HC Deb 29 July 1960 vol 627 cc2062-81

1.36 p.m.

Sir Neill Cooper-Key (Hastings)

When rising for the Summer Recess, it is not inappropriate that the House should have an opportunity of discussing the hotel and tourist industry. There has been no opportunity for raising this subject during the present Parliament, and as some of my hon. Friends may wish to take part in this debate, I intend to limit myself to two aspects of the present problems. My first object is to draw attention once again to the importance of the tourist industry to our national economy, and I want to emphasise the need of pursuing its development by stronger leadership and awareness by Government Departments, and especially by the Board of Trade. Later, I shall have something to say about the future of our traditional seaside resorts.

It requires little reference to figures to place the tourist industry in proper proportion to the national economy. A labour force of over 650,000 is employed in the industry. This is more than the total number employed in the aircraft and motor industries combined. The total import value of this industry in 1959 amounted to £220 million, including payments to airways and shipping companies. The figure for the total value of new vehicles exported in the same period was £215 million—or £5 million less than was introduced by the tourist industry.

During 1959 the tourist trade was the second largest earner of dollars after the motor industry. These imposing figures underline the potentialities of this source of export trade. A previous Secretary of State to the Board of Trade estimated that by 1968 we could expect 2,300,000 visitors, bringing in that year about £300 million in foreign currency to be spent in this country, £120 million of it being in dollars.

World trade in personal travelling has increased enormously since the war, and the practice of taking holidays abroad is now the annual habit of millions of people of quite modest income groups, especially from North American countries. An important situation is now arising through the ever-increasing competition for this world trade. Some of the latest figures seem to show that this country is not maintaining its percentage increase in comparison with other European countries. The May returns for this year indicate that the United Kingdom is sixth in terms of increased figures over May, 1959, and stands after Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Austria and Norway.

There is enough evidence that in the face of strong European competition we cannot afford to take the laissez faire attitude on tourism. In fairness, I do not think that the Board of Trade proved itself to be complacent in this matter. In fact, my hon. Friend's enterprising predecessor organised a conference at the Board of Trade in 1958. During the conference delegates from various specialised branches contributed most valuable suggestions and information. From that date, however, little action has been taken on the recommendations that were made.

It is true that some general reduction in Purchase Tax has reflected some benefit on the hotel industry, and the monopoly licensed payment has been abolished. There are also signs that concessions are to be made regarding short-term non-passport visitors. Again, an extension of summer time from before Easter to the end of October would [...]e of great help to the trade, but these are small points of very little assistance to the industry as a whole.

Many small hindrances to happy travelling remain. The traveller to Britain is still subjected to a number of irritating pinpricks which are spared him by our European competitors. Our puritanical laws on alcoholic refreshment and our restrictions on Sunday entertainment still puzzle and annoy the foreign visitor, and I think it is ridiculous that visitors' pets should be removed from them and locked up for six months even though the animals come from countries which are clear of hydrophobia.

One factor of all which affects us and puts us at a disadvantage with our European competitors is that of adequate hotel accommodation and up-to-date plumbing, equipment and decoration. We have a number of first-class hotels. The Savoy group and Grosvenor House and others in London can hold their own in competition with any other set of hotels in the world. They cannot be bettered, and such enterprises are reflected in healthy profits. It is also true that a number of first-class hotels are being built or are projected in London and others of our principal cities.

However, these ventures, though an encouraging factor, are for a specialised class of traveller and in volume only scratch the surface of a much wider demand throughout the United Kingdom. The immediate need in this country is for small medium-priced bedrooms with bathrooms in smaller hotels, and of a class that can be provided by modernising existing hotels and boarding houses.

The Governments of our foreign competitors recognise that funds cannot be raised from ordinary sources to support the building and equipment of this class of hotel. Consequently, the industries in those countries enjoy preferential treatment, and, in some cases, direct subsidies. Even the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man have instituted cash grants, State guaranteed loans and special Income Tax allowances for the use of the hotel and boarding house industries.

