§ LORD HACKING rose to call the attention of His Majesty's Government to the necessity for encouraging the flow of visitors to this country from overseas both in the interests of better understanding amongst nations and also as a valuable contribution towards Britain's payments on international account; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion which stands in my name upon the Order paper. When I entered your Lordship's House seven months ago after twenty-seven years spent in another place, I was at once struck by the great difference between the two Houses. That difference I think is best expressed by saying that here your Lord- 704 ships never take part in any debate unless you possess full knowledge of the subject under discussion. That was not, I understand from my own experience, the universal custom in another place. That self-imposed discipline on the part of your Lordships must be responsible for holding back many maiden speeches. It has certainly compelled me to remain silent. I waited patiently for a subject to appear on the Order Paper about which I might know sufficient to make some small contribution to your debates, but I waited in vain, and finally in desperation, I had to put down a subject of my own choice. Hence the Motion which is now before your Lordships' House. I crave your indulgence for a maiden speech.
§ My Motion requests the Government to encourage the flow of visitors to this country for two reasons: the first in the interests of a better understanding between nations; the second as a valuable contribution towards our sorely needed export trade. Thy first reason needs, I think, very little explanation, even though its vital importance must never be disregarded. I desire, however, in the main, to deal with the financial assistance that this country would obtain from a large influx of visitors from overseas, properly known as tourists. It is well that we should realize what is meant by a tourist. It has been very loosely defined on many occasions, but it was finally, and I think accurately, defined by the League of Nations in 1937, and these were the words which were used in definition: "Any person travelling for a period of 24 hours or more in a country other than that in which he usually resides." That is the definition of a tourist.
§ A tourist must not be confused with a holidaymaker in his own country. A visitor to Brighton from Manchester may make Brighton more prosperous, but it is only at the expense of Manchester. The country as a whole derives no financial benefit at all from this kind of visit. This is, of course, very obvious, but it is important to realize that, if we wish to increase the wealth of Britain, we do not achieve this, as some may imagine, by moving people about up and down in our own country in which they already reside. For visitors to increase our wealth they must come from overseas, and these visitors are properly described as tourists.
§ For many years I have been interested in tourism. I hope I shall not be thought 705 presumptuous if I give your Lordships a short history of my participation in an organization dealing exclusively with tourism, namely, the Travel Association. In the year 1929 I was Secretary for the Department of Overseas Trade. My job, obviously, was to increase exports of every description, whether they might be visible or invisible exports. I was not alone in noticing, when travelling about in this country, that on every railway station hoarding there appeared many attractive posters inviting people to go to Switzerland and to Italy and to France and to many other countries. If one walked down Regent Street probably one would find at least a dozen foreign information bureaux. If one went into any travel agency, such as Cooks, Dean & Dawsons, and many others, there were all sorts of advertisements, including beautiful brochures, leaflets and pamphlets, all most attractively designed, all put in front of us with the one object of persuading Britishers to travel overseas.
§ There was nothing very wrong about that, but why did we not do the same in foreign countries? Prior to 1930 did your Lordships ever see when you were engaged in travelling overseas a single national poster inviting foreigners to come to Britain? Did you ever see a British national information bureau in any of the big cities overseas, such as Paris, Berlin or anywhere else? Were foreigners ever persuaded by publicity—except of a purely sectional character—to come and pay us a visit in Britain? The answer to those three questions is definitely No, and, whilst Governments of overseas countries were spending large sums of money on advertising their own countries in Britain, our Government were doing absolutely nothing.
§ Statistics are sometimes a nuisance and difficult to assimilate in large doses. I will not give many, but a few figures will show the value of tourism to other countries. In 1929 (and I am mentioning that year because it was before we started to compete in this market) tourists to France spent the equivalent of £80,500,000 and I regret to say that of those tourists no fewer than 900,000 were from Britain alone. Canada benefited in 1929 by her tourists to the extent of £63,000,000. No wonder, then—because these are large figures—these overseas countries were prepared to spend money 706 in advertising when they secured such high returns on their expenditure.
§ We in Britain have much to offer to the tourists. Few countries in the world have known so much history and, moreover, have preserved so much of it. Few have more attractive scenery. None has better or more varied sport. None can offer finer pageantry; and, alas, few countries can show greater war damage than has been suffered by the great City of London and its environs. But, in spite of our attractions, in spite of the financial benefits which would have accrued to us as a nation, Governments have been slow to assist. In the same year, 1929, along with my colleagues in the Department of Overseas Trade, I worked out a scheme for a national organization to be created which had as its background Government co-operation and financial help. The scheme was submitted by me to the President of the Board of Trade. For the moment, I forget his name; it was either Sir Philip Lloyd-Graeme or Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister; but I do know his name now, and I hope that my noble friend Viscount Swinton will be as enthusiastic to-day as he was seventeen years ago.
§ With encouragement from the President of the Board of Trade I then saw the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I well remember his name because he has not changed it since that time: it was Mr. Winston Churchill I saw him; sketched out the plan; he welcomed it. He welcomed it almost with open arms and he asked me how much I wanted. What a question for a Chancellor of the Exchequer to put to a Minister! Unfortunately, before I had the opportunity of answering that question, it was obvious that he would have to consult some other individual who was in the room at the same time. That individual was his Private Secretary, afterwards better known as the Secretary of State for War, Sir James Grigg. He told the Chancellor that it was not right that he should offer a large sum because no Chancellor could bind his successor, and his successors might not agree with the then Chancellor of the Exchequer. I came away with a paltry £5,000.
§ Just imagine—£5,000 with which to advertise this country in every other country of the world! The Travel Association was, nevertheless, formed, and we succeeded in collecting £11,000 from outside subscribers, and with this total of 707 £16,000 we did our best during the first year, always in anticipation that future Chancellors of the Exchequer would be more far-seeing and generous than the one in office at that time. The largest sum that the Travel Association ever has extracted from the Treasury in any one year was £17,000 in 1939 when the total income of the Association from all sources was approximately £60,000. I ask in all seriousness, how can a national organization of this kind do its work properly and effectively with such a small measure of Government assistance?
§ Experts have formed the opinion that, properly financed by the Government, this invisible export, tourism, can produce for this country on international account no less than £100,000,000 a year. Most of our invisible exports to-day have gone. What an opportunity to build up another! If we get a loan from the United States of America (I understand that it is not absolutely certain yet) we will eventually have to repay at the maximum rate of I think about £35,000,000 or £37,000,000 a year; that is on interest and capital repayment. I myself believe that we could get this sum from the Americans by their visits to this country. An official document published in the United States quite recently expresses the belief that Americans will spend in Europe £300,000,000 a year as soon as tourism can get into full operation, of which they estimate (not we, but the Americans estimate) that no less than £100,000,000 would come to Britain. Well, whatever the sum may be, if we have to pay back £35,000,000 or £37,000,000 to America as the result of the loan we are going to make a very big contribution on account of this particular invisible export trade. I cannot believe that I would have very much trouble in borrowing £I from any of your Lordships if I could promise to repay at the end of the year £100 for every pound, that I had borrowed.
