HC Deb 25 March 1948 vol 448 cc3361-89

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Whiteley.]

12.25 p.m.

Mt. C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne)

I am very grateful indeed for the opportunity to raise in this House today the question of the difficulties of our seaside holiday resorts. There was a time in the middle of the night when I thought that this opportunity would slip from us, and again, during the statement of the Minister of Agriculture, I thought the opportunity would pass.

I should explain that the holiday industry includes not only hotels, boarding houses and the business of hotel keeping, but also a great many, other industries associated with holiday making; for example, theatres, cinemas, piers, and other places of amusement. Indeed, in a holiday centre the greater part of the community exists upon the holiday maker directly or indirectly. I do not wish to weary the House today with a long history of the wartime troubles and difficulties of our seaside holiday resorts. This story has been told before, but I feel that I should mention one or two matters as a background to the case which we are putting forward today.

When the National Government were in office Sir William Jowitt, as he then was—now Lord Chancellor—was appointed as the Minister responsible for the rehabilitation of our seaside resorts so badly damaged during the war years, both by enemy action and by the ban imposed by the then Government upon visitors wishing to enter those areas. For five years many of our South and East Coast areas remained derelict. I remember Sir William Jowitt visiting my constituency and discussing our problems at that time. Indeed, he showed great sympathy and understanding, but I remember also that there was very little help forthcoming. I remember the consternation which greeted Sir William Jowitt's suggestion that if holiday makers stayed at hotels and boarding houses they would have to sleep between blankets with no sheets, sand that they would also have to take towels with them. I do not know, Mr. Speaker, when you last slept in a bed without sheets, but I am sure you would agree that it is not your idea and it is certainly not my idea of spending a happy and pleasant holiday.

Subsequently the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood) was appointed to succeed Sir William Jowitt as the Minister in charge of our reconstruction. Again the Government did nothing to help. The resorts did their best at that time, and they have done so since. Wherever possible, they have done their best with a splash of paint to brighten up the war-ravaged exteriors, and they have pulled up the barbed wire and substituted gaily coloured flowers in its place. Last year the resorts had a bumper season, and it looked as if the people who had lost so much of their business and savings during the war years were about to come into their own again. In addition, the Government thought fit to support the Travel Association. They formed a body called the British Tourists and Holidays Board under the able chairmanship of Sir Alexander Maxwell, and a great "Come to Britain" drive was launched in the world. Visitors and tourists were encouraged to come to Britain from America and from other hard currency areas. It is estimated that last year tourists from abroad spent something like £25 million in this country, which is an extremely valuable invisible export. We hope that in a few years' time that figure can be increased to something like £100 million spent in this country by tourists from overseas.

Everything began to look bright, and the holiday industry looked as if at last it was going to thrive in this country. Then last Autumn, as the House knows only too well, the basic petrol ration was withdrawn from the so-called unessential motorists. To the motorist, to put it mildly, it was a tremendous irritation, but the effect on certain seaside and country hotels and hoarding houses has been simply staggering. The Hotels and Restaurants Association, and the Residential Hotels Association, which, by the way, I hope are soon to amalgamate, have been in close touch with their members since basic petrol was withdrawn The figures show that London has hardly been affected at all, and in some seaside resorts the larger hotels have not yet been greatly affected. But, even in places like Eastbourne, where, before the war, there was a really good train service, and which now has a moderately good service, the smaller hotels, which of course greatly outnumber the bigger hotels, are nothing like fully booked for Easter. The much more numerous smaller hotels and boarding houses have suffered very considerably, whereas last year they were doing excellent business.

Country hotels are even worse off, and it would be fair to say that this type of establishment—and I have figures to prove it—has lost, on an average, at least 5o per cent. of its total business, while there are many individual cases in which the loss has been considerably more than 5o per cent. I have seen some of the replies received from the hotel associations. For example, an hotelier wrote from the Lake District that, with the exception of Christmas week, hotel and bar receipts had been practically nil. Another from Devonshire writes, "We have not taken enough to cover staff wages for weeks." From Southsea, again with a moderately good train service, a letter came stating, "We have been running at a heavy loss since November." Another letter from Devon stated, "Owing to the ban on petrol, the hotel has been forced to close." A letter from Westgate-on-Sea said, "We have been empty since November." From Chagford, a resort in Devonshire with a population of about 2,000, which is 85 per cent, dependent upon the tourist trade, we learn that unless basic petrol is given back, the resort, as a resort, faces extinction.

I could give lots of other examples, but I know that other hon. Members wish to speak, and will give examples from their own constituencies. The Minister who is to reply may say that some of the resorts are doing well at present, and may quote figures and reports from newspapers showing that many resorts are fully booked for Easter. It may be true, and some resorts may be booked up as far as the larger hotels are concerned, but unless a great many more trains are made available during the summer rush holiday months, July, August and September, that temporary prosperity cannot possibly continue. I cannot believe that the railway services of this country can cope with the number of people who will want to go away during the summer months.

The longer the Minister delays his promised statement about basic petrol, the more adverse effect it has on hotel keepers in the holiday areas. The Government must understand that the seaside and country hotels do not depend for their survival entirely upon visitors they get during the months of July and August, nor can they survive only on tourists from overseas. They must have, as it were, a steady cushion of business throughout the whole of the year to be able to pay and retain key staffs. Once such a staff is dispersed, it will be almost impossible to gather it together again. The effect of the Control of Engagement Order, 1947, will be that if staff have to be dispensed with by hotels and boarding houses when they are empty, because of lack of visitors, that staff will be directed into other engagements. Hotels and boarding houses will not then be able to re-engage them when they again wish to give full services.

