HL Deb 21 October 1952 vol 178 cc780-9

2.48 p.m.

LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH rose to call attention to the tourist industry, with special reference to the Catering Wages Act; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the last occasion upon which your Lordships discussed the fortunes of the British tourist industry was when we debated a Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, who then made one of his usual competent and attractive speeches from these Benches. I like to think it is because of the way in which he has dealt with various subjects in your Lordships' House that he has now had thrust upon him the responsibility of taking the place that I then occupied—that of speaking from the Government Front Bench. I can only hope that to-day I shall make as good a speech as he did last time, and may I say that I hope he will be as successful in defending Her Majesty's Government as I was in defending His late Majesty's Government?

My Lords, I was tempted to put this Motion upon the Order Paper at this stage in the economic history of this country, a stage at which we are fighting a bitter battle for balance of payments and using every endeavour to increase our exports—and from reports published only to-day of the third quarter this year, fighting a losing battle, for our exports are steadily falling—in order to ask Her Majesty's Government a very plain and straightforward question. It is: are they really serious in their protestations of support for the British tourist industry? When I put this Motion upon the Order Paper I also intended to deal at some length with the Catering Wages Act, which on many occasions has been said to be a frustrating factor in the development of our tourist industry. But I am going to shift my emphasis, because I understand that there have been various happenings, and events are likely to occur which make it unnecessary, and perhaps inadvisable, for me to deal with that subject at any great length—though I shall return to it in the course of my speech.

I now return to my question, Are Her Majesty's Government serious in treating the British tourist industry as a major factor in our export drive? If they are, all I can say is that every action they take belies it. Her Majesty's Government are—if I may use a colloquialism—bending over backwards to persuade, to cajole and sometimes to bully our manufacturing industries to increase their exports, especially their exports to dollar markets. Open favouritism in the allocation of raw materials is the. Government's avowed intention, and we hear also of credit facilities extended, almost to breaking point, from the Export Credits Guarantee Department, and priority for buildings, for plant and for equipment. Yet here is an industry, right under the very noses of Her Majesty's Government, which is the biggest dollar earner of them all. In the matter of net dollar earnings, this industry is far and away in the lead; and not only is it not getting any open favouritism, it is not even getting a square deal.

There is in existence the British Travel and Holidays Association. Apia using the expression of a Government spokesman, this is "the chosen instrument of the Government for the encouragement of the tourist trade." And may I say, here and now, that I think the British Travel and Holidays Association have done an outstandingly good job of work. The Government subsidise them to the extent of £500,000 a year. They get half a million pounds of money to assist them to bring tourists to this country. They do it with such signal success that our tourist trade has gone up and up and up. I am prepared to give the bulk of the credit for the increase to the British Travel and Holidays Association. Their publicity is first-class, and they have brought the customers to this country. In 1951, they brought here no less than £34,500,000 worth of dollars; in 1952 they brought in £43,000,000 worth. And it is confidently estimated that next year—which will be the biggest year for tourists in the history of this country—the amount brought in may well total £48,000,000 worth. I do not think it is generally known, but the next exporting industry in the list, so far as success in bringing in dollars is concerned in fact the only other industry which comes anywhere near the tourist trade in this respect, is the whisky-manufacturing indus- try. And that brings iii only something in the region of £21,000,000 worth of dollars a year. So, as I have said, the tourist trade, is our biggest dollar-earning industry. Here is an organisation, the sales department of British tourism, upon which the Government spend £500,000. And what do Her Majesty's Government do for the customers when they come to these shores? So I ask again: Are Her Majesty's Government serious? Because I would contend that they are missing one of the greatest opportunities of increasing the success of this great dollar earner, and I will give your Lordships a few illustrations to show what I mean.

