised. To establish a Fair on an appropriate scale, to ensure that it was a united national effort, giving a fair show to all sections of industry and exhibitors large and small, and to ensure its continuity and appropriate linkage with exhibitions of all kinds at home and abroad, it was necessary that His Majesty's Government—as it was then—should be responsible for it. That was the report which was made to me at that time and which I accepted on behalf of the Government.

I still think that it must be regarded as an essential part of the export drive. I could not agree with anybody who suggested that there was less need for the export drive in 1953 than there was even in 1945. Better though our general circumstances are now than at the immediate end of the war, the need for exports remains quite as strong as ever it was then. Many speeches made this afternoon reinforce that view, which is shared on both sides of the House. The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro), to whose speech on this occasion I listened with more patience than to some of his remarks on the Cotton Bill, showed the danger of the present situation to industry generally.

We have to ask whether it is true that we are now fighting for our life or not. On this side we believe that we are; that the present situation is dangerous—that it is necessary, as it were, to gird up the national loins for another determined and arduous export drive, as we did in 1945 when we found ourselves with an export trade just one-third of what it was before the war. There seems to be the danger, voiced in some speeches this afternoon and shown in some recent events, of a feeling spreading in industry that the need for a real, determined, hard effort at this point is not as great as we make out.

I know that the Minister of State, Board of Trade, did say that he wanted the Fair to be the shop window, that he wanted it to be highly successful, and that he thought that industry did mean business in the export drive, but, if I may say so, he did not say it with a great deal of force or apparent conviction. Are we getting back to the pernicious doctrine, continually advanced by the Prime Minister when he was on this side of the House, that the export trade should be really the overspill from the home trade? Do Her Majesty's Government believe that or not? I hope that they will deny it.

I thought that a reply which I saw, I think yesterday, by the right hon. Gentleman to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, East (Mrs. Castle) about a problem arising in her constituency, suggested that the Government were not now prepared to make the special efforts which used to be made to assist industry to put exports first all the time. I felt that there was a danger of their saying, "Business men know their own interest best; leave them to follow their business judgment"—as they said about the import of cotton.

That simply will not do. I know that the President of the Board of Trade is endowed by nature with great gifts of speaking forcefully. I hope that in his reply he will give a very forceful denial to any such suggestion that the Government do not realise the importance of the export trade. I shall be glad if he tells us that they wish to impress upon industry at every opportunity the need to put exports first, and to follow our course when we first invented export targets and insisted that export was not merely the overspill of a satisfied home market but was the first priority.

In view of what was said by the Ramsden Committee in its Report in 1946 and by the Goodale Committee now, I made some notes of the sort of questions which I thought the Government ought to answer. First, they should indicate their full appreciation of the importance of what I might call the Ramsden concept of the Fair as a large and important part of the spearhead of our export drive. I hope that the Minister will say something stronger than what is set out in paragraph 6 of the Goodale Report. I was disappointed with that paragraph. I admit that it pays lip-service to the importance of the Fair, but it does not lay sufficient emphasis upon or appreciate the fact that exports should come first.

We also require something stronger than what is said in paragraph 10 on the general problem. The reference to the provision of new buildings in London is very vague. I understand that the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) supported the idea of new buildings in London at an early date, but the Goodale Committee says that …it remains a desirable objective, and developments in connection with the Crystal Palace site should be closely followed… That is a rather vague and not very emphatic endorsement of the necessity for proper provision in London, and it soft-pedals very much by saying that in present economic conditions it is very difficult for the Government to undertake the necessary work.

There is a need for a shop window in the new conditions of a highly competitive export trade, and satisfactory premises which are always available for the purpose should be provided. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will make some appreciative remarks about the need to continue contact with similar fairs and exhibitions overseas. That is, and always has been—at any rate, it was in my time—a very important part of the Exhibitions Section of the Department of Overseas Trade and, later, the Department of Export Promotions. I hope that that work will continue, and that if the Fair is handed over to a company, a section of the Board of Trade, no doubt not so large, will remain to keep in touch with all the international fairs and exhibitions.