Only this week there was a report from Ireland of a new Irish company which intends to build three new hotels, in Dublin, Cork and Limerick. This is what the Financial Times said about that item of news: It is probable that an important factor influencing the decision by these interests to invest extensively in hotel construction at this time has been the decision by the Irish Government earlier this year to supplement its 20 per cent. free grants for hotel construction by a 10 per cent, annual depreciation allowance on new hotel buildings or hotel extensions. In principle, I am not in favour of subsidies which carry with them Whitehall direction and control, but I think that in regard to the value of the export potentiality and the long-term advantages to the national economy, the Government should make available some financial resources to provide, at an early date, an increase in accommodation.

Also, I think that something could be said for the case that hotels, which are forms of production units, should be treated the same way as factories and enjoy the same de-rating relief which has been afforded to factories for the last thirty years. Factories are also granted, so far as the productive part of their business is concerned, capital allowances in modernising.

Hitherto, the Government's attitude has been that they cannot single out one particular industry for special financial favours. Was it this consideration which influenced them upon deciding to agree to loans to the British Motor Corporation of £9½ million; to the cotton industry of up to £30 million since 1948; and to the film industry which has had loans approved amounting to £16 million?

Of course, the overriding factor in granting such facilities to those industries must have been that they were expected to make a contribution to the national economy, and it is the case of many of those concerned with the fortunes of the hotel and tourist industry that similar facilities granted to it by the Government would be a sound, long-term business proposition to the Treasury.

I should like now to turn to the specialised problems of the tourist resorts. Here we have the paradox that whilst the national need for hotel rooms is increasing, hotels and boarding houses in certain seaside areas are closing down. The reasons for this are two-fold. First, the holiday habits of their one-time clientele have changed. Many people—about half the population—today take their holidays away from home, and of these many take their holidays in a different form than was the case five or ten years ago. The development of caravan sites is an instance, and the growing popularity of holiday camps is another. Many families who today enjoy spending power greatly in excess of those of previous generations take their holidays abroad. In consequence, there are areas and districts where hotels and boarding houses have lost custom.

The other factor is that the holiday season is confined to two or three months of the year. What industry can possibly prosper if its equipment is used for only one-third of the year and it has to recoup its overheads in a competitive business in three months' trading?

The repercussions of this falling off of clientele is having a marked effect upon the prosperity of certain areas. The Government would be fulfilling an urgent and valuable duty if they took upon themselves the task of studying this problem of the short holiday season.

Some coastal areas are looking towards light industries to recoup their dwindling revenues, but I am not optimistic that this in itself will solve their problems. Some coastal areas—and I have visited a number recently—cannot be said, geographically, through ease of communications, or from their available pool of labour, to be attractive areas in which to start a factory. If the proposition is not naturally attractive to private enterprise, I doubt if any amount of ratepayers' money will make it a success.

Some of the demand for light industries comes from factors outside purely commercial considerations. Part of it, I think, has political roots in the belief that owners and workers in the catering industries are non-union and predominantly Tory, whereas if sufficient workers could be attracted to local industries there would emerge a strong local labour pattern. I might add that there is nothing in recent elections to support this view. Again, perhaps, there is some idea that industry represents a progressive and dynamic basis of going ahead, whilst hotels and boarding houses represent an out-moded way of life.

I think that to a certain extent the latter is true, but I am certain that the needs of the country for resorts is no less now than it was fifty years ago. These areas have today a wonderful opportunity to resurrect themselves. Each year the number of people able to afford both leisure and entertainment is increasing enormously. The resorts have unlimited areas for expansion. They are generally easily accessible by road and rail, and there is no point in this country which is more than seventy miles from the sea.

