§ 2.59 p.m.
§ Mr. C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne)
1 am extremely grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye this afternoon. The subject I wish to raise is not a new one, and even if the present Government do not know the whole sad story of the defence areas, I am sure that you, Sir, having heard Debates on this subject both in the last Parliament and this one, probably know all that hon. Members representing constituencies in the defence areas will say. Our problems are so complex that they affect many different Ministries. They affect among others the Ministry of Health, and 1 am extremely glad to see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Heal here. I understand he is to reply to us. But our problems are not only the concern of the Ministry of Health.
The Treasury is very largely concerned, and I should like to protest that no representative of the Treasury is on the Government Front Bench this afternoon. This is a big enough case for either the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to be in his place. Thirdly, the Service Departments are concerned—the War Office, the Admiralty and the Air Ministry—in cases of requisitioning. In the course of my argument I.hope to refer to one or two matters in which the Minister of Labour is vitally concerned. The Board of Trade, the Ministry of Food—regarding the supply of unrationed foodstuffs to these areas 1507 —and the Minister of Works also have their responsibilities. I was extremely disappointed to hear that the Lord Privy Seal, who has been taking a great interest in our problems—and we admire that interest—is not here. I have heard two rumours, one that he was celebrating the result of a recent by-election, and, secondly, that he was ill. I sincerely hope that he is not ill, and if he is I would like to say how much we regret that he is not able to be here to hear our case this afternoon, and answer it, in view of the special interest he has taken in our problems. In the last Parliament, Lord Jowitt,, then Sir William Jowitt, was deputed by the Government to carry out an investigation of the defence areas. I cannot speak too highly of the way he carried out that investigation. He took an immense amount of trouble to visit a great many constituencies, and he went into the whole problem in detail. Unfortunately, a calamity then overcame the country. There was a change of Government, and Sir William Jowitt was elevated to another place, and no longer has the responsibility of being a sort of godfather to us and looking after our problems.
For the benefit of the new Government it is only right that for a few moments I should repeat what I have previously said in the last Parliament—a little about the history of the case of the defence areas. After the fall of Dunkirk a stretch of coast line on the South and South-East coasts of England became extremely vulnerable. It looked as though the Germans would invade that part of England at any moment. In consequence of that, the Government, quite rightly, in my opinion, said, "We must get out the women and children and those who can go so that we can turn this strip of coast line into a defence area," not for the benefit of Eastbourne, Hastings, Brighton, Clacton and places on the South and South-East coasts, but for the benefit of the whole of England. In consequence, constituencies, towns and villages round the coast were evacuated to the extent of a 60 to 80 per cent. reduction of their population. In addition to that, there was a ban on visitors. No visitors were allowed to go into those areas without a special permit, and the areas in consequence became desolate and derelict. I wish to emphasise this fact because hon. Members seem to forget about it. It was 1508 not for our own benefit that this happened; this economic distress and devastation of our areas occurred for the benefit of the more prosperous areas of England. In those days we had more than our fair share of enemy action. Dover was shelled, and I believe Eastbourne was the most consistently bombed town in the whole of England. People do not realise that, but it is so, and it can be checked up. I see the Parliamentary Secretary looking surprised, but in fact we had raid after raid—not a large number of machines, but, night after night, two, three, four or half a dozen enemy aircraft came over in tip-and-run raids, dropping their bombs on Eastbourne and flying out to sea again. We had our quota of damage by the enemy.
But I am not now worrying about that so much because the damage done in that respect is covered by the war damage scheme. What I am concerned about is the economic distress which was occasioned in those areas by the evacuation, with houses left unoccupied and hotels closed down. In fact, the whole business of the town was closed down and no visitors were allowed. I do not believe people who have not been to those areas really understand what those areas have suffered. I think when people listen on the wireless to Albert Sandier playing on Sunday nights from the Grand Hotel, they still visualise Albert Sandier at the Grand Hotel at Eastbourne. They do not know that the Grand Hotel, Eastbourne, is in the most shocking condition, because it has been occupied by, I think, the Civil Affairs Department for years, and anybody who has visited buildings occupied by any of the Service Departments knows what state they are in when they are left.
I began to mention a few of the difficulties which now confront us. We have made this case so many times that we are getting tired. We feel that the Government ought now to take the bull by the horns and do something about it. In the first place, the derequisitioning of the hotels and boarding houses is far too slow. We wanted the hotels and boarding houses derequisitioned at the earliest possible moment so that they could really get going next summer. I ask the hon. Gentleman who is going to reply to realise that this is not a small matter. The case that we are presenting affects 1509 51 local authorities. It affects the area from Scarborough to the Isle of Wight—a very large strip of England—and I suggest that as it is in the national interest, something should be done to help these areas. Holiday accommodation is hopelessly inadequate. We have got war-weary workers, we have great schemes for holidays with pay, and yet we have nowhere for the people to go and enjoy themselves. Secondly, we have to consider the attraction of visitors from overseas. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman saw the "Daily Express" this morning. If so, he will have seen the cartoon by Strube of two overseas visitors looking at a hoarding bearing this sort of advertisement: "Restville"— obviously a hotel or a small boarding house—" Visitors are expected to do the shopping, cooking, beds and the washing up." There is also the "Seaweed Hotel" with a big notice saying "Derequisitioned next month. Call later."
