HL Deb 21 October 1952 vol 178 cc792-822

3.30 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, in returning to the subject of the Motion before your Lordships' House this afternoon, I am sure that your Lordships will wish to express your thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, for bringing forward this subject again and for asking one basic question of Her Majesty's Government: Are Her Majesty's Government serious in their treatment of the tourist industry? I am quite sure what the answer of Her Majesty's Government is going to be. It is going to be, Yes, they are serious. But even though the answer is in the affirmative, there is no reason why we should not make certain suggestions to Her Majesty's Government, in the hope that they will not fall upon deaf ears.

I have considerable sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said about what I would term the lack of balance in our tourist effort. We are spending large sums of money to attract the tourist from abroad—and quite rightly. But when we get the tourist here, in many instances he ceases to be a guest and becomes a victim to many unnecessary discomforts, which I believe with a little initiative might be got rid of. As Lord Lucas said, this is the greatest single net United States dollar earner in the whole of British industry. I think it is a pity that, when we have induced the tourist to visit our shores, his welcome should, on many occasions, be so chilly, and often quite unworthy of the country that is the centre of the British Commonwealth.

Imagine, for a moment, that some of your Lordships are tourists entering this country through Southampton. If you are fortunate enough to have come in one of the Cunarders you will perhaps arrive at the Ocean Dock. But if you are not so fortunate as to come in one of the Cunarders, you will arrive in a Customs shed which is draughty and uncomfortable, and very often under repair, with noises even greater than those with which we are having to compete in this House this afternoon. In any event, if the noble Lord who puts himself in the position of the tourist is successful in arriving at the Ocean Dock, and not at the less fortunate dock, when he gets to Waterloo he will find something approaching chaos. I am informed that this is because there is no single long platform at Waterloo. I am informed that the Railway Executive cannot get this past the Government under the capital constriction investment scheme. That seems to me very short-sighted, and if it is the case, the Railway Executive should surely be given the necessary authorisation.

Suppose that the tourist arrives at Dover. The Customs accommodation provided there by the Transport Commission is very bad; and if he arrives by car the accommodation is incomparably worse than the accommodation for cars which is provided by the French for tourists visiting France. If the tourist arrives at Harwich, British people go off in the first train; the foreigner, very often, is relegated to what is called a relief train. I wish some of your Lordships would travel in the relief train. It has no corridors, no restaurant car, very often is in a dirty state, and always arrives unpunctually. The entry into this country from Liverpool is not exactly a happy entry. I am informed authoritatively that there are more complaints about boat trains from Liverpool to Euston than about any other set of trains carrying tourists in this country. Liverpool docks are not exactly an attraction on a winter's afternoon. The trains are dirty, the toilet facilities are thoroughly inadequate; and as to punctuality, that just does not exist. I give your Lordships that picture—it is a picture of things which could so easily be put right—of the lucky tourists entering sunny Britain.

Turning to hotels, I agree with Lord Lucas that many of our hotels give excellent service arid food second to none. But I think the smaller hotels and, I would say, the majority of provincial hotels in the towns of England are rather bad. In my view this is largely because of the effects of the Catering Wages Act. There is no flexibility about meal times; there is often no breakfast before eight o'clock, and very often there is no late meal. These are things which the foreign tourist expects to have provided for him in this country. I think the truth is that, partly as a result of the Catering Wages Act, and partly as a result of other factors, the hotel industry is a failing industry. The proprietors of the Mayfair Hotel in London find that it pays better to close down as an hotel and to convert it into office accommodation. The Beresford Hotel in Glasgow—an hotel of two or three hundred rooms—is now being taken over as offices. This is a serious blow to the accommodation needs of this country.

As the amount of hotel accommodation is a problem, so also is the quality. I think there is very little inducement given to hotel proprietors in the cities, particularly the smaller ones in the provinces, to study the needs of foreign tourists. The British people are easily satisfied and usually they are good customers; they drink regularly though reasonably. They are set in their habits; they are well drilled, docile, and disciplined socially, and will accept nearly every discomfort heaped upon their overtaxed arid broad backs, whereas the foreign tourist, especially the American, expects something different. As Lord Lucas said, we have not in this country graduated to the state of having a bath to every bedroom—which is obtainable in almost the smallest hotels in America. Britain has only just about reached the warm water stage: there is no sign that we are getting to the bathroom stage. I was most touched to hear of Lord Lucas's difficulty, during his recent visit to Scarborough, in finding an inadequate number of bathrooms. Some noble Lords may have visited Morecambe; I am sure that the position at Morecambe is even worse than that at Scarborough. I am sure that some of the delegates there were reduced to washing their dirty linen in their own bedrooms. If we have not yet reached the bathroom age, neither have we yet reached the ice age in Britain. If an American or Canadian tourist wants iced water he has to ring for it; and he may find, when he does ring, that the kitchen is closed and that the refrigerator is not working.

I believe that one of the things we should do in this country under the Catering Wages Act is to make sure that the Wages Boards have in them a new element. At present the Wages Boards have representatives of the employers and of the employees, and what are called independent members; but there is no one on these boards with a special remit, particularly, for the interests of the consumer, able to speak for the hotel guest or for what he requires. I cannot but feel that the composition of these Wages Boards, and their use, would be improved and increased considerably if there could be added to them men and women with special responsibility for seeing that the regulations in operation do not necessarily detract from hotel and tourist facilities which foreign visitors reasonably expect. That is one suggestion I make. There are others; and fortunately, in putting forward other suggestions I have but to look at past copies of Hansard to see that these suggestions were put forward previously by the noble Lord who is to-day to reply for Her Majesty's Government—backed by the noble Earl, the present Postmaster General, who I regret to see is not here, and who described himself, correctly, as a practical hotel man.

Let us for a moment rejoice in the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, is now in a position of responsibility, while the Postmaster General occupies a position of even greater responsibility; and therefore we trust their counsels will carry such weight in Government circles that Her Majesty's Government will adopt some of the suggestions which the noble Lords themselves put forward several months ago. Perhaps to-day's debate will help to rekindle the fires of enthusiasm which we hope have not been damped down in those noble Lords by the heavy responsibilities which have now swept over their heads. For instance, one of the first suggestions for helping this industry is that we should assist hotels to modernise themselves and to improve what I may call their structural facilities. One of the impediments against that, of course, is the development charge.