We are moving away from the habit of a fortnight's sole holiday a year to excursions from home of shorter periods and more often. With the increase of families owning cars, with the increase of leisure time and the money to enjoy it, here is an expanding potential market for the resorts. But the spirit and enterprise to attract the present day visitor must be alert, far seeing and enterprising.

Light industry may play a part in their economic growth, but I believe that basically today, as before, their industry is hospitality, to entertain and to welcome. Within their own resources these areas have made a wonderful recovery since the war. Just a little more encouragement and understanding from Government Departments could help them to share the prosperity which the rest of the country now enjoys.

1.50 p.m.

Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)

I endorse much of what the hon. Member for Hastings (Sir N. Cooper-Key) has said, but there are other hon. Members who wish to take part in this short debate and, therefore, I will be briefer than I intended.

I wish to stress something which was printed in Reynolds News last Sunday, a newspaper which I commend to the House, although I expect that very few Members apposite read it. It was a reference to a wonderful joint organisation of employers and employees in the building and civil engineering trades. In 1942, it set up a joint scheme for providing facilities, or, at least, the money, for the workers in the industry. Indeed, the amount has now grown to about £20 million a year. That, I think, is symptomatic of the modern trend.

As the hon. Member for Hastings said, there are millions of people today with money to spend on holidays and with the time in which to spend it, because holidays have increased from one week to two weeks and, in many cases, are increasing to three weeks. I do not believe that the Government have been alive to this great transformation of the scene in industry.

I represent Falmouth and Camborne. Most hon. Members opposite with seaside constituencies represent the big resorts in the South and South-East. But Cornwall, after all, is a very attractive county in which we have seen many of the quick changes that have had to be made by the hotel and tourist industries. I am bound to say that I consider that the hotels have done a wonderful job in adapting themselves to the new conditions.

There are, as has been said, caravan camps, and an article in last Sunday's Observer dealt with the trend throughout the country of famous hotels becoming bed and breakfast hotels. Indeed, with the coming of the motor car the hotel industry has had, to a great extent, to turn over to bed and breakfast. A couple of years ago I stayed at an hotel in mid-Wales where, undoubtedly, almost the whole of the custom came from motor coaches. It did a very good job. The motor coach is an integral part of the modern holiday.

I will leave to other hon. Members to talk about the question of the industry catering for overseas visitors, but everyone in London must be aware of the vast amount of money brought to the British Isles by visitors from the United States, Europe and, indeed, the rest of the world. London is probably the biggest holiday centre in the country.

In places like Cornwall we have to take into account, more perhaps than elsewhere, the changing seasons. A wet season can make a very great deal of difference to us. We suffer perhaps, with many other areas, from the effects of oil pollution on the beaches. The Minister of Transport told the House this week that five cases had been notified to him of tankers discharging oil just outside our territorial waters. That oil can foul our beaches almost overnight. It can ruin expensive carpets in hotels and boarding houses.

I appeal to the Government to take this matter seriously. If it becomes necessary to boycott the countries whose tankers are fouling our waters irresponsibly, then let the Government do that. I wonder how far these tankers are flag of convenience ships, which are a menace to British shipping and to decent standards.

The Truro Rural District Council decided a day or two ago to appeal to all Cornish Members of Parliament to try to get the Government to move in this matter and to get something done to prevent oil pollution. I am bound to add that at Falmouth we have a very far-sighted corporation which deals with the oil pollution on the beaches as it comes about. But in many rural areas there may be miles of beaches where that may not be possible at all. This oil can ruin the holidays of visitors.

Another matter of which the Parliamentary Secretary must be aware is the traffic congestion on the roads. We dealt in detail yesterday with the road system. Hon. Members opposite must be aware as I am of the appalling backwardness of our roads. Nowhere is that more evident than in the West Country. The hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Mathew) will know that hold-ups of traffic stretching for 30 miles can occur near his home.