§ Mr. Taylor
It is optimistic. Apart from the benefit to the war-weary workers and other people who need and deserve holidays, there is another point I wish to put. We have to restore the means of livelihood to those people who lost it for the benefit of England. I do not wish to be too long, because I know that on both sides of the House there are hon. Members who wish to speak in support of this case. The next question is that of labour, materials and equipment. It is no good derequisitioning premises if the Government do not produce the labour to repair and staff them, and the materials and the equipment so that they can get going and produce an income for their owners I am not talking about the big luxury hotels—I wish the Minister of Labour were here today—but about the little boarding houses and small hotels where the Parliamentary Secretary and I go when we go away for a holiday.
I wish to say a few words about the supply of unrationed foods. I have a letter from the town clerk of Eastbourne. There have been very many complaints about the shortage of unrationed foods in our area. I do not think the Government appreciate that now these areas are gradually—so gradually because we have had no assistance whatsoever—getting 1510 back to normal, the population is beginning to go back. I do not believe the Ministry of Food appreciate our troubles at all. The town clerk of Eastbourne says:The chief difficulty lies in the fact that the Ministry of Food do not adjust our population figures quickly enough. They persist in saying that on the 18th January, 1946, the population was 45,895 people. In fact, on 4th January "—that is, a fortnight earlier—it was 47,345, and on the 1st February 47,993.I' would like the hon. Gentleman to come down to Eastbourne. I would put him up for the weekend and he could go round shopping with my wife, and see if he could buy unrationed foods in Eastbourne. He would not be able to do so, because of the shortage caused by the increase in the population which is still increasing every day.
There is another point I would like to make concerning the Ministry of Food. The town clerk goes on to say:With regard to the first allocation of bananas, someone made an unfortunate slip.[Laughter.] That may be amusing, but the town clerk continues:There should have been a pound of bananas for each child under 18. Unfortunately, they allocated bananas to Eastbourne on 1944 figures when Eastbourne was still an evacuation area Whether the mistake was made by the Ministry of Food or the trade I cannot say. The result of that mistake was that Eastbourne only received 45 per cent. of the bananas that we should have had.Bananas may not sound very important, but I am certain the same principle applies to liver, kidneys and all the unrationed things which some people are able to get but which the housewives of Eastbourne so badly want and of which they do not get their fair share.
I now come to the suggestions which I would like the Government to consider. We want more than consideration; we want speed of action. This matter has been considered long enough. We want real action. We want the financial assistance to our local authorities to be continued, to prevent any undue increase in the rates. It is no good the Parliamentary Secretary quoting places like Merthyr Tydfil and saying their rates are higher than ours, because one must also take into consideration the assessment.
1511 The House must realise that in my constituency unless this financial assistance is continued for two or three years to enable us to get on our feet again the rates are going to rise out of all proportion. With regard to the£150 loan, it is hopeless and everybody knows it is hopeless. Very few people have applied for it. I see the Financial Secretary to the Treasury standing at the door. I hope he will come and take his seat so that he may hear our case. I see he is off again now. That only shows with what complete levity the Government are treating our case. They or[...]ght to be here in force to listen to us. They ought to realise these towns are assets to England and not liabilities, and should not be liabilities. We feel that the£150 should be increased per individual to at least£1,000. The hon. Member sitting on the Front Bench opposite has had great experience in these matters. I ask the hon. Member to try to decorate one room on£150, and see how much the distemper and the paint costs; see how much it takes to renew the curtains and carpets that have been moth-eaten and worn out during the war, then he will realise that£150 is hopeless. We must have that loan raised. After all, it is only a loan. The local authorities have agreed to repay, to stand surety for the repayment of the loan to the central Government. Why should not the central Government be prepared to increase that£150 to£1,000 if the local authorities feel they are able to lend it with impunity?
We must have a continuance of compensation paid by the Service Departments for the requisitioned property, until the owner is able to get back and get it into such a state of repair that he can start earning money. It is no good de-requisitioning property and not giving any help at all to get it put right. The owner may be left with that property on his hands and be unable to take in any visitors for months. All that time he will have no income coming in. Therefore I feel there should be a continuance of the compensation paid until the hotel or the boarding house is put into a complete state I of repair to enable him to take in visitors again. In addition to that, we have got to have the labour, both to get the I places in order and to staff the hotels.
The last matter I want to mention is the question of the co-ordination of our 1512 problems. We do not want to keep running round to the Ministry of Health, the Treasury, the Ministry of Food and the Service Departments, always greeted with the same answer, "It does not only affect us; it affects so many Government Departments." We want to be able to deal with one Minister and one Minister only, a Minister who really understands and is willing to treat our case sympathetically. We want to be able to go to him and say, "These are our problems. Can you call a meeting of representatives of the various Government Departments concerned to discuss our problems, so that we do not have to spend hours, weeks and months going round the various Government Departments." Let us have a Minister put in charge of our rehabilitation problem. I do urge the Government to treat this matter seriously. We have been going on too long, year after year, trying to make this case and we have had nothing in return, nothing. The Government have done nothing. I hope that now this new, heaven-sent Government— [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."]— as they think—are going to do something about it so that this strip of England that did its work so loyally and nobly during the war shall be compensated and put back on its feet again.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)
I was hoping I should be able to say that 1 supported to the very fullest extent everything the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) had said, but I am afraid that at the very beginning I must disagree with him on one point. He regarded the change of Government as a calamity, but we on this side of the House must regard it as a blessing.
