HL Deb 07 July 1955 vol 193 cc526-50

3.35 p.m.

VISCOUNT FURNESS rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are prepared to take in respect of the tourist industry with special reference to the urgent necessity for expanding hotel facilities and improving other holiday amenities in Britain. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I hope it is not necessary for me to apologise to your Lordships for raising this subject at this time. At the same time, I can assure your Lordships that I shall not be as long on my feet as certain noble Lords would like people not to be on their feet. Britain's tourist industry has increased in volume and value year by year since the end of the war. I do not want to weary your Lordships with statistics, but it is perhaps interesting to note that in 1947 slightly over 400,000 visitors to this country spent, including fares on British ships and aircraft, £33 million, of which £9½ million was in United States dollars. In 1954, over 900,000 visitors spent £137 million, of which just over £39 million was in United States dollars. This dollar revenue which derives from the tourist industry yields considerably more than any other single industry's contribution to revenue from overseas.

I feel that tribute must be paid to the British Travel and Holidays Association for their efforts which, to a great extent, have been responsible for this increase in revenue. I am sure we are all grateful to Her Majesty's Government for the substantial grant-in-aid which is paid to this organisation. At the same time, I should like to remind my noble friend who is to reply that there is a considerable market, almost untouched, which could provide many needed dollars—I am thinking of Central and South America where little, if anything, has been done to promote the "Come to Britain" movement. Of course, many South Americans speak English and read British and American periodicals in which excellent advertising material welcomes tourists to Britain. But I hope that Her Majesty's Government will bear in mind that much remains to be done by the British Travel and Holidays Association and that many more foreign visitors can be attracted to this country. We have not yet reached our maximum.

The first specific point about which I should like to ask Her Majesty's Government to-day is whether they can give me any encouragement on bettering the lot of the hotel industry. It is well known that there are certain disadvantages attaching to hotels which have been discussed in this House and elsewhere many times before. I will not weary your Lordships with them now. No other export industry has to pay purchase tax on the tools of its trade. I gather that it is estimated by those actively engaged in the tourist trade in this country that 5,000 new hotel rooms of good standing are urgently required in the main tourist centres, especially in London and in Edinburgh. In regard to Scotland I need say no more, because I note that my noble friend Lord Rosebery will be speaking later. When I say "new hotel rooms," I do not necessarily mean new hotels. One might almost say that there is enough public room accommodation—dining rooms, bars and things of that sort—but, putting it at its mildest, the bedroom accommodation in most of Britain's hotels leaves much to be desired. Many hotels advertise the fact that their rooms have hot and cold running water, as if it were something of a novelty. Really, this should not be the case in this Year of Grace, 1955. Hotels should be boasting, if at all, that all their rooms have their own bathrooms, radio and television sets.

I am sorry to have to underline this question of plumbing, but it has come to my notice that more and more people, not only tourists from overseas but our own holiday-makers and people travelling on business, are insisting on their own bathrooms. That is what they get in other countries and that, I submit, is what they are entitled to have here. I realise, of course, that I cannot in justice lay the inadequacy of our hotels at the feet of Her Majesty's Government, but I should be grateful if my noble friend could tell your Lordships whether there are any practical steps which the Government could take at this time or are planning to take in the near future.

With your Lordships' permission, I will now turn to the question of immigration control. As my noble friend who is to reply is well aware, there have been complaints at certain ports that it has taken undue time to process the foreign visitor. A number of cross-Channel services carry immigration inspectors who can attend to quite a number of foreign visitors but rarely to all the non-British passport holders on the ship. Could there not be, during the peak tourist season, more inspectors per boat than at present, and, perhaps, more boats with these inspectors on board? I should not imagine that such a step would require any more inspectors, although I may be wrong. I should like to pay tribute to the unfailing courtesy, combined with efficiency, which characterises the officers of Her Majesty's Customs and Excise who come into contact with the tourist or traveller on business, whether foreign or British. I should also like to congratulate Her Majesty's Government on their introduction of passport-free trips to and from France. I realise that it is much too early yet to appraise the success of the scheme, but can my noble friend say whether he would consider extending the scheme to three-day visits, such as weekends, and also to visits to other nearby countries, such as Belgium and the Netherlands.

The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has this afternoon forestalled one question which I was going to put to Her Majesty's Government: whether there was any likelihood of their introducing a Bill to give 24-hour licensing to airports. I should like to thank my noble friend and Her Majesty's Government, on behalf of all tourists and the tourist industry, for taking this step. I venture to hope that it will be the first of many to simplify the licensing laws in this country.

To turn from indulgence, perhaps in flights of fancy, to airports, could something be done about the airport departure charge of 5s. per passenger imposed when leaving State airports? This charge, was introduced in 1952, and I am informed that last year it yielded only £267,000, compared with a total dollar revenue from tourism of over £39 million. Is there any real justification for this charge, which brings in such a small sum in revenue, yet causes so much petty annoyance? I know it is now possible for the air lines to collect this fee at the time tickets are picked up, but in many cases foreign visitors will have bought their tickets outside this country and will still have to remember to keep 5s. handy for this departure charge, or they may otherwise have to cash a traveller's cheque and end up with sterling in hand. I am sure all noble Lords will agree that sterling is a desirable currency to have, but it may not be freely interchangeable for other currencies where the tourists are going.