We have but to turn to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, who said this (I need not remind the noble Lord of it; he probably remembers it) on July 12, 1951 (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 172, Col. 830): Improvements in the country as a whole are prevented by the incidence of development charge, which makes an extension of modernisation of hotel buildings uneconomic. That is a very powerful statement, without any conditional clauses at all. It is one which, if put into effect, will give the helping hand to the hotels which the noble Lord wished to give on that occasion. Then, as regards decorative maintenance, the noble Lord said (Col. 830): Here again, it is my submission that the British industry is restricted in a way in which none of its foreign rivals is. There is no more loyal supporter of Her Majesty's Government than myself, but a year has passed and those—I cannot say "undertakings," but those strong views given by the noble Lord, now himself a Minister, and the Postmaster General, have not yet been put into operation. Is it too much to hope that to-day we may have a declaration that Her Majesty's Government have made their decision?

Take next the question of purchase tax upon the tools of the trade. The hotel industry is really the only industry that has to pay purchase tax upon its raw materials. The statement is not original: that is what the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, himself said, I think. Let us see what he said on that—it appears at Column 831: Consider next the maintenance of furniture, cutlery and so on. So far as I know, the hotel industry is the only one which has to pay purchase tax on the raw materials of their trade. The noble Lord continued: In my view, there is a strong case for relieving the hotel industry from purchase tax altogether. After all, the shipping industry pays no purchase tax on furnishings of liners—presumably because it is regarded as a dollar earner. Is it too much to hope that the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, will to-morrow go round and go "tap, tap" on the door of No. 11, Downing Street, ask to see the Chancellor and say, "Please do something about the purchase tax, Chancellor, because I really feel very deeply about it"? As regards the Catering Wages Act, I need not say anything, because we are looking forward to a certain announcement which we understand Her Majesty's Government are shortly to make. Finally, on the last occasion, the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, made a very powerful peroration which would do for anybody's speech to-day. He said: The Government may not agree with my suggestions, but I hope that they recognise that these problems exist and are very serious. If they are not prepared to accept the suggestions which I have put forward, I hope they will turn their minds to find solutions. I am certain that the problems have got to be solved, and I hope that the Government will do something about it soon. So do I, my Lords.

Before I conclude, I want to remind your Lordships what the other Minister who spoke on this subject, the present Postmaster General, Lord De La Warr, said. And, I repeat, he is himself a practical hotel man. One has heard the question, "Is there a doctor in the house?" I ask, "Is there a hotel man in the house?" There is. Unfortunately, he is not here to-day; but Her Majesty's Government have the benefit of his advice behind the scenes. The noble Earl said this (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 172, Col. 835): … it is no good encouraging overseas visitors to come here whilst at the same time allowing discouragement in its present rampant form to continue to operate against the hotels. This applies not only to capital employed in the hotels or to the employers, but equally to the workers. I do hope that the words of the noble Earl will be remembered. He added his support to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, as regards all those wishes for relief from purchase tax and for the removal of development charge. Then he quoted to us a pathetic case of the hotel man who kept a pig: he could slaughter the pig, the whole of the pig, for himself and his wife; but he must not use that pig, when slaughtered, for the benefit of his hotel guests. If your Lordships care to turn to Column 837 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, you will see that the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, said: At the present moment hotels cannot themselves keep a pig and use that pig for the benefit of their clients. The hotel manager can keep a pig which can be used for him and his staff, but the pig cannot he used in the dining room. The noble Earl continued, in the next column: Could not the Government relax this provision, particularly in regard to country hotels?


Will the noble Lord give us the date?


That was July 12, 1951. May I, in all seriousness, ask the noble Lord who is to reply to-day whether he can give me a clear statement whether or not there has been any alteration in that respect. Can he give me a clear pledge that, now that we have "set the people free," a man can kill a pig and use it for the benefit of his hotel guests as well as for his own family? I have nothing further to say to your Lordships except this. I need not make any peroration, other than that made by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, and the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, last year. My final words are these. Will the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, and his noble friend the Postmaster General re-read Hansard and their own words? I am sure that, if they, as well as other Ministers of Her Majesty's Government, act upon them the answer to Lord Lucas's question, "Do the Government take the hotel industry seriously?" will be in the affirmative; it will not only be given in words but will be demonstrated by positive action throughout the whole of this country.

3.49 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to make a few observations lest my silence should be misunderstood. I have the honour of being President of the British Travel and Holidays Association. It is a very happy team that is working, and I think working very well, to bring visitors to this country. I want merely to point out that the first essential of carrying on our business at all is that we are absolutely non-Party. We have received kind treatment from both Governments, and we have hoped from both Governments rather more than we have succeeded in getting. That represents our position to-day. We have received most kind treatment from Her Majesty's Government, but we hope they will be able to do even more for us than they have done heretofore.

It is one thing to bring the visitors here—that is our function—but to see that the visitors are harpy and contented here and to see that they come back again is, of course, the task of hoteliers in particular, and the British people as a whole in general. Any impression that your Lordships might receive from some of these speeches, that all visitors are dissatisfied, would be entirely wrong. The vast majority of visitors to this country go away completely satisfied with what they have received. The fact that that is so, I think, reflects the greatest credit on the hotel industry. They have had the greatest difficulties to contend with. Some hotels lack modern comforts and modern conveniences, and circumstances have been such that they have not been able to provide these amenities. Therefore I think we should pay a tribute to the hotel industry for the work that they have done, for at the same time they have been battling with very great difficulties.