§ Mr. Evans
Another point was his special pleading in regard to the stresses that Eastbourne has suffered. Each time I have had the privilege of addressing the House I have had to do some special pleading for my own constituency, and I have to do so again today. I agree with everything that the hon. Member for Eastbourne has said about this distressing problem. It is an acute problem. It is one that is not recognised by people in this country. It is not recognised by the authorities, or if it is recognised, the restitution that they are making is so tardy as 1513 to be a real distress to the people in these areas.
There are two points 1 want to make, and only two. The Minister of Health made a statement in the House on 6th November with regard to the winding up of the existing scheme and the substitution of a new scheme based on the requirements of the individual authorities. That would act with a great deal of injustice to some authorities, including my own, because hitherto Lowestoft has not been assisted under the old scheme. During the war, by the requisitioning of premises, it has been able to attract a good deal of contributions in lieu of rates. Of course, that has been of great assistance to the local authority. In addition there has been very extensive billeting in the town, and that has brought in very considerable rents. Against that there is the depletion of the industry, the evacuation of the population, the general distress, the cutting off of the whole of the holiday resort programme, the wiping out of the fishing, and a great many of the' other disabilities that towns on that part of the coast have had to suffer.
We feel that when we come to rehabilitation, when we come to make our new scheme and our deferred programme, with the increased cost to local authorities of new legislation and development of certain services, unless we can get some-assistance—although we have not applied for it before—it is going to act very heavily against us. We are anxious to attract our people back. We are anxious to attract light industry, and that was made abundantly clear in the discussion we had in the House with regard to coastal resorts. If we have to have a sudden steeply inclined increase in the rates it will act as a very great deterrent, not only to the normal population to return, but to new light industries coming to the towns. We feel that in any new examination of this problem the fact that we have not hitherto applied for assistance should not debar us from applying when the new scheme is being examined.
There is only one other matter, and that is in regard to the point made by the hon. Member for Eastbourne, namely, the grave burden that is placed on a local authority—and I am talking now from the local authority angle—by the time lag between de-requisitioning and 1514 the property coming back into rateable value. Very often that period is very considerable owing to the fact that the property has been damaged by occupation, and also to the difficulty of hiring labour to recondition these houses, hotel premises, small factories and business houses. During that period the town suffered from the loss of rates, and we feel very strongly that we should have assistance over the period between derequisitioning and the time when the property again becomes rateable.
I urge the Minister to regard this problem as one of very great urgency.' It is an acute problem for the people who live in these places. We on the East coast, like our friends in Eastbourne, have suffered consistently during the war. We have also to have regard to the fact that when the holiday season begins we shall be in competition with places—I do not say this in any invidious way—which have not suffered at all, which have built up reserves to develop their entertainment industry, their catering establishments, and so on. We shall have to start practically from zero, and I might say that on the East coast we make very special claims for the holiday attractions we are able to offer, and we do want to get back into working condition again. We cannot do it alone if we are faced with such a high and steep incline in the rate incidence as to be a deterrent to people who wish to come or who wish to develop new industries in those areas.
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Mackeson (Hythe)
I welcome the opportunity of continuing the case so ably put by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor), but I am very disappointed that the Lord Privy Seal is not in his place. We all hope he is not ill.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Whiteley)
May I clear that point up? My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal is in bed and cannot be moved.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Mackeson
1 am extremely sorry, and I am sure all of us on this side of the House will extend to him our sympathy, and our hopes for his quick recovery.
§ Mr. William Teeling (Brighton) But I spoke to him only ten minutes ago in the Lobby.1515
§ Mr. Whiteley
Yes, but he has been taken away. He has had to go to bed because of sciatica something of that kind. I am not telling a fairy story.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Mackeson:
We fully accept the explanation. We appreciate that this is a very difficult problem indeed, but we do think there is a need for more co-ordination. At the moment so many Ministers are involved that, unless we achieve some co-ordination, there can be no question that the coastal towns will not be able to give to the community the service which they wish to give, and that does not apply only to the holiday resorts. My constituency consists chiefly of holiday resorts, but there are also constituencies like Dover and others where there are industries which form a vital part of the economic life of this country. I would like to ask the hon. Member who is to reply five or six definite questions, and I hope he will face them and give us a frank answer.
The first one is the very vexed question of labour. In Hell Fire Corner we are down—my figures are not quite up to date—to something like two-thirds of our prewar building force. Will he say what steps His Majesty's Government intend to take in order to increase our building force? Obviously, we need a large increase, in view not only of war damage, but, as my hon. Friend has said, of the somewhat unfortunate damage which takes place when soldiers take possession of private property. Unless we get this increase we most certainly cannot make up our arrears of maintenance. We cannot keep up with the restoration of requisitioned buildings, and for some time we cannot even contemplate the building of new houses. At the moment I do not believe that the local authorities in any of these regions are in a position to make a man-power budget.
Secondly, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be able to answer this, what steps does his Ministry intend to take in order to give us some priority for building materials? Thirdly, what steps are to be taken to give the shops some priority for household goods? I raised this subject with the President of the Board of Trade some months ago, and I did not get a very satisfactory 1516 answer. He pointed out that housewives must have priority. We do not in any way seek to have household goods removed from householders in order to furnish hotels; but we do think that these hotels, and particularly the small boarding-house keepers who have lost their all, should be given some priority fairly soon over those household goods and utensils which are just as vital to them as machinery is to a factory.
