HC Deb 08 November 1966 vol 735 cc1154-8

3.38 p.m.

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to permit a circus in Royal Parks at appropriate seasons. History has shown that it is commonplace for Britain to recognise the need to change, and it is equally commonplace that we are so often dilatory in doing anything practical about it. I should have thought that—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker


Sir Harmar Nicholls

As I was saying, history has shown that it is commonplace for this country to recognise the need for change. It is one of our traits that we are rather dilatory in doing anything practical about it. I should have thought that by now everyone would have recognised that it is quite right that if we are to remain a solvent country, and a leading Power, we have to make use of all our talents and possessions to earn foreign currency—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is impossible to hear the hon. Member who is speaking.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

We should use all our talents and possessions to earn foreign currency to help our vital balance of payments position. For too long the only form of exports which seem to have brought forth pride in so many of our people and upon which we seem to have concentrated to the exclusion of everything else have been exports of tangible goods, such as motor cars, electronic equipment, pottery, and Scotch whisky—all excellent, and long may the sales of those commodities continue.

However, they are not the only exports. Perhaps half the nation took some pride in the earning of our invisible exports covering insurance and banking, but until comparatively recently almost everybody seems to have ignored the potential which exists in the sale of our entertainment talent. We have a group of theatres spread over the country which are unequalled in any other. We have actors and variety artistes whose talents are being sought after all over the world and whose potential for earning money which would go towards solving this country's balance of payments problem is very real.

Our television programmes are now being sold to other parts of the world on a scale which is really impressive. Mr. Lew Grade, the head of one of our programme companies, has already reported that this year he has earned 10 million dollars in exporting television programmes to America. If we recognise these potentials, we could well make Britain the centre of television programmes similar to what Los Angeles became for the movie business some years ago. On top of all this, we have the scope for attracting world tourists to Britain on a scale which is unequalled by many other countries.

Far too few people are excited about developing these things to the full. It seems as though too many people in authoritative positions are oblivious to this potential, otherwise they would not have increased the burdens borne by the excellent theatre programmes we have to offer by adding the Selective Employment Tax to their costs, would not have adversely affected tourist hotels by removing the investment allowance, and would not have handicapped the production of television programmes for world export by delaying the granting of permission to all channels to develop colour television.

Having recognised that, the purpose of my proposed Bill is to draw attention to the need to remedy these things and in one small particular to make a practical contribution to doing something about it. The small section to which I refer is one which has the full support of the official Government body. Indeed, it is interesting to note the comments of the British Travel Association, in March of this year: International tourism is growing, but we have to face the harsh fact that Britain's share of the world tourist market is now falling. Perhaps for the very reason that it was necessary to cross the sea to reach us, visitors used to make a longer stay when they got here than they did elsewhere. But travel is now becoming so easy and cheap that there is an increasing tendency for people to keep on the move, with the object of seeing more countries in the course of a single holiday. The adverse effect inevitably affects Britain more than the Continent… Improvement in promotions must be accompanied by an improvement in the product we aim to sell. In support of this, a Government spokesman—the Minister of State, Board of Trade—as recently as 2nd November of this year said this: The revenue earned by tourism from overseas visitors makes a vital contribution to improving our balance of payments, and between 1958 and 1965 our credits on the travel account rose from £134 million to £193 million Unfortunately, however, because of 5 million holidays abroad the debit site of this account has grown at a much higher rate, and whereas in 1958 our debits for travel were £152 million, by 1965 they had risen to £290 million… No Government of whatever complexion "——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has not much time. I hope that he will tell us something about his Bill.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Mr. Speaker, my speech would have been a 10-minute speech if I had not suffered the interruptions at the beginning of it. I assure you of that.

The Minster of State, Board of Trade, went on in this way: No Government of whatever complexion can regard with other than concern this evergrowing deficit of what, for want of a better term, I will call the 'Balance of Tourism'. Accordingly I am equally certain that a determined drive must be made to encourage our own people to take their own holidays within Britain, and to provide them so far as is humanly possible with the facilities which they seek abroad… London is one of the main holiday centres for visitors from overseas … a gay capital city with every type of entertainment. Here comes the bit about the Bill, Mr. Speaker. After next Christmas, London will not have every type of entertainment. It will not have a circus. Paris has a circus; Moscow has a circus; Copenhagen has; Lisbon has; Madrid has. All European countries have, but London will not have one. This is what my Bill would seek to remedy. After next Christmas London's famous circus, Bertram Mills' Circus, will not have a home. No building capable of economically accommodating it exists in London.

However, without affecting any other amenity, the circus could be put in Hyde Park under canvas. In Hyde Park, there are three football pitches. One of these would accommodate everything required by the circus for, say, 12 weeks in the summer, when the pitches are not in use for their original purpose. The circus could produce at least £500 a week in the form of rent, and possibly more than that. This could be done without interfering in any way with the band enclosure, the walks, or the Lido enclosure. It would be a practical contribution to attracting the overseas visitor to stay and spend and it would encourage Britishers to enjoy their holidays at home. This is just what the Minister of State, Board of Trade recommended us to do.

Experience at Olympia, where Bertram Mills has been for some years, has shown that the circus would attract tens of thousands of British tourists. An estimate has been made that about 250,000 visitors from overseas would be likely to visit it in one summer.

The Bill is necessary as a consequence of the Crown Lands Act, 1829, and subsequent Measures on the same plane. The Minster of Public Building and Works has no power to lease any part of the Royal Parks. Legal opinion is that, although the Minister under these various Acts has power to close any part of the parks, he has no power to permit any other person to make an enclosure and charge for admission thereto.

The Bill, sponsored by hon. Members of all parties, is aimed at giving the Minister such power. Unfortunately, even if the House were to give me leave to introduce my Bill today, and even if the Government were to provide time for it to go through its subsequent stages, the position could not be fully legalised by next summer, when it ought to be done to maintain the continuity of the circus.

If the House shows its approval today it might be possible to make temporary arrangements, if the Minister acts upon the mood of the House. Under the Acts, outsiders cannot enclose and charge for admission, but the Minister can. So for a temporary period the circus management could act as the Minister's nominee on terms which would result in the Minister having the equivalent of the £500 a week rent I have suggested, without the Minister being involved in any way. He could be indemnified against any of the running risks.

If this materialises, it will be only a small beginning to the vital balance of payments battle which these service industries can make, but it would be a practical contribution and one which the House is in a position to make possible.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir Harmar Nicholls, Sir Donald Kaberry, Mr. Harold Gurden, Mr. John Maginnis, Mr. Robert Cooke, Mr. George Jeger, Dr. Broughton, and Mr. Russell Johnston.

Back to