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Effect Of Specific Power Or Duty To Incur Expenditure At One Tier Of Local Government On Exercise Of General Such Power At Different Tier

Volume 24: debated on Monday 17 May 1982

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I beg to move amendment No. 118, in page 5, line 15, leave out

'incur, or contribute towards defraying, expenditure'
and insert—
  • '(a).incur; or
  • (b) unless invited to do so by the other authority, contribute towards defraying expenditure'.
  • With this, we may take the following amendments: No. 13, in page 5, line 20, at end insert:

    'unless the authority so authorised is incurring or intends to incur such expenditure and invites the other authority to so contribute or unless the authority not so authorised has sought and obtained the consent of the Secretary of State'.
    No. 14, in clause 6, page 6, line 3, after 'premises', insert:
    'including any Enterprise Zone, partnership project with the Scottish Development Agency or any other industrial facility of special significance'.
    No. 15, in clause 6, page 6, line 5, leave out 'paragraph (a) or (d).'

    Government amendments Nos. 16 and 17.

    No. 18, in clause 6, page 6, line 15, after 'promotion', insert 'whether'.

    No. 19, in clause 6, page 6, line 16, at end insert 'or not'.

    No. 20, in clause 6, page 6, line 22, after 'State', insert
    'which will not be unreasonably withheld'.
    No. 21, in clause 7, page 8, line 5, at end insert—
    '(4) Notwithstanding the said re-allocation of responsibilities a regional council or regional planning authority may by agreement join with any island or district council or general or district planning authority to manage or advise on any project initiated or carried on under powers affected by this section if that project would be of benefit to their area or any part of it.'

    My fellow Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher) will deal with the amendments on industrial promotion, so I shall limit my remarks to amendments Nos. 118 and 13.

    Amendment No. 118 fulfils an undertaking given in Committee that the Government would consider further the respective merits of an amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) and a separate proposal by CoSLA, the effect of which would be to introduce limited flexibility into clause 5. As the hon. Member for Garscadden knows, we have consulted CoSLA about his Committee amendment and it has said that it would regard as acceptable a provision on the lines proposed by the right hon. Gentleman.

    Amendment No. 118 reflects the sense of the hon. Gentleman's proposal. It will enable a local authority that is not statutorily responsible for a function to contribute to expenditure incurred on it by the responsible authority, at the invitation of the latter. That will give a useful flexibility to what was a restrictive provision and will allow a co-operative approach to a project by both tiers if the circumstances so suggest. At the same time, it ensures that the initiative will always lie with the responsible authority, the invitation of which will be required before the second authority can consider expenditure on a function for which it has no statutory locus. I am sure that that is right and it is compatible with the philosophy of the Stodart committee.

    I hope that the amendment will commend itself to the House and that, in the light of our response to the undertakings given in Committee, the Opposition will not press amendment No. 13, which is, in effect, a combination of the hon. Member for Garscadden's first amendment and the original proposal of CoSLA.

    The Under-Secretary's comments are useful as far as they go, and he makes the fair point that he has responded to points made by the Opposition in Committee. I am sure that my hon. Friends will be happy about that. It means that amendment No. 13 is not necessary. However, I am not sure that that applies to amendment No. 21, in clause 7, which is a much more general clause.

    I should be grateful if the Minister would say something about that. The purpose of amendment No. 21 is that there should be co-operation between a regional council and a district council when managing or advising on
    "any project initiated or carried on under powers affected by this section".
    That would be a useful addition to clause 7. Bearing in mind what the Minister said on amendment No. 118, I should have thought that the principle could be accepted.

    I shall deal with the Opposition amendments relating to industrial promotion in clause 6, starting with amendment No. 14. The provisions in relation to district powers are limited. Not only do districts have limited powers but what powers they have are circumscribed by the provisions of clause 6 as at present drafted. I shall not rehearse the argument about that. As I said on Second Reading, it is wrong to treat all districts as having no legitimate interest in industrial promotion when one considers that there are some large districts such as Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh which, in terms of industry—one can say this without disparaging regional councils—are considerably more important in terms of the number of people employed, industrial estates, industrial development and the rest. Yet, under clause 6, the powers of the districts are circumscribed. The Opposition amendments are not designed to go back over the argument of whether these should be a district or regional functions. I do not agree with what the Government have done in principle. The amendments are designed to open up the clause and extend the powers available to the district by removing some of the inhibitions on them provided by the clause as drafted.