We realise the difficulties of Her Majesty's Government, but if they can do something practical to make the position easier, I very much hope they will do it, because I want everybody in this country to be more tourist minded. In the potentialities of our tourist trade we have a tremendous asset, and although we have been able to do a great deal in the last few years to exploit it, yet I do not think we have by any means reached the ceiling—nowhere near it. I believe it can be developed to a far greater extent than it has yet been developed. At the present time it is our best dollar earner, and in the extreme difficulties with which this country is faced we should be very foolish indeed if we did not do everything we reasonably could to assist this dollar earner to earn as many dollars as possible. My Lords, I rose only because, sitting as I am on these Benches and listening to these speeches, I wanted to make it plain that on this particular matter I have no Party views at all. I have received kindness from both Governments, and I hope for even greater kindness to come from whatever Government may find itself in power.

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add a few words to what has been said. I hope very much that the noble Lord who is to reply will exercise any influence he may have with the National Trust to allow as many of the large houses in England, which are one of our principal attractions to the foreigner, to be made even temporarily showable. I know it is a difficult thing to do, but it is necessary to do it because they are really a great draw to the tourist.

3.53 p.m.


My Lords, I am very glad that the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, has intervened, because as one who is professionally engaged in the travel business, I should like to pay a great tribute through him to the British Travel and Holidays Association for what, under the direction of Sir Alexander Maxwell, they have done and are doing for this country to-day. I had the chance of visiting their New York office a few weeks ago. Their window display and office layout was excellent. They have a very "live wire" in New York, and they gave me the greatest possible assistance when I was there. Behind the British Travel and Holidays Association there are two other organisations which I should like to mention, and which are working very closely with them and doing a great job, particularly in America. One is the British Overseas Airways Corporation, who have very good representation throughout America. They know people in the States which they cover, and you can get absolutely the right answer from them every time, whether you are in Los Angeles, Chicago, Florida, Washington or wherever it may be. The same applies to the Cunard White Star Company, who have excellent representation in America and, in close co-operation with the British Travel and Holidays Association, are doing a very big job in bringing visitors from the American continent over here.

My Lords, we owe a great debt of gratitude to Lord Lucas for raising this matter to-day. I think it is absolutely proved that it is entirely a non-Party matter, because my original speech was almost the same as his, and Lord Balfour also had similar ideas to put forward. Therefore, I think the view points which have been expressed to-day are almost identical. I was very glad that Lord Lucas did not, as his Motion led us to expect he would, devote the greater part of his speech to the Catering Wages Act. I think that at this time, when a new Wages Board has just been appointed and is to begin its deliberations in the near future, it would be improper to do so. There is now a much better realisation than before of the difficulties which face both sides of the industry, employers and employees, and a much greater determination to get together to try and settle some of those very difficult problems. I am not going to mention them all to-day, but one of the most serious is that of tipping, which is, I believe, at last going to be faced. Since the Act came into force, this question has caused great dissatisfaction among what we might call the "back-room boys"—the kitchen staffs and the people behind the scenes, who have been less fortunate than those in the front of the house.

One hopes that out of these deliberations will come a wages structure suited not only to the needs of the employers and the employees, but also to the public using the hotels and restaurants. As I have said before in this House, one has to remember that the public and visitors to hotels do not eat and sleep in shifts, and therefore an effort has to be made to deal with this problem in a flexible manner. The other point which I should like to mention, and in which I heartily agree with Lord Lucas, is that of simplification. The hundreds of different grades of hotel employee mentioned in the Act really give one a headache, and I think this matter could well be simplified by making some sort of minimum agreed rate in each category, leaving the highly skilled men, as they undoubtedly will, to rise to the top, and enabling them, as they undoubtedly will, to command a wage well above the minimum in any good hotel.

I should like to follow other noble Lords by saying one word on the question of purchase tax. The hotel industry is the only industry where the tools of the trade are subject to purchase tax. As other noble Lords have said, that does not happen in our great liners afloat; it happens only in the catering trade ashore. I know it will be said, "We know that this is very desirable but administratively it is impossible, or difficult." I think that such administrative difficulties as there are could be overcome, and I am sure that if necessary it could be done by insisting that the name of the hotel be stamped on the crockery, or perhaps some special mark he put on the glassware, and so forth. I am sure that that is not outside the bounds of possibility.

Now we come to the question of building licences, a matter which has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour. He spoke of the warm-water age and the iced-water age. America has got even further than that: it has got to the iced-water out-of-the-tap age. That is something which I have not seen in this country. I should like to make one concrete suggestion. The maximum cost of repairs in factories and on farms that can be carried out without a licence is £500, whereas in all other cases, including those of private dwellings and hotels, it is £200. I do not, for the life of me, see why the amount of work which can be done without a licence in an hotel should not be on the same basis as that which can be carried out in a factory or on a farm, because the hotel industry is doing a greater job in bringing dollars into this country. There is no doubt that this difficulty in obtaining licences for even the simplest repairs is causing those who are running hotels a tremendous amount of work and trouble, and is taking up a great deal of their time which would be more profitably employed in seeing to the comfort of guests. I heard of a case the other day relating to a partition in a restaurant. The work required only about 30 cwt. of steel. Many visits were paid by officials, much correspondence passed, and a year elapsed before a licence was finally granted for what was a comparatively minor structural alteration.

The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, has mentioned the arrival ports in this country, and, if I may say so, I thought that both he and Lord Lucas were a little unfair to Southampton. I agree with what was said regarding the "front door" of Southampton—the area where the shopping centres and stores are situated. But Lord Lucas forgot the outer gate—the Ocean Terminal—and I should like to say a few words about it. In my view, it is, without exception, the most magnificent feature of its kind to be found in any port in the world.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for the opportunity of intervening. I would remind him that I said, "If the tourist walked for one mile outside the docks."


I know that the noble Lord said that, but I thought he might have made some mention of the Ocean Terminal. I can assure your Lordships that the compliments which I have heard paid about this terminal by overseas visitors have been so numerous that I should hesitate to put a total figure on them. And it is not only the material magnificence of this Ocean Terminal which makes it so attractive. An important factor is the excellent personal attention paid to the comfort of travellers on arrival and departure by Mr. Biddle and his staff in the docks.


Can the noble Lord tell me whether it is not the fact that only very large ships use the Ocean Terminal and that the less fortunate ones have to use what is termed the "New Dock" but what is, in fact, a very old one?