I suppose that the principal thing a tourist wants when he comes to this country is a good hotel. That is especially so in the case of American tourists. From my own observations, I would say, in general terms, that the efficiency of the British hotel industry is, unfortunately, going down. I think that so far as food is concerned the standard is good, and the service is not too bad, except the service out of regular hours, which I think leaves a lot to be desired. But, in my view, the lack of amenity in many of our hotels calls for serious attention. In so many instances they are shabby, and the reason, in my opinion, is to be found in the very high cost of their tools of trade. I have some figures here which are really remarkable. The cost of some of the things required by the hotel industry has gone up by as much as 855 per cent., compared with the pre-war cost. Blankets and woollens, for example, have gone up by 855 per cent. Floor coverings and linoleums have risen by 730 per cent., and carpets and rugs have gone up by 662 per cent. And even over the last two or three years, the rise in the cost of the tools of trade of the hotel industry has been very sharp.

I do not think that the Catering Wages Act has been such a deterrent to the hotel industry as it is sometimes supposed to be, Frankly, I believe That a large section of the hotel industry has used the Catering Wages Act rather as a scapegoat. But I do think they have a legitimate complaint, because, compared to any other export industries, compared to the industries that are contributing to the dollar drive, they are not treated at all fairly. And when a hotel does try to replenish its tools and increase its amenities, those responsible do not get open favouritism—they get just the reverse. I believe that one major difficulty of our hotel industry arises in this way. Owing to the factors that I have outlined, they have reached the peak of their charges. Neither the British public nor the tourist can afford any higher charges, and I think that the costs of the hotel owners are so high, and their residual profits so low, that they cannot replace their capital equipment. That, I believe, is the basis of the trouble. Unfortunately, that is the trouble with all industry to-day. But many of the ills from which the hotels are suffering would have come to them irrespective of the passing of the Catering Wages Act, first of all through general economic circumstances and, secondly, through the failure of the Government to treat them at least on the same basis as any other export industry.

I want to give your Lordships a typical example of this. If there is one complaint that is made by the tourist, especially the American tourist, about the British hotel, it is the lack of bathrooms. Just before noble Lords opposite made a pilgrimage to Scarborough, I went there and made an examination of some of the hotels in Scarborough, which according to those who live in Yorkshire, is the Queen of British watering places. I was appalled at the lack of bathrooms in the first-class hotels in Scarborough. I do not know whether noble Lords opposite who went to Scarborough noticed it.


What about the Morecambe hotels?


I did not go to Morecambe. I do not know whether noble Lords could have as many baths as they would have liked. One of the largest hotels in Scarborough made an application for sixteen private bathrooms to improve the amenities of the hotel. The baths were in Scarborough and the labour was in Scarborough—everything was in Scarborough, except the permission. This is the letter which the hotel in question received from the Regional Controller of the Board of Trade: Your application for the installation of private bathrooms in this hotel"— I will not mention its name— has had careful consideration. The same stringent rules which we had to apply to your earlier application in January, 1950, must be applied to your application to-day. Under these tests the work cannot be regarded as urgently necessary or likely to assist in the national recovery and we regret that our sponsorship must again be withheld. Are Her Majesty's Government serious in their protestations of support for the tourist industry? The first application by this hotel was made in 1950, and I suppose that if this application were made again in 1960, circular XYZ would be brought out of the pigeon-hole of the regional office of the Board of Trade and they would have not heard, unless the noble Lord were to undertake to tell them, that there is such a thing as an hotel industry and dollar earnings. Perhaps noble Lords opposite may go up to Scarborough again and perhaps on that occasion they will have a greater need for baths than they had last time.

I am going to give the noble Lord this correspondence and I hope he will look into it. I think that somebody in the Board of Trade in Whitehall Gardens should tell some of the regional organisations, which are usually so very good, that there is such a thing as the garnering into the nation's coffers of £48,000,000 worth of dollars a year through the tourist trade. While our American visitors delight in sleeping in the same bedroom as did that much-travelled lady, Queen Elizabeth I of England, they do not want to suffer the discomfort that she suffered. They want an Elizabethan bedroom with an Elizabethan bed, but they want a private bathroom next door. I have other cases which I could give, but I shall not weary your Lordships. But there is one department of the Board of Trade, which is occupied by the Minister who makes protestations all over the country about supporting the tourist industry, about which other departments of the Board of Trade have not yet heard.