3.43 p.m.


My Lords, I am sorry that I am sandwiched between the noble Lord who has just spoken and the formidable figure of the noble Lord who is to speak next and who speaks with great authority about tourism in Scotland. He has, I believe, a remarkable story of improvement and advance to tell us. I find myself entirely at one with the noble Viscount, Lord Furness, in everything that he has said, including the rather cryptic remark that he was not going to talk for any longer than people thought he ought not to talk. I shall try to follow his good example. I have to declare an interest, though not a financial interest of any sort. I have the honour of being President of the British Travel and Holidays Association, and for many years past I have interested myself in this business.

I should like all your Lordships to understand quite plainly that we have here a great potential asset. As the noble Viscount has said, we have brought the number of visitors to this country up to over 900.000 in 1954. We should most certainly have had over one million visitors this year had it not been for the effects of the strikes. I sometimes think that when people undertake strikes so lightheartedly they do not realise the harm they may be doing to this country. That seamen's strike must, I think, have done considerable harm to our tourist industry and to our reputation. I hope that that damage will be repaired in the near future.

The problem which Her Majesty's Government have to face is this: I believe that the total of 900,000 could be increased to one million, and that, in time, that one million might be increased to two million, because I believe that in this field there remains untapped a vast area which would be a tremendous source of currency. The difficulty can be stated simply: there is not the accommodation. We in the British Travel and Holidays Association estimate (and this is a rather moving thought) that the accommodation available in hotels is to-day 10 per cent. less than it was before the war. Hoteliers are doing most wonderful work, in most difficult circumstances, but in the present circumstances one cannot expect people to build new hotels. The financial considerations of the problem must be adjusted. If hotels are wanted, then it must be made possible for these people to build hotels. To-day that is neither practicable nor possible. That is the hard fact. And if we do not have hotels we cannot increase the number of tourists. I remember that when I was in office there was a project for a well-known American chain of hotels to build a great hotel in this country. It meant building a luxury hotel at a time when we were very short of buildings and when people were hard up for housing. It was, of course, a very tall order to propose devoting a considerable amount of labour and materials at that time to building a luxury hotel; but I pointed out to some of my colleagues that, had this been a factory and had We been asked for materials to equip a factory, they would have agreed very readily if that factory was to earn dollars. The hotel would have earned dollars.

That is almost all the message that I have to give to your Lordships, except to say that I hope we in this country may become a little more tourist-minded. This country has many attractions, although the weather does not always deserve praise. I must say, however, that in this country, for the young people at any rate, the evenings are a bit dull. From the tourist point of view it would be a good thing if we could brighten up our great centres a little for the young people. I have long passed the age when I desired to have my evenings brightened up, so I do not speak feelingly about the matter; but I remember that when I was young I did want my evenings brightened up. A large number of tourists are young people and they want brighter evenings now. May I join in heartiest congratulations to Her Majesty's Government on the small measure about licensing at airports. That is obviously a step in the right direction.

Another aspect of the tourist trade occurs to me. When we see reports, or hear rumours, of the pulling down of famous theatres, and that we are to have fewer theatres in this city, I feel it is lamentable from any point of view. But I am quite certain that it is particularly to be regretted from this point of view: that a great part of the attraction about coming to this country in the winter time is that people can see plays, and the stage. I would ask Her Majesty's Government to realise that it will be a disaster if all these theatres go and we become dependent upon the funny men on the radio—if, indeed, one likes to be dependent on such things: I confess that I do not very much. I beg Her Majesty's Government to face up squarely to the facts of the hotel position. That is the clue to the whole problem. If they can make it possible for people to build new hotels, with accommodation of the kind that is up to date now, we may double our tourist trade. But if the Government do not make that possible, then it will mean that we have just about reached the maximum point. I very much hope that this country will take the course of increasing its tourist trade, because not only does it provide a means whereby we earn dollars and hard currency but it is also a source of great goodwill and understanding that we should get foreign visitors from all over the world to come here, get to know this country, and see the lovely things we have to show.

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, I welcome the Question which has been asked today by my noble friend Lord Furness, because, although I know what help Her Majesty's Government have given to Britain's tourist industry in the past, I hope that we may have some immediate and practical steps which will secure the full benefits from this industry and give increasing encouragement to hoteliers, transport operators and others throughout the country who are doing an excellent job at the present time in catering both for our own holidaymakers and also for those from overseas. As the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, has said, the tourist industry has grown enormously in the last few years, and is now one of the most progressive in our country. I am told, on good authority, that there is every likelihood that, in spite of the strike which we have just had, the number of visitors to Britain this year will be a record.