I draw a distinction between hotel keeping and shop keeping. If a shoe shop, for example, which sells 5o pairs of shoes a week, is cut down to 20 pairs a week, when more shoes become available the shop can sell 100 pairs a week, but the hotel with 25 bedrooms can never recoup the losses of bad times. Whatever is done, the hotel can only let those 25 bedrooms. If the Minister cannot give an assurance about the return of basic petrol today, and I know he is not going to do that, I ask that special steps be taken to see that country and seaside hotels, and other holiday industries which have been so disastrously hit because of the ban on basic petrol, are assured their survival.

In coastal areas during the war a moratorium was declared, and various reliefs were given to hotels and boarding houses in the way of rating relief, and so on. It may be necessary now for the Government to produce a plan whereby relief from rates and excise duty, and other help, might be accorded to those hard hit individuals. If that is considered a feasible proposition, the Government must also refund local authorities for any relief which they give in rates. Have the Government thought out any plan on those lines? It is not for private Members but the Government to produce a plan, and I hope we shall hear something about it today. If the Government think that American capitalists are going to invest the money they make from films in this country in an industry which is being slowly killed because of the refusal to restore basic petrol, they are wrong. If the President of the Board of Trade thinks that his insult to the British hoteliers was favourably received, he is also wrong. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman denies ever having made the statement attributed to him that the Americans could come over and show us how to run our hotels. It is a curious fact that nearly every national newspaper attributed that remark to him.

Finally, I urge that the Order giving effect to catering wages provisions should be reconsidered. At a time when the Government wish to see wages and profits pegged, it is unfair to put further, and in some cases unworkable, conditions on an industry which is already "punch drunk." I hope we shall hear from the Government that they propose to do something to prevent wholesale bankruptcy among these holiday caterers.

12.40 p.m.

Squadron-Leader Kinghorn (Great Yarmouth)

I sec from the number of hon. Members present that we are likely to have a long discussion, and I will, therefore, keep my remarks as short as I can. This Debate has been initiated as the result of the activities of a number of us on the Resorts Committee. We have considered the situation in this industry over the last few months. We had hoped to be able to ventilate the state of the industry in good time for Easter, in order to help the Ministers who are to make vital decisions after the Recess. We hope that there will be a return of some basic petrol this summer, and that the Minister will be persuaded today to do something to bring that about. It would not put this industry on its feet—that will take years to do—but it would help to tide it over.

No doubt, in reply, facts and figures will be given about the number of bookings in the hotels. I am told that in Yarmouth it is difficult to get bookings for the coming season in the hotels, and that the same is the case in many other resorts. From that, some people may assume that the industry is doing well, and that there is no need to worry. I look upon the position from a different angle. I hope that the difficulties that confront the seaside resorts will be made known, not only to our own people, but to foreigners, and particularly to those people from the other side of the Atlantic who, we hope, will be coming here to help to keep our economy going. It should be made clear to them that we have a big resorts industry here, and that if it gets any help as the result of Marshall Aid, it will not be money frittered away, because this is an industry which is vital to our modern economy.

It is well to remember that since the internal combustion engine became part of our modern economic life, it has had a great effect on this industry. As a result, there has been a great dispersal of holiday resort activities. In the old days, the railway took people to a seaside resort; and they walked or took a cab to their hotel near the sea, and no other travelling was required. During the inter-war period people in the smaller income groups especially have been encouraged to buy cars, mainly on the hire-purchase system, and they have been able to go further afield. Over the last generation, the people catering for holiday traffic have spread themselves out, relying on trade from people using cars, motor-cycles and coaches. Many set up catering businesses after the war, when the basic petrol came back. Then came the ban, and we all know at what cost to many in the catering trade, apart from the hotels.

Many men back from the Services have used their gratuities to buy tables and chairs and open small cafes fronting on the streets in the seaside towns, in the Highlands and in Wales, and they relied on casual trade coming to them during the summer months, and, possibly, during the winter months, from people using motor cars, stopping to have meals. I was in Great Yarmouth last week-end, and I do not think that I saw one motor car or motor-cycle stop near any of the small cafes. I can mention one place where I often have a meal. It was bought at an inflated price last year. During the last few months, their only customers have been one or two a week, and overhead expenses are eating away what they had saved. In a position like that, unless there is some speedy improvement, they face bankruptcy. This is just as much an industry for our people as any of those great industries which have a direct dollar earning capacity.

If we have lively places like Great Yarmouth, Eastbourne, Brighton and so on, with the facilities for receiving our people who make the direct dollar exchange, and give them recreation and fresh air, it is part of the dollar earning process. At our last committee meeting, it was pointed out that in places like the mountainous parts of central Wales many families who invested their savings in small hotels are now facing bankruptcy. The Government should bear in mind that these people who are part of our economic system are now faced with great difficulties, and they should be looked after, whether they have a big organisation behind them or not. They are individual members of our State who are trying to keep our economic machine going.

Yarmouth is an outlet for the Broads, any many ordinary working people have bought small motor boats. Last Sunday, I was talking to a man in my constituency who, when the last Budget came along, gave up smoking and going to the pictures and found his enjoyment in going in his car to the Broads where he kept his motor boat. Then the basic petrol ration was stopped. If it could now be found possible to restore the basic ration, he and many others like him would be quite happy, and they would feel that they were getting a fair share out of the dollars which have to be expended. One gallon for each 10 Sundays in the year, he said, would bring him the happiness that he has lost. That factor should be borne in mind.

There is a further point which has already been touched on, and that is the question of a moratorium. If there is no return of the basic petrol allowance many people will be facing bankruptcy. They will be in a position similar to that which they experienced throughout the war. I am told by people in my part of the world that the moratorium, as carried out last time, under the Defence Evacuated Areas Regulations, 1940, was not of great benefit to them. A moratorium is only a postponement of recurrent liabilities, and the last state is worse than the first. Experience in those years has shown that 75 to 85 per cent. of business in the catering industry has changed hands owing to its ruinous effect. People have had to sell up, and speculators have come in and bought up the businesses. Those who know have pointed out to me that what is needed is compensation for any loss caused by the withdrawal of the basic petrol ration or contributory effects of the ban.

