§ 3.54 p.m.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, BOARD OF TRADE (LORD RHODES)
My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to make a Statement, which is being made by my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade in another place, on a proposed National Exhibition Centre at Crystal Palace. It is as follows:
"For some time past the Government has been examining proposals for the construction of a National Exhibition Centre. The most promising site for such a centre appears to be the Crystal Palace.
"Under the London Government Act, 1963, the Crystal Palace site is the property of the Greater London Council and is held by them for the purposes specified in the London County Council (Crystal Palace) Act, 1951. These purposes include the promotion of industry and commerce.
"Two Federation of British Industries Committees have looked into this matter. The first concluded that great benefits to industry, and in particular to our export trade, would be derived from the development of a modern exhibition centre in London suitable for major international exhibitions. The second recommended the Crystal Palace as the most suitable site and put forward outline plans for its development. The F.B.I. have obtained and passed on to the Government many assurances of support from trade organisations who participate in or organise trade fairs and exhibitions.
"Discussions have been held between the Government and the London County Council (now the Greater London Council). I understand that the G.L.C. would be prepared to make the Crystal Palace site available without charge, and to undertake the building of the Centre, as part of a joint arrangement for the construction of a National Exhibition Centre. They would, however, expect the Government to participate in the financing of the project.
"The Government recognise that an Exhibition Centre of the kind proposed could be of great value, particularly 526 for the promotion of exports. They welcome the willingness of the G.L.C. to make the Crystal Palace site available, and they consider that the concrete and detailed proposals, which will be necessary before a final decision is taken to proceed, should be worked out without delay. I have accordingly asked the Greater London Council to undertake as a matter of urgency the preparation of costed plans for the Exhibition Centre, a fully detailed study of its revenue-earning prospects based on support from industry, including the export industries, and an examination of what improvements might be necessary in road and rail access.
"I have informed the Council that if the outcome of these inquiries is satisfactory, the Government will be prepared to proceed with the project in partnership with them under an arrangement, the terms of which are already under discussion with the Council.
"In this event our objective will be to have the Exhibition Centre ready for use in the Autumn of 1970."
§ LORD ERROLL OF HALE
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for reading out the Statement which he has just made, which I am sure will be of interest to all noble Lords in this House. Nevertheless, I wonder why the Statement was made at this stage, as it takes us very little further forward from where matters were last October, and I should have thought it would have been better if the Statement had been made when the discussions had proceeded to a satisfactory conclusion with the Greater London Council. It seems to be a very hypothetical Statement, but perhaps it is a belated response to my request for information in my speech of February 11.
Perhaps I might ask the noble Lord two questions. Is industry to contribute to the capital costs of the Centre, or only to the running expenses? From the Statement it is not clear whether a capital contribution is expected-from industry as well. Secondly, are privately-owned exhibition hall companies, for example, the company owning Olympia and Earl's Court, to be compensated for the inevitable loss of business arising from a competitor subsidised by both the taxpayer and the unfortunate ratepayer?
§ LORD RHODES
My Lords, for thirteen years we waited for such a Statement from the Government of the day, but never got it. We are obliged to them for making some preliminary investigations, but it has been left to this Government to make real progress. We intend business: I can assure the noble Lord of that. With regard to the question of whether trade associations will contribute to the running of the site, this is a matter which will have to be determined when the time comes round for the buildings to be used. Remember, it will be five years hence. With regard to the noble Lord's question about Earl's Court, one of the reasons why we have made this Statement this afternoon is to give other organisations an opportunity to consider their position. We could have taken the advice of the noble Lord opposite—and it would have been very bad advice—and waited until the whole thing was settled, but we thought it would be in the interests of all concerned to let them know at this stage how we are progressing with this matter instead of presenting an accomplished fact without warning, which would have been unfair.
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, we on these Benches are very grateful to the noble Lord for giving us the information he has. We always believe that half a loaf is better than none, and we are glad that he has made the Statement now, even though he has not been able to give us all the information which no doubt at a future date he will be able to give. We also welcome the contents of the Statement. It is obvious that there is a great need for this type of international centre for international exhibitions in the neighbourhood of London. I would ask one question in regard to that area, which I know reasonably well. In any sort of centre where there is a major exhibition, transport will be of the utmost importance. Between now and 1970, when the Centre is set up, will the Government make every arrangement to see that the necessary facilities are available for both public and private transport, so that we do not have great traffic jams caused by people trying to get to and from the international Centre?
§ LORD RHODES
May I thank the noble Lord for his commonsense observations on this matter. Transport is one of the items which will definitely be considered in discussions between the Ministry of Transport and the Greater London Council. It is an exceedingly important point, but we shall be disappointed if it proves to be a major obstacle to the whole scheme.
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF BARLOCH
My Lords, may I remind my noble friend of the fact that more than fifty years ago there was an excellent train service to the Crystal Palace, which was then very much used.
§ LORD RHODES
My Lords, may I add that siting this Centre at the Crystal Palace has the backing to the hilt of the Federation of British Industry.
§ VISCOUNT STUART OF FINDHORN
My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord for his Statement and congratulate the Government on it, almost meaningless though it be? I am aware that it is a matter which has concerned people for some period of time, but the noble Lord said that the present Government mean business and therefore I congratulate them on getting on with the job in the short period of time which is left to them to do business.
§ LORD ERROLL OF HALE
My Lords, would the noble Lord mind if I asked him to reply to my other question? I did ask him whether industry is to contribute to the capital cost or only to the running expenses. Perhaps he will give us an assurance that there will be no burden placed on the London ratepayer.
§ LORD RHODES
Our proposals are broadly for a 50/50 sharing of cost between the Greater London Council and the Government. I cannot say any more than that.