HL Deb 18 November 1959 vol 219 cc695-721

2.56 p.m.

LORD GIFFORD rose to call attention to the economic and social benefits arising from the extension of the holiday season, and to urge Her Majesty's Government to introduce legislation to change August Bank Holiday from the first Monday to the last Monday in August as a major contribution towards this end; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, My motion is really in two parts. The first is in general terms, and calls attention to "the economic and social benefits arising from the extension of the holiday season." May I first remind your Lordships that the whole pattern of holidays has altered completely in the last 20 or 30 years. Because of the greater prosperity, and the fact that nearly everyone receives holidays with pay, more and more people take their holidays away from home each year. It is estimated that 25 million, or nearly 50 per cent. of the population, do so at the present time. Unfortunately, far too many people try to take their holidays during the peak period; that is, in late July and early August. This causes appalling problems for anyone connected with the travel industry. The British Travel and Holidays Association have played a leading part in co-ordinating the views of interested bodies, and I should like to quote some of these.

In May, 1958, under the auspices of the Board of Trade and the British Travel and Holidays Association, an important conference was held at the Board of Trade at which every subject in con nection with tourism was discussed; and I think I am right in saying a Minister presided at each session. The whole of one of these sessions was devoted to the problem of spreading the holiday season. The discussion was opened by Mr. Cooper-Key, M.P., the chairman of the All-Party Tourist and Resorts Committee. He stressed the enormous cost of re-equipping industry to-day with modern machinery, and pointed out that this was economical only if the machinery was made full use of by adopting the shift system, and so on. In the same way, my Lords, hotels cannot possibly afford to modernise and buy new plant if they are going to use it fully for only about two months of the year.

Mr. Victor Feather, the Assistant Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, stated that his view and the view of his colleagues on the T.U.C. was that the present period with regard to holidays was ridiculous: that for six to eight weeks boarding-houses were full to overflowing—often including the bathroom. He knew of cases where two married couples, complete strangers to each other were asked to share, and did share, a double room. The prices at that time are at their highest and comfort is at the lowest. My Lords, we can hardly blame the landlady, who has to make in a matter of six or eight weeks a livelihood to last her the whole year: it is very tempting to her to squeeze the orange as hard as she can, when she can. At any rate, Mr. Feather took the view that within industry itself there would be support for what the T.U.C. thought ought to be done about the holiday season: that is, to extend it over June, July, August and September, rather than having to grapple with it in the last two weeks of July and the first three weeks of August.

Various representations and suggestions were made. The first was that efforts should be made by propaganda to overcome the conservatism (I use that term not in a political sense) of the British people, whose minds tended towards August as the holiday month. Managements also tended toward the traditional idea of a works holiday at that time. Help was required from the education authorities and in this respect it was understood that the West Sussex authorities are arranging to stagger their holidays—and this is a step in the right direction. In this respect, incidentally, Mr. Feather went further than I do. He favoured a fixed holiday on the second Monday in June, instead of Whit Monday, and another fixed bank holiday in September, instead of the August one.

The Association of British Travel Agents, at their convention at Harrogate last month, made what was called "the spreading of the holiday season" one of the main themes. They unanimously passed the following two resolutions, which I should like to read. The first was: That this Association, having regard to the economic and other benefits to be derived by holidaymakers generally from a steady deployment of holiday facilities throughout a full holiday period, favours all possible action to encourage the taking of holidays outside the existing peak period. Furthermore this Association would call for assistance from all other bodies who may be concerned with this matter, or who may by Their own decisions be able to help to encourage a spreading of the holiday season". The second resolution, my Lords, was this: That as a contribution towards the spreading of the holiday season, this Association would support efforts to change the August Bank Holiday from the first to the last Monday in August". The Council of this body, of which I am a member, intend to pursue the whole question energetically, and they have asked all members of the Association to make every effort, however small it may seem, on their own initiative to further the common cause in the general interests of all.

British European Airways have made strong representations in favour of spreading holidays. They say that it would make a vast difference to their economy if they could fill empty seats in May, June and September with passengers turned away in July and August. I will not weary your Lordships by quoting any more views, but will add only that many other bodies have given their support. In fact, I do not believe that anyone in his right mind could disagree with the contention that spreading of the holiday period would be of general benefit.

My Lords, we now come to the much more difficult point of how this desirable state of affairs is to be brought about. There are a number of proposals which have been made, and which I intend to mention briefly. Some of them can be brought about by propaganda; some by inducements, such as cheaper prices in hotels and cheaper fares. Encouragement can be given to industrialists to spread their works holidays; and in this I feel that the British Employers' Confederation might well give a lead. Education authorities, as I have mentioned before, can help by staggering school holidays and allowing children a limited amount of time off during term time for the purpose of going away on holiday with their parents—not of course when they are just coming up for examinations, but in cases where it can be done without undue detriment to the child. I might say that in this matter of holidays a number of European countries have gone further than we have.