Mr. Robert Mathew (Honiton)

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. We in the West Country do suffer in this way, but I should like to make it quite clear that the experts have gone into the question of the traffic jams which have had unfortunate publicity as far as Honiton is concerned. That town is always mentioned, although, in fact, the source of the hold-up of the traffic is to be found elsewhere. I understand that the Government are to do something about it. The suggestion that it is the fault of Honiton is not correct, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will make it quite clear that the fault lies elsewhere and outside my constituency.

Mr. Hayman

Honiton is a small town and this build-up of traffic is 30 miles long. It is true that the main roads from the West come through Honiton. That is the gravamen of my complaint. The Minister has done almost nothing recently to improve the 200 miles of road from Gloucester to where I live, at Redruth. I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary really to see that something is done either by his Department or by other Departments to ensure that the people of this country and the visitors who come to it from abroad can enjoy their holidays in reasonable conditions.

2.0 p.m.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

I, also, wish to spend a few minutes on this important subject and to take matters in their logical sequence. In the case of overseas visitors, the first question is that of Customs. I apprehend that one of the difficulties of the Board of Trade in this matter is that it does not have control over some of these issues relating to overseas visitors. I invite my hon. Friend to ensure that his Department makes representations to the Departments concerned with those questions closely affecting the tourist trade. The first of them is at the port of entry and exit, namely, Customs.

Today, there are many complaints about the discourtesy of Custom officers and about cross-examinations of overseas tourists which are carried out at great length. Only this week I have had two examples, one relating to an Italian girl, aged 25, who was cross-examined for over an hour at the port of entry. The other involved an Italian boy of 16. They were the son and daughter of well-known professional people in Milan. The cross-examination related to whether they were to take up employment in this country. These matters are causing a great deal of disquiet and put off people from coming here as tourists to enjoy the pleasures of the country.

There is also the question of motor car traffic. Later this afternoon the problem of triptyques will be dealt with, and I hope that we shall get a satisfactory reply from the Minister. Matters regarding Customs may not be the responsibility of the Board of Trade, but it is responsible for seeing that there is contentment in the tourist industry, and I invite my hon. Friend to keep these matters under careful surveillance.

I do not propose to deal with the question of road, rail and air travel this afternoon, although it is closely affected. One is led straight on to the question of licensing, which will become a matter for the Home Office next year through legislation which may then be forthcoming. But there are certain matters of great importance to the Board of Trade, and I invite my hon. Friend to make strong representations to the Home Secretary that those who stay at hotels, and their bona fide guests, should be able to obtain drinks at any time. I strongly urge that any customers in restaurants should be entitled to have a drink with a meal whenever a meal is being served. These things are of the greatest possible importance in relation to the future of the licensing laws and the contentment of the tourists.

Accommodation in London is appallingly scarce, as it is in most of our important cities. It is the responsibility of the Board of Trade to act in liaison with the Minister of Housing and Local Government to ensure that there is adequate space planned to provide for the need for modern hotels. I support what has been said on the question of dirty hotels. There is a case for the modernisation of hotels and boarding houses to bring them up to the standard of the best accommodation of that class anywhere in the world. The way to do that is to enable loans to be made at reasonable rates for the modernisation of this accommodation.

A matter of equal importance is good food. If visitors to this country can obtain good food, they will not feel the necessity to go to France. The standard of food in this country has risen remarkably; it is very much better than was the case a few years ago. But it will not improve, and it will not attain the standard which it should unless there are good technical schools of catering. I hope that my hon. Friend will press on with the work in this regard. This matter is not often mentioned and almost never in this House, but it seems to me essential that chefs and hotel staff should be properly trained in technical establishments. In Thanet we are losing one of these to Folkestone, but I should have liked to have kept the one in Thanet and had another one in Folkestone as well. I think that we should train our own waiters. I cannot understand why we should continue to employ a large number of Italian waiters. Why do not we train our own staffs in this country up to the best standard? There is big money to be made as a chef if one is properly trained. I hope that the catering schools will be extended and expanded to enable us to provide really first-class food and catering.

