HL Deb 05 May 1925 vol 61 cc24-32

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the purpose of this Bill is to increase the Government guarantee from £100,000, which was given under the Act of 1920, to £1,100,000. I should just like to say one word about the distinction, which has caused some confusion, I think, generally in the public mind, in the two relations in which the Government stands towards this Exhibition. It is both a guarantor of the Exhibition and an exhibitor as well. In its capacity as exhibitor it spent about £315,000 last year, and that is, of course, quite outside the sum which it guarantees as guarantor. I should Mike to say, also, that under the powers of the original Act of 1920 the authority of the Government was very much restricted as regards the Exhibition. For instance, it had some control over the appointment of the executive council and general manager, and had the right of information, but it was not responsible for the policy or conduct of the Exhibition.

Let me say a word as to how this guaranteed sum is made up. First of all there is the £100,000 to which I have referred already, under the Act of 1920, then there is £500,000 promised, I understand, by the last Government, but the promise could not be carried out under the Act owing to the Dissolution, and then there is a further £500,000 which the Government proposes to add, making, in all, £1,100,000. Besides the Government guarantee, there are the guarantees of private guarantors, amounting to more than £1,000,000, and these guarantees, I understand, are carried on to this year. The figures of the Exhibition are familiar, and I will not go into detail upon them. Your Lordships may remember that the expenses amounted to £3,900,000 and the receipts to £2,100,000, leaving an adverse balance of £1,800,000. You are also, no doubt, well aware that it would be very difficult indeed to expect a business of this kind to repay not only working expenses but the whole of the capital involved in the construction of the buildings, and so on, in a single year. As regards this year, 1925, of course it is difficult to make any prophecy, but any surplus after the payment of working expenses will go pro tanto to the reduction of the amounts guaranteed both by the Government and by private guarantors. As to the prospects, I am not in a position to make any prophecy, but I shall not be wrong in saying that I do not think the weather can be very much worse than it was last year, and trust it may be better.

As regards the general question of what advantage is got out of the Exhibition in return for these guarantees, of course it is very difficult to measure in figures the precise trade advantages which we get, although they must be very large, even if you only take into account the money spent by foreign visitors, who come in large numbers for the Exhibition; but, no doubt, the great advantage to this country is that it brings home to all classes of the population some idea of the vast resources and potentialities of the British Empire. It must be an almost incalculable advantage to the rising generation. On that I should like to give your Lordships two or three figures. I understand that no fewer than five million children, in organised companies, visited the Exhibition last year, and that the Bulletin of Empire Study, which was arranged by the Board of Education, had a circulation of 130,000 copies, and was studied in 7,000 schools. The only other point I need mention is that in another place a Fair Wages Clause was included, which, one hopes, will do away with any difficulties such as arose during the construction of the Exhibition last year. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Peel.)


My Lords, I should like to say a few words in support of the Second Reading of this Bill. The main facts have been clearly and fully put before your Lordships by the noble Viscount, and I anticipate that the measure will be very largely supported, because there are, I think, few propositions which come before your Lordships' Rouse which have on the whole such a big balance of argument in their favour. The noble Viscount has explained that the total sum involved in this guarantee is £1,100,000. That is a large sum, but I will go so far was to say chat, even supposing that the whole of that amount has to be found, that the guarantee has to be implemented in full, we shall, in effect, get back the money, and probably a good deal more, because is must be borne in mind that against the expenditure, whatever that may prove to be, there are direct cash gains to the Exchequer on the other side.

First of all, there is a gain to the Income Tax returns from the profits made, on account of the fact that the Exhibition will be open for a second year—profits made by contractors and others in getting the Exhibition ready, and profits made by business men on new connections opened because of the Exhibition. And I think we ought to remember in regard to this item that those profits will, in not a few instances, go on for an indefinite number of years, because once new business connections are made they may well last for an indefinite period. Then there are profits to the railways through bringing, as we hope and believe—certainly this happened last year—many millions of persons to London from the provinces.

The noble Viscount referred to foreign visitors. Last year it was estimated that no fewer than 70,000 foreign visitors came to London specifically to see the Exhibition. It was pointed out in another place that, even if it be assumed that those 70,000 persons only spent £15 each, which I think is not very excessive, taking hotels, fares backwards and forwards and everything else into account, there was a total expenditure of almost exactly the same amount as this guarantee, and on a gross expenditure of that magnitude there is big room for profits. There is no doubt that last year many London hotels benefited greatly through the large influx of foreign visitors, and we hope there will be a similar influx this year. Then, again—and surely this is most important—we must bear in mind the vast amount of employment, both direct and indirect, which will be given by reason of the fact that the Exhibition will be open for a second year. In consequence of that there will be a very material saving in unemployment benefit and in poor relief. In fact, taking everything into account, I feel confident that, if a true profit and loss account could be drawn up, showing everything which has resulted and which will result from this Exhibition, as regards receipts and expenditure, the balance would be well on the right side, whatever be the sum which might have to be found to implement the guarantee.