If the Government really want to do something for the resorts industry, the best thing they can do is to pay attention to what is said here today, and, realising the black picture we shall have to paint, try their best to see that the Russell Vick Committee, which I understand reported yesterday, finds some way of stopping the "flogging" of petrol on the black market. They should bear in mind that if they could give us some return of the basic petrol, if only for a few summer months, they would, at least, keep the industry "ticking over," and we should have another 12 months in which to face difficulties if and when they come along.

12.54 p.m.

Sir Stanley Holmes (Harwich)

I entirely agree with everything that has been said by the hon. Member for East-bourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) and the hon. and gallant Member for Great Yarmouth (Squadron-Leader Kinghorn). On many occasions every summer I go down to the East Coast by road. I find that I pass many little cars, with the husband sitting in front and the wife sitting beside him, often with a child on her knee. The luggage, including deck chairs, and perhaps a perambulator, is strapped on the back. Inside at the back of the car is all the rest of the luggage, and perhaps a couple or more children, and even a dog. They are all looking very uncomfortable, but no one is caring in the least, because they are going away for a holiday for a fortnight, and they are going from door to door. That point, of going from door to door, is of the greatest importance, not only to the seaside resorts, but to the mother of a family, to whom it makes a tremendous difference. A number of people, if they cannot go in that way, and if the railway service is bad, will not go to that particular place, and probably will stop at home altogether.

A family, such as I have just described, who are going from Walthamstow to Clacton can go from door to door if they have the petrol. If they cannot have any petrol, the mother of the family has far more trouble in getting all the luggage ready. She has to take everything, including the family and the dog, from their house to Walthamstow station. From Walthamstow they have to go to Liverpool Street, then across Liverpool Street, and queue for perhaps two or three hours in order to get a place in the train to Clacton. When they get to Clacton they have, once more, to transfer themselves from the station to the boarding house, or apartment house, where they intend to stay. They would be able to do the journey by road if they were given four gallons of petrol—two gallons to go there and two gallons to come back. If I may use somewhat Micawber-like language, I would say, "Four gallons, result happiness; no petrol, result misery."

I would go a little further than the preceding two hon. Members. This matter of basic petrol is a temporary measure. We hope the time will come when petrol will be on a free market and there will be no need to come to the Government for licences, or anything else. There is, however, one point concerning the prosperity of seaside resorts which is of a permanent nature. Although it does not concern the Department of the Minister who is to reply, I hope he will pass on what I say to the appropriate Minister. I refer to the permanent effect upon seaside prosperity of the staggering of holidays. This was an urgent question before the war.

My hon. Friend, then the Member for Blackpool, who is now the hon. Member for South Blackpool (Mr. R. Robinson) was fortunate enough, in 1938, to obtain in the ballot the right to introduce the Motion when you, Mr. Speaker, were called upon to leave the Chair on the Civil Estimates. He moved, and I had the privilege of seconding, a Motion concerning the staggering of holidays. I forget how many millions of people were, at that time, receiving holidays with pay, but today, of course, there are many more. The question of the staggering of holidays was urgent in 1938. It will be 10 years ago next month since that Debate, and nothing has been done. The staggering of holidays has been a complete failure. A hotelier at Clacton-on-Sea has told me that he could let his rooms six times over for August, but that he has no bookings at all for May and June, and very few for the first two weeks in July. I hope the Government, or the Minister of Education, will realise that this matter is in his hands. The staggering of holidays has failed because the scholastic year ends in the summer term. There are examinations in June, and prize givings in July. Parents will not go away without their children, and they will not lessen the chance of their children making good progress-at school by taking them away during that particular term.

The solution is that the scholastic year should end either with the Spring term, before Easter, or with the Autumn term, which finishes just before Christmas. The latter, probably, would be the most satisfactory time of all, because Christmas time appears to be a good time for having prize givings. I commend to the Minister of Education this method by which he can not only help our seaside resorts, but also many families, who would then be able to get away in comfort for some of the best months of the year like June, instead of having to write 20 or 30 letters to try to get accommodation in August or September. If that is done, great advantage will accrue, not only to the seaside resorts, but also to many families in all parts of the country.

1.0 p.m.

Mr. Roland Robinson (Blackpool, South)

I will endeavour to make my points briefly, because I know that many of my hon. Friends wish to make a contribution, and I appreciate that other hon. Members wish to hear them. I congratulate the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) for raising this very important issue. I agree with practically everything which has been said during this Debate, and I reinforce the plea for a proper staggering of holidays such as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Sir S. Holmes). I will not go further into that subject, because if he is fortunate enough to be called, my hon. Friend the Member for North Blackpool (Mr. Low) will have something to say on that important matter.

I wish to emphasise the great importance of the holiday industry to the resorts themselves. In our country many of the resorts are wholly dependent on the tourist industry. If that industry fails, the town fails. If the industry is destroyed, the community suffers. My hon. Friend the Member for North Blackpool and myself are fortunate in that we represent a resort which is not wholly dependent on the holiday industry. There is in Blackpool a fair amount of light industry. During the war, unlike some of the resorts on the East Coast, we were fortunate because a great deal of trade was brought to the town as a result of the place being used as a centre by the Royal Air Force. Also we were fortunate because Government Departments went there and brought in new work and new opportunities for our people. Again, we were fortunate because there was erected at Squires Gate a large Government factory which employed many thousands of people.

However, even for us the times are changing. Since the end of the war the Royal Air Force has gone. It seems to be the policy of this Government to remove from our town a number of Government Departments, and now, with the ending of contracts for the aluminium house, the large factory at Squires Gate is closing down. So far, the Government have not found any new tenants to operate the factory and provide alternative employment for the people. Increasingly, we are being forced into the position that we must depend more and more upon our holiday and catering industry.

