Orders of the Day — Tourist Industries

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st June 1949.

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Photo of Mr Malcolm McCorquodale Mr Malcolm McCorquodale , Epsom 12:00 am, 21st June 1949

I wonder whether it might be made economic. Certainly, Oxford and Cambridge are badly in need of extra accommodation for tourists. I am glad to hear that the Minister has the matter well in mind. The article ends by saying: It is nonsense to go clamouring for tourists if we can only write up, 'No room in the inn.' There is no doubt that we must make most serious efforts, and must not think that anything is too small to be considered if we are to compete in our own way in spite of the difficulties that we have at home. We cannot compete in actual form with the Continent, but we have precious assets in our own country and we must make proper arrangements for the proper reception of our own kith and kin who want to visit us. I suggest that the Government see whether holidays can start earlier and end later. That would be an enormous boon not only to the catering industry, but also to the shipping companies, which are such great dollar-earners. I urge the Government to even greater efforts in this direction.

Here is another small but, I think, important point. I believe that many people expect the Minister of Fuel and Power shortly to make an announcement about petrol rationing, that he will say that the value of the basic coupon which has been increased for three months will soon be extended for a further three months. If rumour is correct I think the Minister would be well advised to make the announcement as quickly as possible, because it would help materially in the spread-over of holidays to resorts far from railways, which can be reached only by means of a car. I am not making any suggestion about long-term petrol policy, but I say that if this rumour is correct it would be in the interest of the catering industry that the announcement should be made very soon.

I should like to pass on to the question which is at issue, the Catering Wages Act and its application to the industry. I would ask the House to pardon me if a certain amount of what I wish to say is personal history. I was one of those who was privileged to take a prominent part in the passing of the Catering Wages Act, 1943, when I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour under the then Minister, who is now the Foreign Secretary. I assisted the right hon. Gentleman at that time to the very best of my ability; indeed, some of my friends said I was a little too strident about it. I say seriously that I am deeply disappointed with the way in which the Act has been functioning in practice recently. I have been re-reading the Debates on Second Reading and in Committee, and I still believe that the views which we suggested and supported then are right today. I believe that the Act is a good one; I believe it is capable of doing great good to the trade as a whole, to all those engaged in it and to consumers who enjoy its facilities. But I am not happy about the present working of the trade. The Tourist Association's annual report says: It is felt in many quarters that the effect of the recent catering wages orders has been to create many difficulties for both staff and management at a time when the tourist industry is making good progress, but we believe that these difficulties are capable of solution. I believe they are capable of solution by wise handling, but at present, as I say, many people are disappointed at the way in which things have worked out.

If I am right in saying that the Act is a good one, I can only come to the conclusion that it is the administration of the Act which is at fault. I believe that that is the trouble today. The first thing the Act did was to set up a Commission, which is an extremely important body. The Foreign Secretary, speaking at that time, said he had the highest hopes of the Commission as a sort of guide, philosopher and friend to the whole industry. Perhaps I may quote some remarks which I was privileged to make on the Third Reading: It is, of course, of the very greatest importance that the Commission should be held in the highest respect and have the complete confidence of all those engaged in the many services with which this Measure is concerned, and indeed of the general public."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th April, 1943; Vol. 388, c. 1576.] This has not altogether come about. I have not been able to find out very much of what the Commission have accomplished. I hope they have made recommendations to the Ministry, but we have not heard a great deal about them.

There are, however, two things on which the Commission have reported and on neither of which am I in entire agreement with their action. First, there is the question of what should be done about tipping. This question was submitted to the Commission which, with little hesitation, came to the rather sweeping generality that tips should be entirely disregarded. Everyone connected with the industry knows that tipping has been one of the difficulties. When people in the industry see hotels in which one section can get much more than another because of gratuities there is a tendency for everyone to want to flock into those places where gratuities are available, and not where they are not. Like it or not, we have tips with us.

There was an excellent article in this week's "Illustrated" about tipping. Many of us take the view that tipping is a deplorable habit, but we must realise that it is with us and that it will be many years before it is eradicated, so that we ought, therefore, to take some notice of it now. I cannot believe that the Commission were wise when they said, "We will ignore this thing, and put it behind us in the hope that it will disappear." The Minister was good enough to publish over the week-end a report of the Commission on an important subject connected with Scotland—and I am sorry that the Secretary of State for Scotland has just left the Chamber again.

There was a most valuable report issued by Professor Knox on the effect of the Catering Wages Act with regard to Scotland, its hotels and establishments generally. It was a brilliant report and I read it at the time with much interest. He strongly urged the setting up of a Scottish Board to deal with special Scottish problems. He was supported in that by articles in the paper and by one pre-eminent in Scotland who is regarded on all sides as having a unique knowledge in Scottish public life—Mr. Tom Johnston.

The Commission have turned this thing down flat, and in a rather cavalier fashion. They have not argued the matter very seriously. They seemed to say, "What is Scotland anyway to ask for separate boards for itself? If Scotland, why not Wales?" In view of the nationality of the chairman of the Commission, one can understand that Wales would not be forgotten. Even Wales could have a separate board, but why Scotland should be deprived of it because there is such a country as Wales, I do not understand. The Commission fortified themselves by seeking the views of predominantly English organisations, like the Hotel and Restaurants Association, this wages board and the like. They are almost entirely made up of English people with one or two representatives from Scotland, and their answer was, "Scotland shall not have what it asks for."