The hon. Member for Kidderminster referred to the Dusseldorf Fair. There are many fairs of this kind which are extremely valuable for British exporters. It may be that it is not much good to show the usual run of British production in Dusseldorf, because the Germans are making the same sort of things as we are, but there are many other fairs where it does a great deal of good. Last summer I had the opportunity of inspecting the fair at Smyrna. That fair is held in a predominantly agricultural country, which wants to buy greater quantities of British manufactured goods. We ought to know about these fairs and maintain an organisation which constantly keeps in touch with them.

One of the reasons I regret the decision to take away responsibility for the British Industries Fair from the Board of Trade is that in the Board of Trade, there are people whose responsibility it is to keep in touch with those other fairs. The suggestion that the civil servants responsible for the British Industries Fair are employed only in that work, and are, therefore, under-employed, is not true. If it were true that their sole job was to conduct a fair which lasted for three weeks—although the preparations and winding up would take many more weeks—the situation would be scandalous, because they would not be employed for more than six months in the year.

But it is not true. They have this other work to do all the time, and the people who are responsible for the management of the Fair ought also to have responsibility for world-wide contacts with other fairs and exhibitions. I hope that the President will put forward a better justification for this action than we have heard so far—certainly a better one than the Report gives for taking away the management from the Board of Trade.

Paragraph 11 of the Report says: The conclusions and proposals which follow are based largely on the evidence of the Federation of British Industries. Similar evidence on the main principles has been received from the National Union of Manufacturers. The word "principles" is a rather significant one to use in this connection. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) has said, it suggests that the matter was prejudged.

When the F.B.I. and the N.U.M. talk about principles of management, we know that they are in favour of allowing the management to be done by private enterprise, and when the terms of reference were so drawn as to find: Whether it is desirable and practicable that responsibility for the organisation and administration of the Fair should be assumed in full, or in part, by industrial and commercial interests… it looked as though the question was begged before it was answered. We should like to have a little more reassurance that this has been done not because of some previously agreed principle but because the right hon. Gentleman is completely satisfied that he will get a more efficient administration by this means.

Are the people who are to manage the Fair in future to be exclusively employed on that job? If they are, how are they to fill in their time for 12 months in the year? Or is it intended—and there may be something to be said for this—that the whole of the Board of Trade staff which is engaged on fairs, exhibitions and promotions generally, shall be transferred to the company in order to run the whole job of overseas publicity and exhibition as well as home publicity and exhibition? I strongly repudiate—as did my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby from his personal knowledge—any suggestion that the civil servants concerned have not been doing a full-time job to the best of their considerable ability.

We have had some reassurance as to the nature of the company. At first, I feared that it might be some new form of permutation. I can never understand permutations, but I should understand a permutation which changed B.I.F. into F.B.I., and I wondered whether that was intended, and whether the signing of the report and everything else meant that the British Industries Fair was to be handed over to the Federation of British Industries. I am not making any attack on the F.B.I., but I should not like to see this matter put exclusively into the hands of that body.

We are glad to hear that the President of the Trades Union Congress is going to take part in the general supervision of the Fair. I should have liked to see a Minister taking the chair of a new body of trustees, if not of the company. There are precedents for this. The Postmaster-General, as I know from my experience in that office, is the chairman of the Board of Governors of Chelsea Hospital. These appointments have been made in the past, and they could be made again. There is a case for a Minister without specific Departmental responsibility representing the Government and the general interests of Parliament by keeping a constant watch upon the movements of this body.

We have had some reassurance this afternoon from the Minister of State, Board of Trade, on accountability to Parliament. I think he will understand that when we saw the Bill we found it a little difficult to discover exactly what was the measure of accountability and what would be the methods of securing it, because nearly everything is left out of the Bill and all is put into the White Paper. I must admit that the right hon. Gentleman was reassuring in what he said, but I took note of the feeling of the hon. Member for Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), who said he did not like a blank cheque. I hope that in due course he will put down an Amendment in Committee so that we may discuss whether a maximum figure should be put into the Bill. We shall be happy to support him.

I come now to the question of Birmingham, which has been mentioned frequently. It is, of course, true that the Ramsden Committee recommended one Fair in London, with adequate buildings and upon a considerable scale. I admit that when we came to examine in full detail those possibilities we found that in modern London, with its very difficult transport problem, the provision of the whole of what is now in Birmingham and what is now in London, all together in London—and we hope the sections will grow even bigger—would be very difficult indeed, as well as being very expensive.