I have noticed that since the abolition of the basic petrol ration there has been a very steady deterioration in the condition of the industry, not only in Blackpool but in other resorts. During the winter many resorts have a certain amount of weekend trade from motorists, which enables them to keep open throughout those months. This winter, however, there have been many hotels with very few guests, and many restaurants where one found that there were more waiters than there were people to serve. With conditions like that, the industry will decay very rapidly. Through their Ministers, the Government have frequently spoken of the need for attracting foreign tourists to this country. They have tried to stimulate the hotel industry to greater efforts.

I suggest to the Secretary for Overseas Trade that it is absolutely impossible to run the hotel and catering industries of the country on the basis of catering for foreign tourists alone. Large staffs must be maintained, and the places must be kept open regularly to attract these people and to bring in the hard currency which we need. But without the ordinary bread and butter year-in year-out British holiday maker, these hotels will not be able to carry on. In the absence of the basic petrol ration, our holiday industries have lost a great deal of their support. In many parts of the country establishments are nearing the end of their financial tether.

I will quote figures to illustrate the problem. Before the war, in Blackpool, during the holiday seasons the police used to take a census of all the motor vehicles which came into the town. The last census took place in Easter, 1938, from Friday to Monday. During those four days 47,592 motor cars came into the town. It is estimated that each carried an average of four passengers. That means that 190,368 people visited the town by road in private cars. Those figures are entirely exclusive of people who came by coach. In addition, 4,520 visitors arrived by motor bicycle. Therefore, approximately 200,000 visitors came to the town during those four days by private cars or motor bicycles. I believe and I think that my view will be substantiated this week-end—that many of these people who came by road before the war would come by road now if we had basic petrol, but in the circumstances they will not pay a visit to the town at all.

I urge the Minister to do what he can to assist the holiday resorts. Many places fear that they will have the worst Easter they have had for a long time. A poor Easter will follow what has been a very poor winter. I ask the Minister to use what influence he can with his colleagues in the Government to provide some petrol in the interest of the holiday industries and to do it as soon as possible before it is too late.

1.7 p.m.

Mr. John E. Haire (Wycombe)

I wish to say a few words on behalf of our riverside resorts. Too often it is forgotten that many people spend holidays in these resorts, and already in our discussion today hon. Members have concentrated on the question of the seaside resorts. This is all part of the same industry. I particularly wish to make an appeal, because there are a number of riverside resorts in my constituency. At seaside resorts, usually a populated area develops which often can sustain the catering and hotel industry or, at any rate, keep it alive under present conditions; whereas riverside resorts usually are in small areas where an hotel depends on outside traffic and on weekenders throughout the year, with the holiday makers in summer. In most cases, it is not a sufficiently populated area to sustain the hotel industry alone.

The hotels in my area are suffering very much indeed as a result of the cut in petrol. No longer do we get the weekend traffic. These hotels are trying to maintain staff at a very great disadvantage. They know perfectly well that if they let their staff go it will be very difficult to recover them. They are trying very hard to hold on against great odds. I ask the Minister to remember, with whatever generosity he intends to show this afternoon, that the riverside resorts are facing a very serious position.

1.9 p.m.

Mr. Lambert (South Molton)

We are all indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) for raising this matter. All who have spoken have stressed the gravity of the situation as it affects holiday hotels. I wish to speak on the inland hotels of Devonshire. No county can offer the holiday maker greater attractions than the County of Devonshire, and, for that reason, it has a very large holiday industry. The abolition of basic petrol came as a great blow to the hotel keepers as a whole, but no section has suffered so much as the keepers of small inland hotels. Their gross takings have fallen by at least 80 or 85 per cent., and one hotel-keeper on the outskirts of Dartmoor has written to tell me that for the three months ending 3rst January, 1947, his gross takings were well above £600, while for the three months ending 31st January, 1948, they were under £100.

In addition to losing revenue, these hotel-keepers, many of them ex-Service men who bought their hotels on mortgages, are having to meet heavy increased expenditure. The rateable value of their hotels is being raised, and one hotel in my constituency has had its rates put up by 100 per cent., while the rates of another have gone up 200 per cent. I understand that these increases will also cause their Excise licences to be increased, because these are based primarily on the rateable value of the hotel. I would, therefore, urge upon the Secretary for Overseas Trade the necessity to investigate the best way to help these people to meet their rates and taxes.

Another difficulty which they are meeting is the cost of their staff, which, under the recent catering regulations, is continually going up, so that these hotel keepers in Devon are faced with a smaller revenue and vastly increased expenditure. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) mentioned Chagford, a small town on the edge of Dartmoor. This town is entirely dependent for its livelihood on motor tourist traffic, from which over 50 per cent. of the population derive their living. It is not an isolated example, because there are many other such towns in Devon which, as in the case of Chagford, are miles away from the nearest railway station which, incidentally, has an extremely bad railway service. Therefore, I would urge upon the Government to take every possible step, before it is too late, to see that the small hotels in the country do not gradually fade away. If they do, not only will our own people be unable to have holidays in this country, but we shall lose a very valuable potential earner of dollars.

1.13 p.m.

Sir Ian Fraser (Lonsdale)

Ministers who work in London are rather urban-minded, and it may be as well that a Member of Parliament representing a widespread countryside like our beautiful Lake District should tell them something about our point of view. In the last few months —and I am sure that this applies to many other rural and seaside areas—we have had hundreds of letters, not merely from individual citizens, hotel and boarding house keepers and those interested in all aspects of the catering trade, but from little country garages, farm workers and farmers themselves.

The suburban outlook of the Government ignores the special difficulties of the countryside, and if that were not so, they would not so ruthlessly have cut off the petrol supply to these districts. Much has been said about petrol, and I do not want to say more than that it is essential, not only that the basic ration should be restored, but that many of the regulations relating to the use of petrol by individuals and by those concerned, directly or indirectly in the holiday trade, should be revised. But that will not be enough. The hotel and boarding house industry has gone through a bad time in war, and now suffers from a multiplication of troubles, relief of any one of which, or, better still, of all, would go a long way towards helping them.