I think the truth is somewhere half-way. Lord Balfour suggested that only big ships like the Cunarders use the Ocean Terminal. As a matter of fact, most of the big ships use it, and it is also used by most of the people who come in from Cowes Roads by tender. It is true that the Union Castle Line and the New Zealand Shipping Company and other companies cannot possibly use it, because it has only one berth alongside for big ships. But I can assure your Lordships that even the New Dock arrangements are vastly superior to what you find at Pier 90 in New York. Something has already been said about arrivals. May I say that I heartily agree with what Lord Balfour of Inchrye has said about Liverpool? I think it is a terribly black spot, and it is highly desirable that something should be done, if it is possible, for the betterment of the trains and for the improvement of the general arrangements for arrival. I am sure that is most important.

Next, I should like to say a word about arrivals by air at London Airport. At this airport there are only temporary buildings, and I think the best that can be done is being done with those buildings. Moreover, the attitude of the Customs officials and the immigration people is very helpful. But one point has already been brought out in many debates on travel, and I believe that no official steps have yet been taken with regard to it. I refer to the need for a twenty-four hour licence for London Airport. That is a matter which. I believe, still depends on the whims of the licensing justices of Brentford. Surely in these days of air travel, when time means so little—you may have just put your watch forward or back several hours—it is essential that a passenger arriving after, it may be, a rather bumpy trip across the Atlantic, and possibly two or three hours late, should be able to get some alcoholic refreshment. A promise that something would be done was made a very long time ago—I think the matter was debated in this House at least three or four years ago—but it seems that the necessary legislation has not yet been brought before Parliament. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, to look into this as a matter of urgency.

My Lords, I have been over most of the field which I wish to cover, but I should like to say that I support heartily one thing that Lord Lucas said: what a boon to the British holiday-maker with limited means, and also to visitors, are the long-distance coaches. I hope that the Ministry will look sympathetically on these services, bearing in mind that private enterprise should be allowed to play its part in giving such services to the community. I repeat that I think we all owe a debt of gratitude to Lord Lucas for initiating this debate to-day.

4.7 p.m.


My Lords, I intervene merely to emphasise two particular points. One of these has already received attention, but I think it bears repetition. Travelling about the country, one is impressed with the standards maintained at our hotels, but in so far as the amenities are concerned they are, I believe, capable of improvement. The excuse one often hears, when discussing the matter sympathetically with managements, is the continued difficulty of getting licences for small structural alterations. Great difficulty is also experienced by hoteliers, who are anxious that their establishments should present a nice appearance, in getting permission for external painting and interior decoration. I do not know much about the business; I myself have nothing to do with hotels. I wish I were as fortunate as the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, who has just come in. As your Lordships know, the noble Earl speaks with authority on this subject, and we are indeed glad to see that he has arrived in time to give his support to the noble Lord who is to reply on behalf of the Government. Lord Lloyd, no doubt, will acknowledge the encouragement which the Government has received from my noble friend. The point I would make is that I hope the Government will give serious and sympathetic consideration to the possibility of granting more freely licences for structural alterations, interior decorations, and external painting, and for improving amenities generally.

The next point I wish to raise relates to those visitors who come more particularly from the dollar area, though my remarks apply also to certain other hard currency areas. I speak of the mechanics whereby a certain number of coupons are dealt out by the Board of Trade which give certain facilities for making purchases. I will not weary your Lordships by making even a brief reference to the details of those mechanics, for they are clearly set out for those who care to study them. But I can speak with authority on this point so far as retail distribution is concerned, and I know that a great deal of dissatisfaction and disappointment is caused to visitors from North America. I speak with first-hand knowledge from that angle, because I meet a good many of the people concerned. Going frequently, as I do, to the United States and Canada—whence, in fact, I have just returned—I hear frequent complaints about how the system works, or does not work, as the case may be.

We all know that there are generous arrangements whereby visitors who intend to purchase merchandise in this country can make their purchases free of purchase tax and have them sent to their ports of exit. But the mysterious mechanics of these twenty-five or so coupons have a direct bearing on how the tourist spends his money in this country. That is the vigilant Treasury's attempt to make sure there is no "fiddling" on the part of residents by cajoling visitors to buy things for them. Surely that is small-mindedness. What we want to do is to capture dollars, and a much more liberal interpretation of the regulations would get us more dollars. That is the point which I hope, as a result of this debate, the noble Lord will draw to the attention of the proper quarter.

I should like to reiterate what other noble Lords have said about our obligation to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who raised this debate. It is a most important matter. I was much encouraged to hear the many angles which the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, brought up for the spiritual welfare of my noble friend who is about to reply. I should like to aid a last word. The noble Lord appealed on behalf of the lowly pig, in whose product the hotelier could not indulge his guests. May I make a further appeal to the noble Lord on behalf of those visitors and residents who like eggs for breakfast but who do not find them often available on a train journey and who, if they should carry their own eggs with them and ask the restaurant car attendant to cook them, are told that it cannot be done because it is against the Queen's regulations. I should like the noble Lord to put to the Minister of Transport the simple request that he should relax the regulations and give the tourist permission to have his eggs boiled on trains.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, replies, I should like to dot the "i's" and cross the "t's" of a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, because I have some personal knowledge of a group of visitors who, if they do not bring vast quantities of dollars into this country, have the same psychological reaction as have the dollar-bringers to what happens at the ports of entry. The noble Lord pointed out that at the ports of entry British subjects and foreigners are segregated into sheep and goats. The "sheep" are provided with the best accommodation on the trains and the "goats," the foreigners, have to do the best they can. Undoubtedly this gives rise to a considerable amount of feeling on the part of a large number of visitors. It is a psychological point, but one of importance, and it is one which could be put right very easily, with no expense, or no more than a small one

Noble Lords who are accustomed to going abroad will know that when you enter France or any other country there is no such division of natives from foreigners. We are all treated exactly alike, and there seems to be no administrative difficulty about it. If that is so when we enter France, Belgium or Holland, I do not see why there should be any more administrative difficulty in this country; why British subjects and foreigners should not be treated here in exactly the same way. From my knowledge of important student groups, I can assure the noble Lord that that would have a very considerable psychological effect.