The public in general, I think, now have a proper appreciation of the great value which this industry has for the country as a whole, for it is not only the hoteliers and the transport operators who do well out of it: practically every other trade, and certainly every section of the community, stands to benefit from holidaymaking. In proof of what I am saying, the Scottish Tourist Board (like the noble and learned Earl opposite, I have an interest to declare in this connection, for I have the honour to be chairman of this Board—unpaid, of course) recently requested a firm of chartered accountants in Glasgow to make an independent valuation of tourist and holiday trade in Scotland. The chartered accountants, after an exhaustive inquiry, reached the conclusion that the pure holiday and tourist traffic being enjoyed by Scotland to-day is worth at least £44 million per annum. The bulk of that money, spent initially through hoteliers, boarding-house keepers and transport operators, is being passed on to a great variety of traders in the purchase of goods and services.

This does not mean, however, that we must stand still on what we have done. On the contrary, I feel that the time is now ripe for Her Majesty's Government to do something, especially in Scotland. I should like to see them re-examine the position of the tourist industry and help us to develop it even more fully. A few years ago, a great many places in Scotland could not anticipte a peak season of more than about twelve weeks. Now, practical steps have been taken to prove that there is a large public willing to take its holidays in the early months of March, April and May, and in the later months of September and October. Holiday-making has entirely changed in the last thirty or forty years. In the old days, as a rule, people wanted to remain in one place for their holiday; now there is an increasing urge for them to travel round our country and see its beauties. That is why I would strongly advocate a bolder policy in relation to the development of our roads, particularly in the Highlands which are one of the most popular factors in the "Come to Britain" campaign.

Many of the roads in the Highlands, particularly those branching off from the main north and south highways, were built to meet the needs of traffic fifty or a hundred years ago, when the needs were very small, and they are far out of date as regards modern traffic requirements. The last thing I want is the creation in the Highlands of great, long, straight speed tracks such as we understand are being proposed for districts further south. I should like to continue with the turning and twisting roads from which one can see so well the beauties of that area; but anyone who has motored over them knows that the majority of the existing roads are too narrow and should be broadened. Moreover, there are one or two places in the Highlands where quite short new roads could be built which would open up great new areas for the tourist trade. They are also much wanted to link up one main road with another. Let me take an example: there is not only a great necessity for the Road to the Isles from Fort William to Mallaig to be improved and enlarged, but we require a short new road of about fourteen miles to link up Loch Rannoch with the Glencoe road—it would be only a stretch of fourteen miles, as I say—so that we could go the whole way round. These instances of which I have spoken are quite small undertakings compared with those which, I understand, we are to have in England.

I should like to say a few words to supplement what the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, said about the importance of hotel accommodation—a matter on which Lord Furness also touched. We are, as the noble Viscount said, exceedingly short of first-class accommodation in Edinburgh, and consequently we have to turn away many visitors who would bring in a large amount of dollars. We have excellent hotels but not enough of them; and some of them are not up to first-class standard. Many of these hoteliers would like to develop their facilities but, as the noble and learned Earl said, they have not the capital. I suggest that, after examination of each particular case, there might be a possibility of encouraging hoteliers financially by making available to them Government loans at a low rate of interest. Here I am not talking of Edinburgh, but of Scotland as a whole, and I am sure the same system would be welcomed in England. There are, as we know, agricultural loans which have done a great deal of good. With an enormous, growing industry like the one of which we are speaking, I feel that the Government, by making a comparatively small outlay, would facilitate the bringing in of a very great deal.

One last word. Like the previous speakers, I would congratulate my noble friend Lord Mancroft on the Bill which he has just introduced. It means twenty-four hours licensing in Prestwick which will be most welcome—not that we are a particularly thirsty race ourselves, but it will enable us suitably to welcome our guests from overseas, and also from England, at all hours of the day and night.

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, I think it is true to say that the tourist industry can be divided into two sections. One section is concerned with visitors from overseas, and the other with our own people who wish to take holidays, either in this country or abroad. There is one set of people whose business it is to look after both these sections of the tourist industry—that is, the travel agents. I think we can say with truth that the travel agents in this country comprise a hard-working, efficient and reputable profession. I am glad to be able to inform your Lordships that there has been in the last few months an amalgamation of the two main bodies connected with travel—the Association of British Travel Agents and the Institute of Travel Agents. I feel that this is an excellent thing, because it means that in future the great majority of travel agents in this country will speak with one voice.

As a member of the Council of the new body, I should like to assure your Lordships that it is our aim to ensure the highest possible standards of integrity and good service among our members. We shall admit to membership only those who we are satisfied are going to keep up these high standards. I believe that more and more, as time goes on, the insignia of the Association of British Travel Agents, the compass rose, with the letters A.B.T.A. upon it, will become the hallmark of integrity. I think it is opportune to remark here how much better it is to leave an industry to put its own house in order rather than to introduce any system of Government licensing, such as was suggested at one time. I should also mention that it is the intention of A.B.T.A. to develop the institute side of its organisation in the shape of educational courses for young men wishing to improve their knowledge of the industry and possibly, later on, a series of examinations.