I have had communications from associations in the Lake District, from Morecambe and Heysham, and from many individual hotel keepers telling me their troubles. I wish to refer to some of them. From the point of view of the hotel keeper, there have been increases in prices of almost everything he has to buy —paper, furniture, crockery, linen—which has Purchase Tax of 125 per cent. upon it, apart from the price going up—many foods which are unrationed and even some that are, but he is not allowed to raise his prices for meals. The price of a meal is fixed at 5s., but some hotel keepers tell me that it just is not worth while keeping the stock and producing the materials for a meal, when they are not even sure they are going to sell it for that figure. No harm is done to the national economy if that price is raised. Indeed, it might draw off some of the surplus money if people had to pay a little more, which they are quite willing to do, and it might do something to meet the inflation danger.

Then there is the question of wages of the staff. Under the catering regulations, a higher standard of wages and conditions is expected for all who work in hotels. Provided that it can be met and afforded by the industry, and that the industry can survive, we shall all be in favour of that, but there are great anxieties whether it can, and I ask that the control of prices in some cases in this particular industry should be reconsidered. In July, the National Health Service charges are to commence, and so one burden after another is put on the hotel and boarding house keeper, while no opportunity of relief is given to him. Anyone who goes to stay at an establishment must take his ration book if he stays for more than two days. No doubt, these are all arguable points, but the accumulation of them makes the conduct of this industry extremely difficult.

Considering that we were up all night, I think there is an extraordinarily good attendance here, especially on this side of the House. I do not propose to go over the points so well covered by my colleagues who have spoken, and I will conclude with these words. The 'catering, hotel, boarding house and holiday industries make three contributions to the well-being of the country. Let it not be forgotten that this country is short of housing and of beds. Many of the beds in our hotels and boarding houses are alternative beds, but they make a tremendous contribution to the general bedding-down of our people, and, if we allow them to be closed down, we shall merely create more overcrowding generally. I will not elaborate that argument, but I submit that it is part of the housing of our people at a time when all housing is scarce.

Secondly, this industry makes a real contribution to the health of our people in this dreary time, in enabling them to get away and have some small measure of comfort, convenience and amenities. Lastly, it is a direct and indirect dollar earner. For all these reasons, I ask the Ministers concerned to think in terms not merely of a little petrol, but of the well-being of this most important and valuable industry.

1.20 p.m.

Sir Jocelyn Lucas (Portsmouth, South)

I will not go over all the points about the lack of petrol, but that lack and the question of food rationing are helping to ruin the hotel industry. In fact, I can now understand why the Minister suggested the other day that the Americans might invest their film earnings in our hotels; it was, presumably, because nobody else would buy them. If the Americans do put money into our hotels on Government advice, they will certainly want some sort of guarantee that basic petrol will be available. If people have to come by train, they will not travel to stay at a hotel for two nights or a short weekend. Likewise, people from outside a town will not come into it for the purpose of attending any form of entertainment or function that may be going on in an hotel because of the risk that they may not be able to catch their last bus back. All this means that hotels in towns are doing very badly, and that hotels in the country are being ruined.

There is a point I wish to raise about commercial travellers. If they are in town for more than two days, they have to give up their ration books, which means that they have no rations left for the weekend. In order to avoid that happening, when they come to town for three or four days, they have to change hotels, which is an inconvenience, and possibly an extra expense for them. But it is far worse for the hotels, because it means a double lot of bed linen. When I raised this matter the other day with the Minister of Food and asked if some special card might not be given to commercial travellers in order to avoid this state of affairs, he referred me to a reply he had given earlier to another hon. Member. On looking it up, I found that it was to the effect that a packed cheese ration could be given to a workman on the recommendation of his union. I cannot see what that had to do with it.

Another point I wish to raise—and I know that the hon. Member for Central Portsmouth (Mr. Snow) would back me up in this—is that, at the moment, we are in great difficulty over the rates. Portsmouth is a blitzed city. After the war, we were given quite a generous Government grant to tide us over until we could rebuild. We are now no longer able to rebuild owing to the shortage of materials, and because we cannot get the necessary licences. Therefore, we no longer get the Government grant, which we very much miss and which we might have expected had the opportunity to rebuild been there. If the Minister would look into these points I know that it would greatly please by constituents, and, I am sure, also the hon. Member for Central Portsmouth.

1.24 p.m.

Mr. Fitzroy Maclean (Lancaster)

I do not think that anybody listening to this Debate could fail to be struck by the remarkable unanimity reached in all quarters of the House, and I trust that the Minister will not prove an exception. I hope that he will take due note of that fact.

I view the problem under discussion with all the more concern because I recently spent some time abroad and had an opportunity of seeing what very fierce competition the British hotel industry has to contend with in a great number of other countries. During the last 18 months I have stayed in hotels and tourists centres in four continents. Everywhere, in their different ways, our rivals are gaining the ground which we are losing. In countries where free enterprise flourishes, the hotel keepers take advantage of that, and are doing very successfully. In the countries which are under an authoritarian regime, I found that, in every case, the tourist industry is the favoured child of the State instead of being the Cinderella, as in this country. Indeed, I sometimes wonder, when hon. Members opposite come back so full of enthusiasm from their dives beneath the Iron Curtain, whether the excellent food and drink they received has not something to do with it. It is all the more distressing to come back and find our own tourist industry, which has to compete with these very formidable rivals, struggling under such a very great, and, to my mind, by no means necessary disadvantage.