My Lords, it would be unfortunate if it got about that that procedure occurred at every port. It certainly is not so at Southampton, or at the Channel Ports, where the passports are done on board ship. I think Harwich may be the port in question. It is by no means a general thing at every port, and it would be unfortunate if that impression should get about.


That may be so as regards trains, but I know that at Dover British subjects and foreigners are divided into two queues, and the foreigners are made to go through all sorts of examinations.


That does not always happen at Dover, because in many cases these formalities are done on board ship.


There have been occasions when complaints have been made to me of quite unpleasant treatment of students coming into this country, and I have taken the matter up with the Home Office. But I do not want to go into that: I wish only to deal with the general psychological effect.

While I am on my feet, I should like to say a word in connection with the important matter raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey—namely, the attraction which the great English country houses have to foreign visitors, particularly those from the other side of the Atlantic. The noble Viscount referred to the National Trust. The National Trust are the proud owners of a number of superb country houses and make the best arrangements they can, consonant with the fact that the families which created and built up these houses are still living there, for the entertainment of foreign visitors; and these houses are open one or two days a week throughout the summer period. The serious thing is that the great majority of the lovely historic houses of this country are rapidly falling into decay because the Government cannot make up their mind to implement the Gowers Report or introduce some other methods of dealing with this critical and disastrous situation. Those noble Lords who have seen the last Report of the National Trust will realise only too well that the situation is most serious. If the Government cannot be persuaded to do something to help one of the most valuable forms of interesting entertainment which we can provide for our foreign visitors, it will in a few years have ceased to exist. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will bring as much pressure as he can to hear on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Government as a whole, to do something to put this matter right.

4.19 p.m.


My Lords, this is the third debate we have had on this subject during the last two years, a fact which not only reflects the increasing interest which your Lordships take in our tourist trade but, perhaps even more, emphasises the great importance of this industry. The figures which I could give, though I will not weary the House with them, show a steady rise in the number of foreign visitors to this country since the war ended, and, in particular, a remarkable rise in the number of American tourists. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and other noble Lords, that this is one of our major dollar-earning industries. That is not all. Compared with other dollar-earning industries, it is one with definite advantages, because, in the first place, the fact that it requires a negligible amount of raw materials means that its net dollar-earning capacity is greater than that of almost any other industry. Secondly, whereas the development of the dollar-earning capacity in other industries is in some cases now very difficult, I feel that the prospects of development in the tourist industry are, on the whole, very good. It is still true, for example, that only about half the Americans who visit Europe come to this country, and that the number of Americans who cross the Atlantic at all is only a fraction of those who could afford to come if a holiday in Europe seemed sufficiently attractive. All that I said before a year ago; and all that still believe.

I know it has been said in some quarters—in fact, I believe it has rather been suggested this afternoon—that the whole reason for the increase in the tourist traffic is the advertising campaign that has been carried on by the British Travel and Holidays Association, and that facilities that are actually available for our foreign visitors when they arrive in this country compare very poorly with the glowing accounts of Britain which they receive from the B.T.H.A. I do not deny that. Our facilities could be, and must be, improved. But I absolutely agree with the noble Earl, Lord Jowitt, when he says it is also true that the vast majority of people who come to this country thoroughly enjoy their holidays here. I do not think there is any doubt about that. At any rate, it remains a fact that, whatever the shortcomings may be in the facilities which we have to offer to tourists, there are at the present moment many more people who are anxious to visit this country than we can comfortably accommodate. I feel that that should be a source of satisfaction to us all: we might even go so far as to allow ourselves a little cautious optimism, although I should be the first to agree that it should not be a cause for complacency.

The Government are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for giving your Lordships' House an opportunity of reviewing the progress that has been achieved so far; and we are glad to hear from your Lordships this afternoon suggestions of how this favourable position can be exploited. When it comes to exploiting a position, I can think of nobody more competent to do it than the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. So far as the Government are concerned, I should like to assure the House that we take a keen interest in this matter. If evidence of that interest were needed—I need not repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, told me last year—I would say that we make a large contribution to the B.T.H.A. I should again like to pay a tribute to what the B.T.H.A. have done, because they have undoubtedly carried out a magnificent job. The steady increase in the volume of tourist traffic is due in no small measure to their efforts.

Before I leave that particular question, I would remark that it was in connection with the B.T.H.A. that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, referred to the possibility of developing some form of E.C.G.D. scheme—an export credits guarantee scheme for the industry. That is a most interesting suggestion. But I am bound to tell the noble Lord that, as he probably knows, the matter has been explored within the framework of the existing export credits facilities. Various schemes have been put, up, and they have all fallen to the ground, so far, because no scheme which has been put up was possible within the statutory powers of the Department. This does not mean to say that the Department are not anxious to examine any Further schemes. If hoteliers can put forward a scheme which they are prepared to accept, the Department are quite ready to look into it. In the meantime, it is well worth while to see whether some kind of export credits arrangement can be set up in the hotel industry, and I will certainly draw that matter to the attention of my right honourable friend.

I should new like to return to my main theme. Here again I agree—as I always do—with a great deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has said. I agree entirely with him that it is no good the Government making a large financial contribution to B.T.H.A. to attract people to this country if, when the tourists arrive, the facilities available are inadequate. Her Majesty's Government realise, as did the late Government, the necessity of doing everything possible to help to improve tourist facilities, within the limits which are imposed upon us by our economic difficulties and by the many varied and often conflicting demands upon our resources. Here I would say one thing to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, because a year ago we had a similar debate (in fact, to-day I thought he made my speech, and, to a certain extent, I shall be making his), in which the noble Lord seemed most conscious of these economic limitations and, if I remember rightly, spoke a good deal about cutting our coat to meet our cloth, and so on. He was absolutely right. At that time we were on the verge of national bankruptcy. To-day, as I listened to the noble Lord's speech, I could not help feeling a little that he had rather forgotten the economic considerations and difficulties of which he was so acutely aware a year ago. Perhaps he has been impressed by what we have tried to do to restore the economic situation; and perhaps he hopes that in one year we can do so much more than the late Government did in six years.