But that is not all. As the noble Viscount has said, there are other matters which have to be taken into consideration which cannot very well be estimated in terms of money. There is the educational advantage from the visits of 5,000,000 children to the Exhibition last year, and surely there is great benefit to Imperial interests because of this wonderful Exhibition. On that let me say one word. It is estimated that last year, in connection with the Exhibition, there was spent by Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Newfoundland, and the Colonies—I am not speaking merely of Government expenditure but of all expenditure—a sum of about £20,000,000. If that is so, and some authorities put it higher, the amount involved in this guarantee, £1,100,000, is not, after all, a very large sum for the Mother Country.

Of course, we all know that in connection with the Exhibition last year certain matters occurred which were open to criticism, and I have no doubt that this year, also, to some extent things will occur to which objection can be taken. But the experience of last year will be valuable, and we look for improvement in certain respects. When all is said and done, viewing matters in their correct perspective, surely we ought to, bear in mind that this is not merely the biggest Exhibition which the world has ever known, but it is, I believe, five or six times bigger than any exhibition which has ever been held before. In view of that fact, in view of the gigantic nature of the enterprise, though no doubt many of the criticisms which have been made have been largely justified, I cannot help thinking that the surprising thing is that matters went so smoothly. It is a point for real satisfaction and pride that this enormous, this almost superhuman scheme has, on the whole, in its conception, its organisation, and its execution, been brought to such an excellent result.


My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Peel, tells us that originally the Government guaranteed £100,000, then the Labour Government guaranteed another £500,000, and now this Government, following the example of the Labour Government—a very bad example to follow, if I may say so—are going to guarantee another £500,000, making in all £1,100,000. We might almost think that we were a prosperous country, with the revenue increasing by leaps and bounds, and our expenditure diminishing, whereas, as a matter of fact, we are a very poor country, with an enormous expenditure, and we ought to do our utmost not to spend more money, but to save money.

The noble Lord who has just sat down entered into a long string of arguments to show that the contractors will make some money, and will have to pay some Income Tax upon it, that the hotels are going to make money and will have to pay Income Tax upon it, and that the railway companies, or a few of them, are going to make money and will have to pay Income Tax upon it. That may or may not be so. I do not know; nor do I know how the noble Lord knows it, because it entirely depends upon whether or not he can find out that a certain number of people will come from abroad merely because the Wembley Exhibition is open. My opinion, for what it is worth, is that the whole of that sum of £1,100,000 will be lost, and I should not be at all surprised if there was a deficiency after that sum has been paid. It is true that last year a large number of people came up from the country to see a novelty. Will they come again? Because there was a loss last year when the Exhibition was new, is it good policy to start it again in order to see whether you can or cannot retrieve the loss which was made when it was a novelty? It is no longer a novelty, and I do not believe you will find that anything like the number of people will come to see it this year as came to see it last year. My noble friend Lord Peel says that a very large number of children went to see it last year—some five millions, I think.




And that they had their minds opened. It is very likely that is true, but does my noble friend think that five million' children will go there this year? If they do, will they not be the same children, whose mimic have already been opened? Is it worth while to spend considerable sums of money in opening the minds of five million children who have already had their minds opened and therefore do not want them re-opened?


They want them kept open.


If they cannot keep them open for a year without going to Wembley, what a vista that opens before us! We shall have to have a Wembley Exhibition every year and to guarantee £1,100,000 in order that the minds of children, once opened, may not be closed. After that, I think I should be justified in asking your Lordships to go to a Division against the Second Reading of this Bill if, unfortunately, it was not a Money Bill. May I, however, very humbly and earnestly ask my noble friends on the Front Bench not to be led away by the extravagance of the late Government, but to do their best to inculcate economy not only upon their colleagues, some of whom require it, but on the officials over whom they preside?