§ NOBLE LORDS: Hear, hear.
§ LORD HACKING
I am very glad that your Lordships agree with that proposition. But the Government do not seem to be attracted by it. In the past the Government have imagined that they have been making a grant to the Travel Association none of which would ever be 708 returned to the Treasury. What a conception! I respectfully suggest to your Lordships that in the future the Treasury should consider any money handed over to advance tourism as an investment, and if the sum so invested did amount even to £1,000,000 a year, if they got a return of £100,000,000 surely it would be well worth their while.
Your Lordships may wonder why I am suggesting that the Travel Association should be the responsible body for attracting visitors from overseas. I hasten to assure your Lordships that it is not because I have any financial interest in the Association—except of a negative kind; it has cost me a considerable sum and also much toil and labour. Neither of these shall I ever grudge or regret. The real reasons why I want more money for the Association are twofold.
Firstly, the Government have already appointed the Association to carry out preliminary post-war work, and the Association is already engaged in carrying out that task. The second reason is that there appears every prospect that the Travel Association will be entrusted with the work on a permanent basis. Your Lordships may ask why I am bold enough to make that statement. Many of your Lordships have heard of the Catering Wages Act. I fought that Act in another place. Others carried on the fight and the struggle when the Bill reached this House. Nevertheless, in spite of our efforts to kill the Bill it was placed upon the Statute Book. A body known as the Catering Wages Commission was set up under the terms of the Act. Mr. Bevin, the present Foreign Secretary, was then the Minister of Labour. He appointed Sir Hartley Shaw-cross, the present Attorney-General, as Chairman of the Commission, and subsequently he appointed his own private secretary to be the secretary of the Commission. He then instructed the Commission to enquire into and report upon the best means for developing the tourist traffic.
I am not suggesting for one moment any ulterior motive in those appointments, but, in view of my hostility to the Bill and my possibly unfortunate feelings towards the constitution of the Commission, your Lordships will, I hope, pardon me for imagining that the Commission would never report anything good about 709 any tourist organisation with which I was ever associated. The Commission were good enough to invite my friends and myself who were connected with the Travel Association to give evidence before them on no less than three occasions. The Commission's Report was published on Thursday of last week. It seems very opportune that I should have put down my Motion for to-day. It looks on the face of it as though at this earliest possible moment I should retract from everything I said about the Act and everything I thought about the constitution of the Commission. I only refer of course to that part of the Report which deals with tourism, for at this moment I certainly am not going to be concerned to argue the case proposed in the Report for the hotels and their future. Others may possibly do that during this debate.
But what does the Report say about tourism? It suggests the setting up of a Board to deal with travel, holidays, and catering. The execution of the general policy laid down by the Board is to be carried out by two Associations—one to be a catering development association, still to be formed, and the other not a travel association, but to be the Travel Association already in existence.
Let me quote the actual words of the Commission's suggestion. They are to be found in paragraph 112 on page 36 of the Report. I leave out words which are of no importance. If the noble Lord thinks I ought to quote them I am willing to do so.We think it most desirable to retain not only the existing organization of the Travel Association, with its contacts and background of experience, … but also its name with its accumulated good-will.I have left out a few words there which are of no importance.This appears to us to be particularly important since the tourist organization will be dependent to a considerable extent upon voluntary support and must also operate abroad.In fact the proposal made in that section of this Report is to take over the whole of the existing machinery of the Travel Association as a unit by itself. At least that is my reading of that particular section. These words are sufficiently embarrassing, but there is even more to follow, and I now read from the final words of the Report at page 42, paragraphs 129 and 130, starting about half-way down paragraph 129: 710… it is vital that no time should be lost in planning the development of the tourist traffic and we hope that it might be possible for the Government to give an early indication of its intentions in this matter, since uncertainty must inevitably make more difficult the work which the Travel Association is already undertaking"—and I emphasize strongly those words.At the same time we would urge very strongly that during the interim period the Association should be given every assistance and encouragement in the work of planning with which it is now proceeding.I cannot resist just reading the concluding paragraph, although it has nothing to do with this particular argument:We cannot speak too cordially of the assistance we have received from these varied interests.They were the interests who had given evidence before the Commission.They were ready to co-operate with us in every way and from many of them we received useful memoranda in addition to the views offered in discussion with us. If we mention in particular the help we have received from the Travel Association in matters concerning the development of the tourist traffic, it is because that is an organization which has been active in these matters over a number of years, and our task would have been a great deal more difficult had the Association and its officers not been ready at all times to give us the benefit of their knowledge experience and views.I consider that there is a fine testimonial in the Report of this Commission, and the Commission have certainly taken a delightful revenge in respect of my unkindly references to the Act which, as I say, was responsible for the appointment of the Commission itself. I should be inhuman if I did not offer to the members of the Commission and to its two able Secretaries, Mr. Grant and Mr. Robertson, my grateful appreciation of their generous references.
Now I would like to, ask the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, who, I understand, is going to reply to the debate, whether the Government have yet decided on the action they propose in connexion with the Report. I ask the question under two headings: first, I wish to know what is their short term policy, for any organization which is to be held responsible for bringing tourists here in 1947–48 must get busy without delay; secondly, and still more important, I wish to know what the Government's long term policy is to be. Do they accept the Commission's Report; do they reject it, or possibly do they accept it with modifications? Here I 711 mention the necessity for continuous policy. The organization which is to be appointed should know its fate and its future at the earliest possible moment, otherwise it is quite impossible to build up a highly skilled staff and an efficient organization. One cannot expect to secure the best officers unless there is some security of tenure.