The Commission should look at this from the other way round. They should have argued that if Scotland wanted this facility—and apparently Scotland does—then they should go out of their way to satisfy Scotland, seeing the great value that Scotland is to the tourist industry. Those are the two questions about which I am most concerned—the turning down so cavalierily of the Scottish application, and the dismissal of the question of tips. The way in which these were done has not given me the confidence which I had hoped to have in the work of the Commission.

Then we come to the wages board, and its composition. It is the privilege of the Minister to appoint the boards, after consulting with such organisation as in his opinion represents the employers and employees. It is a fact that—and I am not blaming the Minister—in order to get something out of the boards a considerable number of skilled trade union negotiators have been appointed on the employees' side. It is a pity there were not skilled professional negotiators on the employers side to deal with them. I think it is one of the weaknesses. We want a little bit of professional skill on both sides. In actual fact, in some of the boards the professional skill on the employees' side is overweighted and on the employers side it is the opposite. I hope the Minister will look into that.

What has happened? It should be recognised by everyone that the question of building up a wage edifice has been too fast. I believe such an edifice should be built gradually on firm foundations, and that concentration first should be on a basic minimum wage and proper regulation hours. That would be the best way on which to build up step by step a mutually agreed edifice, which would not have those defects to which my hon. Friends have referred. To force in the industry, as the wages board did, a complete structure such as we have in the manufacturing industries, and which took many years of negotiations to build up, was not in my opinion very wise.

The licensing section of the trade was regulated first. That was only a year ago, but drastic amendments have already been necessary, and "The Times" on 29th March came out with a strong condemnation even of those amended regulations. The Board has been obliged to attempt a simplification of its original plan, but no one who has studied the revised order, and the forms employers have to use, can deny that the revision does not go far enough. I happen to remember that day because I read it on my birthday. I agree with "The Times." The licensing board amendments have been greatly changed and they have gone back on some of the original positions they took up.

The 90,000 separate establishments of the unlicensed are now being considered. We have seen the proposals, and I believe that they are being amended—at least I hope they are—in the light of the many suggestions and protests that have been received, because in their original form they reproduced the difficulties and all the faults of all the innumerable forms and such like matters and will harass wretched boarding house keepers if they ever came to rest upon their shoulders. Again, something simple, some basic minimum is wanted as a start on which an edifice is gradually built up. I hope, therefore, that the Minister in considering the reports will think twice before he gives legal effect to these very complicated suggestions for the licensing trade.

It may well be that the proposals in the main follow a good practice in the industry generally, but there is one point that the hotel industry must bear in mind, and that is to have regard to bank holidays and other holidays. In industry it is not normal to work on bank holidays. Therefore, those who are asked to work on them regard it as an abnormality, and are entitled to ask for extra pay for so doing. In this industry it is normal to work on bank holidays. Indeed, those are the times when this industry wants to flourish at its highest peak. There are other times when those holidays can be given to the workers in the industry, and those who enter this industry must realise from the start that one of the things it does mean is that they will be required to work on bank holidays and the like. It is not in the interests of the consumer that hotels and boarding houses which open for bank holidays should have to increase their charges in order to recoup themselves for extra expenses, especially at a time when the masses of the people want to get away for a brief holiday.

I am afraid I am taking a rather long time and I shall finish with one quotation from the Committee stage of the Bill. On 31st March, 1943, I gave this assurance on behalf of the Government: May I give an assurance to the good employer in any section of the catering trade, whether a large or a small employer … that they have nothing to fear from the setting-up of a wages board."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st March, 1943; Vol. 388; c. 205.] That was the opinion of His Majesty's Government because I did not give that assurance on my own responsibility. I am afraid that that assurance has not been entirely carried out, and I would remind the boards of that assurance and ask them to see that, in any future orders which they recommend to the Minister, that promise is remembered.

Who really suffers from any mistakes made in this connection? I come back to where I started. It is the great mass of the people of this country who want and who deserve, as I am sure everybody will agree, a holiday once a year which is not too expensive. It is of vital importance that our people should get an opportunity for a holiday. They are working very hard. The Government and all public men must urge them to work harder if we are to get through the financial difficulties which now surround us. They will not be able to sustain hard work unless opportunity for holidays is granted to them. Even more important now, in the financial crisis through which we are passing, is the arrival of oversea visitors whom we must attract to this glorious island of ours, if we are not to suffer grievously in the future.

I therefore ask the Government most earnestly to consider seriously these criticisms, which I have endeavoured to make in a non-controversial way. I am as keen as, and possibly more keen than, most hon. Members about the Catering Wages Act that we passed in 1943, because of the high hopes that we had that the Act would be of the greatest importance to everybody connected with the industry. The Foreign Secretary, who was then the Minister of Labour, expressed those hopes with all the eloquence at his command. I would urge the Minister who, in the last resort, is all-powerful because he appoints the members of the Commission and of the boards and accepts or rejects the orders made by the boards, to consider very seriously the whole of this matter and to see whether there are changes that he might make so that our hopes may be fulfilled.