Experience has shown, since the Ramsden Committee, that the Birmingham Fair has a great deal of patronage and now covers such a large acreage that it is difficult to contemplate the whole of it being moved to London. We are not suggesting, this afternoon, that it should be moved to London.

As my hon. Friends have already said, we admire the Birmingham section of the Fair. I have been to it several times. I even went to it last summer at my own expense, and I am afraid I shall find it quite impossible to persuade any inspector of taxes that that visit was wholly, necessarily and exclusively concerned in the performance of my Parliamentary duties, although I think it was.

The Birmingham section is getting on well. It has one enormous advantage which a London Fair could not have—the advantage of being able to attract to the Fair the large number of workpeople who work and live in and around Birmingham. I was very much impressed by the number of Saturday afternoon visitors to the Fair, for literally thousands of workpeople, with their families and friends, come into the Fair and have the opportunity of showing the products which they have made, on exhibition, and of seeing what other people make. That is a most valuable advantage and one which would not be very easy to obtain in London.

We do not want to press the point that the Birmingham Fair should be moved to London, but I, at any rate, want to ask a question about it. If the Government are to establish a corporation, why could it not be responsible for the whole of the Fair—for the Birmingham section in Birmingham and the London section in London, with adequate buildings provided as quickly as we can get them? If it is possible to rebuild the City of London, as is now being done, possibly this could be done at the same time, bearing in mind all the money at stake, the great importance of the British Industries Fair and its place in what I hope will be a new and vigorous export drive, led by the President of toe Board of Trade, and drawing in the other work of the Board of Trade to which I have referred—the work of encouraging British exporters to take a real interest in overseas fairs and exhibitions, to go to the exhibitions and to advertise over there. I should have thought that the new corporation would have had a worthwhile job if it could have control of the whole business.

I have asked the right hon. Gentleman a good many questions. I hope he will try to answer as many of them as he can, as well as those which have been put by other hon. Members. We shall have to decide our action in the light of what he says.

6.25 p.m.

The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft)

I rise to conclude the debate on the Bill. It is a short Bill of only two Clauses and probably most of the things which can be said about those Clauses have already been said from one side of the House or the other.

I agree with what I think is the view of both the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bottomley) and the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand), that there is no great difference between us about this matter. Personally, I should deplore anything which would tend to turn the British Industries Fair into some sort of party political matter. All of us, I think, would regard that as about the worst service we could give to the Fair and a bad service to British exports. I think both right hon. Gentlemen opposite share that view.

The right hon. Member for Middlesborough, East probably did less than justice to his hon. Friend the Member for Yardley (Mr. Usborne). I do not think the hon. Member was pessimistic about the outlook for the Fair. I do not think any of us need be pessimistic. The question we have to answer here is: what are the best steps to ensure that it will be a success?

The right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham felt some parental responsibility for the Ramsden Report. He leapt to its defence like a mother to the defence of her child—a very proper emotion. Let me assure him, however, that no one has ignored the accumulated wisdom of the Ramsden Report. It was written seven years ago, and it would be a remarkable thing if, in the space of seven years, some experience had not been gained and if the three men on the Goodale Committee, who also served on the Ramsden Committee, had not had a number of fresh ideas.

The points which we have to decide this afternoon are only two. First, should we run this Fair broadly on the lines recommended by the Ramsden Report or broadly on the lines of the more recent Goodale Report? Secondly, are the financial arrangements proper arrangements. The Ramsden Report recommended that there should be one concentrated Fair, that it should be in London, that exhibition buildings should be erected at the cost of £6 million to £8 million and that the whole of it should be run by the Board of Trade. The Goodale Report recommended that we should go on with the Birmingham section and that we should go on with it for one very good reason—because it is a success, and if there is something which is successful there is a lot to be said for developing it.

The Goodale Committee pointed out that there had been some falling off in the demand for Fair space in London. In the case of London, they recommended the formation of a public company, with the directors appointed by the Federation of British Industries, the National Union of Manufacturers, and the Association of British Chambers of Commerce; with, I have no doubt we are all agreed, the President of the T.U.C. as well. They recommended that it should keep in close co-operation with the Government. Indeed, it must do that; it would be a very sad thing if the co-operation between the Fair and the Government broke down, because it is essential to the success of the Fair that whoever runs it should be in close touch with all the overseas officers, intelligence departments, and so on, in order that knowledge of this Fair can be widely spread throughout the world and visitors attracted to it.