To revert to the short-term policy for a moment, I was intrigued by an answer given in another place by the Chancellor of the Exchequer a short time ago. Mr. Dalton was asked what were the present Treasury grants to the British Council, whose excellent work I readily acknowledge, and to the Travel Association. He replied, £3,500,000 to the British Council; £15,000 to the Travel Association. He added that less would be spent on the British Council and more on the Travel Association in the next financial year, but — and these were significant words that he used—he could not promise exact equality. When I read that reply, I wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, asking what was in his mind when he used those words about equality. Here let me say that I have no grudge, no ill will whatever, against the British Council, and I hope that I have not got a jealous disposition. It is not for me to try and persuade the Treasury to give less to any organization; it is for me to try and convince the Treasury that they are not giving enough to ourselves, so I am not trying to pull one up at the expense of another. The reply I got from Mr. Dalton to my letter did not start in any very hopeful strain. He said:I am afraid that you have read far too much into the answer which I gave last Tuesday"—not a very helpful beginning. Then he continued:Whilst I entirely agree with your argument that a large outlay is always justified if it secures a commensurate return, I must make the point that in the immediate future the possibilities of tourism in this country are severely limited by the practical difficulties of bringing the tourists here and accommodating them or, arrival.Mr. Dalton justifies his disagreement with my suggestion that a larger grant should be given by saying, "What is the use of giving a grant now, when you cannot get the tourists here this year?" I am sorry that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has used that as an argument. 712 Surely he does not expect that if you send over some wonderful ammunition in the form of attractive posters and leaflets to-day, the visitors will start coming to-morrow. If he does think that, he is very much mistaken. Of course everybody realizes the difficulties of accommodating large numbers of tourists now in this country—everybody must realize that—but surely it is obvious that a very considerable amount of costly work must be carried out in the next twelve months if we are to obtain good results in even' 1947 or 1948, by which time we all believe, and at any rate hope, that the accommodation position will be much easier, if not completely satisfactory. Money has to be spent in this business overseas well in advance of the actual arrival of the visitors, otherwise they will not know of our attractions and consequently may never come at all. The effect of money spent now may not, in fact, bring any additional results for even two to five years hence.
Let me give just a few examples. Offices and information bureaux must be opened and staffed shortly, both overseas and in this country. That cannot be done in five days, five weeks, or five months. Films of this country have already been taken, and more are in preparation for world exhibition during the next two, three or even four years. You cannot take a film of Britain to-day and show it all over the world to-morrow. The Travel Association is committed to an honorary overseas service membership scheme, a scheme which has been accepted and agreed by the Foreign Office, under which we hope to obtain in membership of our national organization upwards of 1,000,000 Service men and women of the United Nations who have passed through this country during the war, and who are being invited to maintain their contact with Britain and pay return visits to us in the days of peace. A membership card is provided for each one of those persons. This is costing £80,000 for each 1,000,000 acceptances, and unless these people who have passed through this country during the war are invited now, we may miss a glorious opportunity, and the psychological moment may have passed.
Then there is the preparation and arranging of details of coming events. As a simple example of that, the reunion of the American 8th Air Force in Britain is being arranged so far ahead as 1948, and 713 it is under discussion at the moment. Finally, there is the preparation and distribution of general literature in most parts of the world, so that tourists may shortly plan visits to be made possibly during the next few years, but certainly not necessarily within twelve months. All these, and many additional activities, must be started and paid for without delay, many of them in the next financial year. I hope that the Chancellor will reconsider his suggestion that it is unnecessary to spend money during 1946 and 1947 just because in those years there may be insufficient accommodation. I have not dealt in any detail with the work in which the Travel Association is already engaged. It would take too long to do so, and I realize I have already taken up too much of your Lordships' time. If, however, any of your Lordships are interested in our activities, my board of management would, I know, wish me to extend to you a cordial invitation to visit our offices at 6 Arlington Street—a very convenient place from which to slip across to the Ritz for lunch—when our enthusiastic Director-General, Mr. Bridges, and his excellent staff would be delighted to give any of your Lordships a full account of our stewardship.
I pass on to ask the Government a few more questions, with regard to most of which I have given notice. First, what is the present number of hotels still requisitioned by Government Departments and by the Services? Secondly, what practical steps are being taken by the Government to assist in the reconditioning and re-equipment of the hotels that have been derequisitioned? Thirdly, in the past, when an hotel has effected an improvement, such as adding bathroom accommodation, it has been penalised by having its assessment increased. That is definitely a discouragement to hotels to bring themselves up to date, and I ask the Government whether they will consider disregarding such improvements so far as reassessments are concerned, thus giving an incentive to hotels to carry them out. Fourthly, will the existing Licensing Laws be investigated by the Government with a view to rescinding or relaxing some of the most annoying and vexatious ones? I think most of your Lordships know what I mean. I hope that these hotel problems, so vital to the tourist industry, will be amplified by other speakers in this debate.
714 There are three other short questions I wish to ask the noble Lord, Lord Pakenham They all concern very materially the comfort and the temper of visitors from overseas. The first deals with passports. Now that the war is over, can passports be simplified or abolished altogether? Secondly, will the charge for visas be reduced, or, better still, will visas be issued free, if, in fact, they are necessary at all? Thirdly, can it be made easier, more expeditious and more pleasant for the tourist to pass through our Customs at the various ports of entry into this country? All these requests taken together really mean this: in future will it be possible for us to give a greater welcome to our potential friends when they come to pay us visits? Mr. Bevin, the present Foreign Secretary—I must quote him once more—said some time ago that he had an ambition. I suppose it would probably be better described as only one of his ambitions, but he said he had an ambition to be able just to buy a ticket to wherever he wanted to go and to go there. Would it not be wonderful if we could just buy a ticket to where we wanted to go and go there? Why should not we approach very nearly, at any rate, to that Utopia? Let us work, all of us, for the abolition of all deterrents to travel. With that end in view, the Travel Association, with the approval of the Government, proposes to hold a conference of foreign travel agencies in two or three months' time. The object of that conference will be to propound plans to simplify the movement of tourists throughout the world.
I have dealt in my speech mainly with the financial effects which will accrue to this country by a wide and wise expansion of our tourist organization, but I cannot close on that mercenary note. I would like to add two or three sentences on a far higher plane, and to conclude by saying that never in the history of the world has the need for international understanding and amity been more urgent than it is now. Unless the nations of the world, and particularly those who are known as the Great Powers, reach a common understanding, all are doomed to destruction. Tourists of themselves cannot achieve the goal of universal concord, and nobody imagines that they can, but through the medium of travel and the intercourse of nation with nation, and people with people, there may be laid 715 the foundations of international friendship which will lead to universal harmony. This, at any rate, is an end worth striving for, and in all humility I ask your Lordships' support. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SAMUEL
My Lords, it comes as a privilege to be the spokesman of your Lordships in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, on his maiden speech, to which we have listened with the keenest interest. He has dealt with a subject of which he is a master, and on which he knows more, no doubt, than any other member of the House. We are grateful to him for having given us a maiden speech of such an informative character. It is particularly a pleasure to me, as an old colleague of the noble Lord for some twenty years in the House of Commons, having preceded him here by a comparatively short time, that it should be my voice that offers him this welcome.
The noble Lord told us that not having found a suitable subject for a maiden speech provided for him on the Order Paper, he put one there himself. That is quite a right course to pursue, and such initiative is of great advantage and service to the House. It has been said that the silence of a wise man is more wrong to mankind than the speech of a fool. If noble Lords are too diffident to come forward and offer to the House their knowledge, they are doing an injury to us even more than one who speaks on a subject with which he is not fully acquainted. The noble Lord has given us a great many facts and figures out of the depths of that knowledge that he possesses. I shall not attempt to emulate him there, but will address your Lordships on some more general considerations. I have felt for a long time that the subject of tourism has an economic importance and a general importance which the public at large does not at present realize. I venture to think that even in your Lordships' House there are many who still think that this is a matter of quite minor importance which might be considered as a sort of by-product in connexion with other subjects and who do not realize the great scope it possesses and the indirect effects which will arise from its development.
