Clause 1. — (Additional Loans to Festival Garden Company.)

Festival of Britain (Additional Loans) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd July 1951.

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7.33 p.m.

Photo of Sir Waldron Smithers Sir Waldron Smithers , Orpington

I beg to move, in page 1, line 10, at the end, to insert; but the Minister shall not make any loan until the investigation now being made by the police into allegations of fraud on the Festival sites have been completed and any consequent decision of the courts made known. We had a late Sitting last night, and we have today dealt with an important Bill, which has just been passed, and I promise the Committee that I shall not be very long. But I do not want hon. Members to think that because I shall be brief I do not attach great importance to this Amendment. I am fortified in that, because in the stop press of the "Evening Standard" this evening, there is an item; FESTIVAL GARDENS AND L.C.C. Failing to get satisfactory reply on excessive expenditure of £1,600,000 on Festival Gardens, Mr. Henry Brooke Leader of the Opposition, moved adjournment of L.C.C. this afternoon, so that the matter could be thoroughly discussed. Subsection (1) says; The Minister may, with the approval of the Treasury, make to the festival gardens company (in addition to any loans made by him thereto under section two of the Act of 1949) loans of an amount not exceeding one million pounds, and any loans under this section shall be made on such terms and conditions as the Minister thinks fit. I think that is giving much too much power to the Minister. After all, what is the security for these loans? The next Amendment on the Order Paper tends, I think, to support that point of view. My object in moving to insert these words is so that no more of the taxpayers' money shall be risked till we know the result of the investigations which, I believe, are on foot by the police.

There is another point about this Clause which I believe is important. As I understand it, the money is already spent, and there are allegations of fraudulent spending. I want to know how often before in the history of the House of Commons the Government have been able to spend a large amount of money without the permission of this House. When the case comes on in the courts, there may be more revelations, and before we give power to the Minister to spend this money let us know the worst, and let us know how the money has been spent.

This Clause is typical of Socialist financial mentality. It is irresponsible. and it puts a premium on fraud. I have always been told that one of the main duties of a Member of Parliament is to be a guardian of the public purse. Now there is no difference in principle between the budget of the humblest home and the Budget of the country. A man who spends more than his income finishes in the bankruptcy court, and that is what is being done under the financial policy of this Government.

It may be said that the £1 million in this Clause is not a large amount. I have always been told that if you look after the pence the pounds will take care of themselves. This Clause is in keeping with the whole policy of the Government since they came into power, the background of which is this. In 1946–47 the ordinary expenditure was £3,910 million; this year it is £4,197 million; and as a consequence the purchasing power of the £has fallen from 20s. to 14s. 6d.

Now, this cannot go on, and we must make a protest every time more money is spent by the Government, especially when there are allegations of waste. I am quite sure that none of our big banks would lend money to a man accused of theft until he was cleared. I doubt whether any banker today would lend money to the Festival of Britain, so why should the Government squander more of the taxpayers' money to satisfy what is known as "Morrison's folly"? How many houses could have been built for our people with all the money spent on the Festival of Britain, or with only this £1 million? There is an old saying that there is no smoke without fire.

I do not know the truth of the two examples I am about to give; I hope it will come out at the trial. One example is that lorries were driven into the site of the Festival of Britain and driven out, with no proper check kept on them. The other is this. When it was found that there was some leakage of goods and materials, a policeman was put on the gate. A man came along with a barrow covered over with a tarpaulin, and the policeman stopped him and asked. "What have you got in there?" "Only some rubbish" he was told; and after he had had a look he told the man, All right, go on." Then 14 more men did the same thing—

Photo of Mr Robert Mellish Mr Robert Mellish , Bermondsey

On a point of order. In view of the fact that investigations are being made by the police and, as I understand it, as there may possibly be court proceedings, is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to make allegations of this kind, which he says may not he proved?

Photo of Sir Charles MacAndrew Sir Charles MacAndrew , Bute and North Ayrshire

I thought that the purpose of the Amendment was to cause the Minister to wait until the investigation had been made. What the hon. Gentleman is now saying seems to anticipate it.