    Clause 6(3)(b) provides that where the district council has powers—they are circumscribed—it can exercise them only as regards specific industrial sites or premises that are owned by it. Amendment No. 14 extends that by adding the words
    "including any Enterprise Zone, partnership project with the Scottish Development Agency or any other industrial facility of special significance".
    I am not proud of the last phrase, which is vague, but it makes the general point that it is unnecessary and undesirable to limit district councils as the clause does. If this type of approach is made, there should be a wider definition of the kinds of premises, sites and facilities for which the power should be available. The obvious extensions relate to an enterprise zone, of which we have only one in Scotland now, or a project entered into by partnership with the Scottish Development Agency.

    Amendment No. 15 removes another inhibition on local authorities. Even when the premises and the circumstances in which the district council may have some powers have been defined, the powers themselves are limited to
    "paragraph (a)or (d) of the definition of 'promotion' in subsection (4)",
    which cover only
    "advertising and preparing and disseminating information"
    "carrying on correspondence".
    It would certainly be extraordinary if a district council could not even carry on correspondence with its own factories or factory sites, so that is scarcely a major concession to district authorities.

    I see no reason at all why this part of the clause, which deals with the authority's own premises and sites, should exclude district authorities from
    "participating in trade or investment missions"
    "holding or taking part in such activities as seminars, exhibitions and symposiums"
    as provided for in paragraphs (b)and (c)

    Amendment No. 15 therefore seeks to remove the restriction to paragraphs (a) and (d)so that the authority's powers in relation to promotions would also include paragraphs (b) and (c)

    Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 go together. Again, subsection (3)(c) makes the very restrictive provision that the district council might,
    "at the invitation of
  • (i) the Secretary of State;
  • (ii) a regional council; or
  • (iii) a body designated … by the Secretary of State"
  • be involved in
    "contributing financially to, or participating in, any such promotion engaged in by the inviter or inviters".
    Provided that the invitation comes from the Secretary of State, a regional council or a designated body, whatever that might be, there seems no reason whatever why the district council should not participate, whether or not the promotion is directly engaged in by the inviter or inviters. A promotion might be undertaken, for instance, by the Scottish Development Agency or by a private company or a bank, in which it would be highly appropriate for the district council to participate. Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 taken together would make it clear that that would be possible.

    Amendment No. 20 deals with
    "industrial promotion outside the United Kingdom",
    for which the clause as drafted requires
    "the express consent of the Secretary of State".
    Amendment No. 20 merely inserts the condition phrase that the Secretary of State's consent
    "will not be unreasonably withheld".
    We have already argued about whether the Secretary of State should be involved in this at all. I should prefer him to stay out of it altogether and leave it to the good sense of the local authorities. If he is to be involved in it at all, however, there should be some limitation on his powers, which amendment No. 20 seeks to provide.

    12.15 am

    I repeat that the amendments deal basically with the powers available to district authorities. Some large authorities have a considerable interest in industrial promotion, particularly in view of the current high rates of unemployment. They have been involved in it—in some cases extremely successfully—and wish to continue to be involved, but their powers are extremely restricted by the clause. We believe that they are too restricted, and the amendments are intended to give them more scope for enterprise. Given the present state of unemployment in Scotland—this is not the time to make a great speech about that—I believe that these additional powers should be granted to them.

    I merely wish to speak to amendment No. 20, on which matter I commented in Committee in respect of industrial promotion outside the United Kingdom. As the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) has already stated, some authorities have organisations which conduct industrial promotion outside the United Kingdom. It would be unfortunate, especially in view of the point that the right hon. Gentleman has just made, if those authorities were to be inhibited from being able to proceed with the industrial promotion which has been success Ail. In this regard I can name the North-East Scotland Development Agency in the Grampian region which has contributed and continues to contribute a great deal towards the additional employment that was gained in the oil and gas industries.

    As I said in Committee, the Secretary of State should not take it upon himself to be the sole arbiter of whether the local authority should conduct industrial promotion outside the United Kingdom. If, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, the Secretary of State intends to keep this in the Bill and restrict local authorities from carrying out industrial promotion outside the United Kingdom, I would certainly commend to my hon. Friends amendment No. 20 in the name of the official Opposition which would insert the words
    "which will not be unreasonably withheld".
    I am sure that my hon. Friends would not take exception to those few words being added. After all, at the end of the day it shows local authorities that they have the good will of the Secretary of State and the possibility of being able to proceed with what has for them been, until the Bill, a normal procedure. I commend amendment No. 20 to the Minister and I hope that he will be able to accept it.