I hope that is not the way he meant it—I do not think it was—because I believe the problem is still the same. We can all see what ought to be done to put this industry right. I do not dissent from anything I said a year ago. On the other hand, the difficulties of doing all these admirable things to improve facilities do depend on the economic situation; and it is not quite so easy to do them from here—I admit it—as it sometimes seems from the opposite Benches. The fact remains—and I would emphasise this—that when we took office we were confronted with a crisis far worse than anything we had contemplated, and we have had to adopt a policy of the most rigid economy and restriction in many directions. To-day, in spite of the improvement in our position, obviously we are by no means out of the wood, and the demands on our resources still remain much greater than the resources themselves. If, therefore, I return to the noble Lord this afternoon some of the arguments he used on me a year ago, he must not be too disappointed, because the conditions which he talked about then to a considerable extent still exist.

Let me start with what I believe has been the main theme of this debate, and what is certainly the most important factor—namely, the question of hotels. I am not sure that I agree with the noble Lord who said that the efficiency of our hotels was going down. I do not think that that is true. I do not know since when the noble Lord thinks that the efficiency of our hotels has been going down, and, for my part, I do not believe it is going down. I believe it could go up, but that is a very different thing. Obviously there is room for improvement. Hotels are important to-day, because they are the greatest bottleneck in the expansion of our tourist trade. In the immediate post-war years the traffic, and especially the American traffic, was undoubtedly hindered by the shortage of shipping space, particularly in the North Atlantic. This is much better now. The new tourist air services—I feel that I must mention these, because they are rather remarkable—have been a great success this year. The standard return ticket to New York, as your Lordships probably know, costs £254. The tourist flight, which was introduced last May, costs £173 13s., which is a 30 per cent. reduction. While the tourist flights were booked to capacity, that was done without any appreciable drop in the number of first-class passages. In May and June of this year B.O.A.C. were carrying 64 per cent. more passengers from New York to London than the year before. That is a remarkable achievement and is another favourable feature in this business. The bottleneck is undoubtedly the hotels. There is everywhere a shortage of good hotel accommodation facilities, but perhaps the worst shortage is in London, because nearly everyone who comes to this country would like to spend a day or two in London. This is particularly true of Americans, and all the evidence suggests that if we had more of the right kind of hotel in London we could secure a very considerable increase in the number of our American visitors. I can give the House this assurance: we are not merely watching this matter, or even praying, but we are actually hoping to do something about it.

This question of hotel construction and maintenance is one to which we are devoting a great deal of thought, but there are considerable difficulties. The two major difficulties to rapid expansion in this field are probably well known to your Lordships. In the first place, our building resources are still limited, and the needs of the hotel industry have to compete with rearmament, the export drive, the housing drive and all the rest: and obviously only a limited proportion of our resources can be devoted to this purpose. That is a well-known fact—it is a platitude. Furthermore, I would say this to the House. This year, owing to the very exceptional difficulties which we inherited, we have had to reduce to a level lower than that of last year the amount we can allow for this kind of work. On the other hand, I can say that if noble Lords will be patient, I hope that in the next year they will see a remarkable improvement. That is undoubtedly one very great difficulty.


My Lords, before the noble Lord passes from that point, may I draw his attention to the fact that that was the essence of all these urgings, that the Government should modify or change their policy, so directing a bigger proportion of the available repair work into licensed premises?


May I also point out that next year will be a little late for the Coronation?


I will deal first with the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Gifford. We should have had to start a long time ago to have any substantial modern hotels built in London in time for the Coronation.


I thought the noble Lord was dealing with the repairs.


No; with new construction. With regard to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, he must remember that last year the rearmament programme was only just beginning, and it is gathering weight the whole time. The situation is—he must accept my word for it—more difficult than last year Those are the facts.

But there is another difficulty which is just as bad—in fact I am not sure that it is not the main difficulty. I believe that the main difficulty at the moment is that the hotel industry itself are extremely short of money. They are finding great difficulty in raising the capital for this purpose. It might interest the House if I were to tell you that of the applications received during the last eleven months, 50 per cent. had to be rejected because the projects involved did not show any prospect of earning foreign currency, while the remaining 50 per cent., for which licences were issued, was not enough to absorb the allocation which the Government were prepared to make for this purpose. Undoubtedly, money is a limiting factor at the present time, partly owing to the restriction of credit, and partly owing to the very high price of hotel building and maintenance. I can only say that we still maintain as our object the expansion of hotel accommodation. I believe that if noble Lords will be patient, next year I shall be able to show better results than this year. We realise the importance of this matter, and we are pushing on with it as fast as we can. But the difficulties are considerable.

Before I leave this question of building, perhaps I may deal with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and, incidentally, with a similar example which was given by my noble friend Lord Gifford. The noble Lord mentioned a hotel in Scarborough, where he said that everything was on the spot and where, I gather for some procedural reason, the licence was refused. Let me assure the noble Lord that that is the last thing we want to happen. We do not want to have necessary work held up if it is reasonably inexpensive and shows a reasonable prospect of earning foreign currency. If the noble Lord will give me the details of that case I will most certainly take it up.

I should like now to deal with the question which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, raised about Southampton. Of course there are a considerable number of foreign tourists who arrive at Southampton and who never visit the city at all. I am not trying to ride off on that, because there are a great number who do visit Southampton. There is no doubt that, like any other blitzed city, Southampton presents rather a dismal appearance. I will not attempt to deny that. But here again, I must give the noble Lord the same answer as I gave him before, with various modifications. Southampton, of course, is not the only blitzed city; and although I agree that its position as one of the main gateways to this country entitles it to certain special consideration, the noble Lord must understand that the Minister of Housing and Local Government has to hold a fair balance between the demands of blitzed cities. There would be an outcry in other blitzed cities if an undue proportion of war damage work was allowed to Southampton because of this particular consideration.


May I ask whether it is not a fact that the local authority itself could do a good deal in the way of cleaning up, apart from new construction, if they chose to do so? Would the noble Lord bear that in mind, and see whether some representations cannot be made to the local authority?