716 When the noble Lord went to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer to plead the cause of the Travel Association, and was asked how much was the grant he wanted, he might perhaps have answered in the words of the man who went into one of the large banks to draw some money, and who, when he was asked by the cashier, "How much do you want?", replied, "How much have you got?" The possible expenditure upon these purposes is almost unlimited, and hardly any demand is likely to prove really extravagant. The facts and figures which the noble Lord has quoted as of the present time are weighty, but if you look to the future and consider the developments that are probable within the next ten or twenty years, and particularly from the point of view of air travel, it will at once be apparent that the importance of this matter may be multiplied manyfold. If the factors of safety and of cost are satisfactorily dealt with by the civil air travel authorities, we shall unquestionably have numbers of passengers to be counted not in thousands but in millions, particularly in view of the probability of rising standards of life, within the next generation, in the parts of the world which have hitherto been at considerable distances measured by time from this country.
Take the 140,000,000 people of the United States for example. It is likely that almost that whole population will be in a financial position to take, at least once in their lives, a holiday in Europe. Similar conditions may develop in the British Dominions and in many other countries. Travellers will come in great numbers from South America, from India and from other parts of the world in the Far East, and you will find that the numbers of tourists to which we have been accustomed in the past will be a mere fraction compared with those that will be registered in the coming generation. And if they come to the Continent of Europe—as they will do for the sake of its natural attractions, its historical associations and its art treasures, as well as from a desire to see the working of the institutions of the present day—it is surely of importance that we should have such attractions and facilities as will induce them to come to Great Britain also.
The consequences of that from the economic point of view may well be very great. The noble Lord has pointed out the very large figures that have been 717 quoted in America of the probable expenditure of Americans visiting Europe in the coming years. They are very great indeed, and it is unnecessary for me to point out to your Lordships how far that may go towards relieving our difficulties with regard to the dollar exchange. Of course, increase of travel works both ways, and many people will travel from Great Britain to other countries. But, nevertheless, since our expenditure on travel on the Continent of Europe will be comparatively smaller, because we shall spend shorter holidays there than would be spent by people coming long distances, and, possibly, only once or twice in their lives, it is most probable—in fact one can feel quite confident—that the amount we receive in the way of foreign exchange in that respect will be far greater than the sums we shall be disbursing abroad. When we take a gloomy view of the consequences of the war in depriving us of the greater part of our income from foreign investment, and a large part of our income from shipping and other services, we should bear in mind that here we have a source from which that may be speedily recouped, and not merely recouped but outmatched manyfold by receipts under the head which has been described to us to-day.
To advertise the attractions of Great Britain is not enough. We must be sure that what we advertise is really worth seeing and that it may be seen with proper comfort and with the amenities that a holidaymaker would desire. The pleasure of travel is one of the greatest pleasures of life, I have always thought. No doubt most of your Lordships will be of the same view. The nations ought to share with one another their distinctive heritages. You go abroad to see natural beauties which cannot be matched here, in the way of great mountains and more genial climate at certain times of the year, and, as I have said, to see the treasures of history and of art which give to the mind refreshment and a stimulus that cannot be obtained in any other way.
The British people also have very much to offer, and they must be sure to offer it attractively. The English and Scottish landscape at its best has a peculiar, indeed a unique, charm, and the historical associations — for example, here in London, and around this very hall in which we meet, the Abbey and Westminster Hall and very many other build- 718 ings of the greatest historical interest—are of the highest attraction to the foreign visitor. We have also, in architecture and the other arts, many things of great attraction dating back from the Middle Ages and the time of the Renaissance. The important thing is that they should be adequately displayed to foreigners, and not only that access should be made easy for foreigners, for we shall find that, having made that access easy for them, it is made more easy for the British people themselves, and that all kinds of fresh attractions, discovered for the sake of others, will be enjoyed by our own people, particularly in these days of more widespread holidays with pay. If the accommodation throughout the country is bettered for the sake of foreign visitors it will, indirectly, greatly benefit numbers of our own people as well.
What then is needed for this purpose? First we need a travel association, and if this debate had taken place a few years ago we should have said: "Obviously, there must be set up some organization to promote this object." But, thanks very largely to the noble Lord, we have now a travel association for that very purpose, and do not need to wait for years while one is being built up. Secondly, as a rule in a debate of this character the spokesman for the Government says: "These objects are obviously exceedingly interesting and very important, and we will appoint a committee to see in what way they can be best accomplished." Here, again, we have a committee and the committee has approved the travel association. So, all these preliminaries have been gone through, and now the next step is one not of preparation but of action.
This is much more than a mere business proposition for the benefit of the hotel industry. And it is much more than a means of providing us with greatly needed foreign exchange. As the noble Lord said in his final words, the international contacts are of supreme importance. The nations must mix more together. We see how harmful is the isolation of Russia, for example. If there had been, in the past, free transit to and fro both of men and ideas between Russia and Western Europe, I feel certain that difficulties that have now arisen would never have occurred.
The more we can intermix our populations by frequent visits, the more likely 719 it is that international goodwill will be promoted and the peace of the world preserved. The action that should be taken for these purposes is undoubtedly to encourage our Travel Association by financial grants, but we should also take pains to see that when we advertise "Come to Britain" we should be certain that what we have to show is really worth seeing and that the best things are preserved. Hence the importance of what many of us have been urging for many years in the town and country planning movement which is of vital interest in this country, and furthermore such movements as those for National Parks and the Associations for the Preservation of Rural England and Rural Scotland.
We must rid our country also of the blatant vulgarity of the abuses of advertising, which really degrade our towns, even some of our most beautiful towns; and perhaps in parenthesis I might point to one example within a few hundred yards of this House, namely, in Trafalgar Square. There, there are advertisements for national savings, which were fully justified anywhere and everywhere during the war, but which still disfigure the memorial to one of our greatest heroes in one of the architectural centres of the capital of the Empire. Valuable as is the work of the National Savings Committee, I venture to urge that they should not use that great memorial any longer as a hoarding for placards.
There is also the question of the provision of proper hotel and restaurant accommodation. Here, I do not think that Britain stands very high in the estimation of the world. I very often hear members of this House saying that this or that in this country is the best in the world. We speak of the Civil Service. That was mentioned not long ago, while the insurance system was mentioned here today, or else there is the Metropolitan Police or the Post Office. With respect to various other things we hear that the British is the best in the world, sometimes without any very intimate knowledge of what are the corresponding institutions in other countries. But I have never heard anyone say anywhere that British cooking is the best in the world. In fact: it is rather a by-word, and when the foreign tourist comes here 720 and experiences the ordinary average cooking of the provincial hotels or samples the food in a railway restaurant car, he is not likely to form a very high opinion of the degree of civilization we have reached in that respect.