My fourth point is the very vexed question of rates. I would ask the Treasury to approach this subject on the basis of the 1937 figures and not of 1938 or 1939. The reasons are quite obvious. In 1938 the Munich crisis caused dislocation, and in 1939 there was war. We would ask, him to consider all these problems in the light of the figures for 1937 I have no hesitation in saying that I believe the Government should make a firm decision, and guarantee to keep our rates where they are for three years, so that the local authorities can make out a plan and get on with it. The problem of grants to individual traders has already been touched on. The£150 grant during the war. was understandable, but it is almost an insult now, if you take the case of an ex-Service man who comes home and finds his business smashed. I would ask that it should be put up to£1,000 at once, on the most generous terms.
On both sides of the House, there is a very real feeling that there is a danger in the coming summer months of the Ministry of Food and the Board of Trade not keeping pace with increases in the population in the allocation of foodstuffs and goods In the case of the small town of Hythe the population went up from 2,000 to 7,000, and by some miracle 3,000 visitors got in—nobody knows how, but they did—and there was a very serious shortage. Now that the long distance buses are starting to run, if people come down to the coastal towns, there will definitely be a shortage of every form of foodstuffs and rationed goods unless steps are taken to get ahead of the increase in population which is about to start. I hope that that matter will have the very urgent attention, on a co-ordinated basis, of His Majesty's Government.
We are all anxious that light industries should be established in our various towns, and I will not deal with that, other than to mention it, but I do 1517 believe that an economic and industrial review of these defence areas is necessary. Further, I believe that there is a great deal that we shall be able to do for the country if we can get people to come to this country from abroad, not only from America but from Europe. That would have a first-class effect, not only economically, but also in teaching people to come to this country, which they did not do before the war. It will help them to understand our problems, as we must understand theirs. Perhaps at some future date the hon. Gentleman will consult his colleagues and make certain that we are not going to be behind in establishing suitable facilities for light aircraft to land in England with the minimum of red tape. There can be no doubt that these towns have stood in the front line, not for the first time in the history of this country, and they are now in a position of great difficulty. They are like wounded men and if this country does not come to their assistance they will not forget it..
§ 3.34 P.m.
§ Mr. Carson (Isle of Thanet)
1 rise to endorse wholeheartedly the speeches that have already been made on this problem. We were defence areas, and we must have special consideration. It has been said before, but I would repeat it again, that we were made defence areas in the national interests and our rehabilitation is a nation-wide problem. It cannot be left to us alone. It must be solved by the nation and by the central Government: our defence areas are a national responsibility.
I want to raise two or three points, firstly the quota system, and may I for an example of this take what is, possibly, a non-utility product, but a very essential one, tobacco? I have had conversations with the Tobacconists' Association in my constituency, and I have found that until very recently the tobacco allocation to my constituency was based on a 1939-40 basis which is obviously out of date. That was at a time when we became a defence area, and our people were evacuated and our population fell very heavily. Representations from the local tobacconists were made about this, and as a result the quota was changed. It was then based on the population in the area at the tail end of 1943. That 1518 was adding insult to injury, because 1943 was not a better year. The area was still a defence area and we had still a very small population.
But the complaint was not only confined to tobacco. There were other trades and more important trades affected. For example, I wrote fairly recently about the shortage of crockery in my area to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith), who was then the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade. He wrote back and admitted there was a grave shortage and that we were not getting our full quota. He said he would look into it, and so far as I know he may have done so, but I have not heard anything since then, and we are still short of crockery. I had an Adjournment Debate on 18th December last on the subject of light industries in coastal areas. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Stoke replied to that Debate, and he pointed out that our primary function was to provide holidays for the workers of this country and for people coming from abroad. He said that was our main function. I would not wish now to go into the problem of light industries in coastal areas, desirable though I think it would be. But if the Government wish us to become holiday areas for people who doubtless need holidays, they must help us. Up to date I must honestly say that they have not done so.
Then there is the question of food. We had an influx, in the late part of last summer, into my area—Ramsgate, Margate and Broadstairs. When visitors come down for food, emergency cards are issued. We had a rush. I must say in all honesty that the amount of emergency ration cards issued was far in excess of the amount of food released to that area by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Food, and the result was that nobody in that area had any unrationed food at all; and in large numbers of cases it was not possible for the inhabitants or even the holders of the cards to get their full amount of rationed food. I would reinforce the plea of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) that the Ministry should look ahead more than it does, and try to make sure that the supplies are there to meet the ration cards that are issued. In London we do not very often see liver or any other kind of offal or unrationed foods, but we see them 1519 less often in Margate. I know a person in Margate who has seen liver twice in a year, once in six months. I do not think anybody in London can say that he has seen it as infrequently as that. Now I turn to the Board of Trade. I am sorry indeed not to see the Parliamentary Secretary here this afternoon.