Certainly. If it is a question of cleaning up would agree with the noble Lord, and I will certainly have that point looked into. That is one limiting factor at Southampton. The other is the labour situation. I am advised that there is a building labour shortage in Southampton, partly because of heavy demands for labour for other purposes, such as the Fawley oil refinery. Next year there will be demands for an extension of that refinery, and a power station. Also, of course, a new dock is being built, Incidentally, I will gladly accept Lord Lucas's invitation to visit Southampton, and I may perhaps correct him on one point. He said that if the Minister of Works could stop whatever he is doing, and the Minister of Housing and Local Government could stop whatever he is doing, and look at Southampton, they would see much to interest them. I must inform the noble Lord that only a very short time ago the Minister of Housing and Local Government visited Southampton. He saw the situation for himself, and has consulted the officials there. I would also remind the noble Lord that, from the point of view of the tourist industry, a certain amount has been done for Southampton. There is the new Union Castle terminal, which has been reconstructed at a cost of £900,000. That may be a small thing, but it is something. Extensions have also been granted to the Dolphin Hotel, which will give the hotel more accommodation. I give the noble Lord that sop, which I hope will make him a little happier.

Now I turn from the question of hotels to the Catering Wages Act. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his attitude over this matter, and for the very wise course that he has pursued. As he has said, the main criticism was always concentrated on the Board concerned with licensed residential premises and licensed restaurants. I believe it is agreed on both sides of the industry that the original order, which was made in 1948, suffered from very serious defects. But it is only fair to remember that this was the first attempt at a wages agreement in this particular section of industry; and in the circumstances it was probably inevitable that mistakes should be made. Now, as your Lordships are probably aware, the Act of 1943 gives the Minister no power whatsoever to interfere. The whole question of wages and conditions must be threshed out between both sides of the industry on the Wages Board, and all the Minister can do is to implement the recommendations of the Board as transmitted to him by the Commission.

Representations have been made to the Minister that there should be legislation to amend the Act. Obviously, however, any legislation that could be contemplated must be extremely controversial, and therefore my right honourable friend feels that the right way is to see what can be achieved within the framework of the existing Act. And I am perfectly certain that that is the right way to approach the matter. We must see what we can do, by good will and by cooperation on both sides—and I can say that my right honourable friend has himself done a good deal to promote that spirit on both sides of the industry. I would remind the House of what he said in another place on May 29 (OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons; Vol. 501, Col. 1640): When I became aware of these difficulties, I entered into discussions with both sides of the industry to see whether, by co-operation and good will, they could themselves agree on a course to follow that would enable them to work towards a mutually acceptable system of wage regulation as it affects the hotel industry. I am glad to say that a large measure of agreement has been reached and I am about to reconstitute the Licensed Residential Establishment and Licensed Restaurant Wages Board to enable effect to be given to the proposals that have been made to me by the trade unions and the hotel associations representing the employers. Those proposals were, briefly, that the affairs of the licensed hotel industry should continue to be dealt with by the Board, but sub-divided between a number of Committees to be set up by the Minister at the request of the Wages Board. In this way an attempt could be made to overcome the present objection to the system, which seeks to bring all hotels of all types under one set of regulations, and it would enable special consideration to be given to the particular circumstances of each type of hotel.

The problems of the small country hotel are different from those of the much larger West End luxury hotel, and the two could not well conform to the same set of wage regulations and orders and so on. So we have a new Wages Board with a membership of a type which will enable it to carry out the setting up of these new committees. Therefore I feel that with this new set-up there is a much better chance than there has ever been of getting a good wage structure in this industry, one that will be acceptable to both sides and which will give us an efficient and happy industry. In the meantime, I am sure that the best thing we can do is to wish the Board well. I hope that when they deliberate on this matter they will pay attention to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, about the question of simplification. I am sure that the present set-up is far too complicated, and I hope the Board will pay attention to what the noble Lord has said.

I will try now to deal with one or two other points. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour, complained, not unreasonably, I think, about some of the transport facilities at our ports. Here again, we cannot do everything at once, but we are doing all we can. There is to be a new car terminal at Dover, which I hope will be a great improvement on the existing facilities. There is also to be a new passenger terminal at Newcastle, for the Bergen line. We are trying gradually to improve these car terminals, but of course it cannot all be done in one year.


But are there not one or two things that could be done now? For instance, surely the trains could be made to run punctually and could be made cleaner than they are now.


I will certainly bring the noble Lord's remarks to the attention of the Transport Commission, who are responsible for this matter, and I am sure they will do their best to ensure that these things are improved. I agree that there is room for improvement.

The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, spoke about the segregation of foreigners at the ports. I will bring his comment to the attention of my right honourable friend. I think the noble Lord said that his criticism applied to the Port of Dover and not to all ports, and I believe that that is the case. The noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, and other noble Lords, spoke of the preservation of historic houses. There is not a great deal that I can say on this matter at the present time, beyond the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is at present examining various schemes which have been put forward to assist in the maintenance and preservation of historic houses. There are obviously a great many difficulties, of which the noble Lord is aware, and the Government did not feel that they could accept the tax relief suggested at one time. However, the matter is being examined, and I hope that before long some further statement may be made on this subject. I agree with the noble Lord that this question of historic houses is one of great importance, particularly to this industry.

The noble Lord, Lord Barnby (I see that he is not now in the House), referred to the question of the purchase tax coupon scheme. All I can say as regards this matter is that, in principle, the whole scheme is obviously a difficult one from the point of view of tax evasion. The late Government felt that in certain special circumstances where dollar trade is involved, despite the fact that tax evasion was made easy, they could make a concession. But I do not think it would be desirable or possible to make a further extension to that concession.


I absolutely agree.


I will now turn to the question of motor coaches, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. The noble Lord knows far better than I do—because he is an expert on this matter, and was, of course, for a time at the Ministry of Transport—that the whole system of licensing motor coaches is conducted under the Act of 1930, and that the object of that Act was to secure and maintain a reasonable balance between road and rail services—and, equally important, between the competing road services. I do not think the noble Lord is right if he is suggesting that there has been any reduction in the number of coaches within the limits imposed by the Act. There was always an upper limit: one of the objects, to help the railways, was to set an upper limit to road traffic; but within that upper limit I do not think there has been any reduction in this traffic.