Some of your Lordships may not be aware that an Act to fix the date of Easter on the first Sunday after the second Saturday in April was passed in 1928 and can be brought into operation by an Order in Council approved by both Houses of Parliament. A fixed Easter would greatly help the tourist industry, and I suggest that this matter might be given further consideration, since it is more than 30 years since the Act was put upon the Statute Book. There is also the question of extending Summer Time to the end of October, a matter which is, I understand, being considered by the Government. It has always been slated that the main objection to any extension of Summer Time is the opposition expressed by the agricultural community. The National Farmers' Union have, however, stated their readiness to accept an extension of Summer Time for two or three weeks in October if the Government think fit, in the public interest, to take such action. Perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, will be good enough in his reply to say something about this point.

In the second part of my Motion, I am asking for Government action on only one specific point. I have done this because it seems to me that the alteration of the date of the August Bank Holiday is the simplest and most straightforward of all the measures which can be taken to ease what I have tried to show is an appalling problem. In the case of the August Bank Holiday, there are no religious aspects such as might complicate the taking of action in regard to Easter Monday or Whit Monday. I have been modest in my request, and am asking merely that this Bank Holiday should be postponed until the last Monday in August. A date at the middle or end of September would be even better for the object in view, but might cause difficulty with regard to school holidays. August is a month, when families traditionally go away together. Another small point is that if the bank holiday remained within the month of August there would be no need to change the name.

My Lords, when the Bank Holidays Act was passed in 1871 only a very few people took a long holiday away from home, so that the fact that August Bank Holiday came just after the end of the school term had no real significance. Gradually, however, August Bank Holiday has become the central date to which the public relate the times of their annual holidays. The reason was, first, an economic one: that holidays were unpaid, and workers preferred a week when, in any case, they lost one day's work. With the coming of holidays with pay, the economic reason has disappeared, though many people like to stretch their week's holiday to ten days by taking the period just prior to bank holiday.

It is generally considered that a change such as I suggest, to the last Monday in August, would tend to split the present high peak at the end of July—this enormous high peak—and would create two lesser peaks, one at the beginning of August and one at the end, which would be easier to cope with. Moreover, such a change would separate the August Bank Holiday week-end traffic from the main traffic of people going away for their longer summer holidays. Surveys made by the British Travel and Holidays Association show that a large number of holidaymakers during the peak period were not tied at all to any particular holiday date, and the measure recommended would undoubtedly influence this section of the public.

I need hardly enlarge on the difficulties of the present arrangement. They must be quite obvious to your Lordships; hotels and boarding-houses uncomfortably crowded; packed trains; queues for buses and coaches; above all, traffic jams and nose-to-tail driving on all roads to the coast. With more and more people buying their own cars, this situation will get rapidly worse, and may easily result in a complete freeze-up on the roads unless some drastic action is taken.

Full support for the proposal I am putting forward has been given from many quarters, and I should like to read some replies to a memorandum on the subject sent out by the British Travel and Holidays Association. The first is from British European Airways. They say: This recommendation has B.E.A.'s full support and you can depend on us to help you in any way with negotiations with the Government or any other body. You may quote B.E.A. as saying that if we could break our peak, particularly on such routes as the Channel Islands, we could reduce our fares, which would, of course, be not only of great benefit to the travelling public but also the hoteliers. The British Federation of Hotel and Boarding House Associations say: The British Federation of Hotel and Boarding House Associations will support you to the full in your efforts to induce the Government to make this change. A resolution to this effect was passed unanimously at our Annual Conference held in Paignton last October; as a matter of fact, the subject has figured on the agenda for our Conferences for the last three or four years, so you will see from this that my Federation would welcome a change very much indeed. The British Transport Commission say: You are quite at liberty to quote the B.T.C. as supporting your representations.

I will quote only one more, from the Workers Travel Association. They say: The Annual Meeting of shareholders of the Workers' Travel Association, held on April 4, 1959, passed the following resolution: 'That this Annual Meeting of the members of the Workers' Travel Association, convinced of the advantages to be derived from taking holidays away from home at times other than July and August, calls upon Her Majesty's Government, local and public authorities, and all interested organisations, to introduce measures designed to encourage more people to take holidays outside the peak periods; and further urges Her Majesty's Government to introduce legislation changing the date of the August Bank Holiday from the first to the last Monday in August'".

I think that I have said enough to convince your Lordships that my proposal is a sound one and has widespread support from many influential bodies, particularly those who have first-hand knowledge of the subject. The extension of the holiday season would not only result in a more prosperous holiday industry, better able to provide modern facilities, but provide to the holiday-making public a wider range of services at more economical prices, enabling a greater proportion of the population to take holidays away from home. As a first step towards this desirable end, I commend to your Lordships the proposal on the Order Paper, which I trust will meet with the approval of Her Majesty's Government. I beg to move for Papers.

3.14 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships will welcome the action of the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, in putting this Motion down for discussion to-day. It is a useful discussion and one which we can all approach, for once, from an entirely non-Party angle. However, we are not necessarily all agreed with the overall proposals that the noble Lord makes. He has suggested many factors which would be strongly in favour of a reorganisation of the general holiday arrangements in this country, but when I look at this in a wider sphere I assure the noble Lord that he will find a great many other contingent factors which would have to be overcome before any Government could get unanimous consent to any drastic legislation.

