HC Deb 08 December 1949 vol 470 cc2086-91

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:

90. Mr. Wilson Harris

asked the Minister of Labour whether, in view of the general rise in all hotel prices, he will appoint a committee to inquire into the working of the Catering Wages Act and regulations made thereunder with special reference to their possible effect on the tourist trade in 1950.

92. Mr. C. S. Taylor

asked the Minister of Labour whether he is now in a position to announce the setting up of an inquiry into the workings and administration of the Catering Wages Act.

The Minister of Labour (Mr. Isaacs)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and the consent of the House, I should like to answer Questions Nos. 90 and 92.

Having regard to the great importance of developing the tourist traffic to the fullest extent possible consistently with the need for protecting the conditions of the workers and the building up of an efficient labour force, I have decided, after consultation with the two sides of the industry, to direct the Catering Wages Commission to inquire into the operation of the Catering Wages Act in the hotel industry in relation to the means for meeting the requirements of the public, including in particular the requirements of visitors from overseas, both generally and with special reference to the following questions:

  1. (i) whether there is sufficient flexibility in its operation (a) as a matter of normal practice; (b) at holiday times;
  2. (ii) whether special arrangements are necessary to deal with the problems of seasonal hotels and hotels in rural areas including hotels in Scotland;
  3. (iii) whether it is practicable and desirable to simplify the existing arrangements;
  4. (iv) whether in the light of experience under the Act any change in principle as regards taking tips into account as a factor affecting statutory minimum remuneration is necessary or desirable.
I propose to appoint as assessors, to be available to the Commission in connection with this inquiry, persons drawn from the two sides of the industry, including one from Scotland. The Commission have informed me that amongst the bodies they will consult will be the British Tourist and Holidays Board, the Scottish Tourist Board and the Welsh Tourist Board. I have asked the Commission to deal with the inquiry as a matter of urgency.

Mr. Taylor

While I believe that the announcement made by the Minister will be received with great gratification on all sides by the trade, may I ask if he really thinks it is wise to appoint the Chairman of the Catering Wages Commission to conduct this inquiry? Is it not really rather like appointing the murderer to preside—[Interruption.]—I am not saying this unkindly—is not it really appointing, a murderer shall we say, to preside over his final appeal?

Mr. Isaacs

I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman knew the operation of this thing a little better than that. We are not appointing the chairman; we are appointing the Commission. The Commission did not draw up these schemes. They were drawn up by the various boards operating under the Commission. Further, what we are asking the Commission to do is to check up on the work done by the boards and to see if in fact it is appropriate for the needs of the country. The Commission consists of six and I am appointing six assessors. I think that the voting will be in the right balance.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Is the Minister aware that his statement will be received with acclamation by each side of the industry; but can he give an assurance that in regard to the Unlicensed Residential Establishments Wages Board—which has been sitting for four years and has only just reached the conclusion—that in the interim period those wages and conditions will apply to the workers in that section of the industry whilst the Commission is holding this inquiry?

Mr. Isaacs

I have no power to direct the board, but the particular body to which my hon. Friend refers has informed me that in view of the number of proposals which have come before them they are anxious to withhold asking me to confirm the order until they have heard more about the result of this inquiry.

Mr. Wilson Harris

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, first, whether he realises that these questions were put down in no controversial spirit; and, secondly, whether he realises how very unfavourable are some of the comparisons drawn by American visitors between Continental hotels and British hotels in the year 1949? Will he appreciate the immense importance to our tourist trade of improving conditions in British hotels with full reference to the just claims of the staff and all concerned?

Mr. Mathers

Will my right hon. Friend make more clear the position with regard to Scotland? He linked up his reference to Scotland with a reference to hotels in rural areas. Are we to understand that in Scotland hotels in the cities and towns will also be included in the scope of the inquiry, because they cater very largely for a seasonal trade?

Mr. Isaacs

The answer was intended to convey that all hotels will come under examination with special reference to the seasonal hotels and those in rural areas. The reference to Scotland includes the widest sphere.

Mr. McCorquodale

In view of the great importance of tourist traffic next year, may we expect a report before the season opens?

Mr. Isaacs

I cannot prophesy to that extent. I have asked the inquiry to deal with the matter as one of urgency and I think that they intend to do so.

Mr. Emrys Roberts

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us why the terms of reference include special mention of conditions in Scotland, with which I agree, but no mention of the special conditions in Wales?

Mr. Isaacs

The answer is quite simple. It is because there was a special inquiry made into conditions in Scotland under the chairmanship of Professor Knox who put in a report. We have asked that his criticism should be specially examined.

Mr. Challen

Is the Minister in a position to provide the necessary staff to the Catering Wages Commission so that they can undertake this inquiry?

Mr. Isaacs

So far as I am concerned, I think that the only staff they will require will be a secretary, and I think that we can find them one.

Mr. Gibson

In view of the importance of the principle of a minimum wage for the workers in the catering industry, will this inquiry have any power to recommend reductions in the present minimum wages which have been fixed?

Mr. Isaacs

I cannot say what they will recommend. They have the power to survey the general field, but it has been made clear to them that that is to be done consistently with the need for protecting the workers.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Cuthbert Headlam

Will the inquiry have power to investigate the position of clubs under this Act?

Mr. Isaacs

Clubs and pubs come under a separate section, and the Commission can investigate them should the need arise, but apparently there has been no query about them.

Mr. S. O. Davies

Can my right hon. Friend say whether on this Commission there will be at least one person to represent the interests of Wales—a person who knows Wales and who has knowledge which no one but a Welshman can have?

Mr. Isaacs

I cannot give a definite answer to that question, but as we are making a special point of Wales and the Tourist Board is to be consulted, we will look into that matter.

Sir Peter Macdonald

Has the right hon. Gentleman considered whether the Catering Wages Commission is the right body to investigate its own functions over the last four years? Does he not think that an outside body would be far more appropriate to investigate the work of this Commission which has failed in the last four years to carry out its functions?

Mr. Isaacs

The hon. Gentleman could not have heard the answer I have already given to a precisely similar question.

Mr. Peter Thorneycroft

Arising from that last reply, would the Minister say what the Commission has been doing in the last four years other than examining these schemes? Can he say how this new instruction amounts to any more than telling them to do the job they ought to have been doing before?

Mr. Isaacs

The hon. Gentleman should understand the difference between the function of the Commission and the boards appointed. It is the boards which draw up these schemes. The Commission has no authority to direct them. They can only go into the matter generally. They have not been asked to do that. Now, the first time that there has been any real complaint, I have ordered an inquiry without any delay. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] The previous complaints have not been justified.

Sir Henry Morris-Jones

Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, pending the publication of the report, he will suspend the regulations so far as they affect unlicensed hotels and boarding houses which are completely unintelligible, complicated and almost impossible to carry out?

Mr. Isaacs

I have no power to suspend regulations.

Mr. David Renton

In view of the difficulty created by the Catering Wages Act in the running of railway restaurant cars, can the Minister say whether this inquiry will cover the effect of the Act upon the work of the Hotels Executive.

Mr. Ivor Thomas

Would the right hon. Gentleman in consultation with the Minister of Food consider widening the terms of reference to include consideration of the 5s. limit on the price of meals.

Mr. Isaacs

No, Sir.