My Lords, I conceive that this Bill is not certified as a Money Bill. At any rate, I cannot see that it is. It is, therefore, sent up to us, I suppose, for us to deal with as we think best. And if I could prevail upon this House to take what I believe to be the wise course of rejecting the Bill there would be little doubt that its would come up again, not this Session but at the earliest possible moment duly certified, and our powers of criticism would be taken away. That would be the procedure. As the Bill is here it certainly demands our attention and, I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, our very close and exact scrutiny. This Bill, after all, will commit the country to the extent of £1,100,000. That fact is perfectly plain, though everything else is problematical. I think that the noble Lord who spoke from the Labour Benches referred to it as a small sum.


Will the noble and learned Lord forgive me? I said decidedly that it was a large sum.


I misunderstood the noble Lord; I thought he referred to it in that way. At any rate, I acquit him, but somebody referred to it as a small sum. It appears to me that we ought at once to get it into our minds that in the present state of our finances it is a very large sum and one which requires, in my view, strong and cogent arguments before it is expended. Just let us see what those arguments really are. It is said that this is an extremely fine Exhibition. I accept that statement. It is an extremely fine Exhibition. It is one of the finest Exhibitions ever known it is said that it will give employment. Is that the reason why you are proposing to spend £1,100,000? If so, you had far better spend it directly on providing labour than on a problematical work of this sort. It is then said that it will tend to the prosperity of the Empire. That is a delightful and pious aspiration, but I should like to know why.

What is there in the holding of the Exhibition this year that will accomplish anything which the Exhibtion last year left unfulfilled? That is a thing that I do not understand. I would like to know from people who are experts in Exhibitions—I am not one—whether they can give me any instance of an Exhibition that has been a success in its second year after the novelty has worn off and the attraction has been dulled. When people have had their curiosity satisfied, it is a very difficult matter to arouse it a second time, and I entertain the greatest doubt, notwithstanding the admitted excellence of everything that can be said in connection with the Exhibition, whether the same number of people will attend the Exhibtion this year as last.

The noble Viscount, Lord Peel, seemed to base his expectations on an improvement in the nature of the weather. Has the weather up-to-date shown any signs of improvement? I do not see anything to lead one to expect that it will alter its behaviour in the next few weeks. You cannot depend on changes in wind and weather. You must have something firmer than that, and I can find nothing in what has been said in this debate that will provide a more certain basis than a vague idea that something may result to hotel keepers, manufacturers and other people if the Wembley Exhibition is continued. That the Exhibition served a good purpose last year I have never for a moment doubted, but I believe that purpose was exhausted when the year had gone by, and I do not believe that it will revive now.


My Lords, there is little perhaps that I can say to my noble friend Lord Banbury, because I think his observations were directed not so much to the expenditure on the Exhibition as to the giving of general advice to the Government, which they will be very glad to accept, to observe economy in all their works and ways. I cannot speak generally for the Government. I can only say that if the noble Lord looks into the office of which I am now the head, he will see, I think, that there is the most exemplary economy in all aspects of its work.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, was, I thought, a little melancholy about the future of the Exhibition. He said that he did not think that any arguments had been brought forward to show why the Exhibition should be successful or should attract a large number of persons this year. That, of course, is a thing that I cannot answer from my own experience. I can only say that before the decision was taken to continue the Exhibition for another year the matter was very fully gone into, both by noble Lords opposite and by the present Government. They consulted all those who have knowledge not only of this Exhibition but of other Exhibitions. They consulted with manufacturers and persons who were going to display their goods there. They discussed it with all those who were responsible for the movement of people on railways, and for schools, and so on. And the enormously preponderating result of the advice of those people was that it would be a wise and prudent thing to carry on the Exhibition for another year.


May I ask the noble Viscount if the whole of that class of people do not get the benefit of the guarantee?


How about the schools?


They get the benefit of a holiday.


I do not think they get the benefit of the guarantee. Let me point out to the noble and learned Lord what I thought I said in my opening statement, that any sum above the payment of actual working expenses—of course, the working expenses last year were very heavy; there was a very large expenditure on putting up so many elaborate sets of buildings—any sum over and above the payment of the working expenses will go to the reduction of the amounts of the Government guarantee, and of those of the private guarantors. I think it is a very pessimistic view to take of the result of this Exhibition that it will only pay working expenses. Even from the bare financial point of view, it is much better to carry on a second year in order to have the possibility of meeting a large, or at all events some, portion of the guarantee than to allow the Exhibition to lapse. Perhaps, however, I need not go into the financial difficulties at this moment. I think that the very gloomy view which the noble Lord has taken should be greatly discounted. As regards his views upon the weather, after all we are only at the beginning of May, and I trust that his rather gloomy prophecy will be falsified in the coming months.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.