    I rise briefly to support the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan), particularly those concerning inward investment. As my right hon. Friend and the Minister will know, I have long taken the view that the whole question of inward investment should be handled at the top by the Secretary of State with the Scottish Economic Planning Department and now with the Locate in Scotland Bureau. Those two organisations are well placed to do a useful job in attracting industry into the United Kingdom.

    I have never been greatly impressed by some of the organisations that have gone to the United States, Sweden and elsewhere in a great blaze of publicity. In my view they have done more to give themselves publicity than to attract industry. I am not impressed by some of the missions. By the same token, I have no great desire either to see lots of local authorities wandering all over the place.

    Having said that, I do not believe that at this time local authorities would want to do anything of the kind. Local authorities are just as concerned about unemployment, industrial promotion and inward investment as those of us who sit in the House and occupy the Treasury Bench. A potential investor, however, be he in America, Europe or elsewhere, will certainly want to talk to Ministers and their advisers about regional development grants, selective financial assistance and the whole range of financial incentives that are available.

    The investors also want to know something of the local conditions under which they will operate. That is where the local authorities can best come into their own.

    I mean no disrespect to Ministers and their advisers when I say that the local authorities have a very special role to play. I think particularly of my own city, Glasgow, where we have a very high rate of unemployment. The local councilors there would be failing in their duty if they were not to go out and let people see that Glasgow has something to offer. The manufacturers and the managers of the companies concerned want to hear about finance, but they also want to hear a great deal about the local conditions.

    My right hon. Friend's amendments will help the Minister. The clause seems to have a lot of rigmarole in it, and it is obvious that much more flexibility is needed. We are dealing with individual customers and individual investors, and the approach to them needs to be made on a case by case basis. If it is felt that the Locate in Scotland Bureau should make the approach, so be it. It may well be, however, that in some cases it should be done by the district councils. The amendments will help the Minister and will not tie his hands. They will help inward investment.

    For those reasons, I hope that the Minister will consider very seriously the question of allowing the local authorities, particularly the district councils, to have a much greater role in the matter than he envisages in the clause.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart) will respond to the points made about amendment No. 21. I wish to speak about industrial promotion.

    We have listened to the views of hon. Members expressed in Committee and to the various local authorities and other bodies in Scotland that are interested in industrial promotion. It is perfectly understandable, at a time of high unemployment, that everyone should want to get into the act. I do not say that in a critical way. It is understandable that local authorities, districts and regions, the North-East Scotland Development Agency, the Highlands and Islands Development Board, the Scottish Development Agency, the Scottish Council, and the five new towns, are all eager to show that they can go out and about within the United Kingdom and overseas and attract jobs to Scotland. There is nothing wrong with that. I omitted to mention the Scottish Economic Planning Department, to which reference was made, and which is the body with direct responsibility for such activities.

    We have tried to ease the rather strict mechanism that the Stodart committee recommended and to recognise the role of the district council in relation to its own community, but essentially it would be a mistake to let everyone loose in these matters, particularly in regard to the overseas effort, having just established Locate in Scotland Bureau, the purpose of which is to co-ordinate the activities of the various organisations in Scotland. It is not a huge organisation taking to itself the complete function of inward investment. Its purpose essentially is to lead inward investment and, above all, to co-ordinate the activities of the various bodies that I have mentioned, including local government, which are eager to go out and about. We do this not because it brings any particular satisfaction to Ministers to introduce these clauses into the Bill, but in response to the requests that we receive from overseas.

    I am sure that the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan), with his experience of inward investment, will recognise that one of the complaints that Government Departments and Ministers get from overseas—I am talking now about overseas companies, quite apart from any complaints that come from our posts abroad—is that companies can be inundated with various bodies from Scotland and become confused about who is in the lead and to whom they should talk serious business when it comes to making a decision and considering the possibilities of setting up shop in Scotland.

    The purpose of some of the Government amendments is to illustrate that we have moved some way towards meeting some of the points raised and have shown some flexibility, and also to underline the fact that Locate in Scotland Bureau is essentially a co-ordinating body. That is why—I say this in relation to amendment No. 20—we have provisions to enable the Secretary of State to ensure that the attracting of inward investment is a co-ordinated operation.

    To state in the legislation that the Secretary of State's permission is required is in itself a co-ordinating measure.