It is only fair to say that in America the restaurant cars on the railways do not seem to be much better, but the Continental standards in Europe are much higher. Then there are our railway stations which are often very unattractive and squalid. The accommodation for the tourist at the cross-Channel ports is frequently disgraceful, and although we know that during the war nothing could be done and that the immediate claims of national housing must take precedence, the time ought not to be distant when we can make a great effort to clean up and tidy up these matters and make such improvements as are necessary if visitors are not merely to be attracted but also satisfied when they come here. It is a great compliment to London that the next Olympic Games are to be held here within two or three years and they will bring here a large number of visitors.
In concluding my observations, I would contend that a strong case can be offered for a great international exhibition on a large scale here in London to celebrate the centenary of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Britain was the first to initiate an enterprise of that character and the first international exhibition ever held on this planet was in this city of London at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park. But as in so many other matters, once having taken the initiative we left it to others to follow it up and even to surpass it. In recent years there have been no great exhibitions here except the one at Wembley which was not international but was Imperial. But in France and the United States there have been many exhibitions which I have visited and which no doubt many of your Lordships will have visited. They were on a great scale and attracted many millions of visitors. They gave both interest and pleasure to those visitors and served the economic interests of the cities and countries in which they were placed. After six years of war and then six years of recuperation, it should be expected that by 1951 the world will be ready to take stock of its situation. There should be, therefore, a great international exhibition to start off the second half of this century, which has 721 not been so happy in its first half, and to which all nations should be invited, and in which it is to be hoped Russia will take a very prominent part.
It is my hope that other countries will agree that London will be the right place for such an undertaking. Not long before the war Paris had a great exhibition and two exhibitions were held in Chicago and New York in the United States; and as the Continental countries are somewhat disqualified from holding an exhibition in the near future, and if one of the great capitals of the world is to be chosen, it should for various reasons be London. We might say to other countries that London, by its sufferings and sacrifices during the war, has deserved the compliment from the other friendly nations that would be shown by their taking part in such an exhibition here. The Travel Association has endorsed this proposal. The Royal Society of Arts which sponsored the exhibition of 1851 is still alive and ready to take the initiative in the early stages for an exhibition in 1951.
It is not too soon, not a month too soon, to begin the preparations and to choose the site (which many of us think should be in Hyde Park as was the exhibition in 1851) and generally to effect the preliminary arrangements. I know that the President of the Board of Trade is greatly interested in this project and it may be that public opinion will declare itself in favour of such an enterprise which is conducive both to the economic and cultural advantage of this country. It should not, of course, be merely an industrial exhibition, but one which includes every form of human activity, of the arts and of the sciences, the best of all we have to show to the world at large, and we should invite others to show here the best that their civilizations can produce. In all these ways we shall help to promote that international good will and universal peace on which the heart of mankind is set.
§ 5.30 p.m.
THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH
My Lords, in intervening for one moment, I would like to join the noble Viscount in congratulating my noble friend Lord Hacking on his most felicitous intervention in your Lordships' House. I rise to support my noble friend in his plea for 722 the encouragement of visitors from overseas, for the two very important reasons which he gives, namely, international good relations and as an invisible export. My noble friend has covered a great deal of ground, and I will endeavour not to repeat anything he has said. I would like to say I fully associate myself with the four questions which he has addressed to the noble Lord who will reply, and I shall look forward with some interest to hearing his answers to those questions.
I will deal with one point, and one point only, which obtrudes itself into the Chancellor of the Exchequer's letter to my noble friend, apparently rather abruptly—the important question of accommodation. We all feel that it would not be difficult to attract visitors here, but the point I want to make is that no good is likely to be achieved by encouraging tourists from abroad unless we have in this country not only sufficient but also suitable accommodation for their reception. There must be enough, and there must be accommodation of a kind which is good enough to attract visitors. Unless, as experience has shown, visitors are well-catered for, they go away with an unfavourable impression of the country that they have visited. They are not inclined to visit it again, and are not inclined to encourage their friends to come.
Under existing circumstances, provision of enough good accommodation is, I am afraid, a problem awaiting solution. It cannot be pretended that the standard of comfort in the hotels of this country at the present time is sufficiently high to prove attractive to visitors from abroad. I do not think that that is surprising. For six years the hotels of the country have naturally had to cut down, to make do, and, if necessary, to do without. It was absolutely essential during the war. But during the war we were not thinking about tourists, and now quite properly we turn our minds to that question. If it is to be, as I hope it will be, the policy of this country really to attract visitors from abroad, then we must not delay to give our tourist hotels, some of which are still requisitioned, permission to renovate their premises, many of which are desperately in need of repair, and also to refurnish and to re-equip.
Even hotels which have remained open throughout the war have necessarily suffered during those six years, as the result 723 of continual wear and tear, and, as those of your Lordships who travel the country know, there are many hotels now which have not got a towel left, which are desperately short of linen, and for china and glassware can only obtain the substitutes which war-time production was permitted to give them. To take those hotels that are still unavailable to the public on account of requisitioning, the Minister of Works told us, I think, that up to the end of last year there were over two thousand of the hotels and boarding houses of the larger size still being occupied by Government Departments, and we were told at that time that it was hoped to derequisition about half of that number by next April. A great deal has appeared in the Press asking: "Why are not hotels derequisitioned?" That is very important, of course, as a first step, but derequisitioning alone does nothing to attract visitors to an establishment.
Empty shells cannot accommodate anybody. They must be rehabilitated, and they must be re-equipped. Therefore, I think one is inclined to ask whether it is wise to begin at this stage to encourage visitors from abroad until we have made sure that we have got the accommodation in the hotels and the kind of accommodation which tourists will want. In asking that question I am interested to find support from the Catering Wages Commission Report, to which my noble friend referred. On page 29 in the paragraph at the top the authors of that Report say:To attempt to attract people for whom we are not ready would be disastrous.I do not think that that is an exaggeration. It is, naturally, quite obvious in this connexion that, when we talk of building facilities and furnishing equipment, housing is the most vital problem that faces the nation, and that the highest priority must be given to housing and all kinds of household equipment. We are led to expect by Ministerial statements that that housing problem will take a considerable time to solve. It is difficult, therefore, to see how the hotels of the country are to be re-equipped within a reasonable future.