I am sure that most of us agree with the general observations that the noble Lord has made, but he was not clear about what period of the year he wants to cover. Would it be two or three weeks on the earlier side of the summer, or two or three weeks at the end of the summer, and only those periods; or does he want to spread it over the year in such a way that the travel industry—airways, railways, steamships and the like—are expected to get the benefit in their overall annual traffic? The noble Lord has not brought out clearly what he is really after. Alterations of this kind lead to much opposition. Mr. Willett had a long struggle, as noble Lords like the noble Earl, Lord Winterton, will remember, before he achieved the much smaller contribution to the general problem of introducing Summer Time. Many different factors were presented by different interests at that time, and I can assure the noble Earl who is going to reply to the debate that there will be many differences of opinion in the individual approach to this non-Party question which the Government will have to study carefully. I daresay that in our own ranks there are two or three varied opinions about what is best to be done.

The ordinary working-class household will want to do what they themselves want, and not something that has been engineered in order to secure facilities either for the hotel and boarding house industry or for the travel industry. They will want to do what they are accustomed to doing. Those workers who are largely confined during work will want to be able to secure their holidays in the best part of the year for the English climate. Moreover, industry has to take into consideration the economic question. I should be interested to learn from the noble Lord how it is proposed to do this. It was a great achievement for the trade union movement in this country when—first. I think, in the case of the Wakes in Lancashire—agreernent was reached between the trade unions and the employers to arrange the annual holiday periods so that factories and plant could be closed down economically.

The question of staggering holidays is an interesting one. Anybody who has had experience of the arrangements for staff holidays made by big offices, county councils and the Civil Service will be aware that every personnel officer or departmental head has been accustomed to staggering holidays for generations past. The list is passed round and members of the staff put down their preferences, although they do not always get the periods they desire. Nevertheless, the staggering of holidays in relation to departmental work is made. That side of it seems to be all right, but it appears to be much more difficult to arrange for the staggering of holidays on a national scale, unless there is overall agreement between industries so that every industry could close down at a time which would ensure the least possible economic loss.

If we look at the proposal from the point of view of travelling, this might be a desirable reform in some circumstances. My noble friend Lord Latham, who could not be here to-day but who would have liked to speak—I am a stopgap substitute for him in this debate—was at one time, as your Lordships will remember, Chairman of the London Executive, and in the course of that period there was a careful inquiry made in 1949 as to how this matter would spread. In case the noble Earl who is to reply does not happen to have this particular set of figures—although I am sure that he has been amply briefed in general by the Department—I will quote them. This inquiry was first held in 1949, and it showed that those who started their holidays in the months of January to May, or later in October, represented 13 per cent. of the population; that in June it was 14 per cent., in July, 29 per cent., in August, 30 per cent. and in September, 14 per cent. That was a survey over the period from January to the end of October.

The inquiry showed that the reasons given by people for taking their holidays in July and August were as follows. The first was that that was the time in which their place of work was closed for the purpose of giving factory holidays; and that accounted for 22 per cent. of the people who were taking holidays in these two months. Holidays by roster (that is, the kind of staggering arrangement I have already mentioned) accounted for only 9 per cent. of those who took holidays in these two particular months. Those who took these two months because of the disposition of school holidays also numbered only 9 per cent. of the total—that figure rather startled me, but it is so. Those who went at this period in order to fit in with other members of the party—that is, those who contributed to collective efforts for arranging the holiday period and going away together in parties—were 21 per cent. of those going away in July and August. Those who had other reasons for going at this time numbered 27 per cent. of the total going away in July and August, and only 12 per cent. had no special reason to go in that period. So the task of getting down to a further staggering of that arrangement is not so easy as it looks.

While I am certain that all noble Lords in the House would desire the Motion to be carefully considered by the Government, I think it would be less than honest for us not to point out, as individuals—and I speak solely as an individual—that there are certain snags to be overcome. Lest some noble Lords who are in general support of the noble Lord's Motion may think I am talking about something ten years old, I would repeat that we have ascertained through my noble friend Lord Latham, by consultation, that there was a further survey in 1955, only four years ago, and there has been practically no change in the proportions who select the months of July and August: that is, 29 per cent. and 30 per cent. respectively in the two months, or 59 per cent. total.

Generally speaking, therefore, while there is a great deal to be said for trying to stagger more and more the holidays, in the interest of the economic position of travel associations, looking at it as one interested in the distributive trade, for example, and as one who knows something about the general position of seaside resorts, as well as other types of populations, I am not so sure. Although the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, has quoted an important resolution from the Hotel and Boarding House Keepers' Associations I think that if we went too far in spreading this business there would be some areas of holiday resorts in this country which would not have a very good time.


My Lords, the noble Viscount will forgive me for interrupting. He spoke of the economics of the hotels and the travel people being affected. I would respectfully submit that it is also the economics of the holidaymakers themselves, because they can get cheaper prices for holidays in May, June and September than they do at the height of the season. So it affects the holidaymakers as well as the hotels and the travel people.


I have some little experience of looking at statistics of that. The old Workers' Travel Association and the Co-operative Travel Association have long since amalgamated into what is called "Travco". They have their hotels and their boarding houses all over the country—incidentally, I spent a pleasant holiday in a "Travco" hotel in Llandudno; and we are not on television, so your Lordships will forgive the small advertisement. But if you look at the charges in general of all who insert advertisements, how much difference do you see between April 1 and September 1? I have studied this carefully. You will find a few stray things here and there, but when it comes to April 1 and Easter, you may get a slight recession for the last two weeks of April and the first two weeks of May, but after that, no.


