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Holiday Resorts (Development)

Volume 440: debated on Monday 21 July 1947

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Simmons.]

10.27 p.m.

I am glad to be able to raise this question of home holiday resorts, partly because the season of the year is now about to reach the main holiday period, partly because of the very worrying condition of holiday resorts at the present moment, and partly because many of my friends and I myself feel that the new Tourist and Holiday Board which was announced as having been formed in April, does not seem to be giving any definite signs of its existence so far as we are concerned.

It will be remembered that as far back as 30th October last year, Lord Inman put in his report which, it was admitted by Lord Hall in another place, was a private report and therefore could not be published. As a result, Lord Hacking and Lord Cranborne both pressed very strongly that if Lord Inman's report could not be published, at least a White Paper might be issued. At the time Lord Hall said that that was quite a good idea, but he was not prepared to say definitely whether or not it could be produced. In March the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Blackpool (Brigadier Low) put a Question in the House and was answered by the Government to the effect that it was not yet the appropriate time to produce such a White Paper. It is now the feeling of a very large number of holiday resorts and of the local councils and people concerned with them that some such White Paper should be produced. All we know is that Lord Inman reported privately, and that as a result a Board was set up.

This Board was to be divided into four. There was to be a travel side, a home holidays side, a hotel side, and a catering side. We already had in this country a perfectly good Travel Association, with which I think everybody has been completely satisfied, and which raised its funds partly from the Government, but equally from some local authorities. Its chairman, Lord Hacking, has worked entirely voluntarily, without any pay whatever. There are also many catering organisations and hotel organisations functioning with great efficiency. The Government decided early in the year that an official Board must be started up in order to deal with the pressing question of holidays for the people in this country and from outside.

I would be the last person to disagree on the pressing nature of this question. Something like 10 million people now receive holidays with pay under Statutory Orders and otherwise. Another five million, for the first time, are to go on holiday with pay. With their families, this means a colossal number of people. Where are they to go and how are they to spend their holidays? This is the first year in which they will have holidays with pay. Yet the fact remains that in most of the recognised holiday resorts at the present moment there is a very definite slump. Hotels are only half full. People who do come—and there are not as many as was expected—are bringing with them everything they possibly can, such as food, and are going back without spending any money. It can, of course, be put down to a lack of money to spend, and also to a definite fear on people's part as to what is going to be the future, and a feeling they should preserve their money. That is quite possible. But there is a very definite slump.

There has been a tremendous amount of publicity on staggered holidays, asking everybody to try if possible to go for holidays at a season when it is not the peak. An area like my constituency, which has one of the best railway services in the country for getting people to and from London, and other towns like it on the sea coast, are not getting anything like the number of people to be expected, and in fact staggered holidays have so far been a complete failure. The only time our hotels are fully packed is during the usual holidays season from the middle of July to the end of August.

I hope that tonight we shall get some form of interim report from the Parliamentary Secretary as to what is being done by this wonderful new organisation. All we know about it is that, in addition to the former organisations, we have a series of new boards. At the head of them is Sir Alexander Maxwell, who is taking complete charge of what is recognised as a vitally important organisation for holidays and travel within this country and equally, a vital necessity for bringing dollars and other exchange to this country from abroad. Anybody who thinks seriously knows this is a whole-time job, and yet Sir Alexander Maxwell still remains in charge of the Tobacco Control. And we have had a pretty serious tobacco crisis during the last few weeks. Not so very long ago an important official connected with the travel side asked to see Sir Alexander Maxwell to discuss some problems and he was informed by Sir Alexander, "My dear fellow, do you realise there is a tobacco crisis on at this moment? I simply have not the time to discuss this matter with you now." I do not know, personally, whether Sir Alexander is or is not a paid official.

One of the tragedies since this Government came into office is the secrecy with regard to who are paid and what they are paid. We do not know at present whether Sir Alexander is paid as Tobacco Controller or as head of the Tourist Board. We do not know if he is paid in both capacities, or in neither. I believe that it is possible he is doing it voluntarily; I have heard that suggested. But the fact is that he is holding an appointment, and I am willing to bet that it is a job which has money set aside for it. I have heard it suggested that the Tobacco Controller can get £4,500 a year, and equally there is money for the head of this Board to get £3,000. Both of these jobs should be full-time appointments, and it is not right that one person should be put in charge of both of them. This is especially the case when we are having all this trouble over tobacco, and when our holiday resorts are in a pretty messy condition from the point of view of development.