Apart from the great problem of housing, we know how immensely important for our future is the export trade. Every facility and every priority is being devoted 724 to the development of our exports. What I would like to suggest to the noble Lord who is going to reply is that hotels, in so far as they are tourist hotels, that is to say, hotels that cater for visitors from abroad, should be treated as an export business, because they are an export business, and produce the invisible exports which we so much require. So I would ask whether the Government will not consider giving priority to hotels of the tourist character along with the priority that is given to our exports. That is the question which I would put to the noble Lord, and which I hope he will be able to put forward for consideration.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ LORD BROADBRIDGE
My Lords, I find myself in complete accord with everything that has been said by the noble Lord in opening this Motion. He has emphasized the necessity for international understanding. I shall therefore, in the few remarks which I intend to make, merely confine myself to the urgency for that, and the reason. It is one of the British characteristics that we do not blow our own trumpet. But there are times when in the interests of the country it is essential that that should be done. Owing to the great upheaval of the war, there is an atmosphere of suspicion by certain countries, not only against each other, but against Great Britain, and it is all due to the unsatisfactory way in which information has been supplied to the various countries of the world of the great part which has been played by England and its Empire in the late war.
If we do not ensure that the world is kept fully posted as to what we, as well as the Empire, have done and are still doing, we must expect to be misunderstood. As the noble Lord said in his opening speech, there never was a time when it was more necessary than it is now that we should get people here from other countries in order that they may come and see after all what the British people really are and ascertain for themselves on the spot what we have done, what our sufferings have been, and what we have sacrificed in helping to save the world. Several years after the last great European war the then President of the Federation of British Industries paid a visit to the United States of America, and on his return he made a report, and this is what he said: 725We are well aware that conditions in England are far from satisfactory and that we are going through difficult times.If I might interpolate there, that is equally applicable to the present time. We are still passing through most difficult times. But, he went on:in the United States of America, even in the most friendly disposed quarters, the general impression seems to be that England is definitely down and out.He continued:One hears our plants are out of date, our methods antiquated, we cannot compete, our spirit of initiative has deserted us, and the British workers neither can nor will work.Now, that is not a nice picture several years after that last European war, but are we satisfied that the same opinion does not exist at the present time? I am fortified in thinking that the same opinion does exist because, as your Lordships probably will have read, two American Senators, even last week, using the American broadcasting system, made a statement that if the American loan was granted to this country it would be a loan granted to a decadent and dying nation.
That does not sound too rosy. There may be other things which affected men like those American Senators in forming their opinions. They probably know that we have been having continuous strikes. They probably know that our women to-day are queueing up for most commodities as badly as during the war, and they also probably know that we are fettered with controls. So let us do everything we can to encourage people from America, Europe, Asia or any part of the world to come here and ascertain for themselves what we British people really are and what we have done, and remove all this misunderstanding and put things right, for there is nothing better than the personal touch.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, said just now, there is the financial side to this tourist question. It is true that we want foreign currency and that our shipping and our airlines will want support. Here the tourist industry will help in no uncertain way. I am glad that the Travel Association, of which the noble Lord is the distinguished chairman, is so prominently recognized in the Report of the Catering Wages Commission. I am sure that is going to be most helpful. I am convinced that there are many millions 726 of foreign visitors desirous of visiting this island home of ours, and they want to come as soon as they can. In order that we may remove all this misunderstanding about us, something should be done to bring them here as soon as possible. It is up to us, when they do come, to see that they are properly received and encouraged, as well as catered for.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ LORD ILIFFE
My Lords, in view of the lateness of the hour, I propose to be very brief. I am very glad indeed that my noble friend Lord Hacking brought forward this Motion this afternoon and I should like to congratulate him on the very lucid way in which he presented his case. As the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said, it is curious how little the public appreciate the great value to this country of the tourist industry. The fact that the Catering Wages Commission was empowered to make recommendations in regard to the tourist industry was due to your Lordships, who insisted that a clause should be added to the Catering Wages Bill to safeguard the interests of visitors to this country. In fact, your Lordships achieved something that the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, when he was a member of another place, failed to do; and it was on account of the action of your Lordships that the Catering Wages Commission has made these recommendations to which the noble Lord refers.
When this matter was debated in this House it was pointed out that the money spent by visitors to the United Kingdom was estimated in the year 1938 at just over £30,000,000; but it has been argued with considerable force—and my noble friend mentioned this—that this invisible export might quite easily be increased to £100,000,000 a year, or more, provided the proper steps are taken to make a visitor's stay in this country really agreeable. If so, that is of immense importance to our national economy, especially at a time when the balance of international payments is so adverse to this country. Unless this adverse balance is rectified within the next few years, our standards of living must be very adversely affected. One of the best ways, as has been pointed out, of rectifying this is to cultivate, by all means in our power, visitors from overseas.
The invisible export of tourism is almost all pure gain, which is not the case 727 in regard to many classes of visible exports which require the importation of raw materials before the finished article can be exported. Coal was, in pre-war years, a valuable export, as no import was involved, as is the case with manufactured articles, but even in the case of coal a national asset is being exhausted; whereas there is no such wastage in connexion with the tourist industry. We must take every step we can to increase our export trade in every possible commodity. I wonder how many in this country realize that the invisible export of tourism has greater future possibilities than the visible export trade in coal. In 1938 it is estimated that we exported coal to the value of £40,000,000. In the same year tourists spent, when visiting this country, as I have already pointed out, £30,000,000. So that coal produced only £10,000,000 more than tourism to help our international balance of payments. But the £30,000,000 spent by Tourists can be easily increased to £100,000,000 if we take proper steps to attract visitors; and I think your Lordships will agree that we should be very optimistic indeed if we relied upon any considerable increase over pre-war figures in our coal exports to-day.
This £100,000,000 is no fantastic figure. It has been well thought out, and represents the considered view of the Travel Association which Lord Hacking has already mentioned. I think the noble Lord pointed out that in France in one particular year the amount of money spent by tourists came to something like £80,500,000; I think that was the figure he mentioned. I am not going to take up your Lordships' time in indicating what steps should be taken to attract visitors. The noble Lord has referred to that in some detail. It is a business proposition and should be tackled on business lines; and one of the first principles of successful business enterprise is not to offer your goods to the public until you are sure that they are satisfactory and that the public will continue to buy them.
A good deal must be done, and a large amount of opposition will have to be overcome, before we are able to make our overseas -visitors as happy and as comfortable as we would wish. Until we can — and in this I agree with the recommendations of the Catering Commission—I frankly do not want to encourage visitors, 728 as first impressions, if they are adverse, take a long time to wipe out. Let us, however, lose no time in setting our house in order, and in the meantime make it clear to those who do visit our shores that, while we are glad to see them, we cannot yet provide for them in the way we should like and in the way we shall undoubtedly be able to provide for them directly we have recovered from the first effects of this disastrous war.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, I only wish to intervene, firstly to have the opportunity, in which I am sure noble Lords will join with me, to associate myself with the congratulations which have been given to Lord Hacking on his maiden speech to-day, and the gratitude of the House for raising this important subject. I had, for a good many years, the honour of representing, I think, the most important seaside district in Britain which contains Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs, associated holiday towns, and I was very close indeed to the hotel industry and the tourist industry at that time. I am fully aware of the problems which they had in peace time and which are now multiplied in the period of recovery. I associate myself entirely with what noble Lords have said, that the Government must do more to put variety and colour into the tourist industry than has been the case in the past. Various noble Lords have made specific suggestions as to what steps should be taken. I believe that there must be a change in our mental approach to this tourist industry.