I should like to say a few words about what I have called the first part of the tourist industry—namely, the visitors from overseas. One of the most important things for visitors coming to this country is that their first impressions should be good. In that connection, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, on having introduced the Airports (Licensing) Bill. Your Lordships may remember that that was something I advocated a good many years ago, and I had begun to despair about anything being done. Time means nothing to a man who has been flying all night across the Atlantic, and it is essential that he should be able to get a drink, if he has had a rough passage or is late. The fact that he can get a drink when he arrives, whatever the time, is something that makes a good first impression.

We ought to have our "front doors" clean and tidy, and well painted. Are all our "front doors" above reproach? Some of them are excellent. In Southampton we have the finest ocean terminal in the world. The new London Airport buildings, although not yet complete, are something of which we can be proud, though it will be some years before the Atlantic lines get over to the new centre. Much improvement has taken place at Plymouth, too, but there are still black spots in our ports. I think Harwich is about the worst, and I beg the Government to do something about that port. Facilities are so bad that often foreign visitors miss the first boat train to London, which is very irritating for them and gives a very bad first impression, particularly if they have friends meeting them on arrival at Liverpool Street. Another port where improvements are necessary is Folkestone. I am glad to see that something has been done about the Irish Pier at Liverpool, but the facilities at the ocean landing stage are still far below what they ought to be for one of our major ports. In making these criticisms, let me make it clear that I am criticising only the "front doors". I think that the doorkeepers, in the shape of customs officers and immigration officers, set an example of courtesy throughout the world—even on the rare occasions when they not only have to remove the hats and coats of visitors but also their shirts. As my noble friend Lord Furness has mentioned, one thing which causes some irritation in the travel industry is the 5s. airport charge. The whole industry would very much like to see it abolished.

I am not going to say much about hotels because that aspect has been dealt with thoroughly by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt. As a member of the travel industry, may I say how much we appreciate the great work the noble and learned Earl has done as President of the British Travel and Holidays Association? His presence at travel occasions in this country is frequent, and he has made a great name for himself in the tours which he has made of various parts of the world. We hope he will long continue as President of B.T.H.A. As the noble and learned Earl has said, the building of a modern hotel is not an economic proposition to-day without some outside or Government help. Anyone who travels about the world, as I do, will see in many other countries, particularly in Spain, magnificent hotels that have been built with Government assistance. The tourist is bound to compare the hotels in this country unfavourably with hotels in countries where this is being done. I think that more could be done in taking off purchase tax on equipment and furnishings. A little has been done, I know, but to my mind not nearly enough.

Before I sit down I should like to say a word about our own people travelling abroad. Of course, we should all like to see the restrictions on travel allowances abolished altogether, and I feel that the time is not far off when that could be done. It is most serious that there is not even a small travel allowance for travellers to Canada and America. If these restrictions were abolished, I do not think it would involve any great drain on the dollar resources of this country. Surely at this time it is vital for the English and American peoples to understand each other. It is impossible for young men and women to learn anything about America when they have only garbled versions from films and novels. In many cases people travelling to Australia or New Zealand have to go by the Panama Canal when they would prefer to cross America and spend a few days there, an impossibility at present because they cannot get any dollars. If they had a small allowance, so that they could feel independent, many people would be prepared to accept invitations from American friends; but they feel they cannot do so if they have no pocket money whatsoever.

I am sure that we are most grateful to my noble friend Lord Furness for having initiated this debate. I should like to give him every support, and to say how grateful those of us in the travel industry are to him.

House adjourned during pleasure and resumed by The LORD CHANCELLOR.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, in the few words that I shall address to your Lordships this afternoon I should like to support the remarks of my noble friend Lord Furness. We are all much indebted to him for raising this question, because the tourist industry, as previous speakers have said, is of paramount importance to this country. It brings in the greatest amount of dollars we earn. With regard to hotels, I would point out that there has been a great improvement in hotels and restaurants in this country over the last few years. When I had the pleasure of taking part in previous debates on this subject we had rationing of vital materials such as linen and crockery, and there were difficulties in obtaining licences to paint and repair. Luckily, we have now passed that period But there is still a heavy purchase tax on vital raw materials, and I hope that something may be done to overcome that difficulty in the future.

As the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, and the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, said, we cannot increase the tourist traffic unless we increase bedroom accommodation. It is appalling to know what it costs to build a modern hotel today. I believe that only two or three have been built in this country since the war. There is a new one in Bond Street, most of the capital being held by our American friends; I believe that one in Coventry which was bombed has been rebuilt, and perhaps a few small ones with about twenty bedrooms. We have to get down to the problem of reducing the cost of building hotels, and especially extensions for bedrooms. A great deal has been done in the building industry by prefabrication. I would ask the Government whether they can help, with the scientific laboratory which we have for building research, in seeing if more cannot be done for these hotels by way of prefabrication, thus cutting down the cost. In my view, that is where our best chance lies. Also (and this is a matter with which we shall have to deal at a later stage) there are the restrictive practices and rings in the building industry, and particularly the tight ring in rainwater goods and goods which are much needed for sanitation, for extra bathrooms, and so on. The prices of rainwater goods and sanitary goods are high, and they will have to be looked at. I feel that we should do something on the line of trying to get the building costs reduced. It is nearly impossible to build a hotel today and be able to let the rooms at prices that people can afford to pay. And, unless we can provide more rooms, obviously we cannot increase our tourist traffic.