Customs, licences, hotels and technical schools are all matters of fundamental importance, but to me it seems that the duty of the Board of Trade is to try to achieve something that will be by no means easy—to look at the whole problem of the tourist industry and to secure that every Department concerned does its duty as it affects that industry. This task will be difficult in that Departments will be inclined to suggest that the Board of Trade should mind its own business, but they must be told that it is the business of the Board of Trade to do everything to ensure the contentment of our overseas visitors and I ask my hon. Friend to bear this factor in mind.

2.8 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. John Rodgers)

As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Sir N. Cooper-Key), it is appropriate that we should discuss this subject on the eve of the Summer Recess. Without taking issue regarding what has been said, I should like to mention that there have been several occasions in the last few months when this subject has been raised.

We are all glad that there have been expressions of appreciation at the vast improvement in the hotel and catering industry in this country. Our hotels can hold their own with any hotels in any country in the world. I have had much evidence of that in the last year or two since tourism has been one of my responsibilities at the Board of Trade.

The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) mentioned the schools of catering. I saw a first-class catering school in Torquay, a really magnificent school, and I can assure my hon. Friend that at the Board of Trade we appreciate the importance of these schools in raising the standard of the hotel and catering industry, and we shall do our best to promote them.

Mr. Hayman

The Cornwall Education Committee has co-operated fully with the Torquay authorities in providing that school.

Mr. Rodgers

It caters for the whole area and it is a magnificent school. There are others in the country which are equally as good.

Sir Charles Taylor (Eastbourne)

Would my hon. Friend say how many of these schools there are in the country? I believe I am right in saying that the total is over one hundred and that under the Hotel and Catering Institute they are doing a very good job.

Mr. Rodgers

I am glad that point has been made by my hon. Friend. I have not the exact number of the schools, but there are more than most people realise and I think the total is over a hundred.

Before I come to the subject of the debate, I should like to answer questions which have been raised on other points. The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) referred to the problem of oil pollution which, as he recognised, is the responsibility of the Ministry of Transport. That Ministry is much alive to the importance of the matter. There is an international agreement on the subject but, alas, not all countries subscribe to it and it is difficult for the Government to control what happens outside our territorial waters. But I will draw the attention of my hon. Friend to what the hon. Member has said.

The question of roads, which was referred to by several hon. Members, is another subject which is the responsibility of the Ministry of Transport. I join issue over one thing which was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings. He drew a parallel between the amount of Government assistance given to Fords, B.M.C. etc., and what he thought should be given to the hotel industry. That is a travesty of the facts. Government assistance is available in development districts under certain conditions for providing new employment, and hotels qualify for assistance just as much as the British Motor Corporation. A great many hotels have benefited from loans and grants under B.O.T.A.C. and D.A.T.A.C. schemes.

Sir N. Cooper-Key

Can my hon. Friend give instances?

Mr. Rodgers

Not without notice, but I will send my hon. Friend details.

I make no apology for the Government's attitude on the tourist trade. When the war ended Britain did not rank as a tourist area in any sense of the word, but today we earn more from our overseas visitors than any Western European country, with the exception of Germany and Italy. There is no doubt that we owe this in large measure to the excellent work of the British Travel and Holidays Association, the Government's chosen instrument. The Association, however, would have been quite unable to achieve this had it not been for the very large Government grant which it receives. I assure hon. Members that we are not lacking in appreciation of the potentialities of the invisible export earnings of the tourist industry. Indeed, as a Government we are proud of our record of help to the tourist industry.