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves the question of Scarborough, was he able to find out whether, in fact, Americans do go to British watering places? Because that is very interesting.


Yes, I did. I discussed this matter with the Town Clerk, whom I thought the best man to talk to, and he told me that the number of tourists who come to Scarborough, via York and Durham, is far greater than one might expect. Of course, American tourists do go to hotels other than the Dorchester and Grosvenor House. Yorkshire is a great attraction to Americans because, next to Scotland, if an American can by any chance rake up a grandmother or a great-grandmother who came from Yorkshire, he is very proud of it. I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, if he will be good enough to look into this correspondence and consider this particular application, which was sponsored by the local authority. It did not get past the junior officials in the regional office at Newcastle-on-Tyne. Unfortunately, I suppose baths and Newcastle do not go so well together—perhaps that is the reason why.

What can be done about this matter? What can be done about the general question of the lack of Government support? I am going to suggest that far greater contact should be established between Her Majesty's Government and the British Travel and Holidays Association. This body, to use the Government's own words, is "the chosen instrument" and there should be for the tourist industry as a whole something like the Export Credits Guarantee Department. If we are going to increase our tourist trade, we have to treat it seriously, and I make that suggestion to the noble Lord

Now I should like to deal with the Catering Wages Act. The reason why I have moved the emphasis is that I understand that both sides of the industry, realising that there was something wrong with the present procedure—I am not going to outline it, because it was outlined so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, when he dealt with this subject in your Lordships' House about two years ago—have now proposed to the Minister that they should have a different set-up for dealing with wages questions. I understand that the board of the Licensed Hotel Section are to divide themselves up into committees dealing with sections of hotels, so that hotels in the West End of London are not treated in exactly the same way as the smaller provincial hotels, and vice versa. I hope sincerely that this step will succeed, because the procedure was not working well. It was an irritation to the employer and an irritation to the employee, and there were a number of things which reflected badly in the service which the customer received. So I am not going to say anything this afternoon that will militate at all against a successful issue to the present discussions, except that I would beg the Wages Board to simplify their procedure.

The present procedure is the most complicated I have ever seen. The reason for this is because they started off on the wrong foot. With great respect to the many eminent legal Peers in your Lordships' House, when you bring in lawyers to draft wages and conditions of employment agreements, on that day you are asking for trouble; and you invariably get it. The Catering Wages Act, and the Orders made under it, have been written like an Act of Parliament; and, as with an Act of Parliament, the only people who can ever understand them are lawyers, and they always quarrel about their understanding of them. I speak with some qualifications. When I was the President of an employers' organisation I negotiated an agreement—the first wages and conditions of employment agreement in an industry as diverse and difficult as the hotel industry. I would have nothing to do with lawyers, and, in consequence, that agreement was written on two sides of a foolscap sheet of paper. The agreement was on a voluntary basis. Afterwards, when for five years I was the Chairman of the National Joint Industrial Council for that industry, we never had a disagreement of any kind. And in that industry we had as diverse establishments as the hotel industry have.

If truth be told, the employers in the hotel industry were not originally as cooperative as they might have been. But I hope they have learned the lesson that they must have wage regulation in the industry; that they must have good conditions of employment in the industry; and that it is far better to achieve this under a voluntary procedure. Section 3 of the Catering Wages Act provides for that at any time. By mutual agreement, both sides of the hotel industry can get rid of this incubus of legal jargon; and if there is good will on both sides they can get down to the voluntary basis which has proved the mainstay of good relations between employers and employees throughout British industry. That is all I am going to say about the Catering Wages Act.