Then there is the vital question of staffing the extra rooms, if we are able to build more hotels and extensions to present hotels. I would ask the Government whether they would consider "letting up" a little on allowing French and Italian cooks to come into this country. I understand that at present that is permitted only on an exchange basis. That is all very well if we can find people interested in going to those countries to learn the art of cooking, and especially to France, where their art is much greater than ours in that line; but if we cannot find the people to go there, then I feel we should consider allowing a few more young French cooks to come into this country. What I have been told—and I believe it is correct—is that there is a shortage of staff in hotels. A good job of work was done, and is being done, by the London County Council in training men as cooks, and in other trades necessary for hotels, but there are not anything like enough, and there do not seem to be enough people going into the industry—possibly because they are attracted by the higher wages in other industries. We must face that point and consider allowing more cooks to come into this country. It is also important that we train more of our own cooks to a higher standard of cooking. We have excellent food in this country if only it is presented in the proper way. With those few words, I should like to support the noble Viscount, Lord Furness, and also to welcome the Bill which was introduced by my noble friend Lord Mancroft for the licensing of airports, which I am sure will help a great deal.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, I gladly join with noble Lords who have already spoken in supporting the suggestion put forward by my noble friend Lord Furness. One phrase used by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, has stuck in my mind. He said that we must all become much more tourist-minded. It is, after all, the attitude of mind of all of us that is important in increasing this trade. A few months ago I had the privilege of being one of a mission invited to Switzerland by the International Parliamentary Union, under the leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Burden. I (and I am sure this applies to the other members of the mission) was greatly struck by the attitude of mind of all the Swiss people in relation to the people visiting their country. Wherever they were and whatever they did, whether they worked in the fields, in the forest, in the factory or in the transport system, they strove by their personal activity to show their immense pride in their own country. They could not do enough to make their particular job as near perfect as possible, and whenever one approached them they always gave the maximum of information. I believe that is what the noble and learned Earl had in mind when he spoke about the necessity of our becoming much more tourist-minded.

As we all well know, the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who is to reply, is an extremely persuasive speaker, and I should like to switch on the wireless fairly regularly and hear the noble Lord addressing the country and encouraging the people to become different in their attitude and outlook to the tourist business. I am sure the noble Lord could do a lot, for example, to explain that the welcome of people to these shores is not encouraged when they get stuck up, as so many of them do—and we do, too— with the vast accretion of chewing gum thrown on the railway platforms, in subways and all over the place. We do not see this kind of thing in other countries and we should not see it here. I appeal to the noble Lord to use his power to get on to the wireless and to lead a campaign for a change in the attitude of mind, so that more people may be encouraged to come here and so that this important trade may grow considerably.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, I am prompted, by what was said by my noble and learned leader and by the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, to say a word or two in support of the general theme of encouraging the tourist industry. It is true that one of the advantages is that the tourist industry brings in dollars, but I should not like to think that it was merely the dollar aspect that was persuading us to encourage this industry. I believe that far more value is to be obtained from the fact that people come over and see us in our homes, and see the kind of life that we live, for that encourages the good will and friendship that we are so anxious to encourage. I do not think even the powers of oratory of the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, could possibly describe the hair-raising experience of travelling by road from Fort William to Mallaig: only those who have done it can know what a fearful experience it is. I heard a story to the effect that on one occasion during an Election, when the candidate was compelled to go round that constituency, his chauffeur took him as far as Mallaig but preferred to throw up his job rather than take the candidate back again.

One thing I want to say. The noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, is probably aware that some time ago in Glasgow a large hotel, built specifically as a hotel, closed its business in order that a large firm—and I agree it is a firm that ought to be encouraged—could take over the building for office purposes. I am wondering whether a word could not be said to the planning committees of our towns and cities in Scotland to suggest that they should consider whether it is always desirable to allow a hotel to be used as offices, rather than remain as a hotel. I think I am also right in saying that at St. Andrews there appears to be a difficulty in keeping some of the hotels open as hotels. There, too, perhaps, the local authority could do something to encourage the continuance of these hotels.

There is one other thing I should like to say. In Glasgow we are now fortunate in possessing a hotel school which is doing admirable work and attracting an excellent quality of students for the purpose of learning the intricacies of the hotel industry as a whole. So far as my knowledge goes, that school is doing most valuable work which is appreciated by the hotel industry. For these reasons, I should like to support the noble Viscount, Lord Furness.

4.21 p.m.


My Lords, some three or four years ago my noble friend Lord Furness made his maiden speech upon the very subject of the tourist industry. By happy coincidence, I chanced that day to follow him in the debate, and had the honour to congratulate him on the excellent speech he gave us. So it is for me particularly satisfactory that I should be answering the noble Viscount to-day. It also gave me the chance of indulging in the purifying experience of re-reading my own speech, to make quite sure that I said nothing then which was likely to be at direct variance with the observations I intend to offer your Lordships this afternoon. I am happy to say that I have a fairly clear conscience.