In the circumstances and having considered the reports of our own advisers on this matter, we decided broadly to follow the suggestions of the Goodale Report. I think that on reflection the House will consider that we were right. These business men were appointed to advise on these matters, and they served the right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham as loyally and as well as they have served me. I am not saying that industry would not co-operate in any circumstances; I think that industry would. But if we want the full co-operation of industry, there is something to be said for taking good notice of the advice of industrialists given to one in a matter concerning a Fair of intimate and great importance to themselves.

I should like to deal with a few of the points raised in the debate. The right hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham referred to the question of whether the demand for space had, in fact, been falling off in London. It has been falling off for a number of years, during the time that he was at the Board of Trade and during the time that I have been there. I do not think that that is a reflection on the people who were running the Fair. I think that it is a reflection on what has been going on in the world. In a sellers' market people are inclined sometimes to come to us, but in a buyers' market we sometimes have to go to them. There is not very much that we can complain about in a matter of that kind.

The right hon. Gentleman said, and I was very pleased to hear him say it, that Birmingham has certain advantages. It has these advantages, so let us use them to the full. There are natural advantages, which are very considerable, in running an exhibition of our great engineering and capital industries in the industrial Midlands where so much of that industry is centred; but, in addition, I agree with the hon. Member for Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), that part of the success of the Fair there is due not only to natural advantages but to the work of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce. They have made a fine job of it.

My hon. Friend, in commenting on the general principles of the Bill, referred to Clause 2, and to the question of whether some upper limit should not be set upon the grants which the Board of Trade make for the purpose of overseas publicity. I think it is probably very improper to say so, but I wish a lower limit could be set. I should not resist any Amendment that was put down to that effect. I did rather agree with the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvill Hall) who once held the job of Financial Secretary to the Treasury, when he intervened and said, "The Treasury will look after that."

Right hon. Gentlemen should not imagine that it is a very simple matter to get unlimited funds made available for overseas publicity for the B.I.F. or for any other purpose. It is, however, a serious point which he raised, and I will give it consideration. The only other point I make on that is that Parliament does have control of this amount. It is carried on the Board of Trade Vote, and it is. open to challenge in the House and, very properly, is debatable upon the Estimates.

The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Rhodes) gave three examples where people had not heard about the Fair. It was a perfectly fair point that he made. But if we are spending £100,000, or an average of £93,000 over a period of years, on overseas publicity, I do not think it would be difficult to find three people who had not heard about the Fair. I dare say that I could find three others. I am not suggesting that overseas publicity is not capable of improvement. All overseas publicity always is capable of improvement, but I would say to him that we have concentrated particularly upon the Canadian market to which he referred.

Not only have we done so, but I think that I am right in saying that ray predecessors did so and we have concentrated on it even more. We have increased the allocation of money in that field. With regard to the airlines and B.O.A.C., they co-operate with us; loyally and have been of great help to us not only in connection with the Canadian market but throughout the world. I do not say that one could not find someone in some office who, when asked for a pamphlet or information, did not know where the pamphlet or information was, and I should be surprised if that were not so. But in our embassies, consulates and high commission offices we have made it our practice to see, months before any Fair is held, that they are given full information and all the facilities that we can make available to them to spread the knowledge of what is available at the Fair and the facilities that we have as widely as possible throughout their territory.

Mr. Rhodes

Two of the illustrations had to do with embassies. If there is anybody anywhere overseas who should know what we are doing, it is in the embassies, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will pay particular attention to that before the next Fair.

Mr. Thorneycroft

I should not like the hon. Gentleman to think that in replying I was not giving full consideration to his points. I can assure him, and all other hon. Members in the House, that the fullest attention will be given to the points that they have made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) raised the question of transport between London and Birmingham. He suggested that in France people travel between distances of that kind at a speed of 150 miles per hour. I cannot promise him that before the next Fair the trains between London and Birmingham will necessarily travel at that speed. But I certainly do attach considerable importance to seeing that facilities are available for travelling between the two sections of the Fair. Indeed, last year we did make efforts to try and improve matters in that direction.