§ Mr. Carson
I do not know but, nevertheless, we cannot start up as a seaside resort and give people holidays unless we have the necessary supplies and materials with which to restart our boarding houses—I mean our small boarding houses, not our luxury hotels. One special thing that comes up every time I see my constituents is the supply of sheets for beds. The Board of Trade will not issue priority dockets to boarding houses to start up again. They have not got sheets left. They have been worn out, or possibly bombed in the stores into which they were put during the war. They have not towels and they have not the 101 things that they need in order to attract and serve visitors. If they cannot have priority dockets they must attempt to buy in the open market. The difference between the price of goods bought on priority dockets and the price of goods bought in the open market is large and the prices in the open market are beyond the means of the ordinary boarding house keeper.
Thirdly, there is the labour problem. All our boarding houses and all our hotels have suffered very hardly during the war, as is natural and inevitable. A lot of repairs are necessary. I am by no means sure that we have even all our own labour back in the area. I said this in the Debate on the Adjournment on the light industries for coastal areas, and I repeat it— that there are still people who desire to go back to the Isle of Thanet to work and who are not allowed. They are being employed—usefully, I admit—in areas such as Coventry and London and other areas that have been badly blitzed. I admit the claim of those places. But we need them, and we need them desperately. My postbag every morning includes letters from people who are ordinary labourers who cannot go back to their own part of the world. Surely, at the very least, we can ask that those people should be allowed back as they are 1520 needed in our constituencies, which, in most cases, have been bombed and bombed very heavily throughout the war.
I, personally, think that we need more than that. I consider we should have a certain priority. How much priority can only be worked out by the Government, but I consider we should have a certain priority, not only of labour, but of materials; otherwise we cannot do our job. I do not think His Majesty's Government do honestly realise how absolutely vital we are to England—we, the coastal areas and ex-defence areas. We can give—I say it without any swank—a far better holiday to the workers of Britain and to other people than other parts of the country. We can give holidays, and we want to give holidays, if we are helped by the Government. We cannot if they do not help us and if they leave us to our own resources. In conclusion, I will say quite frankly, if they leave us, as every other Government in the past has left us, to solve our own difficulties, we cannot do our duty to England.
§ 3.43 P.m.
§ Mr. William Teeling (Brighton)
May I start by saying I am extremely sorry to hear that the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal has been taken ill? I did see him a few minutes ago and he told me he was not feeling well. We are sorry he is not here because, as everybody knows, it is frightfully difficult in these days to get an opportunity on the Adjournment Motion, and there is so much work to be done. We do feel unhappy about our position. That is why I am disappointed. I know the Parliamentary Secretary is going to do all he can to answer us and to encourage us. Since I have been in the House, in the last two years, I have become-more and more depressed, almost to the state of despair, about the prospect of anything being done for our areas in any way different from what is being done for the country as a whole. That is the main burden of my theme. I feel that we have gone through, as several other hon. Members have said, a little more than most other parts of the country. We have not only been bombed—everybody else has been bombed—but we have been evacuated; we have been banned for a long period of time; we have seen V.I's going over us and falling over us. It is true they 1521 were meant for London. While they were coming to London I remember getting a letter from a constituent who said that, in view of the fact that the V.I's were definitely meant for London, would I use my influence to see that they were not shot down over Brighton, as they were, unfortunately, occasionally. But we must remember that the people of those coastal areas, which were for long banned areas, were cut off from their relations and got into a "jittery" state.
The women of these South coast areas got into such a state of nerves during the war that it has perhaps made them more jumpy with regard to food problems than is the case in many other parts of the country They are terrified of what is going to happen this summer. They are not ungracious, or unwilling to have people into their areas, but they say that the food situation is bad enough at the moment, and they do not know what is going to happen when the visitors descend upon them. They say that they will not be able to move from their houses and join the shopping queues before everything has been snatched up by the people coming down from London for the day. Can the Parliamentary Secretary give me any encouragement by saying that special arrangements will be made for the regular inhabitants, who own houses in these areas and have lived there throughout the war? I am not happy about the organisation of the Ministry of Food with regard to these areas.
1 am not happy about Tunbridge Wells. There has been a food muddle in the last few days in my own constituency, and I should like the right hon. Gentleman to discuss that matter with the Minister of Food. When I first got into the House the Minister of Labour, the present Foreign Secretary, said that one of his great hopes was that the moment the war was over, and even before the Japanese war was over, the workers of this country would get a short holiday before carrying on again. He felt that a holiday would buck them up and that they would go back to their work feeling fresher and do more. Now both wars are over, and the workers have not yet had their holiday. If they are to have their holiday this summer, it will be a pretty miserable one for them in many parts of the country if they are away from their homes. In my area there will be 1522 the sea and the views, and, if the Ministry of Health and the War Office can agree, there may possibly be walking on the Downs, but even that is not certain.
In Hove there is serious discussion of turning "one of the most beautiful squares architecturally in the whole of Europe"—to quote Sir Osbert Sitwell— into a car park. We were hoping that that square would be an attraction to European visitors. This is being done because a great many people will be unable to get into the hotels and will be coming down only for the day. A special beauty spot may be permanently ruined because of a temporary shortage of accommodation
The hotels and boarding houses are in. need of a great many necessities. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the days of the Coalition Government, gave the impression that he was afraid to grant us large sums of money, for two reasons. One was that if he did so, he would probably have to make similar grants to other places—a point which none of my hon. Friends admitted because we thought we had a priority—and, secondly because if he granted sums of money it would encourage the purchase of things he did not want purchased. He wanted to keep back the demand for things which we consider are necessities for our hotels and lodging houses. We are told that we have to have this appalling austerity to develop the export market which is essential to this country. If we bring tourists to Britain the money is the equivalent of an export. If we attract them our own people also can use the hotels. Therefore we will have less austerity and still have exports. We are told that we ought to have an export of coal of something like£40 million, yet the value of our tourist trade to this country from abroad is£30 million in normal times, only£10million short of the maximum export market of coal which is not likely to be achieved for a very long time. Something like 1,000,000 foreigners who have previously been in this country want to return to it because of their friendship for it, and bring their relatives and friends.