I represent two very important tourist centres, important in different ways. The first is Morecambe, which, perhaps, can be called the most important tourist centre of its class in the North of England. I say that with all the more confidence in the absence of what might be termed the "Blackpool bloc," which we have already heard this morning. The other centre is Lancaster, with its historical traditions. Both those centres have every possible natural advantage. They have magnificent country round them, they are both extremely attractive towns, and they have the natural industrial enterprise of their inhabitants to rely upon. The device of the Morecambe Corporation sums it up very well; it is, "Health abounds, Beauty surrounds." But, in spite of those natural advantages, the tourist industry, generally, in both those places is working under a very great disadvantage.

I do not wish to take up the time of the House for more than a few minutes, but there are one or two specific points I would like to touch upon. The first is the requisitioning of hotels and its results. Those hotels, as hon. Members are aware, were requisitioned during the war for the use of members of the Forces and by Government servants. But there has been very great delay in derequisitioning them. The result is that several of the largest hotels in my constituency are still either not ready or only just ready—three years after the end of the war—to receive visitors.

I feel that there has been a failure on the part of the Government to make adequate amends for the damage done to those hotels during their period of requisition. Hotel keepers, and particularly small boardinghouse keepers, are placed at a very great disadvantage because their furniture, bedding and crockery have been destroyed, and because, in present circumstances, it is almost impossible for them to replace these articles. Furthermore, there have been very great obstacles placed in the way of any sort of expansion. It is all very well to say that the hotels are booked up; we know that only too well. The trouble is that there ought to be far more hotels and far more room available so that we could attract more tourists from outside.

All these worries, as other Members have remarked, fill up a large part of our mail bags. All these worries, coming on top of the normal worries of the householder, take up three-quarters of the time of the average small hotel keeper, who has to spend a great part of his time filling up forms. To use a military term which my hon. Friend the Member for North Blackpool (Mr. Low) is constantly using, the tail is beginning to wag the tooth in the hotel industry.

The other point I should like to touch on briefly is the abolition of the basic petrol ration and the restriction of the use of hire cars to a 20-mile radius. As it happens, both Lancaster and Morecambe are centres of excursions to areas which cannot be reached by train and are outside the 20-mile limit. The result is that a great many tourists who would have gone to these areas are being discouraged from doing so, and many private car hirers, who are often disabled ex-Service men who have spent their gratuities on buying their cars, are unable to survive financially—they find themselves with a useless car on their hands, their health and gratuities gone and nothing for them to do. In addition to the hotel keepers and car hirers, there are innumerable other businesses in towns like Morecambe which directly or indirectly depend on the tourist trade, such as the catering and entertainment industries, which are now crippled. I hope, therefore, that the Government will abandon their policy of throwing away the golden opportunity this industry offers of earning dollars, and will substitute a more realistic policy which will give the industry the chance it deserves.

1.34 P.m.

Colonel J. R. H. Hutchison (Glasgow, Central)

This Debate will be incomplete if the voice of Scotland is not added to the harmonious appeals which have been made. All that has been said in regard to the Southern parts of the country applies with equal force, and in some cases with greater force, in the case of Scotland. A lot of small hotels scattered about in sparsely populated areas in Scotland are suffering at the present time from two disadvantages. The first disadvantage is this question of petrol, which has been dealt with adequately already; I do not, therefore, propose to go over the ground again. The second disadvantage is that these small hotels now have a scale of wages, which was laid down for large hotels, made applicable to them. This scale has been foisted on them, and if they continue in present circumstances to adhere to this national wage they will go out of existence, The Government should look into this question and provide a system of wage rates more applicable to this type of hotel.

I have just come back from America, and while I was in that country I talked literally to dozens of Americans, who said, "We should like to come to Britain but—" I tried to probe the "buts," and I found that there were many, but that this question of accommodation, food and petrol was the chief one. There has been insufficient publicity to put it across to the Americans that petrol will be available to them if they come over to this country. Time and again, I was told by Americans that they would be taking food out of our mouths if they came over to this country. It is very difficult to plead that we are hungry and hard up, and at the same time encourage them to come to this country. If this attitude of mind could be removed by some form of publicity in the United States, it would be the quickest way to get more dollars, which0 this industry can earn. I ask the Government to look into this question of wage rates in the small country hotels, and to let the Americans know that we really want them and that our hotels are reasonably comfortable.

1.37 p.m.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Aberdeen, as everyone knows, is one of the most beautiful seaside resorts of Scotland, situated between two noble rivers, backed by mountains, with the sea in the foreground. The two biggest hotels in the city are out of action. The Station Hotel has recently been derequisitioned but it is unfit for occupation as a hotel, unless a licence is granted to put it into proper repair. The Palace, which is the largest hotel in the city, is out of action because it was practically burnt down some years ago. Nothing has been done to repair it. I suggest that the Minister should get into touch with the Minister of Works to see that licences are granted so that these two hotels which are badly needed for the summer season can be put in order.

My second point concerns the golf course, which is one of the finest courses in the North of Scotland. It is tarnished by having a military post on the first green. I have put Questions in this House about it, and promises were made to have the post removed, but this has not been done. Thirdly, there is a great deal of barbed wire on the seafront and on the golf course which ought to be removed by the military authorities who put it there. Fourthly, there are hundreds of concrete blocks along the seafront which ought to be removed. I draw the attention of the Minister to these four points so that something can be done to make Aberdeen available for the visitors its natural beauties deserve.

1.40 p.m.

Mr. Joynson-Hicks (Chichester)

I hope that if I do not repeat the arguments which have already been advanced during the course of this Debate I shall not be thought to be excluding them. The unanimity with which the arguments have been put forward will, I hope, cause a certain impact to fall upon the Minister so that he may do something about the position. This is not a new matter, and I want to remind the Minister, in case he does not know—I do not think he was in Parliament at the time—that it started as long ago as the Debates on the catering regulations during the last Parliament. At that time the then Minister of Labour, the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, expressed the view in no uncertain terms that after the war the highest possible priority must be given to the rehabilitation of holiday resorts in order to refresh and rejuvenate in mind and body the workers of this country who had been unable to get a proper holiday throughout the war years.