Photo of Sir Waldron Smithers Sir Waldron Smithers , Orpington

; I am giving the reason why this investigation should be continued. May I just finish this point? The only thing that happened was that next morning there were 15 barrows and 15 tarpaulins missing. No contractor could allow or could afford such things to happen, and why should a Government allow this alleged waste and expenditure to take place? That is why I want this Bill held up until we hear the result of the court proceedings.

The Minister is a business man and the best of a bad lot. He has a very difficult job in trying to put right the folly of his predecessors. I ask him, would he allow such things to happen in his own business? Of course he would not, and for that reason I ask him to accept this Amendment.

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

; It is quite clear from where the hon. Member gets his ideas. I do not propose to weary the Committee with a recapitulation of all the statements I attempted to make clear on the Second Reading debate. The Amendment arises from the widespread reports in the Press of corruption and irregularity. In point of fact, if the hon. Gentleman will examine the White Paper, and will turn to page 33, he will see that the independent accountants appointed to investigate the goings on on the sites state clearly; We have seen no evidence to suggest that the managements of any of the contracting firms or of the professional firms engaged on the contract have knowingly been parties to any irregularities which may have taken place at a lower level.

Photo of Sir Waldron Smithers Sir Waldron Smithers , Orpington

; They may not have been parties but the things may have happened.

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

; I know a great deal about this, because as soon as I took over responsibility for the job one of the things I was anxious about were the very reports on which the hon. Gentleman no doubt has based his Amendment. I immediately gave notice to the proper authorities that investigations should be made and they were made. All the points put to me about irregularities were found on examination by the police to be not worthy of further consideration. While it is true there are still investigations going on by the police — and I have no statement to make tonight to the Committee on that account— as the independent accountants said. examination of the extent of the irregularities must wait until the whole thing is costed and added up. I made that clear during the Second Reading debate a week or two ago.

The purpose of the Bill, as I then explained, is to make a statutory provision for additional loans so as to enable us to have the Festival Gardens this year. If we carried the Amendment, it would mean that the Government would have to continue in the irregular fashion which has been so much criticised by the Opposition. In fact, what the hon. Gentleman is asking me to do is to continue to do precisely what everybody criticised us for doing in order to get ourselves out of the difficulty that quite clearly we were in, and to which I shall make reference when discussing the next Amendment; that is, to continue to make use of the Civil Contingencies Fund. Therefore, for the reasons which I have given that there is no proof of any fraud, and the irregularities so far as they are known are being investigated, and will continue to be investigated until they are laid, the Amendment is quite unacceptable, and I ask the Committee to reject it.

Amendment negatived

7.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Robson-Brown Mr William Robson-Brown , Esher

I beg to move, in page 1, line 14, at the end, to insert; Provided that before releasing any claim against the Festival Gardens Company for a sum exceeding the amount authorised under the Act of 1949, the Minister shall present to Parliament a detailed financial statement showing the expenditure and receipts of the [MR. ROBSON-BROWN.] Festival Gardens Company; and that he shall not exercise the additional right to grant releases conferred upon him under this subsection until twenty-eight parliamentary days have elapsed from the date on which the aforesaid financial statement has been presented to Parliament. I am satisfied that this Amendment will meet with general approval in all quarters of the Committee, and not least with the approval of the Lord Privy Seal himself. Its intentions and its purpose are quite clear. It is, first, to give an opportunity to the House to consider the financial position of the company at the end of the first year of operations and to consider fully and accurately both expenditure and receipts. A further thing which is very vital and necessary to consider fully is the final report of the auditors appointed by the Lord Privy Seal to investigate the affairs of this company.

There has been a good deal of uneasiness in the country— some of it justified and some not— and we believe it vital that the Government finances should be fully accountable to this House and that any misunderstandings should be taken away. I am perfectly satisfied that there is no hon. Member who would not agree that it is in the public interest that a full light be turned on the affairs of Festival Gardens, Limited. I believe it important in the interest of the Festival Gardens themselves that there should be no misrepresentation or distortion of the facts which would affect the success of the gardens, or any aftermath and bad taste which there might be if any fact or misdemeanour were hushed up.