I can assure the noble Viscount that if he came into our travel office and spoke to one of our clerks he could show him any number of instances where the holiday is much cheaper.


I have no doubt that a clerk in the noble Lord's office is an estimable person, but I make my judgment on the published rates. So I think we have to be careful in our approach to the matter. I am sure we shall all approach this question as individuals and not as Parties; and as individuals I am sure we all desire to get the best possible arrangement in regard to spreading the holidays. But, first of all, it must be in the interests of the workers as much as in the interests of the travel associations; and whether it could be done on an economic basis for important industries, to maintain their employment at the highest state of production and efficiency, has also to be taken into account.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, talked rather light-heartedly, if I may say so, about the transfer of dates of recognised bank holidays. We know the old controversy, as he quite generously called it, about the fixed Easter. I do not think that that is by any means settled in people's minds at the present time, but what I do say, from my long experience of the working class, is that they look upon their fixed bank holiday periods as something sacrosanct. They want their bank holiday: and when you say, "Oh well, now they have holidays with pay it does not matter as much as it used to", believe me, because they have holidays with pay now they do not go without their free period with pay on the bank holidays.


I never suggested doing away with any bank holiday; I suggested only shifting the date.


But shifting the date also happens to interfere often with long-fixed practice in organised labour life. It may be that on inquiry and examination you may get even working-class associations to agree to the noble Lord's proposals on that matter. But I speak personally, and I am not yet completely convinced upon it. Therefore, my point of view as an individual—and, as I say, I approach this as an individual—is that while we should make what approaches we can in securing what is best for the people and for our industry as a whole, we should be careful not to do it solely from the point of view of easing the problems either of travel organisations or of hoteliers and boarding-house keepers. I have a great affection for the right of the English holidaymaker to choose, and I hope he will choose as far as possible holidays at home. It is good for our country and good for him that he should be able to choose those parts of our rather variable English season which will give him the greatest amount of sunshine and open air and the greatest amount, therefore, of body-helping strength as well as real leisure well spent.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, I rise also as an individual, and should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, for bringing forward this most interesting subject before your Lordships. The noble Viscount who has just spoken has suggested that the fixed practice among most people to go away on the first weekend of August is a sacred date which cannot be altered. That strikes me as rather a conservative attitude which I would not have expected from the noble Viscount.

Another view is that there is a long gap between the first Monday in August and Boxing Day which is the next bank holiday. I feel that most people in what we used to call the working-classes would not necessarily jib at an exchange of the first Monday in August for a Monday perhaps three weeks later, which would reduce that long period of work without any holiday at all. The noble Viscount also referred to the August holiday as being always the best weather. I am not sure about the statistics in that respect, but in the holiday part which I happen to know best, in the North-West of England, August is the worst month in the year for holidays. I notice the noble Lord agrees with me on that.

I will not say any more, except to ask the noble Earl who is to reply whether he could give a little information on a related point. I do not want to anticipate what he is going to say, but I imagine he might say that he is not convinced that there is any public demand for this sort of thing. It is much easier for the Government and those with the Government to find out what is in public demand than it is for those who are not in power. I wonder whether he could indicate to the House what steps are taken in questions like this which are put to the Government to find out whether public opinion is behind it or not? We can talk to our friends and to various people, as I am sure many of your Lordships have on this matter, and almost invariably we get the answer, "Yes, it is rather a good idea and should be tried out, particularly the bank holiday point." It is not long ago since I suggested that the political programme of this country should be altered so that the Members of both Houses might be given a holiday in June and July, and come back a little earlier to work in the autumn. Of course, the fiscal year would have to be changed, too. So far as I can make out, that received support from many quarters in which I put it. The reply which I received, which was a most courteous reply, of course, was that there was no indication that there was any demand for this. It was said that the Government would not mind looking at it again if there was a demand. Unless I go on pressing it I know the matter will be dropped and we shall hear no more about it.

It is only a few weeks ago since I addressed to the noble Earl who is to answer to-day the Question whether international relations and the prestige of this country would not be immensely improved by the abolition of the travel allowance, so that people could be on a better level abroad and should not be in the ignominious position in which many Britons find themselves. The answer was that this could not possibly be done; it was too difficult and the theory must be dismissed from my mind. That got a few lines in the newspapers. About a week ago Her Majesty's Government had the wonderful idea that it would be a good thing to abolish the travel allowance. That blazed on the headlines, and that is part of the Conservative Party programme for which they will take great credit. I am asking if the noble Earl could indicate to the House whether the Government can take steps to ascertain what public opinion is, without necessarily going to the country for a General Election.

3.34 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, has raised one of the most important subjects that we as a country have to face, and that is the whole question of how to even out the humps and bumps of the load on traffic. I am very grateful to him for doing it. I am certain that something has to be done. I could have understood his case better if he had advocated the abolition of all bank holidays, or at least three of them, Whit Monday, Easter Monday and August Bank Holiday, and had added three days every year to the annual holiday period.