Those of us who represent holiday resorts expected that the Government would do something about it, but they have done practically nothing at all during the whole of their period of office. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, who has just entered the Chamber, and whom we welcome here, must forgive me for saying that. He has done one thing, of which I reminded him quite recently, and that was, at the taxpayers' expense, to have produced for distribution by hotels a leaflet which says in five large words "Please bring your own towel." If this is the best advertisement the Government can put out for the hotel trade and for the attraction of visitors to this country, I hope they will think again about it. The Government have done practically nothing whatever, except to tie up the trade and industry with additional regulations which mean still more expense and make it still harder for them to carry out their job.

I want also to impress upon the Minister that this is not solely a hotel and boarding house problem. If, in the centres of holiday resorts, we do not get the basic industries running successfully, everything else suffers—the shops, the local authority activities and, finally, the rates. It is significant that in my own personal case I am being pressed far harder to try to get something done in connection with the rehabilitation of the resort industry by the local authorities themselves, than by the individual associations of the industry, which are acting independently and on their own initiative.

May I also remind the hon. Gentleman of the economic advantages of this business? Last year, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) mentioned, £25 million was spent in tourist traffic coming into this country, but before the war America alone, in her tourist traffic, spent up to £166 million. What are we doing to attract anything of that nature to this country? There is a tremendous invisible dollar asset to be created in that way, and I would emphasise that it is a far more economic form of dollar earning than a straightforward export, because there are no raw materials to be paid for; the dollars are earned from the over-spill from the home industry, which has to go on. There is no additional cost in the way of raw materials to be imported, because it is service rendered by the people of this community.

Finally, I would say a word about basic petrol. That is the crux of the whole situation at the present time, but in dealing with basic petrol in connection with holiday resorts I hope the hon. Gentleman will bear in mind the need of a ration for yachts just as much as for cars. This matter has been referred to before, and I will not go into additional detail, but I want to remind the hon. Gentleman that it is useless thinking that holiday resort areas can rely on trains. In my own area we have a service going to Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, and those resorts can be served, up to a point, by train. But let me take the case of Selsey, which caters for 100,000 or more holiday makers coming down from the Midland areas. It is eight miles from a railway station. It is impossible, for practical reasons, to have an adequate bus service, and the only solution of the problem is for people to do as they always have done since the resort developed, and that is to go there in their own motor cars.

1.45 p.m.

Mr. Bottomley (Secretary for Overseas Trade)

I would like to join with other hon. Members in thanking the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor) for raising this matter on the Adjournment. I hope that I shall be able to show to him that, unlike the previous Government, which he said did little or nothing, this Government has done a lot for the holiday resorts. I think he is a little unjust when he talks about his constituency merely being able to touch up with a little paint here and there. The constituency he represents was particularly knocked about during the war, and I do not think the people of this country realise the great extent to which his constituency has been rehabilitated and redecorated. I join with him in saying that this is something of which, rightly, one ought to be proud.

It was also suggested that we ought to give particular attention to the smaller hotels, and that the larger hotels can look after themselves. I do not share that view. I think all hotels—large or small, riverside, town or country hotels—require equal treatment, and it is the policy of the Government to give them all what help we can. The hon. Member said I might play with figures which would show the resorts had not been hit as much as suggested. I can only say that I usually take the Press reports as reliable, and I believe they are very good evidence, so that I do not think a further question he put to me about the moratorium, arises. The moratorium during the war was necessary. People had gone out of the holiday towns, and the whole life of the resort was stopped, except for the essential workers and those who remained to carry on defence work. There was, indeed, a case for consideration, and that was given, but I cannot hold out any hope in the way that hon. Members have suggested.

I do not think I can go any further into the suggestion that American hotels should compete, because last week there were Questions and answers on the subject in this House, and I hope, in view of the time, that Members will be satisfied. In connection with basic petrol, I think hon. Members will appreciate this is a matter for the Minister of Fuel and Power. He has said already that he will make a statement later on, and I cannot anticipate that. Although basic petrol is important—and I accept that—both for motor boats and cars, I cannot say more on this at the moment. I accept its importance, which I am sure is shared by my colleague, and he will give the matter the fullest consideration in the light of that knowledge.

Mr. Spearman (Scarborough and Whitby)

In view of the fact that the hon. Gentleman cannot give a reassurance about the petrol ration, will he promise that he will speak to the Minister of Transport and impress upon him the need for better railway services?

Mr. Bottomley

There is little need to impress that upon the Minister, because he himself has made a statement in which he said that extra coal was going to be allocated. When I took up with him specifically the question whether we would have great difficulties in the way of vehicles and so forth, he said we might have some trouble, but we always had had trouble before the war in the great rush to holiday resorts. It is inevitable that there should be some dislocation, but he did further say that there would be additional trains to those in the timetable to make sure that that kind of rush could be met.

Reference was made to the staggering of holidays, and I agree with hon. Members that this is desirable. No doubt, Members are aware that there is a committee of the Ministry of Labour, composed of official and non-official bodies, which considers this matter. There are great difficulties to be overcome—difficulties primarily in connection with education, I agree. Progress has been made, however, because it is now possible for parents to take their children away from school for two weeks during term for the purposes of holidays. There is also the difficulty attached to the prejudice against holiday-making at certain times of the year. That, I suppose, is connected with the weather, because people do not want to go away in weather which is unsuitable for holidays. However, I share the view of hon. Members that it would be a good thing to have more staggering of holidays.

Mr. A. R. W. Low (Blackpool, North)

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that the main difficulty in getting staggered holidays, which he seems to want, is that school holidays have not been staggered? The concession he has just mentioned does not begin to cater for the problem. Is he not further aware that the Minister of Education has written to local education authorities asking them to arrange for the staggering of school holidays, but that he has had no response and has done nothing about it since?