The United States published a statement in the last few weeks that they could send enough people from America to tour Europe to bring an equivalent of£300 million to Europe as a whole, and they consider that about£100 mil- 1523 lion of that sum would go to this country. Surely, when we are about to make an agreement with the United States for a loan on which we shall have to pay something like£37 million by way of capital and interest, each year, it would be worth while if we could get the Americans to come here and balance out that£37 million. Yet the other day, when I brought up this question in the financial Debate, whether there could be some taxation and rating relief for hotels and boarding houses, I was told, "No, this is a very. secondary industry and nothing like as important from the point of view of exports as the big basic industries. When we can regard this industry as essential we will consider it in relation to the whole of industry and trade." Now not in a vague future is the time when we are trying to put the hotels back on their feet, and when the owners are wondering what they can afford to spend on them.
Why cannot something be done now to relieve the hotels, when it would bring millions of money into the country from people from abroad and make it possible for thousands to go on holiday themselves?. If we read the newspapers, we see that everything is being done by Cook's, and all the other organisations, to arrange for people to go abroad during this coming summer. Before the war, the average number of people who left this country on holiday was 1,000,000 a year. I do not say that everyone who goes away will be taking£1oo with them, but they can legally, and supposing they did, that would mean£100 million going out of this country during the coming summer. I am willing to bet my bottom dollar that more than 1,000,000 people will want to get away for a change of air if they cannot go to the south coast and other places near London.
We have been told, in another place, that 1947, 1948 and 1949 are the target years for bringing people into this country. Do not let us be too late. I have just come back from the South and South West of France, where I have been discussing these matters with the hotel associations and the mayors of the different towns. Take the Riviera. It has been, in many ways, in the same position as the South coast of this country. It has been a banned area, a taken-over area, and, finally, a shelled area when we landed there. It is true that a few houses are still as they were after being shelled, but 1524 all the main centres and casinos have been replanned and rebuilt. The Americans have been there during the last six months, making the place their rest camp. They are now going, which means that the Riviera will be left in a difficult position. They are, therefore, determined to attract foreigners, which after all is their industry, as it is the industry of the South coast. But we have to wait, it seems, until 1947-1949. Already the French are making agreements with Sweden and South American countries, in order to attract visitors. I see no reason why they should not make the same arrangements with us. If our people are to go abroad with£100 per person we ought to come to some arrangement whereby we can get people from abroad to come here.
Nice has a statue of Queen Victoria, which lost its head during the troubles with Germany. The Lord Mayor of London is to be asked out to Nice for the ceremony of the restoration of that statue. Cannes is on the point of giving villas to famous war leaders from other countries. Biarritz has written to the Mayor of Brighton to say that because of the occupation and the American requisitioning they regret that they will not be able to put their town into a proper state to receive the Mayor and Council of Brighton until the end of April. It seems that it will be two years before we are ready to do anything like that, but only four months for the French at Biarritz. Let us wake up, because other countries intend to snatch the trade which ought to be coming to this country. In my area, we intend to hold, in August, a Regency Festival, because we believe that such a festival would add to the prestige of our towns which have beautiful Regency architecture At the festival we shall have an exhibition of the best pictures of that period, and we shall reproduce the pavilion as it was in the old days. There will be balls, and music of a suitable type. We are also to have an exhibition showing modern architecture, compared with that of the Regency period, to interest the Americans, and, in addition, we shall hold an exhibition of wines from France. We are doing that as an area, on our own. But our hotels will be hampered if there is no possibility of getting enough accommodation for foreigners. The mayors of various towns in France, and elsewhere, are being invited. Our effort is one that will help 1525 the country and the Government to bring money here, and I beg of the Government to take seriously what we are trying to do in that area, from the Isle of Wight right up 10 the North-East of England. A little encouragement and a little finance from the Government will repay the Government a hundredfold in the near future.
I would like the Parliamentary Secretary to clear up two or three points when he replies to the Debate. The day before yesterday Lord Pakenham, representing the Government, in another place, was asked what was being done for hotels in the way of reconditioning and the re-equipment of derequisitioned hotels. The Noble Lord's answer was that the appropriate Departments were in touch with the Hotels Association, but that it was not the Government who were holding up matters, or were in any way responsible for the delay, because the Hotels Association, no doubt for the best of reasons, had not, up to the present, been able to furnish the Government with the information which the Board of Trade required. Can we be given some idea of what it is the Hotels' Association are not doing, how they are holding up the decision of the Government?
§ It being Four o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Captain Michael Stewart.']
§ Mr. Teeling
I was about to say that the Government have had in their hands for three months the Report of the Catering Commission. Cannot the Government tell us what they intend to do with regard to the Report, and especially about the licensing laws? These are vital matters. We are doing our level best to help Will the Government do their bit, so that we can all feel that the amenities of the South of England are not being forgotten in every effort that should be made in the export market by this country to pull the nation together ' financially and gain us foreign exchange?