There is much that ought to have been done. Would it not be possible to have somebody in control who could give full-time control, whether he was paid or not, and who would not then feel that he could not give time to one job because there was another to be done. There is the hotel side, the catering side, and the home holidays side, and we should like to know what is being done to develop the hotel and holiday industry as a whole for this country. Fifteen million people are waiting for their holidays, and we should like to know what is being done? Recently I asked two Questions in the House of the Minister of Food. In the one case he replied that only one-third of to per cent. of the rationed food of this country goes to the catering industry. I asked also if it would be possible in my own constituency of Brighton to extend from 10 p.m. to midnight the opening hours of catering establishments. I can state that everything had been arranged locally from the labour point of view, and staffs were being organised to work on a shift system. But the Minister of Food said that that could not be done, except in London. Why? The more we go into this question of holidays, the more do we find that the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Fuel and Power, the Foreign Office and the Treasury, seems to be at loggerheads about it. We feel that there is no leadership and no control.

What is being done with regard to hotel repairs? We were told that a survey was to be made covering the whole of the country, and that, it must be agreed, would be a most useful thing. Has that survey been made? Has a start been made on it? Can the hon. Gentleman tell us anything about it? We were also told that official holiday camps were to be established. Are they to be more of Butlin's holidays camps, or something of a different sort? It may well be that they are to be the same as Butlin's, because they are excellent ones. If not, why is Mr. Butlin on the Committee? Are they to be in competition with his own? If so why put him on the board? I understand from the newspapers that one of these camps was to be started yesterday on the Cumberland coast on the site of a former naval camp, H.M.S. "Macaw," and was to be taken over by an organisation known as Family Holidays, Ltd. What is known of this; has it been filled to the brim straight away? Can we have some information about this camp?

Then I come to the question of what is to be the position of the local authorities with regard to the financing of publicity. This is something which applies particularly when one is concerned with the question of travel from abroad. We have heard recently—and rightly, too—a tremendous amount about the need for conserving and getting dollars and foreign exchange. We have been told that something like 100 million pounds can come in, and that 25 million can come in this year. Is there any hope of this? Do the Government anticipate that people will come into this country from abroad in very large numbers? I cannot see these foreigners pouring into this country at the present time, and the more I go abroad, the less I see of any organisation to bring them over. The Tourist Association is doing the best it can, but it does not now know from where the money is to come. It knows nothing at all about that, or about what is to be its future. All we are told is that this organisation is to go on for two years, and that after that it ought to be self-supporting. In what way is it to be done? Can we be given some figures?

We can gain dollars from those who come to this country from America. What is being done to bring Americans over? I will give the House two examples of what is happening. One American citizen wishing to come to this country went to our consulate in New York and asked if he could have a visa, saying that he wanted to come over to see friends in London whom he had not seen since before the war. He was asked for how long he wanted a visa. He said he wanted it for a month. Then this man, who was coming from America, and would spend dollars here, was asked if he could not get his visit over in less than a month. He replied that he supposed that he could, but asked why he should do so, and he was told, "It is a question of food and fuel; our Food and Fuel Ministries do not want you to go over." He pointed out that while he would have to spend something on food and fuel, he would also spend on other things, and that that money we could spend on more food and on plans to get more Americans to come into the country. In the case of another American who wanted to come over, to this country from Europe, and who went to a consulate in Italy, he was told that they could not get a definite ruling from London—there seemed to be such rows going on between the different departments; the Treasury wanted to get Americans over, the immigration officers of the Foreign Office were keen, and the Customs "did not mind as long as they could catch us for duty on something"; but the Fuel and Food Ministries were doing everything in their power to stop them. The result was that they were not getting the encouragement they should be getting.