As my noble friend Lord Furness said in his remarks, the Government are in a difficulty on this subject because, of course, they are not directly responsible for everything that has been touched upon in the course of this debate. I am not trying in any way to rid myself of any awkward problem, but I thought I must warn your Lordships that I cannot answer all the questions that have been put to me, simply because it is not within the power of the Government to know the answer or forecast the future. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, made it perfectly clear that the Government should not come any nearer to the industry than they are at the moment. Of course, the Government are acutely interested in the tourist industry—and why indeed not? As has been brought out in this debate this afternoon, our tourist industry now claims, I think with some justification, to be almost our highest net earner of dollars. The figures which two or three noble Lords have given, showing a rise of from 500,000 visitors in 1937 to about I million now, and earnings of £43 million then to about £136 million now, make that point perfectly clear.

What the effect of the strike has been is, I am afraid, anybody's guess. It clearly has been most unfortunate, and not only in money. I have seen a figure of 3 million dollars mentioned, but with what authority I know not. Nor can one forget the loss in goodwill. I heartily endorse the remarks of the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, which he offered to your Lordships on this subject. I also endorse the remarks of my noble friend Lord Wolverton, who drew quite correctly the deduction from these figures that our tourist industry has increased and improved beyond all recognition in the last few years. I think it is important that that should be said, because it is always the grumblers who get heard more clearly than those who speak with approval. The evidence available shows quite clearly that foreigners in their thousands are approving the efforts we have made to give them a better welcome in this country.

But, as I say, the Government cannot take all the credit for this, because most of the industry is, of course, in private hands. It is difficult to answer for a partnership and, therefore, I must straight away pay a tribute—and I do it most willingly—to the industry for the way in which they have tackled their job, and also to the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, and his fellow travel agents for the way in which they have helped. Lastly, I pay my tribute to the British Travel and Holidays Association, and with it to the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, for the work they have done. Your Lordships are frequently brought into touch with their work through their publication Coming Events which has a place in our Library—and an excellent publication it is—and which tells abroad the story of Britain in a most admirably clear and persuasive way. The British Travel and Holidays Association is not a Government Department at all. It is the chosen agent of the Government for tourist publicity and propaganda overseas. I should like to join in my tribute to the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, and to the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, Chairman of our Scottish allies. It is only a coincidence that makes us unable to complete the trilogy in that the chairman of the Welsh board is not a member of your Lordships' House.

The grant which the Government give to B.T.H.A. has recently risen from about £600,000 in 1950 to nearly £775,000 this year. That, I think, shows how anxious the Government are to help wherever possible. There are a wide variety of ways in which the Government can help the tourist industry, and I will try and touch upon a few this afternoon. That help can vary from the roads programme (which was elaborated in some detail yesterday by my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport) to the new Licensing Bill which I had the honour to introduce into your Lordships' House this afternoon and which I am grateful to learn has found favour in your Lordships' eyes. I think it will materially increase the considerable amenities already available at London Airport, in particular—of course, I do not forget Prestwick.

I think that London Airport is going to increase greatly our travel amenities, The new scheme went through its teething troubles, of course. By coincidence, I happened to go through London Airport on the first day the new terminal buildings opened. It took me eighty minutes to fly from Dublin to London, and eighty-five minutes to get from one side of the terminal buildings to the other. It is now much improved, and is working smoothly and giving great satisfaction to travellers who use it. I am quite certain that the addition of these new facilities will make it even more popular.


May I ask a question which I do not think has been mentioned? Will the noble Lord also consider the question of export shops, such as one sees at many foreign airports, so that travellers who are leaving this country can, without paying purchase tax at all, buy goods from these shops and take them abroad. Might that point be considered?


I will certainly consider it, but, speaking quickly and without reference to the book. I think it is much easier to have such shops at airports dealing only with transit passengers. I believe there is one at Prestwick which works satisfactorily. At an airport like London, which has a mass of passengers, travellers, visitors and sightseers, the difficulty is greater, and I gather that the restrictions might have to be considerable.

I turn now to the main subject of the noble Viscount's Question, hotels. Of course, I accept at once the premise on which the noble Viscount, Lord Furness, has based his argument. There is, indeed, a danger of the shortage of accommodation limiting the number of visitors whom we might otherwise attract to these shores. That is particularly so in London and in centres of tourist attraction like Edinburgh. The B.T.H.A. have given us a figure of 5,000 additional rooms required, of which probably 2,500, or nearly 3,000 are required in London alone. As the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, and the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, said, we also require far better sanitary conditions than the average hotel in this country can yet provide. The hotel industry has been through a very difficult time. Many hotels on the south coast and others were hit in the blitz. They have had to put up with restrictions and rationing. Building licences, however, are not now required. It is therefore not so easy to tell your Lordships what progress has been made in the reconditioning, repair and rebuilding of hotels. There have been two valuable additions, the Westbury, in Bond Street, and the Leofric. One noble Lord referred to the Leofric Hotel put up in Coventry by Ind. Coope and Allsop. I myself have visited these hotels, and they both do everybody great credit. General improvement there undoubtedly has been throughout the whole of the hotel industry. Cooking and hygiene are much improved, although I readily admit there is room for still more improvement.