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Key)
I think hon Members will admit that this has 1526 been an interesting, as well as a useful, discussion. 1 want to say, quite definitely, that the Government are most anxious to do all they can, in a practical way, to assist in the rehabilitation of coastal towns. But it must be remembered that those claims must be considered in connection with the claims of other parts of the country. Our sympathy with the coastal towns is not based merely on a sense of the handicaps under which they are now suffering, but is also based upon our desire to make holiday facilities available for the ordinary workers of this country. It is essential, however, to remember that in the country as a whole there is a shortage of labour and materials, and that there are great competing claims for whatever supplies are available. Important as it is to secure, so far as we can, holiday facilities for our people in the coming summer, it is more important still to ensure to them homes in which they can live during the whole of the year. I think the ordinary man would, quite rightly, regard a home of his own as of considerably more importance than a place in which to spend a fortnight's holiday in the summer.
We are giving very careful consideration to the problems that are presented by these towns. Quite recently a deputation representative of those towns was received by my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal, and the proposals which were put forward there are now being given very careful consideration. Many points have been raised in this Debate, and I cannot hope to deal with them all, but I can assure Members that those I do not mention in this brief reply, will not be overlooked. Note will be taken of them and consideration given to them. I want to confine myself to what I personally regard as perhaps the more important of the points that have been raised.
First, there is the financial position of the local authorities here concerned. I want to claim that we at the Ministry have been giving the greatest assistance we can to local authorities who are in real financial difficulty as a result of war activities. During the period of the war something like£15 million was advanced to local authorities in distress. It was done upon the basis of a 75 per cent. grant and a 25 per cent. interest-free loan. We have decided that that 1527 25 per cent. loan shall itself be regarded as a definite grant to the local authorities. In addition we have just had passed through this House a Financial Provisions Bill which has added£10 million to the block grant given to the local authorities, and is to be distributed to them upon a real basis of need. I would like to say here, in relation to a point raised with regard to that distribution, that unless my memory is very much at fault the basis of that distribution is to be the population of 1936 and not of any later date.
In addition, we have said to local authorities that whilst this free grant must end with the present financial year as a general proposition, we will undertake to give very careful consideration to the financial position of individual local authorities who will come to us and present their case. Then, assistance will be given to them on the basis of their need, which will be measured first by the loss of rate revenue compared with the normal situation as a result of empty and destroyed properties, and so on. Secondly, upon the rates which it would be found necessary to levy if no assistance were given to the authority. Those will be the two factors taken into consideration, and on that basis lump sums will be given to the more needy of the local authorities. It will not be confined merely to one particular year but will be apportioned to them in what we hope will be a fairly rapidly decreasing sum to meet the needs of the years that are ahead.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Mackeson
Does this mean that the local authorities will be in a definite position to make a three-year or five-year plan?
§ Mr. Taylor
This is very important and I am very heartened to hear it. It will not be that the local authorities will be told that they will get so much for the ensuing year and that they will not know 1528 what they are going to get in proportion for the next two years. I would like to know if they are to be given a three-year period for which they can plan ahead.
§ Mr. Key
Let me quote from the reply given by my right hon. Friend to a Question which was asked in the House:Assistance given alter this. year will take the form of lump sum grants; these will be determined after discussion with the individual authorities concerned, and we shall take into account the loss of productivity of rates and the anticipated expenditure of the authority. In any cases in which further assistance is needed for more than one year, we propose to make a series of two or more annual grants of decreasing amount, spread over the period during which the local authority may be expected to achieve financial recovery. We propose to determine the number and amount of these grants at the outset and we shall not then need to impose any conditions as to the poundage of the rate to be levied.[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th November, 1945; Vol. 415, c. 1221.]Next I want to deal with the rehabilitation grants that are being made to small traders with the object of assisting them. It has been said before, and again this afternoon, that£150 is too small, but for reasons which I shall give in a minute or two that sum was regarded as sufficient. In the area concerned, 44 local councils have applied for the Minister's authority to make these loans, and 32 authorisations have been issued. We have no complete information regarding the applications received by the local authorities from individuals, but we have got, so far, that, by January, the councils had granted 144 loans to individuals, amounting in all to£18,275, or an average of£126.
§ Mr. Teeling
The smallness of the figure, as I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will realise, is due to the fact that people do not see much point in getting the money if they have not anything on which to spend it.
§ Mr. Taylor
If the hon. Gentleman wants information about the number of people who would have applied for the loan had it been a bigger and more substantial amount, I can give him many instances of people who certainly would have applied but for the fact that they thought that£150 was not worth all the red tape.
§ Mr. Key
1 want to emphasise that the scheme is intended for small traders. Many of the goods and services on which the recipients would wish to spend the money are in short supply. The intention was to get the trader started again so that he could then keep himself going upon the receipts of his business as he went forward. Perhaps a more important point with regard to the settling of the sum is that the maximum figure adopted was the same as in the Ministry of Labour's scheme of grants for post war resettlement of ex-Servicemen. The maximum of these grants to traders could not very well be altered without prejudicing the maximum of the resettlement grants Therefore, it was felt that the two schemes had to correspond in amount.