    0 It does not mean that if a particular local authority says that it wishes to go to Texas, or wherever, the Secretary of State will say "No". More likely, he will tell it that through the Locate in Scotland Bureau a visit is being arranged to several parts of the United States at a particular time. The authority, or organisation, if it joins us, will help to ensure a more co-ordinated approach, rather than one local authority going one week, and a few days or weeks later another arriving at the same company to try to sell its wares.

    The Locate in Scotland Bureau is trying to achieve a coordinating function. That is the purpose of some of the amendments.

    I am suggesting, not that there should be a co-ordinating function by the Locate in Scotland Bureau but that the local authorities can be of assistance to the bureau. I do not want local authorities wandering all over the place getting in one another's way, or anything of the kind. I simply want them to be supported by Ministers and the Locate in Scotland Bureau.

    I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Hon. Members will see, if they inquire into these things, that when visits are made abroad the groups often include members of local authorities or officials from new towns, or from the SDA or the HIDB, in addition to people from the SEPD. Next week I hope to be at a seminar in Boston, on Scottish new towns. It has been coordinated by the Locate in Scotland Bureau. This is where the new towns have taken the initiative in a co-ordinated way, with the other bodies responsible.

    The principle of a co-ordinating body, as embodied in the Locate in Scotland Bureau, is a good concept. However, we do not know its track record. Representing, as I do, an area with the highest district unemployment rate in Great Britain, I know that the track record of the SDA and the SEPD has not been good. As far as I can see, the Locate in Scotland Bureau is just a combination of the SDA and SEPD. Unless it shows greater initiative, I should rather see my local authority, Cunninghame district council, travelling around the world, on the understanding that it might attract industry to my area. Even if it fails to attract industry, it will still be as successful as the SDA and the SEPD have been.

    The Minister must give us an assurance. I have seen Secretaries of State for Industry and Secretaries of State for Scotland come and go. They come with great promises of what they will do when they visit Tokyo, Boston or any of the other places. What I want now is a guarantee that the track record of the Minister when he goes to Boston, and that of the Locate in Scotland Bureau, will be better than we have had in the past, especially with regard to my area.

    12.30 am

    The hon. Gentleman is correct when he says that the Locate in Scotland Bureau is essentially an amalgamation of the Scottish Economic Planning Department's activities in inward investment and the Scottish Development Agency. However, he is not correct when he says that he has not seen any evidence of success. Last year there were several major investments in Scotland as a direct result of the activities of those bodies. The Motorola investment in East Kilbride was substantial. There was also the Nippon Electric investment in Livingston. Those are just two. A number of others in Scotland are a direct result of those efforts.

    I know that the hon. Gentleman believes that we should do better in his district, and I do not dispute that. but A is not because we have failed to introduce companies to his district. It is because, as I am sure he realises, the decision about the final location in Scotland must rest with the company. We do our best to steer them to particular parts of the country, but the final location is the choice of the company.

    Amendment No. 14 deals with a slightly different matter, but it is related, in that it considers the powers of districts. It provides, on the one hand, that districts may promote only their own sites and premises, and, on the other, that they may promote anything else in their areas that could be regarded as being of industrial significance—in short, anyone else's sites, developments or services.

    The Bill is about co-ordination of effort and the avoidance of wasteful duplication. Given the aspirations of some district councils—always with the best will in the world, but not necessarily helpful to the overall intentions—it would be surprising if a few did not resent having to work through regions, particularly where the political complexions differ.

    However, as well as their other functions, regions are responsible for strategic planning and the provision of basic infrastructure. Their view is, therefore, wider than that of districts, and we decided that the wider promotional activities should be for regions and that districts should concentrate on promoting what they themselves owned. That is in line with the reactions to the Stodart report, which emphasised the local role of districts, although it went on to recommend that all powers should be concentrated in the regions. However, we did not accept that view, and our proposals instead recognise an important and continuing role for the district, while making it clear that they cannot go their own way without regard to the activities of other bodies. We therefore recommend that the House reject amendment No. 14.

    Amendment No. 15 seeks to allow district councils to mount or take part in investment missions, exhibitions and symposiums in the United Kingdom promoting their own sites or premises. It cuts across what the clause is trying to achieve, because it cuts across the majority opinion expressed following the Stodart report, and it cuts across the interests of the regions.