I agree with what my noble friend has said. Folk must choose their holidays when it suits them best and when the weather is best. When is the best part of the year? I was hoping my noble friend was going to tell us, but he did not venture as far as that. It seems to me that the best part of an English summer varies every year. But there is a serious side to this question. If your Lordships will take your minds back to August Bank Holiday week-end of this year, you will recall that then we had an all-time accident peak. Must we look forward to breaking that record every bank holiday, or every other bank holiday? Surely it is not beyond the wit of man to even the load upon our roads better than this. I know that people will rush down to Brighton on a Sunday when the sun is shining. Some folk think that an ideal way of spending the day is to take four or five hours to get to Brighton, with their radiator on the exhaust pipe of the motor car in front. That is not my idea of pleasure, although it is, and will continue to be, for many people.

What we should try to do is to remove the artificial siphoning of traffic. How far can we do that? What would be against removing the three artificial funnels—the August Bank Holiday, the Whitsun Bank Holiday and the Easter Bank Holiday? Perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, will think of an answer, because I have not been able to think of one quickly. I can understand retaining Boxing Day and Good Friday, but I cannot understand retaining the others. Of course, the staggering of work is very difficult, as my noble friend has said. In Lancashire, they have got over the difficulty by the system of Wakes Weeks. If everybody in Lancashire went to Black-pool in the same week, it would be a pretty serious matter. They have had the sense there to stagger their holidays. The experience of the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, with regard to hotel prices is different from mine. They always seem to me far too high whenever I stay in a hotel, and they never seem to get less at any time of the year. Perhaps I stay in the wrong hotels.

I would ask the Government whether, in conjunction with all sides of industry, they can think of a method to even out the holiday load. That is what the noble Lord is really trying to get at. One has only to experience the Birmingham holiday fortnight in the Midlands, with the exodus from the West Midlands during the first fortnight in August, to appreciate the need. The roads are blocked. Take the seaside places. Some people think it nice to go down to the seaside and stand up on the sands because they cannot find room to sit down. We have had it in debate in your Lordships' House that you cannot get anywhere near a West Country watering place in the height of the holiday season in August. Surely that is bad for everybody. It is bad for safety, and it is bad for economics.

I do not believe in dragooning people to have their holidays at a particular time. I do not know what inducement you could make to persuade them to take their holidays in certain periods, but I think you might do away with the artificial funnelling of people. When they take their holidays in the August Bank Holiday period they usually get three extra days tacked on to their fortnight's holiday; that is why they do it. What schools could be induced to stagger their holidays? I know the answer is that if you stagger school holidays, then the teachers and staffs of schools will never get any holiday themselves.

I am not going to put forward any solution because I have not got one, but I think it should be within the wit of perhaps the Government to think, as someone has to think one day, how the traffic on the road system of this country (and that is what I am particularly in terested in at the moment in connection with the noble Lord's Motion) can be evened out—the traffic which at certain parts of the year and certain parts of the day creates these huge traffic jams, while at other parts of the week and other parts of the year and other parts of the day the roads are almost deserted. It may be that something can be done and that the new Minister of Transport will think of something, such as allocating various times for various sorts of traffic. I am not going to make that suggestion now, because that would be rather outside the noble Lord's Motion; but I hope, as the noble Lord, Lord Rea, said, that the Government will not just wave this away and say that there is no public demand for it. There is a public demand for the better use of the roads and there is a public demand that those roads should be made safer for those who use them.

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate, but having heard what I have I felt it incumbent on me to say a word or two in support of Lord Gifford's Motion. We heard the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, mention the staggering of holidays. I think that that is a very important point, if only, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, mentioned, with regard to the question of traffic problems. This business of traffic is a very difficult one, and I do not want to refer too much to it to-day because it is not really concerned with the debate. But this year I went by road for a short while to Devonshire and Cornwall. I was fortunate in that I went in the middle of the week, but even then the traffic was difficult and one was held up at such places as the turn off to Newton Abbott from, I think, A.38, the road to Plymouth. One was held up a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes. I well remember seeing in the papers following the bank holiday the queues, 18 miles long (I think I am right in saying), on either side of Exeter. I do not want the House to accept that figure because I may be wrong, but it was several miles long.

I believe the staggering of holidays would be a big help. I believe, too, that there is a point here; that people might perhaps consider taking their holidays from the middle of the week rather than the end, say, starting the holiday on Wednesday and finishing on Tuesday or Wednesday, again partly to avoid congestion on the roads. Here, if I may, I should declare an interest as President of an Association which runs a number of small hotels, the People's Refreshment House Association. While we are not affected quite so much by the holiday traffic as a number of other hotel associations are, it does affect us. I would suggest that it might ease the traffic problem if the change were made to Wednesday rather than Saturday. May I support very strongly what the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, said in his speech about the right of individual workers, and others alike, to choose the day on which they take their holiday? I think it is important, because they would consider beginning their holiday in the middle of the week rather than at the end. A number of them own their own cars and I am delighted that they should, and it might help ease the traffic problem in such places as Devonshire and Cornwall.


My Lords, I too had not intended to say anything in this debate. It seems to me that all the speakers so far have forgotten the fact that in Scotland there is no August Bank Holiday as such: each town adopts a different Monday throughout the holiday season and declares it a bank holiday. That system seems to work very satisfactorily North of the Border, and I cannot understand why much the same sort of system could not work down here. Also in Scotland, from the weather point of view, the best months seem without any shadow of doubt to be the first half of June and the first half of September. Year in and year out, August has the worst record from the point of view of rain. I do not know why there is such enthusiasm to visit Scotland during August. Another advantage of visiting Scotland in June and September is that hotel prices are 20 to 25 per cent. lower than in July and August. For all those reasons I think it would be a very good thing if the Government would consider either moving or making the August Bank Holiday a variable date during the course of the six holiday weeks.