Until we can give gaiety, colour and amusement to our visitors, I do not believe we are going to be able to compete with the attractions on the Continent, and in countries across the Channel, which are already making rapid preparations for the attraction of tourists in competition with ourselves. Austerity and a gay atmosphere do not really go together. I do not think restrictions and empty shop windows go really well with a spirit of gaiety and a generous welcome to those who are coming to visit us from overseas. I fully support the proposal, which I had made a note of myself, of the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, that the Board of Trade, should consider diverting from our export supplies specific goods which would give a priority of issue to our hotel keepers. The hotel and boarding-house 729 keepers in the Isle of Thanet, and in other holiday areas with which I am acquainted, are desperately trying to recover without soap, without towels, without pillow cases and without sheets—and very often with only Army blankets. Many of them had their hotel furniture requisitioned necessarily for our Allied troops during the war and they are granted no priority from the Ministry of Works pools of furniture for re-issue to those hotels.
I hope that the Government will take note of the Seaside Resorts Association's Memorandum which was recently submitted, I think, to the Lord President of the Council, in which they asked for certain positive steps to be taken. If those steps could be taken, I believe we should get our hotels going again. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said that English and Scottish landscapes have a unique attraction to tourists. As regards food, cold spam and boiled cabbage have a unique repulsion for visitors coming from overseas. We are in a period of recovery here, but let us be as expansive as we can to those visitors from abroad. I do really think we need more colour and more gaiety in our national life at the present time. We are all rather letting our minds dwell on our problems and troubles and we have "gloom meetings"; when two or more are gathered together we have a "gloom meeting" about our troubles at home and overseas.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
That side of the House is not always in touch with ordinary public opinion, with the opinion which the ordinary man in the street holds about the Government. I believe no Government is really in touch with public opinion sufficiently. Every Government tends to elevate itself to a state above people and tends to get out of touch with the people. I do think we need more colour and more fun in our lives. It might not be a bad idea if the President of the Board of Trade were to start a Ministry of Pleasure in this country, to provide amusement and fun for the people.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
The President of the Board of Trade—and I 730 would make him spend half an hour each week on the Merry-Go-Rounds, compulsorily! As the noble Lord Lord Hacking said, I do not believe we are going to attract people from overseas so long as it is an offence against the law to buy a cigarette after 8 o'clock or a drink in certain places after 6 o'clock. I used to see the boats go from Margate and Ramsgate to France every day, packed with British tourists. When they got on to the coast of France at 10 o'clock in the morning, they could have a drink; they had a gay day, and felt relieved from the restrictions under which we suffer in this country. But the boats coming back did not carry many French tourists on a visit to the coasts of England. We must have a different mental attitude on this matter, and I sincerely hope the Government are going to turn away from the difficulties and the political problems of the moment when they tackle this holiday industry, and that they will infuse into themselves and all others who come into contact with them a spirit of amusement, gaiety and fun, and of welcome to our shores.
A Member of another place, who was a member of the last Cabinet, told me to-day that he had just returned by ship from America, and when he got to Southampton he did not get that roaring welcome to Britain's shores which we have heard it is necessary to get. The ship docked at Southampton at 7 o'clock, but owing to technical questions on dockers' wages, the men refused to handle the luggage until 8.30 that night. The luggage was put in a great heap on Southampton Docks, and the passengers were told to hump it themselves to the station. That is an example of the spirit we have to get out of, the sort of petty restriction or difficulty we have to overcome. That can only be done if the Government give a determined lead to make England attractive to everybody who comes to our shores.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ LORD WARDINGTON
My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this debate, but it has been suggested to me that I might say just one word on what perhaps may be regarded as a rather narrow angle, but which I think is of more importance than is generally supposed. Other noble Lords have spoken of the great historic attractions of this country which invite people to come and see them 731 —the beauties of our countryside and our architectural and artistic treasures. The point I would like to put before your Lordships is that there is a vast body of thousands of golfers in all parts of the world who want to come to the home of golf to play on the historic links, and above all, perhaps, to indulge in a reverent pilgrimage to the Mecca of golf, St. Andrews, in Scotland. In St. Andrews there are only two big or moderately sized hotels, and they have both been requisitioned throughout the war. I believe one of them is in process of being derequisitioned, but how long it may take them to get back into pre-war normal conditions unless they receive some help or encouragement, I do not know.
We are struggling, in the golfing world, to get back to normal conditions, and the Open Championship is to be played at St. Andrews this summer. Without proper accommodation, the difficulties of a visit are very considerable. I put only that one point, but it does affect thousands of people, keen golfers, none of whom would be content to come to this country without seeing the chief golfing resorts, and particularly what is called the "Mecca of Golf" at St. Andrews.
§ 6.5 p.m.
My Lords, I, on this side, would like to join with all those who have spoken in offering a tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, not only for raising this matter, and not only for a most able maiden speech, but for the many years of selfless work he has devoted to this most important national cause. I am aware that it was he who initiated, when he was in office, the Travel Association; and, in office and out of office, he has been its best friend and its chief champion—its mainspring, indeed—ever since. He knows so much about this matter that it surprises me that he should come down and put a number of questions in order to obtain further knowledge. I am diffident about providing him with any more knowledge; it might overburden him; and so I shall spare his shoulders in my replies. But he can be assured that the Government, to put it quite simply, is at least as keen as he is (and that is, I know, very keen) on promoting visits to our shores.
Before coming to the speech of the noble Lord and my statement of the Government's attitude, may I say one or two words—no more—on the other speeches? 732 The noble Lords who put forward such a wide range of suggestions will not expect an adequate reply from me in the sense of an indication of whether or not their various panaceas will be accepted. An international exhibition appeals to some; the idea of reopening St. Andrew's in full swing appeals to others. I have often hoped to make that pilgrimage myself, although I would never venture to play with the noble Lord, Lord Wardington, at any rate if he was in the form in which he was in pre-war years, when I watched him with awe and terror. As I say, I am sure that these and other forms of entertainment suggested appeal to various members of the House.