Another question raised was that of derequisitioning and rapid derequisitioning. I want to assure the House that that is being speeded up very considerably. Let me give an illustration. I cannot pick out the coastal areas from the figures because specific figures for them are not available, but the total figure for requisitioned premises at the end of 1944 was 96,752 and at the end of 1945 it had fallen to 41,827. In other words, during the 12 months ending December last 54.925 premises, or considerably more than 50 per cent., had been derequisitioned. I might say that the speed of derequisitioning has been faster since Christmas than in the months preceding Christmas, and I think hon. Members will find that as the spring draws near, the speed will increase even more. With regard to compensa- 1530 tion to people at the derequisitioning of their premises in order to enable them to get the premises back into use, the Treasury make a payment to the owners on derequisitioning which is intended to cover the compensation rent for the period during which re-equipment takes place, and a case has been put forward that the time taken into account is not long enough. I want to say in the case of hotels that the formula was worked out after negotiations with the Hotels Association. We have to remember that the hardship which is imposed by the present scarcity of labour and materials is very widespread, and it affects people in areas other than the coastal areas. Other people suffered war damage to their premises, and the Treasury do not make a concession in the case of those premises.
Another point raised which is of considerable importance was on the question of materials for the re-equipping of hotels, boarding houses and so on. Up to the beginning of this year it had been almost impossible to begin thinking of making any plans for re-equipping them, because supplies available of the things that were mostly needed like furniture, floor coverings, bed linens, blankets, and so on, were insufficient to meet even the minimum needs of the ordinary householder.
§ Mr. Teeling
I am sorry to keep interrupting the hon. Gentleman, but I should like to point out that during the time of the last Governmen we had a discussion on this subject, and the then Minister of Health pointed out that furniture was being sent out of this country to Canada.
§ Mr. Key
There is this to be considered, that in cases of real necessity very often you have got to do some things you do not like. I think that because we were in a position of real necessity, some of the equipment we would like in the way of linen, clothing and so on had got to be sent out of the country to get in something even more important—that is food, on which the people are going to live. Therefore, this is the situation in which we often are that we have got to export things that are in short supply for even more essential commodities. There is a limited amount of material, and very 1531 often it can only be given out to a limited group of householders within the priority classes, that is to the bombed-out people, the newly-married people and those whose families are increasing. I can assure the House that all practical steps are being taken to increase the production of goods, and that the hotels, which want the same goods as are most urgently needed by householders, will be given due consideration in any distribution which it is possible to make of those materials.
Further, 1 want to say that, whilst there are no prospects of giving to the hotels the furniture that normally could be used in ordinary homes while it is in short supply, there are probably much brighter hopes in view for these hotels in taking furniture of metal and other types that are not suitable in the utility range for ordinary homes, and provision is being made for distribution amongst the hotel people in the area concerned. With regard to stocks in shops, the Board of Trade's area distribution officers are keeping a particularly close watch on the supplies in the shops in the East and South Coast towns, and, in general, it has been found that the shortage of consumer goods is not more acute in those districts than it is elsewhere. Where investigation has shown that the local shortage of a particular commodity is more acute that it is in the country generally, arrangements have been made for the suppliers to send extra deliveries on a specially generous scale to those areas.
§ Mr. Edward Evans
Are there no special facilities available for quick contacts with the Ministry when a sudden emergency arises? Is there any link between the coastal areas and the Ministry's regional officers?
§ Mr. Key
1 noted that that was said in the course of the Debate, and it is one of the points on which 1 shall ask investigation to be made, because we feel that the development of our regional 1532 organisation, in the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Works, is probably going to be the best way of dealing with problems of distribution and so on that are facing us now. There is one other point—I know I have omitted a number—that I want to deal with. It has been pointed out that a great number of Government Departments are concerned in this subject, and that, very often, difficulties may arise because of the lack of easy facility for information passing from one Department to another about the matter. The claim has been made that we ought to have a Minister for Reconstruction for coastal areas. Quite frankly, I do not think that that is the way in which the problem should be tackled. Wherever possible, arrangements are made, when specific problems are presented, for them to be passed from one Department to another. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] That does not always result in the easiest way of working out the problem wanting to be worked out, and I can say quite definitely that consideration is being given to the question whether it would not be possible to designate one Minister to receive general representations from the coastal resorts and then, as a result of his consideration of them to be responsible for seeing that the various factors are properly distributed amongst the departments responsible for dealing with them.
§ Mr. C. S. Taylor
Surely this has been done already. We thought this had been settled months ago. Will there be another Minister to co-ordinate our problems? Surely this problem is not now being reconsidered. We thought that the Lord Privy Seal had been made the co-ordinating Minister.
§ Mr. Key
1 am saying that the machinery for that purpose is being worked out, and should facilitate dealing with the problems that present themselves in these particular areas. I conclude by saying that I have made a note of many of the other points that have been raised in this Debate, and will report them to my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal. Then I am certain we shall get greater facility in dealing with the difficulties.
§ Mr. Teeling
Could the hon. Gentleman answer the point I raised of exactly what was meant by the statement in 1533 another place that any delay was due to the fact that the hotel associations were not able to furnish the Government with the information which the Board of Trade required for the reconditioning and re-equipping of requisitioned hotels?
§ Mr. Key
That meeting was held with two of the principal hotel associations. They were asked to give the Board of 1534 Trade an estimate of their needs as quickly as possible, and to help in drawing up a priority list. My information is that that information has not yet been furnished to the Board of Trade.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-six Minutes past Four o'clock.