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, I also had not intended to speak, but following on the remarks about Scotland I should perhaps say that both as a member of the Scottish Tourist Board and the British Travel and Holidays Association I strongly support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Gifford. Not only has Scotland no August Bank Holiday, but, following on what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said, Scotland has no Easter Bank Holiday, and no Whitsun Bank Holiday; nor is Good Friday observed as a holiday. Scotland has organised itself without these narrow funnels of holidays, and it seems that these things can be done in a pattern different from that followed South of the Border.

As regards widening of holidays, Scotland has made a very serious attempt to widen holidays, not only for a period of two or three months but for the whole twelve months. The economy of the Highlands has to some extent become dependent on the tourist industry, and the Highlands are finding that the idea of holidays at any time in the twelve months is becoming a practical possibility. The ski-lifts are being built, and the roads going in, and the tourists are beginning to come North and enjoy that tourist climate which the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, did not have in mind when he was referring to the summer months. It is of the utmost importance to the economy of the Highlands that the holiday season should be widened to the greatest possible extent, and that the crofters should be given the chance to gain the additional income which they must have for survival by bringing in tourists over four, five or six months and again in the winter months. The Scottish Tourist Board, with the help of Mr. Fraser, is now seeking to develop a widening period of tourism in the Highlands, and I would strongly support the Motion that everything should be done to widen the tourist season as much as possible.

3.49 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that I ought to ask for your Lordships' indulgence in replying to this debate, because it is always a little difficult for a Scotsman to understand why the English have this habit of taking a universal holiday on the day on which all the banks are shut; but I am a little encouraged by my two noble friends behind me, who have just made such useful contributions, if I may say so, to your Lordships' discussion.

The Bank Holidays Act of 1871 does establish five Bank Holidays in Scotland. One of them is the first Monday in August, and another is Whit Monday; but a Bank Holiday in Scotland means exactly what it says: it means a day on which the staff of all the banks in the country are given a statutory holiday. But nobody else in the country engaged in other occupations feels under the slightest obligation to keep them company. Public holidays in Scotland are fixed locally by the magistrates on a series of days throughout the spring, summer and autumn, and they are always arranged in such a way that the public holiday of one town does not coincide with the public holiday in any neighbouring town. I think that is a very good arrangement because it prevents an abnormal congestion at any given time. Even the Glasgow holiday does not create so much of a jam as it would do if it coincided with the public holidays of all the other cities in Scotland.

When the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, asks me whether I cannot think of some contribution towards solving this problem, I feel rather embarrassed. It it not for me to make the suggestion—I have no authority to do so—but would it not be possible for the English to consider doing what we all do in Scotland? There is, of course, one universal holiday in Scotland, which is New Year's Day, but that happens at a time of year when not many people want to travel, and there are sometimes a few of them who find it more convenient to spend the day in the same place in which they have seen in the New Year on the previous night.

When I looked up the English Statute Law on this subject I had at first supposed that there must be some statutory obligation in the Bank Holidays Act which entitled everybody, as of right, to have a holiday on the same day as the banks. But I found that that is not so at all; it is a purely voluntary procedure. I do not know whether it arises from some generous English impulse to prevent the bank managers from feeling lonely on their holiday, or what the reason may be; but anyhow, it is an English custom which is generally observed; and so long as the English persist in this determination to make their holidays as uncomfortable as possible, I doubt if it will make a great deal of difference whether this discomfort is endured in the first week of August or in the last week of August. Whichever date is chosen, it will, I think, very soon become impossible for an Englishman to get much further than his own front doorstep on an English bank holiday.

But the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, is anxious to mitigate this discomfort so far as possible, and I entirely sympathise with him in trying to do so. The changes the noble Lord proposes are supported, I think, by all the bodies and organisations representing the hotel industry, the catering trade and the travel agencies. They are supported by the British Federation of Hotel and Boarding House Associations, by the Workers' Travel Association, by the Caterers' Association and by the British Travel and Holidays Association, of the Council of which the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, is a member. He has referred to a conference on tourism which was held last year at which there seems to have been a fairly general consensus of opinion in favour of the change which the noble Lord has just advocated. Mr. Victor Feather, the assistant secretary of the T.U.C., was among others who argued in favour of eliminating the August Bank Holiday and establishing another fixed bank holiday in September. I do not think that any views contrary to what the noble Lord has said were expressed, and I think that the noble Lord and other noble Lords who have supported him have certainly made out a very substantial case.

What are the arguments on the other side? Your Lordships must often have noticed that when any change is being demanded by a number of people in the country, and when the Government show absolutely no sign of doing anything about it, the people who want the change to be made are the only people who do any talking. But as soon as the Government show any signs of yielding to the pressure, then all the people who are against the change begin to intervene in the debate, and public opinion no longer appears to be quite so unanimous as it was before. I think perhaps that among the interests that might possibly be adversely affected by a change such as the noble Lord has suggested is agriculture, which has a particularly busy time about the end of August. There are also a large number of sporting events which, for a long time, have been traditionally synchronised with the August Bank Holiday period at the beginning of the month, and which it might be difficult to alter.