The gardens have already proved a great pleasure and enjoyment to a considerable number of people. We are all confident the gardens will go from success to success and we hope that the robust, confident prophecy of the Lord Privy Seal that it will also be a financial success will, in the end, be justified. I have the feeling it might well turn out to be the most successful venture of its kind and something of which we shall all he proud. Speaking for myself, I hope that the reaction of the public and the financial returns will be such as to justify it going on a second year. I would go further and say that I hope it will be a Permanent feature of London life.

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

; I am very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his words in support of the Festival Gardens and the desirability of their being allowed to continue to give enjoyment to, I was about to say, hundreds of thousands of people. Expressing my own opinion, I hope he has his way, but I would tell him that while I have no objection to the intention of this Amendment, because I think it right that Parliament should know how the money has been spent and where it has gone before giving any final release, I am advised that, from a technical point of view, it would be impossible to get a suitable drafting which would go into the Bill in the time at our disposal today.

I would ask the Committee to be prepared instead to accept an assurance from me that I will have the full figures published in the form of a White Paper as soon as those figures are available, and there shall be no "release", I think that is the technical term, until that has been laid before Parliament and Parliament has had an opportunity of discussing it. I should add that the hon. Gentleman mentioned a further report from the accountants. In point of fact, there is no further report. Their report has been referred to as a preliminary report but the persons who were responsible for calling for the report are the Board of Festival Gardens, Ltd. They have decided to suspend further investigations until they have a final settlement with the contractors and until the final costings are known. It is for them to decide whether or not any further investigation is required.

I think it possible there may be confusion in the minds of some people as to the difference between a further report from the independent accountants and the issue between Festival Gardens, Ltd., and their contractors, and what further action they propose to take on that account. As to the Amendment, I will give an undertaking that the figures shall be made available to Parliament before any release is granted. I hope that on that account the Committee will agree to reject the Amendment.

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Wandsworth Streatham

; What the right hon. Gentleman has said meets the main substance of this Amendment very fully. It is undesirable, in some cases, for the House of Commons to accept Ministerial assurances as a substitute for the proper drafting of legislation; but that applies more to long-term legislation, and this is a short-term affair. I imagine that it will be a matter of months before we get this statement. Therefore, I think that my hon. Friend will be willing to accept the clear, precise assurance given by the Lord Privy Seal, which I understand is intended fully to cover the proposal contained in the Amendment.

Photo of Mr William Robson-Brown Mr William Robson-Brown , Esher

; I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Photo of Sir Waldron Smithers Sir Waldron Smithers , Orpington

; I should like to ask one question. Earlier the Lord Privy Seal mentioned irregularities and he did not deny that the money had already been spent, as I pointed out, without permission of this House. Was it spent with Treasury consent?

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

; Yes, of course. I explained that on the Second Reading of the Bill. The problem with which the Government were confronted in the early days of this year, with the opening of the Festival Gardens planned to take place early in May, was to find some means of providing money. With Treasury permission, they made use of the Civil Contingencies Fund for the purpose of carrying on. This Bill now regularises the situation by removing the need to use the Civil Contingencies Fund.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed. "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

7.53 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Parker Mr John Parker , Dagenham

; Most hon. Members welcomed the statement made by the Lord Privy Seal on the Second Reading that the Pleasure Gardens should remain open not merely for the coming year, but possibly indefinitely. I think he also suggested that they might remain open for five years. I wish to urge that the House as a whole should press on the Government the desirability of trying to make arrangements to enable the Pleasure Gardens to become a permanency.

I am certain that the great mass of the people in London, and those from the provinces who have visited the Festival, think that it should be made a permanent feature of London life. Mention has been made of the Tivoli in Copenhagen and of Skansen in Stockholm. These are places which are a combination of fun fair, open air theatres and other activities in pleasurable surroundings, with restaurants, and so on. We have been told that these gardens have flourished for many years in the Scandinavian capitals, but that it was impossible to create anything of the kind in this country. In the last few weeks we have seen that what was considered to be impossible has become a great success in London. I am certain that most people would like to feel that the Pleasure Gardens were to be permanent.

This is not a matter merely for the Government. The London County Council and the local authorities of Battersea and Chelsea are also interested. I urge that the Government should approach these local authorities at a fairly early stage to try to get some agreement that the Pleasure Gardens should be made permanent. It is said that in the neighbourhood of the gardens in Battersea and Chelsea there are many people who would object.