    The Bill is designed to achieve a sensible and rational approach to industrial promotion. While we accept that districts have a valuable contribution to make towards encouraging local employment opportunities, this is essentially a supporting, rather than a leading role. Under our proposals, districts still have an important but defined task in industrial promotion. Within their own areas they may promote as they wish. Outwith their districts they will be able to take part in promotions along with, for example, their regional council. That seems to be a sensible and much needed rationalisation of what so far has been a confused and difficult field with too many bodies in the same field, often in direct competition with one another.

    Government amendment No. 16 makes it clear that when reference is made to a regional council for the purposes of this part of the Bill, it means the regional council within which the district is contained. It is designed to avoid the ludicrous situation where a district in one region could seek or accept an invitation from another region to join in some promotional scheme which could possibly be at variance with its own region's industrial strategy. We think that this is a sensible arrangement, and I hope that the House will support it.

    Amendment No. 17, as right hon. and hon. Members will recall, results from our having given an undertaking in Committee to look again at the procedures to be adopted by the Secretary of State in designating bodies for the purpose of subsection (3)(c). We have looked again at the method to be used, and, as was said in Committee, we are not rigid on the matter. As a demonstration of our usual good faith we propose that the designation of a body will be on a more formal and public basis, by order.

    I am sorry that we cannot accept amendments Nos. 18 and 19. We have doubts about the drafting. We gave an undertaking in Committee to look again at whether an agreement rather than physical joint partnership should be the test for districts engaging in a wider sphere of industrial promotion. We have done so, and concluded that the participation of the inviter is essential if we are to achieve the co-ordinated approach to promotion that is generally acknowledged to be necessary and desirable. To make mere acquiescence rather than partnership the criterion is to make nonsense of the provisions in the clause which limit the powers of districts in industrial promotion.

    If a district "arranged" to receive an invitation from its regional council to embark on industrial promotion exercises unrelated to its own sites or premises, it would be able to do so without the region taking any part in the venture. Some districts would never be able to make such an arrangement, while a neighbouring district might get an automatic invitation.

    The main objection to the proposal is that it wedges open the present door and perpetuates the existing waste of resources. If 10 districts decided to mount their own promotional campaigns and all received invitations, under the amendments 10 delegations would troop off to sell their own or anyone's wares throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. Worse still, what would happen if they all decided to be represented at the same exhibition? We should end up with 10 stalls all clamouring for attention. One exhibit mounted and co-ordinated by the region would be much better value for money and would almost certainly be much more effective. That is why we have the arrangement proposed in the Bill.

    I have already referred to amendment No. 20. In response to the comments of the right hon. Members for Craigton and for Rutherglen (Mr. MacKenzie), and of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie), I emphasise that the Locate in Scotland Bureau is essentially a co-ordinating body. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said on many occasions that he will use a light hand in deciding whether to agree to these various organisations going abroad. I repeat that it is for the purposes of co-ordination that that item should remain part of the Bill.

    Perhaps I might respond briefly to the points made by the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) on amendment No. 21 and thank him for his response to Government amendment No. 118. Regional authorities can contribute to district authorities' expenditure on the countryside under the 1967 Act.

    Regional authorities can be represented on any body set up to manage countryside projects under section 57 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973.

    If the matter is complicated, perhaps I can write to the Minister. For example, two district councils and two regional councils co-operate closely in the management of Loch Lomond. Is it clear that that cooperation can continue under the Bill as drafted?

    The chairperson of the Countryside Commission for Scotland is on record as calling for new legislation to set up a new kind of national parks authority in Scotland. I do not know whether that is indicative of a lack of co-ordination between Strathclyde regional council, Central regional council, Dunbarton district council and Stirling district council over the situation in Loch Lomond side. As the Minister knows, I have a constituency interest, because practically the whole of the east bank of Loch Lomond lies within my constituency.

    I thought that the local authorities involved were coordinating reasonably well. Of course, other public bodies, such as the Forestry Commission, are concerned. It has done a reasonable job in trying to provide as much access as possible to the countryside in that area. It is one of the most scenic areas not only in Scotland but in the world. Various authorities have made efforts to open it up.

    Amendment No. 21 refers specifically to co-ordination between local authorities on matters referring to the countryside. Have the Government any view about the recent suggestion by the chairperson of the Countryside Commission that new legislation is desirable? If so, is it in the pipeline? That obviously bears on the points made earlier.

    We are in touch with the Countryside Commission and we always consider its views carefully. However, the key point is that there are at present sufficient powers to enable a continuing involvement of the two regional authorities in the proposals for the Loch Lomond area.

    Amendment agreed to.