Your Lordships may be interested to know that the number of students taking courses in hotel management and catering has increased from 1,500, just after the war, to about 8,000 now. I think that illustrates the interest which the trade is taking in improving its own capacity. The many excellent hotels, even small ones, which are now improving every day, I think only serve to show up some of the disgracefully bad hotels which, alas! still exist in this country. Hotels need not be "Grand Babylons" in order to be first-class. Many of us who travel about in this country know very small hotels which have a standard of excellence unrivalled throughout the world, and they shame others which have not attained that standard. It is not great expenditure that necessarily makes them first-class hotels; it is mainly their excellent service. We all have our personal foibles. I personally can never see why a small hotel cannot provide China tea to attract those to the hotel who do not like tea that is strong enough to trot a mouse on. I use an electric razor, and I become infuriated with the hotel that requires me to dismantle the whole electrical system of the hotel before I can plug it in. The difficulty lies in the English habit of not complaining when dissatisfied. We take too much for granted. The best method of improving the few hotels in this country which still fall below standard is for those who use them to make their voices clearly heard when they are dissatisfied with the services which they receive. It is not a thing which the Government themselves can improve.

May I now touch on railway hotels and railway catering, because this marches very much with the thesis of the noble Viscount, Lord Furness. I think that in railway catering, in both food and accommodation, great improvements have been made in the last two or three years. A number of hotels owned by British Railways have been renovated and do good business. Cafeterias at main-line stations are now replacing the dingy dining rooms. Something like fifty buffet and cafeteria cars are now in operation on the main lines to supplement the restaurant cars for those who do not like a restaurant car service or cannot afford it, because undoubtedly it is expensive, though not so expensive as many of the similar services abroad. I think that, on the whole, the quality of the meals served on the railways has also improved a great deal in the last two or three years. We ought to pay tribute to the railways for that, although they still occasionally serve up a stew that defies analysis, or a piece of cod that passeth all understanding. But, on the whole, the standard has gone up very much in the last two or three years. The Commission are well aware of their responsibilities in this matter and are reviewing their programme to see, as a long-term policy, whether there is a demand for more hotels under their ownership.

What can the Government do to help? The Government have no direct control of the industry; it is completely independent. Hotels value their independence. There is, however, one thing that the Government can do to help, and I am certain that this is a point which will appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill: the Government can get out of hotels. A hotel is not the right place for a Government Department anyway. Since the war, 4,170 hotels, restaurants, boarding-houses, hostels and holiday camps have been released from requisition. There are, so far as I can ascertain, only twelve hotels and boarding-houses now under requisition, and we are trying to reduce that number as fast as we can. I would also acid, for the information of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, that there are one or two hotels under requisition, some old-fashioned, seaside hotels, the return of which to their owners would be somewhat of an embarrassment. That is something that one should bear in mind when one hears of hotels occupied by civil servants and Government officers.

Of course, the Government appreciate the difficulties which the hoteliers still have to face. We are familiar with the problems they naturally put forward time and time again. There is the question of subsidies, and rivals abroad being able to build hotels on lease-lend; there is the question of purchase tax on the tools of their trade; there is the question of taxation on building improvements, and there is the question of the Catering Wages Act. All these things are painfully familiar. The Government appreciate the troubles of the hoteliers. But sympathy is not enough, though I think the hotel industry, in its turn, is well aware of the Government's difficulty in meeting the industry's requests in this respect. It just cannot be done. I presume that another inquiry will have to be held, now that the Royal Commission's Report on Taxation of Profits has been published, but it would be dishonest of me to suggest that in any of these things I can foresee any major concession at the moment.

I now turn to another subject where the Government have an interest, and that is the question of the railway services, with which the visitor to this country meets at an early stage in his travels. Again, the British Transport Commission are well aware of their duty towards tourists; they are doing everything they can to make British railways more attractive to the tourist, and are improving train services as well as they can. Only two or three days ago a new express train, the South Wales Pullman, was put on from Paddington to Cardiff and Swansea. Railway stock is being modernised. In 1954, over 2,000 new coaches were put into service, which was twice the rate of the previous year. The programme for 1955–56 provides for no fewer than 4,000 new vehicles. Your Lordships will be aware of the proposed express diesel services between Edinburgh and Glasgow, between Birmingham and Swansea and between London and Hastings. From a long-term point of view, under the railway modernising plan, the Commission propose to build about 31,000 new passenger carriages at a cost of £230 million. I think those figures show that British Railways are well aware of their obligations towards the tourist industry.

There is one more point which is always a subject of criticism, and that is the cleanliness of railway carriages. The real difficulty is shortage of labour. A total of £1 million will be spent in this current year on mechanised cleaning arrangements. I very much hope that that will have some effect. Also, £1,200 million are to be spent by the railways on modernisation in the next fifteen years. Obviously, that will have a most marked effect on the tourist industry.