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

; I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he seems to be making something in the nature of a Second Reading speech. These questions do not arise from this Bill. which merely provides for certain loans to be made.

Photo of Mr John Parker Mr John Parker , Dagenham

; I conclude by pressing that some arrangement should be made with the local authorities as soon as possible, so that an announcement can be made and people will know where they are, financially and otherwise, on this question. I suggest that hon. Members should be given an opportunity of expressing their views to the Government at an early stage.

7.56 p.m.

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Wandsworth Streatham

; My hon. and right hon. Friends on this side of the House have already fully voiced their criticisms and their objections to the way in which the earlier loan granted by this House has been handled, and our regret as to the necessity for this Bill. This is not the occasion to level those criticisms again. The right hon. Gentleman gave us certain answers during the Second Reading debate. Some of them were not very complete. Perhaps he had not very much time to look into all the questions that were asked. I should be grateful if he would consider some of these questions which still require examination.

The gist of most of the speeches from the benches opposite during this debate have been that the roundabouts have been great fun and, therefore, the money has been well spent. I have been to the funfair and, like many other hon. Members, I have taken my children. I think we can all agree that, from the point of view of entertainment value, this is a great success. But that is no valid explanation for the gross overspending of the money of the taxpayers and the London ratepayers.

I am glad to have this opportunity to pay my tribute. We can all agree that the decorations and the general layout of the Pleasure Gardens are very attractive and highly successful. I wish to add my tribute to those already paid to the architects and artists responsible. On the question of the continuation of the Festival Gardens, it is not a matter with which I —

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman appreciates that the question does not arise from this Bill at this stage. I am anxious that we should not extend the scope of the debate.

Photo of Mr Duncan Sandys Mr Duncan Sandys , Wandsworth Streatham

I was about to say that I did not propose to deal with that question, because I felt that it was outside the scope of the Bill.

I would sum up the attitude of my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side of the House by saying that, judged from the standpoint of amusement, the Pleasure Gardens are undoubtedly a very great success; but, judged from the standpoint of public finance, it is, as the right hon. Gentleman himself has said, a sorry story. It is a sorry story of delay, muddle and waste. We on this side of the House protested, and we registered our protest by dividing on the Second Reading.

We do not propose to divide against the Third Reading tonight, but that is only for the simple reason that we recognise that the money has to be found. We recognise that commercial debts which have been entered into by the Government-sponsored company cannot be repudiated, however much we deplore the way in which the money has been spent. So I conclude by saying that, reluctantly and with protest, we are obliged to accept the position that, once again, the taxpayer will have to pay the price for the Government's incompetence.

8.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Gibson Mr Charles Gibson , Wandsworth Clapham

I should like to give this Bill my blessing on Third Reading, and to say that, while it is true that, in connection with the Festival Gardens, there has been some gigantic under-estimating, to put it mildly, and while there is a large sum of money required and the Bill provides a way of meeting that problem without getting the Minister and the Treasury into difficulties later, it is also true that the people of London, and those from the provinces who have visited the Gardens—and this is particularly true of the people living around Battersea Park—have no objections whatever to the existence of these wonderful new Pleasure Gardens and that many of the fears which they had in the early days have disappeared.

For instance, I myself voiced the fear that the fun fair would be extremely noisy, and that the people living in the road alongside the park would suffer at night from that noise. I am told by people living in that road that there is absolutely no sound coming over to them from the fun fair, but that a good deal of sound reaches them when the fireworks are discharged. Incidentally, I hope the Minister will do something about the noise of the exploding rockets, which go off two or three times a week.

I am told that people living around the fun fair have no objection, except that, late at night, when their children and perhaps they themselves are in bed, they can hear these rockets, which go over at almost the same time as aeroplanes from the London Airport. They remind them vividly of the very bad time they had in that area during the war, when the bombing took place. At any rate, that point is worth remembering.

I hope that the Bill will not only enable the Government to meet the enormous additional charge which is necessary but, as a result of it, there will be time to consider carefully the future of the site. In that connection, not only Festival Gardens Ltd. and the London County Council will have to be consulted, but the borough councils of Battersea and Wandsworth, and possibly, those of Chelsea and Westminster on the other side of the river, because it will be necessary to obtain general agreement in that part of London if the Gardens are to be made a permanent feature. In the meantime—

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but unless he and other hon. Members relate their remarks to the money which it is proposed to provide in the Bill, their remarks are out of order.