Then, as the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition said, while organisations like the British Travel and Holidays Association, who are largely supported by Government funds and whose advice we always treat with great respect, are undoubtedly in a position to judge what in theory is best for the holidaymaker, we must also consider the views of the holidaymaker himself—the ordinary householder and his family who want to do what they have always been accustomed to do. The great bulk of English holidaymakers are, I think, apt to be conservative; a great many of them like going to places where there are holiday attractions arranged at a certain season, even if they have to suffer a certain amount of discomfort. I think we need to make quite sure that the majority of holidaymakers, who are the people most affected, would really think it worth while disturbing their accustomed holiday routine in order to gain what might perhaps be only a small mitigation of their annual discomfort—perhaps only a few drops of water to relieve the sufferings of the purgatory which they have imposed upon themselves—by shifting bank holiday to the end of August, when the weather may be just as bad as it usually is at the beginning of August, and when the evenings are beginning to get a good deal shorter.

I think the last occasion when legislation on this subject was proposed was at the beginning of 1952, when Mr. Keeling introduced in the House of Commons a Bank Holidays (Amendment) Bill to do what the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, suggests, but the Bill did not get as far as its Second Reading. A few months before that, in 1951, when the Labour Government were still in office, Colonel Lipton asked a Question [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 491, col. 237] of the Minister of Labour, who was then Mr. Robens—perhaps I should mention that at that time the Ministry of Labour was concerned with this matter, but it is now the Board of Trade: Whether, in order to ensure the more efficient staggering of holidays, he will introduce legislation to alter the dates of the Whitsun and August Bank Holiday to the last Monday in June and August, respectively. Mr. Robens replied: No. There is no general demand for such a change, and it is extremely doubtful whether it would in fact result in a greater staggering of annual holidays. Perhaps on the second part of that reply your Lordships might want to distinguish between the staggering of annual holidays, of a fortnight or whatever it may be, and week-end holidays. I believe that Mr. Robens was right in saying then, and that we should still be right in saying now, that a change in the date of the bank holiday would not have much effect, so far as we can see, on the staggering of annual fortnightly holidays; and the figures which the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, gave us a moment ago, which were drawn up in 1949 and confirmed in 1955, appear to strengthen that conclusion. I do not think it would make much difference to the staggering of such holidays.

When, however, we come to weekend holidays there is, of course, a little more to be said, because there are millions of people—and their numbers, I believe, are growing—who like to spend some weekends away from home; and one of the weekends which they are generally apt to choose is a hank holiday weekend—either Whit Monday or the first week in August—because the weekend is then lengthened by having the Monday added on to it. This means that the August Bank Holiday weekend produces an exceptionally large number of weekend holidaymakers who are superimposed upon the peak period of fortnightly, or long-term, holidaymakers at a period of the year when there is the maximum pressure not only on the roads but on hotels and boarding house accommodation. If we were to transfer the date of the bank holiday from the beginning to the end of August that might not relieve pressure to an enormous extent, but it would certainly relieve it to some extent, because the number of long-term holidaymakers at the end of August is not quite so great as it is at the beginning.

How are we to ascertain whether there is enough real demand among the public, the holidaymakers, who are the people whose interests are most affected, in order to justify contemplating a change of this kind? I am glad that my noble friend Lord Gifford referred to the question of Summer Time, although it is not on the Order Paper for this Motion, because it seems to me that the steps which Her Majesty's Government are now contemplating to ascertain public opinion about Summer Time might possibly form a precedent for a similar census of public opinion about this question of the bank holiday.

Recently—on November 5 —several Questions were asked in another place of the Home Department about their attitude to the demand for an extension of Summer Time. The reply which was given by my honourable friend the Under-Secretary to the Home Department was [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 612 (No. 11), col. 1176]: Further soundings of opinion seem desirable, and we propose to seek the views of a wide range of bodies concerned with industry, including the tourist industry, commerce and agriculture. If this can be done about Summer Time, perhaps a similar inquiry might also be held to ascertain public opinion about the date of the August Bank Holiday. It would, of course, have to include a much wider range of bodies than those which have already been mentioned, and perhaps even a cross-section of individuals. I have consulted the two Departments which I believe would be most concerned with this—the Board of Trade and the Treasury—and I am informed that both these Departments see no objection to such an inquiry being held. As it would cost a certain amount of money, they would naturally like to feel a little more sure that they would not be entirely wasting their time by bothering a great many people with questions in which they are not interested and which they do not wish to answer; and I feel that the greater is the public interest that is shown in this question, the more likely are Her Majesty's Government to take some action on these lines.

I was interested to hear the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Rea, in this debate. Incidentally, he seemed to think I had given him a very discouraging reply about travel allowances some little time ago. I do not think he quite represented the sense of what I told him then. Although I could not tell him that what he wanted was immediately going to happen I thought I left him with a reasonable amount of hope in his mind; and in regard to this question I will certainly do my best to see what can be done.