I turn now to another point which several noble Lords have raised, and that is the welcome which the foreigner gets at our "front door," as the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, called it. Here, I wholeheartedly agree with him. I admit that all is not well at Harwich. That is perfectly true. I am already having an inquiry made to see how we can improve the facilities available to the visitor arriving at Harwich. The immigration officers and the other authorities do everything they possibly can to minimise the delay and inconvenience. Constant experiments are being made. I must remind your Lordships that one kind of action may not provide the solution for another. What will satisfy the Harwich-Hook service will not be the answer on the Transatlantic service. But the immigration authorities, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, are looking into this matter the whole time and doing their best to meet the justified complaints which the noble Lord told us that travellers do make.

Southampton, as your Lordships know, has a new Ocean Terminal which was opened in 1950 and has proved a great success, and in the near future they will be finishing the new quayside accommodation for the South African trade: it will be completed, I think, at the end of this year. Plymouth has had restored a passenger ocean terminal opened a year or two ago. This also has proved a success. The Commission are planning to reconstruct the riverside quay at Hull. At Dover, the terminal car ferry, which cost about £750,000, is working well and taking cars through at the rate of about 240 an hour. It has been very well received by the tourists. At Newcastle, there has been completed a new passenger terminal which cost about £40,000 and which, incidentally, was modelled on the Southampton terminal. In London, the Port of London Authority also have a reconstruction programme. At Tilbury, they are putting in a new berth and a new passenger landing stage, costing about £1½ million, which will be completed in August of next year. I give those few examples of places which are familiar to travellers to show that at all places where the "front door" is open to the traveller we are doing our best, and, I am quite certain, will continue to do our best, to give the traveller the best welcome that we can. I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Sempill, puts things too much in my hands if he suggests that I can do anything at all about chewing-gum.

Another aspect in which, I think, the Government can help is by taking an active part in international conferences to seek means of reducing international tourist confusion and misunderstanding. In this respect the Government are taking every opportunity they can to attend any international conference or participate in any international organisation that may lead to greater travel facilities. Progress has been made to a certain degree in getting rid of visas, and, as your Lordships know, there have been increased customs facilities for tourists. More than one noble Lord has mentioned the one day no-passport trips. This scheme got off, I am afraid, to a bad Press—a little unfairly I thought. Much fun was made of the time it took to fill up the requisite form. I have one of the tickets here, if your Lordships would care to look at it afterwards. I timed myself in filling it up and I found that I took four and a half minutes. I am allergic to forms and, somehow or other, usually fill them in wrongly. I feel that some of the reports about these particular tickets are a little exaggerated. In any case, the French coming across here have a more elaborate procedure than we have. I do not hold out a great deal of hope for any considerable extension of the scheme. At the moment I do not see any chance of it extending over the one day. Such extension as is possible will certainly be investigated, but I do not see this scheme developing into a really big tourist attraction in the near future.

I have touched on only a few subjects, but I am certain that had my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara been here, he would have told me that I had touched on too many. I have mentioned the ones where the Government have some responsibility. I hope I have given no impression that Her Majesty's Government are complacent about the tourist industry. We are eager to do everything possible to help, encourage, support and foster the industry. The industry has indeed made great improvement—we can all see that with our own eyes. We can also see that there is room for further improvement. I welcome the concrete suggestions that have been made in the debate. I think the tourist industry too often suffers from wide and rather wild generalisations. A bad meal served at some hotel produces a letter to the local Press which results in a general attack on all such hotels which is usually quite unjustified.

I think it is a wise move to concentrate on the things about which we have evidence that there is need for improvement. As the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, wisely said, tourism is one of our great national assets, and Her Majesty's Government are only too happy to play their full part—to put it at its crudest—at selling these assets to the greatest number of buyers we can persuade to come and look at our shop window. We do that not only because we certainly need the cash but also because the more people who come to Britain, the better for us and the better for them.


Before the noble Lord sits down, may I point out that I do not think he has answered one question raised by the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery. Perhaps he can give us some information on this question, which is one that interests me very much. It deals with the fourteen miles of road which ought to connect Loch Rannoch with the main road running through Glencoe, thus opening up a most beautiful part of the Highlands which is not open at the moment. I, and I am sure Lord Rosebery, would be interested to know whether the noble Lord could give us a word of encouragement about it.


I was just about to draw that matter to the attention of my noble friend.


I am sorry I have been caught out. I was well aware of the fact that I had not mentioned that matter. The noble Lord, Lord Hawke, and I have been looking at the map in my diary, but we cannot find the road.


It does not exist; that is the trouble.


We cannot then find where the road should be. I am afraid I cannot deal with that point now, but I will certainly make it my business to find out the whole story and to see whether there is an answer.


Could the noble Lord mention a word about the 5s. airport charge?


That matter was raised recently in another place, and, if I may, I will let the noble Lord have the answer which my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport gave on it. I am well aware of the irritation that is caused by it.