The help is not confined to one Department, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings suggested. Since the conference on tourism which was organised by the British Travel and Holidays Association and held at the Board of Trade in 1958, the following steps have been taken: first, the grant to the British Travel and Holidays Association has been increased by the not inconsiderable sum of £¼ million; secondly, arrangements have been concluded with a number of European countries under which citizens of those countries can visit the United Kingdom without a current passport, but simply with an identity card; thirdly, passport-free trips by air between Britain and France have been introduced and have recently been extended to 48 hours' duration; fourthly, arrangements have been made to sell duty-free liquor to departing visitors at some of our main airports. I say "departing visitors" lest some hon. Members may think that they could visit London Airport and get duty-free liquor; fifthly, there has been the further abolition of visa requirements from various countries.

All these developments were sought during the 1958 Conference, and this is by no means the end of our efforts to assist the trade. As the House knows, the Government have announced a review of the licensing laws and of the period of Summer Time, and we have also set up an official Committee to consider how the summer season can be extended. Any change in the present situation with regard to these matters would require fresh legislation. Therefore, I should be out of order if I pursued that topic, but certainly a change in the licensing laws has been represented in the past as one of the most outstanding needs of the tourist trade if it is to go on attracting more overseas visitors.

Already the measures which have been taken are showing results. In the suggestions which have been made, it might have been pointed out that the tourist traffic for the first five months of this year was 20 per cent. up on the traffic for the comparable period of last year, despite the rather filthy weather which unfortunately our visitors have been treated to. This gives the lie once again to the dismal Jimmies who have for so long prophesied that lack of accommodation would make further expansion of our tourist earnings impossible.

Mr. Rees-Davies

On this important question of licensing and drinks, can my hon. Friend say that the President of the Board of Trade would think it right to make representations to the Home Secretary as to what he feels would be suitable measures designed to secure the flexibility we would wish for tourists?

Mr. Rodgers

Consultation is going on all the time between the various Departments and I can assure my hon. Friend that our views are made known to the Home Office in this regard.

Mr. Mathew

Before my hon. Friend concludes this part of his speech, as he referred to the Committee considering the extension of the holiday season—I thought rather in parentheses—does he realise that this is the key to the extension of the tourist industry? It is all very well to say that 20 per cent. more have come in, but that can be a rather diminishing return. It is not the weather, but traffic conditions and over-full hotels during part of the year which, in the long run, will act as a deterrent. Whatever the Committee reports, the Government and my right hon. Friend's Department should give a lead because, throughout every holiday area in the country, there is growing agitation to get the season extended in the interests both of holidaymakers and of those who cater for them.

Mr. Rodgers

As my hon. Friend knows, we debated this matter for a whole day not long ago. As a result, we set up an inter-departmental committee to go into ways and means of achieving the undoubtedly desirable end of extending the holiday season. Further, we are undertaking a social survey to find the reasons why people choose the time they do to go on holiday. From that we hope to be able to see what influences and changes can affect the situation.

We are hoping to have a report on the whole subject by October. It will cover such questions as school holidays and examinations, industrial holidays, the possibility of moving Bank Holidays and the question of extension of Summer Time at either end. I do not want to go into this in detail, although I would be happy to do so. I can assure my hon. Friend that at the Board of Trade we do all we can to bring about an extension of the tourist trade, but I thought it a little premature, before the Committee reports, to go into that question in great detail.

Mr. Mathew

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that assurance.

Mr. Rodgers

Now I wish to say a word or two about the hotel trade. It has been pointed out on behalf of the hotels that if they were to get fiscal concessions and interest-free loans they would be able to carry out improvements and extensions which would make them more attractive to the foreign visitor and in this way increase our earnings of overseas currency. I am sure that an extremely strong case would have to be made for discriminating in favour of hotels and against all other commercial undertakings before it would be possible to yield to arguments of this sort. No doubt a similar case could be made for subsidising other forms of commercial enterprise which earn foreign currency—insurance and shops, for instance. Shops, after all, do a great deal of trade with foreign visitors.