Moreover, I must point out that circumstances in regard to the whole question of long-distance coaches have changed considerably since 1930, when the Act came into force. An entirely new situation has been created by the nationalisation of the railways and of interests and assets in the road passenger services, which amount to some £53,000,000. Also, as is well known, there has been an increasing disparity between road and rail fares. As a result, the Government feel that in some respects the 1930 Act is getting out of date, and that the time has come to review the whole system and the whole question of the balance between road and rail. Therefore my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport has set up a Committee, with which I think some of your Lordships may be familiar and of which you may have heard already, to inquire into the operation of the provisions of the Act in the light of present-day conditions. That Committee is under the Chairmanship of Mr. Thesiger, Q.C. When my right honourable friend has received a recommendation from the Committee, he will no doubt take what action he feels it appropriate to take in the circumstances.

The noble Lord, Lord Balfour, inquired about this question of the pig for the hotelier. The noble Lord is a pig-keeper and so am I. I am sorry to tell him that so far, owing to the feeding stuff situation, it has not been possible to allow this concession to hoteliers, but, in view of our mutual interest in pigs, I will again report to my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture what he has said, to see whether anything can be done about it. I hope that I have dealt with most of the points which have been raised. The subject is a rather diverse one and, if there is anything that I have missed out—


Could the noble Lord say anything about the question of a licence at London Airport?


I beg the noble Lord's pardon. I am afraid he gave me no notice of that point and I have not the information, but, if he will be patient, I will write to him about it.


I thank the noble Lord very much.


I will say again what I said when I started, that I personally have always taken a great interest in this industry and should have been happier had I been able to announce to-day that the Government could do a great deal more than they are at present able to do. But I emphasise once more that it is not through lack of enthusiasm or apathy that we cannot do more. It is because of the considerable economic difficulties at the present time. I assure all noble Lords who have made suggestions or criticisms that I will see that those suggestions or criticisms are taken to the appropriate quarter. I hope that the next time we have a debate of this kind, if I have the honour of replying to it, I shall be able to give a more encouraging and a more optimistic picture than perhaps I have been able to give to-day.

4.53 p.m.


My Lords, I should think that the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, has come to the very definite conclusion that General Elections are silly things, especially when they shift power from one side of your Lordships' House to the other. It is so easy when one is in Opposition. There are so many tin tacks on the Government Front Bench. But may I, quite seriously, congratulate the noble Lord? He did not disappoint us. His reputation, already high, stands just as high after a considered, courteous and encouraging reply to this debate, and I thank him.

There are one or two points I should like to make. Conditions to-day are not as they were twelve months ago. I would beg the noble Lord and your Lordships to consider that. Twelve months ago, when the relative positions of noble Lords in this Chamber were reversed, our exports were booming. To-day, unfortunately, they are falling. This is not a case of Departmental economics; this is a case of hard business and commercial sense. Our dollar drive is costing a great deal of money—the noble Lord said so himself. The residual return on our dollar drive in our manufacturing industries is extremely low. The residual profits on our tourist dollar drive are extraordinarily high. The Government will be forced to look at this export business very seriously and, as a business man, surely the noble Lord will be with me in saying, "For heaven's sake, back your winners and do not spend so much money on some of your losers." And the biggest winner in the export drive is the tourist industry. That is where the position has altered from what it was twelve months ago.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for offering to come to Southampton, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, for reminding me about the Ocean Terminal. There is no doubt about it that it is one of the wonders of the world, but it is reserved for the Cunard liners. They have the first call. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour, is quite correct. I have come into Southampton, and if there is a Cunarder in the port or coming into the port, other ships do not go to the Ocean Terminal. That Ocean Terminal is a marvellous thing. I should like to tell your Lordships a rather humorous story to illustrate my point. A dear old lady, a passenger on the "Queen Elizabeth," was sitting in the lounge of the Ocean Terminal, and one of the ship's stewards came rushing up to her and said: "Madam! Madam! Do get aboard. We are just taking up the gangway." She said: "Aboard, young man? I'm there already, am I not?" But I was not concerned with the dock area; I was concerned with those American tourists who want to see England's green and pleasant land as soon as possible, to go to the ancient Saxon capital of England, a city which is also adorned by the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack.


They would not see anything interesting in me.


I suggest to the noble and learned Lord that they might see a lot of things in Winchester which are less attractive. That is the point I am trying to impress upon the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, for reminding me of two things. One is that if this new set-up of wages boards for licensed hotels is going to be a success, there is one thing they must do, and that is take into consideration the question of tipping. It is no good burking the issue. I hesitate to make a suggestion, but my suggestion to them would be: simplify your categories, have a basic wage for every category, and let any plus payment be negotiated by the representatives of the employees with the individual hotel managements, because there are not two hotels alike in the country.

I resent fiercely the slander of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, upon my colleagues at Morecambe, that they adopted the unhygienic practice of washing their dirty linen in their bedrooms. I understood that they washed their dirty linen in the Winter Garden. Some noble Lords on this side would have preferred it to have been washed behind the locked doors of their bedrooms. I do not think there is anything I need add except to agree once again with the noble Lord that one of the basic difficulties of the hotel industry is, as he quite rightly said, lack of capital. The reason for that lack of capital is the same as the reason for the lack of capital in industry generally—too high taxation. That matter will have to receive the serious consideration of Her Majesty's Government.

I quite agree with the noble Lord also that the Road Traffic Act under which coaches run to-day is not only archaic but antiquated. It was passed in 1930. I can assure the noble Lord that the gentlemen in Berkeley Square are just as ill-equipped to dictate to the British public the way they should travel as are the gentlemen in Whitehall; and when they have the mentality of 1930, it makes the position even worse. That is all I have to say except once again to thank the noble Lord for his courteous and helpful reply. At the same time, I offer him my sympathy at having to eat his own words—but that is the lot of every occupant of the Front Bench. With those words I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.