I feel it is significant that in this debate the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, has taken a balanced and impartial view—he has not come down against the idea—and all other noble Lords who have spoken have been, from one angle or another, in favour of some change being made. I will certainly represent that to my colleagues. I do not know whether or not your Lordships' debate will receive any publicity in the Press. I rather hope it may, because it would be interesting to see whether there is any public and Press reaction to what your Lordships have said, and whether there is any sign of strong public feeling in the matter.

What we all want to do—and what Her Majesty's Government most certainly want to do—is to take whatever action will give the greatest amount of pleasure to the greatest number of holidaymakers. We are anxious to consider the interests of everybody who is concerned, and I will certainly undertake to ask my colleagues to consider whether, on the evidence which your Lordships have provided in this debate, and the evidence they may have from other sources, they would feel it justifiable to conduct some inquiry into public opinion on the same lines as that which is now contemplated in regard to Summer Time.

4.9 p.m.


My Lords, I suppose that I ought to have spoken before the noble Earl the Minister. I have listened with great interest to this debate, and I am very glad that my noble friend Lord Gifford should have put it down. There are just one or two ideas which I believe will help in this whole situation. I entirely agree with the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, and the noble Lord, Lord Geddes. I believe that the Scottish way of dealing with this matter is worth pursuing and investigating a great deal more down here than it has been so far.

I do not know whether your Lordships have had the same experience as I have had, but I think that this trouble on the roads is going to cure itself. I know many people near where I live who, like myself, could not possibly be induced to go on the roads on certain days in the week or on these public holidays. They say that they have an absolutely miserable time doing what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has referred to, with their bonnets sticking against the exhaust pipe of the car in front, and hours of waiting; and I think they will do what I do. I do not go on the road more than I can possibly help. If I want to go any distance away I go by train, because then I do not have all that anxiety—and it is real anxiety. I drove the other day from where I live down to Southampton. I shall never do it again. I am very glad to be here after the dangers I went through, the frightful catastrophies that I just escaped. And it was not because I was going fast or because I was dodging about; it was the fault of the other people on the road.

So, my Lords, do not let us be in too much of a hurry about this matter. I think we should study the Scottish idea and find out whether that cannot be applied a great deal more down here than has been thought possible. Moreover, I feel sure that as the years go on we shall find that this fearful anxiety and misery which so many people go through will cure this terrible congestion on the roads. I hope that my noble friend who answered for the Government will rub in rather more than he has done what we do in Scotland, in the hope that that idea may be adopted here. I am very glad that my noble friend has raised this question, and it may go some way to help us out of the great and genuine difficulty. There is no Party question in it; we are all in the same boat on this matter, arm we are not rocking it at all.


My Lords, there is one interesting point in what the noble Earl said—I should like just to put my observation in the form of a question: What does he mean by "consulting public opinion". How does he propose to get hold of that kind of information without a kind of organisation which might be open to abuse if carried too far by any Government? I mean by my question, would the Government propose to go in for the business of Gallup polling?


My Lords, I do not think I had better go beyond the words in the reply given last week by my honourable friend at the Home Department. He said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 612, col. 1176]: In these circumstances"— he was speaking on the question of extending Summer Time— further soundings of opinion seem desirable, and we propose to seek the views of a wide range of bodies concerned with industry, including the tourist industry, commerce, and agriculture. I do not know the precise form in which those views would be sought, but I imagine that it would be by means of a questionnaire; and my suggestion to your Lordships was that I should ask my colleagues to consider a similar kind of questionnaire being sent out in regard to this question of the date of the bank holiday. It seems to me that if one thing were done the other could equally well be done.


My Lords, it is rather an innovation, is it not? I understand consulting and finding out the opinions of various bodies where they have contact with the Ministers and so on. But it can go further and create a kind of Government-sponsored attitude with regard to even more important questions than this.


My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord is not against it simply on the ground that it is an innovation.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, I am most grateful to noble Lords who, from all parts of the House, have given me their support to-day, and particularly for the sudden and unexpected flanking movement from Scotland, which was most effective. I am afraid, very desirable though it is, that we should find it difficult in England to get our people to accept the Scottish idea that a bank holiday was merely a holiday for banks and their staff. I am grateful also to the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, for confirming my statement about reduced hotel prices in off peak months, which certain speakers seemed to doubt. I should like to assure the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, that when I said "spreading"—and I thought I made it clear—I meant only a spreading over those months of the year in which there is a reasonable chance of our having good weather: the second half of May, June, July, August and September. I was not for a moment suggesting spreading over the whole of the year. I am very glad that the proposition to abolish all bank holidays came from the other side of the House, because I feel that if it had been part of the Conservative Manifesto it might have caused us to lose the Election.


My Lords, I did not make the proposition to abolish all bank holidays.


I know that the noble Lord wanted to add three days holiday to the long holiday instead.


No. If the noble Lord wants to enter into the political controversy, I do not. I said that I could have understood his case better if he had wanted to abolish, not all the bank holidays, but the three—Whit Monday, Easter Monday and August bank holiday.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord and I accept his explanation. I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, for the very helpful answer that he has given. I do not think that one would have expected it would be possible for him to reply at once that the Government would bring in legislation to shift the bank holiday. But he has said that the Government will consider making inquiries; and they would, of course, be on a much wider scale than those that any semi-official body such as the British Travel and Holidays Association could make. I thank your Lordships for listening so carefully to this debate, and I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.