I think that the fact that Sir Arthur Smout is taking charge of the new company may be some guarantee that every effort will be made to see that the two sections are linked up. It is our idea that the new company should generally supervise the co-ordination between the two sections of the Fair. I think that the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East made a particular point of that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster made what I thought was a very telling point when he mentioned the relationship between sales and productivity with particular reference to the type of exhibition he had seen in Germany. I think that is a lesson that we must all learn, and we must not slacken in our efforts to emphasise it. Finally, he asked me why no one can build a hotel in Birmingham suitable for foreign tourists. The answer is that anybody that wishes to do so can. I shall put no obstacle whatever in his way.

The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) made a spirited defence of the Civil Service. He saw in this Bill some bias against civil servants. Let me assure him that there is no bias at all.

Mr. Houghton

The right hon. Gentleman did not write the report, so how can he say that? I am judging from all that he said.

Mr. Thorneycroft

I read the report and drafted the Bill or, at least, I take responsibility for the drafting of the Bill, and I can assure him that there is no kind of bias against the Civil Service in either. In point of fact, both I and the able industrialists who served on the Advisory Committee have the highest regard for the efforts which the Civil Service has made over a number of years to undertake the very great responsibility for running the British Industries Fair at the London end.

The issue here is not quite whether civil servants are the best people to do the job. The hon. Gentleman said that industry often takes them. But a civil servant may be taken out of the Civil Service and go into all sorts of jobs, whether running an industry or running a fair. The question here is whether a civil servant, while in the middle of his career, can be usefully seconded for two or three years to run the British Industries Fair before going on to somewhere else.

The hon. Member for Sowerby said that something may happen to businessmen; they may die, they may go overseas. But they will not be transferred suddenly to the Plastics Division of the Board of Trade. That is the risk which comes with the Civil Service, and quite rightly. One cannot put an able civil servant into one of these jobs and say that he must remain there permanently; it simply is not fair to the civil servant concerned. Therefore, if it is done in this way, it means that there is constant change. As every hon. Member knows, fairs of this kind are today complex professional jobs, in which professional people are best employed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) referred to the need for a permanent home for the London exhibition. This need was echoed in the Goodale Report. I am not entering in to the controversy of where the home should be. I think that my hon. Friend, looking from the heights of Hampstead towards South London, got rather a biased view of what lies to the south of the Thames. I am not plunging either for the Crystal Palace or for the site at Glasgow; it would be unwise of me to step into these points of controversy.

All I say is that I share the view of the Goodale Report that we ought to watch this situation and consider, if it changes, whether a permanent site there would be available. In the meantime, we have to treat the world as we find it, as it is today, and we would be deluding ourselves if we imagined that we could find many millions of pounds at this time for the erection of a permanent site. For the moment, therefore, we must do the best with what we have got.

The hon. Member for Yardley, speaking as a customer—he is an exhibitor at the Fair—spoke of businessmen and of displaying what the hon. Member for Sowerby calls "a certain vocational ability," which means carrying on business without actually going bankrupt. The hon. Member for Sowerby—he did it very charmingly—explained why business men sometimes feel that other people besides civil servants can make some contribution to the solution of their problems. The Bill recognises that; it does not rule out the civil servant. The Board of Trade, and particularly the Exhibitions Branch, will continue to have, and obviously must have, very close touch with the British Industries Fair; this is of very great importance. It cannot be run without a mixture of public and private enterprise, and there should not be any squabbles between the two. We have never had a squabble over the British Industries Fair in that sort of way, and I hope, as the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East will hope, that we do not have any such squabble now.

This is a great national fair, which has made a very great contribution to our exports. What we ought to do now is to take these steps which our advisers, after great consideration, have advised us to take, and to watch the developments as they proceed over the coming years. All of us, in all quarters of the House should wish them well.

Mr. Bottomley

While we on this side do not in any way change our view that we think it is wrong that a public corporation should run the British Industries Fair—it is a matter of judgment, and time alone will tell what is right—and while taking note that the President of the Board of Trade has ignored the vital part of the Ramsden Committee Report which deals with exports, in view of the right hon. Gentleman's plea that we ought not to make the Fair a matter of party conflict, with which we entirely agree, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. R. Thompson.]

Committee Tomorrow.