The noble Lord, Lord -Balfour, throws open the most generous welcome of all. He wants us to indulge in an ecstasy of pleasure. We, on this side, are all for that, so long as it is widely distributed. Let us have pleasure, and let us try and make this the most gay and enjoyable age this country has seen. But there are difficulties in the material sense. Even the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, himself, if he were Prime Minister, would find a certain number of rather obvious material obstacles to this jolly era which he wishes to inaugurate. I would just say one word to the noble Lord Lord Iliffe. As a Trustee of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, he himself is playing a most! valuable part in attracting visitors here. Speaking generally, I feel all the noble Lords who have put forward suggestions have advanced ideas that, in one way or another, are likely to be helpful, and certainly will be very carefully considered.
I am not going to detain the House very long, because I have not got a definitive statement of Government policy to make tonight. I have got an interim report on the Government intentions that will, I feel, be of some interest. But although, as the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, has said, this is an opportune moment (since the Report on the Development of the Catering Holiday and Tourist Services has just come out) for him to raise the matter and for it to be discussed, you will appreciate that as the Report has been out for only a week, it is not likely that the full policy of the Government has yet been formulated. I would say straight away, however, that the appearance of this Report marks, in our view, an epoch in the history of the 733 catering and tourist trade in this country. We attach enormous significance to this Report. It is, at the moment, being studied by a departmental group of officials who are working intensively upon it, and I feel sure it will not be very long — I cannot mention a date; the noble Lord has experience in these matters—before we are in a position when we can speak much more frankly and fully as to what the Government's practical proposals in that field will be. Approaching these matters more widely, may I say that we do not feel that in the year 1946 this country is likely to be in a position to offer great attractions to foreign tourists. That is an unhappy fact, but it would appear to be the fact. We do, however, accept with the noble Lord the proposition that we must make sure that 1947 is a year when tourists can come here in a big way and be treated in such a way that they will want often to return. We accept the further proposition with the noble Lord that if that is to occur in 1947 plans must be made at once. In saving that I do not, I am sure, dissent from anything the Chancellor of the Exchequer said to the noble Lord in correspondence.
I need not detain the House with an account of the activities of the Travel Association. I came here equipped to pay them rather an elaborate panegyric, but the noble Lord, Lord Hacking, will take it from me in good part if I say he has saved me that trouble.
I have come fully equipped, but I feel that the quotations by way of testimonial that the noble Lord has supplied to the House leave me simply with the task of saying that we not only admire what has been done but have the highest opinion of the possibilities of the Travel Association. I put that shortly and simply, but it is sincerely meant, and I hope the noble Lord will take it in that way.
The noble Lord has naturally raised the question of finance, and he wants to know what is intended in the current year. I need not tell the noble Lord, but it may be necessary to remind some of your Lordships, that in the year 1945–46 £15,000 was granted by the Government. That was an amount which was offered pound for pound and which has already 734 been reached. The noble Lord wants to know how much is going to be forthcoming in the year 1946–7. I am afraid I can only tell him at this stage—and in view of his expert knowledge of these matters I do not suppose he will be surprised at my reply—that the amount will be very substantially greater than anything which has ever been offered by any Government in this country towards the tourist trade. That seems quite certain, and I am sure I am within my province in saying it, but I cannot give a specific figure. I am not in a position to say anything more definite on that subject at the moment, but I do not think the noble Lord will have to wait very long.
I have come equipped to reply to the considerable number of questions the noble Lord was kind enough to send me in advance, one or two of which arise out of the Report of the Catering Commission. The noble Lord asks in particular whether hotel improvements can in future be disregarded when hotels are reassessed for rates. He also asks whether the existing licensing laws will be investigated with a view to their becoming more popular with visitors from overseas, and, I dare say, with residents at home. He also raises the more general question of our attitude to the Catering Commission's Report. I will say straight away that the two specific points he mentions, as well as all the other points which arise—and, as he knows, there are a great many arising from the Catering Commission's Report—are being investigated at top speed by the group of officials to which I have already referred. Turning to a different point, I have, I hope, indicated, so far as I am able to do so, our general approach to the financial issue of future grants to the Travel Association.
The noble Lord asks specifically what is the present number of hotels requisitioned by Government Departments and the Services. The answer is that the total number of hotels and large boarding houses still held under requisition by Government Departments and the Services at December 31, 1945, was 2,138. He asks further what practical steps are being taken by the Government to help in the reconditioning and re-equipment of derequisitioned hotels. The answer there is that the appropriate Departments are in touch, as he knows, with the hotel associations. I would inform 735 him, on the best of authority, that it is not the Government who are in any way holding matters up here; responsibility for any delay if it exists cannot be placed on the shoulders of the Government. The hotel associations, no doubt for the best of reasons, have not up to the present been able to furnish the Government with the information which the Board of Trade requires.
The noble Lord raises one or two very important but, as he will appreciate, highly difficult questions over a rather wider field. He asks whether passports can be simplified or abolished altogether, and whether the cost of visas can be reduced or abolished. As he knows, these are questions which cannot be settled solely with reference to the tourist trade; many other considerations, of a security character for example, come in. Of course in all these matters we have to ask ourselves how far other countries are ready to go pari passu with ourselves. The importance of the issues is fully appreciated, but the noble Lord will appreciate in his turn that they are very complex. He may be glad to know that we certainly share the ambition expressed by Mr. Ernest Bevin to see everyone move freely about the world.
Finally, he asks whether it will be made easier and more pleasant for visitors to pass through the Customs. Every effort is being made to facilitate the passage of overseas visitors through the Customs but until we get more men out of the Services—and, of course, we are getting more every day—the position will remain rather more difficult than one might at first suppose. The bottleneck in other words is personnel.
I have tried to answer, all too briefly, the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hacking. I would assure him and other noble Lords in conclusion that this Government is resolutely determined to fulfil the aims which have been expressed with so much wisdom, authority and sincerity by the various speakers in this debate.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ LORD HACKING
My Lords, may I at once thank my noble friend Lord Pakenham for his kindly reference to my speech and also other noble Lords who were good enough to congratulate me on it. All I can say in reply is that I am 736 very glad it is behind me and not in front of me. The noble Lord said the Government had only just received this Report, but they were working on it at top speed.
May I intervene? I hope I did not say that it had only just been received. If I said that, it was a slip. It has only been published in the last week, but it was received about three months ago.
§ LORD HACKING
I was going to make that point; I thought the Government had had it in front of them for a longer period than the general public. I realize that this is a very big undertaking and that it is something to which the very fullest consideration has to be given before the Government can come to a final decision on the assistance they are going to give to any organization which has been set up to try and extend this great invisible export trade. I think it would be very ungrateful if I did not thank the noble Lord most sincerely for the encouragement he has given to this industry to-day. I do not press him for any further information at the moment. He has said that he hopes to be in a position shortly to let us have some more definite information with regard to the Government's programme, and I do hope that the provision of that information will not be very long delayed. I thank the noble Lord for the answers he has given to my questions and for the consideration which he has said the Government are giving to this problem. In all the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, with-drawn.