Sir N. Cooper-Key

Will my hon. Friend allow me—

Mr. Rodgers

I should like to be allowed to finish this argument. Every industry which thought it needed assistance in economically desirable investment in new fixed assets would be encouraged to ask for special taxation reliefs or cheap capital. Let us get the case for discriminating in favour of hotels into its true perspective. Only 5 per cent. of holidaymakers in the United Kingdom represent overseas tourists, of whom many will not stay in hotels at all and those who do will mostly be confined to the well-known tourist centres and particularly to the excellent hotels in London.

Secondly, any concession to hotels and boarding houses in general—most of which seldom see an overseas visitor—would be an extremely expensive and wasteful way of improving our balance of payments. I can imagine the sort of outcry there would be if Government help were limited to the sort of hotel which derives most benefit from the overseas traveller. These are the very hotels which seem to be showing the best results, judging from published figures. The figure of £153 million earned from our overseas visitors in 1959 was a very substantial figure. It is, however, important to maintain a sense of proportion when advocating Government intervention which would cut across all normal fiscal principles on the grounds of the alleged importance to our national economy of the additional overseas earnings which such action is thought to secure.

It has been said by those who are seeking these concessions—and here I refer not only to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings but also to the B.H.R.A. Annual Report—that if granted they: could open a new era of prosperity and expansion, not only for our hotels and restaurants but, more important, for the country at large. To such people the Government failure to concede to their demands has seemed worse than foolish. How can the Government, they argue, for the sake of a few scruples about fiscal principles, stand between the nation and "a new era of prosperity"? To such people I would point out that the earnings in 1959 to which I have referred represent less than 1 per cent. of the gross national product. Although I hope very much, and indeed believe, that our travel trade is going on expanding as it has done every year since the war, I think it too much to claim that, even if we doubled our overseas business, it would open a new era of prosperity … for the country.

Sir N. Cooper-Key

On the subject of fiscal principles and investment in industry, will not my hon. Friend agree that the film industry is in a similar category to the hotel industry?

Mr. Rodgers

This is getting rather broad of the subject. It is true that we gave assistance to the National Film Finance Corporation. That was to protect the British film industry from the threat of extinction by competition from the Hollywood film industry. I do not think the two cases are at all parallel. No one has suggested that the British hotel industry as a whole is threatened with extinction. What we are saying is that there are not enough hotels and it has been urged by hon. Members that there should be more hotels. That is hardly the same thing as an industry threatened with extinction. Therefore, I do not think that the parallel which the hon. Gentleman has tried to draw holds water.

Sir C. Taylor

Would my hon. Friend say how many new hotel rooms are now being built in London?

Mr. Rodgers

Without notice, I cannot give the actual figures. One or two hotels have gone up, as my hon. Friend, who is an expert in this matter, knows. He manages one of our finest hotels. As he knows, a certain number of hotels have already gone up and some are projected in the West End. Progress is being made, although there is much to be done, and I would like to see more hotels constructed and more accommodation provided.

In the remarks that I have made about the need to preserve fiscal principles, I do not mean that the hotel industry or our tourist earnings are unimportant—quite the reverse. We must do everything possible to expand our invisible exports of every kind. But what I have said puts the matter into better perspective. I am not arguing against the case of the hotel industry. In many European countries special fiscal concessions have been made for hotels, but in many of these the tourist industry plays a much more important part in the economy of the country than it does in the United Kingdom.

A good deal of righteous indignation has, I know, been generated by people who say that the Government are discriminating against hotels which are asking not for concessions but for their rights. That is what they say. But let us be quite clear about this. Hotels get exactly the same treatment as all other commercial enterprises. "Ah," say the protagonists of hotels, "but what we want is to be treated like industry." But why should the hotel trade be singled out from other commercial enterprises, some of which also earn overseas currency, for special treatment? I know that there are others who think there is a case for treating all commercial undertakings on the same footing as industry, but surely there can be no case for singling out hotels on their own. I hope this explanation will help to remove what I know has been a very real, though misguided, sense of grievance on the part of many hoteliers. If so, and if it has been possible to allay some of these apprehensions, this debate will have served a most useful purpose.