Mr. Bottomley

It is not true to say that the Minister of Education has done nothing about it. There are all kinds of difficulties, some of which I have already mentioned. Most people take their children on the fortnight's holiday to which they are entitled; so I think this difficulty has been overcome in the case of the masses of the people, who cannot get more than two weeks' holiday.

The hon. Member for Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser) asked about the price of food, and suggested that a slight increase might effect a mopping up of surplus money. It is not quite that, is it? All that is achieved by increasing the prices of meals is a transfer of cash from one pocket to another, giving the recipient that spending power of which the other person has been deprived. If we can encourage more to be spent in the hotels, well and good. I think the facilities already exist. Those who have surplus money to spend can pay the cover charge for the high class restaurant or hotel, and can get as much drink as they desire, which is a way in which they can use their surplus cash.

Sir I. Fraser

It is a matter of elementary economics. If 6s. is paid for a meal which at present costs 5s., surely that is mopping up some part of the money which is now chasing too few goods?

Mr. Bottomley

I think I did say that this merely transfers it from one purchasing agency to another. The hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Maclean) made a point of which I take due note, namely, that in some countries the tourist industry is nationalised, and is good in consequence. I am glad to have from the Opposition benches a tribute to nationalised industry.

Mr. Maclean

I said that the Governments in those countries give their tourist industries every possible advantage, and that, therefore, they have an unfair advantage over our tourist industry, which is interfered with and not supported by the Government. That argument cuts both ways.

Mr. Bottomley

I shall show that we give every assistance—[HON. MEMBERS: "What about basic petrol?"]—considering the economic difficulties we have to face. The fact that we have debated this industry so often in the House is an indication of the attention that is constantly given to it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Only on the Adjournment."] Yes, that is quite true, on the Adjournment Motion. The question has been raised by hon. Members on behalf of seaside resorts. I think that at times perhaps this industry gets more than its fair share of spokesmen, compared with other industries throughout the country. Other industries have their limitations—and necessarily so—because our economic circumstances are such that we have very limited supplies, although we give the maximum assistance, and I shall show that the tourist industry does get the maximum help.

Mr. C. S. Taylor

The hotel industry is the third or fourth largest in the country.

Mr. Bottomley

I am fully aware of that, and I shall show that we give it all the consideration worthy of a great industry. We give it that consideration for two particular reasons. The tourist industry enables people from different countries to mix and to get to know each other, as well as bringing to this country very valuable currency. The home holidays aspect is also important, and I accept what was said in that respect. We want to make sure that our people get nice holidays, in order that they may keep healthy and fit to carry on their daily tasks. Recognising both those points, the Government have done everything possible to assist.

We have made special concessions to tourists. Recently, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade made a statement dealing fully with this matter, so perhaps I may be forgiven if I do not now repeat all that we have done. As an illustration of the help we are giving, I take the problem of de-requisitioning, which has been mentioned. Since 1945 we have de-requisitioned 94 per cent. of the hotels that were requisitioned for war purposes. I think that this is a very good thing. But we are not satisfied; we want to de-requisition the other 6 per cent., and as opportunities enable us so to do, that will be done. At the same time, the hon. Member for South Blackpool (Mr. Robinson) appeals to me not to be too anxious to do this, because it would mean taking the civil servants from his constituency.

Mr. Robinson

That does rather misrepresent what I said.

Mr. Bottomley

I am sorry if I have misrepresented the hon. Member; I had no intention of doing so. That is the conclusion I drew; but if it is not correct I will not press it.

Mr. Robinson

On a point of Order. Have I no redress? The Minister has misrepresented what I said. All I said was that Government Departments had moved away. I never said that which the hon. Member attributed to me.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)

The hon. Member has now made clear to the House what he did say.

Mr. Bottomley

I accept what the hon. Member says. The Government have done everything possible to make sure that hotels which have been de-requisitioned are fit and suitable for housing holidaymakers. We have re-equipped the hotels. Indeed, I obtained some rather interesting figures. In the past two years we have given such special consideration to the hotel industry, in competition with other home needs that it has managed to secure 775,000 sheets; 150,000 items of furniture; 550,000 square yards of furnishing fabrics, and 250,000 towels. At the present moment the British Tourist and Holidays Board are issuing a circular, or giving notice to the hotel industry, whereby further claims can be made for these goods. I hope hon. Members will take that as an indication—apart from other means of publicity—that we are still anxious to give extra supplies to those hotels, particularly to the one mentioned by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. C. S. Taylor), who appeared to invite Mr. Speaker to sleep in a bed with no sheets. Certainly, that hotel will get sheets if the hon. Member advises it to apply in time.

The resumption of foreign travel has been necessary, because we particularly want to attract visitors from the dollar area. In that connection we hold out great hopes. We were told by those connected with the hotel industry that everything was dark; that we could not have any success. As we know, Last year we had over 300,000 visitors, a quarter of whom came from dollar countries, which added over £5 million worth of very valuable hard currency to our earnings, and assisted us in our endeavours to pay our way. I think that a rather gloomy picture has been painted of our lack of understanding and of the dull and depressing situation through which the industry has passed. That will be shown to be wrong. Those connected with the industry will, by their enterprise, with all the advice, assistance and help which the Government give, again be able to cater for people who come to this country, and will, as a result, show what British hospitality is, despite what has been said by people who have gone overseas from this country.

As has been pointed out, there are people who go abroad and say that this country is in such a state that visitors ought not to come. I give the lie to that. We want them to come, although we cannot give them the usual standard of hospitality, in view of the resources at our disposal; but we can give them our warm friendship, and I hope that they will come and enjoy their stay. As I have shown in the time allotted to me, the Government have done everything possible to help this most deserving industry, and I think that we can be pleased with what we have done. I give an assurance of all possible help for the future.

Mr. C. S. Taylor

Most unsatisfactory.