I am now going to ask the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, to look into a few things—and, principally, what it is that tourists come to see. They come, of course, to see the treasures of this country, in which we abound. I could not help being impressed, as I sat in your Lordships' House in March, 1951, and heard the debate on the Gowers Report—not the same Gowers Report that your Lordships heard mentioned earlier to-day, but that upon historic houses. I was particularly impressed by the speech of the noble Marquess who now leads your Lordships' House, and I am going to repeat part of what he said. The noble Marquess, who confessed that he was the owner of one of these historical houses, said: (OFFICIAL REPORT; Vol. 170, Col. 996). I will try to be as objective as I can. It seems to me that the main question which the Government have to decide is in essence a simple one: Do they want these houses preserved, or do they not? It is really as simple as that. I agree with the noble Marquess: it is as simple as that. Are the Government serious about this tourist industry, or are they not? The matter is as simple as that. The noble Marquess went on to say, speaking of the Government: They will have to do something about it."— and I commend this to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, if I may have his attention for a moment, because I am quoting words of wisdom that fell from the lips of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, in this debate upon England's historic houses: They will have to do something about it; they cannot merely take refuge in sympathetic phrases. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, will remember that when he comes to reply— They will have to take definite action … If one reads the Report of the National Trust it makes very miserable reading. We have these treasures. They are what the Americans and these other dollar tourists come to see. Your Lordships will remember the question asked by my noble friend Lord Huntingdon about the dismissal of the artists from the Ministry of Works. I hope that we shall be able to have these treasures, not only for their value as a heritage of this country but also, to reduce them to the lowest common level, because they are dollar earners as well.

There is one other matter I should like to mention, and that is in connection with transport services. I was shocked a little while ago at the action of the Minister of Transport in stopping the development of some very good road passenger services between Scotland and England. I am not going into the details of the case, because I understand that the firm in question have made another application for a licence, and, therefore, I suppose the case is rather sub judice at the present moment. But I think there is something rather incongruous in a Minister of Transport telling Parliament that he has made a standstill order on sub-normal fares, and his Leader the Prime Minister saying that he is going to protect the common man from this oppressive monopoly, who wanted to put up their sub-normal fares. Then he says to the same common man that when he takes his family away on a holiday he cannot go by road, by one of these popular road passenger coaches, but must go on a railway and pay a fare of twice as much. To me that does not make sense. For our tourist industry, as well as for the holiday at home, these long-distance coaches from Scotland to England, and from England to Scotland, are a boon.

There are many points that I could mention, but I will finish with just one more. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of tourists will land in this country during the Coronation year, and practically the whole of the dollar tourists and they will come through what is known as the Gateway of Britain, Southampton. I suppose there may be some crossing the Atlantic in the two greatest ships that sail the seas. They may wish to wander out of that dock area for about a mile, just to see where the "Mayflower" sailed from on August 5, 1620, to take the Pilgrim Fathers to America. On the monument that marks that spot there is a plaque, erected by the United States forces, commemorating 2,000,000 men and women of the United States forces who went through the Port of Southampton from D-Day in June, 1944, to the day of victory. If any of those American tourists step out into that town of Southampton to see the spot from which their ancestors sailed, what do they see now?—wreckage, squalor, filth, roofs hanging off, shattered walls rank with weed, exactly as they stood the morning after the blitz of November 30, 1940. And this, my Lords, is the gateway to a virile country. If I may have Lord Lloyd's attention again, may I ask whether he will come and see this area? I will act as his host, and perhaps he can persuade the Minister of Works to release himself from his preoccupation of studying futuristic designs for decorations in London, and the Minister of Local Government and Housing from his preoccupation of fulfilling Election pledges to build 300,000 houses, to come and see what England's front door looks like. A front door?—it looks more like the back door to a fifth-rate, down-and-out country. Surely we can have something done, so that we do not greet these tourists who are coming into this country during this next year, Coronation Year, with such a sordid sight to behold. I beg to move for Papers.