I should like to say a word about the smaller hotels. It is sometimes said that the Board of Trade has been misled by the published figures of hotel profits into thinking that the whole of the hotel trade is prosperous, whereas in fact the vast majority of hotels which do not publish their figures and are in small units, are barely keeping their heads above water. We at the Board of Trade are certainly not going to believe that there is a great gulf fixed between the profitability of hotels which publish their trading results and those which do not. We are ready to acknowledge that there are types of hotels and boarding houses where, owing to changes in public taste, business is very poor.

Indeed, in some parts of the country there are whole areas where this may be the case. But the Government are not going to compensate such hotels or areas because the population is tending more and more to take its pleasures elsewhere or in holiday camps and caravans. It is no part of the Government's duty to try to put the clock back on social changes or to freeze the pattern of hotel and holiday habits. Still less, because a section of the hotel trade is suffering, are the Government going to pour oil and wine over the entire industry. This would be going beyond even what was demanded of the good Samaritan.

I would be happy to go into the whole question of capital allowances, deprecia- tion, investment allowances for new hotel businesses, the reason why we cannot give relief from taxation for modernisation expenditure, and the question of rating, but time does not now permit me to do so. However, I should like to write to any hon. Member who may be interested, giving our views in great detail on any of these subjects.

We are told that what is wanted is a lead from the Government and a greater sense of appreciation by the Board of Trade of the importance of this industry. It seems to be suggested by some of my hon. Friends that we are preventing our getting our fair share of the increase in tourism that is taking place in Europe. What are the facts? In 1958, according to the figures collected by the Tourism Committee of O.E.E.C., our total earnings from tourism were only exceeded by France, Italy and Germany. In 1959 we improved our position in the league table by one place, which left only Italy and Germany above us in this respect.

When we think of the condition of this country and its attitude to the tourist trade only ten or fifteen years ago, I think all hon. Members, whatever they have said today, must admit that this is an impressive record for a newly emerging resort country. It is made much more impressive by the fact that our increase in earnings last year was greater than the increase recorded by any other member of O.E.E.C. In circumstances such as these, and bearing in mind that the British Travel and Holidays Association calculates that the home holiday traffic increased last year by 6 per cent. over the previous year, it seems to me that the tourist trade can be said to be enjoying a very fair wind at present.

I do not wish to minimise the troubles which same sections of the trade are meeting, but, generally speaking, it must surely be conceded by all that this is an expanding trade. This is a prosperous trade at bottom. I can therefore invite hon. Members with confidence to leave for their summer holidays in the knowledge that the tourist trade, to which they will be contributing, is far from the downtrodden Cinderella which it has been made out to be, but that it is enjoying an unprecedented period of expansion and, encouraged by the Government, this period seems likely to go on for some time ahead.

I would only hope, on behalf not only of the tourist industry but also of hon. Members in all parts of the House, that there will be one great improvement, namely, in the weather.

Mr. Hayman

I should like to thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. I wonder whether at the end of the Recess it would be possible for him to send to the secretary of the all-party tourist and resorts group a memorandum setting out some of the points with which he said he would like to deal?

Mr. Rodgers

If it is for the convenience of hon. Members on both sides of the House, that might be the best way of treating the offer that I made to my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings. I will send a memorandum to the all-party committee which can then distribute it to all members ready for when they return from their well-earned Recess.

Sir N. M. Cooper-Key

Would my hon. Friend include in that memorandum the amount that the Government have loaned directly to hotels?

Mr. Rodgers

I am not sure that I can go into the figures, but I will certainly see that a note is included.

Sir C. Taylor

In that memorandum will my hon. Friend answer some of the questions which he has been unable to answer today?

Mr. Rodgers

Certainly, I shall study the questions, of which I might say I was given no previous notice, and see whether answers can be furnished.

In conclusion, I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings for raising this important and interesting subject.