I suggest that, instead of just concentrating on starting these four boards and asking them to move into Queen's House, St. James's Street, at great expense, something practical should be done to bring people here from abroad. I heard the other day that there was a question of setting up a Welsh Board. During the last few days, in Paris I ran into some people from Brittany who were most anxious to come to Wales. But Eire seems to have taken hold of the idea of getting people to go to Ireland from Brittany to study Celtic matters instead of going to Wales.

It is for the purpose of trying to get some kind of guidance on how local authorities are to spend their money, whether they are to get proper advertising abroad, who is really in control, whether that person is a full-time official or not, and how far the local authorities are going to be helped, that I have raised this question tonight.

10.44 p.m.

I rise specifically to call attention to the case of those places on the East Coast which are in particular need of rehabilitation and help. There are only two points that I will make at this late hour. One is that it is essential for the East Coast resorts to have a more extended season. The climatic conditions there make impossible the full enjoyment of holidays after the summer season, but there is a period at the beginning and end which could be widely extended as a holiday period. The other point I want to make is that I hope the Minister will have the ear of the Minister of Transport on the matter of the terrible disability which the East Coast suffers in respect of travelling facilities. For years and years we have suffered from lack of decent communications not only with London, but with the Midlands and the North.

10.45 p.m.

I would like to add a point to what has been said by the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Teeling). The position of Weston-super-Mare is, I appreciate, rather different from that of Brighton, but we have one thing in common—we all realise that we really cannot get anything going on the working out of staggered hours, until we are allowed to advertise the different facilities available at different times of the year. The local authorities should be allowed to spend a higher proportion of the rates than at present in making these matters known. That is a very crucial question. Until they are allowed to spend on this a higher proportion of the rates than they have been allowed to spend in the past, people will not really understand what they can do outside the season in these holiday resorts.

10.16 p.m.

I would like to reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. Teeling) said about the conflict between Government Departments. Four months ago, the Minister of Fuel and Power was asked whether he would give extra petrol to motorists bringing their cars to this country. I pointed out that the net gain from American tourists in dollars would be very substantial, but the Minister of Fuel and Power said that it was purely hypothetical, and refused to make any extra grant. Only a few days ago the Board of Trade agreed to make a grant of extra petrol. A conflict that has been going on for four months, the Board of Trade and the Treasury have at last won, but even now the position is exceedingly unsatisfactory. The Board of Trade will only grant sufficient petrol to a tourist to go to the furthest point in a direct line and then back. That does not enable the English tourist industry to compete with the French tourist industry. In France a motorist can get up to 132 gallons of petrol for a three months' visit. The tourist to England is granted enough to take him to his furthest point and back. That is entirely inadequate.

10.47 p.m.

I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Teeling), who introduced this debate, both for the very reasoned case he put forward and for his courtesy, which I very much appreciate, in letting me know in advance some of the points he was going to raise, always, I think, a very useful thing to do on an Adjournment Debate, when necessarily the Minister has to condense his speech into a very short time. On the matter of petrol, which was raised by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Keeling), we have, of course, recognised the necessity for doing something. That accounts for the announcement which I made recently about this. Extra petrol is being granted to tourists, it must be remembered, in addition to the basic ration which they may draw in this country. They have not only the limited amount to take them to their furthest point and back.

As far as advertising is concerned, I must confess that it is a new point to me, and I assure the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Orr-Ewing), that it will be taken up to see if anything can be done. It involves a matter of rates and that, presumably, is a matter for the Minister of Health. Similarly, on the matter of motor transport on the East Coast mentioned by the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. E. Evans), I will see that his remarks are laid before the Minister of Transport to see whether anything can be done about that.

The hon. Member for Brighton suggested in his opening remarks that there might be some good reason for the publication of a White Paper on the tourist industry. Frankly, I cannot see that it is a fit subject for a White Paper. I hope that some of the things that I shall mention will indicate the sort of thing that is being done. What is likely to happen in the future I would not like to forecast at present. The hon. Member, in addition to suggesting the necessity for a White Paper on this subject, referred to existing organisations concerning themselves with the organisation of the tourist trade of the country. Those organisations are still there. The Tourist Board has the advantage of the services of the Travel Association which is still in being and doing its work, and we are all very grateful to the Travel Association and the other associations for the very good work they have done. But it is precisely because it is important and urgent that we should attract the maximum number of visitors, particularly from the hard currency areas, and because we have felt also that we must make it possible for our own people, with their new-found leisure, to enjoy that leisure, that we have considered that there was room for a new, all-embracing organisation to tackle this job in a national sense.