Photo of Mr Charles Gibson Mr Charles Gibson , Wandsworth Clapham

I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I thought I was relating my remarks to the £1 million which the Bill will provide the means of spending.

The fact is that this project has been an enormous success—a success which has disappointed many hon. Members of the Opposition, who did their utmost to damn it with very faint praise in days gone by. Personally, I was very glad to hear this evening some praise for the project, and a recognition that the passage of the Bill will enable the finances of the scheme to be put in order and to permit a thorough examination. If it results in an extension of the use of the Festival Gardens for a longer period, which will enable the promoting company to recoup themselves of these extra charges, this discussion may well have been worth while, and, certainly, the Bill itself will have been worth while.

8.6 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley

I want to say a word or two on the concluding stage of the Bill, and to draw the attention of the House to the fact that we have reached the Third Reading at a time when even the Opposition cannot deny that the Festival will be an outstanding success. Furthermore, it is quite certain that, if the Government will take the decision to continue the Festival Gardens for more than a year, ultimately we shall make a great profit. I think I am in order in pointing out that, although there has been a loss, we can get our money back.

It is also important to point out that in overcoming many difficulties there has been one difficulty to which we have not given half enough attention, and that is the carping criticism, much of it ill-natured and almost all of it ill-informed, which has come from the Opposition benches and the Opposition Press during the last few months. It is now the fashion to claim that we all have a share in the success of the Festival. But I am not one of those whose memory is quite as bad as that, and I remember that there were those in the Conservative Party who seized every opportunity of denigrating what we are trying to do.

We might have expressed the hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) would have had the good nature to be as generous as his hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Robson-Brown). Perhaps even he, after one or two more visits to the Festival, will be able to say what we all feel—that the Festival Gardens should go on, not only for next year, but should become a permanent feature of our national life. I think I am still keeping to the point—

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

I fully appreciate the hon. Gentleman's sentiments, but he should relate his remarks to the Bill. I am quite sure that he is capable of doing that.

Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley

It is part of the Opposition's case that we have lost all this money, and that we are not going to get it back. I am putting the contrary point of view, that we have not lost this money, that it is only lent and that it will come back, and I think we ought to keep that in mind. We ought not to let the Opposition get away with that, as they have got away during the last few months, and that is why I put forward the argument that, despite the Opposition, we have a good chance of making not only a great success of the Festival—this is now certain—but of making a financial success as well.

8.8 p.m.

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

Whatever else may be said about this quite short debate on the Third Reading of this Bill it is certainly true that everybody has agreed the Festival Gardens is a good idea. Whatever the criticism, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (Mr. J. Hudson) said the other day in a brilliant impromptu speech, the Gardens are a "howling success".

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys) asked me to answer points I did not answer on Second Reading. Good though my memory is, I could not attempt to do that today and if there are particular points on which he wants further elucidation I will certainly endeavour to give it to him if they are seriously exercising his mind at this late stage.

As to his complaint about over-spending I can only say in reply, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) did, that the situation is not really as gloomy as that, provided this enterprise continues to run, which is not a matter for me to decide. The revenue is proving extremely buoyant and better than anybody expected. I shall not try to give a figure because that depends on the public fancy and on that most fickle of all things the weather. The attendance figure goes down in a deep dive immediately the barometer drops or it comes on to rain and it is quite impossible to give a forecast at present.

Nor is it necessary to reiterate all the things I said during the Second Reading debate. I am glad that the Pleasure Gardens and funfair have been welcomed and that people realise they are worth while. I was glad to see in one of the more prominent daily papers a statement to the effect that the Mayor of Battersea said it would be a very good idea to keep the Gardens going for another year and that members of the council thought so, too. It is the intention of the Government to take the opinion of all the local authorities concerned and we hope to make an announcement to the House in the not distant future, certainly before the House rises for the Summer Recess, as to whether the Gardens shall go on. With those very short remarks I hope the House will give the Bill a Third Reading without a Division.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.