HC Deb 30 November 1950 vol 481 cc1304-7
32. Mr. Dodds

asked the President of the Board of Trade what steps have been taken during the past 12 months to deal with the increasing difficulty of obtaining hotel accommodation in the London area; and what action he proposes to take during the next few months to increase the accommodation available in order to deal with the large influx of visitors who are being encouraged to come to London in 1951 for the Festival of Britain.

Mr. H. Wilson

As the answer is necessarily long, I will, with my hon. Friend's permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Dodds

If charges for accommodation become exorbitant during the Festival of Britain can action be taken? If so, will it be taken?

Mr. Wilson

No consideration has been given to that particular question, because the urgent one is to ensure that sufficient accommodation is made available to meet the needs of those who want to come, I have asked the British Hotels and Restaurants Association to reserve a large proportion of their rooms for overseas visitors, particularly for those who spend dollars.

Commander Noble

Can the Minister say whether the action he is taking includes restraining his right hon. Friends from requisitioning hotels?

Mr. Wilson

If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will look into this, he will find that we have de-requisitioned by far the greatest proportion of those that were requisitioned. Further, we have just come to an arrangement to de-requisition a further four, which the hotels industry is not willing to take over.

Mrs. Jean Mann

Can my right hon. Friend ensure that Members of Parliament necessarily occupying hotels while they are on the business of the House, will not be thrown out?

Mr. Wilson

I shall require notice of that question.

Miss Florence Horsbrugh

In stating that the hotel industry is not willing to take on these premises, has the right hon. Gentleman considered that, under the terms of the Catering Wages Act, it is not possible for the industry to render the service it would like to render?

Following is the answer:

My colleagues and I have for some time past been giving close attention to the problems created by the shortage of hotel accommodation in London, and to the serious consquences which this situation was likely to have, not only upon the success of the Festival of Britain, but also upon the development of our tourist trade. While we have been principally concerned to ensure satisfactory arrangements for the reception of visitors from overseas, we have also taken account of the large numbers of our own people who will be attracted by the Festival. It has been impracticable to arrive at any accurate estimate of the size of the problem, but work has gone ahead on the basis that as much additional accommodation as possible should be provided.

The first new hotel to be built in London since the war should be open in good time for the Festival. The bulk of hotel building licensed in London consists, however, of projects of extension, modernisation and reconstruction. Since the beginning of the year, building licences have been granted which will result in an additional 1,300 bedrooms becoming available in time for the opening of the Festival and a further 170 a month or two later.

The British Hotels and Restaurants Association have at my request urged their London members to reserve a high proportion of their rooms for overseas visitors, with priority for tourists from dollar countries. I hope very much that all London hotels will follow this lead, and I would urge all hotel keepers willingly to accept advance bookings from overseas visitors, whether made directly or through travel agents.

During this year's tourist season, a highly successful experiment was conducted in the inauguration of the London Hotels Information Service, operated by the British Hotels and Restaurants Association, in conjunction with the British Travel and Holidays Association.

The Service does not make bookings, but informs overseas visitors and travel agents acting for them of hotels with vacant rooms. Since it was started last June the Service has arranged some 35,000 nights' accommodation. The Service will continue in an extended form during 1951. Efforts are also being made to ease the pressure on hotel accommodation in central London by encouraging visitors to make greater use of hotels on the outskirts, and in towns within easy reach of London. Moreover, under the Hotel Grants Scheme, which I announced on 6th July, in reply to a Question by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling), we are providing a financial incentive to hotels to cater for United States and Canadian visitors during 1951.

Even although a considerable amount of building work has been authorised and we have done our utmost to see that London hotel accommodation is used to the best advantage, it may not be possible to accommodate everyone in hotels. There is, however, a large and untapped reserve of sleeping accommodation for tourists in private houses. Early this year the British Travel and Holidays Association launched a scheme for inspecting and registering all offers of such accommodation. So far, 3,350 households, providing more than 7,000 beds, have been registered. A special inquiry office will direct overseas visitors who are unable to obtain hotel rooms w this accommodation.

Special attention has been given to providing moderately priced accommodation for organised parties of young people and schoolchildren, many of whom have been in the habit of staying at the Clapham deep shelter. This shelter, which has a capacity of 4,000, will he reopened for the Festival period under the management of the London County Council, to whom we are greatly indebted for their ready co-operation. The Clapham shelter necessarily provides only simple accommodation and is intended for those who stay not more than a night or two. For those who wish to stay longer, we are arranging a tented camp at Chigwell which will provide inexpensive accommodation for 2,000 visitors. We hope that there will also be a smaller camp with provision for about 1,000 visitors. These camps, which are intended primarily for overseas visitors, will be run by voluntary youth organisations, with equipment provided from Government stocks. Another site is provisionally earmarked for caravans and independent campers with space for about 500 people. Full details of these arrangements will be announced as soon as possible.