The hon. Member referred to the various divisions of this Board. He praised the work of the Travel Association. As a matter of fact, so far as the Tourist Division is concerned, it is precisely the Travel Association which has acted as Travel Division. Lord Hacking, of the Travel Association, is chairman of the division. Then we have the Catering Division, and the chairman of the Catering Committee is Mr. Harry Salmon, of Messrs. J. Lyons and Co I think hon. Members will agree that we were well advised to go to Messrs. Lyons for information about catering. The job of this division is to foster the development of the catering industry in all sorts of ways—research, technical education, hygiene, and so on. We have a Hotels Division under the chairmanship of Mr F. G. Hole, of the London Midland and Scottish Railway Hotels, a man who, I think everybody will agree, is well qualified by his experience. We have a Home Holidays Division under the chairmanship of Mr. E. W. Wimble, of the Workers' Travel Association, who, I know, is well fitted to guide the activities of that Division.

I find it difficult to understand what is becoming almost a general query about the position of Sir Alexander Maxwell. It is true that he was Tobacco Controller—and an extremely successful one too. It is true that he is still adviser to the Board of Trade on tobacco matters. He does not need to give all his time to the Board of Trade and tobacco matters: his services as adviser do not call for the expenditure of the whole of his time. We think it best when we appoint chairmen to the Tourist Board to appoint not full-time chairmen, but men of proved ability and experience —and we are quite satisfied that he has this. After all, that is quite a normal practice in commercial life. One does not normally expect chairmen of businesses to be full-time men. One expects the managing director, or general manager, or technical staff, to be full-time people, but normally chairmen are not full-time: the fact that they have outside experience to bring into play may be an added advantage. The fact is that Sir Alexander Maxwell is able to devote sufficient time to the job. He has a staff—the four directors-general of the divisions, and a number of other officers.

I was asked about the salary. There is provision for a salary to be paid for the Chairman of the Tourist Board, but he prefers not to draw it. There are a number of men who, during and since the war, have given their services to their country. They are well provided for already, and see no point in drawing extra. Sir Alexander is one of these. Of course, he is covered so far as expenses are concerned.

One of the most important points made by the hon. Member was on the question of attracting visitors from the hard currency areas. I quite agree that that is most important. The Information Service of the Foreign Office has issued to all consular posts a great deal of information on all aspects of touring in this country. They have compiled a very informative leaflet, and this has had a wide distribution all over the United States of America. The Travel Association are playing their part and have published a first-class report, and are covering various countries by sending literature to steamship and airline offices, automobile clubs and so on. Consular officers and trade commissioners in all parts of the world are kept fully informed of what we are trying to do. There have been arguments—some in this House, some on the public platforms, and some in the Press—about what we should do in regard to encouraging foreign visitors to come to this country. There have been those who have said that, because we are short of food, because of transport difficulties and accommodation difficulties, we should not be pushing the tourist trade at this time. I believe that is altogether wrong. I believe that our American friends, and our Dominion and our Colonial cousins, do not expect to come here and to find a land flowing with milk and honey. They are prepared to understand that our difficulties today result from our efforts during the war and my heart is gladdened when I read, as I did today in the "Evening Standard":
"'Hotel services, in some cases, are better than in America. I shall tell our members that they need anticipate no difficulties in England.' So said Mr. Henry J. Brunnier, President of America's Automobile Association"
All I hope is that every hon. Member and every man and woman in this country whose voice can be heard on this subject, will be directing attention to what we have to offer, rather than to what we have not to offer. I believe this tourist traffic can be not only the means of bringing much-needed dollars to this country, but of increasing the understanding by ourselves of other people, and by other people of ourselves, and I welcome this Debate because it has enabled me to underline that.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'Clock and the Debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Order made upon 13 th November.

Adjourned accordingly at Three Minutes to Eleven o'Clock.